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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How Trump Could Install a Mole in the Mueller Inquiry

For six years, I’ve been working to raise attention to a 2002 OLC memo that authorized the sharing of grand jury information with the President with no notice to the district court. In the New Republic, I talk about how Trump might be able to use it to order a DOJ lawyer to spy on the Mueller grand jury.

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 point out that Trump’s partisan nominee to be Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski, would be far more likely to share such information than the career prosecutors that currently have visibility onto the investigation (Benczkowski has refused to recuse from the Russian investigation, but has promised to follow ethical guidelines at DOJ).

One thing didn’t make the cut, though it’s a key reason why I think it possible someone is trying to use this precedent to provide Trump with a mole on the investigation.

Viet Dinh was both the key author of the PATRIOT Act as well as the procedures implementing these sharing rules. Dinh is also the Kirkland & Ellis partner who asked Benczkowski to exercise the really poor judgment of overseeing an investigation for Alfa Bank while he was awaiting a likely DOJ appointment. “I’ve known Viet Dinh for twenty years,” Benczkowski explained during his confirmation hearing for why he represented Alfa Bank while potentially up for nomination to DOJ.

Benczkowski certainly said the right things about honoring Mueller’s work. But Dinh, a guy who had a key role in compromising Benczkowski with respect to the investigation just as he got nominated played a key role in the sharing rules that might make it possible.

As I say in the piece, we had better hope DOJ guards recusal concerns a lot more closely than they seem to have been doing.

One Thing Not Mentioned in Mueller Requests from the White House: The Putin Phone Call

Yesterday, three different outlets published versions of the list of stuff Robert Mueller has requested of the White House. The NYT describes Mueller asking for details of the in-person meeting with Russians after Comey’s firing, as well as details of Comey and Flynn’s firing,

Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 different areas that investigators want more information about. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B. I director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

WaPo adds communications with Paul Manafort to the list and fleshes out the nature of the requests on Flynn and Comey.

Mueller has requested that the White House turn over all internal communications and documents related to the FBI interview of Flynn in January, days after he took office, as well as any document that discusses Flynn’s conversations with then­-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December. Mueller has also asked for records about meetings then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates held with White House counsel Don McGahn in late January to alert him to Justice Department concerns about Flynn, as well as all documents related to Flynn’s subsequent ouster by the White House.

Regarding Comey, Mueller has asked for all documents related to meetings between Trump and Comey while Comey served at the FBI, records of any discussions regarding Comey’s firing and any documents related to a statement by then-press secretary Sean Spicer made on the night Comey was fired.

Here’s CNN’s mostly derivative version.

There’s one thing that’s not explicitly on this list (though it might be included in the larger request for details on Flynn’s firing): details surrounding the January 28th phone conversation between Trump and Putin, which included a bunch of people who happen to no longer be at the White House.

As a number of Democrats noted in the Sally Yates hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee, the call took place in the immediate wake of Yates’ two conversations with Don McGahn about Flynn’s potential for compromise by the Russians because of his lies about his conversation with Sergey Kislyak.

HIRONO: Others of my colleagues have mentioned, and you yourself, Mr. Clapper, said that RT is a Russian mouthpiece to spread propaganda. And, of course, we know that General Flynn attended a gala hosted by — or a 10th anniversary gala for RT in December, 2015, where he sat next President Putin and got paid over $33,000 for that.

Mr. Clapper, given the conversation that Ms. Yates provided to the White House regarding — and this is during the January 26th and 27th timeframe — regarding General Flynn, should he have sat in on the following discussions?

On January 28th, he participated in an hour-long call, along with President Trump, to President Putin. And on February 11th, he participated in a discussion with Prime Minister Abe and the president at Mar-a-Lago to discuss North Korea’s missile tests.

Should he — given the — the information that had already been provided by Ms. Yates, should he have participated in these two very specific instances?

In comments on Yates’ testimony when it got canceled on March 28, Adam Schiff focused on the possible explanation for why Flynn was kept on, through that meeting and for 18 days total after Yates’ warning to the White House.

In other words, the big question surrounding Flynn’s firing seems to have as much to do with why he wasn’t fired as why he was, eventually, 18 days after getting notice he was in trouble with DOJ. And the import of including him in that phone call with Putin seems to be a part of that.

Again, that may well be included in the universe of documents on Flynn’s firing (I’d love to see Yates’ firing in there as well, as the Muslim ban was used as an excuse to fire her just as she was raising concerns about Flynn). But it seems important to learn why Trump felt the need to keep Flynn on even after his communications with the Russians had gotten him in legal trouble.

Why Was Manafort FISA Tapped Rather than Criminal Tapped?

Congratulations to Donald Trump, who may have finally figured out how to prove his March 4 claim that there was a “tapp” on Trump Tower — by continuing to speak to Paul Manafort after FBI got a second FISA wiretap on him, at least according to the CNN’s report on the tap.

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

[snip]

The conversations between Manafort and Trump continued after the President took office, long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known, the sources told CNN. They went on until lawyers for the President and Manafort insisted that they stop, according to the sources.

It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.

I mean, if you’re dumb enough to talk to a guy under active investigation, you should expect to be tapped. Trump should know this from his NY mobster buddies.

The CNN report — by the same team that last month revealed Carter Page had actually been wiretapped going back to 2014, too — is maddeningly vague about the dates of all this. Manafort was first targeted under FISA for his (and associated consulting companies, probably including Tony Podesta) Ukrainian influence peddling in 2014. Then the order lapsed, only to have a new one, possibly last fall, approved in association with the Trump investigation.

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

[snip]

The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It’s not known what they found.

The gap would presumably have excluded June, given that Mueller reportedly didn’t learn about the June 9 meeting until the usual suspects started turning over records on it (though I may come back to that).

The report of a fall wiretap, based in part on intercepts of Russians, would put it well beyond the time Manafort got booted from the campaign (and might be consistent with the reporting of an earlier application followed by ultimate approval in the fall). The mention of a search of a storage facility suggests that Manafort would have been targeted under both 1805 (data in motion) and 1824 (data at rest, plus physical search like that used with the storage facility).

Here’s some relevant information from last year’s FISC and I Con the Record transparency numbers.

For the same authorities (1805, 1824, 1805/1824, and 1881c), the FISA Court, which uses different and in most cases more informative counting metrics, reports 1,220 orders granted, 313 orders modified, and 26 orders denied in part (which add up to I Con the Record’s 1,559), plus 8 orders denied, which I Con the Record doesn’t mention.

As an improvement this year, I Con the Record has broken down how many of these targets are US persons or not, showing it to be 19.9%. That means the vast majority of targeted FISA orders are targeted at people like Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador all of Trump’s people talked to.

This is the target number for the original report, not the order number, and it is an estimate (which is curious). This means at least 28 orders target multiple people. Neither ICTR nor FISC reveals how many US persons were approved for 705b, meaning they were spied on when they went overseas.

I include this, especially the FISC numbers (the top ones), to show that for the category that Manafort would have been targeted under, the court outright rejected 8 applications, denied in part — perhaps by approving only some of the facilities in the application — 18, and modified — which can often be minimization procedures — 260. Note, too, that among all the individual orders approved last year, roughly 336 were targeted at Americans like Manafort and Page. I assume there would be more minimization procedures on those targeting Americans, especially those who hang out with political candidates or the President.

All of which is my way of saying that for Manafort, in particular, the FBI may have had to use some kind of clean team to separate the political items from the foreign intelligence ones. The members of Congress that are the most likely sources for this story probably would have known that too, but it wouldn’t serve the point of the leak as well if that detail were included.

One more point.

The CNN piece is clear: FBI had a FISA order targeting Manafort (and probably others, probably the same ones who’ve been asked to testify, including Tony Podesta’s group), then let it lapse. They then got an order focused on election-related issues.

By the point they got the election-related FISA, the FBI was very deep into their investigation of Manafort for money laundering (and in NY, where FBI agents are notoriously gabby).

But at least given all the public reporting thus far, there have been no reported criminal warrants against Manafort, at least not before the no-knock search in VA this summer.

Which is odd, because they sure seem to have probable cause against him for crimes, as well. If Manafort were targeted by a criminal warrant, it’s nowhere near as clear that any minimization would be overseen by a court. That is, it might be more likely that Trump would get picked up in his rash conversations with someone known to be under investigation if that person were targeted with a criminal warrant than if he were targeted under FISA.

One, final, point. Craig Murray, who ferried something (though not emails) to Julian Assange in September 2016 claimed the emails had been picked obtained by American National Security types wiretapping [John] Podesta because of the Podesta Group’s lobbying for Saudi Arabia. As I noted at the time, that didn’t make any sense, partly because Tony would have been the target, not John, but also the FBI wouldn’t be all that interested in lobbying for Saudi Arabia.

Murray claimed the documents came from someone in the national security establishment, and implied they had come from legal monitoring of John Podesta because he (meaning John) is a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.

Again, the key point to remember, in answering that question, is that the DNC leak and the Podesta leak are two different things and the answer is very probably not going to be the same in both cases. I also want you to consider that John Podesta was a paid lobbyist for the Saudi government — that’s open and declared, it’s not secret or a leak in a sense. John Podesta was paid a very substantial sum every month by the Saudi government to lobby for their interests in Washington. And if the American security services were not watching the communications of the Saudi government paid lobbyist then the American intelligence services would not be doing their job. Of course it’s also true that the Saudis’ man, the Saudis’ lobbyist in Washington, his communications are going to be of interest to a great many other intelligence services as well.

As a threshold matter, no national security agency is going to monitor an American registered to work as an agent for the Saudis. That’s all the more true if the agent has the last name Podesta.

But that brings us to another problem. John Podesta isn’t the lobbyist here. His brother Tony is. So even assuming the FBI was collecting all the emails of registered agent for the Saudis, Tony Podesta, even assuming someone in national security wanted to blow that collection by revealing it via Wikileaks, they would pick up just a tiny fraction of John Podesta’s emails. So this doesn’t explain the source of the emails at all.

They would — and apparently were — interested in tapping all the corrupt people working with corrupt Ukrainians, including Manafort and, maybe, Tony (but not John).

This in no way confirms Murray’s explanation — his story still makes no sense for the reasons I laid out when I first wrote the post. But I find it particularly interesting that Tony Podesta may well have been wiretapped along with Manafort, for his Ukrainian influence peddling, not his Saudi influence peddling, earlier in the year last year.

Can Congress — or Robert Mueller — Order Facebook to Direct Its Machine Learning?

The other day I pointed out that two articles (WSJ, CNN) — both of which infer that Robert Mueller obtained a probable cause search warrant on Facebook based off an interpretation that under Facebook’s privacy policy a warrant would be required — actually ignored two other possibilities. Without something stronger than inference, then, these articles do not prove Mueller got a search warrant (particularly given that both miss the logical step of proving that the things Facebook shared with Mueller count as content and not business records).

In response to that and to this column arguing that Facebook should provide more information, some of the smartest surveillance lawyers in the country discussed what kind of legal process would be required, but were unable to come to any conclusions.

Last night, WaPo published a story that made it clear Congress wanted far more than WSJ and CNN had suggested (which largely fell under the category of business records and the ads posted to targets, the latter of which Congress had been able to see but not keep). What Congress is really after is details about the machine learning Facebook used to identify the malicious activity identified in April and the ads described in its most recent report, to test whether Facebook’s study was thorough enough.

A 13-page “white paper” that Facebook published in April drew from this fuller internal report but left out critical details about how the Russian operation worked and how Facebook discovered it, according to people briefed on its contents.

Investigators believe the company has not fully examined all potential ways that Russians could have manipulated Facebook’s sprawling social media platform.

[snip]

Congressional investigators are questioning whether the Facebook review that yielded those findings was sufficiently thorough.

They said some of the ad purchases that Facebook has unearthed so far had obvious Russian fingerprints, including Russian addresses and payments made in rubles, the Russian currency.

Investigators are pushing Facebook to use its powerful data-crunching ability to track relationships among accounts and ad purchases that may not be as obvious, with the goal of potentially detecting subtle patterns of behavior and content shared by several Facebook users or advertisers.

Such connections — if they exist and can be discovered — might make clear the nature and reach of the Russian propaganda campaign and whether there was collusion between foreign and domestic political actors. Investigators also are pushing for fuller answers from Google and Twitter, both of which may have been targets of Russian propaganda efforts during the 2016 campaign, according to several independent researchers and Hill investigators.

“The internal analysis Facebook has done [on Russian ads] has been very helpful, but we need to know if it’s complete,” Schiff said. “I don’t think Facebook fully knows the answer yet.”

[snip]

In the white paper, Facebook noted new techniques the company had adopted to trace propaganda and disinformation.

Facebook said it was using a data-mining technique known as machine learning to detect patterns of suspicious behavior. The company said its systems could detect “repeated posting of the same content” or huge spikes in the volume of content created as signals of attempts to manipulate the platform.

The push to do more — led largely by Adam Schiff and Mark Warner (both of whom have gotten ahead of the evidence at times in their respective studies) — is totally understandable. We need to know how malicious foreign actors manipulate the social media headquartered in Schiff’s home state to sway elections. That’s presumably why Facebook voluntarily conducted the study of ads in response to cajoling from Warner.

But the demands they’re making are also fairly breathtaking. They’re demanding that Facebook use its own intelligence resources to respond to the questions posed by Congress. They’re also demanding that Facebook reveal those resources to the public.

Now, I’d be surprised (pleasantly) if either Schiff or Warner made such detailed demands of the NSA. Hell, Congress can’t even get NSA to count how many Americans are swept up under Section 702, and that takes far less bulk analysis than Facebook appears to have conducted. And Schiff and Warner surely would never demand that NSA reveal the extent of machine learning techniques that it uses on bulk data, even though that, too, has implications for privacy and democracy (America’s and other countries’). And yet they’re asking Facebook to do just that.

And consider how two laws might offer guidelines, but (in my opinion) fall far short of authorizing such a request.

There’s Section 702, which permits the government to oblige providers to provide certain data on foreign intelligence targets. Section 702’s minimization procedures even permit Congress to obtain data collected by the NSA for their oversight purposes.

Certainly, the Russian (and now Macedonian and Belarus) troll farms Congress wants investigated fall squarely under the definition of permissible targets under the Foreign Government certificate. But there’s no public record of NSA making a request as breathtaking as this one, that Facebook (or any other provider) use its own intelligence resources to answer questions the government wants answered. While the NSA does draw from far more data than most people understand (including, probably, providers’ own algorithms about individually targeted accounts), the most sweeping request we know of involves Yahoo scanning all its email servers for a signature.

Then there’s CISA, which permits providers to voluntarily share cyber threat indicators with the federal government, using these definitions:

(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subparagraph (B), the term “cybersecurity threat” means an action, not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, on or through an information system that may result in an unauthorized effort to adversely impact the security, availability, confidentiality, or integrity of an information system or information that is stored on, processed by, or transiting an information system.

(B) EXCLUSION.—The term “cybersecurity threat” does not include any action that solely involves a violation of a consumer term of service or a consumer licensing agreement.

(6) CYBER THREAT INDICATOR.—The term “cyber threat indicator” means information that is necessary to describe or identify—

(A) malicious reconnaissance, including anomalous patterns of communications that appear to be transmitted for the purpose of gathering technical information related to a cybersecurity threat or security vulnerability;

(B) a method of defeating a security control or exploitation of a security vulnerability;

(C) a security vulnerability, including anomalous activity that appears to indicate the existence of a security vulnerability;

(D) a method of causing a user with legitimate access to an information system or information that is stored on, processed by, or transiting an information system to unwittingly enable the defeat of a security control or exploitation of a security vulnerability;

(E) malicious cyber command and control;

(F) the actual or potential harm caused by an incident, including a description of the information exfiltrated as a result of a particular cybersecurity threat;

(G) any other attribute of a cybersecurity threat, if disclosure of such attribute is not otherwise prohibited by law; or

(H) any combination thereof.

Since January, discussions of Russian tampering have certainly collapsed Russia’s efforts on social media with their various hacks. Certainly, Russian abuse of social media has been treated as exploiting a vulnerability. But none of this language defining a cyber threat indicator envisions the malicious use of legitimate ad systems.

Plus, CISA is entirely voluntary. While Facebook thus far has seemed willing to be cajoled into doing these studies, that willingness might change quickly if they had to expose their sources and methods, just as NSA clams up every time you ask about their sources and methods.

Moreover, unlike the sharing provisions in 702 minimization procedures, I’m aware of no language in CISA that permits sharing of this information with Congress.

Mind you, part of the problem may be that we’ve got global companies that have sources and methods that are as sophisticated as those of most nation-states. And, inadequate as they are, Facebook is hypothetically subject to more controls than nation-state intelligence agencies because of Europe’s data privacy laws.

All that said, let’s be aware of what Schiff and Warner are asking for, however justified it may be from a investigative standpoint. They’re asking for things from Facebook that they, NSA’s overseers, have been unable to ask from NSA.

If we’re going to demand transparency on sources and methods, perhaps we should demand it all around?