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The First Amendment Wall-Splat that Anticipates Any Defense of a Trump Conspiracy or WikiLeaks Charge

Last week, lawyers from Jones Day representing the Trump campaign submitted a response to a lawsuit by two Democratic donors and a DNC employee (the case is referred to as Cockrum after donor Roy Cockrum) that presents an interesting, but imperfect, preview of any defense of a Trump conspiracy and/or a WikiLeaks charge in the election hack-and-leak.

Effectively, the Democrats attempt to hold the Trump campaign responsible for having their private information (social security numbers in the case of the donors and more personal conversations in the case of DNC employee Scott Comer) posted in the emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016. They do so by arguing that the Trump campaign conspired with agents of Russia, agreeing to provide policy considerations in exchange for the assistance presented by the email release, which therefore makes them parties to the injury associated with the hack-and-leak.

The campaign isn’t responsible for information released as part of their conspiracy because the First Amendment protects it

In response, the Trump campaign (represented by Jones Day, and therefore by more competent lawyers than some of the clowns representing the president in the Mueller investigation) only secondarily deny the campaign entered into a conspiracy with the Russians as governed by the laws invoked by plaintiffs (you should not take this emphasis as admission of guilt in a conspiracy, but rather the most efficacious way of defeating the lawsuit). As a primary defense, they point to First Amendment precedent to argue two things: First, the campaign can’t be held responsible for the theft of information because they only sought the dissemination of already stolen documents — they had nothing to do with the theft of the documents, the campaign argues.

In Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects a speaker’s right to disclose stolen information if (1) the speaker was “not involved” in the acquisition and (2) the disclosure deals with “a matter of public concern.” Id. at 529, 535. There, union leaders spoke on the phone about using violence against school-board members to influence salary negotiations. Id. at 518–19. An unknown person secretly intercepted the call and shared the illegal recording with a local radio host, who played it on his show. Id. at 519. The Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the radio broadcast, because the host “played no part in the illegal interception” and “the subject matter of the conversation was a matter of public concern.” Id. at 525. The Court reasoned that “state action to punish the publication of truthful information seldom can satisfy constitutional standards.” Id. at 527. The state has an interest in deterring theft of information, but it must pursue that goal by imposing “an appropriate punishment” on “the interceptor”—not by punishing a speaker who was “not involved in the initial illegality.” Id. at 529. The state also has an interest in protecting “privacy of communication,” but “privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance.” Id. at 533–34. In short, “a stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.” Id. at 535.

“An opposite rule”—under which a speaker may be punished for truthful disclosures on account of a “defect in the chain of title”—“would be fraught with danger.” Boehner v. McDermott, 484 F.3d 573, 586 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (opinion of Sentelle, J., joined by a majority of the en banc court). “U.S. newspapers publish information stolen via digital means all the time.” Jack L. Goldsmith, Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 (July 16, 2018).1 Indeed, they “openly solicit such information.” Id. Punishing “conspiracy to publish stolen information” “would certainly narrow protections for ‘mainstream’ journalists.” Id.

The Campaign satisfies the first part of Bartnicki’s test: It “played no part in the illegal interception.” Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 525. That is clear from Plaintiffs’ factual theory: “Defendants entered into an agreement with other parties, including agents of Russia and WikiLeaks, to have information stolen from the DNC publicly disseminated in a strategic way.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 16) (emphasis added). The complaint reinforces that theory on every page: “the publication of hacked information pursuant to the conspiracy” (id. ¶ 20); “conspiracy … to disseminate information” (id. ¶ 78); “extracting concessions … in exchange for the dissemination of the information” (id. ¶ 149); “an agreement to disseminate the hacked DNC emails”) (id. at 42); “motive to coordinate regarding such dissemination” (id. ¶ 153); “an agreement regarding the publication” (id. ¶ 154); “agreed … to publicly disclose” (id. ¶ 296) (all emphases added).

In a key move, the response points to the chronology (they incorrectly say) the plaintiffs lay out to show that the Campaign didn’t enter into a conspiracy with the Russians until after the theft had already taken place.

That is no surprise. Given Rule 11, Plaintiffs could not have alleged the Campaign’s involvement in the initial hack. According to Plaintiffs’ own account, Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s networks “in July 2015,” and gained access to email accounts “by March 2016.” (Id. ¶ 86.) But the Campaign supposedly became motivated to work with Russia only in “the spring and summer of 2016” (id. at 25), and supposedly entered into the agreement in “secret meetings” in “April,” “May,” “June,” and “July” 2016 (id. ¶¶ 89–104). In other words, Plaintiffs themselves say that the alleged conspiracy was formed after the hack and after the acquisition of the emails—so that the Campaign could not have participated in the initial theft.

From there, the Campaign shifts to the second part of the First Amendment argument: what they encouraged the Russians (and WikiLeaks) to publish was a matter of public concern.

The Campaign also satisfies the second part of Bartnicki’s test: the disclosure deals with “a matter of public concern.” Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 525. Whether speech deals with issues of public concern is “a matter of law.” Snyder v. Phelps, 580 F.3d 206, 220 (4th Cir. 2009). “Speech deals with matters of public concern when it can be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, or when it is a subject of legitimate news interest.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443, 453 (2011) (citations and quotation marks omitted). A court applying this test must examine the “content, form, and context” of the speech. Id.

Courts judge the public character of a disclosure in the aggregate, not line by line. Regardless of whether the particular sentence complained about is itself of public concern, the disclosure is constitutionally protected if the disclosure as a whole deals with a matter of public concern. For example, in Bartnicki, leaders of a teachers’ union spoke on the phone about “blow[ing] off [school-board members’] front porches” to influence salary negotiations. 532 U.S. at 519. Even though the threat to “blow off” porches was not itself speech about public issues, the First Amendment protected the disclosure because the host made it while “engaged in debate about” teacher pay—“a matter of public concern.” Id. at 535. The “public concern” test thus turns on the broader context of the disclosure, not the nature of the specific fact disclosed.

To substantiate their “public concern” defense, the response points to (and includes as exhibits) a handful emails out of the tens of thousands dumped in just the DNC release and some bad press coverage, and argues that because WikiLeaks has a policy of not redacting emails, the information that damaged the plaintiffs just came out along with this public concern information.

These emails revealed important information about the Clinton Campaign and Democratic Party. For example:

  • The emails revealed DNC officials’ hostility toward Senator Sanders. DNC figures discussed portraying Senator Sanders as an atheist, because “my Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” (Ex. 1.) They suggested pushing a media narrative that Senator Sanders “never ever had his act together, that his campaign was a mess.” (Ex. 2.) They opposed his push for additional debates. (Ex. 3.) They complained that he “has no understanding” of the Democratic Party. (Ex. 4.)
  • According to The New York Times, “thousands of emails” between donors and fundraisers revealed “in rarely seen detail the elaborate, ingratiating and often bluntly transactional exchanges necessary to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from the party’s wealthy donor class.” These emails “capture[d] a world where seating charts are arranged with dollar totals in mind, where a White House celebration of gay pride is a thinly disguised occasion for rewarding wealthy donors and where physical proximity to the president is the most precious of currencies.” (Ex. 5.)
  • The emails revealed the coziness of the relationship between the DNC and the media. For example, they showed that reporters would ask DNC to pre-approve articles before publication. (Ex. 6.) They also showed DNC staffers talking about giving a CNN reporter “questions to ask us.” (Ex. 7.)
  • The emails revealed the DNC’s attitudes toward Hispanic voters. One memo discussed ways to “acquire the Hispanic consumer,” claiming that “Hispanics are the most brand loyal consumers in the World” and that “Hispanics are the most responsive to ‘story telling.’” (Ex. 8.) Another email pitched “a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement.” (Ex. 9.)

WikiLeaks, however, did not redact the emails, so the publication also included details that Plaintiffs describe as private.

In this scenario, even assuming the Trump campaign did enter a conspiracy with the Russians, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit were just collateral damage to disclosures protected by the First Amendment.

The conspiracy to hurt individual Democratic donors defense

As noted, the defense against the claim that the campaign entered into a conspiracy with the Russians is only a secondary part of the defense here. Perhaps that’s because this part of the defense is far weaker than the First Amendment part.

As part of it, the response notes that the plaintiffs would have had to enter into a conspiracy with the goal and the state of mind laid out by the two laws primarily cited by plaintiffs, to intimidate voters and to intentionally inflict harm on plaintiffs. Once again, this part of the argument treats the plaintiffs as collateral damage to the goals of embarrassing the DNC effectuated by the publication of materials by WikiLeaks, which has a policy of not redacting anything in its releases.

Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege these states of mind. For one thing, Plaintiffs allege that the object of the purported conspiracy was to promote the Trump Campaign and to embarrass the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. (Am. Compl. ¶ 190.) They do not allege facts showing that the Campaign even knew of Mr. Comer, Mr. Cockrum, or Mr. Schoenberg, much less that Campaign officials met with Russian agents for the purpose of disclosing these individuals’ social security numbers, gossip, and stomach-flu symptoms.

For another thing, Plaintiffs fail to address (let alone refute) the “obvious alternative explanation” for the disclosure of their emails (Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682): WikiLeaks’ “accuracy policy,” under which WikiLeaks does not redact or “tamper with” the documents it discloses. (Ex. 10.) The upshot is that Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with the purpose of intimidating Plaintiffs; do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with the specific intent to disclose Plaintiffs’ allegedly private emails; and do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with knowledge that the WikiLeaks email collection included Plaintiffs’ allegedly private emails.

It’s the other part of the conspiracy defense where the response is dangerously weak, given the possibility that Mueller will roll out another indictment providing more detail on negotiations between the campaign and Russia (which plaintiffs could then add in an amended complaint). Here, the campaign argues only that the plaintiffs haven’t shown proof of a conspiracy because they have not yet pointed to evidence that the campaign sought the DNC emails specifically, including the details that allegedly damaged the plaintiffs.

[T]he Amended Complaint fails to plausibly allege that the Campaign conspired with or aided and abetted the publishers of the DNC emails. Plaintiffs allege a series of meetings between the Campaign and Russian agents in 2016. (Id. ¶ 15.) But Plaintiffs do not allege that any of the meetings in any way concerned the DNC emails, much less the information about Plaintiffs contained in those emails. The allegation that people met to discuss something does not raise a plausible inference that they met to discuss collaborative efforts to release specific emails hacked from the DNC to influence an election, much less to intimidate or embarrass Plaintiffs. Cf. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567 n.12 (regular meetings do not suggest conspiracy).

This argument may be sufficient for this civil suit, but for a number of reasons, such an argument would be totally insufficient in a criminal case. For starters, there likely is evidence, not least obtained from Paul Manafort’s cooperation, that the campaign had some idea of what they might get in exchange for entering into a quid pro quo with the Russians. As it is, Jones Day is utterly silent about Don Jr’s, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” email, which reflects some expectation, already by June 3, 2016, of what the campaign would get for entering into a conspiracy, even though plaintiffs quote it in their complaint.

But also, the conspiracy charged in a criminal indictment would allege a different goal — in part, the embarrassment of the DNC and support of the Trump campaign that the campaign response stops far short of denying. So while with respect to the suit brought by these plaintiffs, the argument that the defendants did not have the mindset of trying to intimidate voters or damage the plaintiffs, if and when Mueller charges a conspiracy, it will argue a different mind set, to defraud the US’ election integrity, in part to obtain a thing of value from the Russians. And that mindset is going to be much easier to prove.

This response does next to nothing to deny that mindset.

Instead, much later in the response (as part of an argument that plaintiffs can’t claim a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws because the FEC preempts it), the campaign does address what might be one defense in a criminal indictment charging that the Trump team conspired with Russia with the goal of obtaining illegal campaign donations in the form of dirt on Hillary. The response argues that such released emails do not constitute a thing of value, but are instead protected political speech.

Plaintiffs in all events fail to establish a conspiracy to violate any federal campaign-finance law. Plaintiffs assert that federal law prohibits foreign nationals from making “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” in connection with an election, 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a), and that “Defendant’s co-conspirators … contributed a ‘thing of value’ … in the form of the dissemination of hacked private emails” (Am. Compl. ¶ 215). This assertion is incorrect. For one, there is a fundamental difference between contributing a thing of value and engaging in pure political speech. Pure political speech constitutes “direct political expression”; in contrast, “while contributions may result in political expression if spent by a candidate or association to present views to the voters, the transformation of contributions into political debate involves speech by someone other than the contributor.” Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 21–22 (1976). The disclosure of information about a political party is pure political speech, not a political contribution. The disclosure itself directly expresses political messages; unlike money, it does not need to be transformed into a political message by somebody else.

For another, treating a disclosure of information as a “contribution” would violate the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to receive political speech from foreigners. Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301, 306 (1965). Yet under Plaintiffs’ theory, it would be illegal to solicit political information from a foreign national, because the provision of such information would amount to a “contribution.” For example, “if the Clinton campaign heard that Mar-a-Lago was employing illegal immigrants in Florida and staffers went down to interview the workers, that would be a crime.” Eugene Volokh, Can it be a crime to do opposition research by asking foreigners for information? (July 27, 2017).2 “Or say that Bernie Sanders’s campaign heard rumors of some misconduct by Clinton on her trips abroad—it wouldn’t be allowed to ask any foreigners about that.” Id. The First Amendment does not tolerate such results.

This claim, if it were substantiated, would have repercussions across Mueller’s work, extending to the Internet Research Agency indictment (indeed, Concord Consulting is trying to make similar arguments, though not as brazenly suggesting that foreigners have a First Amendment right to weigh in on our elections).

Yet, as I’ve noted, Mueller has already collected evidence of how much a similar campaign to the one the Russians conducted would cost a campaign, in the form of the spooked up Psy-Group campaign offered by Israelis and Gulf supporters: $3.31 million. That is, Mueller has the evidence to show that the Russians did not just release the information, but engaged in an entire social media campaign to maximize the value of the information they released, and that information goes beyond simple publication to the stuff that political consultants charge real money for.

The other problems with this defense

There is far more to the campaign’s defense (notably, extensive arguments about whether state or federal law applies to particularly parts of the complaint, and if it’s state law, whether it’s Maryland, New Jersey, and Tennessee as plaintiffs argue, or Virginia and New York as defendants do) than what I’ve laid out, and this suit would be a challenge in any case. But there are other problems with the defense.

In a piece on this response, Floyd Abrams argues that there are key differences between the primary First Amendment precedent on which the defense relies and this case. For example, the Bartnicki case focused on material the entirety of which was in the public interest, whereas the bulk of what the Russians gave WikiLeaks is not.

[T]he entirety of the wiretapped recording in Bartnicki was of undoubted public interest while some portions of the purloined DNC documents had a special claim to being of no sustainable public interest while inflicting substantial potential privacy harm—including social security numbers sent to the DNC which WikiLeaks, as it has repeatedly chosen to do, decided to make public.

Jones Day may well realize this is a weak part of their argument, as they return to WikiLeaks’ failure to redact information that had no public interest in a number of ways. At one point, they argue that if WikiLeaks redacted information some information of public interest might get withheld as part of the process.

To establish public-disclosure liability, a plaintiff must show that the facts at issue are not “of legitimate concern to the public”—in other words, that the facts are not “of the kind customarily regarded as ‘news.’” Second Restatement § 652D & comment g. Like the First Amendment test, the tort-law test requires courts to analyze speech “on an aggregate basis.” Alvarado v. KOB-TV, LLC, 493 F.3d 1210, 1221 (10th Cir. 2007). A publisher does not have to “parse out concededly public interest information” “from allegedly private facts.” Id. That is because redactions would undermine the “credibility” of a disclosure, causing the public to doubt its accuracy. Ross v. Midwest Commc’ns, Inc., 870 F.2d 271, 275 (5th Cir. 1989). Further, requiring publishers to redact—“to sort through an inventory of facts, to deliberate, and to catalogue”—“could cause critical information of legitimate public interest to be withheld until it becomes untimely and worthless to an informed public.” Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Doe, 915 S.W.2d 471, 475 (Tex. 1995).

At another point, they argue (this is one of their most ridiculous arguments) that WikiLeaks is just an intermediary that the Russians used to post injurious messages.

Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230), a state may impose liability on “the original culpable party who posts [tortious] messages,” but not on “companies that serve as intermediaries for other parties’ potentially injurious messages.” Zeran v. America Online, 129 F.3d 327, 330–31 (4th Cir. 1997). As a result, a website that provides a forum where “third parties can post information” is not liable for the third party’s posted information. Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354, 1358 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Since WikiLeaks provided a forum for a third party (the unnamed “Russian actors”) to publish content developed by that third party (the hacked emails), it cannot be held liable for the publication.

And the insistence that WikiLeaks is known not to redact information may hurt the Trump campaign if it gets that far.

Abrams also points to how entering into a conspiracy might change the legal liability of the Trump campaign.

[T]he Bartnicki defendants were at all times entirely independent of the person who surreptitiously made the wiretapped recording available to it while the Trump campaign is accused in Cockrum of conspiring with its alleged Russian source after the information had been hacked to make the information public.

Even for the purpose of this lawsuit, the claim that the Trump campaign entered into a conspiracy only after the information had been hacked may not be sustainable. After all, George Papadopoulos learned the Russians were going to release emails, of some sort (even if he believed they were Hillary server emails rather than DNC ones), well before the Russians were ejected from the DNC servers a month later. The Russians first contacted the Trump campaign about this conspiracy on April 26, 2016, after they had stolen the Podesta emails in March; but the DNC emails that are the subject of this lawsuit weren’t exfiltrated, at least according to the GRU indictment, until a month later.

Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees.

So Papadopoulos’ responsiveness might be enough to sustain a claim that the Trump campaign was engaged in this conspiracy before the emails in question were stolen. Indeed, this paragraph from the response (cited above) falsely claims that the plaintiffs suggested the theft ended in March.

Plaintiffs could not have alleged the Campaign’s involvement in the initial hack. According to Plaintiffs’ own account, Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s networks “in July 2015,” and gained access to email accounts “by March 2016.” (Id. ¶ 86.) But the Campaign supposedly became motivated to work with Russia only in “the spring and summer of 2016” (id. at 25), and supposedly entered into the agreement in “secret meetings” in “April,” “May,” “June,” and “July” 2016 (id. ¶¶ 89–104). In other words, Plaintiffs themselves say that the alleged conspiracy was formed after the hack and after the acquisition of the emails—so that the Campaign could not have participated in the initial theft.

Here’s what the complaint really says:

In order to defeat Secretary Clinton and help elect Mr. Trump, hackers working on behalf of the Russian government broke into computer networks of U.S. political actors involved in the 2016 election, including the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. Elements of Russian intelligence gained unauthorized access to DNC networks in July 2015 and maintained that access until at least June 2016. By March 2016, the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) gained unauthorized access to DNC networks, DCCC networks, and the personal email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures.

By May 2016, the GRU had copied large volumes of data from DNC networks, including email accounts of DNC staffers. Much of the GRU’s activity within the DNC networks took place between March and June 2016, at the very same time its agents were intensifying their outreach to and securing meetings with agents of the Trump Campaign.

[snip]

According to the indictment, “in and around April 2016, the Conspirators began to plan the release of materials stolen from the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC.” And “in or around June 2016,” when the Trump Campaign was taking meetings with Russian agents to “get information on an opponent,” the indicted Russians and their coconspirators began to “stage[] and release[]” the stolen emails.

All that said, if the plaintiffs are relying on the June 9 meeting to establish the conspiracy, or even Don Jr’s June 3 email enthusiastically responding to Rob Goldstone’s offer, the campaign can argue in this suit that the actual theft of the emails in question — the DNC emails revealing the donors social security numbers and Comer’s embarrassing comments — were, according to the public record, already stolen by the time the campaign entered into the conspiracy.

But that’s not going to work if Mueller charges a criminal conspiracy. That’s true, in part, because the criminal conspiracy would include the social media part of the Russian assistance, which continued well after the June 9 meeting (the plaintiffs here couldn’t argue the social media exploitation hurt them because the emails including the information damaging to them wasn’t promoted by Russian social media actors). It would also include the DCCC releases, which led to the provision of opposition research to Republican operatives.

Indeed, even the hacking continued after the June 9 meeting. As the plaintiffs pointed out, on July 27, Russian hackers even seemed to respond directly to Trump’s request for assistance.

191. On July 27, 2016, during the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Trump held a press conference in Florida. During his remarks, Mr. Trump called on Russia to continue its cyberattacks, stating, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Secretary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Although the Trump Campaign—and later, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer—claimed that Mr. Trump was “joking,” when Mr. Trump was asked at the time to clarify his remark and whether he was serious, Mr. Trump stated: “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

192. According to the July 13, 2018 indictment of twelve Russian nationals filed by the Special Counsel, agents of the Russian government attempted that same day—July 27, 2016— “to spearfish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” In other words, on the day that Mr. Trump publicly said that he hoped Russia would be able to find missing emails related to Secretary Clinton, Russian intelligence for the first time attempted to hack email accounts on Secretary Clinton’s own server.

That particular hack was not successful, but a hack of the Democrats’ AWS hosted analytics program in September was; see ¶34. As I understand it, the targeting of Hillary’s campaign went on in a series of waves, and those waves might be shown to correlate to Trump’s requests for assistance.

So, absent proof that someone in the campaign encouraged Papadopoulos after having learned about the emails in April, the plaintiffs in this suit will struggle to show that Russian hacking of the emails that injured them took place after Trump’s campaign entered into the conspiracy. But Mueller won’t have that problem. And all that’s before the Peter Smith operation, which asked for assistance from Guccifer 2.0 and reached out to presumed Russian hackers to obtain information from Hillary’s home server. Plus, that’s all separate from the social media campaign which continued to benefit the Trump campaign up to the election.

The ironies of a First Amendment defense

There’s a detail about this response, however, that (relying as it does on a strong First Amendment defense) deserves more attention. The response claims that the entire purpose of this suit suit is to obtain discovery on the President on a number of topics — notably his tax returns and business relationships — that Democrats have been unable to fully pursue elsewhere.

The object of this lawsuit is to launch a private investigation into the President of the United States. The Amended Complaint already foreshadows discovery into the President’s “tax returns” (Am. Compl. ¶ 238), his “business relationships” (id.), his conversations with “Director Comey” (id. ¶ 251), and on and on.

Much later, in the conspiracy section, in an argument that seems designed for Brett Kavanaugh’s review, the response argues that plaintiffs need a more plausible claim to be able to get discovery from the President.

Rule 8 requires a complaint to state a “plausible” claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint satisfies this standard if its “factual content” raises a “reasonable inference” that the defendant engaged in the misconduct alleged. Id. at 678. This requirement protects defendants against “costly and protracted discovery” on a “largely groundless claim.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). This protection is essential here, where Plaintiffs’ explicit goal is to burden the President with discovery. The President’s “unique position in the constitutional scheme” requires him to “devote his undivided time and attention to his public duties.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 697–98 (1997). Courts must thus ensure that plaintiffs do not use “civil discovery” on “meritless claims” to interfere with his responsibilities. Cheney v. U.S. District Court, 542 U.S. 367, 386 (2004).

It’s only after making the claim that this suit is all about obtaining public interest information such as the President’s tax returns that the campaign makes an argument justifying the release of all this information in the name of public interest.

According to the logic Jones Day lays out here, the Democrats’ mistake was in not finding foreign hackers to steal and then publish Trump’s tax returns.

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

Rob Goldstone Continues to Work the Press to Spin His Role in the June 9 Meeting

There’s a really funny line in Rosalind Helderman’s profile of Rob Goldstone in conjunction with the release of his book. First, Helderman comically asserts that Goldstone — who did an interview for a long piece in the British Times that helped witnesses coordinate their stories last November — kept his mouth shut about his testimony.

Goldstone has emerged as a rare independent voice in the Russia story — one of the few witnesses who voluntarily sat with any investigator who asked and, out of courtesy to the process, kept his mouth shut along the way.

Helderman suggests she would know about witnesses who had provided testimony to investigators even if they kept their mouths shut. While it’s true that Helderman gets leaks from places few other journalists do (indeed, it’s one reason I did not share everything I knew with certain investigators, to prevent leaks through her), I’m fairly certain that a pretty significant number of witnesses have managed to stay quiet.

The comment is all the funnier given how the at-times-conflicting-with-the-sworn-record WaPo story ends, with Goldstone falsely claiming that the first time he started thinking of the June 9 meeting again after it happened was when the WaPo called him on July 9 and asked him if he set up the meeting.

Then, he said, he did his best to put the meeting out of his mind — until more than a year later, when the New York Times broke the news of the gathering.

Sitting at lunch at a cafe in Greece the next day, he received a call from a Post reporter, inquiring if he had set up the encounter.

The claim is false on a number of fronts. Goldstone made some efforts (albeit, according to his sworn testimony, reluctantly) to set up a November meeting following up on the June 9 meeting. And he started thinking about the meeting again at least at least as early as June 2, 2017, when Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten reached out to him to learn more details about the meeting that Don Jr was denying ever took place.

Goldstone’s silence on both those details in his WaPo profile puts his actions in much more favorable light than they really were. They hide how substantive the meeting was treated by both sides.

And I find all that pretty amusing given that Goldstone doesn’t name which Post reporter reached out to him in July 2017.

Here’s that story’s byline:

And the reason that’s important is because, at least according to Goldstone on July 9, 2017, his involvement in the meeting got leaked.

His insinuation to Emin Agalarov (in a comment that makes clear he spoke with Helderman, not Hamburger) was that the Trump people had leaked his name to preemptively blame the Agalarov side for misrepresenting the meeting.

Whether or not Goldstone is correct about who leaked his involvement is actually a fairly important detail in the investigation. In any case, the story of the mutual recriminations between the Trumps and Agalarovs really reveals how early both sides realized the meeting was going to cause real problems for the Trumps.

Which is all the more reason for journalists to be honest about where there are and are not leaks.

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

The Shiny Object of the May 2017 Russian Investigation: The Evidence Mostly Came in after August 1

There’s a reason today’s NYT story so infuriates me — to say nothing of Trump’s efforts to declassify documents from the Russia investigation that, because of the personnel moves of virtually everyone involved, would mostly end by August 1, 2017.

That’s because it’s clear that — because Peter Strzok lost an August 2016 battle to investigate more aggressively in summer and fall 2016 — DOJ, FBI, and then Mueller were only obtaining key information around about August 1, 2017, a year later. It’s no surprise, then, that (as the frothy right has been obsessing about recently) Lisa Page and Strzok weren’t sure if there was evidence of “collusion” on May 17, 2017. Of course they weren’t. The government hadn’t started collecting the evidence in earnest yet.

Consider the following investigative steps:

FBI appears not to have sent a preservation request to Government Services Administration for George Papadopoulos’ material until March 9, 2017, and they appear not to have pursued his privately held call records (especially the Facebook ones that would have revealed the existence of Ivan Timofeev) until some time later.

On June 6, 2017, the Mueller team was still debating whether they would access Section 702 materials, something they otherwise do routinely with assessments, to say nothing of fully predicated national security investigations.

The John Dowd letter wrongly claiming unprecedented cooperation reveals that Mueller started to receive the documents requested by congressional committees on July 21; that would presumably be the first that the government obtained the version of the June 9 emails that included Paul Manafort’s replies.

Copies of all documents provided to the committees by the Campaign, and all search term lists and the privilege log, were also provided to the Special Counsel.

  • By letter dated May 17, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
  • By letter dated June 7, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). The records requested included records generated from June 16, 2015, to 12pm on January 20, 2017, and hence, included the transition period.
  • The Campaign voluntarily responded to these requests by providing 840 documents on July 21, 2017, and another set of 4,800 documents on July 31, 2017. By letter dated July 19, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC).

Mueller sent a preservation request for Transition materials on June 22. He obtained all the emails and devices from 13 transition staffers in late August.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

The list of documents the White House provided, organized by Bates number, show that some key documents couldn’t have come in until July 2017. Indeed, documents pertaining to Comey’s firing appear to be the last of the document sets obtained, sometime after the disclosure of the June 9, 2016 meeting in July 2017.

BuzzFeed’s big scoop on financial transfers between Aras Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze around the time of the June 9 meeting shows banks didn’t start looking for such suspicious transfers until after the June 9 meeting was disclosed on July 8, 2017.

None of these transactions was discovered until 2017, after the New York Times revealed the Trump Tower meeting. Shortly after that report, investigators asked financial institutions to look back at their accounts to learn how money flowed among the people who planned and attended the meeting: Agalarov; Kaveladze; Agalarov’s pop star son, Emin; their employee, Rob Goldstone, who sent the original email to Trump Jr.; and others.

To unearth connections between some of their accounts, banks took an extraordinary step: They invoked a provision of the Patriot Act — a post-9/11 law that included new tools to track money laundering and terrorist financing. That provision, rarely used in the Trump-Russia investigation, allowed the banks to share information about customers with one another.

Three financial institutions — Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley — discovered the $3.3 million that flowed from Agalarov to Kaveladze.

My interview with the FBI (I believe I was the second source about one aspect of what I shared, but believe I was the first about the stuff that tied more obviously to the campaign) was July 14. I believe my materials were moved under Mueller when Ryan Dickey got moved under Mueller in November, 2017.

So the constant six-year old soccer chases by journalists trying to learn what happened in May 2017 — when things were chaotic because Trump was breaking all norms and firing people who actually weren’t investigating that aggressively — to the detriment of attention on what happened in the months thereafter really does a huge disservice to the truth. The investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with Russia started in earnest around about August 1, 2017. Once the government actually started looking for evidence, I imagine the evidence of conspiracy was pretty obvious.

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

It Is False to Claim There Was No Follow-Up to the June 9 Meeting

On July 15, 2017 — a week after the June 9 meeting was reported in a NYT story publishing the first of numerous White House statements attempting to explain the meeting — Rhona Graff sent Rob Goldstone an email (PDF 44). With only a garbled (perhaps autocorrected) explanation, she forwarded back to Goldstone an email Goldstone himself had sent her the previous November, attaching some talking points from Natalia Veselnitskaya about Bill Browder and the Magnitsky sanctions (for a copy of the talking points, see PDF 37 ff).

A week after the White House had first issued a statement saying, in part, “there was no follow up” on the June 9 meeting, Trump’s Executive Assistant was sharing with Goldstone a paper trail showing that there had been.

Rudy gets all the facts about the June 9 meeting wrong, again

That’s an important detail that gets missed every single time the punditocracy deals with attempts by Rudy Giuliani or his client to spin the June 9 meeting, as has happened in the wake of this TV appearance by Rudy on Meet the Press.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the meeting was originally for the purpose of getting information about, about Clinton. The meeting turned into a meeting —

CHUCK TODD:

Which in itself it’s attempted collusion. I understand —

RUDY GIULIANI:

No it’s not.

CHUCK TODD:

You just said it. The meeting was intended to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a criminal lawyer.

(OVERTALK)

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, it wasn’t. No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

That was the intention of the meeting, you just said it.

RUDY GIULIANI:

That was the original intention of the meeting. It turned out to be a meeting about another subject and it was not pursued at all. And, of course, any meeting with regard to getting information on your opponent is something any candidate’s staff would take. If someone said, I have information about your opponent, you would take that meeting. If it happens to be a person with a Russian —

CHUCK TODD:

From the Russian government?

RUDY GIULIANI:

She didn’t represent the Russian government, she’s a private citizen. I don’t even know if they knew she was Russian at the time. All they had was her name.

CHUCK TODD:

They didn’t know she was Russian, I think they knew she was Russian, but ok.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, they knew it when they met with her, not when they set up the meeting. You, you told me, you, you asked me, you know, did they show an intention to do anything with Russians? Well, all they knew is that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn’t know she was a representative of the Russian government and indeed, she’s not a representative of the Russian government. So, this is much ado about nothing. Plus, the President of the United States wasn’t at that meeting. He didn’t know about that meeting. He found out about it after and by the time he found out about it, it was nothing. So, I mean —

Don Jr. took a meeting expecting and accepting dirt from the Russian government

Numerous people have noted that Rudy was totally wrong about the terms on which Don Jr took the meeting in the first place. Rob Goldstone told Don Jr his boss, Aras Agalarov, would,

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.

Whether or not that’s what Don Jr got at the meeting (or a week later, when Guccifer 2.0 started releasing stolen documents and information), it is nevertheless the case that Don Jr accepted a meeting at which he expected to be offered dirt on Hillary that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Indeed, Don Jr specifically said he’d be willing to wait to receive that dirt until later in the summer.

If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer

The email exchange, by itself, goes a long way towards meeting the terms of a conspiracy, willfully engaging in an agreement to break the law (which includes both accepting things of value from a foreign government and, given events later in the summer, possibly conspiracy to hack a computer).

Remember: to be charged with conspiracy, the conspiracy doesn’t have to be successful. So even ignoring the “documents and information” the Russians started releasing a week later, that “it turned out to be a meeting about another subject,” as Rudy excuses, doesn’t help Jr. He took a meeting to obtain dirt.

Rudy is wrong about follow-up to the meeting as well

So the rest of that that sentence — “and it was not pursued at all” — actually isn’t necessary to an analysis of a conspiracy, because overt acts had already taken place. Still, on that point, too, Rudy is wrong.

The record shows that those behind the meeting did pursue the “it” in question — sanctions relief — fairly aggressively after the election, with some inconclusive cooperation from the Trump Administration. And even after the record on that pursuit goes dark, Russia as a state continued to pursue sanctions relief — indeed, continues even today, most recently by buttering up a series of Republican Senators visiting Moscow to lobby for it.

As I lay out below, Aras Agalarov’s US Vice President, Ike Kaveladze, pushed Goldstone to set up a second meeting, even if with lower level people. As far as we know, that meeting never got scheduled.

But even as the Agalorov effort to obtain sanctions relief fizzled, a more formal Russian effort started, then moved to a back channel.

The most important moment in any follow-up on the June 9 meeting request for sanctions relief came in the December 29, 2016 phones calls between Mike Flynn and Sergei Kislyak about sanctions, a discussion in which Flynn took close directions from KT McFarland, who was with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Those are the phone calls Flynn lied to the FBI about, in spite of broad knowledge of the calls among transition aides. Those are the phone calls about which he got a plea deal to cooperate with the Mueller team.

Don Jr probably promised the Trumps would revisit sanctions after the election

According to most participants in the meeting who offered testimony to SJC, the Russians were right to expect a follow up discussion on Magnitsky sanctions. In fact, all the participants representing the Russian side save Goldstone (including Anatoli Samochornov, who is the only witness on either side not to have compared notes with at least some of the others before testifying) remembered Don Jr ending the June 9 meeting by saying they’d revisit the issue if or when his father won.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Paul Manafort would have provided testimony on this point to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but stood up SJC after the raid on his condo the morning after he testified. And Jared left the room before any of this transpired.

In any case, given their impression that Don Jr, in a meeting offering dirt on Hillary, had committed to revisiting Magnitsky sanctions if his pop won the election, the Russian side of the meeting did follow-up after Trump won. And so they did.

Agalarov’s team spent ten days in November trying to get Veselnitskaya a follow-up meeting

Ten days after the election, November 18, Ike Kaveladze reported to his boss, Aras, that Rob Goldstone had already reached out to the Trump people (Kaveladze doesn’t say to whom) to follow up.

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.”

Goldstone apparently asked for a short synopsis of the topic presented at the meeting — what would turn out to be the Magnitsky Act — so the Trump team could figure out who should attend a follow-up meeting.

On November 23, Kaveladze sent Goldstone that synopsis.

Less than an hour later, Goldstone wrote back and noted that the synopsis was largely what Veselnitskaya had presented in June.

When Kaveladze pressed for a meeting, Goldstone got squirrelly, even while saying he’d speak to both Don [Jr] and Rhona after sending a synopsis.

When Kaveladze followed up on November 27, Goldstone claimed he had sent materials the week before. Kaveladze suggested that this meeting could happen on the assistant or lawyer level — something both Kaveladze and Goldstone had expressed regret hadn’t happened during the summer.

The next time Kaveladze followed up, Goldstone said that Emin might have to call directly (which Kaveladze took to mean making a call to Don Jr).

It appears only after that did Goldstone forward the synopsis to Rhona Graff, above. After which he told Kaveladze that he had “again” asked about a low level meeting.

After that follow-up call, Graff forwarded Goldstone’s email to Steve Bannon (who early this year argued the June 9 meeting should have been held with lawyers, not the top campaign officials, thought without objecting to the exchange in principle), explaining that Trump knew Aras well, but that she wasn’t “sure how to proceed, if at all.”

During this whole exchange, Kaveladze was juggling messages with Veselnitskaya who was in New York on Prevezon business and beginning to panic based on news reports that Trump would keep Preet Bharara on (Kaveladze would continue handling her throughout December, until handing her off to Agalarov attorney Scott Balber in January).

On November 29, he explained to Vesenitskaya that,

Robert says that logistics of organizations [sic] of meetings with Team Trump now would be difficult and lengthy. I’ve landed in Moscow. I will discuss this situation … with my boss.

Kaveladze did not explain from whom Goldstone learned that, or if it included another phone call. He had also told Goldstone he was in Moscow if he wanted to speak directly. As Kaveladze told SJC, he discusses important things with his boss face-to-face because,

Agalarov is based in Russia, and I’m pretty sure, you know, his phone is being, you know, monitored.

And that’s where, as far as we know, the Agalarov effort to follow up on the June 9 meeting, ended, with Kaveladze explaining things face-to-face to his boss. Which would make it follow-up, just unsuccessful follow-up.

At least two communications are unaccounted for

One key question about this follow-up is the role that Don Jr had in it.

None of these texts suggesting Goldstone had phone conversations with someone, probably Don Jr, as early as November 18 were turned over to SJC before Don Jr testified. Probably as a result, he was asked only about the November 28 email from Goldstone to Graff. He claims he was not aware of any part of the follow-up.

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.

For his part, Goldstone claims he didn’t send anything before that November 28 email, in spite of telling Kaveladze, back in November 2016, that he had.

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.

Nevertheless, there are several known or reported communications unaccounted for: the one Goldstone had before November 18, any email he had the week before November 28 with the synopsis, and any follow-up call via which Goldstone would conclude that the logistics of organizing a meeting with Trump people would be difficult during the transition.

Mueller, of course, will know whether Goldstone and Don Jr communicated directly, and if so when. So he will have a sense of whether Don Jr and Goldstone’s claims, which seem to contradict contemporaneous records, are true or not.

The Russian side concludes there is no communication channel

The problem, at least as the Russian side saw it (possibly based off what Goldstone had reported back), was those logistics: a channel of communications. 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.

As far as we know, that meeting never happened. Though the Agalarov camp and the Trump camp would resume intense conversations in June 2017, as the Trump Organization began to try to understand the legal liability posed by the meeting. Trump’s lawyers would speak directly with both Kaveladze and Goldstone before Agalarov’s lawyer, Scott Balber, took over the discussions (indeed, he remained the key architect of the narrative from that point forward, probably for all sides). Those are the conversations that would lead, on July 15, Graff to remind Goldstone that he had emailed her to follow up on the June 9 meeting.

So while there was clearly follow-up, there was not a clear resolution to the June 9 meeting in which Veselnitskaya got Trump to adopt her preferred policy.

Other Russians pursue a communication channel

Unless the resolution moved to a different path.

As it happens (this may be a coincidence, or may be a sign of greater coordination that the Trump people claim they’re capable of), later on the same day after Kaveladze said his boss would seek to restore a channel of communication with Trump, Jared hosted a meeting in Don Jr’s office with Sergei Kislyak, attended by Mike Flynn. 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]

Don Jr, in his SJC testimony, is the one who revealed that this meeting took place in his own office (and therefore outside of transition space that might be more closely monitored). But he claims he didn’t attend because he was sweaty from a workout; he also claims he didn’t know about it beforehand.

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.

So Don Jr doesn’t remember any calls with Goldstone about following up on the June 9 meeting (though they likely occurred), and he says a meeting with the Russian Ambassador just happened to get scheduled into his workout window on the same day his liaison was seeking a new channel of communications.

Mind you, the subject of this attempt to set up a back channel, per Jared, would be cooperating on Syria, something I learned — from someone who played a significant role in the Russian election attack — that Trump was working on within 15 hours of the close of polls in Hawaii the day after the election.

But within short order, these very same players would shift focus of back channel communications to sanctions relief. Within weeks, Kislyak had set up a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, Sergey Gorkov, to meet with Jared. And shortly after that, Flynn would make a series of calls to Kislyak about delaying any response to Obama’s December 28 sanctions. This, in turn, would lead to a meeting involving Erik Prince and another sanctioned bank in Seychelles leading up to the inauguration.

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

The stakes of dissociating the June 9 meeting from any sanctions relief

By this point, Rudy’s credibility is so shot that when he makes a claim, we should assume that it (like any claim his client makes) is suspect, if not an outright lie.

As I noted above, whether or not there was follow-up on the June 9 meeting doesn’t really change whether Don Jr gleefully accepted a meeting expecting dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton. He did. But in Rudy’s dodgy explanations for why the June 9 meeting isn’t criminal, he relies heavily on his claim — a claim that the Trump side has maintained since a week before Rhona Graff found the email that proved it wasn’t true — that there was no follow-up on the meeting.

But there was.

At a minimum, there were several weeks of follow-up on the Russian side, understandably trying to hold Don Jr to (what they remember as) his offer to revisit the issue of sanctions after the election. As part of that follow-up, there are hints that Don Jr was in the loop, even if both he and Goldstone can’t remember that happening.

The follow-up led by the Agalarovs was, as far as the public record indicates, inconclusive. The Agalarovs lost their communication channel (perhaps as Don Jr got sidelined), and so never did get their follow-up meeting.

But on the same day Trump’s long-time handler, Aras Agalarov, said he’d seek out a new channel of communications, Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn were sitting in Don Jr’s office, attempting to establish a back channel of communication, and solidifying a relationship that would, less than a month later, involve yet another overt act regarding sanctions relief. And that overt act — persuading Sergey Kislyak to defer any response to Obama’s new sanctions — was closely directed from Mar-a-Lago.

Update: Looks like Rudy keeps issuing bogus exonerations for Jr because Mueller is closing in on him.

Mueller may be closing in on his son Don Jr. “A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact [that] Mueller is going after Don Jr.,” a person close to the Trump family told me. “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now.”

Don Jr.’s lawyer said, “I’m not going to comment.” Another person briefed on the investigation disputed the term “squeeze,” but said the Mueller team continues to ask for documents.

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

The Epistemology of Security Clearance Dick-Waving

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

I really couldn’t be bothered to get hot and bothered about President Trump stripping John Brennan of his security clearance. Brennan himself has been involved in the politicization of security clearances (perhaps most directly in Jeffrey Sterling’s case), and to have David Petraeus, of all people, complain about politicized security clearances, discredits the pushback. I’m far more concerned about the loyalty policing at EPA, Interior, Department of Education, and on the DOJ team attacking ObamaCare than I am about Brennan, because the bullying of those more obscure people will have a tangible effect on Americans’ lives. Indeed, the fact that Trump issued a declaration stripping Brennan of his clearance on July 26 but we only learned about it on August 15 is a testament to how little impact this has, other than the posturing around it.

But it has led to dangerous politicization elsewhere.

After being stripped of his clearance, Brennan wrote this op-ed.

In it, Brennan spends six paragraphs setting up how deceitful are Russians generally and his former counterpart Alexander Bortnikov specifically, and how successfully they recruit targets, including Americans, leading from a description of Russian “perfidy” directly to deeming election tampering denials “hogwash.”

Brennan then turns to Trump. He leads his accusation that Trump “colluded” with Russia by describing how asking for Russian to find Hillary’s missing emails “openly authorized his followers to work” with Russians.

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

Brennan then points to what he has read in “the reporting of an open and free press” to declare Trump’s claims of no collusion — as he had just claimed Russia’s denials of election interference — to be “hogwash.”

Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do — and what they actually did — to win the election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.

In response, Richard Burr issued this testy statement, defending Trump’s action of stripping the clearance of a former CIA Director with whom Burr got along splendidly when he was spying on Burr’s own separate branch of government oversight committee.

Director Brennan’s recent statements purport to know as fact that the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power. If Director Brennan’s statement is based on intelligence he received while still leading the CIA, why didn’t he include it in the Intelligence Community Assessment released in 2017? If his statement is based on intelligence he has seen since leaving office, it constitutes an intelligence breach. If he has some other personal knowledge of or evidence of collusion, it should be disclosed to the Special Counsel, not The New York Times.

If, however, Director Brennan’s statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch.

I’m offended by Burr’s statement not just because it ignores the plain language of Brennan’s op-ed, which it links, but for the epistemology of the Russian investigation suggested by the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair. Here’s the logic of the statement:

1. Brennan “purports” to know Trump colluded with a foreign power

Here, Burr ignores how Brennan defines it — first “authorizing his followers to work” with Russia by calling on them to find Hillary’s missing emails, and then “highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” — stuff that’s public. He also ignores that Brennan himself says he doesn’t know whether the “collusion” involved constitutes a criminally liable conspiracy. That is, Brennan is defining collusion as something less than a criminal conspiracy to cooperate to cheat on the election, but Burr doesn’t care.

2. Why doesn’t Brennan’s claim show up in the Brennan-led Intelligence Community Assessment?

Again, Burr ignores Brennan’s description of becoming aware of this in the time period after he “had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election” — so after he left the CIA — and taunts him that the ICA Brennan oversaw showed no evidence of collusion. The implication is Brennan’s ability to know if there were collusion ended on January 20, 2017. (Burr is also ignoring that there were two different investigations even while Brennan was in government — the intelligence investigation led by Brennan, which by law should not be targeting Americans, and the several parallel counterintelligence investigations at FBI, which could investigate Americans.)

Burr then presents three and only three possibilities for how Brennan might have knowledge of collusion, once again ignoring the free press that Brennan clearly attributes it to. First, either intelligence, or personal knowledge:

3. If Brennan has something called “intelligence” proving Trump’s collusion, then it must have come from an intelligence breach.

4. If he has something called “personal knowledge” of collusion, then it must only be shared with Mueller’s team, not with the NYT.

That’s it, according to the Senate Intelligence Chair, for real information about collusion. Either it’s intelligence to which Brennan is no longer entitled (assuming, of course, that Gina Haspel would have no reason to share intelligence about Russia with Brennan in some kind of consultation, which — if Brennan did then pass that on publicly, would be the only proper reason to strip his clearance). Or it’s “personal information,” usually called “evidence,” which may only be shared with Mueller and not with the press. “Intelligence,” which is the purview of the Intelligence Committee and the agencies it oversees. Or “evidence,” which is the purview of a DOJ investigation. Either/or.

That’s, of course, illogical, and not just because Burr’s own committee is investigating some of the same “evidence” that the FBI is, notably what happened on social media and what some witnesses have testified about, in secret, to the committee, and witnesses to both (like Rob Goldstone) have also commented publicly.

It’s illogical, too, because there are other ways to get real evidence of collusion. I believe I have evidence of collusion. I shared it with the FBI, sure. But after I revealed that I had provided information to the FBI in July, I also shared limited parts of it with some Republican Congressmen, in hopes of explaining to them how serious the investigation is and showing that entire parts of it don’t derive from Peter Strzok’s decisions. I’ve also discussed, prospectively, sharing it with some former top intelligence officials (unsurprisingly, not Brennan), in the interests of elucidating parts of the Russian attack they missed.

Yet even though his either/or proposition is false, Burr then uses it to proclaim Trump’s treatment of Brennan proper based on this remarkable statement:

5. “If, however, Director Brennan’s statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch.”

Having set up this false either/or proposition, Burr then suggests anything else must be “purely political” and “based on conjecture,” and — without showing the logical relation between the two clauses in this sentence — states that the President has the authority to revoke Brennan’s security clearance.

(If NOT (intelligence or evidence,) THEN political conjecture) THEN strip the damn clearance.

It is true that thus far the case law suggests that a President does have the authority to strip Brennan’s clearance (though a Brennan challenge, or even more easily, a Bruce Ohr challenge, might establish new limits to that authority). But that authority has no relationship to the claimed political or conjectural nature of Brennan’s comments. Not only does Burr suggest it does — suggest that stripping security clearances because of speech perceived to be political is not just proper but justified — but by yoking these two clauses together in one sentence, Burr suggests punishing political speech is in some way intimately tied to the authority therein.

Plus, as Brad Heath noted, Burr’s statement argues that Trump was right to strip Brennan’s clearance on July 26 because of statements Brennan made on August 16.

The Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, made this statement.

But here’s the reason why I really care about this.

Back when he was CIA Director, I openly criticized Brennan for the way he worked the press to get the most hawkish read of the Russian attack into the press. But I didn’t think his efforts arose from partisanship. Rather, it was an effort to raise alarm bells about the attack in the last weeks of the Administration. Such use of the press happens all the time when Administration officials are trying to advance their favored policy decisions.

Burr, however, is using his position of authority to affirmatively tie security clearances to speech he (or the President) deems excessively political. He’s doing it even as he argues there are just two appropriate categories of weighing whether collusion happened or not, intelligence (his purview) or evidence (Mueller’s). And he’s doing it as his committee is leading what has, up to this point, been the only Congressional investigation not utterly discredited by partisan bickering.

That pisses me off for several reasons. First, Burr is in the same breath being a raging partisan and asserting that his committee is one of the only entities that can appropriately weigh whether Trump conspired with Russia to win the election. He’s putting a thumb on the scale at precisely the moment that he claims only he (and Mueller) get to decide whether collusion happened. This raises real questions in my mind about what would happen if and when SSCI came upon information that shows Trump conspired with Russia. It raises real doubts in my mind about whether SSCI is able to conduct their investigation.

More importantly, he’s wrong. He’s wrong for the obvious reason that journalists are discovering important threads of the Russia investigation. Indeed, the part of SSCI’s work they’re most proud about — Russia’s use of social media — came out of a lot of really good reporting on the topic.

He’s wrong because we’re a democracy and whether Trump conspired with Russia will one day be most critically decided in a political sphere. As we get closer to that day, the American public has every right to read these two data points together and consider whether they show Trump and the Russians conspiring.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

And he’s wrong because none of the certified experts are getting the Russia story entirely right. As I said, I’ve had conversations in the last several months with Republican congressmen, former top intelligence officials, and a whole lot of experts on the Russian attack, including (but not limited to) top InfoSec people, other journalists, and some key witnesses. Even aside from the stuff I went to the FBI about (which might give me special insight to what happened, but also has made me admittedly blindered about other issues) all of those people, including me, have missed key things or gotten key details wrong. Just as one example, in conversations I’ve had with that ilk of people, every single person save one has either misread key parts of the GRU indictment or read in their prior assumptions (the one exception had the advantage of being a key witness behind at least two paragraphs of the indictment). That’s just one example, but it’s an example that suggests we need more honest discussion and less of Burr and Trump’s attempt to decertify democratic speech about what the President did.

The Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, effectively asserted that he is one of the few authorities with the right to say, based off what his committee does in private, whether Trump conspired with Russia or not, and that any citizen deigning to weigh in based off the public evidence may be properly disciplined by the President. The statement goes a long way to discredit the investigation his committee is doing, a real blow to his staffers’ success at bridging any partisan divide. Most importantly, because it so badly gets the epistemology of an attack that targeted all Americans wrong, it raises real questions about Burr’s understanding of the Russian attack at issue.

Goldstone’s Bare Facts: Attorney, Damaging Information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Useful to the Trumps

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

The other day, I argued that people should stop looking for a pee tape. The kompromat that Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump are what I called “receipts” of his willingness to engage in a conspiracy with Russia to win the election.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

On Twitter yesterday, NYCSouthpaw demonstrated how this worked by noting that in his email asking Don Jr for a meeting Rob Goldstone had laid out “all the essential elements of the relevant criminal statute so clearly.” NYCSouthpaw highlighted the words, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” which show that in accepting the meeting, Don Jr was accepting something of value from a foreigner.

Remarkably, Goldstone liked that NYCSouthpaw’s tweet.

He then RTed and commented positively on a TCleveland tweet suggesting that Goldstone was only doing what he was told when he set up the meeting.

That’s actually fairly consistent with Goldstone’s (and Ike Kaveladze’s) SCJ testimony. He described Emin Agalarov telling him, over and over, that all he had to do was get a meeting with Don Jr; he didn’t even have to actually attend the meeting. Ike would coordinate once Goldstone got the meeting. And when things started getting crazy a year later, as news of the meeting came out, Agalarov repeated that Goldstone didn’t really have a role in the meeting.

Given my contention that the Russians created kompromat in the way they got Trump or his flunkies to buy into a conspiracy with a kind of call and response, however, I’m particularly interested in this exchange in Goldstone’s testimony.

Q. — you talked about with my colleague, I know we have asked you a lot of questions. I just want to have you explain. When you say there — you wrote the statement “based on the bare facts I was given,” exactly what were the bare facts that you were given?

A. So, to the best of my recollection, when I spoke to Emin, he said to me: I would like you to set up a meeting. A Russian attorney met with my — a well-connected Russian attorney met with my dad in his office, and she appears to have or seems to have damaging information on the Democrats and its candidate, Hillary Clinton. And I think it could be useful to the Trumps.

He talked about the Trumps rather than the campaign. And he would like us to get a meeting. To me, that was it. That’s when I started pushing for more information. But those would be the bare facts: attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton.

Goldstone doesn’t repeat “could be useful to the Trumps” in his “bare facts” formulation. But he lays out with those words the things that Emin wanted to be included in any request for a meeting: “attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, useful to the Trumps.”

Not only were those bare facts enough to excite Don Jr, but he seemed to have some expectation about what this damaging information about Democrats and Hillary Clinton that would be useful to the Trumps would be. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Call: Russians have emails they want to release to help Trump, they’d like to discuss a series of escalating meetings

Response: Trump’s April 27 speech, which George Papadopoulos told Ivan Timofeev is a signal to meet, includes this line:

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Call: “attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, useful to the Trumps.”

Response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Response: Here are just a few docs from many thousands I extracted when hacking into DNC’s network.

Call: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Response:

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

Goldstone is right. He did what Aras Agalarov’s son told him to do, he set up a meeting by promising, “attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, useful to the Trumps.” That he did so via email is gravy. Because (as NYCSouthpaw noted), he clearly presented the offer to Don Jr in such a way that it would fulfill all the terms of the election law statute prohibiting accepting something of value from a foreigner.

And Don Jr responded, joining a Conspiracy to Defraud the United States of its ability to enforce that election law.

At Helsinki Summit, Putin Re-enacts the June 9 Trump Tower Meeting

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

I know there are a lot of people who aren’t as convinced as I am that a clear agreement was reached between Trump’s top aides and Putin’s emissaries at the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. For doubters, however, Vladimir Putin just re-enacted the meeting on the world stage at the Helsinki summit.

On top of the denials, from both sides, of Russian tampering in the election (and both sides’ embrace of a joint cybersecurity working group), that re-enactment came in three ways.

First, when asked whether Russia tampered in our election, Putin issued a line that was sort of a non-sequitur, asserting that, “I was an intelligence officer myself. And I do know how dossiers are made of.” The line — a reference both to the Steele dossier and Putin’s more damaging kompromat on Trump — is pregnant with meaning (and probably was planned). When asked, later, whether he had any compromising information on Trump or his family, Putin said, “Now to kompromat. I did hear these allegations that we collected kompromat when he was in Moscow. I didn’t even know he was in Moscow.”

This is a reference to the pee tape, allegedly taped when he put on Miss Universe in Russia in 2013. But it’s premised on a claim about which there is sworn counter-evidence in the US. Rob Goldstone — the guy who set up the June 9 meeting — described how Putin not only knew Trump was in Moscow, but was still trying to fit in a meeting with him.

And it went down to the wire. It was on the day of the contest itself that maybe around 4:00 in the afternoon Emin called a few of us into a conference room at Crocus, and his Dad, Aras, was there. And we were told that a call was coming in through from a Mr. Peskov, who I know to be Dmitry Peskov, who I believe is a spokesman for Mr . Putin, and there’d be an answer. And the answer I think, as I may have stated the last time I saw you, was that due to the lateness o f the newly crowned King of Holland who’d been delayed in traffic, whether air or road traffic, Mr. Putin would not be able to meet with Mr. Trump. However, he invited him to Sochi, to the Olympics, and said he’d be happy to meet him here or at any future time. And that’s how it was left, so there would be not meeting taking place.

So not only did Putin lie about whether there could be a pee tape (I don’t think there is one, but I think the 2013 involves compromise in another way), but did so in a way that invoked the Agalrovs as Trump’s handlers going back years.

And did you notice that he never denied having kompromat?

Then, in a response to one of the questions about Putin’s tampering in the election, after he suggested that he’d be willing to have Mueller come to Russia to question the GRU officers who hacked Hillary, he demanded similar cooperation on his legal issues. He then raised Bill Browder (who is no longer a US citizen), complaining that

For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 million [sic] in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States. And yet the money escaped the country, they [sic] were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Aside from being muddled, both in Putin’s delivery and the translation, this is precisely the dangle that Natalia Veselnitskaya used to get into Trump’s campaign back in 2016 to ask to have the Magnitsky sanctions overturned.

This was simply Putin laying out his receipts of Trump’s compromise on the world stage.

There’s one other area where Putin simply showed off how badly he has compromised the President. His prepared talks emphasized cooperation on Syria, claiming it “could be first showcase example of joint work.” As I have noted, that has been the operative plan since less than 15 hours after polls closed in November 2016. And it was known by someone who played a significant role in the Russian attack.

This meeting, then, is just Putin collecting on the receipts collected back on June 9, 2016.

The President’s Lawyer Had Better Review His Conspiracy Theory

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

There’s one more part of Rudy Giuliani’s hat trick yesterday that deserves closer attention. On both NBC and ABC and NBC, Rudy addressed the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. On NBC, Chuck Todd emphasized how often the story has changed about the meeting — both Trump’s own story, and the three versions of the story put out exactly a year ago. As such, Todd doesn’t talk about what crime the meeting might pertain to.

CHUCK TODD:

–Mr. Mayor, in the public record– and you and I have actually had a discussion about one of these, in the public record, we have the president admitting that he misled the New York Times on the Donald Trump Jr. statement when it came to his role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June of 2016. You said there’s nothing — this is a public record of the president contradicting, and I know it is not a crime for the president to lie to us in the media. However, how is that not itself probable cause for Mr. Mueller to want to question the president?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the fact is that also in the public record is the conclusion of that meeting. And that is that nothing was done about it. That the person came in under the guise of having information about, about Clinton but also to talk about adoptions. All she did was talk about adoptions —

CHUCK TODD:

Wait a minute.

RUDY GIULIANI:

— and sanctions.

CHUCK TODD:

First of all, we don’t know that. That has not been fully–

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, we do know that because–

CHUCK TODD:

–established. The story changed three times, Mr. Mayor. So if the story changed, how are we–

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, no, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

–so sure? Look, your own legal partner here in the president’s team, Jay Sekulow, misled me. Now, you had said he didn’t intentionally do that. I take your word.

RUDY GIULIANI:

He didn’t.

CHUCK TODD:

I take your word at that. But somebody misled him then. Your client may have misled him.

RUDY GIULIANI:

They already have all these facts. They can do with them what they want. They don’t need – I, I can tell them that the president’s testimony will be exactly the same as he said about this.

CHUCK TODD:

Which part? What he said in the public record or when he– we don’t know what he said–

RUDY GIULIANI:

What he has said–

CHUCK TODD:

–privately.

In the very last line of the exchange, however, Rudy gives away the game. He says “there was no discussion with [Trump] about this and there were no” and right here, he corrects himself and says, instead of whatever he almost said, “that nothing happened from it.”

RUDY GIULIANI:

He has had an opportunity to think about it, to refresh his recollection. He’s given a statement about it. And it’s clear that there was no discussion with him about this and there were no – that nothing happened from it.

That is, Rudy isn’t talking about what Todd might be — obstruction. Rather, he’s talking about whether anything came of the meeting, at which dirt was promised and sanctions relief was requested.

Rudy reveals even more to Stephanopoulos over on ABC. In addition to claiming that he, Rudy, doesn’t believe Trump knew about the meeting, he twice says the meeting amounts to different recollections (and attributes those recollections to the campaign that four of the participants weren’t contesting).

STEPHANOPOULOS: There was another question that came up in my interview with Michael Cohen and it had to do with the Trump Tower meeting, that famous (inaudible) Trump Tower meeting, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort all met with these Russians who had indicated they had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.

When I asked Michael Cohen did the president know about that meeting ahead of time, again he refused to answer in advice of counsel. What is the answer to that question?

GIULIANI: Don’t believe he did know about it, don’t believe he knew about it afterwards, I think that you could have very, very different recollections on that because it was right — right in the heat of the campaign.

And I — I was probably there that day. I don’t — I don’t remember it. Did somebody say something to me? I don’t know, it goes off in your — you know what a campaign is like, it’s complete helter skelter.

Again, it doesn’t mean anything because it resulted in nothing. That went nowhere, she tried to get back in, she didn’t, they never did anything with it (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well what it could mean is that — that the president, as Tina (ph) said, he didn’t know about in advance. If it turns out that he did, then at least he hadn’t been telling the truth —

(CROSS TALK)

GIULIANI: Well I think — I think — I think you end up there with at most differing recollection. Since nothing happened with it, there’d be no reason to hide it. I mean he could have said yes, they did tell me about it, and what happened? Nothing.

Given the context, it’s pretty clear what recollections Rudy might have in mind: whether Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions if he won the election. But on that front, among the six people who submitted testimony to SJC on the topic (Jared would have left before this), there’s not actually much disagreement.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign ins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Which is to say everyone whose statement wasn’t massaged by Don Jr’s lawyer says he did suggest Trump would revisit the issue after the election, which is surely why half of the people at the meeting worked on setting up such a meeting.

Now, Rudy suggests that’s all good because nothing actually came of it. There are several problems with that. 52 U.S.C. §§ 30121 makes it a crime to solicit or offer support from a foreign national, which is one of the crimes that NSD has already said might be charged in this case. Arguably, that’s what the meeting did. All the more so if the emails that got dumped a 6 days later were tied to Don Jr’s agreement to revisit sanctions.

But Rudy doesn’t consider whether Mueller could charge a conspiracy to do same. There, it doesn’t so much matter whether the conspiracy was successful (and there’s abundant evidence showing both sides continued to try to deliver on this detail). It matters whether two or more people made an agreement to conspire to violate US regulatory functions.

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Rudy has already admitted to the substance of a ConFraudUs case.

“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).

[Kaveladze sends link]

Beniaminov: But I don’t recall taking any video. And I can’t understand why it looks so similar.

Kaveladze: I mean his trump organization employees.

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.