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What Did Mueller Achieve with the Internet Research Agency Indictment?

Back during Nunes Week, Trey Gowdy described the importance of Robert Mueller’s investigation by stating that we were only seeing half of what he was doing. The other half of his work, Gowdy said, was the counterintelligence side, the investigation into what Russia did to the US in 2016.

Friday, Rod Rosenstein rolled out the first glimpse of the other half of that investigation, an indictment of 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory. The indictment accuses IRA of 8 crimes: criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.

In the wake of that indictment, the court unsealed a February 7  plea agreement with Californian Richard Pinedo, for identity theft (basically, selling bank account numbers; the information doesn’t identify the users who purchased the bank account numbers as IRA personnel who used them to set up “American” identities, but that is clearly what happened).

The 13 Russians charged in the IRA indictment — which include Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the close Putin associate who owns the company, those in charge of the operation (which was not limited to US targeting), down to a few of the analysts who did the troll work — will never be extradited to the US, though the most senior among them will surely be sanctioned. Nor will Putin in any way retaliate against them — they were doing work he approved of! Further, by criminalizing “information warfare” (as the Russians admitted they were engaged in, and as we do too, under the same name) we risk our own information warriors being indicted in other countries.

So what purpose did the indictment serve? Here are some thoughts:

Creating a paper trail

Rosenstein and Chris Wray have both said they believe investigators should speak through indictments and other official documents, not through Comeyesque press conferences. Here we have an indictment that serves as a record of what Mueller’s team has found.

We would probably have gotten it in any case, as Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has emphasized bringing more cybersecurity related indictments.

But that we did get it addresses one of the questions we’ve gotten about the Mueller investigation: whether we’ll get to read a report of what he has found.

To the extent that something is indictable, even if that indictment would name Russians or others located overseas, I guess we should expect more of the same.

Establishing bipartisan credibility for the larger investigation

The reason I keep pointing to Gowdy’s statements in support of the investigation in the last several weeks is because his actions seem to reflect one of the most partisan Republicans reacting soberly to an attack on the country, rather than just one party.

And while the details of the indictment — most notably that the trolls affirmatively supported Bernie Sanders as well as Trump — have resurfaced the old primary recriminations, for the most part, the indictment has provided a way for people from both parties to agree to the reality of the attack. Trump said Mueller did a good job with the indictment (admittedly, he may be currying favor). Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster responded to the indictment by declaring the evidence that Russia interfered in the election “incontrovertible.” This indictment offers a way for even self-interested Republicans to start acknowledging the reality of what happened.

The indictment also gave Rod Rosenstein an opportunity to own this investigation with a press conference announcing it. None of the prosecutors tied to the case appeared (since I track these things, know that Jeannie Rhee, Rush Atkinson, and Ryan Dickey are on the docket), just Rosenstein. Hopefully, tying him to this non-offensive indictment will make it harder to fire Rosenstein, and thereby further protect Mueller.

Reiterating the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States

The most interesting of the three crimes charged in the IRA indictment is the first, the conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictment describes the conspiracy this way:

U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General. And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government.

Effectively, Mueller is saying that it’s not illegal, per se, to engage in political trolling (AKA information warfare), but it is if you don’t but are legally obliged to register before you do so. That’s an important distinction, because much of what these trolls did is accepted behavior in American politics — all sides did this in 2016, including people employed by campaigns and others expressing their own political opinions. Trolling (AKA information warfare) only becomes illegal when you don’t carry out the required transparency or reporting before you do so.

The charge of a conspiracy to defraud the United States has a very important parallel elsewhere in this investigation, in the first charge in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment. The indictment explains,

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

The Manafort indictment then argues that by hiding that the lobbying work they were doing was on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions they, “knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.” I’ll have more to say about this parallel in coming days, but suffice it to say that Mueller is alleging that Manafort is the mirror image of the troll farm, engaging in politics while hiding on whose behalf he’s doing it (he was arguably doing the same in Ukraine). [Update: see this post for more on how this might work.]

In both cases, the indictments substantiate the conspiracy by naming a variety of crimes, like money laundering and identity theft.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this structure going forward (and suspect it’s something the numerous appellate specialists on Mueller’s team have been spending a lot of time thinking about).

Laying out how Americans might be involved with or without “colluding”

Much has been made of Rosenstein’s line, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” I don’t read too much into that. Rather, I think Rosenstein included it because the indictment does explicitly and implicitly describe actions many Americans and possible Americans took that were part of this conspiracy. That includes:

Illegal compensated acvitities

  • Richard Pinedo: Selling Russian trolls (and others) bank account numbers they can use to conduct identity fraud
  • Unknown persons: Providing social security numbers and fake US drivers licenses of Americans
  • Unknown persons: Selling stolen credit card information

Presumptively legal compensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Renting servers in the US to run VPNs to hide their foreign location
  • Yahoo, Gmail, Paypal: Providing email and PayPal accounts the Russians used as the basis for social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Providing those social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Selling advertisements on social media
  • Unknown Trump associates: Paying for IRA rally expenses
  • Paid providers: Building a cage, acquiring a costume, and posing as Hillary in prison stunt at a FL event
  • Unknown US person: Providing posters for a Support Hillary, Save American Muslims rally
  • Unknown American: Holding a sign in front of the White House on May 29, 2016

Uncompensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Interacting with Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva when they traveled to the US sometime between June 4 and June 26, 2014 to conduct reconnaissance and another co-conspirator that November
  • Members of the media: Accepting tips and promoting IRA events
  • A member of a real TX-based Tea Party organization: Advising the conspirators to focus on the purple states “like Colorado, Virginia & Florida”
  • Unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump: Distributing IRA materials through existing channels of those groups
  • Administrators of large social media groups focused on U.S. politics: Promoting IRA events
  • Trump volunteer: Providing signs for the March for Trump event and otherwise recruiting for it
  • A Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county: Advising on more locations and logistics for the Florida Trump event
  • Campaign Officials 1, 2, and 3: discussing the Florida events

Later the indictment describes a database of 100 real US persons whom the trolls treated as recruiting targets, complete with profiling.

On or about August 24, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators updated an internal ORGANIZATION list of over 100 real U.S. persons contacted through ORGANIZATION-controlled false U.S. persona accounts and tracked to monitor recruitment efforts and requests. The list included contact information for the U.S. persons, a summary of their political views, and activities they had been asked to perform by Defendants and their co-conspirators.

Here’s the important thing about all this. While Pinedo pled guilty and faces 12-18 months even with his cooperation agreement (and even there, while the information makes it clear he knew he was dealing with foreigners, his lawyer has made it clear he didn’t know who or what he was dealing with), there are only two other known illegal roles in this conspiracy, and there’s no reason those roles would have had to be carried out by Americans. Perhaps Mueller has others cooperating, perhaps those other criminals are unknown. But as for the rest, they are (as Rosenstein made clear) not guilty of any kind of conspiracy with Russia.

DOJ just rolled out an indictment in which probably 20 Americans can recognize themselves (many of whom were likely interviewed), about as many as all the Trump officials named in one or another plea agreement so far. Yet, as far as Mueller knows, none of these people did anything but conduct business or engage in sincerely held politics. They almost certainly had far less reason to be suspicious of the trolls they were being used by than Facebook and Twitter. Those actions have been tainted now through no fault of their own.

Which is something to remember: I’ve seen Hillary supporters, in the same breath, criticize Bernie or Jill Stein supporters because their preferred candidate was treated favorably by the trolls, yet in the same breath suggesting the black and Muslim activists targeted are innocent victims.

Obviously, Hillary and her supporters are victims. But everyone is, even the Trump volunteers. Because to the extent they had honestly held beliefs, the Russian operation tainted those beliefs, it diminished the weight of their honestly held beliefs. They were used by Russian trolls, most of them without the same profit motive that led Facebook and Twitter to allow themselves to be used. And we should remember that.

Hinting at what the US has

There are, however, a few tactical things this indictment does, starting with hinting at what other evidence the US has. This indictment was relatively easy, in that Adrian Chen (in a June 2015 article that still gets too little attention), Facebook and (to a lesser extent) other social media outlets, the Daily Beast, and SSCI generally have already laid out what IRA did. The indictment slaps some criminal charges on fraudulent behavior that enabled it, and without showing much about any additional evidence Mueller collected, you’ve got a showy indictment.

There are two hints, however, of the additional evidence used (which, given that the named conspirators will never face trial, will never need to be disclosed or explained). First, in a passage about how IRA started to cover their tracks after Mueller started focusing on this activity, there’s the reference to Irina Kaverzina.

On or about September 13, 2017, KAVERZINA wrote in an email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

Kaverzina was just a low-level troll and this may be nothing more than Section 702 collected email off GMail or Yahoo, or it may be a more formal intercept. But Mueller obtained communications from at least one of the indictees. Emails from more senior people, such as Prigozhin or his more senior managers (or the IT guys buying server space in the US) would be more interesting.

Plus, Mueller likely obtained cooperation from one IRA employee, the unnamed person who traveled to Atlanta in November 2014 for reconnaissance. Had that person not cooperated, he or she would have been named in the indictment.

Nevertheless establishing the political stakes

I said above that none of the hundred-plus Americans who were unknowingly used by trolls should be considered anything but victims. Their chosen political views, loathsome or not, have now been tainted, and not because of anything they’ve done except perhaps show too much trust or credulity.

But there are hints that Mueller is using this indictment to set up a more important point.

For example, the indictment (perhaps because of Mueller’s mandate) focuses on political activities supporting or opposing one or another 2016 candidate. Even where topics (immigration, Muslim religion, race) are not necessarily tied to the election, they’re presented here as such. Unless Facebook’s public reports are wrong, this is a very different emphasis than what Facebook has said the IRA focused on. Which is to say that Mueller’s team are focusing on a subset of the known IRA trolling, the subset that involves the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary.

And there are several events, in particular, that may one day serve as details in a larger conspiracy. Most interesting, for the timing and location, are the twin anti-Hillary and pro-Trump events in NYC in June and July 2016.

In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

a. In or around June through July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to promote the “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to send individualized messages to real U.S. persons to request that they participate in and help organize the rally. To assist their efforts, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through false U.S. personas, offered money to certain U.S. persons to cover rally expenses.

c. On or about June 5, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while posing as a U.S. grassroots activist, used the account @March_for_Trump to contact a volunteer for the Trump Campaign in New York. The volunteer agreed to provide signs for the “March for Trump” rally.

[snip]

On or about July 23, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send out press releases to over thirty media outlets promoting the “Down With Hillary” rally at Trump Tower in New York City.

The description of a IRA-organized event at Trump Tower the day after WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails, in particular, suggests the possibility of a great deal of coordination, coordination with people in the US.

Similarly, the extended descriptions of events in Florida may also take on added relevance in the future, particularly coming as they did in tandem with Guccifer 2.0’s release of DCCC data targeting FL. (And this, in turn, should focus even more attention on the FL congressmen like Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis who’re leading the pushback on Mueller’s investigation.)

Using the term “co-conspirator” 119 times

Perhaps most interesting, given the tiny nods to what other intelligence Mueller might have, are the 119 uses of the word “co-conspirators.” Almost all of these uses seem to necessarily mean unnamed IRA employees working from the same St. Petersburg location described as trolling. Several times the co-conspirators are clearly described as located in Russia. So it may be that all references to co-conspirators here are just a way to refer to the 70 other people involved in this operation at IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Other uses of “co-conspirator” involve wider knowledge, perhaps an outsider’s knowledge of a go-between role Prigozhin might have had.

But others are things that might have involved a stateside co-conspirator, such as the mention of co-conspirators helping to set up the May 29, 2016 Prigozhin birthday tribute in front of the White House, co-conspirators tracking US social media use, co-conspirators engaged in identity theft, co-conspirators promoting claims of voter fraud, co-conspirators destroying data. Several of those things (such as tracking US social media use or claiming Hillary was going to steal the election) are things we know Trump associates were also doing. Others might be facilitated by someone stateside. So those uses of the term could be people not employed by IRA.

Which is to say, this indictment might be (probably is) intended to address just the activities of those employed by IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Update: added the public indictment part.

The Gates Flip and the 404(b) Delay

CNN reported tonight that, after not getting funded by rich GOP donors (perhaps in part because Trump thinks his cooperation won’t imperil him), Paul Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, is about to flip.

Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He’s had what criminal lawyers call a “Queen for a Day” interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors’ team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.

[snip]

Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates’ co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort.

[snip]

Gates has told associates he had hoped for outside assistance from a legal defense fund, but deep-pocketed GOP donors have shown little interest in helping either Gates or Manafort cover their legal fees, two sources said.

The judge has already acknowledged that Gates could not show he had $5 million in assets to secure his bail. His financial situation is further hampered by assets he would have to forfeit to the government if found guilty of money laundering charges. A complex criminal case such as this could cost a defendant more than a million dollars in legal fees, especially if he were to go to trial, according to several people familiar with the legal industry.

Hopefully I’ll have time tomorrow to lay out what Gates might have offered Mueller. But for now, I want to look at a detail from the Gates/Manafort docket.

On Wednesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson held a status conference. With Manafort, she appears to have discussed his continued efforts to make bail (one thing that CNN reports pressured Gates financially enough that made him willing to flip).

With Gates, she appears to have discussed his confusing legal situation, where his existing lawyers are trying to ditch him so his new lawyer, Tom Green, can finalize this plea deal. The night before, Gates had filed a pro se motion asking Berman Jackson to hold off on deciding whether his current lawyers can ditch him until February 21.

In response, Berman Jackson granted Gates his week.

Defendant Manafort’s (1) Sealed Motion 153 for Reconsideration of Conditions of Release remains under advisement. Defendant Manafort (1) must supplement the Motion. The 161 Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Defendant Gates (2) remains under advisement. Defendant Gates is to advise the Court of his position on the Motion by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, 2/21/2018.

Just as interesting, Berman Jackson held off on resetting deadlines and on deciding whether or not the government can delay providing 404(b) notice of the evidence of other crimes the government will submit at trial.

The Current Briefing and Hearing schedules that were established at the Status Conference held on 1/16/2018, and in the Minute Order issued on 1/17/2018 are suspended pending further Order of the Court. The government’s 155 Motion to Modify the Court’s Schedule for Rule 404(b) Notice and Briefing remains under advisement. SO ORDERED. By Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 2/14/2018. (jth) (Entered: 02/14/2018)

I noted, when the government submitted that request, that Mueller’s team likely wanted to hide what other crimes Manafort and Gates had committed to save their value for when they testify against Trump and his family.

First, Mueller doesn’t want to tip his hand to the many crimes it has found Manafort implicated in. Perhaps, he also wants to avoid making other obvious allegations about Manafort and Gates to preserve their credibility when they flip on the President and his family. But it also seems to suggest Mueller expects he’ll be finding other crimes Manafort and Gates committed for the next 8 months.

Everything’s on hold, now, until Gates can plead guilty to crimes that involve only indirect taint of conspiring with the Russians, so the government doesn’t yet have to reveal how much it knows of that taint, at least not publicly.

I could be wrong, but this may answer something we’ve been trying to understand about George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn — whether the government let them plead to far lesser crimes because that’s all they’ve got or because Mueller is trying to keep his witnesses relatively clean for when they testify against Trump.

I think Mueller’s trying to keep them clean, and in the process trying to keep his poker hand still close to the chest for when he starts to use it against the big guns.

I’m also interested in the timing, which would put at least one more guilty plea into place before Rachel Brand leaves.

Dear JD Gordon [and Jared]: Mueller Has 17 Prosecutors; White House Obstruction Accounts for Just One

The WaPo has a piece reporting (with details about John Kelly’s “collusion” with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is supposed to be recused) what I noted here: Trump wants the Devin Nunes memo to come out, even in spite of the warnings about how releasing it will damage national security.

It rather absurdly claims that Mueller is “narrowing” his probe.

As Mueller narrows his probe — homing in on the ways Trump may have tried to impede the Russia investigation — a common thread ties many of the incidents together: a president accustomed to functioning as the executive of a private family business who does not seem to understand that his subordinates have sworn an oath to the Constitution rather than to him.

More amusing is this anonymous quote from JD Gordon.

A person who has spoken with Mueller’s team said investigators’ questions seemed at least partially designed to probe potential obstruction from Trump.

“The questions are about who was where in every meeting, what happened before and after, what the president was saying as he made decisions,” this person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to recount a private session.

This person added that while it seemed unlikely Mueller’s team would yield any evidence of a coordinated effort to aid the Russians — “If you were on the campaign, you know we couldn’t even collude with ourselves,” he said — the investigators might find more details to support obstruction of justice. [my emphasis]

We know it was JD Gordon because he said precisely the same thing in an op-ed just after the George Papadopoulos plea made it clear Gordon and his buddies might be in a heap of trouble.

Trump camp too disorganized to collude

Criminalization of policy differences has descended upon America once again. The viciousness towards a sitting president and his team evokes memories of Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment. In the “witch hunt” Clinton was impeached for something unrelated to the Arkansas real estate deal which sparked the Whitewater investigation years earlier. Like a Soviet secret police chief once said: “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” Indeed.

We’re seeing the same thing today. The Trump-Russia collusion story is a hoax and “witch hunt” of this century.

Like typical conspiracy theories, usually the simplest explanation is correct. The campaign was chaotic, understaffed and underpaid, if paid at all. We couldn’t collude amongst ourselves. [my emphasis]

Since JD Gordon is — by his own account — incompetent, I’m going to repeat the substance of this post I did even as he first rolled out this line, just to help him out.

Update: I’ve been informed that Jared Kushner has also used this “we couldn’t collude because we’re too incompetent” line, so perhaps he’s the one who believes he’s not at risk for engaging in a quid pro quo with Russians and others. 

Robert Mueller has 17 prosecutors. We’ve only seen what 10 of them are doing. And just one of them — Watergate prosecutor James Quarles — is known to be working on the White House obstruction case.

Here’s a census of Mueller’s prosecutors who’ve thus far shown what they’re working on:

Manafort docket:

  • Andrew Weismann (1)
  • Greg Andres (2)
  • Kyle Freeny (3)

Adam Jed (4), an appellate specialist, has appeared with these lawyers in grand jury appearances.

Papadopoulos docket:

  • Jeannie Rhee (5)
  • Andrew Goldstein (6)
  • Aaron Zelinsky (7)

Flynn docket:

  • Brandon L. Van Grack (8)
  • Zainab Ahmad (9)

Obstruction docket:

Even in these dockets, it’s clear Mueller is nowhere near done.

Flynn may have a status hearing scheduled for Thursday (though it’s not formally noted in the docket). I suspect, instead, we’ll get a joint status report like was submitted in Papadopoulos’ case on January 17, which basically said, “we’re very busy cooperating, don’t bug us until April 23.”

And CNN just reported that Mueller’s team has drafted superseding indictments against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and Gates appears to be prepping to flip.

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has quietly added a prominent white-collar attorney, Tom Green, to his defense team, signaling that Gates’ approach to his not-guilty plea could be changing behind the scenes.

Green, a well-known Washington defense lawyer, was seen at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office twice last week. CNN is told by a source familiar with the matter that Green has joined Gates’ team.

Green isn’t listed in the court record as a lawyer in the case and works for a large law firm separate from Gates’ primary lawyers.

Green’s involvement suggests that there is an ongoing negotiation between the defendant’s team and the prosecutors.

[snip]

Superseding indictments, which would add or replace charges against both Gates and Manafort, have been prepared, according to a source close to the investigation. No additional charges have been filed so far. When there is a delay in filing charges after they’ve been prepared, it can indicate that negotiations of some nature are ongoing.

So even where we have some visibility, that visibility suggests there is plenty of work trying to see if there was any conspiracy tied to the election.

That leaves the following prosecutors, listed with their specialities:

  • Aaron Zebley (11): probably working on coordination
  • Michael Dreeben (12): appellate wizard
  • Elizabeth Prelogar (13): appellate specialist and Russian speaker
  • Scott Meisler (14): appellate specialist
  • Rush Atkinson (15): fraud prosecutor
  • Ryan Dickey (16): Cybersecurity (just added in November)
  • Mystery prosecutor (17)

I mean, Mueller hasn’t even revealed all his prosecutors yet, much less what they’re all working on.

But JD Gordon would have you believe the prosecutors’ attention to what meetings he and his buddies were in means Mueller is only investigating obstruction.

Mueller Wants to Delay Telling Manafort and Gates What Other Crimes It Knows They Committed

The government just submitted a request to modify the deadline Judge Amy Berman Jackson set to give Paul Manafort and Rick Gates notice of other crimes or bad acts it will introduce at trial, what is called a Rule 404(b) notice. Currently, they have to provide that notice on April 6, but the judge is now considering a September rather than a May trial date, so prosecutors want to bump the 404 notice back accordingly.

Mueller’s prosecutors don’t want to give Manafort and Gates more than a couple months notice of the other crimes they’re going to unload during the trial. They also note that if they give notice in April, they may have to provide multiple notices as they learn of other bad acts.

Premature disclosure raises issues as well. For example, in declining to require disclosure that is too early, courts have recognized that “the evidence the government wishes to offer may well change as the proof and possible defenses crystallize.”

[snip]

For similar reasons, early disclosure can result in multiple Rule 404(b) notices and multiply the rulings that a court needs to make, thus undermining the efficient use of judicial and party resources.

The government wants to wait until 8 weeks before the trial before giving notice.

At least two things appear to be going on here. First, Mueller doesn’t want to tip his hand to the many crimes it has found Manafort implicated in. Perhaps, he also wants to avoid making other obvious allegations about Manafort and Gates to preserve their credibility when they flip on the President and his family. But it also seems to suggest Mueller expects he’ll be finding other crimes Manafort and Gates committed for the next 8 months.

What Explains Trump’s Focus on Manafort?

As I noted yesterday on Twitter, the transcript of NYT’s interview with Donald Trump reads like this:

collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion

23 times Trump either denied any evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia or alleged collusion between Hillary and … I’m not entirely clear who she was supposed to have colluded with.

Whatever else this interview was, it was also a testament to Trump’s continued obsession with trying to deny any guilt.

Which is why I’m so interested in both the form and the singular focus on Trump’s denial of Paul Manafort.

SCHMIDT: What’s your expectation on Mueller? When do you —

TRUMP: I have no expectation. I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. And you know who knows it better than anybody? The Democrats. They walk around blinking at each other.

SCHMIDT: But when do you think he’ll be done in regards to you —

TRUMP: I don’t know.

SCHMIDT: But does that bother you?

TRUMP: No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. And based on that [inaudible]. There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair. And if he’s fair — because everybody knows the answer already, Michael. I want you to treat me fairly. O.K.?

SCHMIDT: Believe me. This is —

TRUMP: Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion. None whatsoever.

_________

TRUMP: Maybe I’ll just say a little bit of a [inaudible]. I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very nice man. And I found him to be an honorable person. Paul only worked for me for a few months. Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me. And you’re talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him. He worked for me for — what was it, three and a half months?

SCHMIDT: A very short period of time.

TRUMP: Three and a half months. [Inaudible] So, that’s that. Let’s just say — I think that Bob Mueller will be fair, and everybody knows that there was no collusion.

The interview started with a discussion of Jeff Sessions’ recusal, which led Trump to claim he won because he campaigned better than Hillary, but then Mike Schmidt returned to Russia, which returned Trump to his “no collusion” line.

Then Schmidt permits Trump to go off the record about … something. Then the interview goes back on the record with Trump apparently deciding to offer up details after all. He offers the following defense of Manafort:

  • He’s a nice, honorable man
  • Manafort worked for other Republicans too
  • Manafort didn’t work (on the campaign) for Trump long at all
  • Trump never heard of the man who lived in Trump Tower and had had a firm with Trump’s buddy Roger Stone

Having already had two people flip on him and agree to cooperate with prosecutors, Trump starts by flattering Manafort. He rightly reminds that Manafort has long been tolerated in the Republican party, even after Manafort’s fondness for working with thugs became widely known.

Trump then dismisses any Manafort taint based on time associated with the campaign (three and a half key months of the campaign, during the period when Russians were reaching out to provide dirt), not based on his actions for the campaign.

Finally, by falsely claiming he didn’t know Manafort, Trump absolves himself of any prior taint the lobbyist had.

As I said, I’m interested in this passage not just for Trump’s lame attempt at defending himself, but also that he did so. It’s only Manafort Trump feels the need to defend himself against, not Flynn (whom Trump reportedly is preparing to accuse of lying), not Papadopoulos, and not even Rick Gates (who, after all, hung around the campaign through the transition).

The Daily Beast did do an uninteresting piece suggesting Mueller’s team may get a superseding indictment against Manafort, but it doesn’t even imagine Mueller getting to the guts of the case, perhaps by indicting Manafort based on his ongoing reporting on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska via Konstantin Kilimnik, the latter of whom also served as a go-between in an effort to help Manafort write a self-defensive op-ed. Instead, it imagines only that Manafort will get a superseding indictment on tax charges.

Alternately, Schmidt may have said something during that off the record section that directly raised Manafort. Schmidt’s regular beat is the FBI, not Mar a Lago, so he may know something far more interesting than the Daily Beast does about where Mueller is going.

Whatever the reason, Trump seems far more worried about damage Manafort can do to him right now than any damage Flynn can.

The Bail Fight that Manafort and Gates Can’t Win

Three weeks after their indictment, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are still fighting over their bail conditions.

That was most recently demonstrated by the government’s response to Gates’ request for permission to (basically) serve as house husband, with leave to spend over two hours every day to ferrying his kids to school while purportedly under house arrest, a motion the court denied. The government objected to the request because “To date, only the defendant’s signature secures his bond (together with his house arrest),” though the problem might be more accurately described as Gates fucking around with bail negotiations, probably because he can’t substantiate his assets in such a way that they can be posted for bail.

In a telephone call late on the afternoon of November 15, 2017, defense counsel informed the government that they intended to make a bail modification motion and sought the government’s position. The government responded that it was not able to take a position until it had the opportunity to review the defendant’s motion.

[snip]

Although more than two weeks have passed since the defendant’s arrest, he has not completed any paperwork to post his house, or any other property, and has failed to answer a series of questions about his assets.

[snip]

Only yesterday did the defendant offer to arrange interviews of his two proposed non-family-member sureties, both of whom apparently live outside the Washington, D.C. area.3 Finally, the government continues to have concerns about the accuracy of the defendant’s account of his net assets, which has evolved from the representation that he had “limited assets that include only a single home,” ECF#21 at 5; to his most recent Personal Financial Statement, which included a securities/brokerage account valued at more than $1.3 million and a total net worth of more than $3.4 million.

3 Those interviews are now scheduled for Thursday, November 16, 2017. Counsel has noted that one proposed surety already serves as a surety for a relative who is currently charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, a circumstance that, at least at first blush, raises certain concerns.

Though it was even more clearly laid out in the government’s November 5 opposition to Manafort’s request to change his bail conditions, in which the government laid out the difficulties of finding $10 million that Manafort can post for bail. In that they laid out three different line items in Manafort’s assets, two of which he wants to post for bail, that the government believes are inflated.

A. 5th Avenue, New York, NY (claimed net asset value $3 million):

The government does not presently have sufficient information to assess the claimed net asset value of this property, or even to be confident that the property has equity in it at all. Based on communications with Manafort’s counsel, the government understands that the $3 million net asset value is based on a fair market value of $6 million, reduced by a $3 million mortgage on the property obtained from UBS. This fair market value is not, however, backed by an appraisal or even any open source estimates (which in many cases may not be particularly accurate). Rather, Manafort provided the government with an open source estimate for a different unit in the building, listed as approximately $4.5 million, which Manafort believes is below the fair market value of his own unit, which is on a higher floor. Meanwhile, the government has searched open source real estate value estimators and found one that lists the value of Manafort’s own unit as $2.5 million, and another that lists the value as $2.7 million.

Until an independent appraisal of the property is obtained, the government cannot agree that this property is appropriate as a security.

[snip]

C. St. James Drive, Palm Beach Gardens, FL (claimed net asset value $1.5 million):

Based on the information available to the government, we are comfortable with the use of this property as security, although the open source estimate provided to the government by Manafort shows a fair market value of $1.25 million rather than $1.5 million. As a condition of using this property as security, Manafort and his wife should be required to waive any homestead exemption that may be available under Florida law and to agree not to encumber the property in any way.

[snip]

Although Manafort has provided the government with a spreadsheet listing his total assets at approximately $28 million, the government has yet to substantiate Manafort’s net worth. Indeed, we continue to have questions about that sum. For example, with respect to a property held by Manafort in Brooklyn, he asserted the value at $9 million, when a recent appraisal comes in at substantially lower (in the $5 to $6 million range). The spreadsheet provided by Manafort also lists values of other assets, such as securities, that do not match information available to the government or that cannot be substantiated at this time. Additionally, in prior years, through at least 2014, Manafort reported a $6 million asset in Ukraine on his tax returns; Manafort has claimed that it lost all value. In short, the government seeks to further understand the full extent of Manafort’s wealth.

They’re doing this while appearing quite reasonable (for example, letting Manafort’s wife and daughter serve as sureties, not to mention letting them stay out of jail altogether). It seems increasingly clear why: because the very process of trying to negotiate bail, for both men, is involving a whole lot of disclosure — which presumably replicates documentation the government has collected on its own — of further money laundering. In just those three paragraphs, for example, the government has laid out almost $10 million in money that Manafort has either vanished or lost as his money laundering vehicles lose value.

Meanwhile Bloomberg has a piece — the long overdue counterpart to my (still) favorite piece of Manafort journalism, the Weekly Standard piece showing it is impossible to spend $1 million on antique rugs in Alexandria — that lays out the discrepancies between the amounts the indictment say Manafort spent on his homes in the Hamptons and Florida and what his contractors reported would be spent.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his indictment, says that a Hamptons firm got $5.4 million in wire transfers from Cyprus over 71 payments. But building permits over the same period examined by Bloomberg show that renovations by Manafort’s Hamptons’ contractor were estimated to cost $1.2 million. That’s less than a quarter of what was ultimately sent—an apparent discrepancy that could draw scrutiny from investigators.

[snip]

Building permits in Southampton estimate that the cost of SP & C’s renovations would come to $687,000. In Brooklyn, the work is estimated to cost $527,900 though it isn’t clear whether SP & C or another contractor completed the project. Either way, the estimates fall more than $4 million short of the amount “Vendor A” was paid.

[snip]

During an inspection in April 2013, the Southampton assessor determined that the replacement cost of the pool house was $132,172, a less than a third of the quoted price. A pergola, estimated to cost $35,000, would cost $16,550 to replace by the assessor.

Lisa Goree, Southampton’s sole assessor, said renovation costs aren’t necessarily reflected in a home’s assessed value. “He could spend $1 million on a statue in front of the house,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to increase the assessment by a million dollars.”

There is also a gap between renovation estimates on Manafort’s Florida 3,300-square-foot house—located in a gated community overlooking a golf course and palm-lined canal—and the amount paid to a “Vendor J, a contractor in Florida,” according to the indictment. He wired $432,487 to the Florida contractor; building permits estimate that renovations on his Palm Beach Gardens house would cost about $140,000.

Incidentally, a friend told me one of her friends has been at the Hamptons property, and was led to believe it was actually owned by Manafort’s nephew.

I feel like Mueller’s prosecutors are playing with these two men as cats play with balls, just patiently batting them around, waiting for the inevitable admission that they can’t make bail because they don’t have assets they can put up because everything they own has been laundered. At which point, after getting the judge rule over and over that they’re flight risks, I suppose the government will move to throw them in the pokey, which will finally get them to consider flipping.

Update: Totally unrelated, but totally related, Global Witness has an investigation of how Trump has partnered with a whole lot of mobsters who use his Panama property as a laundering vehicle.

Update: Here we are Monday and Gates and Manafort still haven’t found anything liquid to put up as bail. Not only that, but in a filing raising a potential conflict with one of Gates’ money laundering expert lawyers, prosecutors reveal Gates is trying to have his partner from a movie-related firm’s brother serve as surety while also doing so for the partner.

Marc Brown, the brother of defendant Steven Brown, was proposed by Gates as a potential surety despite the facts that they seemingly do not have a significant relationship, they have not had regular contact over the past ten years, and Marc Brown currently serves as a surety for his brother Steven in his ongoing criminal prosecution in New York. In an interview with the Special Counsel’s Office on November 16, Marc Brown listed as a reason for seeking to support Gates that they belonged to the same fraternity (although they did not attend the same college) and that, as such, he felt duty bound to help Gates. Of note, Marc Brown’s financial assets were significantly lower, almost by half, than previously represented by Gates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Thoughts On The Manafort Indictment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC Cooties

There have been a series of stories fed to the press this week intended to heighten concerns about Trump advisor Paul Manafort’s ties to Russian thugs (but not his numerous ties to other thugs). The NYT had a story about Manafort receiving cash payments from 2007 to 2012 (that is, well before Trump decided to run for President). And the AP has a story headlined, “AP Sources: Manafort tied to undisclosed foreign lobbying” that describes how Manafort’s partner, Rick Gates, funneled funds from a pro-Yanukovych non-profit to two DC lobbying firms.

Paragraph 10 of the story reveals that it relies on sources from the Podesta Group, one of the lobbying firms in question.

Paragraph 15 begins to explain salient information about the Podesta group: that its ties to the Clinton campaign are as close as Gates’ ties to the Trump campaign.

The founder and chairman of the Podesta Group, Tony Podesta, is the brother of longtime Democratic strategist John Podesta, who now is campaign chairman for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The head of Mercury, Vin Weber, is an influential Republican, former congressman and former special policy adviser to Mitt Romney. Weber announced earlier this month that he will not support Trump.

After being introduced to the lobbying firms, the European nonprofit paid the Podesta Group $1.13 million between June 2012 and April 2014 to lobby Congress, the White House National Security Council, the State Department and other federal agencies, according to U.S. lobbying records.

[snip]

One former Podesta employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a non-disclosure agreement, said Gates described the nonprofit’s role in an April, 2012 meeting as supplying a source of money that could not be traced to the Ukrainian politicians who were paying him and Manafort.

In separate interviews, three current and former Podesta employees said disagreements broke out within the firm over the arrangement, which at least one former employee considered obviously illegal. Podesta, who said the project was vetted by his firm’s counsel, said he was unaware of any such disagreements.

In other words, the headline and lead of this story should say something to the effect of, “Trump’s campaign manager’s partner funneled potentially illegal funds to Hillary’s campaign manager’s brother.”

Or more succinctly: “DC is a corrupt, incestuous cesspool.”

But it doesn’t. Instead of telling the story about the broken foreign registry system that permits elites of both parties to take funding from some unsavory characters — some we like, some we hate — the story instead spins this as a uniquely Trump and Manafort problem.

Sure. Vladimir Putin is one scary bastard. But there are a lot of scary bastards, and they’re feeding both sides of the DC pig’s trough.