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Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

Oleg Deripaska was working to weaken Manafort even as he was pushing him to help carve up Ukraine

On July 30, 2016, as explained by the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page, Christopher Steele met with Bruce Ohr in DC. They discussed several things: reporting, paid for by an unknown source, about Russian doping; Steele’s reporting, paid for by Fusion GPS, about Carter Page’s travel to Russia and a claim that Russia had Trump over a barrel; and Steele’s work for one or several Oleg Deripaska attorneys digging up evidence in support of the aluminum oligarch’s lawsuit against Paul Manafort.

Three days later on August 2, 2016, as explained by the Mueller Report, Konstantin Kilimnik met with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in NYC. They discussed several things: how Manafort planned to win the election by winning PA, MI, WI, and MN; what role Manafort might play in a Russian-backed plan to put Viktor Yanukovych in charge of an autonomous Donbas region that Manafort recognized was a back door effort to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking; and how Manafort could fix his urgent financial woes by getting his Ukrainian paymasters to pay money due him and by getting Deripaska to dismiss that lawsuit.

That is just one of the temporal overlaps that make it clear Oleg Deripaska was playing a brutal double game in 2016, pitching a renewed relationship with a financially desperate Manafort via Konstantin Kilimnik at the same time — sometimes even on the same days — when he was offering to provide evidence to the FBI on Manafort’s corruption via Christopher Steele.

Another such overlap came in December, 2016. On December 7, in an interagency meeting, Bruce Ohr suggested the US government engage with Deripaska to learn about corruption — “all the way to the President” — alleged by Steele. The next day, December 8, Kilimnik sent Manafort an email (probably using foldering in a failed attempt to hide it from surveillance) where he pitched Manafort on leading the Ukraine peace deal again. “All that is required to start the process is a very minor ‘wink’ (or slight push) from [Trump] and a decision to authorize you to be a ‘special representative’ and manage this process.” (See the timeline below for the chilling way this double game played out over the course of 2016.)

The double game that Deripaska was playing — making Manafort more vulnerable with threats of legal trouble even while pushing him to lead an effort to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking — may be a far more consequential question for American security than the Steele dossier itself is, particularly given how Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation have led him to undercut Volodymyr Zelensky as he tries to negotiate a peace deal with Russia. If Manafort, out of financial and possibly even electoral desperation, made commitments in August 2016 — and whether he did or not was a question Mueller was unable to answer, in part because Manafort risked more prison time to hide the answer — it would compromise Trump as well, even if he didn’t know of or approve Manafort’s efforts in advance.

Bill Priestap underestimated Vladimir Putin’s strategy

The outline of this double game provides a ready answer to a question that Bill Priestap — the top FBI counterintelligence person at the time he oversaw the Russia investigation — posed when asked whether the FBI had considered that the dossier might be disinformation.

Priestap told us that he recognized that the Russians are “masters at disinformation” and that the Crossfire Hurricane team was aware of the potential for Russian disinformation to influence Steele’s reporting. According to Priestap:

[W]e had a lot of concurrent efforts to try to understand, is [the reporting] true or not, and if it’s not, you know, why is it not? Is it the motivation of [Steele] or one of his sources, meaning [Steele’s] sources?… [Or were they] flipped, they’re actually working for the Russians, and providing disinformation? We considered all of that. …

[snip]

Priestap told us that the FBI “didn’t have any indication whatsoever” by May 2017 that the Russians were running a disinformation campaign through the Steele election reporting. Priestap explained, however, that if the Russians, in fact, were attempting to funnel disinformation through Steele to the FBI using Russian Oligarch 1, he did not understand the goal. Priestap told us that

what he has tried to explain to anybody who will listen is if that’s the theory [that Russian Oligarch 1 ran a disinformation campaign through [Steele] to the FBI], then I’m struggling with what the goal was. So, because, obviously, what [Steele] reported was not helpful, you could argue, to then [candidate] Trump. And if you guys recall, nobody thought then candidate Trump was going to win the election. Why the Russians, and [Russian Oligarch 1] is supposed to be close, very close to the Kremlin, why the Russians would try to denigrate an opponent that the intel community later said they were in favor of who didn’t really have a chance at winning, I’m struggling, with, when you know the Russians, and this I know from my Intelligence Community work: they favored Trump, they’re trying to denigrate Clinton, and they wanted to sow chaos. I don’t know why you’d run a disinformation campaign to denigrate Trump on the side. [brackets original]

Priestap convinced himself this was not disinformation based on three assumptions:

  • Nobody thought Trump would win at the time
  • The Russians favored Trump
  • To help Trump, the Russians were trying to hurt Hillary and sow chaos

Those assumptions led Priestap to believe Russia would, therefore, never do anything to harm Trump, and so concluded this dossier could not be a Russian disinformation effort. But, with the benefit of three years of hindsight, I think we can restate these assumptions such that filling the dossier with disinformation makes perfect sense. Yes, Russia preferred Trump and yes, few people believed Trump could win. But the Russians stood to optimize the chances that Trump would defy expectations by preventing the FBI from thwarting their ongoing operation. And sowing chaos was a goal independent of the hope that Trump might win. Indeed, while Trump would have been preferable for Russia based on policy stances alone, Russia would prefer a weak Trump they could manipulate over a strong Trump any day. By the time of the 2016 operation, Vladimir Putin had already exhibited a willingness to take huge risks to pursue Russian resurgence. Given that audacity, Trump was more useful to Putin not as an equal partner with whom he could negotiate, but as a venal incompetent who could be pushed to dismantle the American security apparatus by playing on his sense of victimhood. Putin likely believed Russia benefitted whether a President Trump voluntarily agreed to Russia’s policy goals or whether Putin took them by immobilizing the US with chaos, and the dossier protected parts of the ongoing Russian operation while making Trump easier to manipulate.

How the dossier might work as disinformation tactically

With that as background, I’d like to repeat an exercise I’ve done before: show how the dossier, as disinformation, would work to Russia’s advantage. Note, this is speculative, based on an assumption the dossier is disinformation, but I’m not accusing anyone of seeding that disinformation. Indeed, the dossier would work as disinformation whether or not Deripaska was the one feeding it, and whether or not Manafort was a willing participant in the Russian operation.

This section will lay out how each of the Steele reports would serve Russia’s interest tactically. These descriptions treat all of the dossier is disinformation, an assumption I don’t believe to be true; I’m just treating them as such to show how they could fit into this frame. I’ve marked the ones that I think would be most useful for these purposes with ⇒ arrows.

Below, I’ll show how it would serve Russia’s larger goals. As background, this spreadsheet lists all reports with the dates they got shared with the FBI.

⇒Report 80, June 20, 2016: Steele’s first report came out on June 20, after several parts of the Russian operation had already been rolled out, privately and publicly. On June 9, Don Jr had listened to a pitch to eliminate the Magnitsky sanctions (possibly as a part of a quid pro quo offering dirt on Hillary in exchange), then expressed a willingness to lift sanctions but not to make any commitments until after the election. On June 14, the Democrats unexpectedly announced the hack and attributed it to Russia. That same day, Michael Cohen decided against attending the St. Petersburg Economic Forum to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow deal (where Deripaska would meet Sergei Millian), possibly in part because the DNC hack revelation would make the Trump Tower deal more controversial.

Steele’s first report would include the pee tape, kompromat that Michael Cohen had known about since 2013 and that, therefore, would not be terrifically effective leverage over Trump in practice (as Cohen’s exchange with Giorgi Rtskhiladze would bear out). But it would likely be news to Hillary and would hold out promise of the kind of scandal that might make Democrats believe Steele’s project would swing the election. The first report would also include a claim that Trump had declined real estate deals with Russia, even though he was, at that moment, still pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow one. And, as noted, this report would tell the Democrats that the Guccifer 2.0 releases were not the kompromat described in the dossier — dated FSB intercepts — which might lead them to be complacent about further dumps from the hack.

Report 94, July 19, 2016: This report came after public reporting of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, just before which Dmitry Peskov responded to an email that included US-based Dmitri Klimentov on July 6 by judging he should not arrange a meeting for Page at the Kremlin: “I have read about [Page]. Specialists say that he is far from being the main one. So I better not initiate a meeting in the Kremlin.” It also came out days before the dump of the DNC emails. It would have had the effect of leading Democrats to believe that Page had had the meeting at the Presidential Administration, with Divyekin, that Peskov had pointedly decided not to schedule because Page wasn’t the key Trump person Russia wanted to influence. And it would have repeated the earlier suggestion that the anticipated Hillary kompromat consisted of dated FSB intercepts rather than recently stolen emails.

⇒Report 86, July 26, 2015: Steele’s third report came out in the wake of the WikiLeaks’ release of the DNC emails (though this report is one that only got shared with the FBI much later). It made ridiculous claims that Russia hadn’t had success hacking G7 and NATO targets, even though anyone following Russia’s hacking would have known they had compromised several American targets the previous year. It also said that the FSB had the lead on such hacking, which might have led the Democrats to ignore the more immediate threat from GRU. Both might have been intended to support Russia’s unsuccessful efforts at denying responsibility. And if the report had leaked in detail, the focus on FSB would have minimized the political damage of all the people with GRU ties reaching out to Trump’s people (including Mike Flynn’s past relationship with Igor Sergun, Cohen’s willingness to rely on former GRU general Evgeny Shmykov to broker the Trump Tower deal, and Deripaska’s aides), had those contacts ever became public.

⇒Report 95, July 28, 2016: Report 95 alleged a well-developed conspiracy between Trump and Russia just as the public was raising questions about it (literally, the day after Trump had made his “Russia if you’re listening” comment). It would also have invoked Sergei Millian (as Source E) admitting that there was an active conspiracy days before he would first meet Papadopoulos. This report raised the prospect that DNC insiders were part of the operation on a day when the first Seth Rich conspiracies were starting. It described the import of Russia’s diplomatic facilities to the 2016 operation, but focused on pension payments and the (in the case of Miami, non-existent) consulates rather than the overt involvement of Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And it suggested that Trump’s ties to China were more corrupt than his Russian ties, something not without basis that might have distracted attention from Russia.

Perhaps most interesting, given Deripaska’s double game, is the allegation that Manafort “was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE and others as intermediaries.” This report came out between the day Manafort accepted Kilimnik’s request for an in-person meeting in NYC and the date of that meeting on August 2. Focusing on Page might have had the effect of providing Kilimnik cover.

Report 97, July 30, 2016: This report came out in the wake of Trump’s “Russia if you’re listening” comment, the day after Roger Stone emailed Manafort promising “Good shit happening” as he was trying to figure out what WikiLeaks had coming, and in between when Manafort had agreed to meet with Kilimnik in NYC and the day they would meet on August 2, and as reporters were working on the stories that would make Manafort’s Russian ties toxic. While junior level Trump aides (including both Papadopoulos and JD Gordan) were being instructed to avoid any outreach involving Russia, both Manafort and Stone were aggressively taking steps to foster outreach. Report 97 suggested that both sides, Russia and Trump, were operating cautiously in the wake of the DNC release, when in fact the outreach was ratcheting up among key players.

⇒Report 100, August 5, 2016; Report 101 August 10, 2016: These two reports offer similar claims about Russia regretting the operation and worrying about releasing any further documents. They came out, however, at a time when Roger Stone was openly claiming that WikiLeaks would release more and he knew what it would be, and just days before Guccifer 2.0 started releasing the DCCC documents. Not only might these reports have further led the DNC to be complacent before more of their files got released, but it helped provide more plausible deniability to active efforts at the time to magnify the benefit of the leaks. (Note, these reports also came out during the period when the Seth Rich conspiracy started forming part of Russia and WikiLeaks’ denials.)

Report 102, August 10, 2016: Days before stories on Manafort’s Russian ties would create new problems for the campaign, this report claimed that the Trump campaign was planning on turning the tables on Hillary (they would, in fact, do so, but with a delayed effort to maximize the Podesta emails). This report also claimed that Trump’s campaign would focus on TV when the campaign was prepping to maximize Facebook and social media backed disinformation, assisted by the Internet Research Agency efforts. The report came long enough after the August 2 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik that it could have reflected Kilimnik’s briefing on how Manafort planned to win swing states.

⇒Report 105, August 22, 2016: Particularly given Deripaska’s double game, this report focusing on Manafort is of particular interest. It falsely suggests there was no record of Manafort’s kickbacks from Yanukovych and other Ukrainian backers. Moreover, it suggests that Putin was worried that Manafort’s Yanukovych graft would become public, when the reality was that Deripaska was using the vulnerability created by the scandal to push Manafort to lead an effort, headed by Yanukovych, to carve up Ukraine. This report feels really consistent with Deripaska’s double game, both emphasizing Manafort’s corruption, but obscuring the real details of it.

Report 111, September 14, 2016: This report suggests that the decision to release more emails wasn’t made in August, as by all reports it was (indeed, Craig Murray would be involved in some kind of handoff in DC just 11 days later). This would have, again, placated Democratic concerns about still more email dumps. Note, too, that even in September, this suggests the 2016 operation consisted solely of kompromot and not also social media disinformation and probes of voting facilities.

Report 112, September 14, 2016: The IG Report makes clear that Steele and Glenn Simpson were pushing the Alfa Bank story via more channels (including Report 132, which never got released publicly, but which per the IG Report pertained to both Alfa and Manafort). That makes this report, confirming that “Alpha” [sic] was close to Putin, mildly interesting. The Alfa story, as packaged, is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that the Spectrum Health angle, which purported to show a secret tie between Erik Prince and Trump, came at the same time Prince was interacting with Stone (partly on WhatsApp), including funding him. The Alfa story also served to get Petr Aven to be more responsive to Putin’s order to reach out to Trump to push back against sanctions than he otherwise might have been.

Report 113, September 14, 2016: This report is yet another offering conflicting information about Trump’s success in real estate. The reference to Agalarov would have raised the stakes for any discovery of the June 9 meeting. And the allegation of sexual scandal came as Trump’s hush payments were bubbling up in the press.

Report 130, October 12, 2016: After reporting repeatedly that Russia was getting cold feet on more releases, this report claims that Russia was pissed the releases hadn’t had more effect. It also “predicts” the WikiLeaks Podesta releases that had started the previous week. This report includes a credible explanation of why Russia did this (including a focus on Ukraine), but seems to blame FSB for things GRU did (Note: I half wonder whether much of this dossier, including the focus on Millian, arose out of the intra-spook competition in Russia, in which blaming FSB for things GRU had done would serve several purposes).

⇒Report 134 October 18, 2016; Report 135 October 19, 2016; Report 136, October 20, 2016: In three October Reports that would be the last of the publicly released reports before the election, Steele reported that Michael Cohen was trying to clean up after Russian-related scandals. The series came at a time when Cohen was making real attempts to clean up after Trump’s hush payment scandals (including at least one call while he was visiting his daughter in London) and Hope Hicks asked him to address pee tape rumors that TMZ was chasing. The series also came during the Kilimnik-Gates-Manafort crime spree attempting to cover up their Ukrainian graft. It came during a period when the campaign — according to a Mike Flynn reference that has yet to be fully explained — was talking about reaching out to WikiLeaks. And it came during a period when — according to a Trump confession — Cohen’s earlier attempts to chase the Trump Tower deal remained ongoing. (This post shows that the things Cohen was alleged to have done in the dossier were all accounted for in other indictments.) In short, there was a lot of secret stuff going on in October, a month when the Russians might actually have begun to believe that Trump could pull off the win. Some of it even involved Cohen. None of it took place in Prague, and to the extent that anyone looked for it there, they’d be looking in the wrong place for the wrong cover-up.

The other content on this is more interesting. Report 134, mentioning Page, came after Page had told Stefan Halper he believed he had an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank. This report suggests his monetary incentive to work with Russia was instead brokerage fees tied to the Rosneft sale. Returning to Carter Page at this point would have been useful for Deripaska given Kilimnik’s personal involvement in attempting to cover up the Ukrainian graft.

Report 135 is the only one that mentions something that could be construed as Manafort’s Deripaska-related scandals, which he and Kilimnik were trying hard to minimize.

Non-titled, non-dated: Bruce Ohr passed on a Steele report that has never been released publicly, suggesting that Russia delayed the selection of Secretary of State to ensure there’d be a pro-Russian person. Once Trump did nominate Rex Tillerson, seeding such a story would let Russia claim credit, whether or not it was true.

⇒Report 166, December 13, 2016: The final report in what BuzzFeed would publish as the dossier came at a time when it was clear there would be a vigorous investigation into Russia that could, if it discovered his embarrassing ties to Russia, discredit Trump. This report is by far the most incendiary one, alleging (among other things) that Cohen paid Russia’s hackers. It also blames the two key parts of the Russian operation on others, blaming Webzilla for activities that sound vaguely like what Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls did, and blaming “Romanian hackers” for what GRU did (effectively doubling down on the Guccifer 2.0 persona). This report was never directly shared with the FBI. It got published after John McCain had shared a set of the dossier reports directly with Jim Comey, at a time when the FBI was fighting with CIA and NSA over whether to include Steele’s intelligence in the Intelligence Community Assessment report on Russia.

How the dossier might serve Russia’s larger goals

The final dossier report (as published in BuzzFeed) seems perfectly suited for what would come next. On January 6, 2017, Jim Comey would brief Trump on the existence of the dossier, focusing in particular on the pee tape allegation that, according to Cohen, Trump should have known about since 2013. The FBI did not yet have, and so could not have briefed Trump, on the last, most inflammatory, report. At least one part of that last report — the claim there were hackers in Romania — would contradict the finding in the ICA  that Guccifer 2.0 was just a persona run by the GRU.

Around January 12, 2017, Manafort attended a meeting with a Deripaska executive, Georgiy Oganov. They discussed “recreating [the] old friendship” between Manafort and Deripaska. Manafort also pushed to resolve the Pericles lawsuit before inauguration day. Either while at that meeting or immediately on his return, Manafort started advising Reince Priebus on how Trump allies could discredit the Russian investigation — which was not predicated on the Steele dossier — by discrediting the Steele dossier. It was a superb strategy! Even in spite of that last, inflammatory report and other sketchy details, even in spite of warnings from the press that they had not been able to corroborate the dossier, it nevertheless was taken as confirmation of the worst accusations against Trump, and served as the focal point of such claims until the June 9 meeting broke in July.

For two years, for many commentators on both sides of the political aisle — up to and including the first journalist to rely on it publicly, Michael Isikoff — the dossier became the measure of whether Trump had conspired with Russia, even as direct evidence of his ties to Russia piled up. The right believed that if it could prove Cohen didn’t go to Prague, it would prove Trump’s innocence of other equally incendiary claims. The left believed if it could prove that Page met with people vaguely like those described in the dossier, it would prove Trump was working with Russia from the start. And just as Paul Manafort, fresh off a meeting to discuss how to return to Deripaska’s good graces, advised, Republicans capitalized on that, using attacks on the dossier as a way to discredit the counterintelligence investigation into Manafort and others that was predicated almost two months before the core investigators first got the dossier (and in Manafort’s case, an investigation that had started a year earlier).

Even before the Republican effort got started in earnest, then, the dossier served to emphasize already toxic political polarization and gave Trump a basis to claim victimhood around which Republicans could rally.

Then there’s the way in which it could discredit Russia’s adversaries.

Christopher Steele. First, consider what an attractive target Steele would be for the Russians. If Russia had identified Steele as one source of the investigation into their sports cheating, on top of pinning former Alexander Litvinienko’s murder on Russia, they’d have real reason to take him out. And he and his business were vulnerable, too. In his meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, he accused the FBI of leaks that had led his source network to dry up, something that understandably pissed off the FBI team when they finally acknowledged that Steele had been sharing his intelligence with the press.

that due to leaks, his source network was “drying up.” According to Case Agent 2, Steele complained to the FBI during the meeting about these leaks.

[snip]

Handling Agent 1 added that it “blew his mind” that, given Steele’s intelligence background, Steele was meeting with the press and taking actions that endangered the safety of those in his source network. Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he thought it was “terrible” for Steele to complain to the FBI about leaks during the early October meeting given that he had been meeting with media outlets in September and had provided information that was used in the Yahoo News article.

Steele’s conversations with Bruce Ohr in 2017 also seem to reflect growing concern for his business. Any financial vulnerabilities would make him all the more intent (in an odd mirror image of Manafort’s own desperation) to keep Deripaska’s business. Ultimately, though, the dossier project ended Steele’s relationship with the FBI, publicly exposed his intelligence collection efforts, and damaged his reputation.

Democrats. I’ve written before about how mind-numbingly stupid it was for the Democrats to dig in, not just in hiding their own role in funding the dossier, but also in insisting it remained credible. Had they simply said, early in 2017, “we shared our oppo research with the FBI, just like Steve Bannon did with Clinton Cash, and both led to investigations during the Presidential campaign,” we might be having a bipartisan discussion about the FBI’s use of oppo research during election years. But because Democrats didn’t do that, and because they dug in on the credibility of the dossier even as abundant evidence of other Trump ties to Russia became public, it put them on the defensive and embroiled them in several damaging lawsuits. Now, no one remembers that the Clinton Cash-predicated investigation leaked during the election, but they do think Democrats played dirty for doing precisely what Trump’s team did and, like Trump’s team, succeeding in interesting the FBI in their opposition claims.

The FBI. The FBI took reporting from someone who — compared to the other kinds of sources they rely on for counterintelligence investigations (and the DOJ IG Report admits this) — looked like Prince Charming. They used it to advance the one of four individualized investigations into Trump associates on which they had crystal clear direct involvement of sustained attempted recruitment by Russian intelligence. The first two FISA applications against Page probably would have been approved even if FBI had fully declared all the derogatory information they knew, and the key details Devin Nunes complained about (as part of the Manafort-launched attempt to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier) really don’t hold up, because DOJ complied with normal bias reporting on the source of funding for the dossier (and even blamed the Isikoff story on Glenn Simpson). Yes, FBI should have integrated the derogatory information on Steele as they discovered it for later applications. Better yet, they should have stopped relying on the dossier and instead used the intelligence they collected to establish probable cause for ongoing surveillance of Carter Page, or dropped the surveillance altogether as it became clear Page was no longer a key player in Trump’s world. But they didn’t. And now the FBI’s use of intelligence from a credible source, akin to the kind of intelligence they have to rely on every day, has become the excuse for the everyone from the President to DOJ’s Inspector General to former tough on crime Republicans to claim FBI’s counterintelligence experts are corrupt for pursuing counterintelligence investigations against Russian organized crime and election tampering that showed every subject was lying about damning ties to Russia. Along the way, FBI was investigating Manafort without fully realizing that Deripaska was engaged in this double game — something probably alluded to in two key redactions in the IG Report.

[Steele] explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

While Steele did not get a fuller picture of the FBI’s investigation until early October (generally, the FBI seems to have been pretty good about avoiding telling Ohr anything he might share with Steele, but they did tell Steele the four people who were being investigated in a misguided belief they were tasking him to collect on those people), when the FBI interviewed Deripaska sometime in September 2016, they would not have known that someone separately working for his lawyers was, for a different customer, feeding and directing some of the understanding of Trump’s ties to Russia. (Note, I suspect that, because DOJ IG conflated Steele’s Deripaska work for his Fusion work, reports in it claiming that Steele’s dossier work arose out of his Manafort work may be based on a misunderstanding.)

Bruce Ohr and other experts on Russian organized crime. But it’s not just FBI’s counterintelligence investigators (though it does include people like Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok, who both had had success pursuing Russian organized crime earlier in their career). Because Steele shared his dossier with those he knew to have an interest and expertise in Russian organized crime — including Bruce Ohr, Kathleen Kavalec, and Jonathan Winer, to say nothing of Fusion GPS and Nellie Ohr — they were implicated as the dossier became a political target, even those like Ohr and Kavalec who raised questions about it in real time. Indeed, DOJ’s IG reversed almost 20 years of recommendations that DOJ and FBI share more information to insinuate that Bruce Ohr should be disciplined or even fired because of his justifiable ties to Steele. And Deripaska would have known this would happen, because he met Ohr through Steele, and knew they continued to share information (additionally, the IG Report describes McCabe explaining that he and Ohr, “spoke periodically between 2003 and 2016 regarding” Deripaska). Effectively, this dossier gave many of America’s top experts on Russian organized crime a kind of Cooties, at precisely the time the country needs experts.

Oleg Deripaska. Donald Trump should be absolutely furious at his campaign manager, who knew months before it broke publicly that he — and with it, Trump’s campaign — would be publicly implicated in Yanukovych’s corruption. Trump should be livid that Manafort’s offer to work for “free” came with tremendous strings attached, largely in the form of Oleg Deripaska leveraging his feud against Manafort all through the campaign (this double game makes sense of Rick Gates’ testimony that Manafort shared polling data to stave off Deripaska; effectively so long as it looked like he might help Trump win, Manafort believed, erroneously, Deripaska wouldn’t press the Pericles lawsuit). Deripaska is the one, via Christopher Steele, who focused some of the FBI’s attention onto Manafort and therefore onto Trump. But because of the way the dossier triggered all the partisan bickering Russia had already stoked during the election, and helped along by Rusal’s investment in the Senate Majority Leader’s state, the opposite has occurred. Trump’s Treasury Department used shell games to permit Rusal to evade the sanctions imposed on Deripaska. And key Republican propaganda outlets — including John Solomon and The Daily Caller — have embraced Deripaska as some kind of truth teller about 2016. This is Reagan rolling over in his grave kind of stuff. But a remarkable coup on Deripaska’s part. And even while Republicans have embraced the possibility that the dossier included disinformation, they don’t, at the same time, realize how that disinformation has made them the playthings of a Russian oligarch who was playing a brutal double game, stoking the investigation into Trump while hard balling his campaign manager, all through the election.

Timeline

2005-2009: Manafort works for Deripaska

2007: Manafort founds Pericles with Deripaska as the sole investor

2012: Orbis hired as a subcontractor by Deripaska lawyer

February 22, 2014: Yanukovych flees Ukraine

December 4, 2014: Deripaska sues Manafort for $18.9 million

September 2015: Ohr meets with Deripaska

January 11, 2016: Steele writes Ohr about Deripaska seeking a visa to attend APEC (many of these 2016 contacts rely on Byron York’s description)

February 8, 2016: Steele writes Ohr to tell him Deripaska has been given an official visa to the US

February 21, 2016: Steele writes Ohr to say there would be a US government meeting on Deripaska, claims he had some Orbis reporting showing that Deripaska was not a “tool” of the Kremlin, says he’ll send it to (probably) Gaeta

March 17, 2016: Steele asks Ohr if he has any travel to Europe planned

March 28, 2016: Manafort hired as Convention Manager

March 30, 2016: Manafort sends Deripaska, Rinat Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kelesnikov memos announcing his appointment to the Trump campaign and indicating his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future

April 11, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik if “our friends” had seen the media coverage of his new role, specifically asking about Deripaska:

Manafort: How do we use to get whole. Has [Deripaska] operation seen?

Kilimnik: Yes. I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.

April to May 2016: On Manafort’s instructions, Gates starts sending the Ukrainian oligarchs and Deripaska internal polling data via WhatsApp

May 7, 2016: Kilimnik and Manafort meet for breakfast in NYC; they discuss Ukrainian events and the Trump campaign

May 19, 2016: Manafort promoted to Campaign Manager

July 1, 2016: Steele says he’s going to meet someone (possibly Gaeta) to discuss ongoing business, then says he wants “to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!,” meaning Deripaska

July 7, 2016: Steele and Ohr speak by Skype

July 7, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik if there has been any movement on the Pericles lawsuit; Kilimnik replies with optimism they can return to “the original relationship” with Deripaska

Kilimnik: I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest. Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska]

Manafort: if [Deripaska] needs private briefings we can accommodate.

July 28, 2016: Kilimnik flies from Kyiv to Moscow

July 29, 2016: Kilimnik pitches a meeting to talk about Yanukovych

Kilimnik: I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it. … It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting.

Manafort: Tuesday [August 2] is best . .. Tues or weds in NYC.

July 30, 2016: Steele meets with Bruce and Nellie Ohr in DC and tells them, among other things, about Deripaska’s allegations of corruption against Manafort

July 31, 2016: Kilimnik tells Manafort he needs two hours for the meeting

August 2, 2016: Kilimnik and Manafort (and, for part of the meeting, Gates) meet in NYC and discuss how to win Rust Belt swing states, how to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking, and how to get back on the Ukrainian-Deripaska gravy train

August 10, 2016: Manafort books $2.4M in revenue from his Ukrainian paymasters

August 18, 2016: Manafort tells NBC he hasn’t had dealings with Deripaska in four years

September 2016: FBI Agents interview Deripaska, with no notice, about whether Manafort was working with Russia (per John Solomon)

September 23, 2016: Steele tells Ohr that Deripasksa would be willing to share information on Manafort with FBI

October 18, 2016: Steele calls Ohr in a panic because Ukraine has sanctioned Deripaska

December 7, 2016: Interagency strategy meeting including Ohr and FBI on whether and how to engage with Deripaska

December 8, 2016: Kilimnik emails (probably using foldering) Manafort about Ukraine “peace” plan

January 12, 2017: Manafort meeting in Madrid with Deripaska executive Georgiy Oganov

Janaury 19-22, 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik and Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Lyovochkin at the Westin Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia; Ukraine “peace” plan comes up again

February 26, 2017: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in Madrid, ostensibly for update on Black Ledger investigation

January 10, 2018: Deripaska sues Manafort and Gates in NYS

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

The DOJ IG’s office has made two sets of corrections to their Report on Carter Page, the first on December 11 (two days after its release) and a second on December 20 (eleven days after its release). Three of those corrections fix overstatements of their case against the FBI (but which don’t catch all their overstatements and errors in making that case). One correction explains that more information has been declassified (without explaining an inconsistent approach to Sergei Millian as compared with other people named in the Mueller Report). And one correction — one of the changes made Friday — fixes a legal reference.

Here’s that correction:

On page 57, we added the specific provision of the United States Code where the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is codified, and revised a footnote in order to reference prior OIG work examining the Department’s enforcement and administration of FARA.

The correction changed this passage

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by [FBI’s Cyber and Counterintelligence Division] and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Title 18 U.S.C. § 951, which makes it a crime to act as an agent of a foreign government without making periodic public disclosures of the relationship. 170

170 The FARA statute defines an “agent of a foreign government” as an individual who agrees to operate in the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official. 18 U.S.C. § 951(d).

To read like this:

Crossfire Hurricane was opened by CD and was assigned a case number used by the FBI for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., and 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Agents of Foreign Governments). 170

170 We have previously found differing understandings between FBI agents and federal prosecutors and NSD officials about the intent of FARA as well as what constitutes a “FARA case.” See DOJ OIG, Audit of the National Security Division~ Enforcement and Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Audit Division 16-24 (September 2016), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2016/al624.pdf (accessed December 19, 2019)

The error appears harmless on its face, just a minor citation error that conflated FARA with 951 in the original report. But both in this instantiation and in the IG Report as a whole, the error may totally undermine its analysis and, indeed, the analytical framework of this entire IG investigation. That’s because if the people conducting this analysis did not understand the difference between the two statutes — and the error goes well beyond the citation enhancement described in the correction, because it exhibits utter lack of knowledge that there are two foreign agent statutes — then the Report’s analysis on the First Amendment may be problematic (and almost certainly is with respect to Page).

As I’ve written at length and as the cited IG Report from 2016 explains, the boundary between 22 USC 611 (FARA) and 18 USC 951 (Foreign Agent), both laws about what makes someone a “foreign agent,” remains ambiguous. Maria Butina, Anna Chapman, and the Russians who tried to recruit Carter Page were prosecuted under 18 USC 951 (though often that gets charged as a conspiracy because proving it requires less classified evidence), Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Sam Patten pled guilty to FARA violations. Mike Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Kian, was charged with conspiring to file a false FARA filing and acting as a Foreign Agent, invoking both statutes in one conspiracy charge; partly because of the way he was charged and partly because Flynn reneged on his statements regarding their activities, Judge Anthony Trenga acquitted him after he was found guilty, which may suggest the boundary between the two will present legal difficulties for prosecuting such cases.

18 USC 951 is sometimes called “espionage light,” though that phrase ignores that DOJ will often charge a known foreign spy under 951 — like the SVR (foreign intelligence) agents who tried to recruit Page — because proving it requires far less classified information. It requires the person be working on behalf of a foreign government, not just a foreign principal, and can but does not necessarily include information collection. FARA, however, only requires a person to be working on behalf of a foreign principal (which might be a political party or a company), and generally pertains to political influence peddling (it includes political activities, lobbying, and PR in its definitions, along with some financial stuff). 18 USC 951 will more often be clandestine, though as Butina’s case shows, it does not have to be, whereas FARA may cover activities that are overt if the person engaging in them does not register properly. A recent Lawfare post describes how DOJ’s superseding indictment of the Internet Research Agency relies on an interesting and potentially troubling new application of FARA.

In Mueller’s description of how the two laws might be applied criminally, he suggests 951 does not require willfulness, but a criminal violation of FARA would.

The Office next assessed the potential liability of Campaign-affiliated individuals under federal statutes regulating actions on behalf of, or work done for, a foreign government.

a. Governing Law

Under 18 U.S.C. § 951, it is generally illegal to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without providing notice to the Attorney General. Although the defendant must act on behalf of a foreign government (as opposed to other kinds of foreign entities), the acts need not involve espionage; rather, acts of any type suffice for liability. See United States v. Duran, 596 F.3d 1283, 1293-94 (11th Cir. 2010); United States v. Latchin, 554 F.3d 709, 715 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v. Dumeisi, 424 F.3d 566, 581 (7th Cir. 2005). An “agent of a foreign government” is an ” individual” who “agrees to operate” in the United States “subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official.” 18 U.S.C. § 951 ( d).

The crime defined by Section 951 is complete upon knowingly acting in the United States as an unregistered foreign-government agent. 18 U.S.C. § 95l(a). The statute does not require willfulness, and knowledge of the notification requirement is not an element of the offense. United States v. Campa, 529 F.3d 980, 998-99 (11th Cir. 2008); Duran, 596 F.3d at 1291-94; Dumeisi, 424 F.3d at 581.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) generally makes it illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal by engaging in certain (largely political) activities in the United States without registering with the Attorney General. 22 U.S.C. §§ 611-621. The triggering agency relationship must be with a foreign principal or “a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(l). That includes a foreign government or political party and various foreign individuals and entities. 22 U.S.C. § 611(6). A covered relationship exists if a person “acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant” or “in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the [foreign principal’s] direction or control.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(l). It is sufficient if the person “agrees, consents, assumes or purports to act as, or who is or holds himself out to be, whether or not pursuant to contractual relationship, an agent of a foreign principal.” 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(c)(2).

The triggering activity is that the agent “directly or through any other person” in the United States (1) engages in “political activities for or in the interests of [the] foreign principal,” which includes attempts to influence federal officials or the public; (2) acts as “public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal”; (3) ” solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal”; or ( 4) “represents the interests of such foreign principal” before any federal agency or official. 22 U .S.C. § 611 ( c )(1 ).

It is a crime to engage in a “[w]illful violation of any provision of the Act or any regulation thereunder.” 22 U.S.C. § 618(a)(l). It is also a crime willfully to make false statements or omissions of material facts in FARA registration statements or supplements. 22 U.S.C. § 618(a)(2). Most violations have a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. 22 U.S.C. § 618. [my emphasis]

So back to the DOJ IG Report. As the revised footnote notes, at least until 2016, the FBI used the same case number for FARA and 951 cases. That probably makes sense from an investigative standpoint, as it’s often not clear whether someone is working for a foreign company or whether that company is a cut-out hiding a foreign government paymaster (as the government alleged in Flynn’s case). But it makes tracking how these cases get investigated more difficult, and obscures those cases where there’s a clear 951 predicate from the start.

The original text of this passage of the IG Report suggests that at least the person who wrote it — and possibly the entire DOJ IG team investigating this case — were not aware of what I’ve just laid out, that there’s significant overlap between 951 and FARA, but that clear 951 cases and clear FARA cases will both use this case designation. That’s important because one of these statutes involves politics (and so presents serious First Amendment considerations), whereas the other one does not have to (and did not, in Carter Page’s case).

It’s unclear whether this error was repeated in several other places in the Report. The passage describing how the individualized investigations were opened says these were all FARA cases:

After conducting preliminary open source and FBI database inquiries, intelligence analysts on the Crossfire Hurricane team identified three individuals–Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn–associated with the Trump campaign with either ties to Russia or a history of travel to Russia. On August 10, 2016, the team opened separate counterintelligence FARA cases on Carter Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos, under code names assigned by the FBI. On August 16, 2016, a counterintelligence FARA case was opened on Flynn under a code name assigned by the FBI. The opening ECs for all four investigations were drafted by either of the two Special Agents assigned to serve as the Case Agents for the investigation (Case Agent 1 or Case Agent 2) and were approved by Strzok, as required by the DIOG.

But if the person writing this did not know that a “foreign agent” case might be FARA, 951, or both, then it would mean this passage may misstate what the investigations were.

And the analysis over whether the investigation was appropriately predicated uses just FARA.

The FBI’s opening EC referenced the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and stated, “[b]ased on the information provided by [the FBI Legal Attache], this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

In other words, it seems that this entire report is based on the assumption that the FBI was conducting an investigation into whether these four men were engaged in influence peddling that should have been registered and not also considering whether they were acting as clandestine agents for Russia.

That certainly appears to be the case for some of these men. For example, the first known warrant investigating Paul Manafort — which was focused on his Ukrainian work — listed only FARA, not 951. The derogatory language on George Papadopoulos speaks in terms of explicit, shameless influence peddling (which I’ll review in a follow-up post).

That said, the predication of the Flynn investigation would have included his past ties to the GRU, the agency that had hacked the DNC, and non-political relationships with Russian companies RT, Kaspersky, and Volga-Dnepr Airlines. He notified the Defense Intelligence Agency of all those things, though the government claims some of his briefings on this stuff includes inculpatory information. And he excused his payments from other Russian sources because his speakers bureau, and not Russia itself, made the payments, which might be considered a cut-out.

When Mueller got around to describing his prosecutorial decisions about these four men, he described both statutes (and explained that the office found that Manafort and Gates had violated FARA with Ukraine, Flynn had violated what it calls FARA with Turkey but elsewhere they’ve said included 951, and there was evidence Papadopoulos was an Agent of Israel under either 951 or FARA but not sufficient to charge.

Finally, the Office investigated whether one of the above campaign advisors-George Papadopoulos-acted as an agent of, or at the direction and control of, the government of Israel. While the investigation revealed significant ties between Papadopoulos and Israel (and search warrants were obtained in part on that basis), the Office ultimately determined that the evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction under FARA or Section 951

So it’s unclear whether the investigations into Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort really were just FARA cases when they began, or were 951.

But the language Mueller used to describe his declination for Page (which includes a redacted sentence about his activities) makes it sound like his FISA applications alleged him to be — as would have to be the case for a FISA order — an Agent of Russia, implicating 951.

On four occasions, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issued warrants based on a finding of probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801 (b ), 1805(a)(2)(A). The FISC’s probable-cause finding was based on a different (and lower) standard than the one governing the Office’s decision whether to bring charges against Page, which is whether admissible evidence would likely be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Page acted as an agent of the Russian Federation during the period at issue. Cf United States v. Cardoza, 713 F.3d 656, 660 (D.C. Cir. 2013) ( explaining that probable cause requires only “a fair probability,” and not “certainty, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or proof by a preponderance of the evidence”).

Indeed, the IG Report provides abundant reason to believe this is the case. That’s because the FBI Field Office opened an investigation into Page in April 2016 based on a March 2016 interview pertaining exclusively to what are called “continued contacts” with SVR intelligence officers who tried to recruit him starting at least in 2009, interactions that they had been tracking for seven years.

An FBI counterintelligence agent in NYFO (NYFO CI Agent) with extensive experience in Russian matters told the OIG that Carter Page had been on NYFO’s radar since 2009, when he had contact with a known Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 1). According to the EC documenting NYFO’s June 2009 interview with Page, Page told NYFO agents that he knew and kept in regular contact with Intelligence Officer 1 and provided him with a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company. The EC stated that Page “immediately advised [the agents] that due to his work and overseas experiences, he has been questioned by and provides information to representatives of [another U.S. government agency] on an ongoing basis.” The EC also noted that agents did not ask Page any questions about his dealings with the other U.S. government agency during the interviews. 180

NYFO CI agents believed that Carter Page was “passed” from Intelligence Officer 1 to a successor Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 2) in 2013 and that Page would continue to be introduced to other Russian intelligence officers in the future. 181 In June 2013, NYFO CI agents interviewed Carter Page about these contacts. Page acknowledged meeting Intelligence Officer 2 following an introduction earlier in 2013. When agents intimated to Carter Page during the interview that Intelligence Officer 2 may be a Russian intelligence officer, specifically, an “SVR” officer, Page told them he believed in “openness” and because he did not have access to classified information, his acquaintance with Intelligence Officer 2 was a “positive” for him. In August 2013, NYFO CI agents again interviewed Page regarding his contacts with Intelligence Officer 2. Page acknowledged meeting with Intelligence Officer 2 since his June 2013 FBI interview.

In January 2015, three Russian intelligence officers, including Intelligence Officer 2, were charged in a sealed complaint, and subsequently indicted, in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for conspiring to act in the United States as unregistered agents of the Russian Federation. 182 The indictment referenced Intelligence Officer 2’s attempts to recruit “Male-1” as an asset for gathering intelligence on behalf of Russia.

On March 2, 2016, the NYFO CI Agent and SDNY Assistant United States Attorneys interviewed Carter Page in preparation for the trial of one of the indicted Russian intelligence officers. During the interview, Page stated that he knew he was the person referred to as Male-1 in the indictment and further said that he had identified himself as Male-1 to a Russian Minister and various Russian officials at a United Nations event in “the spirit of openness.” The NYFO CI Agent told us she returned to her office after the interview and discussed with her supervisor opening a counterintelligence case on Page based on his statement to Russian officials that he believed he was Male-1 in the indictment and his continued contact with Russian intelligence officers.

The FBI’s NYFO CI squad supervisor (NYFO CI Supervisor) told us she believed she should have opened a counterintelligence case on Carter Page prior to March 2, 2016 based on his continued contacts with Russian intelligence officers; however, she said the squad was preparing for a big trial, and they did not focus on Page until he was interviewed again on March 2. She told us that after the March 2 interview, she called CD’s Counterespionage Section at FBI Headquarters to determine whether Page had any security clearances and to ask for guidance as to what type of investigation to open on Page. 183 On April 1, 2016, the NYFO CI Supervisor received an email from the Counterespionage Section advising her to open a [~9-character redaction] investigation on Page. The NYFO CI Supervisor said that [3 lines redacted] In addition, according to FBI records, the relevant CD section at FBI Headquarters, in consultation with OGC, determined at that time that the Page investigation opened by NYFO was not a SIM, but also noted, “should his status change, the appropriate case modification would be made.” The NYFO CI Supervisor told us that based on what was documented in the file and what was known at that time, the NYFO Carter Page investigation was not a SIM.

Although Carter Page was announced as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign prior to NYFO receiving this guidance from FBI Headquarters, the NYFO CI Supervisor and CI Agent both told the OIG that this announcement did not influence their decision to open a case on Page and that their concerns about Page, particularly his disclosure to the Russians about his role in the indictment, predated the announcement. However, the NYFO CI Supervisor said that the announcement required noting his new position in the case file should his new position require he obtain a security clearance.

On April 6, 2016, NYFO opened a counterintelligence [8-9 character redaction] investigation on Carter Page under a code name the FBI assigned to him (NYFO investigation) based on his contacts with Russian intelligence officers and his statement to Russian officials that he was “Male-1” in the SONY indictment.

181 CI agents refer to this as “slot succession,” whereby a departing intelligence officer “passes” his or her contacts to an incoming intelligence officer.

182 Intelligence Officer 3 pied guilty in March 2016. The remaining two indicted Russian intelligence officers were no longer in the United States.

183 CI agents in NYFO told us that the databases containing security clearance information were located at FBI Headquarters. When a subject possesses a security clearance, the FBI opens an espionage investigation; if the subject does not possess a security clearance, the FBI typically opens a counterintelligence investigation. [my emphasis]

I’ve discussed Page’s designation as a “contact approval” until 2013 by CIA here, though to reiterate, his last contact with the CIA was in 2011, and while they knew about his contacts with Alexander Bulatov, a Russian intelligence officer working under cover as a consular official in NY, they apparently did not know or ask him about his contacts with Victor Podobnyy. This previous relationship with the CIA absolutely should have been disclosed, but does not cover activity in 2015, when he would have discussed his inclusion in the Podobnyy/Evgeny Buryakov indictment with a person described as a Russian minister.

The NYFO believed they should have opened an investigation into Page even before the interview, on March 2, 2016, when he admitted telling Russians he was Male-1 in the indictment and (per the Mueller Report), said he “didn’t do anything,” perhaps disavowing any help to the FBI investigation. The IG Report notes that Page provided Intelligence Officer 1 (who must be Bulatov) a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company.” The Podobnyy indictment notes that Page provided Podobnyy — someone he knew to be a foreign intelligence officer — documents about the energy business. The NYFO CI Agent’s description of Page’s, “continued contact with Russian intelligence officers” seems to suggest the person described as a Russian Minister is known or believed to be an intelligence officer (otherwise she would not have described this as ongoing contact).

Notably, NYFO’s focus was not on whether Page was engaged in political activities, whether he was a Sensitive Investigative Matter (SIM) or not. Indeed, at the time they opened the investigation in April 2016, they didn’t know he had a tie to the Trump campaign.

Rather, their focus was on whether Page, whose deployments in the Navy included at least one intelligence operation, had a security clearance, because that dictated whether the investigation into him would be an Espionage one or a Counterintelligence one. The actual type of investigation remains redacted (the word cannot be either “counterintelligence,” because of length, or “espionage” because the article preceding it forecloses the word starting with a vowel), but it is described as a counterintelligence investigation. Given the nature of the non-public information Page shared, that redacted word may pertain to economic information, perhaps to either 18 USC 1831 or 1832. Even going forward, NYFO was primarily interested in whether he would obtain a clearance that would increase the risk that the information he was happily sharing with known Russian intelligence officers would damage the US.

The counterintelligence case into Page was opened — and the FISA order targeting him was significantly predicated on — his voluntary sharing of non-public economic information with known Russian intelligence officers over a period of years. That’s almost certainly not a FARA investigation because at that point NYFO had no knowledge that Page was even engaging in politics.

And that’s important because of the IG Report’s analysis of whether and how obtaining a FISA order on Page implicated his First Amendment activities.

In its analysis of how FISA treats First Amendment activities, the Report includes the following discussion, once again citing FARA, relying on House and Senate reports on the original passage of FISA.

FISA provides that a U.S. person may not be found to be a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. 129 Congress added this language to reinforce that lawful political activities may not serve as the only basis for a probable cause finding, recognizing that “there may often be a narrow line between covert action and lawful activities undertaken by Americans in the exercise of the [F]irst [A]mendment rights,” particularly between legitimate political activity and “other clandestine intelligence activities. “130 The Report by SSCI accompanying the passage of FISA states that there must be “willful” deception about the origin or intent of political activity to support a finding that it constitutes “other clandestine intelligence activities”:

If…foreign intelligence services hide behind the cover of some person or organization in order to influence American political events and deceive Americans into believing that the opinions or influence are of domestic origin and initiative and such deception is willfully maintained in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, then electronic surveillance might be justified under [“other clandestine intelligence activities”] if all the other criteria of [FISA] were met. 131

129 See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1805(a)(2)(A), 1824(a)(2)(A).

130 H. Rep. 95-1283 at 41, 79-80; FISA guidance at 7-8; see also Rosen, 447 F. Supp. 2d at 547-48 (probable cause finding may be based partly on First Amendment protected activity).

131 See S. Rep. 95-701 at 24-25. The Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq., is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals such as a foreign government or foreign political party in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

The first citation to the House report says only that an American must be working with an intelligence service and must involve a violation of Federal criminal law, which may include registration statutes. The second citation says only that political activities should never be the sole basis of a finding of probable cause that a US person was an agent of a foreign power. Neither would apply to Carter Page, since the evidence against him also included sharing non-public information that had nothing to do with politics, and he shared that information with known intelligence officers.

The citation to the Senate report is a miscitation. The quoted language appears on page 29. The cited passage spanning pages 24 and 25, however, emphasizes that someone can only be targeted for activities that involve First Amendment activities if they involve an intelligence agency.

It is the intent of this requirement that even if there is some substantial contact between domestic groups or individual citizens and a foreign power, as defined in this bill, no electronic surveillance wider this subparagraph may be authorized unless the American is acting under the direction of an intelligence service of a foreign power.

With Page, the FBI had his admitted and sustained willingness to share non-public information with known intelligence officers, the Steele allegations suggesting he might be involved in a conspiracy tied to the hack and leak of Hillary’s emails, and his stated plans to set up a think tank that would serve as the kind of cover organization that would hide Russia’s role in pushing Page’s pro-Russian views.

The question of whether Page met probable cause for being a foreign agent doesn’t, in my mind, pivot on any analysis of First Amendment activities, because he had a clear, knowing tie with Russian intelligence officers with whom he was sharing non-public information. The question pivots on whether he could be said to doing so clandestinely, since he happily admitted the fact, if asked, to both the CIA and FBI. Both the Steele allegations (until such point, after his first application, that they had been significantly undermined) and Page’s enthusiasm to set up a Russian-funded think tank probably get beyond that bar.

And remember, for better and worse, this is probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The DOJ IG Report analysis all seems premised on assessing FARA violations, not violations of 18 USC 951. That may be the appropriate lens through which to assess the actions of Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort.

But the evidence presented in the report seems to suggest that’s a mistaken lens through which to assess the FISA application targeting Carter Page, the only Trump flunky who was so targeted. And given the evidence that at least some of the people who wrote the report did not understand how the two statutes overlap when they conducted the analysis, it raises real questions about whether all that analysis rests on mistaken understandings of the law.

Update: I’ve corrected the introduction of this to note that DOJ or FBI declassifies information, not DOJ IG.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

Amy Berman Jackson Disputes Claims of “Exculpatory” Information on Russia and Ukraine

For all its import showing the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application, I’ll eventually show the DOJ IG Report  commits some of the same errors of inclusion and exclusion of important information that it accuses FBI of. Most importantly, it treats as exculpatory comments that George Papadopoulos made to Stephan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 when the FBI agents involved rightly (the record now confirms) suspected Papadopoulos’ answer was a cover story. Notably, Rosemary Collyer did not include the Papadopoulos comments in her letter to the government yesterday, suggesting she doesn’t think exclusion of those comments to be noteworthy.

Given Michael Horowitz’s focus on FBI’s withholding of exculpatory information (which they absolutely did, on a number of occasions), I find the focus of Amy Berman Jackson’s comments at Rick Gates’ sentencing hearing yesterday notable. (Thanks to CNN for culling these comments from the transcript.)

Some of the comments — including some focusing on Ukraine — seemed targeted at Republicans debating impeachment. For example, she emphasized that Gates’ information was not hearsay, and it implicated individuals associated with Ukraine and Russia.

Mr. Gates provided information — not hearsay, but information — based on his personal knowledge, meetings he attended, conversations in which he was a participant and information that was verified with contemporaneous records of numerous, undeniable contacts and communications between individuals associated with the presidential campaign, primarily but not only Manafort, and individuals associated with Russia and Ukraine.

ABJ likely recognizes, as I have emphasized, that Paul Manafort’s August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik and its aftermath — including his booking $2.4 million from pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs eight days later — represents a clearcut case of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

She also takes a shot at those claiming there was no basis for the investigation into Russia, and suggests that obstruction successfully prevented prosecutors from charging the underlying coordination.

Gates’ debriefings, his multiple incriminatory bits of evidence on matters of grave and international importance are a reminder that there was an ample basis for the decision makers at the highest level of the United States Department of Justice — the United States Department of Justice of this administration — to authorize and pursue a law enforcement investigation into whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the known foreign interference in the election, as well as into whether there had been any attempt to obstruct that investigation, and to leave no stone unturned, no matter what the prosecutors determined they had evidence to prove at the end of that investigation.

And she emphasizes that pursuing this investigation was critical for election security.

Gates’ information alone warranted, indeed demanded, further investigation from the standpoint of our national security, the integrity of our elections and the enforcement of our criminal laws.

But there’s a line in here that seems directed at the discussion surrounding the IG Report.

One cannot possibly maintain that this was all exculpatory information. It included firsthand information about confidential campaign polling data being transmitted at the direction of the head of the campaign to one of those individuals to be shared with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.

The investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia in its election interference started 3 days before Roger Stone spoke to Trump about how to optimize the WikiLeaks releases. It started 5 days before Trump’s campaign manager met with Konstantin Kilimnik to explain how he planned to win the investigation, discussed carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking (an effort Manafort pursued for over a year afterwards), and how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. It started 11 days before Manafort booked $2.4 million in revenues — to be received in November — from his Ukrainian paymasters.

Again, ABJ has seen more of the underlying evidence from this investigation than anyone. And she sure seems to think that Bill Barr, Donald Trump, and Michael Horowitz are dismissing the seriousness of this investigation.

The Persistence of Jared in the WikiLeaks Operation

As I noted repeatedly (one, two), there were a number of provocative loose threads left in Roger Stone’s trial. I want to look at one more: Roger Stone’s effort to involve Kushner in WikiLeaks related stuff.

Rick Gates testified that in the weeks before WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails in July 2016, a group including Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Paul Manafort, and him brainstormed how they would respond to emails that — according to Roger Stone (as well as other public reporting) — would soon be released.

Jared Kushner was pointedly not named as participating in that group.

That’s interesting because, just before 10PM on June 14, 2016 — the day that the DNC first announced it had been hacked — Stone had two phone calls with Trump on his home line, lasting a total of 4:18 minutes. The government admits they don’t know what happened on those calls, but for some reason they seem to be certain it had to do with the DNC emails. Late afternoon the next day, after Guccifer 2.0 first released documents billed as DNC documents, Stone wrote Gates asking first for Jared Kushner’s contact info, then his email. There were also a number of texts that day (the trial exhibit doesn’t clarify whether these are ET or UTC, so it’s unclear whether they happen around 4 and 12 PM, which is most likely, or 8PM and 4AM the next day).

Stone: Call me. Important

Gates: On con call but will call right after. Thanks.

Stone: Please

Stone: Awake ?

Gates: Yep.

Stone: Call me?

Gates said that Stone wanted Jared’s contact info to debrief him on the hacked materials. Which is one reason it’s weird that Kushner was not named in the group that prepared for new emails to drop.

Especially since, late in the campaign, Kushner is the one Paul Manafort advised on how to capitalize on WikiLeaks’ releases. On October 21, for example, Manafort told him to use WikiLeaks to demonstrate Hillary’s alleged corruption.

For example, on October 21, 2016, Manafort sent Kushner an email and attached a strategy memorandum proposing that the Campaign make the case against Clinton “as the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” and that “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”936

When, on November 5, Manafort sent Kushner an email warning that Hillary would blame any win on hacked voting machines, Steve Bannon responded by linking Manafort, Russia, and the WikiLeaks releases. (PDF 258)

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

They are going to try and say the Russian worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us

Paul is nice guy but can’t let word out he is advising us

That suggests that Bannon was a lot warier of continuing to accept Manafort’s counsel than Kushner was — and Bannon was wary because it linked a campaign win to Russia’s help.

When Bannon was asked about this in an early, not entirely truthful, interview, he in turn linked Manafort to someone else who, given the name length and redaction purpose, is likely Stone.

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [5 letter name redacted for ongoing proceeding] or Manafort. Bannon knew they were going to win, and in this email he wanted to avoid Manafort because Bannon believed that if people could link them to Manafort, they could then try to link them to Russia.

Now go back to something else introduced in the trial. On August 18, the day after Bannon was first hired onto the campaign (but the day before Manafort would resign), Stone emailed him and explained, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.”

That appears to be the “other investigation” that Paul Manafort was supposed to, but reneged, on helping DOJ investigate last year, one where Manafort first implicated (to get his plea deal), then tried to exonerate (after he got it) someone with a seven-letter name. Even at the time, a different part of DOJ was investigating it.

Finally, consider one other detail. Back in March 2018, when Sean Hannity was grilling Paul Manafort about whether he might flip, Manafort explained that he would be expected to give up Kushner.

These are just data points.

But they are consistent with there being two strands of WikiLeaks discussions on the campaign. One — involving Gates, Stephen Miller, and Jason Miller — doing little more than optimizing the releases. And another — involving Manafort and Kushner, one that Bannon didn’t want any tie to — involving something more.

The Trump-Mueller Answer the Stone Trial Really Implicates: Pardoning Assange

A bunch of media outlets responded to Rick Gates’ testimony in the Roger Stone trial — describing how Donald Trump got off a call with Roger Stone on August 31, 2016 and told him WikiLeaks would release more emails — by arguing that Gates’ testimony is proof that Trump lied to Robert Mueller about the subject.

I recall that in the months leading up to the election there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information and there was a lot of talk about this matter. At the time, I was generally aware of these media reports and may have discussed these issues with my campaign staff or others, but at this point in time – more than two years later – I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.

I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between the individuals named in Question II (c) [Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates] and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks or any of the other individuals or entities referred to in the question.

[snip]

I was in Trump Tower in New York City on October 7, 2016. I have no recollection of being told that WikiLeaks possessed or might possess emails related to John Podesta before the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was reported by the media. Likewise, I have no recollection of being told that Roger Stone, anyone acting as an intermediary for Roger Stone, or anyone associated with my campaign had communicated with WikiLeaks on October 7, 2016.

I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with any of the entities named in the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.

I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.

But these are very carefully crafted answers, as they disclaim any memory of the requested details rather than — ever — claiming they didn’t happen. Unlike Trump’s answers on Trump Tower Moscow, he did not subsequently make clear he has distinct memories of Roger Stone’s boasts about having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releases, both publicly and in private calls with Trump.

So I don’t really think that’s the most important Trump response given evidence presented at the Stone trial. Rather, a more potentially damning one pertains to the way a shared support for Julian Assange lurks behind the relationship between Randy Credico, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, and Roger Stone.

Credico wanted — and still wants — to rebut any “collusion” claims

Credico had long been hostile to any investigation of Stone’s ties to Assange. When Jerry Nadler started asking questions (of Jim Comey) about Stone’s ties to Assange in September 2016, Credico accused Nadler of McCarthyism.

In early January, 2018, Credico texted to Stone that he would do an interview with Michael Isikoff to make it clear that Assange was “not colluding.”

Much later — indeed, to this day — Credico would go to great lengths to try to rebut claims that Assange was “colluding.”

Credico’s WikiLeaks focus in responding to the subpoena

When HPSCI asked for first voluntary then compelled testimony. Credico responded by sharing the subpoena with a network of people — including Craig Murray, Ray McGovern, Jess Radack, Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Stefania Maurizi, Colleen Rowley, and Noam Chomsky — with an affinity and in many cases close ties to WikiLeaks. Stone was, at that point, just one of 18 people Credico thought to alert, and the defense made much of the other recipients of Credico’s email releasing the subpoena.

Credico would go on to do as Stone had requested in response to the subpoena, plead the Fifth to avoid testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. On the stand at trial, Credico explained that a “lot of people” had a role in that decision, “amongst them, Mr. Stone.”

The defense, however, tried to suggest that Kunstler (who testified she represented WikiLeaks as an organization and had represented Sarah Harrison for four years) had a role in this decision. They got Credico to admit that Kunstler gave him legal advice, but was not his lawyer. And they got Kunstler to admit that she said she was at a meeting with several lawyers when Credico got a subpoena. That falls far short of saying she advised him to dodge the subpoena, but that’s certainly what the defense tried to insinuate.

Even if she had suggested that Credico, who is a friend of hers, should avoid testifying, none of that is untoward (it’d be the equivalent of bmaz telling me to shut the fuck up about any of my own legal issues, which he does constantly). It just suggests that Credico’s immediate focus in 2017 was on protecting Assange, not necessarily protecting Stone.

The shared interest in pardoning Assange

But this whole relationship was intertwined with an apparent shared interest in pardoning Assange. Right in the middle of Credico’s claims about what WikiLeaks was up to in early October 2016, for example, on October 3, he pushed Stone to get Trump to back asylum for Assange.

Then there are the exchanges on the topic that MoJo reported on a year ago from early January 2018.

In the wake of Stone’s successful effort to get Credico to plead the Fifth, the President’s rat-fucker suggested that if Credico publicly revealed that he couldn’t be Stone’s back channel, it might screw up efforts he claimed he was making to get Assange a pardon.

They resumed the discussion about a pardon several days later, when Stone sent Credico Jerome Corsi’s story on Ecuador’s grant of a diplomatic passport to Assange.

Remarkably, given what has transpired since, Credico informed Stone that the British government was not honoring the diplomatic passport, observed that “Infowars ” — which in this case would be Corsi — “doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” then taunted, ‘Maybe your back Channel knows more than I do.”

The current operative story, of course, is that Corsi was the backchannel, though Credico wouldn’t have known that at the time.

It’s certainly possible that Stone was blowing smoke, raising something he knew Credico cared deeply about, pardoning Assange, to get him to toe the line. It’s likely, too, he was just taking reporting on efforts made in late 2017 to liberate Assange and claiming credit for it.

But at the very least, it shows that Stone used a pardon for Assange — something Credico still spends a lot of time pushing — as leverage to try to get Credico to sustain his cover story.

Kunstler was a key point of pressure for Stone

Which is one of the reasons I find the new details about how Stone’s threatened Kunstler to be interesting.

Per evidence submitted at trial, Stone used several different tactics to pressure Credico to testify (or not) in certain ways, including:

  • Telling him to take the Fifth
  • Telling him to pull a Frank Pentangeli (meaning, to testify falsely)
  • Offering to pay for his lawyer in late 2017
  • Sending him some work in early 2018
  • Threatening Bianca (a threat Credico said he didn’t take very seriously)
  • Making threats of violence of exposure
  • Threatening Margaret Kunstler

Ultimately, per his testimony, Credico changed his stance on testifying so as not to be Stone’s fall-guy (and because he didn’t want to be blamed for Trump’s election). But according to (live texts of) his testimony, a really big part of that change was that Stone threatened Kunstler. Credico testified he, “didn’t want to drag her name though this.”

On March 10, 2018, Stone responded to Credico alerting him that he was going to go on Chris Hayes’ show by forwarding the September 2016 email chain in which Credico feigned helping Stone figure out if WikiLeaks had certain Libya-related emails and threatening, “If you go on with Chris Hayes be sure to mention this,” which would have exposed that Credico did at least appear to respond to Stone’s request for help. On May 21, 2018, Stone responded to a Credico email saying “you should have just been honest with the house intel committee” by threatening, “Keep running your mouth and I’ll file a bar complaint against your friend Margaret.”

Mostly, raising Kunstler would invoke two details Stone knew about. First, some time on or before August 25, 2016, Kunstler passed on Credico’s request to have Assange on his drive time show. She was the person who got WikiLeaks to consider the August 25, 2016 interview that lay a the core of Credico and Stone’s wavering claims that Credico might have inside knowledge. On the stand, Kunstler said that was the first and only time she passed on a request to WikiLeaks on Credico’s behalf.

Then, after some badgering from Stone, on September 2016, Credico sent her the package of information Stone had shared on what he claims was an effort by Hillary to prevent Moammar Qaddafi from stepping down to avoid the Libyan war, BCCing Stone. Significantly, Stone’s lawyers made a point of getting Kunstler to clarify that she did not learn that email had been BCCed with Stone until prosecutors showed it to her in an interview. And it’s true that nothing about the package would have identified it as a Roger Stone smear.

Kunstler testified that she ignored the email and got pretty pissed about it, because that’s not the kind of thing she would do with clients.

Those two details made it clear that Kunstler was Credico’s link to Assange, that she had succeeded in sharing a request from Credico when it served Assange’s interest, but that she wouldn’t consider serving as a source of information about Assange and upcoming leaks.

But in a little noticed response, Credico revealed that he put Stone in touch with Kunstler after the election to talk about a pardon for Julian Assange. I double checked. That happened in late 2016.

Again, there’s absolutely nothing untoward about this. Kunstler represented WikiLeaks and any smart lawyer would push for a pardon for her client. Credico’s relationship with Stone was already public (though it’s unclear whether Kunstler knew of the whole back channel stuff yet, given that she may not  have known the Libya request came from Stone). But it adds an important wrinkle to the year-long Trump flunkie effort to get Assange a pardon.

We know that sometime after the October 2016 WikiLeaks dump, Mike Flynn was part of a conversation where Trump’s team discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks (something that didn’t get mentioned at all at Stone’s trial). Credico’s introduction of Kunstler to Stone would have come around the same time that Assange himself DMed Don Jr asking to become an Ambassador of sorts.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Assange renewed that request as part of his Vault 8-based extortion in November 2017.

All of which is to say there’s one more instance where someone in Trump’s orbit discussed a pardon for Assange. Because it involved Kunstler, it tied the discussion even more closely to Stone’s claims to have optimized WikiLeaks’ releases.

That may be one explanation for Stone’s lawyers’ efforts to make it clear that Kunstler couldn’t have known that Stone had made a request that got presented to her, because that would make it look like a quid pro quo, a request for Stone to return the favor.

Trump may have told the truth — but that doesn’t rule out a quid pro quo with WikiLeaks

Which leads me to the Mueller question that I think most enticingly ties to details revealed at trial.

Trump was asked whether he had ever discussed a pardon for Julian Assange before his inauguration, and he offered the same kind of non-responsive answer he offered to all the other Mueller questions.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

Notably, however, because Trump adhered to a practice he inconsistently used (in answering questions only as they applied to the campaign, but not the transition), his answer doesn’t actually deny a key possibility: that he and Stone (and Don Jr) discussed a pardon for Assange during the transition period.

This doesn’t even have to be an instance where Trump did not recall something that happened during the election. If Trump entertained a Stone brokered pardon request in the months after Assange helped him win the election, it would be easily the most damning of Trump’s many abuses of clemency, because it would appear to be a clear quid pro quo for election assistance.

As I disclosed last year, 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. 

Loose Ends as the Stone Trial Moves to Closing Arguments

Somewhat unexpectedly, the government announced this morning it would rest after testimony from Rick Gates and the FBI Agent, Michelle Taylor. My overall take is that Stone is likely to be found guilty on a number of the false statements charges, though may skate on witness tampering. But that nevertheless will be a win for him, because he has been playing for a pardon, not acquittal, and he retreated to a new cover story — that he had no intermediary with WikiLeaks — which is what Trump needed him to say. I think the smartest thing Stone has done in the last several years was not to take the stand and I half wonder whether prosecutors tried to bait him to do so by finishing early.

Stone filed for an acquittal, which is fairly normal. By my read, it misstated the indictment, pretending that Stone was accused of lying about having an interlocutor with WikiLeaks rather than lying about who his was (which, again, serves his goal of getting a pardon). Amy Berman Jackson seemed to adhere to my reading as well, noting that none of the charges require that Stone actually have an interlocutor (though she did warn prosecutors they need to be very specific about what language in the transcript they’re saying are lies). Nevertheless, ABJ reserved judgment on that motion.

I’ll say more about what I think really went down once the final exhibits are released to journalists and after closing arguments tomorrow.

But I wanted to capture a number of loose threads from the trial (and this is based off live tweeting, so it’s more vague than I would wish):

  • Prosecutors made sure to get Steve Bannon to explain the relationship between Ted Malloch and Erik Prince and the campaign, yet Prince did not testify and Malloch’s testimony wasn’t entered. So why include that detail?
  • The government tried to enter Bannon’s grand jury testimony, unsuccessfully, after he had to be held to his prior testimony. Was there a discrepancy or a different articulation prosecutors were trying to hold him to?
  • Footnote 989 of Volume I of the Mueller Report seems to suggest that Bannon’s testimony came in under a proffer agreement (and his first interview clearly stretched the truth). But that proffer did not get introduced into evidence. Why not?
  • The defense did not raise the most obvious challenge to Gates’ testimony, that his claim Stone knew of hacked emails in April 2016 might represent a confusion with Hillary’s FOIAed emails. Since they could only make this argument with Gates’ testimony, I’m curious why they didn’t raise it.
  • The defense spent a lot of time talking to Gates about Stone’s role in compiling voter rolls. Why?
  • Prosecutors named a bunch of Stone’s flunkies as witnesses, and subpoenaed and flew in Andrew Miller. They seem to have first informed Miller he’d be testifying at what would be the end of a full week trial (what they initially said they expected), then held him through Stone’s defense, suggesting they might use him as a rebuttal witness. But he never testified. Why not?
  • The government never presented something they had planned to as 404b information — that Stone also lied about whether the campaign knew of his campaign finance shenanigans. They didn’t do so. Why not? (This may related to the Miller question.)
  • Prosecutors made a point of having Gates describe Stone asking for Jared Kushner’s contact so he could brief him on stolen emails. But that point was dropped. That loose end is particularly interesting given that they had Bannon testify about the July 18 email Stone sent him, which probably pertains to an investigation that was ongoing in March.

Update: I’ve reviewed the acquittal motion and actually think Stone may win on this point:

COUNT 6 – FALSE STATEMENT

STONE testified falsely that he had never discussed his conversations with the person he referred to as his “go-between,” “mutual friend,” and “intermediary” with anyone involved in the Trump Campaign.

Evidence as to Count 6 suffers from the same infirmity as Counts 4 and 5. The count fails because of the government’s failure to prove the conversations with the Trump Campaign contained, or specifically related to, information Mr. Stone received from Mr. Credico. There was no evidence presented that any of the information was not already available in the public domain. Furthermore, there was no evidence presented that the conversation were about, or relating to, Russian interference. “And did you discuss your conversations with the intermediary with anyone involved in the Trump campaign?” HPSCI transcript, at 102 (emphasis added). No, the conversation had nothing to do with Randy Credico. Even if, arguendo, Stone spoke to a Campaign official, Bannon, Trump, or if Stone had non-public information from an intermediary, but did not cite to Credico in those communications, then the answer is not false. The government must live with the imprecise wording of Count VI.

Stone absolutely did lie about speaking to Trump people about what he knew about WikiLeaks. But in doing so, as far as we know, he always attributed his information to Assange directly, not to Credico or Corsi (though I’m fairly certain he could prove that he gave Corsi credit). So I actually think that’s why ABJ reserved on this front: because Stone is right. The government fucked up the wording on this.

 

Rick Gates Got Sent Two Key Jerome Corsi Posts

Last year, as Mueller was managing the failed Jerome Corsi cooperation deal, I did a series of posts suggesting that Corsi and Stone seemed to have gotten advanced information about the John Podesta email dump. I argued that, in part, because the two started crafting an elaborate Matryoshka cover-up by the end of August to excuse away Stone’s “time in the barrel tweet.” More importantly, Corsi wrote a piece picking up what the two men had been plotting in August on October 6, seemingly anticipating John Podesta documents that would only be dumped on October 11. In other words, Corsi and Stone seemed to know by mid-August what WikiLeaks would drop in October.

I posted the first of those posts on October 22.

Three days later, Mueller’s team interviewed Rick Gates (PDF 39). According to the headings in the interview, which were dates, the interview traced the key milestones of the WikiLeaks dump:

  • June 12, 2016 to July 22, 2016
  • Post July 22, 2016 WikiLeaks Releases
  • October 4, 2016
  • October 7, 2016
  • [Redacted]

Much of the content below that last redacted heading is redacted, but it’s clear the section as a whole relates to the two Corsi pieces that bookend my theory that he and Stone got the files ahead of time.

** Gates was shown an email [redacted] containing the subject line “Trump adviser: WikiLeaks plotting email dump to derail Hillary” **

Gates did not recall receiving the aforementioned email.

[redacted]

** Gates was shown an email [redacted] containing the subject line “Russia? Look who’s really in bed with Moscow — Podesta & Clinton Foundation money-laundering with Russia” **

[redacted]

The FOIAed backup for this interview includes the emails by which the articles were sent.

They obscure the date that the first one was sent, though it was posted on August 15; the second, which Corsi published on October 6, got sent 15 hours later, so just before mid-day on October 7. (Steve Bannon’s assistant Alexandra Preate sent Stone a text at 6:30PM telling him “Well done,” presumably for the actual WikiLeaks releases).

But it sure seems like the campaign was in the loop on some of this.

I’m fairly certain none of this will be aired at the Stone trial. The government doesn’t even plan to enter Stone’s “time in a barrel” tweet into evidence and there’s nothing in the draft exhibit list that looks like it could be these emails. Plus, much of their case seems designed not to have to rely on Corsi.

But it sure seems to have been of interest last year.

Three Questions Not Asked of Steve Bannon

The Roger Stone trial is done for the week, with Randy Credico getting through his testimony (though probably without substantiating the witness tampering charge tied to him), with Margaret Kunstler confirming that Credico had never provided information from Assange to Stone through her, and with a very short appearance from Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s appearance was most interesting, in my opinion, for what he wasn’t asked. Here’s CNN’s coverage.

Prosecutor Michael Marando asked Bannon what he made of Stone’s August 18 email — introduced in Aaron Zelinsky’s opening — telling Bannon, ““I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.” Bannon responded by calling Stone some lame euphemism for “rat-fucker,” and observed that Stone is highly experienced in such things. But Bannon was not asked whether there was any follow-up to the email. That’s particularly interesting given the possibility that it pertains to another investigation, albeit one not related to the core Russian issues.

As expected, Marando asked Bannon about his emails to Roger Stone on October 4, 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

What was that this morning???

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Roger Stone
TO: Steve Bannon
EMAIL:
Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done.

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

He didn’t cut deal w/ clintons???

Marando used Bannon’s request to Stone as a way to premise that Bannon believed that Stone was the campaign point person on any outreach to WikiLeaks.

But Bannon wasn’t asked about the last email in that thread, which asked Bannon to tell Rebecca Mercer to send him some money. That’s significant, because the government wants to show that Stone lied to HPSCI about discussing his dark money shenanigans with the campaign (but that he cleaned that lie up). Since that exchange amounts to Stone telling Trump’s campaign manager what he was up to, I had thought Bannon might be asked to elaborate on that. He was not.

Finally, Bannon was not asked about his response to an email Paul Manafort sent to Jared Kushner and David Bossie on November 5, 2016 about how to “secure the victory.”

Later, in a November 5, 2016 email to Kushner entitled “Securing the Victory,” Manafort stated that he was “really feeling good about our prospects on Tuesday and focusing on preserving the victory,” and that he was concerned the Clinton Campaign would respond to a loss by “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”

Bannon responded to that email by saying, (PDF 258)

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

They are going to try and say the Russian worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us

Paul is nice guy but can’t let word out he is advising us

Of course, this is the Roger Stone trial, not any of Paul Manafort’s multiple trials. So it’s unsurprising that this didn’t come up. But, particularly given the way it reflected a tie between Russia, WikiLeaks, and Manafort, it might have.

Especially given that, when Bannon was asked about this on a February 14, 2018, he appears to have invoked Stone in his not entirely truthful answer.

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [5 letter name redacted for ongoing proceeding] or Manafort. Bannon knew they were going to win, and in this email he wanted to avoid Manafort because Bannon believed that if people could link them to Manafort, they could then try to link them to Russia.

That redacted name could not be Gates, the other 5-letter name associated with Manafort, because he remained on the campaign after Manafort left. And the FOIA exemption is most consistent with a Stone redaction.

In other words, a month after Bannon had the exchange about WikiLeaks with Roger Stone that did show up in the trial, he tied Stone, Manafort, WikiLeaks, and Russia together in his mind.

None of this (besides, I guess, the lack of follow-up on the August 18 email) is particularly surprising. But it is notable that Bannon wasn’t asked about a range of tangential issues, even issues that will be aired in different ways at the trial.

The Cognitive Dissonance of Learning about Roger Stone’s “Collusion”

On March 27, just days after Bill Barr issued his “summary” of the Mueller Report but well before the Report got released publicly, I wrote a post laying out how Barr obviously understated the complicity of Trump and his flunkies. I noted how he focused exclusively on what the campaign (and not its satellite ratfuckers) did, and only on what they may have done with Russia. As a result, it left a big space for what Roger Stone, according to his indictment, did: attempt to (with uncertain success) optimize the release of the stolen emails.

Stone was not charged with conspiring with WikiLeaks. But then, short of making an argument that WikiLeaks is a known agent of Russia — which the US government has never done — optimizing the WikiLeaks release is not a crime. But assuming that Corsi is correct that Stone got WikiLeaks to hold the Podesta release to dampen the impact of the Access Hollywood video, it is absolutely coordination. And even according to Stone — who believed Trump needed to avoid alienating women to win — dampening the release of the video influenced the election.

Now consider how this behavior falls into Barr’s supposed exoneration of Trump campaign involvement in the hack-and-leak.

First, there’s Barr’s truncated citation of a Mueller Report sentence. [my emphasis throughout]

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Then a footnote defining what the word “coordinated” means in that sentence.

In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the Special Counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated” with Russian election interference activities. The Special Counsel defined “coordinated” as an “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Finally, there’s Barr’s own version.

The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election. The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election. But as noted above, the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

The exoneration for coordination in Mueller’s language, at least, extends only to the Trump campaign, not to rat-fuckers working on the side (one of the things Mueller reportedly asked a lot of witnesses was precisely when and why Stone left the campaign). And at least according to this language, Mueller’s assessment of coordination extended only to coordination with the Russian government. So even if Mueller and the US government are getting close to labeling WikiLeaks a Russian entity, it still wouldn’t count for this assessment. Unsurprisingly, Barr relies on that language to give the Trump campaign a clean bill of health on the hack-and-leak side.

Most cynically, though, even after Barr acknowledges that the Russians used WikiLeaks to disseminate the stolen emails, the very next sentence doesn’t mention the charges Mueller brought against Stone for hiding his own (and through him, the campaign’s, including Donald Trump’s) coordination of the releases “for purposes of influencing the election.”

But we know Stone’s indictment has to be in the report. That’s because the report, by regulation, must list all Mueller’s prosecutorial decisions. So not only would Mueller describe that he indicted Stone, but he probably also explains why he didn’t include a conspiracy charge in Stone’s indictment (which probably relates primarily to First Amendment concerns, and not any illusions about WikiLeaks’ willing service for Russia on this operation). So it must be in the report. But Barr doesn’t mention that, indeed, the Trump campaign, through their associated rat-fucker, did actually coordinate on the hack-and-leak and did actually influence the election by doing so, they just didn’t coordinate directly with the Russian government.

On this matter, it’s crystal clear that Barr cynically limited his discussion of the report to obscure that Mueller had, indeed, found that the campaign “coordinated” on the hack-and-leak for purposes of influencing the election.

When the Report came out, it became clear I was more right than I expected. First, there were two previously unknown incidents showing the evidence against Stone to be worse than previously known. The report showed Rick Gates witnessing a call where Stone, presumably, informed Trump that more files were coming. But it also included testimony from Ted Malloch who, contrary to being an intermediary to Assange (as Corsi had claimed) instead described learning from Corsi that WikiLeaks would drop John Podesta emails, backing the claim that Corsi and/or Stone got advanced information about the releases.

But the Report also had an almost entirely redacted section that — the TOC makes clear — includes analysis about whether optimizing email releases with WikiLeaks constitutes a campaign donation.

As noted, that section is almost entirely redacted, at least in part because of the Stone trial. Nevertheless, in most parts, it parallels the analysis done, in unredacted form, on the June 9 meeting. It has a section on whether these emails constitute a thing of value and whether the benefit was obtained willfully (that part is unredacted and suggests there might be difficulties on this front as well). But it also includes a section on the constitutional implications of defining optimized releases of emails as a campaign finance violation.

So we should assume that Mueller didn’t charge what we’re seeing in part for very good First Amendment reasons (though the EDVA indictment of Julian Assange seems to conflict with that analysis).

I raise all this by way of explanation to the many people wondering how the abundant evidence that not just Stone, but Trump himself, worked to optimize the release of the stolen emails did not get charged. Mueller considered it, and in part for reasons that we should all respect, did not charge it.

All that said, people experiencing cognitive dissonance should remember something else.

Mueller’s Report only addressed crimes he charged or declined to charge. It did not — he said explicitly on page 2 — address collusion. And while Bill Barr tried to define “collusion” as “conspiracy between the campaign itself and the Russian government,” and having done so exonerated Trump of all collusion, the report itself does not do so.

Which is why I keep going back to how Mark Meadows defined “collusion” in a hearing a year ago. In walking George Papadopoulos through his claimed ignorance of any attempt to optimize the emails that Joseph Mifsud told him about, Meadows defined “collusion” as “benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of Trump’s top backers in Congress defines “collusion” as whether the campaign benefitted from the release of Hillary’s stolen emails. And while we haven’t yet seen in trial exhibits that Stone did succeed (though the Malloch testimony seems to suggest we will), what we have seen is that the campaign, from Trump on down, made significant efforts to “collude.”

That’s where I predicted we’d end up after hearing Barr’s very narrow exoneration but before seeing the report: that the campaign “colluded” in ways that Mueller could not charge criminally.

The Narrative and Legal Tensions Set on Day One of Roger Stone’s Trial

I tried to travel to DC to cover the Roger Stone trial, but it didn’t happen. So I’m working second-hand to get details I’d like to have.

But I’ve got three questions from day one of Roger Stone’s trial that go to both the narrative tension prosecutors are setting and, probably, some legal traps as well. I won’t lay all of them out, but here are three.

Aaron Zelinsky introduces only the calls on which (prosecutors claim) they don’t know what happened

Aaron Zelinsky, one of the only remaining Mueller prosecutors still on this team, did the opening. He went after Trump from the start, making it clear that Stone lied to protect Trump. He described previously unknown calls between Stone and Trump on June 14 — after the WaPo reported on the DNC hack, on June 30 — after Guccifer 2.0 posted an FAQ claiming not to be Russian, and on August 31 — just before emailing Corsi and telling him to go meet Assange.

Unless I missed it, neither Zelinsky nor the former FBI Agent who took the stand first mentioned the August 3 call Stone already admitted. That was the same day that Stone wrote Manafort and told him “I have an idea to save Trump’s ass.” That’s also one of the days when (in an email to Sam Nunberg the next day) Stone claimed to have spoken with Julian Assange.

More interestingly, Zelinsky didn’t mention that Rick Gates would testify to witnessing Trump take a call — almost certainly from Roger Stone — after which he told Gates that there were more WikiLeaks emails coming. He didn’t mention a similar, earlier call Michael Cohen witnessed, where Stone predicted the WikiLeaks emails would dump later in the week of July 18 or 19, but it’s not clear whether Cohen will testify (which would explain why Zelinsky wouldn’t mention it).

In other words, Zelinsky didn’t mention the most damning calls we know of.

That’s probably about creating narrative tension — saving the best for last — but also making visible the problem with Stone’s obstruction. We don’t know what was said on those calls because Stone (and Trump, in his written answers to Mueller) denied they even existed.

What’s up with Jerome Corsi?

Zelinsky made it clear that Gates (who we knew about), Credico (who’s the key witness, and probably beginning his testimony tomorrow), and Steve Bannon (about whom I had my doubts) will testify.

The sense I got from reporters at the trial, however, is that the government would not call Jerome Corsi.

I mean, why would you? He entered into a cooperation agreement, then blew it up. He’s a batshit conspiracy theorist. When Stone submitted his exhibit list back in September, the government even challenged the relevance of both Stone’s John Podesta-related emails (an August 15 one, as well as the more famous “time in the barrel” one), as well as a contact with Corsi that must pertain to their effort to start crafting a cover story even in August.

All that suggests the government doesn’t want to get into the most damning aspects of Stone’s interactions with Corsi, but instead just wants to make it clear that Stone’s earlier communications with him makes it clear he lied to the House Intelligence Committee about Credico to hide (the government suggests) what he was up to with Corsi.

Meanwhile, Stone’s defense — such as it exists — amounts to arguing that Credico and Corsi were just pulling a fast one on poor little Rog, pretending they had ties to WikiLeaks but lying about it. That’s all well and good with Credico, who has admitted he was fluffing his ties with WikiLeaks. It is likely also true that Corsi was.

But how will Stone prove that Corsi was overstating his access to Assange if you don’t call him to testify?

Nevertheless, it seems like Corsi will be the giant black hole of this trial, with his referral for lying to the grand jury and all the other reasons why he’s a disaster witness hanging in the background.

Why did Mueller refer what appears to be a follow-up on a Bannon email that will be litigated at this trial elsewhere?

One email Zelinsky did promise we’d learn more about, however, is an August 18 one (some outlets date this to August 16, but it appears to be exhibit 28) that Stone sent to Bannon promising, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.”

That seems to suggest that the email is the one discussed in hearings on how Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement, in part, by lying to investigators on another investigation.

Effectively, Manafort was asked some questions in a proffer session before his plea on September 13, in response to which he offered information that implicated someone with a 7-character name. [These dates are in the government’s January 15 filing at 23.] Then, in a debriefing on October 5, he changed his story to make it less incriminating — and to match the story the subject of the investigation was telling to the FBI at the time (last fall). When pressed by his lawyers, Manafort mostly changed his story back to what it had been. But the head fake made Manafort useless as a witness against this person.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson summed up this change this way:

The allegation is that the defendant offered a version of events that downplayed [redacted; “the President’s” or “the Candidate”s might fit] role and/or his knowledge. Specifically, his knowledge of any prior involvement of the [16-17 character redaction] that was inconsistent with and less incriminating of [7 character redaction] than what he had already said during the proffer stage and now consistent with what Mr. [7 character redaction] himself was telling the FBI.

This investigation pertains to events that happened “prior to [Manafort] leaving the campaign (on August 19).” [January 15 filing at 26]

As Andrew Weissman described in the breach hearing, Manafort’s version of the story first came when prosecutors, “were asking questions about an e-mail that Mr. [5 character name] had written about a potential way of saving the candidate. That’s sort of paraphrasing it. And this was a way of explaining, or explaining away that e-mail.” In the Janaury 15 filing, this conversation arises to explain “a series of text messages.” [See 25]

Weissmann describes that the revised story Manafort told was, “quite dramatically different. This is not I forgot something or I need to augment some details of a basic core set of facts.” Manafort’s original story involved Mr. [7 character redaction] providing information about a [redacted] who was doing something. Manafort appears to have made a representation about what Mr. [7 character name] believed about that (likely important to proving intent).

But in the second session, Manafort appears to have shifted the blame, implicating Mr. [5 character name] whom, “Mr. Manafort had previously said, I did not want to be involved in this at all,” but leaving out what Mr. [7 character name] had said. Manafort’s testimony effectively left out that when Mr. [5 character name] had called previously, Manafort had said, “I’m on it, don’t get involved.” It appears that Weissmann surmised that Manafort changed the story because his version would make it central to the question of criminality [this might be a reference to being related to the Mueller investigation], so he revised it in an attempt to avoid providing anything that might be helpful to implicating Mr. [7 character name].

Effectively, in the wake of an email written by someone with a 5-character name (so stone would fit) in the days before Manafort resigned on August 19 (so either August 16 or 18 would fit) that promised, “a potential way of saving the candidate,” someone else (my wildarseguess is Kushner) got involved. But once he got his plea agreement, Manafort changed his story to blame the guy who sent the email (in this scenario, Stone) and not the other guy.

There’s just one problem with this presumption that the email Zelinsky described and the one invoked in this investigation are one and the same.

By September of 2018, this was a separate investigation being conducted by “another district.”

The investigation is in another district.  The initial government 12/7 filing says that explicitly at 8. The breach filing at 112 says they had the other investigative team “come here.”

I find it perplexing that some other US Attorney’s office — even DC — would be investigating the aftermath of the Stone to Bannon email discussed today, when such an email (if it related to Stone and WikiLeaks) would be central to what Mueller was still investigating. Corsi hadn’t blown up his plea deal yet. And Bannon’s interview where he presumably told truths he didn’t tell in February 2018 wasn’t until October 26. I mean, I have theories. I can come up with theories for just about anything. But still, why would this email be central to Zelinsky’s opening in a trial where Steve Bannon will testify unless it remained solidly within Mueller’s purview in October 2018?

Anyway, these are the big questions I take away from the first day of Stone’s trial. I think they suggest both narrative and legal plot twists that no one is expecting.