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Poot and POTUS Plan to Move Beyond the Mueller Investigation

I think people are misunderstanding something that happened the other day when Trump called Vladimir Putin. As the press reports, Trump initiated the call. The remarkably brief readout from the White House makes it clear Trump called to thank Putin for saying nice things about the economy (many have taken that as Trump’s declaration that he values such flattery, which is no doubt true, but Trump didn’t write the readout).

President Donald J. Trump spoke with President Vladimir Putin of Russia today.  President Trump thanked President Putin for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance in his annual press conference.

The two presidents also discussed working together to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea.

The even briefer formal readout from the Russian side (and this is unusual for them) said only,

Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump at the initiative of the American side.

Though reports state that the Kremlin said the men also discussed US-Russian ties.

The Kremlin said Thursday the two men discussed US-Russia ties and increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula, an issue that Putin chastised the United States for in earlier comments.

Other reports note that HR McMaster did not participate in the call.

The leaders talked for about 10 minutes, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster didn’t participate in the call, a White House official said.

So Trump saw reports that Putin mentioned him in his annual press conference, and called him up to comment about it, without an adult present.

Of course (as Politico notes but doesn’t focus on), Putin’s reference to Trump’s alleged success with the economy isn’t the most pointed thing he said in his press conference. Here’s the full exchange between ABC’s Terry Moran and Putin.

Terry Moran: Thank you, Mr President. Terry Moran with ABC News.

First, in the United States investigations by Congress, the Department of Justice and the media have uncovered a very large number of contacts between Russian citizens associated with your government and high officials of the Trump campaign. And some of those officials are now being prosecuted for lying about those contacts. All this is not normal. And many Americans are saying where there is that much smoke there must be fire. How would you explain to Americans the sheer number of contact between the Trump campaign and your government?

And second, if I may. It has almost been a year since Donald Trump has been elected president. You praised Donald Trump during the campaign. What is your assessment of Donald Trump as president after one year? Spasibo.

Vladimir Putin: Let us begin with the second part of your question. It is not for me to evaluate Donald Trump’s work. This should be done by his electorate, the American people. But we do see some major achievements, even over the short period he has been in office. Look at the markets, which have grown. This is evidence of investors’ trust in the US economy. This means they trust what President Trump is doing in this area. With all due respect to President Trump’s opposition in the United States, these are objective factors.

There are also things he would probably like to do but has not been able to do so far, such as a healthcare reform and several other areas. By the way, he said his intentions in foreign policy included improving relations with Russia. It is clear that he has been unable to do this because of the obvious constraints, even if he wanted to. In fact, I do not know if he still wants to or has exhausted the desire to do this; you should ask him. I hope that he does and that we will eventually normalise our relations to the benefit of the American and Russian people, and that we will continue to develop and will overcome the common and well-known threats, such as terrorism, environmental problems, weapons of mass destruction, crises around the world, including in the Middle East, the North Korean problem, etc. There are many things we can do much more effectively together in the interests of our people than we are doing them now. Actually, we can do everything more effectively together.

Terry Moran: How would you explain the connection between the government, your government, and the Trump campaign? How would you explain it to Americans?

Vladimir Putin(In English.) I see, I see. (In Russian.) You know that all this was invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr Trump to present his work as illegitimate. It seems strange to me, and I mean it, that the people who are doing this do not seem to realise that they are damaging the internal political climate in the country, that they are decimating the possibilities of the elected head of state. This means that they do not respect the people who voted for him.

How do you see any election process worldwide? Do we need to ban any contacts at all? Our ambassador has been accused of meeting with someone. But this is standard international practice when a diplomatic representative and even Government members meet with all the candidates, their teams, when they discuss various issues and development prospects, when they want to understand what certain people will do after assuming power and how to respond to this. What kind of extraordinary things did anyone see in this? And why should all this take on the nature of spy mania?

You have watched the investigation on social media. The share of Russian corporate advertising makes up less than 0.01 percent, with that of American companies totaling 100, 200 and 300 percent. It is simply incomparable. But, for some reason, even this is seen as excessive. This is some kind of gibberish.

The same can be said about the situation with our media outlets, including RT and Sputnik. But their share in the overall information volume is negligible, as compared to the share of global US media outlets all over the world and in Russia. And this is seen as a threat. Then what about freedom of the media? This is actually a cornerstone, on which American democracy itself is based.

All of us should realise that someone succeeds and someone does not. We need to draw conclusions from this and move on, instead of pouncing on one another like animals. We need to think about this and draw conclusions.

Moran starts by noting that Trump’s people are now being prosecuted for lying about contacts with Russians, and asks why there were so many contacts. He then invites Putin to comment on Trump’s success.

Putin responds by saying it’s not his place to evaluate Trump’s success (elsewhere in the press conference Putin made grand show of respecting Russia’s democracy, too), but then goes ahead and does so, claiming that the economy is an “objective” success of Trump’s.

Moran has to prod him to get a direct answer on the second point. Putin repeats a Republican talking point — that the investigation “was invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr Trump to present his work as illegitimate” — and complains about this “spy mania.” But then he doesn’t address the allegations that Russian spies were cozying up to Trump’s officials, not just its ambassador; he instead focuses on the social media investigation (and rightly points out that Russian social media had just a fraction of the impact of equally problematic right wing social media manipulation).

It’s the middle bit — what might have been Putin’s first response to Moran’s question about the investigation — that I suspect elicited Trump’s call to Putin.

I do not know if he still wants to or has exhausted the desire to do this; you should ask him. I hope that he does and that we will eventually normalise our relations to the benefit of the American and Russian people.

Having gotten Trump’s attention with a bullshit compliment, Putin then asked, “do you still want to go steady?”

Putin’s question — do you still want to normalize relations — came against the background of increasing Russian challenges in Syria, the theater where, even according to Jared Kushner’s public comments, the Russia-Trump cooperation was supposed to first bear fruit.

“On Dec. 13, two Russian Su-25s flew into coordinated coalition airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River near Abu Kamal, Syria,” the spokesman said, “and were promptly intercepted by two F-22A Raptors providing air cover for partner ground forces conducting operations to defeat ISIS.”

The U.S. jets used chaff, flares, and other maneuvers to “persuade the Su-25s to depart,” said the spokesman, and also made repeated calls on N emergency channel to the Russian pilots. Coalition leaders also contacted Russians on the ground along the deconfliction line. After 40 minutes, the Russians flew back to the west side of the Euphrates.

The U.S. and Russia verbally agreed in early November that Russian aircraft would stay west of the Euphrates and American jets would stay east. According to the spokesman, since the Russians are now crossing the river six to eight times a day, “it’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots’ actions are deliberate or if these are just honest mistakes.”

“Are you still interested,” Putin asked, while making it clear Russia could make Trump’s life far more difficult that it is currently doing.

And Trump got on the phone and said … we don’t know what he said, but we can sure guess.

In the wake of it, Trump’s team leaked details of their request to meet with Robert Mueller next week to find out whether the probe will, as Ty Cobb has absurdly been claiming for some time, be drawing to a close.

President Donald Trump’s private lawyers are slated to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team as soon as next week for what the President’s team considers an opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of the next steps in Mueller’s probe, according to sources familiar with the matter.

While the lawyers have met with Mueller’s team before and might again, the sources believe the upcoming meeting has greater significance because it comes after the completion of interviews of White House personnel requested by the special counsel and after all requested documents have been turned over. Mueller could still request more documents and additional interviews. No request to interview the President or the vice president has been made, sources tell CNN.

But Trump’s team, led by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, is hoping for signs that Mueller’s investigation is nearing its end, or at least the part having to do with the President. Their goal is to help Trump begin to emerge from the cloud of the ongoing investigation, several of the sources explained. The sources acknowledge that Mueller is under no obligation to provide any information and concede they may walk away with no greater clarity.

If such a meeting does occur, it will come amid the rumors that Trump plans to fire Mueller. Either Mueller finishes up and gives Trump an all clear, and soon, the message seems to be, or Trump will ensure Mueller can’t report the opposite.

Putin wants to get on with things, with making good on his investment in Donald Trump. And in response to that message, Trump made moves towards trying to end the investigation that would show such a plan would be the quid pro quo for Putin’s help getting Trump elected.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

How Does the Strzok Text Dump Differ from Jim Comey’s July 5, 2016 Speech?

I’m a bit bemused by the response to DOJ’s release of the texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. As Rod Rosenstein testified before HJC yesterday, the release came after notice to Strzok and Page through their lawyers. The release of the texts came with the approval of DOJ IG Michael Horowitz — who says the investigation into the underlying conduct may last through spring. And Rosenstein strongly implied he wanted them released, taking responsibility for it (while claiming not to know whether Jeff Sessions had a role in their release).

As he explained to Trey Gowdy — who, like a number of Republicans, claimed to be at a loss of what to say to constituents who asked “what in the hell is going on with DOJ and the FBI” — the release of the texts proves that any wrongdoing will be met with consequences.

Gowdy: What happens when people who are supposed to cure the conflict of interest have even greater conflicts of interests than those they replace? That’s not a rhetorical question. Neither you nor I nor anyone else would ever sit Peter Strzok on a jury, we wouldn’t have him objectively dispassionately investigate anything, knowing what we now know. Why didn’t we know it ahead of time, and my last question, my final question — and I appreciate the Chairman’s patience — how would you help me answer that question when I go back to South Carolina this weekend?

Rosenstein: Congressman, first of all, with regard to the Special Counsel, Mr. Strzok was already working on the investigation when the Special Counsel was appointed. The appointment I made was of Robert Mueller. So what I’d recommend you tell your constituents is that Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein and Chris Wray are accountable and that we will ensure that no bias is reflected in any actions taken by the Special Counsel or any matter within the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. When we have evidence of any inappropriate conduct, we’re going to take action on it. And that’s what Mr. Mueller did here as soon as he learned about this issue — he took action — and that’s what I anticipate the rest of our prosecutors, the new group of US Attorneys, our Justice Department appointees. They understand the rules and they understand the responsibility to defend the integrity of the Department. If they find evidence of improper conduct, they’re going to take action.

So Congressman, that’s the best assurance I can give you. But actually, there’s one other point, which is you should tell your constituents that we exposed this issue because we’re ensuring that the Inspector General conducts a thorough and effective investigation, and if there is any evidence of impropriety, he’s going to surface it and report about it publicly.

I actually think Rosenstein did a much better job than others apparently do, yesterday, at distinguishing between the Strzok texts (which apparently were on DOJ issued cell phones and, in spite of having Hillary investigation subject lines may not have been logged into Sentinel) and the political views of Andrew Weissmann or the past representation of Jeannie Rhee. Furthermore, he repeatedly said he would only fire Mueller for cause, and made it clear there had been no cause. Several times he talked about how closely he has worked with Mueller, such as on the scope of what gets included in his investigation (even while defending the charges against Manafort as appropriately included).

That said, I wonder how Rosenstein distinguishes, in his own mind, what he did in approving the release of the texts from an ongoing investigation and what Jim Comey did on July 5, 2016, when he gave a press conference about why Hillary Clinton had not been charged. While Rosenstein’s biggest complaint in his letter supporting the firing of Comey was that he substituted his decision for that of prosecutors, he also argued that the Department shouldn’t release derogatory information gratuitously.

Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. Derogatory information sometimes is disclosed in the course of criminal investigations and prosecutions, but we never release it gratuitously. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.

In response to skeptical question at a congressional hearing, the Director defended his remarks by saying that his “goal was to say what is true. What did we do, what did we find, what do we think about it.” But the goal of a federal criminal investigation is not to announce our thoughts at a press conference. The goal is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a federal criminal prosecution, then allow a federal prosecutor who exercises authority delegated by the Attorney General to make a prosecutorial decision, and then – if prosecution is warranted – let the judge and jury determine the facts. We sometimes release information about closed investigations in appropriate ways, but the FBI does not do it sua sponte.

In some ways this is worse because of the off chance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz finds that these texts don’t merit some kind of response; the investigation is not finished yet.

That said, I actually do think there’s a difference: Strzok and Page are department employees, rather than subjects of an external investigation. DOJ exercises awesome power, and usually DOJ is releasing the texts of private citizens in this kind of embarrassing way.

Even former clearance holders seem surprised that these texts were discovered. It is unbelievable to me how few people understand the great liberty that counterintelligence investigators like Strzok can have in obtaining the communications of investigative targets like he has now become, particularly during leak or insider threat investigations. That may not be a good thing, but it is what other targets have been subjected to. So I think it reasonable to have FBI’s own subject to the same scrutiny, for better and worse.

I do think it worthwhile for DOJ to show that it will hold people accountable for improper actions.

Plus, aside from one August comment — which we may obtain more context on when Horowitz does finish this investigation — about an “insurance” policy against Trump, the texts simply aren’t that damning (though they do raise questions about Strzok’s role in the investigation). Strzok agrees with Rex Tillerson, after all, that Trump is an idiot.

So as far as that goes, I’m actually okay with Rosenstein’s release of these texts.

Except I worry about something else.

I actually worry less about Mueller getting fired than just about every other Trump opponent on the planet. Rosenstein seems intent to let him do his work, and (notably at several times during the hearing) seems to agree with the gravity of the investigation. Trump can’t get to Mueller without taking out Rosenstein (and Rachel Brand). And I actually think Rosenstein has thus far balanced the position of a Republican protecting a Republican from Republican ire fairly well. I expect the next shoes Mueller drops — whenever that happens — will change the tone dramatically.

What bothers me most about the release of these texts, however, is that they are a response to the same pressure that Comey was responding to (and which he thought he was smart enough to manage, just as Rosenstein surely thinks he can handle it here).

They are a response — from the same people who ran the Benghazi investigation then ignored DOJ’s prosecution of the Benghazi mastermind — to a willingness to challenge the very core of DOJ functionality, all in a bid to politicize it.

Perhaps Rosenstein is right to bide his time — to create space for Mueller to drop the next few shoes — with the release of the Strzok texts.

But at some point, Republicans need to start calling out Republicans for the damage they’re doing to rule of law with this constant playing of the refs, this demand for proof that Democrats aren’t getting some advantage through the rule of law. If those next shoes don’t have the effect I imagine, it may be too late.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Next Stop: Jared

This morning at 8, I was on Democracy Now talking about how then reported and now completed Flynn plea agreement would focus attention directly on Jared.

Since then, Mike Flynn indeed pled guilty to one charge of false statements to the FBI about various conversations with Sergei Kislyak, promising he’d fully cooperate with Mueller’s inquiry. Reports describe that Flynn spoke with an unnamed senior advisor who was at Mar A Lago at the time about his December 29 conversations with Kislyak, which pertained to Russian sanctions. They also say Flynn will testify against Trump and members, plural, of his family, particularly regarding the orders he had to reach out to Russia.

The other lie charged about conversations with Kislyak involves a request that Russia try to delay or shut down a vote on condemning Israel’s illegal settlements.

That’s a key lie, because we know who was pushing that: Jared Kushner (though the court filing suggests it might be someone even more senior).

Robert Mueller’s investigators are asking questions about Jared Kushner’s interactions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition, including his involvement in a dispute at the United Nations in December, in a sign of the expansive nature of the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the election, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigators have asked witnesses questions about the involvement of Mr. Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, in a controversy over a U.N. resolution passed Dec. 23, before Mr. Trump took office, that condemned Israel’s construction of settlements in disputed territories, these people said.

Israeli officials had asked the incoming Trump administration to intervene to help block it. Mr. Trump posted a Facebook message the day before the U.N. vote—after he had been elected but before he had assumed office—saying the resolution put the Israelis in a difficult position and should be vetoed.

[snip]

Israeli officials said at the time that they began reaching out to senior leaders in Mr. Trump’s transition team. Among those involved were Mr. Kushner and political strategist Stephen Bannon, according to people briefed on the exchanges.

So that second lie — and almost certainly the first — involves Kushner directing Flynn.

I noted yesterday CNN’s report that in the last few weeks — so during the window when Mueller was in close discussions about Flynn flipping — Mueller’s team interviewed Kushner asking if he had any exonerating information on Flynn.

Mueller’s team specifically asked Kushner about former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is under investigation by the special counsel, two sources said. Flynn was the dominant topic of the conversation, one of the sources said.

[snip]

The conversation lasted less than 90 minutes, one person familiar with the meeting said, adding that Mueller’s team asked Kushner to clear up some questions he was asked by lawmakers and details that emerged through media reports. One source said the nature of this conversation was principally to make sure Kushner doesn’t have information that exonerates Flynn.

The meeting took place around the same time the special counsel asked witnesses about Kushner’s role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his relationship with Flynn, these people said.

Mueller was, effectively, locking in Kushner’s testimony before Flynn flipped. As I said this morning, speaking of that meeting,

The Kushner meeting was reported as kind of one of the last things that Mueller had to put into place before this plea agreement that people have been talking about with Mike Flynn. And that suggests that there is more news about to drop regarding Mike Flynn that I think is going to really dramatically change how Republicans take the Russian investigation.

Flynn had been avoiding discussing plea agreements for months and months and months, and then really in the last two weeks, all of a sudden it seems like it’s about to happen. Mueller has more leverage over Flynn in the last couple of weeks. It may be Turkey, because a key witness in New York has turned state’s evidence and apparently has information on Flynn. I think there’s some other information.

And so, Flynn, we expect, is moving towards a plea agreement. We expect, or I expect, that’s going to add a lot more pressure on Trump. And I have been saying for months that the way to get to Kushner is through Flynn. Because a lot of the events in which Flynn was involved, such as meeting with Sergei Kislyak in December, they connect very closely with activities that Kushner is known to be involved with.

Kushner may now be hoping he’ll be in a he-said he-said with Flynn, except it’s unlikely Mueller would give Flynn this easy plea without a whole lot more to know that Flynn would be telling the truth. Remember, Kushner is one of the few people aside from Flynn himself who has a very appropriate lawyer for this kind of issue.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

“I Hate the Word Guilty” Says the Self-Described “Conduit” between the Agalarovs and Trump

As you read Rob Goldstone’s efforts to telegraph what his potential testimony to Robert Mueller will be, keep the lesson of this post in mind: there is evidence that one-time Trump attorney and current Agalarov attorney Scott Balber has, on three occasions, attempted to orchestrate a cover story for the June 9 meeting that Goldstone set up. Those three are:

  1. A meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze (the latter of whom Balber represents as an employee of Agalarov) in Moscow in June 2017, just as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both belatedly disclosing the meeting to various authorities; this story appears to have been an attempt to pre-empt the damage that would be done when Akhmetshin’s involvement became public
  2. A Balber trip sometime before October to Russia to coordinate a story with and get documents from Natalia Veselnitskaya to back her version of the talking points she reportedly shared with Trump’s people
  3. Another October story, this “revealing” that Veselnitskaya’s research came from (or actually was shared with) Russian prosecutor Yuri Chaika, but insisting (per Balber) that Agalarov had no ties with the prosecutor

In fact, it has been recently confirmed that Veselnitskaya’s research was originally done by Fusion GPS, the same firm that was doing oppo research for Clinton and would almost simultaneously with the June 9 meeting hire Christopher Steele to dig up dirt on Trump.

With that in mind, consider what Goldstone is now saying in advance of a reported trip to the US to voluntarily meet with Mueller.

First, Goldstone conflates interviewing with Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee with making his story public. But of course, this interview is what will make his story public (SSCI has gotten cranky of late when people release their testimony publicly before interviewing with the committee, so I guess this interview will substitute).

Although no date has yet been set, he has accepted invitations — unlike some others involved, he has not received a subpoena — to meet the team investigating the alleged Trump links with Russia, headed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, as well as Senate investigative committees in Washington.

“I’m keen to talk to them and put my recollection of events in the public record,” Goldstone says. So why is he choosing to do this interview now? “After the story initially broke, it seemed to quieten down for a while. But now it’s back in the news with such force, I feel it’s time for me to explain what happened.”

That’s really not much of an explanation for why he’s talking now, suggesting it has everything to do with this planned testimony.

The dual US-British citizen claims both that he was distracted from the proceedings of the Trump Tower meeting because of a concern he’d get stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his way home, but also that his months-long absence from the US is just about wandering Asia rather than hiding out from these events.

He had not even planned to attend, but was encouraged to stay by Trump Jr. His biggest concern, he says, was that if the meeting dragged on, he would be caught in the notorious Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his journey home.

[snip]

We meet not in Manhattan, however, but in southeast Asia, where he has been travelling in recent months. One of his conditions of meeting me is that I do not disclose the precise whereabouts, because he does not want to be besieged by media, as he was when the controversy erupted in July.

“There are people saying that I’ve run away or I’m some sort of fugitive,” he tells me. “But the simple thing is that I decided to keep quiet, and the best way to do that was to go off the radar and disappear for a while. But I want to share what I know.”

[snip]

He knows his travels will be met with renewed suspicion that he went on the run to hide what he really knows. But there is no evasion, he insists.

When Goldstone claimed the trip was all coincidental I guess he didn’t yet know that the AP would have already published news of the advance coordination of Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze’s stories, the kind of advanced planning that might also explain this trip.

Goldstone explains that, several months before the scandal broke, he told friends — and The Sunday Times has separately confirmed this with them — that he was putting his business on hold and renting out his US apartment to travel the world, including a lengthy stay in Asia. The purpose, he told them, was to have the “gap year” that he never took after leaving school at 16 to start work as a reporter in Manchester.

And he denies any worry that Russian intelligence will knock him off to keep him silent.

“First of all, if Russian intelligence had used me in some way, as people perceive, but which I don’t believe, then they’ll know I don’t know anything. If Russian intelligence hasn’t used me, but are intelligent, they will equally know I don’t know anything and this is all nonsense.”

In spite of emphasizing how little he knows, Goldstone describes himself as the “conduit” — on matters that include business deals in Russia!!! — between the Agalarovs and Trump, but then pretends to be squeamish about a little politics.

“So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps,” Goldstone says.

[snip]

“I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s politics, it’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It’s not our forte. I deal with music. You’re a singer and a businessman.”

However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. “His mantra was always ‘Rob can do it’. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much.

[snip]

“I can apologise in some way for having sent the email in the first place. It went against everything my gut instinct was telling me.”

Yet, he couples that claimed squeamishness about politics and gut instinct — and his claim he warned Emin they should stay out of it — with the claim that had this been offered months later, as the Russian scandal broke out, he’d be … squeamish about the politics involved.

It never crossed his mind, he adds, that there would be any fallout about election rules or foreign influence.

“I didn’t understand anything about that, nothing at all. This meeting happened months before Russia became the hot topic. If this had happened later, sure, I would’ve been aware because it’s all people were talking about — Russia, and Russian interference. Hindsight is great, but it just wasn’t being talked about at the time.”

This makes no sense: either he recognized it was wrong and told Emin they shouldn’t do it or he only recognized it was wrong long after the fact. It can’t be both.

Which brings us to his telegraphed description of his email and the meeting it set up. Goldstone describes being “guilty” only of puffing up the language around the meeting, not of facilitating election tampering that he admits may have otherwise occurred.

“If I’m guilty of anything, and I hate the word guilty, it’s hyping the message and going the extra mile for my clients. Using hot-button language to puff up the information I had been given. I didn’t make up the details, I just made them sound more interesting.”

[snip]

So was he part of a Russian plot to influence the election? Goldstone rolls his eyes. “When people said that, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. That doesn’t mean that maybe there wasn’t any Russian interference or Trump campaign collusion in other ways. I don’t know. But I’m sure I wasn’t part of it.”

And he claims that he thought Veselnitskaya — not Chaika — was the “crown prosecutor” he mentioned in the email he sent Don Jr.

Much has also been made of how Goldstone said Aras Agalarov had met Russia’s “crown prosecutor”. Given that Russia has not had a crown since the 1917 revolution, there was a widespread presumption that Goldstone was referring to Vladimir Putin’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika. It has since been reported that the lawyer Veselnitskaya met Chaika in Moscow in the run-up to her trip to New York, sharing with him the talking points that she delivered at Trump Tower. But Goldstone insists Veselnitskaya was the one described to him by Emin as a “well-connected prosecutor” and that in his haste, he had said “crown prosecutor” as that was a British term he used to use as a young reporter.

Here’s Goldstone’s email, which describes something far more sensitive than he’s now describing.

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

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

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

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

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

Best

Rob Goldstone

Hmm. Folks seem awfully anxious about lining up their stories with the known documentation of this meeting. Yet even with Balber flying all over the world (has he perhaps been to Thailand to visit Goldstone, who after all is just another Agalarov employee, of sorts?) the stories don’t seem to be cohering.

Which may be why Goldstone provides an alternative version to Veselnitskaya’s recent claim that Paul Manafort appeared to be asleep in the meeting, claiming that he was distracted by his messages.

Goldstone described Kushner as “furious” and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages.

Funny how people on two continents want to claim that Manafort wasn’t playing close attention.

Remember: there are at least four documents these players are trying to account for, even assuming the communications between people in Russia weren’t picked up:

  • Goldstone’s emails with Don Jr
  • The talking points Veselnitskaya claims to have shared at the meeting (but which Akhmetshin claims he only saw the Russian version of)
  • Paul Manafort’s own notes from the meeting
  • Text messages between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze before their cover-up meeting

And for some reason, Goldstone needs to claim he believed the prosecutor in question was Veselnitskaya and not Chaika, which is what the others claim.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Mueller Has Enough Prosecutors to Continue Walking and Chewing Gum While We’ve Been Watching Manafort

NBC has a clickbait story reporting that Robert Mueller has enough evidence to indict Michael Flynn that — by describing that Mueller is still interviewing witnesses about Flynn’s lobbying — undermines its headline.

Mueller is applying renewed pressure on Flynn following his indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses in coming days to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.

Remember: on high profile investigations like this, interested parties sometimes try to force a prosecutor’s hand by leaking stuff like this (we should also expect people to leak to the press to create pressure for pardons), and in this case the leaking is exacerbated because of the multiple congressional investigations.

Moreover, there’s good reason to doubt the notion that Mueller is moving from target to target sequentially, which some have interpreted the description of Mueller “renewing” pressure on Flynn to suggest. Remember: Mueller has 15 prosecutors, every one of whom is capable of leading this kind of investigation themselves. And there’s at least a hint that Mueller has separate teams working on separate parts of the investigation.

Consider this detail from the motion to unseal the Manafort docket. The motion specifically asked for the whole thing to be unsealed except for this redaction at the top of the indictment itself.

[T]he government respectfully moves for an order unsealing the docket, with the exception of the original indictment, which contains, at the top, administrative information relating to the Special Counsel’s Office.

There are a lot of things that the redaction might hide. One of those is some kind of marking that indicates the organization of the investigation, one which would disclose investigative strategy if it were disclosed now, but would be really useful for historians if it were unsealed after whatever happens happens.

Couple that with the fact that there is no overlap between the prosecutors appearing thus far in the Manafort docket, who are:

  • Andrew Weismann
  • Greg Andres
  • Kyle Freeny

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

And the prosecutors appearing in the Papadopoulos docket, who are:

  • Jeannie Rhee
  • Andrew Goldstein
  • Aaron Zelinsky

It would make sense that the teams would be focused on different parts of the investigation. After all, Mueller has drawn on a fair range of expertise, which I laid out here (see this article for Carrie Johnson’s description of where these folks are on loan from); if I were to do this over, I’d add a special category for money laundering:

  1. Mob specialists: Andrew Weissman and [Lisa Page *] are mob prosecutors.
  2. Fraud specialists: Weissman and Rush Atkinson are also fraud prosecutors.
  3. Corporate crime specialists: Weissman also led the Enron Task force. One of Dreeben’s key SCOTUS wins pertained to corporate crime. Jeannie Rhee has also worked on white collar defense. [Kyle Freeny, who was the last attorney to join the team, is a money laundering expert.]
  4. Public corruption specialists: Mueller hired someone with Watergate experience, James Quarles. And Andrew Goldstein got good press in SDNY for prosecuting corrupt politicians (even if Sheldon Silver’s prosecution has since been overturned).
  5. International experts: Zainab Ahmad, who worked terrorism cases in EDNY, which has some of the most expansive precedents for charging foreigners flown into JFK (including Russia’s darling Viktor Bout), knows how to bring foreigners to the US and successfully prosecute them in this country. Aaron Zelinsky has also worked in international law. Elizabeth Prelogar did a Fulbright in Russia and reportedly speaks it fluently. And, as noted, [Greg] Andres has worked on foreign bribery
  6. Cyber and spying lawyers: Brandon Van Grack is the guy who had been leading the investigation into Mike Flynn; he’s got a range of National Security experience. Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s former chief of staff at FBI, also has that kind of NSD experience.
  7. Appellate specialists: With Michael Dreeben, Mueller already has someone on the team who can win any appellate challenges; Adam Jed and Elizabeth Prelogar are also appellate specialists. Mueller’s hires also include former clerks for a number of SCOTUS justices, which always helps out if things get that far.

In other words, the team that has thus far been involved in the Manafort prosecution have experience prosecuting corporate crime and money laundering, as well as flipping people. The team that has thus far handled Papadopoulos includes Goldstein, a top public corruption prosecutor (who curiously would have had visibility into Manafort related prosecutions in SDNY), Zelinsky, who has both mob and international law expertise, and Jeannie Rhee whose relevant experience includes time in Congress, prosecuting national security related conspiracies, and cybersecurity investigations. The experience of the latter team, in particular, suggests where they might be headed, probably including people in or recently in government, but Rhee’s ties to leaks and cybersecurity might suggest the emails are a bigger part of that investigation than most people have noticed.

Notably absent from these two teams is Brandon Van Grack, who started the prosecution of Mike Flynn and presumably has remained focused on that. So there’s no reason to believe Van Grack would have to renew pressure, aside from pointing to the example of Manafort to prove the seriousness of this investigation, because he probably has just kept up the pressure as we’ve been distracted.

Also of note: we’re still not seeing all the mob and international expertise on Mueller’s team.

All of which is to say we’ve only seen the involvement of at most 7 out of the 15 lawyers on Mueller’s team. I’m sure the remaining 8 haven’t been sitting idle while we’ve all been focusing on Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Update: Because it’s related, I’ll remind that in Papadopoulos’ plea deal, Zelinsky said they wanted to sustain the prohibition on FOIA because,

in the process of his ongoing efforts to cooperate, the Government has shared substantial information with the Defendant that has provided a road map of sorts, to information that might be sought on FOIA. And it will chill the Government’s ability to continue to have the Defendant cooperate if the information that’s being provided by the Defendant and the continued efforts to jog his memory are then used to create a road map to the ongoing investigation.

Update: When this post was first posted I accidentally swapped Weissman for Goldstein in one reference. My apologies.

*Update: As Peredonov notes below, Page left the SCO after I wrote the underlying post. I’ve marked it in the quote and adjusted numbers accordingly.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

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

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

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Victoria Toensing’s Story about Sam Clovis’ Grand Jury Appearance

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Sam Clovis is the person in the George Papadopoulos plea who told Papadopoulos, just as Paul Manafort’s pro-Russian Ukrainian corruption was becoming a scandal, “‘I would encourage you’ and another foreign policy advisor to ‘make the trip[] [to Russia], if it is feasible.'”

Victoria Toensing is a right wing nutjob lawyer whose chief skill is lying to the press to spin partisan scandals.

Clovis has decided that Toensing can best represent him in the Russia investigation, which means in the wake of yesterday’s surprise plea deal announcement, a person with “first-hand” knowledge of Clovis’ actions decided to tell his side of the story to NBC. Significantly, securing Clovis’ testimony is one of the last things Mueller did before springing the Manafort indictment and unsealing Papadopoulos’ plea, meaning that’s one of the things he was building up towards.

Sam Clovis, the former top Trump campaign official who supervised a man now cooperating with the FBI’s Russia investigation, was questioned last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and testified before the investigating grand jury, a person with first-hand knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Before I go further, let me note that there are few people who can claim first-hand knowledge of “the matter:” the grand jury, which thus far hasn’t leaked, Mueller’s team, which has shown a remarkable ability to keep secrets, or Clovis or Toensing.

Which is to say this story is likely Toensing and Toensing.

Much later in the article, a person with the same kind of knowledge also confirmed Clovis’ very helpful SSCI testimony.

Clovis was also interviewed recently by the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Thus far Clovis looks very cooperative, huh, per this person who knows what he has been doing?

Having placed Clovis at the grand jury last week, Toensing says she won’t comment on the one thing she can’t directly comment on — what went on there.

His lawyer, Victoria Toensing, would neither confirm nor deny his interactions with the Mueller team.

“I’m not going to get into that,” she said in an interview.

But Toensing does confirm that Clovis is the guy who supported Papadopoulos’ trip to Russia, which she would only know from having prepped his testimony or learned what he was asked in the grand jury.

Toensing confirmed that Clovis was the campaign supervisor in the emails.

She then presents what must be the story he told to explain why emails show him endorsing a trip to Russia even as it became clear why that was a bad idea.

In a statement, Toensing’s office said Clovis set up a “national security advisory committee” in the Trump campaign that included Papadopoulos, “who attended one meeting and was never otherwise approached by the campaign for consultation.”

[snip]

In the statement, Toensing said the Trump campaign had a strict rule prohibiting travel abroad on behalf of the campaign, and but that Clovis would have had no authority to stop Papadopoulos from traveling in his personal capacity.

To be fair, this story doesn’t directly conflict with Papadopoulos’ (though Toensing’s earlier story, that as a midwestern “gentleman,” Clovis would have been unable to tell Papadopoulos no, does conflict — this is probably an attempt, perhaps post-consultation with her client, to clean that up).

But it does adopt a line that permits the possibility Papadopolous did (make plans to) travel to Russia, but that it was all freelancing (remarkably like Carter Page’s trip to Russia was).

That is, this is the story (or close to it) that Clovis told the grand jury last week, before he learned that Papadopoulos had beat him to the punch and told a different (but still not fully public) story.

Now, I’m guessing that all the other people named in the Papadopoulos plea have also already had whatever shot they’ll get to tell the truth to the grand jury, but in case they haven’t, they can now coordinate with what Clovis said, which is surely part of the point.

But I’d also suggest that Mueller would be sure to get the testimony of everyone who might try to lie before he unsealed the Papadopoulos plea, so they have to start considering fixing their testimony.

Update: Apparently the White House is rethinking the wisdom of subjecting Clovis to a confirmation hearing next week.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Paul Manafort Indicted for Laundering 50 Times as Much Through Rugs as Through Household Labor

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One of the nifty things Robert Mueller did with his indictment of Paul Manafort was to lay out all the extravagances he used to launder his money into the US. The most amazing was his $1M antique rug bill.

Mueller also listed $1.4 million laundered through two different clothing stores.

Compare that with the mere $20,000 Manafort spent on the people who clear his NY property.

Admittedly, Manafort appears to have redone his Hamptons and FL properties routinely to launder more money. But it basically means he shorted his staff while spending big on magic carpets.

Which will make Trump’s efforts to give rich shits like Manafort more tax benefits this week even more difficult.

The money laundering through luxury goods isn’t the key crime in Manafort’s indictment. That has to do with serving as an unregistered foreign agent with regards to work from 2012. Importantly, that means Mueller got to point to Tony Podesta’s corruption prominently as one of these two unnamed firms.

The allegation is that by having one Republican and one Democratic lobbyist firm to do the work of pro-Russian Ukrainians, Manafort hid what was really going on.

Just as interesting, Mueller slapped a false statements charge onto the failure to report being a foreign agent, tied to these claims (they carry onto a second page).

That way, if the idea of actually enforcing foreign registry laws doesn’t fly (which is admittedly a novel idea in DC), they still have some crimes to charge Manafort with.

Hopefully, that false statements charge and the idea of charging for failure to register will send a chill through all of DC’s other corrupt influence peddlers.

Importantly, Mueller called for all these toys and much (but not all) of Manafort’s real estate to be forfeited. Which will make it harder for him to pay his lawyers and harder for him to look like a million dollars as he turns himself in.

The money laundering charges here (though not necessarily the foreign registry ones) can be punted down to NY State if Trump pardons Manafort.

Here’s what this does: it applies some pressure to Manafort (and serves as an object lesson to Mike Flynn, who can be charged tomorrow with the same registry related crimes). But it doesn’t yet get into the heart of the Russian influence crimes, which preserves Manafort’s ability to testify about them (that is, to flip).

It’s unclear whether it will work. My biggest question of the day is who is paying for Manafort’s legal bills and how long they’ll be willing to continue doing so.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Boente Resignation and the Reported Charge[s]/Indictment[s]

Back in May, I argued (based on the since proven incorrect assumption that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be unlikely to hire a non-DOJ employee like Robert Mueller as Special Counsel), Dana Boente might be the best solution to investigate the Comey firing.

[T]here’s no reason to believe he isn’t pursuing the investigation (both investigations, into Wikileaks and Trump’s associates) with real vigor. He is a hard ass prosecutor and if that’s what you want that’s what you’d get. His grand jury pool is likely to be full of people with national security backgrounds or at least a predisposition to be hawks.

But — for better and worse — Boente actually has more power than a Special Counsel would have (and more power than Fitz had for the Plame investigation), because he is also in charge of NSD, doing things like approving FISA orders on suspected Russian agents. I think there are problems with that, particularly in the case of a possible Wikileaks prosecution. But if you want concentrated power, Boente is a better option than any AUSA. With the added benefit that he’s The Last USA, which commands some real respect.

Yesterday, at about 6:30, WaPo reported Boente’s resignation. An hour or so later, CNN first reported that Robert Mueller has approved charges against at least one person who might be arrested on Monday. Not long after that, former DOJ spox Matt Miller revealed that Boente told friends this week he was looking forward to returning full time to his US Attorney post after John Demers takes over as the confirmed Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

Miller assumes that means Boente was forced out, rather than chose to announce his departure — he’ll stay until someone is confirmed in his place — after some things he started (such as the investigation into Mike Flynn) are coming to closure.

I don’t believe, contrary to what Rachel Maddow has floated, that Boente is stepping down solely or primarily to be a witness. Mueller already has a list of people who witnessed Trump’s obstruction. He doesn’t need Boente and he’d be better off with Boente at the helm of related investigations than sitting before a grand jury.

So if Boente was forced out, it suggests the charges announced have led to a Trump decision to get rid of Boente, perhaps yet another person he believed would protect him or his close associates.

Or perhaps there’s this. I pointed out two weeks ago that an 2002 OLC memo (one interpreting language that Viet Dinh, who’s a tangential player in this whole affair, wrote) held that the President could order lawyers to share grand jury information with him.

July 22, 2002, memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, written by Jay Bybee, the author of the infamous torture memos, held that, under the statute, the president could get grand jury information without the usual notice to the district court. It also found that the president could delegate such sharing without requiring a written order that would memorialize the delegation.

Bybee’s memo relies on and reaffirms several earlier memos. It specifically approves two rationales for sharing grand jury information with the president that would be applicable to the Russian investigation. A 1997 memo imagined that the president might get grand jury information “in a case where the integrity or loyalty of a presidential appointee holding an important and sensitive post was implicated by the grand jury investigation.” And a 2000 memo imagined that the president might need to “obtain grand jury information relevant to the exercise of his pardon authority.”

If you set aside Trump’s own role in obstructing the investigation—including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey—these rationales are defensible in certain cases. In fact, the Justice Department has already shared information (though not from a grand jury) with the White House for one of these very reasons. In January, acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that Russians might be able to blackmail then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. As Yates explained in her congressional testimony in May, after Flynn’s interview with the FBI, “We felt that it was important to get this information to the White House as quickly as possible.” She shared it so the White House could consider firing Flynn: “I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not General Flynn should be fired, and I told him that that really wasn’t our call, that was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action.”

A similar situation might occur now that the investigation has moved to a grand jury investigation, if someone remaining in the White House—the most likely candidate is the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—were found to be compromised by Russian intelligence. In Kushner’s case, there are clear hints that he has been compromised, such as when he asked to set up a back channel with the Russians during the transition.

If Trump were to rely on the memo, he might order a Justice Department lawyer to tell him what evidence Mueller had against Kushner, or whether Mike Flynn or former campaign manager Paul Manafort were preparing to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors if they didn’t get an immediate pardon. Unlike Yates, Trump would have an incentive to use such information to undercut the investigation into Russia’s meddling.

I argued in that piece that those who currently have visibility onto the investigation — Rod Rosenstein and Boente — would be unlikely to share such information.

But that doesn’t prevent Trump (or Sessions, on his behalf) from asking.

So one possibility is that — as things move towards the next volatile state of affairs — Trump asked Boente to do something he refused.

Update: CNN had the Boente story mid-afternoon, and they say the resignation was long planned. Which may mean the indictment yesterday was something (or things) he had been working on at EDVA for some time.

Update: NBC has yet more conflicting details, reporting that Jeff Sessions’ Chief of Staff told Boente on Wednesday he should submit his resignation so Trump can start the replacement process.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Investigate All the Sleazy Influence Peddlers!

Back when CNN revealed that Paul Manafort had been the subject of a FISA order prior to his work on Trump’s campaign, only to have a new one approved after events of the campaign raised new concerns, I suggested Tony Podesta likely had been included on that first FISA order.

Manafort was first targeted under FISA for his (and associated consulting companies, probably including Tony Podesta) Ukrainian influence peddling in 2014.

As CNN noted, the earlier investigation pertained to Manafort’s and Podesta’s work for Viktor Yanukovych.

The FBI interest in Manafort dates back at least to 2014, partly as an outgrowth of a US investigation of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president whose pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption, and Ukrainian authorities claimed he squirreled millions of dollars out of the country.

Investigators have spent years probing any possible role played by Manafort’s firm and other US consultants, including the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, that worked with the former Ukraine regime. The basis for the case hinged on the failure by the US firms to register under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that the Justice Department only rarely uses to bring charges.

[snip]

Last year, Justice Department prosecutors concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against Manafort or anyone of the other US subjects in the probe, according to sources briefed on the investigation.

Today, NBC reports that Robert Mueller has opened a separate investigation into Podesta on the activities targeted in the original FISA order.

Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to the sources. As special counsel, Mueller has been tasked with investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West.

The sources said the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA.

Presumably, as Mueller collected evidence against Manafort, he got some on Podesta that merited (re)opening this investigation, and he feels it sufficiently tied to the Russian investigation to keep it under his supervision.

This is a lovely development, and not just because all DC’s sleazy influence peddlers deserve far more legal scrutiny.

Now that it’s public that one of the most important names in Democratic politics — Podesta (nevermind that it’s Tony and not John — the wingnuts can never tell the brothers apart) — is also targeted by Mueller’s probe, it will change the politics around the investigation, at least a little. The nutjobs are likely to scream mightily about Podesta’s corruption (conflating Tony with John). But as they do so, they’ll also be making a case that Manafort (who set up the non-profit in question) is also corrupt. So to the extent that the nutjobs wail about Podesta (Tony or John), it will make it harder for Trump to pardon Manafort, when that time comes. It may also buy Mueller some time to work through the entire investigation.

Update: This, from August, provides detail on both what Podesta did and how closely it was tied to the Russian government. Notably, John Podesta’s brother was pitching DC power brokers using quotes from some of the same people who would, four years later, attack the campaign his brother was running.

To try to sanitize Ukraine’s elections, the firm distributed materials to Hill staff with quotes from election observers praising Ukraine’s process. It was a tall order, given Yanukovych’s penchant for imprisoning his political opponents. But the Podesta Group did its best.

“Initial Reactions from International Observers Positive,” claimed one Podesta Group document.

One person they quoted to make that argument was Sergey Markov, described as “Observer—The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.”

“The elections to the Ukrainian parliament were successful, democratic and organized according to standards even better than some of the European Union member states,” he said.

Markov likely relished the chance to bash the EU. He was no ordinary election observer; rather, Markov is well-known as an informal adviser to Vladimir Putin. He also advised Yanukovych on campaign tactics, according to a former State Department official with knowledge of the region’s politics. The official said Markov was likely in Ukraine helping Yanukovych at Putin’s behest.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.