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“I Mean His Trump Organization Employees”

I’m still plodding through the June 9 meeting materials, working on what they show about the story about the June 9 meeting that got crafted after the fact.

There’s one detail that I want to post separately. On July 13, 2017, Ike Kaveladze (who was really in charge of the meeting for his boss, Aras Agalarov) and Roman Beniaminov (Emin Agalrov’s assistant, who heard ahead of time the meeting was about dealing dirt on Hillary to the Trumps) had the following exchange by text (PDF 34).

By July 13, the Agalarovs and Trumps were increasingly at odds on how to respond to the story, not least after the Trumps leaked Rod Goldstone’s name to the press after saying they wouldn’t. After that, there seemed to be increasing amounts of dirt being leaked, perhaps by both sides.

It appears that Kaveladze may have phoned Beniaminov right before this to raise this CNN story, which had just been posted. Beniaminov seemed to think Kaveladze had suggested that he, Beniaminov, had taken the video, even while he seems to have been present at the Las Vegas event back in 2013.

Scott Balber, the Agalarov’s ever-present lawyer (who had actually represented Trump on a Miss Universe related issue in 2013), was quoted in the piece.

“It’s simply fiction that this was some effort to create a conduit for information from the Russian federal prosecutors to the Trump campaign,” Balber said on CNN’s “New Day.” “It’s just fantasy world because the reality is if there was something important that Mr. Agalarov wanted to communicate to the Trump campaign, I suspect he could have called Mr. Trump directly as opposed to having his son’s pop music publicist be the intermediary.”

I don’t rule out Balber having taken and leaked the video.

Or maybe not: What Kaveladze is interested in highlighting to Beniaminov is the presence of two other Trump employees in the video: Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen, shown above.

I don’t know what to make of the reference — though it’s equally possible they were involved in the 2017 response, or were viewed for some other reason as an additional concern regarding the June 9 meeting. Both, of course, have gotten some scrutiny for the liaison role they have served between Trump and other Russians.

The 58 Second Gap: Did Emin Agalarov Tell Rob Goldstone Putin Talked to His Father about the June 9 Meeting?

Neither of the Agalarov employees — Ike Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone — involved in the June 9 meeting were fully responsive to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kaveladze, who worked with Aras Agalarov to implement the meeting, at first failed to tell SJC that he got on a plane the day after the meeting and flew to Moscow. Even in a second appearance, he had not looked up whose Russian mobile phones he spoke to the day after the meeting, while he was still in NY, and never explained the timing of his last minute trip to NY and then Moscow.

Goldstone had to do a second appearance to talk through efforts to set up a meeting with Putin in 2013, and also to walk through newly complete versions of the WhatsApp texts he had with Emin as the June 9 story broke last summer. And Goldstone — an independent businessman who surely needs such records for tax purposes — ultimately never provided phone records that would show whom he called when during key periods.

I’d like to look at the circumstances surrounding a piece of evidence newly turned over and discussed in Goldstone’s second interview, which took place on March 29. At issue is a WhatsApp voice message Emin left Goldstone at 9:17 AM on July 10, 2017, in the midst of Goldstone’s panic as he increasingly became the focus of press attention and even (he claims) started to lose business over having set up the June 9 meeting. It takes place shortly after this exchange, in which Goldstone complains about being depicted as “some mysterious link to Putin,” to which Emin (a good Russian) responds, “That should give you mega PR.” (PDF 21)

According to Goldstone’s testimony, after he texted, “Forget it,” he and Emin spoke by phone, and the latter told Goldstone he should be happy because the scandal was making him one of the most famous people in the world.

I think there was a call between us as some point before these [voice mails]. After I said, “Forget it,” I believe we did have a really brief call that I hung up on. And, yes, there was. It was, again, him saying, “I still don’t understand. This is mega” — you know I think at one point he said to me, “This is making you one of the most famous people in the world,” and the reason I remember it is because I said to him, “You know, Jeffrey Dahmer was famous. I don’t think he got a lot of work out of it,” and hung up.

What follows are three WhatsApp voicemails left from 9:17-18 on July 10 (while this is taking place, Emin is in Moscow and Goldstone is in Greece; as this exchange was taking place, Kaveladze was landing in Moscow, having had a call with Don Jr’s lawyers on July 7, the day Putin and Trump talked about adoptions as the Trump camp was struggling to come up with a statement about the June 9 meeting).

In the first call, Emin tried to downplay his own role in things, suggesting Goldstone should work with Kaveladze and his father.

Rob, I understand your frustration and no way I’m trying to downsize what’s happening. But as you know, as the meeting happened through Ike and my Dad, I was not involved, and I was also against all possibilities. The same way right now, any comments should go through them. Just figure out with Ike what the strategy should be. I don’t mind you commenting anything. There’s no problem from my side, as you understand.

Goldstone didn’t provide a very convincing explanation for what Emin meant by “I was also against all possibilities.”

Then Emin calls back again (it’s pretty obvious Goldstone is still angry and ignoring these three calls). He offers to ask his father whether Goldstone should comment.

And if you want, I can speak to my father and ask him directly if he minds or doesn’t mind, wants you to comment, doesn’t want you to comment.

Which brings us to the third voicemail, which WhatsApp shows to be 1:10 long, but which Goldstone’s lawyer, Bernard Ozarowski, says was only 12 seconds long. In addition to that discrepancy (which Ozarowski claims is a WhatsApp error), the first word of even the 12 second voicemail — describing someone contacting Aras — is cut off. (PDF 59-61)

MR. PRIVOR: Before the break, we were discussing one of the voicemail messages that appears to be cut off, and, Counsel, you were going to explain sort of what you had in your files and what has been produced, and we’d invite you to make a statement on the record about that.

MR. OZAROWSKI: Sure. Our best understanding at this point is that all of the audio files that we’ve produced to the Committee are complete. I myself helped get the files off of Rob’s phone, and they are complete files to the best of our knowledge. Our general understanding is that the 1 minute and 10 second time stamp is an error on WhatsApp. It appears maybe to be related to the minute and 10 second voicemail that comes later in the string of texts. This message, as best we can tell, is approximately 12 seconds. And, also, when looking at Rob’s phone more recently and replaying it, the message appears to be 12 seconds long.

MR. PRIVOR: Very well. We appreciate that clarification, and let’s now continue with that particular message.

BY MR. PRIVOR: Q. So as noted — and we understand that the file you have is shorter — it nevertheless appears to be cut off slightly at the beginning. It sounds like Emin is saying someone was in direct contact with him. The “him” I think is a reference to Aras Agalarov. Is that your understanding, Mr. Goldstone?

A. Could I ask that that be played again? Just because there’ s been a little time in between.

MR. PRIVOR: Yes, of course. Again, the file is Bates RG-000253.

[Voicemail message played]

MR. AGALAROV: — is in direct contact with him, but I haven’t spoken on the matter recently to him, but I can. Let me know if you want me to.

MR. GOLDSTONE : I can’t make out what that first word is, but it obviously relates to somebody being in direct contact with him. And as it relates to the previous voice message, I would agree that it’s with his father, Aras.

BY MR. PRIVOR :  Q. Do you recall having any conversation with Emin about who was in direct contact with his father?

A. I do not.

Q. Emin says in that message that he hasn’t “spoken on the matter recently to him, but I can.  Let me know if you want me to.” That, again, sounds like an offer to speak to his father. The “him” is a reference to Aras. Do you agree with that?

A. I agree with that.

Q. Did you ever follow up with Emin to ask him to follow up with his father?

A. No.

Q. And did you yourself directly follow up with Aras?

A. No.

Now, there are likely some non-scandalous explanations for who of interest might have reached out to Aras Agalarov, but the most likely explanations are almost certainly wrong. The most likely reference would be to Kaveladze. He generally dealt directly with Aras, Goldstone dealt directly with Emin, Aras and Emin dealt directly with each other, and Kaveladze and Goldstone dealt with each other.

Except that’s highly unlikely because earlier in this same exchange, Emin and Goldstone had discussed that Kaveladze was in the air on the way to Moscow.

And after Kaveladze lands (I’m still trying to figure out the real time of this text, but it temporally slides into the discussion of statements Goldstone and Emin started, as the larger string of Kaveladze’s texts show), Kaveladze texts Emin and asks to talk. (PDF 31)

The next exchange of texts seems to suggest Emin and Kaveladze meet to talk about a statement. First Goldstone says that Kaveladze has told him he — either Emin alone or with Kaveladze — is drafting a statement.

And Emin responds, “meeting now.”

Emin calls shortly thereafter and tweaks Goldstone’s speech.

So the missing name doesn’t appear to be Kaveladze.

The only other person in the loop on these issues — Emin’s assistant Roman Beniaminov — worked through Emin and Kaveladze, just like Goldstone did.

There are, presumably, other possibilities we wouldn’t know about. For example, Emin could be suggesting that the Agalarovs throw business to Goldstone via some other means.

But the context suggests one possibility. The last thing Goldstone texted before the phone call he hung up on and Emin’s three voice mails was a complaint that he was being perceived as having a link to Putin, with earlier complaints about losing work from it. By Goldstone’s own description, on the call he complained again about losing work, and analogized what he had just raised — a purported link to Putin — with being a serial killer.

In the third of three voicemails that Emin leaves to try to placate Goldstone for suggesting he should be thrilled about a link to Putin rather than horrified by it, Emin starts by saying someone — the missing name — “is in direct contact with” his father, Aras Agalarov. “I haven’t spoken on the matter recently to him,” — Emin doesn’t say what matter, which might either relate to the June 9 meeting or something discussed on the phone call. But he offers to speak to (apparently) his father about this. “but I can. Let me know if you want me to.”

Again, that’s in no way definitive. But in context, it’s possible. It certainly might explain why these texts weren’t fully turned over in the first round, why at least the first word of the voicemail, if not 58 seconds, is missing, and why Goldstone hasn’t, apparently, turned over his phone records (which would show how long this call was).

At the very least, Mueller has Goldstone’s phone records. He may well have a copy of the WhatsApp chats from Facebook. He also surely has the other information Kaveladze didn’t turn over to SJC. So he may well know the answer to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. I don’t believe so.

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

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

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

A. Not that I recall, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. I believe so.

Q. Was it a meeting in December of 2016?

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

Q. So it was a meeting in Trump Tower?

A. Yes.

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

A. Correct.

Q. Do you know why they used your office?

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

Q. And who was in that meeting?

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

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

A. No, not that I recall.

Q. Was the meeting still ongoing when you returned?

A. I believe it was, yes.

Q. Did you go in and join the meeting?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why not?

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

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

A. No, I don’t think I did.

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

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

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

The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia (Part Three)

In this series, I’m analyzing the Mueller questions written down by Jay Sekulow and leaked to the NYT to show how they set up a damning investigative framework. This post laid out how the Agalarovs had been cultivating Trump for years, in part by dangling real estate deals and close ties with Vladimir Putin. This post shows how during the election, the Russians and Trump danced towards a quid pro quo agreement, with the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a commitment to sanctions relief, with some policy considerations thrown in.

Here, I’ll lay out the questions that show Mueller’s interest in how Trump and the Russians began settling the quid pro quo during the transition. To the extent these are quid pro quo payoffs, and not simply Logan Act violations, they’d be key elements in a conspiracy.

The quo: policy payoffs

Immediately after the election, the Russians called to collect on their winnings.

According to Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress, the day after the election, Putin sent a congratulatory email to the campaign. In response, he reopened communications with Sergey Kislyak. A day later, the Agalarovs emailed congratulations to let the Trumps know they were “always at your disposal here in Russia.”

“Don!!! Amazing run and a glorious victory!!!!! Congratulations to you and your dad, we are proud and happy for you !!!!!! Always at your disposal here in Russia

On November 28, Rob Goldstone sent an email passing on sanctions materials to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

“Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, too, followed up on her Magnitsky request.

In addition to the sanctions demand, according to Jared, the Russians emphasized policy concessions on Syria. A retracted Brian Ross story said that emphasis started even before the election, but in reality the outreach happened almost immediately after the election.

December 1, 2016: What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?

On December 1, Jared and Flynn met with Sergey Kislyak. Jared reportedly asked for the Russians to provide a secure channel. Jared claims the idea for a secure channel came from Kislyak (Mueller likely has intercepts that clarify Kislyak’s version of the story). But he makes it clear the back channel pertained to Syrian policy.

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

Given how often Kushner and Trump talk face to face, this may be one of the questions about which Mueller has the least certainty of the answer. But we know that in Jared’s interview with Mueller’s prosecutors, they focused on that meeting. They also asked if he had information that exonerated Flynn; his answers (and Flynn’s reported unhappiness that Trump had proven disloyal) led immediately to Flynn’s plea deal, so for some reason Mueller must believe Flynn over Kushner.

Mueller’s interest in how much Trump knew about Kushner’s pursuit of a back channel is important for several reasons. It provides evidence that Kushner (and the Trump Administration generally) was engaged in what I call ConFraudUs on foreign policy, pretending to pursue US foreign policy that actually served other interests. And Kushner’s pursuit, possibly at Trump’s direction, of unmonitored channels is important background to Trump’s response as it became clear the FBI had collected evidence of wrong-doing during the transition.

Curiously, Sekulow’s version of these questions does not include one about Kushner’s December 13 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of the sanctioned Vnesheconombank.

December 29, 2016: What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?

According to Flynn’s Statement of Offense, as he was on the phone with Kislyak, he was coordinating closely with a transition official we know to be KT McFarland.

On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team (“PTT official”), who was with other senior ·members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian Ambassador about the U.S. Sanctions. On that call, FLYNN and the PTT official discussed the U.S. Sanctions, including the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals. The PIT official and FLYNN also discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Immediately after his phone call with the PTT official, FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. Sanctions in a reciprocal manner.

Shortly after his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with the PTT official to report on the substance of his call with the Russian Ambassador, including their discussion of the U.S. Sanctions.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

After his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with senior members of the Presidential Transition Team about FL YNN’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador regarding the U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s decision not to escalate the situation.

We know Mueller has an email — one the transition probably didn’t turn over to Congress in voluntary discovery, and about which they may have intended to invoke executive privilege — that captures part of the discussion about sanctions. Of critical importance, the transition team opposed these sanctions for two reasons: 1) because they wanted better relations with Russia and 2) because they believed that sanctioning Russia for tampering with the election created the appearance that Trump wouldn’t have won without Russia’s help.

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

[snip]

Mr. Obama, she wrote, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia,” which could limit his options with other countries, including Iran and Syria. “Russia is key that unlocks door,” she wrote.

She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling were intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.

In other words, Mueller has a good deal of evidence showing that Flynn’s actions were closely directed from Mar-A-Lago. He has multiple different versions from people involved about how closely Trump was involved in this direction. He also has substantial evidence that suggests that the worry about diminishing the victory idea actually comes from Trump. The question, then, aims not just to prove that Trump ordered Flynn to undermine the official policy of the United States at a time when he did not have the authority to set US foreign policy, but also to tie these orders to the response Trump took as FBI started discovering his conspiracy with the Russians.

January 11, 2017: What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?

After Jared asked for a back channel, after UAE’s crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan made an unannounced visit to Trump Tower with Jared, Flynn, and Steve Bannon in December, Erik Prince ended up at a meeting in the Seychelles set up by Nahyan with Russian Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev and a bunch of other shady funders. On top of looking like the back channel Jared had been seeking in December, the meeting is also a logical follow-on to Jared’s meeting with Gorkov (RDIF is a somewhat less sanctioned subsidiary of Vnesheconombank).

Mueller has George Nader’s testimony about what happened at this meeting, and probably a good deal of SIGINT, which reportedly shows that Erik Prince lied in his HPSCI testimony when he claimed his meeting with Dmitriev had been a chance encounter.

On or around January 11, 2017, I traveled to the Seychelles to meet with some potential customers from the UAE for the logistics business of which I am chairman. After the meeting, they mentioned a guy I should meet who was also in town to see them, a Kyrill Dmitriev from Russia, who ran some sort of hedge fund.

I met him in the hotel bar, and we chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations with the — relationship with the USA.

Even Prince’s testimony ties sanctions relief with policy considerations in Syria and elsewhere that countered the official policy of the US. And it likely also ties those policy considerations to the personal enrichment of people like Prince and Jared, if not Trump personally.

One note: by repeatedly pitching Trump and his associates using businesses under sanction, the Russians provided Trump with his own incentive to relieve sanctions, the opportunity for Russian investment.

Late January, 2017: What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

In late January 2017, just after the inauguration, Ukrainian parliament member Andrii Artemenko met with Felix Sater and Michael Cohen to propose a peace deal for Ukraine that would have Ukrainian voters endorse a long term lease of Crimea for Russia and undermine the government  of Petro Poroshenko. Cohen passed on the plan to Flynn just before he resigned. Sater — who claims to be cooperating with Mueller — said that the deal was endorsed by Russia.

Given Sater’s involvement in brokering both the Trump Tower deal and this with Cohen, it’s possible that this deal is another thing that ties policy concessions to Russia with business deals for Trump. Mueller will have both Sater and Flynn’s version of this story. Any records pertaining to it seized by SDNY will be preserved until such time as Mueller asks for them.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up (Part One, Cultivation)

I wasn’t going to do this originally, but upon learning that the Mueller questions, as NYT has presented them, don’t maintain the sixteen subjects or even the 49 questions that Jay Sekulow drew up from those 16 areas of interest, and especially after WaPo continues to claim that Mueller is only investigating “whether Trump obstructed justice and sought to thwart a criminal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election,” I am going to do my own version of the questions, as released by the NYT.

I’m not pretending that this better represents what Mueller has communicated to Sekulow, nor am I suggesting NYT’s version isn’t valid. But the questions provide an opportunity to lay out a cultivation, quid pro quo, and cover-up structure I’ve been using to frame the investigation in my own mind.

This post lays out the “cultivation” questions Mueller wants to pose.

The cultivation

The questions start well before the election, focusing on both Trump’s persistent interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow, the cultivation of Trump by the Agalarov camp, and Trump’s interest in becoming best friends with Vladimir Putin. The questions may also include other real estate deals that would be less obviously tied to Russia, but possibly just as compromising. It’s worth remembering, Trump probably didn’t expect he’d win. So the Trump Tower offers were a prize that would be available (and easier to take advantage of) based on the assumption he’d lose.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?

On November 9, 2013, the Agalorovs helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both also involved. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

Leading up to the event, Trump talked about meeting Putin and “will he become my new best friend?,” but that reportedly did not happen. But he did meet a bunch of other oligarchs. In the aftermath of the event, the Agalorovs floated building a Trump Tower in one of their developments.

November 2, 2015 to November, 2016: What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?

On November 3, 2015, at a time when Trump’s campaign was experiencing remarkable success, and well after (per the Internet Research Agency indictment) the election year operation had started, Felix Sater approached Michael Cohen to pitch yet another Trump Tower in Moscow deal. He tied the deal explicitly to getting Trump elected.

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

Remember: Mueller’s subpoena to Sam Nunberg goes back to November 1, 2015, suggesting this is the timeframe he’s thinking explicitly about.

The initial public story about the deal — which Cohen tried to squelch before his congressional interviews — claimed that the deal fizzled out in January 2016. More recent reporting has revealed that one of the people involved in this deal has ties to GRU, the Russian intelligence organization behind the hack-and-leak, and that Cohen pursued it at least as late as June, 2016.

Around that time (possibly on July 22, with the involvement of Ivan Timofeev, who was involved in offering up emails), Sergei Millian — who had brokered Trump business with Russians in the past — started cultivating George Papadopoulos. After the election, Millian pitched that the two of them should do a Trump Tower deal.

The Trump Tower offers are only the most obvious election-related deal Mueller might be interested in. In October 2016, for example, Cypriot businessman Orestes Fintiklis obtained a majority stake in the troubled Trump Panama development, which he has since taken over (possibly along with a bunch of papers showing the money laundering Ivanka did to fill the building). And all that’s before you consider any deals Jared was pitching.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

Was Trump’s Birthday Present a Painting? Or Stolen Emails?

Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946.

According to the Minority HPSCI Russian Report, the day after Trump’s spawn, spawn’s husband, and campaign manager met with a bunch of Russian envoys (including Aras Agalarov’s representative Ike Kaveladze), Agalarov sent the presidential candidate an expensive painting.

[O]n June 10, 2016, Aras Agalarov delivered to candidate Trump an expensive painting for the candidate’s birthday.

An email from Rob Goldstone identified it as a birthday gift.

Email from Rob Goldstone to Rhona Graff, Subject: Birthday gift for Mr. Trump, June 10, 2016

On June 14, 2016 — Donald Trump’s birthday — the Washington Post revealed that Hillary had been hacked by Russia.

According to Nakashima, she was first contacted about this story, “About a week before the story published online.”

On June 15, in what has always been presumed to be a rushed response to the WaPo story, Russian cut-out Guccifer 2.0 published a bunch of stolen documents, including Hillary’s (dated) oppo research on Trump.

On June 17, a Trump staffer sent an Agalarov staffer a Trump thank you note, one that did not (at least in the bit quoted in the Minority HPSCI report) describe what the gift in question was.

“There are few things better than receiving a sensational gift from someone you admire – and that’s what I’ve received from you. You made my birthday a truly special event by your thoughtfulness – not to mention your remarkable talent. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but right now I can only say how much I appreciate your friendship and to thank you for this fantastic gift. This is one birthday that I will always remember.”

Was the gift a painting? Or stolen emails?

The Holes in Ike Kaveladze’s Trump Tower Meeting Story

One of the things the HPSCI narrative about the Trump Tower makes clear is that the story of Ike Kaveladze, the Agalarov representative whose presence at the meeting is unexplained (indeed, the majority HPSCI report makes no effort to explain it, while the minority explicitly says he was representing the Agalarovs), doesn’t make sense.

The narrative starts by explaining that Kaveladze knew the meeting was about the Magnitsky Act going in, but for some inexplicable reason thought it would be weird to lobby politicians about a desired policy, and so only after learning that it was about the Magnitsky Act, also learned it was about dealing “dirt” on Hillary to the campaign.

The Committee discovered that the participants.of the June 9 meeting did not all have the same understanding as to the reasons for the meeting, with [Kaveladze] testifying that he thought it was odd that all three senior Trump campaign officials would be taking a meeting on the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. human rights law that imposes certain sanctions on Russian interests. Accordingly, [Kaveladze] called [Roman Beniaminov], a close associate of Emin Agalarov based in the United States, to inquire about the purpose

Based on this discussion, the lunch attendees believed the Trump Tower meeting was about the Magnitsky Act. of the meeting. [Beniaminov] explained that he believed the scheduled meeting at Trump Tower was about providing negative information on candidate Clinton to the Trump campaign.

While HPSCI doesn’t acknowledge it, this means Kaveladze (and, by association, Rob Goldstone) knew both sides of a quid pro quo before the meeting: dirt on Hillary in exchange for Magnitsky relief.

But then, having made the effort to learn the meeting was about dealing dirt, Kaveladze somehow became convinced again it was (only) about the Magnitsky Act during lunch right before the meeting (note, the report doesn’t address some oddities about the communication between Veselnitskaya and Kaveladze that I mention here).

Based on this discussion, the lunch attendees believed the Trump Tower meeting was about the Magnitsky Act.

After the meeting Kaveladze spoke to Aras Agalarov twice (once immediately after the meeting, per the minority report); HPSCI’s understanding of those calls, in which he claims the meeting was a waste of time, came from Kaveladze’s interview. Kaveladze claims that the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton did not come up in the discussion with Agalarov.

Kaveladze testified that he received two calls from Aras Agalarov after the meeting. During the second call, Kaveladze explained that the meeting was a “complete loss of time and about nothing.” Aras Agalarov and Kaveladze did not discuss the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Except the “dirt” on Hillary is the only thing that came up in an email to his daughter about the meeting sent (curiously) on June 14.

Kaveladze also sent an email to his daughter after the meeting indicating that the “meeting was boring. The Russians did not have any bad info [o]n Hillary.” — a reference back to his conversation with Beniaminov, which he had apparently relayed to his daughter.

All of which is to say that a US-based witness HPSCI refused to call (Beniaminov) and the contemporary documentary evidence show that Kaveladze believed the meeting was about dealing dirt. But in Kaveladze’s testimony — at least according to the HPSCI retelling — he somehow got dissuaded the meeting was about dirt by a lunch meeting right beforehand, but then reconvinced it was about dirt in an email sent to his daughter on the day the Washington Post reported that Russia had hacked the DNC.

Yes, it’s true that his contemporaneous account also makes it clear the dirt was not spelled out.

The date of the email, June 14, is particularly interesting though.

As the minority report reminds, on that same day, Goldstone (the other guy who knew the meeting was about dirt and Magnitsky) sent Kaveladze an email connecting the emails with the meeting.

When news broke five days after this meeting that Russians were behind the hacked DNC emails, Rob Goldstone sent a news article to Emin Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze, “Top story right now – seems eerily weird based on our Trump meeting last week with the Russian lawyers etc”.

It’s unclear which email came first, the Goldstone one tying the Russian hack to the Trump Tower meeting offering dirt, or the Kaveladze one telling his daughter the Russians didn’t have any bad info on Hillary. The Goldstone one bears the Bates stamp HIC-KAV-00001 to 00002 while the one to Kaveladze’s daughter is Bates stamped HIC-KAV-00020, suggesting it may be later in the day (though that is in no way definitive). Given that he appears not to have been asked about this, I’m also interested in the date Kaveladze provided these emails to the committee. The story about Goldstone’s email leaked on December 7, over a month after Kaveladze’s interview, so it may be he avoided answering questions about it by providing it after the fact.

Ultimately, though, it appears that both Goldstone and Kaveladze knew the meeting involved both dirt and Magnitsky sanctions.

The majority report avoids dealing with the possibility that the dirt might be the Guccifer 2.0 emails in two ways.  First, it makes no mention of Trump’s tweet, released almost immediately after the meeting, calling for Hillary’s emails and mentioning an “in the ball park” accurate number for Hillary’s staff. And in treating the silence in the meeting about email as dirt (which, remember, had already been floated to the campaign a month and a half earlier), it oddly doesn’t mention the most obvious possibility, that non-Podesta emails came up.

The Committee received no testimony or documentary evidence indicating that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Wikileaks, Julian Assange, the hacking of the DNC servers, and/or the John Podesta emails.

Given that this claim is sourced to Goldstone’s interview, and given that his interview definitely post-dated the time the committee received the Goldstone to Kaveladze email tying the meeting to the hack of the DNC, it seems an explicit dodge of the fact that Goldstone himself made the connection almost immediately after learning of the DNC hack.

Nunberg’s Claim that Trump Talked of the June 9 Meeting the Week Before Is Plausible

Sometime ratfucker Sam Nunberg has been running from cable channel to cable channel trying to get them to believe he’s going to blow off a subpoena from Robert Mueller to repeat what he said a week and a half ago in an interview before the grand jury, protected by immunity.

Among his crazy rants, he claimed that Trump knew about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting “the week before.”

You know it’s not true. He talked about it the week before. And I don’t know why he did this. All he had to say was, yeah, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something and we thought they had something and that was it. I don’t know why he went around trying to hide. He shouldn’t have.

Nothing has reported on how he would know this. He’s close with Roger Stone (indeed, that’s who he says he’s trying to protect by blowing off the subpoena), and Stone remained in touch with Trump — reportedly still does. So maybe that’s how he knows.

But the claim is plausible.

After all, when Rob Goldstone first emailed Don Jr about the meeting on June 3 (six days before the meeting), he suggested he could go through Trump’s assistant Rhona.

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

He was instead reaching out to Don Jr because the meeting was “ultra sensitive.” But the implication was, ultimately, that Trump should know about this meeting, but that perhaps this was even too sensitive to run through Rhona (as I’ve said, I don’t think Goldstone is really talking about the crown prosecutor).

So the idea was Goldstone calls Don Jr, and Don Jr tells Pops directly.

Had he done that, then Trump would, indeed, have known about the meeting the previous week (June 9 was a Thursday; the 3rd would have been the previous Friday).

So had Uday gone and told Pops right away it is conceivable that Trump (whom Nunberg elsewhere accused of being incapable of colluding with Russian because he would blab about it) was talking about it “the week before.”

Which would change the stakes of the meeting dramatically.

Update: Nunberg told Zack Beauchamp that he was talking of Trump’s public statement on June 7.

Nunberg was actually talking about public comments Trump made on June 7, 2016 — two days before the Trump Tower meeting. In it, Trump promised that he would soon be offering interesting revelations about Clinton.

“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” then-candidate Trump said. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

Nunberg interpreted Trump’s comments as a veiled reference to the Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had set up. “He said publicly we’ll find something out about Hillary Clinton,” Nunberg told me about Trump. “You can look it up.”

This, he emphasized during our conversation, is only his interpretation of Trump’s comments. He has no special inside knowledge that Trump was informed of the meeting before it happened, as many have taken his CNN comments to imply, or that Trump was referencing it in that speech. Nunberg thinks that’s what Trump meant, but he never heard any proof.

Mueller Wants to Know How Far the Game of Email Telephone Got within the Trump Campaign

NBC has a story that has gotten a lot of people excited, reporting that Mueller’s team has been asking:

  • Policy towards Russia: Why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Roger Stone: Whether Stone was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released
  • Trump’s knowledge: Whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release

I think this story is both less and more than people are making it out to be.

It’s being overhyped for its facial value. Of course Mueller is going to ask about what the president knew and when he knew it. Of course he’s going to chase down whether Roger Stone’s repeated claims to know what was coming were bluster or not.

But on at least two counts, I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

First, as I noted when George Papadopoulos’ plea came out, the FBI charged the former foreign policy advisor for lying about whether he had been told of dirt on Hillary in the form of emails (which we now know they said they might anonymously leak to help Trump) before or after he joined the campaign. That they believed this important enough to charge suggests that, after two full months of cooperation, they got the answer they expected.

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.

There’s no way Papadopoulos’ plea would have been rolled out in the way it was except to get everyone he had told about the emails (as well as those who were instructing him on how to negotiate a meeting with Putin) on the record first.

So Mueller has a good idea of who learned first hand from Papadopoulos about the emails. What he may not know (or may be trying to lock in with further testimony) is how far that game of telephone extended; did it include Trump, and if so via what interlocutors. (Rick Gates may be, or may already have, enlightened Mueller on this point.)

These questions are also interesting against the background of something else suggested by the Papadopoulos plea (and subsequent NYT reporting), which I laid out here. Papadopoulos appeared to be signaling Ivan Timofeev, and those signals were closely tied to email releases.

In this post I did a timeline of all the known George Papadopoulos communications. The timeline made something clear: on two occasions, Papadopoulos alerted Ivan Timofeev to something in a Trump speech. On each occasion, something happened with emails.

[snip]

I’m not saying that the timing of these email releases were dictated by the speeches. Of course they weren’t. They were timed to do maximal damage to the Hillary campaign (not incidentally, in a way that coincided with the “later in the summer” timing Don Jr asked for in his communications with Rob Goldstone).

Rather, I’m saying that Papadopoulos seems to have been signaling Timofeev, and those signals closely mapped to email releases.

And those signals are among the things he tried to destroy.

Importantly, that signaling pertained to public statements on policies of Russian interest. I laid out three apparent incidences in that post, incidences mentioned in the plea.

In this post, I suggested what might be a fourth: when Trump’s twitter account tweeted about Hillary’s emails just 40 minutes after the June 9 Trump Tower meeting started and incorporated a potentially accurate number for how many staffers Hillary had.

I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?

[snip]

I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

If this (or, specifically mentioned in the NBC story, Trump’s July call for Russia to release Hillary’s emails) were part of the signaling, then Trump either could have been in the loop, or one of the flunkies who ran his iPhone account before he switched to iPhone himself could have been.

Which leads me to one more question reported by NBC today, almost as an afterthought. At least one witness was asked about the boundaries of Dan Scavino’s job.

At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

I’m particularly interested in this given the report that Scavino was involved in negotiations through Rob Goldstone for promotions on Russian social media platform VKontakte, and the odds that he might have been the one tweeting any signaling tweets using Trump’s campaign.

So while these questions are, on the one hand, bloody obvious, they also may suggest a far more advanced understanding of how this operation might have worked.

Why Did Trump Tweet an “In the Ball Park” Accurate Number for Hillary’s Total Staffers on June 9, 2016?

In this post, I showed how the George Papadopoulos filings suggest there was a signaling process that went on during 2016, as he and other staffers sent public signals to the Russians that may have suggested further commitment to a deal of some kind. In this post, I laid out a bunch of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the current, public story about the June 9, 2016 meeting is just a limited hangout, one that hides more damning details about what happened after Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin left the meeting. I also examined the first Guccifer 2.0 documents and noted that, in addition to responding to and debunking the June 14 WaPo story, they might serve well to lay out (arguably, to oversell) the breadth of what the Russians had stolen.

With those details in mind, I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?

The tweet may have involved one or another of the campaign’s data guys

Mind you, as Pseudonymous in NC noted, the tweet was done on an iPhone — this is the period from before Trump had switched to iPhones — meaning someone else, perhaps either Brad Parscale or Dan Scavino, tweeted it. PINC lays out reasons either one of Trump’s data guys might be of particular interest:

Per the Bloomberg pre-election “bunker” story, Parscale was one of the few with credentials to the boss’s account. Pre-written tweets during events like the debates went through the web client, but my guess is that Scavino and Parscale represent most of the ‘Twitter for iPhone’ tweets in 2016 and early 2017. Some of them are RTing Scavino’s personal account, and Caddy Dan is that kinda guy. Parscale has consistently used an iPhone, including the June 8th photo from the Tower.

Remember that Feinstein is interested in Scavino’s contacts with, er, VKontakte, and that’s before considering Parscale’s data op. Pretty much everything tweeted out during 2016 that relates to the specifics of hacked emails is sent from an iPhone.

And the intermediary for the VK connection was Goldstone, going back to January 2016. It’s interesting that neither Scavino nor Parscale have apparently been called in for chats with investigators, or if they have, we haven’t heard about it.

[snip]

What I’m thinking is that if there was indeed an after-meeting about “dirt in the form of emails”, Scavino or Parscale may have been brought into the room. And Goldstone had been put in touch with Scavino earlier that year.

This story revealing Goldstone’s communications about his role in brokering the VK contact doesn’t support the possibility that one of the data guys was brought into the room. Rather, Goldstone’s emails suggest he discussed the idea with Don Jr and Paul Manafort, presumably on June 9, but that Scavino was not included in the meeting, even though he had been looped in during earlier discussions about it.

The newly disclosed emails show that Goldstone was in contact with the campaign about two weeks after visiting Trump Tower.

“I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” Goldstone wrote to Scavino on June 29. Goldstone wrote that his client, Emin Agalarov, and a “contact” at VK wanted to create a “Vote Trump 2016” promotion.

“At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it, and so I had the VK folks mock up a basic sample page, which I am resending for your approval now,” Goldstone wrote. “It would merely require Mr. Trump to drop in a short message to Russian-American voters or a generic message, depending on your choice, and the page can be up and running very quickly.”

In any case, the discussion about VK is yet another detail that makes it pretty likely Goldstone, at least, arrived early or stayed after Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin left (in the WaPo story on this, Scott Balber denies VK came up at any meeting Ike Kaveladze attended).

One other possibility for who sent that Tweet, though: It would not be surprising if Don Jr had access to Pop’s account. At least recently, he has alternated between an iPhone and the web client to send his own tweets, so it’s possible any tweets he sent on Dad’s behalf would also be from an iPhone.

Where’s Trump get that number, 823? And why’d he use it?

But I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

Politico’s analysis of the Hillary campaign’s May 20 FEC filing showed Hillary had 732 staffers at the time of the report. The day after the June 9 meeting, Philip Bump did a story comparing Hillary and Trump’s staffing (a slew of such stories in the weeks after the June 9 meeting was one reason Corey Lewandowski got replaced as campaign manager), referencing the tweet. But his analysis reflected the month’s long lag in FEC filings. Without doing cleanup (to figure out who got paid that frequently, whether anyone got paid monthly rather than bi-monthly), Clinton’s FEC filings seem to show 587 individual payroll disbursements at her headquarters on June 15, 2016.

I talked to a couple of people on the campaign who remember thinking about the tweet, and its use of the 823 number, in real time. Someone who was working on responding to such issues told me he thought, when the tweet came out, that it might have been just a guess (though now thinks it might come from misreading a report). But another Hillary staffer described taking note of the specific number in real time. That person did about 10 minutes of follow-up at the time, checking real-time FEC filings, and concluded that it might be an accurate number. Between headquarters staff, working (policy) teams, advance, and field staff, the person believes the 823 number could very well represent a close to real number of staffers Hillary had “working” on her campaign.

Of course, none of this would mean the number came from the Russians. Such estimates are done by (competent) political campaigns all the time. So it could have come from Trump’s data people — the same people who could have tweeted the tweet in Trump’s name — itself.

That said, in none of the other Trump tweets using the 30,000 or the 33,000 email number does he include a similarly specific detail — the closest comparison is one invocation of Chelsea’s wedding. Note, too, just one other of those tweets also came from an iPhone — the equally suspicious one on July 27, 2016 asking Russia to release those emails (though one of the others came from the web client).

One more point on the number: That night, at 8:22PM ET, someone on Reddit’s The_Donald thread posted, “Hillary has a staggering 823 staffers on her campaign; Donald Trump  has over 142,000.” Best as I understand it, the comment was almost immediately removed by moderators. I find that worth noting.