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What the Watergate Road Map Might Say about a Mueller Road Map

In an interview last week, Rudy Giuliani explained that Trump had finished the open book test Mueller had given the President, but that they were withholding the answers until after tomorrow’s election, after which they’ll re-enter negotiations about whether Trump will actually answer questions on the Russian investigation in person or at all.

“I expect a day after the election we will be in serious discussions with them again, and I have a feeling they want to get it wrapped up one way or another.”

Meanwhile, one of the first of the post-election Administration shake-up stories focuses, unsurprisingly, on the likelihood that Trump will try to replace Jeff Sessions and/or Rod Rosenstein (though doesn’t headline the entire story “Trump set to try to end Mueller investigation,” as it should).

Some embattled officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are expected to be fired or actively pushed out by Trump after months of bitter recriminations.

[snip]

Among those most vulnerable to being dismissed are Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation after Sessions recused himself. Trump has routinely berated Sessions, whom he faults for the Russia investigation, but he and Rosenstein have forged an improved rapport in recent months.

As I note in my TNR piece on the subject, there are several paths that Trump might take to attempt to kill the Mueller investigation, some of which might take more time and elicit more backlash. If Trump could convince Sessions to resign, for example, he could bring in Steven Bradbury or Alex Azar to replace him right away, meaning Rosenstein would no longer be Acting Attorney General overseeing Mueller, and they could do whatever they wanted with it (and remember, Bradbury already showed himself willing to engage in legally suspect cover-ups in hopes of career advancement with torture). Whereas firing Rosenstein would put someone else — Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who already obtained an ethics waiver for matters pertaining to Trump Campaign legal firm Jones Day, though it is unclear whether that extends to the Mueller investigation — in charge of overseeing Mueller immediately.

This may well be why Rudy is sitting on Trump’s open book test: because they’ve gamed out several possible paths depending on what kind of majority, if any, Republicans retain in the Senate (aside from trying to defeat African American gubernatorial candidates in swing states, Trump has focused his campaigning on retaining the Senate; FiveThirtyEight says the two most likely outcomes are that Republicans retain the same number of seats or lose just one, net). But they could well gain a few seats. If they have the numbers to rush through a Sessions replacement quickly, they’ll fire him, but if not, perhaps Trump will appease Mueller for a few weeks by turning in the answers to his questions.

That’s the background to what I focused on in my TNR piece last week: the Mueller report that Rudy has been talking about incessantly, in an utterly successful attempt to get most journalists covering this to ignore the evidence in front of them that Mueller would prefer to speak in indictments, might, instead, be the failsafe, the means by which Mueller would convey the fruits of his investigation to the House Judiciary Committee if Trump carries out a Wednesday morning massacre. And it was with that in mind that I analyzed how the Watergate Road Map served to do just that in this post.

In this post, I’d like to push that comparison further, to see what — if Mueller and his Watergate prosecutor James Quarles team member are using the Watergate precedent as a model — that might say about Mueller’s investigation. I’ll also lay out what a Mueller Road Map, if one awaits a Wednesday Morning Massacre in a safe somewhere, might include.

The Watergate prosecutors moved from compiling evidence to issuing the Road Map in just over six months

As early as August 1973, George Frampton had sent Archibald Cox a “summary of evidence” against the President. Along with laying out the gaps prosecutors had in their evidence about about what Nixon knew (remember, investigators had only learned of the White House taping system in July), it noted that any consideration of how his actions conflicted with his claims must examine his public comments closely.

That report paid particular attention to how Nixon’s White House Counsel had created a report that created a transparently false cover story. It described how Nixon continued to express full confidence in HR Haldeman and John Ehrlichman well after he knew they had been involved in the cover-up. It examined what Nixon must have thought the risks an investigation posed.

The Archives’ Road Map materials show that in the same 10 day period from January 22 to February 1, 1974 when the Special Prosecutor’s office was negotiating with the President’s lawyers about obtaining either his in-person testimony or at least answers to interrogatories, they were also working on a draft indictment of the President, charging four counts associated with his involvement in and knowledge of the bribe to Howard Hunt in March 1973. A month later, on March 1, 1974 (and so just 37 days after the time when Leon Jaworski and Nixon’s lawyers were still discussing an open book test for that more competent president), the grand jury issued the Road Map, a request to transmit grand jury evidence implicating the President to the House Judiciary Committee so it could be used in an impeachment.

Toto we’re not in 1974 anymore … and neither is the President

Let me clear about what follows: there’s still a reasonable chance Republicans retain the House, and it’s most likely that Republicans will retain the Senate. We’re not in a position where — unless Mueller reveals truly heinous crimes — Trump is at any imminent risk of being impeached. We can revisit all this on Wednesday after tomorrow’s elections and after Trump starts doing whatever he plans to do in response, but we are in a very different place than we were in 1974.

So I am not predicting that the Mueller investigation will end up the way the Watergate one did. Trump has far less concern for his country than Nixon did — an observation John Dean just made.

And Republicans have, almost but not quite universally, shown little appetite for holding Trump to account.

So I’m not commenting on what will happen. Rather, I’m asking how advanced the Mueller investigation might be — and what it may have been doing for the last 18 months — if it followed the model of the Watergate investigation.

One more caveat: I don’t intend to argue the evidence in this thread — though I think my series on what the Sekulow questions say stands up really well even six months later. For the rest of this post, I will assume that Mueller has obtained sufficient evidence to charge a conspiracy between Trump’s closest aides and representatives of the Russian government. Even if he doesn’t have that evidence, though, he may still package up a Road Map in case he is fired.

Jaworski had a draft indictment around the same time he considered giving Nixon an open book test

Even as the Watergate team was compiling questions they might pose to the President if Jaworski chose to pursue that route, they were drafting an indictment.

If the Mueller investigation has followed a similar path, that means that by the time Mueller gave Trump his open book test in October, he may have already drafted up an indictment covering Trump’s actions. That’s pretty reasonable to imagine given Paul Manafort’s plea deal in mid-September and Trump’s past statements about how his former campaign manager could implicate him personally, though inconsistent with Rudy’s claims (if we can trust him) that Manafort has not provided evidence against Trump.

Still, if the Jaworski Road Map is a guide, then Mueller’s team may have already laid out what a Trump indictment would look like if you could indict a sitting President. That said, given the complaints that DOJ had drafted a declination with Hillary before her interview, I would assume they would keep his name off it, as the Watergate team did in editing the Nixon indictment.

Then, a month after drawing up a draft indictment, Jaworski’s grand jury had a Road Map all packaged up ready to be sent to HJC.

Another crucial lesson of this comparison: Jaworksi did not wait for, and did not need, testimony from the President to put together a Road Map for HJC. While I’m sure he’ll continue pursuing getting Trump on the record, there’s no reason to believe Mueller needs that to provide evidence that Trump was part of this conspiracy to HJC.

Given that I think a Mueller report primarily serves as a failsafe at this point, I would expect that he would have some version of that ready to go before Wednesday. And that’s consistent with the reports — enthusiastically stoked by the President’s lawyers — that Mueller is ready to issue his findings.

If a Mueller report is meant to serve as a Road Map for an HJC led by Jerrold Nadler starting in January, then it is necessarily all ready to go (and hopefully copied and safely stored in multiple different locations), even if it might be added to in coming months.

The Road Map Section I included evidence to substantiate the the conspiracy

As I laid out here, the Watergate Road Map included four sections: 

I. Material bearing on a $75,000 payment to E. Howard Hunt and related events

II. Material bearing on the President’s “investigation”

III. Material bearing on events up to and including March 17, 1973

IV. The President’s public statements and material before the grand jury related thereto

The first section maps very closely to the overt acts laid out in the February 1 draft indictment, incorporating two acts into one and leaving off or possibly redacting one, but otherwise providing the grand jury evidence — plus some interim steps in the conspiracy — that Jaworski would have used to prove all the overt acts charged in the conspiracy charge from that draft indictment.

If Mueller intended to charge a quid pro quo conspiracy — that Trump accepted a Russian offer to drop dirt, possibly emails explicitly, in response for sanctions relief (and cooperation on Syria and other things) — then we could imagine the kinds of overt acts he might use to prove that:

  • Foreknowledge of an offer of dirt and possibly even emails (Rick Gates and Omarosa might provide that)
  • Trump involvement in the decision to accept that offer (Paul Manafort had a meeting with Trump on June 7, 2016 that might be relevant, as would the immediate aftermath of the June 9 meeting)
  • Trump signaling that his continued willingness to deliver on the conspiracy (as early as the George Papadopoulos plea, Mueller laid out some evidence of this, plus there is Trump’s request for Russia to find Hillary emails, which Mueller has already shown was immediately followed by intensified Russian hacking attempts)
  • Evidence Russia tailored releases in response to Trump campaign requests (Roger Stone may play a key role in this, but Mueller appears to know that Manafort even more explicitly asked Russia for help)
  • Evidence Trump moved to pay off his side of the deal, both by immediately moving to cooperate on Syria and by assuring Russia that the Trump Administration would reverse Obama’s sanctions

Remember, to be charged, a conspiracy does not have to have succeeded (that is, it doesn’t help Trump that he hasn’t yet succeeded in paying off his debt to Russia; it is enough that he agreed to do so and then took overt acts to further the conspiracy).

In other words, if Mueller has a Road Map sitting in his safe, and if I’m right that this is the conspiracy he would charge, there might be a section that included the overt acts that would appear in a draft indictment of Trump (and might appear in an indictment of Trump’s aides and spawn and the Russian representatives they conspired with), along with citations to the grand jury evidence Mueller has collected to substantiate those overt acts.

Note, this may explain whom Mueller chooses to put before the grand jury and not: that it’s based off what evidence Mueller believes he would need to pass on in sworn form to be of use for HJC, to (among other things) help HJC avoid the protracted fights over subpoenas they’ll face if Democrats do win a majority.

The Road Map Section II described how the White House Counsel tried to invent a cover story

After substantiating what would have been the indictment against Nixon, the Watergate Road Map showed how Nixon had John Dean and others manufacture a false exonerating story. The Road Map cited things like:

  • Nixon’s public claims to have total confidence in John Dean
  • Nixon’s efforts to falsely claim to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, that former AG John Mitchell might be the most culpable person among Nixon’s close aides
  • Nixon’s instructions to his top domestic political advisor, John Ehrlichman, to get involved in John Dean’s attempts to create an exculpatory story
  • Press Secretary Ron Ziegler’s public lies that no one knew about the crime
  • Nixon’s efforts to learn about what prosecutors had obtained from his close aides
  • Nixon’s private comments to his White House Counsel to try to explain away an incriminating comment
  • Nixon’s ongoing conversations with his White House Counsel about what he should say publicly to avoid admitting to the crime
  • Nixon’s multiple conversations with top DOJ official Henry Petersen, including his request that Peterson not investigate some crimes implicating the Plumbers
  • Nixon’s orders to his Chief of Staff, HR Haldeman, to research the evidence implicating himself in a crime

This is an area where there are multiple almost exact parallels with the investigation into Trump, particularly in Don McGahn’s assistance to the President to provide bogus explanations for both the Mike Flynn and Jim Comey firings — the former of which involved Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the latter of which involved Trump’s top domestic political advisor Stephen Miller. There are also obvious parallels between the Petersen comments and the Comey ones. Finally, Trump has made great efforts to learn via Devin Nunes and other House allies what DOJ has investigated, including specifically regarding the Flynn firing.

One key point about all this: the parallels here are almost uncanny. But so is the larger structural point. These details did not make the draft Nixon indictment. There were just additional proof of his cover-up and abuse of power. The scope of what HJC might investigate regarding presidential abuse is actually broader than what might be charged in an indictment.

The equivalent details in the Mueller investigation — particularly the Comey firing — have gotten the bulk of the press coverage (and at one point formed a plurality of the questions Jay Sekulow imagined Mueller might ask). But the obstruction was never what the case in chief is, the obstruction started when Trump found firing Flynn to be preferable to explaining why he instructed Flynn, on December 29, to tell the Russians not to worry about Obama’s sanctions. In the case of the Russia investigation, there has yet to be an adequate public explanation for Flynn’s firing, and the Trump team’s efforts to do so continue to hint at the real exposure the President faces on conspiracy charges.

In other words, I suspect that details about the Comey firing and Don McGahn’s invented explanations for it that made a Mueller Road Map might, as details of the John Dean’s Watergate investigation did in Jaworski’s Road Map, as much to be supporting details to the core evidence proving a conspiracy.

The Road Map Section III provided evidence that Nixon knew about the election conspiracy, and not just the cover-up

The third section included some of the most inflammatory stuff in Jaworski’s Road Map, showing that Nixon knew about the campaign dirty tricks and describing what happened during the 18 minute gap. Here’s where I suspect Jaworski’s Road Map may differ from Mueller’s: while much of this section provides circumstantial evidence to show that the President knew about the election crimes ahead of time, my guess is (particularly given Manafort’s plea) that Mueller has more than circumstantial evidence implicating Trump. In a case against Trump, the election conspiracy — not the cover-up, as it was for Nixon — is the conspiracy-in-chief that might implicate the President.

The Road Map Section III described Nixon’s discussions about using clemency to silence co-conspirators

One other area covered by this section, however, does have a direct parallel: in Nixon’s discussions about whether he could provide clemency to the Watergate defendants. With both Flynn and Manafort cooperating, Mueller must have direct descriptions of Trump’s pardon offers. What remains to be seen is if Mueller can substantiate (as he seems to be trying to do) Trump willingness to entertain any of the several efforts to win Julian Assange a pardon. There’s no precedent to treat offering a pardon as a crime unto itself, but it is precisely the kind of abuse of power the founders believed merited impeachment. Again, it’s another thing that might be in a Mueller Road Map that wouldn’t necessarily make an indictment.

The Road Map Section IV showed how Nixon’s public comments conflicted with his actions

We have had endless discussions about Trump’s comments about the Russian investigation on Twitter, and even by March, at least 8 of the questions Sekulow imagined Mueller wanted to ask pertained to Trump’s public statements.

  • What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  • What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  • What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  • What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  • What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  • What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  • What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  • What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?

The Watergate Road Map documents a number of public Nixon comments that, like Trump’s, are not themselves criminal, but are evidence the President was lying about his crimes and cover-up. The Watergate Road Map describes Nixon claiming that:

  • He did not know until his own investigation about efforts to pay off Watergate defendants
  • He did not know about offers of clemency
  • He did not know in March 1973 there was anything to cover up
  • His position has been to get the facts out about the crime, not cover them up
  • He ordered people to cooperate with the FBI
  • He had always pressed to get the full truth out
  • He had ordered legitimate investigations into what happened
  • He had met with Kleindienst and Peterson to review what he had learned in his investigation
  • He had not turned over evidence of a crime he knew of to prosecutors because he assumed Dean already had
  • He had learned more about the crimes between March and April 1973

Admittedly, Trump pretended to want real investigations — an internal investigation of what Flynn had told the FBI, and an external investigation into the election conspiracy — for a much briefer period than Nixon did (his comments to Maria Bartiromo, which I covered here, and Lester Holt, which I covered here, are key exceptions).

Still, there are a slew of conflicting comments Trump has made, some obviously to provide a cover story or incriminate key witnesses, that Mueller showed some interest in before turning in earnest to finalizing the conspiracy case in chief. A very central one involves the false claims that Flynn had said nothing about sanctions and that he was fired for lying to Mike Pence about that; probably at least 7 people knew those comments were false when Sean Spicer made them.  Then there are the at least 52 times he has claimed “No Collusion” or the 135 times he has complained about a “Witch Hunt” on Twitter.

Trump’s lawyers have complained that his public comments have no role in a criminal investigation (though the likelihood he spoke to Putin about how to respond as the June 9 meeting story broke surely does). But Mueller may be asking them for the same reason they were relevant to the Watergate investigation. They are evidence of abuse of power.

The Road Map included the case in chief, not all the potential crimes

Finally, there is one more important detail about the Road Map that I suspect would be matched in any Mueller Road Map: Not all the crimes the Special Prosecutor investigated made the Road Map. The Watergate team had a number of different task forces (as I suspect Mueller also does). And of those, just Watergate (and to a very limited degree, the cover-up of the Plumbers investigation) got included in the Road Map.

Here, we’ve already seen at least one crime get referred by Mueller, Trump’s campaign payoffs. I’ve long suggested that the Inauguration pay-to-play might also get referred (indeed, that may be the still-active part of the grand jury investigation that explains why SDNY refuses to release the warrants targeting Michael Cohen). Mueller might similarly refer any Saudi, Israeli, and Emirate campaign assistance to a US Attorney’s office for investigation. And while it’s virtually certain Mueller investigated the larger network of energy and other resource deals that seem to be part of what happened at the Seychelles meetings, any continuing investigation may have been referred (indeed, may have actually derived from) SDNY.

In other words, while a Mueller Road Map might include things beyond what would be necessary for a criminal indictment, it also may not include a good number of things we know Mueller to have examined, at least in passing.

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

Who Is Paying Kevin Downing’s Bills to Serve as Trump’s Mole?

I want to return to the report from Monday describing Rudy Giuliani claiming that Kevin Downing continues to keep him abreast of what Paul Manafort has told prosecutors, and that Manafort has not yet said anything incriminating about Trump.

Rudy Giuliani, who represents Trump in the Russia probe, told Reuters that he had spoken with Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, as recently as last week. Manafort pleaded guilty on Sept. 14 to violating foreign lobbying laws and trying to obstruct justice. He was convicted at trial in another case in August.

Giuliani said the conversations were occurring under a so-called joint defense agreement, which allows lawyers who represent different clients to exchange information without violating attorney-client privilege.

[snip]

Manafort is talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller “about a lot of things, none of which are incriminating with regard to the president,” Giuliani said in one of several conversations with Reuters this month.

Giuliani said he was told by Downing that Manafort had met with Mueller’s team roughly a half dozen times.

[snip]

Giuliani said Downing had not shared specific facts with him regarding Manafort’s discussions with prosecutors.

“He’s just telling me the conclusion that he’s not in a conflicted position with us,” said Giuliani, who has been very public in his defense of Trump, appearing regularly on TV disputing aspects of the investigation and calling it a political witch hunt just as the president has.

The report is sourced entirely to Rudy. (Given that it shows up in a story relying on Rudy as a source, the claim that Mueller is working on a report probably comes from Rudy too). Downing declined to comment.

It also differs in one key respect from a CNN report from last Wednesday, which describes Manafort and his lawyers meeting with Mueller’s team at least nine times, three more than Rudy claims to know about.

At least nine times since he pleaded guilty on September 14, a black Ford SUV has brought Manafort to Mueller’s office in southwest DC around 10 am. Manafort’s lawyers arrive around the same time, waiting in the lobby for the car to arrive. There they remain inside the offices, typically for six hours.

It’s not entirely clear yet what Manafort has shared with prosecutors, and if his interviews check facts that haven’t yet come to light outside of the prosecutors’ own notes. Among the questions, investigators have asked Manafort about his dealings with Russians, according to one source familiar with the matter.

Mind you, these two reports aren’t necessarily incompatible. It could be that Rudy spoke with Downing on October 14 (so, the beginning of last week), and Manafort paid three more visits to Mueller’s team on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. Or it could be that, as on all other matters, Rudy’s command of actual details is not great.

Still, both reports make it clear Manafort has spent a lot of quality time with Mueller’s team of late, and Rudy claims to know that none of that quality time has incriminated the president.

Before we consider why that might be, consider that Manafort’s plea was built to allow this. Manafort’s plea lacks this clause that appears in Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement, forbidding Gates to share any information learned while cooperating with others.

Mueller surely could have included that clause in Manafort’s plea, but did not.

And while both plea deals include a paragraph waiving the right to have counsel present for cooperation sessions, that waiver can be rescinded on written notice to Mueller’s office.

SCO’s spokesperson Peter Carr declined to provide any information on the circumstances surrounding Manafort’s cooperation.

One way or another, though, Manafort’s plea does permit his lawyers to sit in on meetings, and without that gag, they can pass on what they learn to Trump’s lawyers so long as the ethical obligations surrounding a Joint Defense Agreement permit it.

I can even think of a good reason Mueller might not mind that Trump is getting updates about Manafort’s testimony. It’s a good way to stave off whatever rash action Trump will take if and when Mueller starts to focus more explicitly on him. That’s particularly important as Mueller’s team waits for Trump to turn in his open book test and provide whatever kind of follow-up Special Counsel might require. Trump thinks he has full visibility into the risk Mueller poses to him, and so will be less likely to panic about it.

Perhaps (as indicated by the CNN report) Mueller is using this period to glean all that Manafort knows about the Russian side of the conspiracy. Once Manafort has shared stuff that exposes him to the risk of retaliation from a bunch of Russian oligarchs, then Mueller can start walking him through what he knows about a different kind of vindictive oligarch.

Thus far, then, I can at least come to grips with the report of a continued JDA, even if it violates everything people think they know about JDAs.

What I don’t understand, however, is who is paying for Kevin Downing’s legal bills?

Using CNN’s report (based off their really valuable stake-out), Manafort has lawyers, plural, at these sessions and they had already had — through last Wednesday — around 54 hours of meetings with Mueller’s team. Assuming just two attorneys present and a very conservative $500 hourly fee, Manafort’s attorneys would have billed $54,000 just for in-person time; the real amount might be twice that.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson has already approved the order permitting DOJ to move towards seizing some $46 million in money and property tied to Manafort’s ill-gotten gains (they had to wait until October 20 to start moving on Manafort’s Trump Tower apartment), so the process of stripping these assets before any Trump pardon could forestall that process is already in the works. One explanation for Manafort accepting a plea deal was to save the cost of a trial, but his lawyers have already spent over a week’s worth of time sitting in on his cooperation sessions. Paul Manafort has been going slowly but spectacularly bankrupt since March 2016 (though he remarkably still employs a spokesperson), and forfeiture only speeds that process.

So who just paid upwards of $50K to make sure Rudy G would continue to get reassuring reports that Manafort has yet to flip on the President?

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

On the Roger Stone Investigation: Talking to Guccifer 2.0 or WikiLeaks Is Not a Crime

Before I get further in my series on the known universe of hacked and leaked emails from 2016, I want to explain something about Roger Stone, especially given this WaPo story that provides interesting details but claims Mueller is pursuing them in hopes of answering this question:

Did longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone — or any other associate of the president — have advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release hacked Democratic emails in 2016?

While I don’t claim to understand much more than the rest of the world about what the Mueller probe is doing, I say with a fair degree of certainty that Mueller has not had three prosecutors chasing leads on Roger Stone since February because he wants to know if Stone had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans on releasing emails. Knowing that WikiLeaks planned on releasing emails is not a crime.

Indeed, Assange at times (most notably on June 12) telegraphed what he was up to. There were WikiLeaks volunteers and some journalists who knew what WikiLeaks was up to. None of that, by itself, is a crime.

With that in mind, consider the following:

It matters what emails Stone claimed to know would be released

At the risk of spoiling my series, let me explain the significance of it. While knowing that WikiLeaks would release emails is not by itself a crime, advance knowledge becomes more interesting based on what Stone might have done with that knowledge. Here’s why:

  • DNC emails: Mueller has presumably tracked whether and to whom George Papadopoulos shared advance knowledge of the tip he got on April 26 that the Russians would release emails to help Trump. That’s important because if he can show meeting participants knew those emails had been offered, then June 9 meeting becomes an overt act in a conspiracy. While there’s no public allegation Stone knew that WikiLeaks would be releasing Hillary emails before Julian Assange stated that publicly on June 12 (after the Trump Tower meeting and therefore at most a response to the meeting), if Stone knew that WikiLeaks would be part of the delivery method it adds to evidence of a conspiracy.
  • Podesta emails: The Democrats’ focus on Stone has always been on his seeming advance knowledge that WikiLeaks would release the Podesta emails, though the public case that he did is in no way definitive. Even assuming he did learn in advance, there are multiple channels via which Stone might have learned the Podesta emails were coming (just as an example, Democrats have necessarily always been obfuscating about how much they knew). But any presumed advance knowledge is still only a crime if Stone in some way coordinated with it or encouraged ongoing hacking.
  • Deleted Hillary emails: While the evidence that Roger Stone knew that WikiLeaks would release Podesta’s emails is inconclusive, the evidence that he “knew” WikiLeaks had Hillary’s deleted emails is not. Stone made that claim over and over. It’s actually not public whether and when WikiLeaks obtained files purporting to be Hillary’s deleted emails, though we should assume they got at least some sets of purported emails via the Peter Smith effort. If Stone had involvement in that effort, it might be criminal (because operatives were soliciting stolen emails from criminal hackers, not just making use of what got released), though Stone says he was unaware of it.
  • DCCC emails: The DCCC files, which offered more operational data about downstream campaigns, might raise other problems under criminal law. That’s because the data offered was generally more operational than the DNC and Podesta emails offered, meaning operatives could use the stolen data to tweak their campaign efforts. And Guccifer 2.0 was sharing that data specifically with operatives, providing something of value to campaigns. Guccifer 2.0 tried to do the same with Stone. The text messages between Stone and Guccifer 2.0 show the persona trying to get Stone interested in some of the DCCC files pertaining to FL. But at least on those DMs, Stone demurred. That said, if Stone received and operationalized DCCC data in some of his rat-fucking, then it might raise criminal issues.

It matters from whom Stone learned (if he did) of WikiLeaks’ plans

A big part of Mueller’s focus seems to be on testing Stone’s public claims that his go-between with WikiLeaks was Randy Credico, who had ties to Assange but was not conspiring to help Trump win via those channels.

There are other possible go-betweens that would be of greater interest. For example, the public discussion of Stone’s potential advance knowledge seems to have forgotten the suspected role of Nigel Farage, with whom Stone dined at the RNC and later met at Trump’s inauguration. That would be of heightened interest, particularly given the way Stone suggested the vote had been rigged against Brexit and Trump when in reality Russians were rigging the vote for both.

It matters whether Stone lied about the whom or the what

Stone’s testimony to the House, in which he offered explanations about any advance knowledge and his Podesta comment, was sworn. If Mueller can show he lied in his sworn testimony, that is certainly technically a crime (indeed, Sam Patten got referred to Mueller based on on his false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee). But it’s unlikely Mueller would charge, much less investigate, Stone for 8 months solely to prove whether he lied to Congress.

But if Stone did lie — claiming he learned of WikiLeaks’ plans from Credico when in fact he learned from someone also conspiring with the Russians — then those lies would lay out the import of Stone’s role, in what he was hypothetically trying to cover up.

Stone’s flip-flop on blaming the Russians at the moment he claimed to have knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans is of likely interest

There’s a data point that seems very important in the Roger Stone story. On or around August 3, the very same day Stone told Sam Nunberg that he had dined with Julian Assange, Stone flip-flopped on his public statements about whether Russia had hacked Hillary or some 400 pound hacker in a basement had. During that period, he went from NY (where he met with Trump) to LA to coordinate with his dark money allies, then went home to Florida to write a column that became the first entry in Stone’s effort to obfuscate the Russian role in the hack. That flip-flop occurred just before Stone started making public claims about what WikiLeaks had.

I suspect that flip-flop is a real point of interest, and as such may involve some other kind of coordination that the press has no public visibility on (particularly given that his claimed meeting with Assange happened while he was meeting with his dark money people).

Mueller may have had probable cause Roger Stone broke the law by March

In the wake of Michael Caputo’s testimony, Roger Stone briefly claimed that he must have been targeted under FISA, apparently based on the fact that Mueller had (possibly encrypted) texts he didn’t provide himself showing that he and Caputo had had contact with a presumed Russian dangle they had hidden in prior sworn testimony. A more likely explanation is that Stone’s was one of the at-least five phones Mueller got a warrant for on March 9, in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation. But if that’s the case, then it means that Mueller already had shown probable cause Stone had committed some crime by the time he got this phone.

Mueller is scrutinizing Stone for more than just knowledge of WikiLeaks

Even the public reporting on Mueller’s investigative actions make it clear that he is scrutinizing Stone for more than just a hypothetical knowledge of, much less coordination with, WikiLeaks. He seems to have interest in the two incarnations of Stone’s Stop the Steal dark money group, which worked to intimidate Cruz supporters around the RNC and worked to suppress Democratic voters in the fall. There’s reason to suspect that the ways in which Stone and his people sloshed that money around did not follow campaign finance rules (in which case Don McGahn might have played a role). Certainly, Andrew Miller seems to worry that his own role in that sloshing might lead to criminal exposure. But Jerome Corsi has also suggested that Stone might have pitched some legally suspect actions to him, and those would constitute rat-fuckery, not campaign finance violations in the service of rat-fuckery.

Now, those other potential crimes might just be the gravy that Mueller has repeatedly used, charging people with unrelated crimes (like Mike Flynn’s Turkish influence peddling or Michael Cohen’s Stormy Daniel payoffs) to get their cooperation in the case in chief. Or they might be something that more closely ties to conspiracy with Russians.

The larger point, however, is that isolated details from Stone-friendly witnesses (and from Stone himself) may not be the most reliable way to understand where Mueller is going with his investigation of Stone. Certainly not witnesses who say Mueller has spent 8 months scrutinizing whether Stone lied about his foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ actions.

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

Trump’s Open Book Test Still Poses a Big Perjury Risk

In spite of a great deal of encouragement to do so on Twitter, I can’t muster a victory lap from the news that the Mueller team has agreed that Trump’s first round of open book test will focus only on conspiracy with Russia.

President Donald Trump’s legal team is preparing answers to written questions provided by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The move represents a major development after months of negotiations and signals that the Mueller investigation could be entering a final phase with regard to the President.

The questions are focused on matters related to the investigation of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians seeking to meddle in the 2016 election, the sources said. Trump’s lawyers are preparing written responses, in part relying on documents previously provided to the special counsel, the sources said.

[snip]

Negotiations for Trump’s testimony lasted for the better part of a year. The two sides nearly reached a deal in January for Trump to be questioned at the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, Camp David, only for talks to break down at the last minute. What followed was a series of letters and meetings — some hostile — in which Trump’s lawyers raised objections and sought to limit any potential testimony.

For months, Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that he needed to hear from the President to determine his intent on key events in the obstruction inquiry.

While I find it significant that this report came first from Evan Perez and (?!?!) Dana Bash, not Maggie and Mike (suggesting it may come from different sources than the people who fed the NYT the line that Mueller was primarily interested in obstruction), this report seems to suggest that after letting Trump stall for almost a year, Mueller has decided to finally get him on the record on the key crimes.

While CNN has not said anything about timing — that is, how long Trump’s lawyers will stall over an open book test that they claim they’ve already written many of the answers to — this agreement may have as much to do with preparation for the post-election period in which Mueller can roll out any indictments he has been working on and Trump can start firing people. That is, before he makes any big moves in the case in chief, he has to get Trump on the record in some form or other. Better to get him on the record in sworn written statements than launch a subpoena fight that will last past that post-election period.

So I don’t think this says much about the relative legal exposure Mueller thinks Trump has for obstruction versus conspiracy (though, again, if you’ve got the conspiracy charges, the obstruction charges will be minor by comparison). It says that Mueller has decided it’s time to get Trump committed to one story, under penalty of perjury.

That said, consider two details about obstruction.

First, Mueller has gotten both of the men Trump reportedly dangled pardons to, Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, to enter cooperation agreements. That means he’s got both men — possibly along with the non-felon lawyers who passed on the offer — describing that they were offered pardons if they protected the President. That, to my mind, is the most slam dunk instance of obstruction even considered. So by obtaining Manafort’s cooperation, Mueller may have already obtained the most compelling evidence of obstruction possible.

Also, it’s not at all clear that Trump can avoid perjury exposure even on an open book test. We’ve already seen that some of the written responses the Trump team has provided Mueller — such as the two versions of their explanation for the Flynn firing — obscure key details (including Trump’s own role in ordering Flynn to tell Russia not to worry about sanctions). Plus, Trump’s lawyers have recently come to realize they not only don’t know as much as they thought they did about what other “friendly” witnesses had to say (Bill Burck seems to have reconfirmed last week that his clients — which include, at a minimum, Don McGahn, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus — don’t have Joint Defense Agreements with Trump), but that they don’t actually know everything they need to know from Trump. Trump is unmanageable as a client, so it’s likely he continues to lie to his own lawyers.

Most importantly, on all of the key conspiracy questions Mueller posed to Trump last March (the first two were also in his first set of questions in January), Mueller has at least one and sometimes several cooperating witnesses.

  • What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016? [Flynn]
  • When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting? [Manafort]
  • During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials? [Cohen, Goldstone, Kaveladze]
  • What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign? [Cohen, Sater]
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others? [Manafort, Gates, Cohen]
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions? [Manafort, Flynn]
  • What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine? [Manafort, Gates]
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign? [Stone’s associates, Gates, Manafort]
  • What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? [Manafort]
  • What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks? [Stone’s associates, Manafort]
  • What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts? [Flynn]
  • What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince? [Flynn]
  • What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017? [Cohen]

The one area where that’s not true is with Roger Stone (though Rick Gates, at least, seems to have been in the loop on some of that), but then Mueller has spent the last 10 months collecting every imaginable piece of evidence pertaining to Stone.

Between Trump’s lawyers’ incomplete grasp of what their client did and the witnesses and other evidence regarding these activities, Mueller has a much better idea of what happened than Trump’s lawyers do. Which means they may not be able to help their client avoid lying.

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

Mueller Juggles Plea Agreement Housekeeping

In the last two days, both Rick Gates’ and Paul Manafort’s plea deals have made news.

In Gates’ case, his lawyers have filed an unopposed motion to liberate him from his GPS device and curfew, arguing that the leverage of the plea deal itself is enough to keep him on the straight and narrow.

The plea agreement contains very serious consequences for Mr. Gates should he violate any of its terms or conditions. The advantages that attach to strict compliance with that agreement, and the extraordinary disincentives to violating that agreement, alone guarantee Mr. Gates’s appearance at any scheduled Court proceeding. Over a substantial period of time, now approaching one year, Mr. Gates has demonstrated his resolve to comply with all conditions of his release. Removing the GPS monitor and allowing Mr. Gates to travel within the Eastern District of Virginia and District of Columbia without restriction will surely not increase the risk of flight or make it less likely that Mr. Gates will appear in Court when required to do so.

The more interesting bit comes when, in a bid to talk up Gates’ cooperation, his attorneys reveal he’s been meeting with other prosecutors.

Both before the entry of the plea, and for many weeks thereafter, Mr. Gates, whenever requested, traveled to Washington, D.C., to appear at the Office of Special Counsel to be interviewed as part of his cooperation agreement. Those sessions have been numerous and they continue to this day.

[snip]

These meetings with the Office of Special Counsel continued during the weeks preceding the trial of co-defendant Paul Manafort in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

[snip]

Following that trial, Mr. Gates has continued to cooperate with the Special Counsel and with other federal investigators by attending current meetings at which he provides additional information. [my emphasis]

Rick Gates met in March and he met in July and he met in September, Thomas Green says. It’s the “other federal investigators” that’s of interest, as it suggests his cooperation extends beyond Mueller’s case in chief.

But that may not mean all that much. After all, Gates’ cooperation would be useful for the three cases Mueller referred to SDNY (involving Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Greg Craig), as well as for Stephen Calk, the Chicago banker who gave Manafort a loan in hopes of getting an appointment with the Trump Administration. Gates would surely also have information that might corroborate Sam Patten’s cooperation.

Still, it’s possible those “other federal investigators” include some of the “garden variety” Trump corruption I keep suggesting might also get spun off, such as the non-Russian Inauguration pay-to-play.

Meanwhile, in EDVA, TS Ellis is being TS Ellis. Yesterday, he filed an order saying that the parties in Manafort’s EDVA prosecution can’t just defer resolution of the ten hung counts against him until after Mueller is done with his cooperation. He scheduled a hearing for a week from Friday, on October 19, so the process of sentencing can begin. At that hearing, Ellis expects the parties to “address dismissal of the outstanding counts on which the jury deadlocked.”

Dismissing the charges may be no big deal. Manafort is on the hook for 210 – 262 months if he breaches his plea agreement in DC, before any state charges, and some of the charges that Ellis would dismiss could be charged in VA, aided by Manafort’s admission of guilt in them in the plea. As Popehat notes, cleaning up these charges is consistent with good docket management.

The push for the government to move forward on cooperation is more interesting as it may require the government to weigh in on the value of Manafort’s cooperation while he’s still discussing things with Mueller’s team. Of particular interest, any discussion on cooperation may reveal how much Manafort has cooperated against the President.

I’m also interested in timing. Manafort’s lawyers submitted their notice that they won’t challenge anything that happened in that trial right on schedule, on September 20. The government filed their response just under the week later that they had under Ellis’ schedule, on September 26. But Ellis took two weeks before he issued this hurry up and wait order, setting a hearing for October 19, at which any sentencing schedule is likely to be after Manafort’s next status hearing in DC.

In any case, it’s not clear that Ellis’ haste will help Manafort much. Even if Ellis is perturbed that Mueller used his courtroom to flip a witness against Trump, the PSR will show that Manafort is an admitted criminal in the DC charges, meaning his sentence should be harsher than it would with any kind of cooperation assistance. And prosecutors can just defer any 5K statement, and instead account for cooperation with a Rule 35 motion submitted after the fact. In any case, the plea envisions concurrent sentencing, and if Manafort does’t cooperate willingly, he’ll face 10 years in the DC plea, which is longer than Ellis is likely to have sentenced him on anyway.

So it seems like Mueller can still retain the breathtaking upper hand they have with Manafort, and defer any public statement on cooperation until later.

The Psy-Group Proposal: A Way to Measure the Value that Russian Hackers Provided the Trump Campaign

On April 15, 2016, Russian hackers searched in DCCC and DNC networks for information on (among other things) Ted Cruz and the Democrats’ field plan.

The Conspirators searched for and identified computers within the DCCC and DNC networks that stored information related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For example, on or about April 15, 2016, the Conspirators searched one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump.” The Conspirators also copied select DCCC folders, including “Benghazi Investigations.” The Conspirators targeted computers containing information such as opposition research and field operation plans for the 2016 elections.

That’s an important detail with which to assess the recent NYT story that, in March, Rick Gates asked Israeli intelligence firm Psy-Group for a proposal on influence operations targeting both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. As the NYT story notes, Gates wasn’t actually all that interested in the Psy-Group proposal and there’s no indication anyone in the Trump camp was either.

There is no evidence that the Trump campaign acted on the proposals, and Mr. Gates ultimately was uninterested in Psy-Group’s work, a person with knowledge of the discussions said, in part because other campaign aides were developing a social media strategy.

But he was interested in the services Psy-Group offered, including intelligence gathering and influence operations.

According to Mr. Birnbaum, Mr. Gates expressed interest during that meeting in using social media influence and manipulation as a campaign tool, most immediately to try to sway Republican delegates toward Mr. Trump.

“He was interested in finding the technology to achieve what they were looking for,” Mr. Birnbaum said in an interview. Through a lawyer, Mr. Gates declined to comment.

[snip]

The proposal to gather information about Mrs. Clinton and her aides has elements of traditional opposition research, but it also contains cryptic language that suggests using clandestine means to build “intelligence dossiers.” [I’ve switched the order of these passages]

So aside from context for the meeting Psy-Group owner Joel Zamel had with Don Jr (and any downstream arrangement the two had), it’s not clear what the report itself means for Mueller’s investigation, with regards to Psy-Group, particularly given claims that the group closely vetted their programs for legal compliance (though NYT was unable to learn whether Covington & Burling had given a green light for this campaign).

But the report that Gates was seeking proposals in March 2016 and the guts of the report are interesting for what they say about the mindset that Gates and Manafort brought to, first, the Convention and after that managing the entire campaign.

The materials Psy-Group provided in response to a Gates request provide at least three things that may be useful for a Mueller prosecution. First, they show that the Russian hackers were working on the same schedule that Gates and Manafort were, with initial data collection slotted for April.

The report also shows what kind of targets the Trump team knew would be resistant to messaging directly from Trump, and so should be targeted by unaffiliated online assets, including fictional avatars.

These groups — especially minority and swing voters — were precisely the groups that Russian trolls and Cambridge Analytica’s dark marketing targeted.

Likewise, Russian hackers may well have shared what amounted to intelligence dossiers with Trump.

Finally, the Psy-Group proposal also provides a dollar figure for the value of these kinds of services. That provides Mueller with a way to show the kind of financial benefit Trump received from both the Russian efforts and whatever efforts Cambridge Analytica gave to Trump for free (or coordinated on illegally): $3.31 million dollars.

The above proposed activity will cost $3,210,000. This does not include the cost of media, which will be billed at cost + 20% management fee and pre-approved with the client in advance prior to committing and spending. We estimate media cost at around $100,000 at this point (mostly social / online media).

One charge we know (from Manafort’s warrant applications) that Mueller is considering is receiving a thing of value from a foreigner. This proposal measures what kind of value Trump’s campaign received from the Russians.

It may be that Psy-Group poses a risk to Trump’s people directly, perhaps as a way to understand Israel’s role as a cut-out for Russia, or as a way to prove that Don Jr lied under oath about his willingness to accept gifts from foreigners. But even without that, the Psy-Group proposal provides a real time measure of how Trump’s campaign under Manafort planned to run their campaign.

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

On KT McFarland’s Belated Unforgetting of the Truth

The WaPo has an important story about how KT McFarland decided to unforget key details about her role in coaching Mike Flynn through reassuring Russia, on December 29, 2016, that the Trump Administration would ease off on sanctions. McFarland lied about whether sanctions were discussed in a summer 2017 interview with the FBI, then her memory seems to have cleared up after the Mike Flynn plea deal.

When FBI agents first visited her at her Long Island home in the summer of 2017, McFarland denied ever talking to Flynn about any discussion of sanctions between him and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December 2016 during the presidential transition.

For a time, investigators saw her answers as “inconsistent,” putting her in legal peril as the FBI tried to determine if she had lied to them.

[snip]

Not long after Flynn’s plea, McFarland was questioned by investigators again about her conversations with Flynn, and she walked back her previous denial that sanctions were discussed, saying a general statement Flynn had made to her that things were going to be okay could have been a reference to sanctions, these people said.

McFarland’s account does not answer the question of what the president knew or didn’t know about Flynn’s interactions with the ambassador, these people said.

McFarland didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, including emails and calls to her home.

Eventually, McFarland and her lawyer Robert Giuffra were able to convince the FBI that she had not intentionally misled the bureau but had rather spoken from memory, without the benefit of any documents that could have helped her remember her exchanges with Flynn about the Kislyak conversations, these people said.

This is thoroughly unsurprising, and it probably has as much to do with McFarland withdrawing her nomination to be Ambassador to Singapore as did any concerns about a confirmation hearing where her past lies to Congress would be an issue. It explains part (though just part) of the Transition Team’s outrage that Mueller had obtained emails that the Trump people would have otherwise claimed privilege over. By doing that, Mueller caught McFarland (and, likely, a number of other people) in lies by showing their extensive communications that contradicted the emails.

Nor is it surprising that McFarland was able to clear up her testimony (indeed, the WaPo notes that Sean Spicer was telling similar lies as McFarland was telling, so he may have also had to have cleaned up testimony). She’s got a serious attorney, Robert Giuffra, and unlike George Papadopoulos she (presumably) didn’t do anything stupid, like deleting her entire Facebook account, when she tried to clean up her lies. That happens in cases like this (especially where the witnesses are powerful enough to fight a false statements case aggressively). Remember that Karl Rove cleaned up his testimony in the Plame investigation four different times.

Indeed, similar unforgettings have probably happened in the wake of each plea deal, or with the unveiling that Mueller obtained search warrants for at least five AT&T phones (and probably a similar number of Verizon phones) in the wake of the Rick Gates plea. That’s what I meant when I suggested that the Paul Manafort plea may set off a kind of mass Game Theory, as each of up to 30 co-conspirators consider whether they want to change their testimony before the former campaign chair clarifies it to Mueller for them, or before their fellow rats jump ship first.

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

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

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

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

While I suspect Mueller has key players in the case in chief largely sewn up, this should accelerate the process and make any prosecutions easier (assuming the NYT doesn’t get Rosenstein fired before then).

So one takeaway from this story — told probably eight months after the fact — is that Mueller has been slowly chipping away at the omertà, and that process will only keep getting easier (in part because virtually none of these people have any decent operational security).

But the other takeaway, and the likely explanation for it coming out, is that my assessment of why the Transition squawked so loudly last year is correct: they wanted to hide how closely Donald Trump micromanaged the sanctions conversation with Sergei Kislyak, and so both Flynn and McFarland lied about it, then subsequently cleaned up their lies. That puts Donald Trump attempting to deliver the quo of the quid pro quo.

Trump may be answering the take home exam he told Mueller he’d be willing to complete, which includes this question, which got added in the wake of Flynn’s plea and probably McFarland’s revised testimony: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

The correct answers to that question are getting narrower and narrower.

Update: Fixed syntax of Spicer description.

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

A Comparison of Rick Gates and Paul Manafort’s Plea Deals

Because I wanted to get a sense of what Gates won by pleading guilty and cooperating with Mueller’s team earlier, I decided to compare the two plea deals. (Gates, Manafort)

Manafort’s a bigger criminal than Gates

Obviously, the biggest difference comes in recommended sentence. While the government got Gates for a lie to prosecutors and got Manfort for witness tampering, the rest of the conduct was largely the same. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons (Manafort was the lead and Gates benefitted from being called a minor player, Manafort’s obstruction gets added on top whereas Gates’ lie does not, Manafort got way more money out of the deal) the sentence ranges end up dramatically different.

Manafort’s advisory sentencing range works out to 210-262 months, whereas Gates’ range is 57-71 months.

The government is intent on taking all of Manafort’s stuff

The Manafort plea includes over three pages laying out how the government is going to take his ill-gotten gains. Given my newfound obsession with Paul Manafort’s forfeitures, I’ll write that up separately (or better yet make bmaz, who actually knows something about how this works, do so). The short version, though, is the government is intent on making sure they’ll get it all.

The EDVA charges

While this plea only deals with the charges in DC, the plea is meant to work with the EDVA charges. So for example, Manafort’s plea required him to admit he was guilty of the 10 hung charges in EDVA and prohibits him to appeal that case in any way (and includes the one bank account he had saved from forfeiture in the EDVA trial in the forfeiture in this plea). Manafort’s plea notes that if he is sentenced in EDVA before DC, he will have a criminal history for the purposes of sentencing. The plea promises to recommend that both his EDVA and DC sentences run concurrently (which probably would have happened anyway), but notes that neither judge, Amy Berman Jackson nor TS Ellis, is bound by the plea.

Gates was gagged

Perhaps most interesting pertains to Section 8, the description of cooperation each man has to offer. This is mostly boilerplate, and for both includes a few things in boilerplate bullet points — most  notably the requirement to participate in undercover activities — that won’t apply to either men (though Gates likely did still have documents to turn over whereas Manafort likely doesn’t).

But Gates’ plea has a bullet point Manafort’s doesn’t.

The defendant agrees not to reveal his cooperation, or any information derived therefrom, to any third party without prior consent of the Office.

In other words, the prosecutors anticipated sharing secrets with Gates that might blow up their case. They appear to have no such concerns with Manafort. Possibly, he has already seen such details in the 302s he got from Gates; he would be bound to secrecy about those under the DC protective order.

Still, there would almost certainly be things that Manafort would be discussing going forward, and he doesn’t appear to be bound to keep that secret.

Update: Andrew Prokop notes one thing I missed: the language introducing what kind of cooperation will be required in Gates says he’ll be working with “this Office,” whereas Manafort’s says he’ll be cooperating with “the Government.” I agree with him that suggests Manafort may still be cooperating after the Mueller office has shifted all its prosecutions elsewhere and will be cooperating in other jurisdictions (for example, against Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Greg Craig in SDNY). Anybody who has ever broken the law with Manafort should be securing legal representation if they haven’t already.

A slightly larger obligation to Gates

There’s one sentence at the end of the Government’s Obligation section in the Gates plea. After it says he can argue for any sentence below the advisory guidelines, it says,

Depending on the precise nature of the defendant’s substantial assistance, the Office may not oppose defendant’s application.

I’m not sure what to make of the difference — perhaps it suggests the government expected Gates might have that kind of argument to make?

Note, too, that the 5K language in the Manafort plea is actually plural, meaning if he cooperates a lot he’ll be able to ask for a lesser sentence in EDVA too.

Pardon-proofing the statute of limitations

The statute of limitations paragraph, which allows the government to prosecute the underlying crimes and any other crimes not prosecuted if “any plea or conviction [is…] set aside or dismissed for any reason,” even after the statute of limitations toll includes this language in the Manafort plea that is not present in the Gates plea:

The Office and any other party will be free to use against your client, directly and indirectly, in any criminal or civil proceeding, all statements made by your client, including the Statement of the Offense, and any of the information or materials provided by your client, including such statements, information, and materials provided pursuant to this Agreement or during the course of debriefings conducted in anticipation of, or after entry of, this Agreement, whether or not the debriefings were previously a part of proffer-protected debriefings, and your client’s statements made during proceedings before the Court pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

It also repeats that this language applies to the conduct described in the Statement of the Offense “or any other crimes that the Government has agreed not to prosecute.”

Some lawyers believe this language generally and the addition specifically provides further insurance against pardon. If Trump pardons Manafort for the crimes he has just pled guilty to, the government will then be able to go after him for the other crimes he just told the grand jury about, crimes which are probably worse and for which the President is a co-conspirator.

Gates can’t even write a story about Paul Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling

There are two slight differences under the section enumerating trial rights. Both are prohibited from profiting off their stories. But those prohibitions are described differently. Gates many not make money on stories about his:

work for Paul Manafort, the transactions alleged in the Indictment, or the investigation by the Office or prosecution of any criminal or civil cases against him.

Whereas Manafort may not make money on stories about,

the conduct encompassed by the Statement of the Offense, or the investigation by the Office or prosecution of any criminal or civil cases against him.

There’s also a really subtle difference about how proffer statements might be used. Gates waived the right to object “to the Government’s use” of his proffer statements (which started on January 29, almost a month before he pled). Manafort waived the right to object to “the use” of his proffer statements, suggesting Mueller’s team might know of other venues (or branches of government) besides the Federal government where those statements might be used.

Gates preserves two potential collateral attacks on his sentence

Gates preserved two additional rights in the collateral attacks section. First, if the sentencing range for his crimes gets lowered in the future, he can challenge that under 18 USC §3582(c)(2). Additionally, he could also challenge the sentence if newly discovered evidence comes available. Manafort has neither of these protections.

The government can declare Manafort in breach of agreement based on good faith

With Gates, the standard the government has to prove to argue he has breached his agreement is preponderance of the evidence or, in case of committing a crime, probable cause. With Manafort, the government only has to prove “good faith.”

Jeannie Rhee gets involved

This may be a minor (or huge) issue. But there’s one difference to the prosecutors who signed these pleas. Andrew Weissman, Greg Andres, and Kyle Freeny are on both. But whereas Brian Richardson signed Gates’ plea, Jeannie Rhee signed Manafort’s. That’s interesting because she has been heavily involved in the Roger Stone investigation, but she was also involved in the two Russian indictments.

The Objection that Made Mueller’s Case

This will be a grandiose statement, but what the fuck, it’s a crazy day.

The moment when Robert Mueller made his case came on August 7 when Greg Andres objected to a line of Kevin Downing’s cross-examination of Rick Gates.

The lawyers went into a sidebar with Judge Ellis. According to a successful prosecution motion to seal that part of the sidebar, the two sides argued about details of Mueller’s investigation.

On August 7, 2018, the Court held a sidebar conference to address a line of questioning pursued by the defense during their cross-examination of witness Richard Gates. During the sidebar conference, substantive evidence pertaining to an ongoing investigation was revealed.

Ultimately, Ellis ruled that Manafort’s team could not pursue that line of questioning. I believe that objection is what led to Manafort’s plea deal today, and with it, likely the final bits to the key conspiracy case against Trump and his spawn.

I say that for the following reasons.

Manafort got very little (that we can see) from his plea deal

Start with Manafort’s plea deal. When I was thinking of Mueller’s leverage the other day, I imagined Manafort might plead to the charges he did today, but that Mueller would also bracket off some of Manafort’s forfeitures — probably the $16 million that the holdout juror saved Manafort in the EDVA case. That didn’t happen — Mueller dumped the EDVA forfeiture into this deal, so that Manafort will lose all of his thus far identified ill-gotten gains (he’s apparently swapping his Trump Tower apartment for one of the financial accounts, which means that the US government will soon own a Trump Tower property it has unlimited discretion to decide what to do with).

And unless he gets a downward departure for significant cooperation, he’ll do ten years. Under some scenarios, that’s what he would have gotten had he gone to trial in DC and lost. So aside from saving him from a second (and possibly third, if the government pursued the 10 hung charges in EDVA) trial, Manafort got very little that we can see in his plea — just the legal fees associated with the trial(s), while losing the forfeiture he had won by going to trial in EDVA. And for that very little, he kisses away all hope he’ll get a pardon, as well as the (admittedly slim) chance that he might not be found guilty in DC. He also forgoes any appeals and any profits off telling his story. He basically commits to going to prison and coming out an old man to a vastly diminished fortune.

The possible plea benefits we don’t know about

That says the reasons behind Manafort’s decision to accept this plea are things we can’t see but he can.

There are two related possibilities: First, that Manafort came to the conclusion that he’d never get the pardon he had been working towards. That might stem from justified distrust that Trump will ever keep his word, but I doubt it. A pardon was always Manafort’s best way out, and up to a point, it made sense for him to take his chances with Trump.

Which suggests that, for some reason, Manafort came to believe Trump wouldn’t be able to pardon him, probably because he came to understand it would be politically impossible or legally improbable.

Couple that with the other thing that might convince Manafort he’d be better off taking this plea now than continuing to fight his charges: that he knew the next thing he was going to be charged with would be far worse. Just as one example, I’ve suggested that once you’re working for the government of Ukraine (as Manafort was, in the charges settled today) or the government of Russia (as might be established if you showed Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer, as Mueller has already alleged), very little separates a FARA charge (what he pled to today) from a 18 USC 951 charge, spying. It’s a lot harder to pardon someone for spying than to pardon him for obstruction and financial crimes.

It’s also possible that Manafort came to understand the scope of the conspiracy prosecutors are now pursuing. If he knew they already had the evidence to charge Trump as a co-conspirator in that conspiracy, it would also make it a lot harder for the President to pardon his co-conspirators.

In any case, whatever it is, it’s likely that Manafort had figured out where the prosecutors were heading, and he recognized he was far better off with this painful cooperation deal than being included in the next indictments. Losing his ostrich skin shirt (and five homes and $46 million) and trying to cooperate into a lesser sentence beats facing down a spying charge as part of a conspiracy with both the Russians and a president with severely curtailed pardon abilities, as it turns out.

The Rick Gates details he tried — but failed — to put into the public record

Which brings me back to that Andres objection on August 7.

Just before the EDVA trial, the government would have had to provide Manafort all their 302s from Rick Gates, so he could use that information to damage Gates’ credibility on the stand. And damage his credibility he did, among other things, by revealing that Gates stole money from the Trump transition.

But in addition to looking at those 302s for impeachment evidence, Manafort also surely looked at it to see what Gates had already provided to Mueller’s prosecutors. I’m guessing (based off what a number of people have said about the role Gates played on the campaign) that Gates got Mueller 90% of the way to a conspiracy involving the President, leaving just some meetings attended only by Manafort and Trump as gaps in the evidentiary record.

And that’s what I believe Downing was trying to do back on August 7: Elicit testimony from Gates that would lay out some of the evidence he had provided Mueller in such a way that didn’t violate the protective order he signed in the DC case (there’s not one in the EDVA case, but the DC one basically covers that, not least because the discovery significantly overlaps). So Downing was trying to put into the public record something about what Gates had told Mueller.

Had he succeeded, perhaps Trump would have recognized the jeopardy that put Manfort (and, presumably, himself) in. Perhaps he would have taken that moment to pardon Manafort, and save him from that jeopardy.

But Greg Andres piped up to object, Mueller’s team won the still sealed sidebar discussion, and Manafort failed to introduce whatever evidence into the public record for Trump and his other co-conspirators to see.

Which left Trump and his legal team, even as Manafort had his first proffer discussion with Mueller on Monday, still claiming that Manafort remained in a Joint Defense Agreement four days later, apparently blissfully unaware that Manafort had seen enough to decide it was time to flip.

Downing’s ploy probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. Pardoning Manafort might have helped Manafort, but if Mueller got 90% of the way to the conspiracy with the witnesses he has (including Sam Patten, whose plea surely contributed to Manafort’s certainty he was fucked going forward), then it wouldn’t have helped Trump and probably would have gotten us closer to when Republicans realize Trump has become an anvil rather than an electoral plus.

But I suspect that was the moment when Manafort’s cooperation, with whatever last little bits implicating Trump, became inevitable.

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

Paul Manafort Is One of 37 People in an Omertà with the President

Apparently, Bob Woodward committed some journalism along with canonizing racist John Kelly and wife-beater Rob Porter in his book: he got a number for how many people are included the Joint Defense Agreement that gives Rudy Giuliani such confidence the President is not at risk: 37.

And Politico committed still more journalism and answered the question we’ve all been asking: yes, Paul Manafort is among those 37.

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

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

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

That means when John Dowd complained that the raid of Manafort’s condo (where his eight iPods were seized), that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers. And when, in January, Trump confidently said he was sure Manafort would protect him, that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers.  And when, just before the EDVA trial, Kevin Downing was ostentatiously saying there was no way Manafort was flipping, and when he was balking on a plea with Mueller immediately after the trial, he was also talking to Rudy Giuliani.

Mind you, Rudy G will learn right away if Manafort starts considering cooperating, rather than just pleading, because Manafort will have to (finally!) drop out of the JDA before those discussions start.

And while I suspect Mueller has slowly been peeling away people like Sam Patten, that the JDA is so big likely means some or most of the following people are part of the omertà (and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Mike Flynn were part of it):

  • Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Jared Kushner
  • The Trump Org defendants: Don Jr, Rhonna Graff
  • Bill Burck’s clients: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn (and up to three more)
  • Victoria Toensing’s clients: Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, Sam Clovis
  • The hush payment recipients: Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale, Keith Schiller
  • Roger Stone and his buddies: Stone, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, Andrew Miller, plus some (probably)

That’s 20. Some other likely (and enticing) JDA members are: Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Tom Barrack, Keith Kellogg, John Mashburn, KT McFarland, JD Gordon, Walid Phares, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer, Rob Porter, Corey Lewandowski, John Kelly. Heck, it’s not even clear that George Papadopoulos is not part of the JDA.

But that still leaves space in the JDA for people who were already comparing notes with known members of the JDA, including Rinat Akhmetshin, Rob Goldstone, and Ike Kaveladze (along with Emin and Aras Agalarov, who are all represented by Scott Balber).

No wonder Rudy thinks he knows everything that Mueller has.

That’s why the collective panic on the discovery that Stone’s phone was likely among the ~10 or so that Mueller got warrants for in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement is so interesting, and also why Manafort, playing his part as point, tried so hard to find out who the other four AT&T users whose phones were obtained with his own.

These guys may be good at omertà. But every single one we’ve seen so far has shitty OpSec; they’ve been saying their co-conspiracy communications on their phones and on iCloud. Plus there are people like Omarosa wandering among them, dismissed as irrelevant even while they record everything they hear. And meanwhile, Mueller is chipping away at the edges, people they haven’t considered (like Patten). And all the while he’s been building his case against Stone and Don Jr.