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Hot and Cold Running John Durham Conspiracy Conspiracies

I’d like to congratulate Assistant [Durham] Special Counsel Michael Keilty. In what is close to a first from Durham’s team, he submitted a filing without obvious glaring errors (like the Criminal Information for Kevin Clinesmith that revealed the Durham team didn’t even know for what crime Carter Page had been investigated or their persistent cut-and-paste errors).

The filing is a motion for miscellaneous relief, asking Judge Anthony Trenga to require Igor Danchenko to waive any conflict he might have because his new defense attorneys, Danny Onorato and Stuart Sears, are at the same firm as (according to Josh Gerstein) Robert Trout, who is representing, “the 2016 “Hillary for America” presidential campaign (the “Clinton Campaign”), as well as multiple former employees of that campaign, in matters before the Special Counsel.”

The filing is entirely reasonable.

It simply asks that Judge Trenga inquire into the conflict presented by partners from the same firm representing multiple investigative Durham subjects and ensure that if Danchenko chooses to continue with Onorato and Sears as his attorneys, he does so waiving any potential conflict down the road.

Notwithstanding the potential conflicts involved, the government believes that this potential conflict is waivable, should the defendant so choose, assuming a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver is executed.

Based on the foregoing, the government respectfully requests that Court inquire into the conflict issues set forth herein.

It’s how Keilty gets there — as well as the Durham’s team uneven treatment of the connectivity of their investigation — that I find interesting. Remember: The Clinton campaign is referenced in Michael Sussmann’s indictment, though Durham already had to confess that the indictment overstated Sussmann’s contacts with members of the campaign.

But Durham’s effort to implicate the Hillary campaign in Danchenko’s actions is more of a stretch, going through Charles Dolan and entailing treating Hillary as a more dangerous adversary than Russian intelligence.

Again, the Paul Manafort report may be the most provably correct report in the entire dossier. Claiming (correctly) that Manafort was ousted not just because of his corrupt ties in Ukraine — a claim that Republicans have spent five years claiming was just a propaganda campaign launched by Democrats — but also because others wanted him out actually undercuts the story that has always claimed to be the most useful to Democrats. The report on Embassy staff changes was, Durham suggests, based directly off quotes Dolan got from the staffer in question; indeed, Durham points to the accuracy of those quotations to prove the report came from Dolan. There was a flourish added — that the person in question was untainted by involvement with the Russian election operation — which Danchenko disclaims, but there’s no evidence the flourish comes from Dolan (or even Danchenko — it’s the kind of thing Steele seems to have added). In other words, assuming Dolan was the source for the things Durham claims he was, Dolan seems to have been the most accurate source for the dossier.

There was an unbelievable amount of shit in the dossier and it would be useful if there were an accounting of how that happened (which Durham is not doing here). The Danchenko-to-Steele reporting process (which, contrary to Durham’s claims, Danchenko candidly laid out in his first interviews with the FBI) was one source of the problems with the dossier. But at least as much of the shit seems to come from Danchenko’s sources, several of whom had ties to Russian intelligence and who may have been deliberately injecting disinformation into the process. Instead of focusing on that — on Russians who may have been deliberately feeding lies into the process — Durham instead focuses on Dolan, not because Durham claims he wittingly shared bad information to harm Trump (his one lie served to boost an accurate story that went against the grain of the Democrats’ preferred narrative), but because as a Democrat he — not Russian spies — is being treated by Durham as an adversary.

Plus, at least as alleged in the Danchenko indictment, there’s no firsthand Hillary witness necessary to Danchenko’s conviction. The witnesses to Danchenko’s five alleged lies are all FBI personnel. The evidence against Danchenko regarding the four claimed lies about Sergei Millian involve Danchenko’s own emails and — !!! — the hearsay Twitter account of someone once and possibly still suspected of being a Russian agent. Dolan’s testimony about what he and Danchenko discussed six years ago at the Moscow Ritz will undoubtedly be of interest to the jury and still more interest to the frothy right, but not only is that not necessary to prove the single count claiming Danchenko lied about Dolan’s role in all this, it falls short of proof that Danchenko didn’t go from that lunch to speak to personnel at the Ritz himself.

Even though no one with a paid gig on the Hillary campaign is needed (or even, at least as charged, conceivably useful) as a witness against Danchenko, here’s how Keilty lays out the potential conflict.

As discussed above, the Clinton Campaign, through Law Firm-1 and U.S. Investigative Firm-1, commissioned and financed the Company Reports in an attempt to gather and disseminate derogatory information about Donald Trump. To that end, U.K. Person-1 relied primarily on the defendant to collect the information that ultimately formed the core of the allegations contained in the Company Reports. The Indictment alleges that certain statements that the defendant made to the FBI about information contained in the Company Reports, were knowingly and intentionally false. Thus, the interests of the Clinton Campaign and the defendant could potentially diverge in connection with any plea discussions, pre-trial proceedings, hearings, trial, and sentencing proceedings. Areas of inquiry that may become relevant to defense counsel’s representation of the defendant, and which also may become issues at trial or sentencing, include topics such as (1) the Clinton Campaign’s knowledge or lack of knowledge concerning the veracity of information in the Company Reports sourced by the defendant, (2) the Clinton Campaign’s awareness or lack of awareness of the defendant’s collection methods and sub-sources, (3) meetings or communications between and among the Clinton Campaign, U.S. Investigative Firm-1, and/or U.K. Person-1 regarding or involving the defendant, (4) the defendant’s knowledge or lack of knowledge regarding the Clinton Campaign’s role in and activities surrounding the Company Reports, and (5) the extent to which the Clinton Campaign and/or its representatives directed, solicited, or controlled the defendant’s activities. On each of these issues, the interests of the Clinton Campaign and the defendant might diverge. For example, the Clinton Campaign and the defendant each might have an incentive to shift blame and/or responsibility to the other party for any allegedly false information that was contained within the Company Reports and/or provided to the FBI. Moreover, it is possible that one of these parties might also seek to advance claims that they were harmed or defrauded by the other’s actions, statements, or representations. In addition, in the event that one or more former representatives of the Clinton Campaign (who are represented by defense counsel’s firm) are called to testify at any trial or other court proceeding, the defendant and any such witness would be represented by the same law firm, resulting in a potential conflict. Finally, it is also likely that defense counsel’s firm already has obtained privileged information from the Clinton Campaign regarding matters involving or relating to the defendant, the Company Reports, and the conduct alleged in the Indictment.

Some of this is the kind of fevered conspiracy theorizing that has fueled Durham for 950 days so far and sustains the Durham presumption that Hillary Clinton is a greater adversary to the United States than Russian intelligence operatives. None of it is contained within the existing indictment. It doesn’t envision as a possibility that this was all a clusterfuck better suited to a child’s game of telephone than the conspiracy Durham needs it to be. It also seems to forget that even if Danchenko lied to Christopher Steele, that would not amount to fraud on the Hillary campaign.

But it is a road map to what Durham is planning: an attempt to sic various participants in the 2016 efforts against each other such that they start entering cooperation agreements in which they spin up the grand conspiracy Durham is certain exists. It’s certainly sound prosecutorial strategy for Keilty to alert Judge Trenga that down the road they seek to pit all the subjects of their investigation against each other such that down the road, people who have never been alleged to have interacted with Danchenko personally might one day testify against him, all to support the claim that the Hillary campaign engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the FBI, DOJ, and DARPA funders.

But it raises questions about something that happened in the other active prosecution of the Durham investigation, Michael Sussmann’s. Based on court filings and what was said at a December 8 hearing in the Sussmann case, Durham has the following evidence about what Sussmann did or did not say:

  • A report written by Durham investigators, probably in conjunction with a 2017 leak investigation, in which “Durham or someone on his team questioned James Baker’s credibility.”
  • An October 3, 2018 Baker interview that conflicts with the indictment.
  • An October 18, 2018 Baker interview that conflicts with the indictment.
  • A July 15, 2019 Baker interview that conflicts with the indictment.
  • The first Durham interview with Baker on this subject, in June 2020, that conflicts with the indictment.
  • Three more Durham interviews with Baker on this subject that align with the indictment.
  • Grand jury testimony that must align with the indictment, but which had not been released to Sussmann’s cleared lawyers before the December 8 hearing.
  • Hearsay testimony from Bill Priestap that generally aligns with the indictment.
  • Hearsay testimony from another FBI witness that differs in some respects from Priestap’s and may or may not align with the indictment.
  • Testimony from two CIA witnesses at a different meeting that may or may not align with the indictment.
  • A report based on notes that have been destroyed, the final version of which differs somewhat from the indictment and may or may not align with it.
  • A draft (there seems to be some disagreement whether it is a memorandum to the file or emails) of that CIA report that reflects Sussmann mentioning a client — which therefore dramatically undermines the indictment.
  • At least one 302 reflecting an interview with Baker about another aspect of the Durham investigation.

Had Mueller believed it ethical to charge someone with evidence this contradictory — and I’m really not exaggerating when I say this — he had the goods to charge Trump with agreeing to give Russia sanctions relief in exchange for an impossibly lucrative real estate deal in Moscow. He could have charged Paul Manafort with trading $19 million in debt relief for the campaign strategy and help carving up Ukraine. He could have charged Roger Stone — and through him, Donald Trump — with entering into cooperation with the Russian hacking team before they spent September hacking Hillary’s analytics, for a still unexplained purpose.

This list of conflicting evidence that Durham has is a testament to the recklessness with which he has decided to pursue his own feverish conspiracy theories. It doesn’t mean he won’t get there. He might! It means he’s engaging in extraordinary conduct to get there.

It’s the last bullet I find particularly interesting. In the December 8 hearing, AUSA Andrew DeFilippis explained, “We did a meeting w/Mr. Baker in which we did not touch on charged conduct. We did not produce to defense.” That is, they’re withholding at least one 302 of a Durham interview in this investigation with Baker. Judge Christopher Cooper responded that he, “won’t disturb USG’s view that this is not discoverable.”

So on the one hand, Durham’s prosecutors are arguing that a conspiracy not yet charged creates conflicts for an Igor Danchenko indictment that doesn’t implicate any paid members of the Hillary campaign. But on the other hand, they’re arguing that the same investigation is sufficiently bracketed that they’re not required to provide Sussmann the records of what exposure Baker himself may have that might persuade him to change his story.

Sussmann’s attorney Sean Berkowitz observed that Baker had obviously changed his story. Durham’s team explains that’s because Baker refreshed his memory (though what we’ve seen of the contemporary records suggest there are two possible readings of them). But Sussmann could well argue that, because of criminal exposure himself, Baker changed his story to reflect what Durham wanted it to be.

As I have said, repeatedly, Durham needs Sussmann to have lied to have any hope of building this conspiracy case, and if he fails, each of the parts are far weaker.

And while claiming the conspiracy case he has not yet charged creates already existing conflicts, he’s still going to withhold the evidence of the conspiracy he’s trying to create.

On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

Since the NYT revealed that SDNY is investigating Rudy Giuliani for what they call “lobbying” laws,

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

And since the WSJ reported that Pete Sessions — named as Congressman 1 in the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman indictment — was cooperating with a grand jury subpoena targeting Rudy,

A grand jury has issued a subpoena related to Manhattan federal prosecutors’ investigation into Rudy Giuliani, seeking documents from former Rep. Pete Sessions about his dealings with President Trump’s personal lawyer and associates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena seeks documents related to Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings with Ukraine and his involvement in efforts to oust the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, as well as any interactions between Mr. Sessions, Mr. Giuliani and four men who were indicted last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy accounts, the people said.

Mr. Sessions’ knowledge of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings is a primary focus of the subpoena, the people said.

There has been a closer review of whether it would be possible to indict the President’s personal lawyer under foreign agent laws, with broad consensus that what Rudy is doing is actually covered by FARA — and not just his work for Ukraine, but also (among other places) for Turkey.

But there have been a number of claims that, I think, have been too pat about how easy or hard this is going to be.

Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Bijan Kian are not apt precedents

First, a number of people have looked at how SDNY considered — but did not charge — Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, and Vin Weber under FARA, suggesting the same considerations would hold true with Rudy. Others have looked at Greg Craig (who was prosecuted but acquitted in DC for FARA after SDNY decided not to charge it) and Bijan Kian (who was convicted but then had his conviction thrown out by Judge Anthony Trenga based on the legal theory DOJ used) to suggest these cases are too difficult to charge to get Rudy.

It is absolutely the case that when powerful men with skilled lawyers have been pursued under FARA in recent years, DOJ has succeeded not in trial, but instead has gotten either plea deals or failed at trial (and that may have been one of the facts behind Mueller’s decision to strike a plea deal with Paul Manafort). That is sound evidence that SDNY is no doubt aware of.

But several things distinguish Rudy.

Most notably, all of those earlier cases came before DOJ’s newfound commitment to prosecuting FARA, with Mike Flynn prosecutor Brandon Van Grack taking over where a woman named Heather Hunt had been in charge before. At a minimum, that means a process that originally took place with Craig, Podesta, Weber, and Kian under an assumption that FARA would be treated solely as a registration issue may now be taking place under an assumption that violations of FARA — presumably to include both a failure to register and (what most charges have been so far) false statements under registration — can be prosecuted. That assumption would dramatically change the attention with which DOJ would document their communications, so prosecutors would not now be stuck going to trial (as Craig’s prosecutors were) without having DOJ’s documentation of a key meeting.

Notably, the same thing that triggered the FARA prosecution of Mike Flynn — concerns raised by Congress — happened last year when seven Democratic Senators wrote National Security Division head John Demers asking for a review. So there may well be documentation of Rudy’s claims about whether he does or does not need to register that SDNY is building a prosecution around.

Plus, one thing clearly distinguishes Rudy from all these other men. Rudy is not taking this investigation seriously, and does not have a lawyer reviewing his exposure. From reports, he may not have the ready cash to pay the likes of Rob Kelner (Flynn’s original, very competent, lawyer) or Robert Trout (Kian’s excellent lawyer). So he may be doing things now (not least, running his mouth on TV and making public statements about who he works for and how it gets paid) that put him at greater exposure.

Rudy G’s efforts to implicate State and DOJ (and the President) in his work

That said, another thing distinguishes Rudy from these past cases. Since the whistleblower complaint got made public, he has spent most of his time insisting that everything he did, he did with the awareness and involvement of — at least — the State Department. And in Trump’s July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky, he invoked Bill Barr’s name right alongside his nominal defense attorney.

Both foreign agent statutes (FARA — the one being discussed for Rudy, and 18 USC 951 — another one, with more flexibility, that Kian was charged under) require registration with the Attorney General. And while telling foreigners you’re negotiating with that the Attorney General will be by soon to pick up the disinformation demanded does not fulfill the requirements for registry (in part, the point of registering is to provide a paper trail so the public can track who is paying for what), it does change things that Rudy is suggesting that his work has the imprimatur of official policy to it.

That said, the assumption that implicating powerful government figures will keep you safe is a dangerous proposition. If the easiest way to end the Ukraine inquiry is to blame Rudy for it all (and if that’s still possible after several weeks of damning testimony), that may well come to pass.

And if Bill Barr needs to greenlight a FARA prosecution of Rudy as a way to minimize the damage to the Administration, and to himself, he may well do that (yet another reason why he should have recused long ago).

That’s all the more true given that most of Trump’s aides seem to recognize how damaging Rudy is for Trump’s exposure. If Trump won’t separate himself from Rudy, his lackeys might one day decide, then separate Rudy from Trump by prosecuting him, the same way they separated Michael Cohen from Trump.

That said, with Trump, loyalty is always transactional. And if he believes Rudy has dirt that can bring him down — and given the likelihood some of what Rudy is doing is the continuation of what Paul Manafort had been doing since August 2, 2016, that may be true — then Trump will defend Rudy’s work even if it means claiming everything he did operated under Article II authority.

The additional factor: ConFraudUs

The discussions about Rudy’s exposure under FARA, however, seem not to have considered another factor: that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have already been charged with conspiracy in conjunction with actions Rudy had a key role in. The Ukrainian grifter indictment charges them with two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud the US for hiding what money was behind their influence campaign on Ukraine (count 1) and Nevada marijuana (count 4), as well as False Statements to the FEC (count 2) and falsification of records (count 3) tied to the Ukraine influence operation. Counts 1-3 all pertain to the Ukrainian grifters laundering of campaign funds through Global Energy Producers, a front that (SDNY alleges) they falsely claimed was “a real business enterprise funded with substantial bona fide capital investment,” the major purpose of which “is energy trading, not political activity.” Those funds went, among other places, to the Trump related Super PAC America First Action and to Congressman Sessions.

Rudy has equivocated about his relationship to the Ukrainian grifters (and claims it goes through Fraud Guarantee, not GEP). But John Dowd, writing as the grifters’ lawyer, already stated for the record that he does have ties and those ties relate to his representation of the President. That is, the grifters are working for him, even while he works for them.

That’s important because Sessions’ statements have denied any official action in response to meetings with the grifters, but he also had meetings with Rudy in the time period, official action in response to which he has not denied. In addition, Rudy (whom Sessions says he has been friends with for three decades) also headlined a fundraiser for Sessions. And on top of the straw donations the grifters gave Sessions directly, America First Action gave Sessions far more to him, $3 million, the indictment notes twice.

In other words, while Sessions has denied doing anything in response to the grifters’ meetings, he has not denied doing anything in response to Rudy’s communications with him. If he sent his letter calling for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch in response to a request from Rudy — whose finances are inextricably tied to the grifters — then it may be fairly easy to add him to the conspiracy the (successful) object of which was to get Yovanovitch fired. The propaganda Rudy sent (as laid out by NYT, and which the State IG already sent to the FBI earlier this year) would then simply be part of the conspiracy.

A few more points. There’s a passage of the indictment included to substantiate the allegation that the grifters were affirmatively trying to hide their purpose.

Indeed, when media reports about the GEP contributions first surfaced, an individual working with PARNAS remarked, “[t]his is what happens when you become visible … the buzzards descend,” to which PARNAS responded, “[t]hat’s why we need to stay under the radar…”

The indictment doesn’t disclose a number of details about this communication: who the interlocutor is, how it was collected, and whether it involved a mere warrant (for stored communications such as email or texts) or a wiretap. But particularly given the seeming overlap between these activities and those of people we know were surveilled during the period in question, it’s a pregnant inclusion in the indictment. It suggests the Feds may already be privy to far more about this scheme and the reasons the grifters might want it suppressed. Add that to the fact that, as WSJ reported, the Feds already have Rudy’s bank records, which will show whether he really worked for Fraud Guarantee or whether that, like GEP, is just a front.

Cui bono

Finally, consider this. The indictment says that the grifters were pushing to oust Yovanovitch to benefit  particular unnamed Ukrainians’ interests.

[T]hese contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.

[snip]

At and around the time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for [Sessions], PARNAS met with [SESSIONS] and sought [his] assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall [Yovanovitch]. PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

According to NBC, the Ukrainian in question was Yurii Lutsenko. But Lutsenko has since been ousted, and he has reneged on statements elicited by Rudy implicating the Bidens. More importantly, one of the promises Zelensky made in his July 25 call to Trump was to put in his own prosecutor who would pursue the two investigations — to trump up a claim Ukraine was behind the election tampering in 2016, and to invent evidence against Hunter Biden — that Trump wanted.

The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor bf New York Ci:ty, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The oteer thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son. that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.

Which is what led to Lutsenko’s ouster.

Moreover, the prosecutor Biden shut down was not Lutsenko, but Viktor Shokin, who has written affidavits which then got fed to John Solomon on behalf of Dmitry Firtash, who is trying hard to avoid extradition (on bribery charges) to the US.

That — plus the financial and legal ties between Firtash and the grifters — suggests there may be other Ukrainians on whose behalf the grifters were working to get Yovanovitch withdrawn. Firtash is certainly one. A corrupt prosecutor with ties to Russian intelligence, Kostiantyn Kulyk, who had worked for all these guys — and who is behind a dossier on accusing Hunter Biden of corruption — may be another. That is, Yovanovitch may have been the impediment not to inventing dirt on the Bidens, which is a fairly easy ask, but instead on creating the pre-conditions for people like Firtash to go free (which would also explain the natural gas angle).

All of which is to say that it would be a fairly trivial matter to establish the evidence to charge Rudy in ConFraudUs along with the Ukrainian grifters, as SDNY already has a lot of the evidence it would need.

Yes, Rudy Giuliani is, by all appearances, in blatant violation of FARA. Yes, he may get away with that, in part because DOJ hasn’t yet figured out hard to charge it consistently (though knows what not to do given recent history), and in part because he has made sure to implicate Trump and his cabinet officials.

But there’s a larger question about whether those same financial ties expose Rudy for much uglier conspiracy charges.

Stormy, Pee Tapes, and Pussy-Grabbing: The Three Explanations for the Cohen-Hicks-Trump Call on October 8, 2016

The warrant to search Michael Cohen’s property released yesterday revealed what the FBI Agent who wrote the affidavit supporting the application believed was a conference call between Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and Hope Hicks on October 8, 2016.

On October 8, 2016, at approximately 7:20 p.m., Cohen received a call from Hicks. Sixteen seconds into the call, Trump joined the call, and the call continued for over four minutes. 27 Based on the toll records that the USAO has obtained to date, I believe that this was the first call Cohen had received or made to Hicks in at least multiple weeks, and that Cohen and Trump spoke about once a month prior to this date — specifically, prior to this call on October 8, 2016, Cohen and Trump had spoken once in May, once in June, once in July, zero times in August, and twice in September.

27 I believe that Trump joined the call between Cohen and Hicks based on my review of toll records. Specifically, I know that a call was initiated between Cohen’s telephone number and Trump’s telephone number at the same time the records indicate that Cohen was talking to Hicks. After the Cohen-Trump call was initiated, it lasted the same period of time as the Cohen-Hicks call. Additionally, the toll records indicate a “-1” and then Trump’s telephone number, which, based on my training and experience, means that the call was either transferred to Trump, or that Trump was added to the call as a conference or three-way call participant. In addition, based on my conversations with an FBI agent who has interviewed Hicks, I have learned that Hicks stated, in substance, that to the best of her recollection, she did not learn about the allegations made by Clifford until early November 2016. Hicks was not specifically asked about this three-way call.

The agent’s description (which was based entirely off toll records and assumed every call pertained to this scandal and not the many other scandals Trump’s campaign was juggling at the time) has led many to question Hicks’ testimony to HJC, including (in a letter to her lawyer) from Jerry Nadler. Her lawyer Robert Trout (who should be taking a victory lap from his likely imminent win in the Bijan Kian trial) says she stands by the her testimony, in which said that that call involved rumors that TMZ had found the pee tape.

Q Okay. When did you first become aware of the “Access Hollywood” tape?

A About an hour before it was made public.

Q And what was your reaction to it?

A Honestly, my reaction was, it was a Friday afternoon, and I was hoping to get home to see my family for the first time in a few months, and that wasn’t happening.

Q Did you have any other reactions?

A Look, I obviously knew that it was going to be a challenge from a communications standpoint.

Q Did you discuss it with Mr. Trump?

A I did, yes.

Q Tell me about those discussions, please. A I made him aware of the email I received from The Washington Post which described the tape. And I don’t know if the initial email did this, but certainly one of the subsequent emails and exchange provided a transcript of the tape. So, described those different components to Mr. Trump and tried to evaluate the situation.

Q And how did he react to that?

A You know, he wanted to be certain, before we engaged, that it was legitimate. And I think we all felt it was important that we request to see the actual tape or listen to the audio before responding.

Q Was he upset?

A Yes. I think everybody was in, like, a little bit of shock.

Q And did he ask you how — did he seek your advice on how to respond?

A Yes. There were quite a few of us, so it was very much a group discussion, given that this unfolded at a debate-prep session. Q And do you remember who else you discussed the tape with?

A Who else was present there?

Q Yeah, at that time. A Sure. Reince Priebus, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Steve Bannon, David Bossie, Kellyanne Conway. Later, Jared Kushner. I think that’s it.

Q Do you recall reaching out to Michael Cohen about the tape?

A My recollection of reaching out to Michael took place the following day. And it wasn’t about the tape; it was about — this is going to get confusing, but the day after the tape, there were rumors going around — I’m not sure exactly where — I heard it from our campaign spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, who was sort of like a — she had a lot of contacts, grassroots. And she had called to tell me that — or maybe sent me a message about rumors of a tape involving Mr. Trump in Moscow with, you know — can I say this?

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. — with Russian hookers, participating in some lewd activities. And so, obviously, I didn’t — I felt this was exactly how it had been described to me, which was a rumor. Nonetheless, I wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of it before it developed any further, to try to contain it from spiraling out of control. And the person that made me aware of the rumor said that TMZ might be the person that has access to this tape. I knew Michael Cohen had a good relationship with Harvey Levin, who works at TMZ. So I reached out to Michael to ask if he had heard of anything like this; if Harvey contacted him, if he could be in touch with me.

But that testimony is not entirely consistent with something in the Mueller Report, which suggested (based off FBI interviews with both Cohen and Giorgi Rtskhiladze) that the one time Trump would have heard about a pee tape was later in October, after Cohen and Rtskhiladze discussed the tapes via text.

Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Comey I 1/15/17 302, at 3. Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

It’s certainly possible that this late October exchange was the fruit of earlier concerns about the pee tape, and that as part of chasing down the TMZ rumor, Cohen would have asked Rtskhiladze to help. But you’d think Mueller would have said that, especially if he knew that Trump had been on a call where it was all discussed.

Cohen offered a slightly different story, claiming that the call was about responding to the Access Hollywood video. But his answer to Eleanor Norton in which he raised the call moves directly onto the hush payments, as if they’re connected.

Ms. NORTON. Mr. Cohen, at the center of the reasons you are going to prison is convictions for campaign finance violations, and they center around some salacious revelations. The Washington Post reported or aired an Access Hollywood video. It set a record for the number of people who watched, crashed the newspaper’s server. But this happened in early October on the cusp of the election. What was Mr. Trump’s reaction to the video becoming public at that time and was he concerned about the impact of that video on the election?

Mr. COHEN. The answer is yes. As I stated before, I was in London at the time visiting my daughter, who is studying there for a Washington semester abroad, and I received a phone call during the dinner from Hope Hicks stating that she had just spoken to Mr. Trump and we need you to start making phone calls to the various different news outlets that you have relationships with, and we need to spin this. What we want to do is just to claim that this was men locker room talk.

Ms. NORTON. Was the concern about the election in particular?

Mr. COHEN. The answer is yes. Then, couple that with Karen McDougal, which then came out around the same time. And then on top of that the Stormy Daniels matter.

Ms. NORTON. Yeah, and these things happened in the month before the election and almost one after the other. The Stormy Daniels revelation where prosecutors and officials—the prosecutors learned of that—of that matter and prosecutors stated that the officials at the magazine contacted you about the story. And the magazine, of course, is the National Enquirer. Is that correct, that they did come to you?

Mr. COHEN. Yes, ma’am.

Ms. NORTON. Were you concerned about this news story becoming public right after the Access Hollywood study in terms of impact on the election?

Mr. COHEN. I was concerned about it, but more importantly, Mr. Trump was concerned about it.

Ms. NORTON. That was my next question. What was the President’s concern about these matters becoming public in October as we were about to go into an election?

Mr. COHEN. I don’t think anybody would dispute this belief that after the wildfire that encompassed the Billy Bush tape, that a second followup to it would have been pleasant. And he was concerned with the effect that it had had on the campaign, on how women were seeing him, and ultimately whether or not he would have a shot in the general election.

Frankly, it may well be that everyone is mixing up the many sex-related scandals Trump was fighting in October 2016. Or it may be that Hicks, Cohen, and Trump responded to the Access Hollywood video by deciding that they had to try to chase down all of the potential sex scandals — the long-simmering pee tape allegations, the several hush payment demands, among others — and preemptively quash them. That would be consistent with Steve Bannon’s claim that Marc Kasowitz was chasing down hundreds of scandals. If such a discussion took place (which might explain why all three would get on the phone together), then Hicks might otherwise have forgotten knowing about the hush payments earlier, or she locked in testimony denying that knowledge in December 2017 when she testified, and continues to tell a partial truth to avoid further legal jeopardy.

I mean, maybe Hicks is outright lying to protect earlier lies she told in 2017, before the whole hush payment story broke wide open. But it is certainly possible that if you work for Donald Trump all the sex scandals merge into one, either in fact, or in years old memories.

Update: Because people are asking, this is something that Mueller could have chased down. Hicks’ testimony was December 7, 2017 and March 13, 2018; as noted above, Rtskhiladze testified on April 4 and May 10, 2018. The interviews in which Cohen is believed to have told the truth all took place on September 12, 2018 or later. But since this was referred out (for reasons that are unclear, since it was part of the Mueller investigation for 7 months), he may not have had jurisdiction anymore. But SDNY certainly may have chased it down.

Hope Hicks Had More Awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak Aftermath Than the Mueller Report Discloses

As I noted in this post, even though the reporting on Hope Hicks’ testimony last week focused on the White House’s efforts to prevent her from fully testifying, she clearly did what she could to protect Trump even regarding his actions during the election and transition.

Which is why I want to look at two of her comments on matters more central to Mueller’s investigation — in this post, her elaboration of some comments she made about Mike Flynn.

Norm Eisen walked Hicks through something that shows up in this footnote of the Mueller Report:

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10.

As I pointed out earlier, Eisen was hired to make sure questioning of witnesses is conducted professionally. It’s also worth noting that some House Judiciary Committee members and staffers have seen backup documents on the Mueller Report and the Hicks’ 302s were among the documents requested; both of these exchanges seem to reflect non-public information.

Eisen has Hicks describe how, even before the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump had some concerns about him. At first, Hicks tries to spin Trump’s response to President Obama’s counterintelligence warning about Flynn as a reaction about the importance Obama assigned the warning, rather than anything having to do with Flynn himself.

Q Okay. Who was Michael Flynn?

A Michael Flynn was somebody that supported Mr. Trump. He was at one point in time considered a possible Vice Presidential candidate. And he became somebody who frequently traveled with the candidate and introduced him at rallies.

Q And are you aware that President Obama made comments about Mr. Flynn to the —

A Yes.

Q — the President-elect?

A Yes.

Q And how did the President-elect receive those comments?

Mr. Purpura. You can answer.

Ms. Hicks. I think he was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing, that that was something that came up.

Mr. Eisen. And did you feel that President Obama’s comments sat with the President-elect more than you expected?

Ms. Hicks. I did, yes.

Mr. Eisen. Can you — go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Ms. Hicks. That’s okay. I feel like it maybe tainted his view of General Flynn just a little bit.

Mr. Eisen. Did there come a time when the President formed the opinion — during the transition; I’m asking now about the transition — that Flynn had bad judgment?

White House lawyer Pat Philbin interrupts here to invite Hicks to read the footnote. (Note, I find it weird that Philbin did this, and not Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout.)

Mr. Philbin. Could you give us a moment there?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Eisen. Can you read the question back, please? Okay. I’ve asked the court reporter to read the question back. [The reporter read back the record as requested.]

Ms. Hicks. Yes.

Mr. Eisen. Tell me about that.

Having just reviewed the footnote, Hicks nevertheless tries to minimize Trump’s concerns. So Philbin asks her to read the footnote again, which leads her to blame all this on Flynn’s spawn setting off a media frenzy that came to incorporate Flynn himself.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t think this was an overall characterization. I think that this was something where he felt like there were a few things that maybe caused him to think that he was capable of being a person who exercised bad judgment.

Mr. Eisen. What were those things?

Mr. Philbin. I’m sorry. Can I again suggest that, since the  question seemed to be based on footnote 155, page 32, Ms. Hicks have a chance to review that footnote?

Ms. Hicks. Yeah. I mean, primarily the comment by President Obama and the incident with General Flynn’s son concerning a fake news story and some of the tweets that were posted surrounding that.

BY MR. EISEN: Q Posted by?

A I believe they were posted by his son, and then it led to reporters also looking back at tweets that General Flynn had posted.

From here, Eisen moves on to the response to David Ignatius’ revelation that the Obama Administration had identified Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak. He establishes that Hicks was on the email thread discussing the response, though she claims she wasn’t involved in the messaging surrounding it.

Q Do you recall David Ignatius writing a column about a Michael Flynn phone conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the transition?

A Yes.

Q And what do you remember about that?

A I don’t remember much about the substance of the column, to be honest, but I remember several email exchanges between the National Security Advisor, General Flynn at the time, and some of his national security staffers, a desire to perhaps have David Ignatius clarify some things in that column, and a failure to do so.

Q Were you involved in the clarification efforts?

A I was on the email thread, so I was following the discussion that ensued, but I was not involved in any kind of message development or outreach to Mr. Ignatius.

Note that the Mueller Report does not mention Hicks at all in its discussion of the Flynn-Kislyak response. In addition to KT McFarland (who called Ignatius to push back), it cites just Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127 Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post columnist and inform him that no discussion of sanctions had occurred. 128 McFarland recalled that Flynn said words to the effect of, “I want to kill the story.” 129 McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a “Trump official” had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions. 130

When Priebus and other incoming Administration officials questioned Flynn internally about the Washington Post column, Flynn maintained that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.131 Flynn repeated that claim to Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and to incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. 132 In subsequent media interviews in mid-January, Pence, Priebus, and Spicer denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions, basing those denials on their conversations with Flynn. 133

13 1 Flynn 11117/17 302, at I, 8; Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 7; Priebus 10/13/17 302, at 7-8; S. Miller 8/3 I /17 3 02, at 8-1 I.

And that’s interesting because — as Eisen goes on to establish — Hope Hicks learned about the Flynn-Kislyak call at a minimum just days afterwards and (per her initial response) possibly the day it was made.

Q Did you have any advance knowledge of a phone call between Mr. Flynn and the Russian Ambassador that was the subject of this Ignatius reporting?

A I believe I was aware of it the day that it took place. I don’t know if it was before or after. But I recall being at Mar-a-Lago, and Flynn, I think — sorry. Off the record.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. I think it was afterwards. Perhaps even several days afterwards.

Again, the Mueller Report describes a conversation Flynn had with Steve Bannon in the aftermath of the call, but not Hicks. The Report also mentions a discussion between Flynn and Trump, but Flynn doesn’t “have a specific recollection” of telling Trump about the call.

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 10° Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101 On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

And that’s important because, even before Eisen started pursuing these questions, Congressman Steve Cohen had gotten Hicks to admit (after first denying it) that she had knowledge of Russian sanctions that apparently included Trump.

Mr. Cohen. All right. So with all those caveats, before January 20, 2017, did you have any knowledge of any discussions of Russian sanctions?

Ms. Hicks. No.

Mr. Cohen. There was no discussions at all with Mr. Trump and you weren’t privy to them about Russian sanctions that we had issued? You’re sure of that? Think about it.

Ms. Hicks. I am thinking. Thank you. You know, there was — there was a phone call obviously between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador. There was news reports after that where it was unclear what was discussed, but that would have been the only context in which Russian sanctions were brought up in my capacity as communications adviser. [my emphasis]

When Eisen followed up about when Hicks learned that Flynn had lied about sanctions, Hicks claimed to have no recollection of learning that during the transition.

Mr. Eisen. When did you first learn that there was an issue about — if you learned — actually, let me rephrase that question. Did Mr. Flynn talk to you after the column was published about the column?

Mr. Philbin. And we’re still asking —

Mr. Eisen. We’re asking transition. We’re about to come to the post-transition period.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall any direct conversations with him, only the email thread that I described.

Mr. Eisen. During the transition, did you develop any additional information about the truth or falsity of anything in the Ignatius column?

Ms. Hicks. Not to my recollection.

Predictably, when Eisen asks about how Hicks came to learn more about this after the Transition, Philbin objected.

Mr. Eisen. What about after the transition?

Mr. Philbin. Objection.

Let me be clear: even with this questioning, the record on what Hicks knew when is inconclusive (and she appears to want to keep it that way). Which may be one reason why Hicks doesn’t appear in any of the discussions in the Mueller Report about this incident, because even Mueller doesn’t find her answers completely credible. As far as is known, she was first interviewed in December 2017, after Flynn’s guilty plea would have made it clear he had relayed some of this, though some FBI interviews that happened the summer before don’t appear in the Mueller Report. So at least given the public record, Hicks would have been able to temper her answers based off what Flynn was known to have admitted in his plea.

The public record certainly sustains a version akin to the public version about Priebus: that he knew about the call to Kislyak in real time, but only came to learn that they talked about sanctions after the FBI interview.

But Hicks’ answers and evasions — and her constant access to Trump — leave open another possibility.

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

Hope Hicks’ Very Well Lawyered Efforts to Protect Trump

Last week, Hope Hicks sat for a mostly tactical interview with the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats used her testimony to establish a record of just how ridiculous the White House claims to absolutely immunity are by getting her on the record refusing to answer both utterly pertinent questions and innocuous ones, like where her desk in the White House was.

While she dutifully refused — on the orders of White House Counsel — to answer questions about her time in the White House, she actually slipped in two answers: revealing that after Trump had his own people in charge of the Intelligence Community, he “he had greater confidence in their assessments” that Russia hacked the DNC and that she learned of the Letter of Intent to build a Trump Tower Moscow in fall 2017. Those are questions White House lawyers would have otherwise prohibited; I’m not sure how it’ll change the use of this hearing as evidence in the lawsuit to get her to actually testify.

Her answers with regards to the period prior to inauguration reveal what she would (and will) be like if she ever actually testifies. In those exchanges, Hicks comes off like a very well lawyered witness who was willing to shade as aggressively as possible to protect Trump.  That was most obvious in her answers about WikiLeaks, first in response to questions from Sheila Jackson Lee. In that exchange, the press secretary of a presidential campaign claimed not to have a strategy surrounding messaging the campaign engaged in on a daily basis.

Ms. Jackson Lee. I’m going to have one or two questions and — I’ve done it again — one or two questions in a number of different areas. Let me first start with the report. According to the report, by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign and messaging, based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks. Who was involved in that strategy?

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall.

Ms. Jackson Lee. I thought you were intimately involved in the campaign.

Ms. Hicks. I was. It’s not something I was aware of.

Ms. Jackson Lee. What about the communications campaign, who was involved there? Do you not recall or do you not know?

Ms. Hicks. To my recollection, it’s not something I was aware of.

[snip]

Ms. Jackson Lee. Who specifically was engaged with the Russian strategy, messaging strategy, post the convention, late summer 2016?

Ms. Hicks. I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question. I’m not aware of a Russian messaging strategy.

Side note: She would later admit that there was a group of people during the Transition responding to allegations of Russian interference and a somewhat different group of people responding to allegations they tried to make contact with Russia. But that covered the Transition and, with the exception of Jason Miller (who deleted his Twitter account the other day after attacking Jerry Nadler), didn’t include communications people.

Back to her exchange with Jackson Lee, who persisted in finding out how the campaign responded to WikiLeaks’ releases. That’s when Hicks described the campaign’s daily focus on optimizing WikiLeaks releases as using publicly available information, even while insisting it was not part of a strategy.

Ms. Jackson Lee. So specifically it goes to the release of the various WikiLeaks information. Who was engaged in that?

Ms. Hicks. So, I mean, I assume you’re talking about late July?

Ms. Jackson Lee. Late July, late summer, July, August 2016.

Ms. Hicks. So there were several people involved. It was — I think a “strategy” is a wildly generous term to describe the use of that information, but —

Ms. Jackson Lee. But you were engaged in the campaign. What names, what specific persons were involved in that strategy of the impact of Russia and the issuance of the WikiLeaks effort late summer?

Ms. Hicks. Again, you —

Ms. Jackson Lee. Were you involved? Were you part of the strategy? You have a communications emphasis.

Ms. Hicks. I’m sorry. I’m just not understanding the question. You’re talking about a Russian strategy. The campaign didn’t have a Russian strategy. There was an effort made by the campaign to use information that was publicly available, but I’m not aware of a Russian strategy, communications or otherwise.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Well, what names were engaged in the strategy that you remember, messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, which is what I said?

Ms. Hicks. Sorry. I’d like to confer with my counsel. Thanks.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Thank you.

[snip]

Ms. Jackson Lee. Yes. I’m going to read from my earlier comment. According to the report, by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, volume 1, 54. Were you involved in deciding how the campaign would respond to press questions about WikiLeaks?

Ms. Hicks. I assume that I was. I have no recollection of the specifics that you’re raising here.

Ms. Jackson Lee. With that in mind, would you agree that the campaign benefited from the hacked information on Hillary Clinton?

Ms. Hicks. This was publicly available information.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Were you — would you agree that the campaign benefited from the hacked information on Hillary Clinton?

Ms. Hicks. I don’t know what the direct impact was of the utilization of that information.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Well, let me follow up with, did this information help you attack the opponent of Mr. Trump?

Ms. Hicks. I take issue with the phrase “attack.” I think it allowed the campaign to discuss things that would not otherwise be known but that were true.

Hicks never did answer Jackson Lee’s question about how the campaign optimized the releases, but Norm Eisen (who was hired for precisely this purpose) came back to it. Ultimately Hicks described integrating WikiLeaks releases into Trump speeches.

Q Okay. Ms. Hicks, you were asked by Ms. Jackson Lee about a statement in the Mueller report that by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, and you answered to the effect that it was wildly inaccurate to call it a strategy. Do you remember that answer?

A I believe I said that I wasn’t aware of any kind of coordinated strategy like the one described in the report and quoted by Ms. Jackson Lee. Regardless, the efforts that were under way, to take publicly available information and use that to show a differentiation between Mr. Trump as a candidate and Mrs. Clinton as a candidate, I would say that it would be wildly generous to describe that as a coordinated strategy.

Q How would you describe it? A I would describe it just as I did, which is taking publicly available information to draw a contrast between the candidates.

Q What do you remember about any specific occasions when that was discussed?

[snip]

Q Tell me what you remember, everything you remember about that.

A The things I remember would be just the days that — that news was made, right? That there was a new headline based on new information that was available, and how to either incorporate that into a speech or make sure that our surrogates were aware of that information and to utilize it as talking points in any media availabilities, interviews, and what other opportunities there might be to, again, emphasize the contrast between candidates.

Q Did you ever discuss that with Mr. Trump during the campaign?

A Again, I don’t recall a — I don’t recall discussions about a coordinated strategy. But more specifically, to your last point about when there were moments that allowed for us to capitalize on new information being distributed, certainly I’m sure I had discussions with him.

She would go on to admit that the communications team discussed the WikiLeaks releases on a daily basis. But she maintained that — in spite of the evidence that Trump, with whom she spent extensive amounts of time, knew of the emails ahead of time — she did not

EISEN When is the first that you remember learning that WikiLeaks might have documents relevant to the Clinton campaign? A Whenever it became publicly available. I think my first recollection is just prior to the DNC Convention. Q And what was your reaction when you learned that?

A I don’t recall. I think before I described a general feeling surrounding this topic of not happiness, but a little bit of relief maybe that other campaigns had obstacles to face as well.

Q And I know we’ve touched on this but I just want to make sure we get it into the record. What’s your first recollection of discussing this issue with Mr. Trump?

Eisen did get her to admit that Eric Trump sent her the oppo research file on his father, though she claimed to be uncertain about when that happened. Once again, when asked a substantive question about something embarrassing to Trump, she conferred with her lawyer, Robert Trout, before answering.

Q And did Eric Trump ever discuss anything relating to WikiLeaks or other releases of hacked information with you? A May I confer with my counsel, please.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. Can you repeat the question, please?

Mr. Eisen. Can I have the court reporter read back the question, please?

Reporter. Did Eric Trump ever discuss anything relating to WikiLeaks or other releases of hacked information with you?

Ms. Hicks. I believe I received an email from Eric or some written communication regarding an opposition research file that was, I guess, leaked on the internet. I believe it was publicly available when he sent it to me. It was about Donald Trump.

BY MR. EISEN: Q And do you know if it was publicly available when he sent it to you?

A I don’t recall. That’s my recollection.

Q What’s the basis for your belief that it was publicly available?

A I believe there was a link that was included, and I was able to click on that and access the information.

Q How did he transmit that to you?

A I don’t remember if it was an email or a text message.

Q Was there also a document attached to that transmission?

A I don’t remember.

Q Do you remember the date?

A Spring of 2016.

Q Spring of 2016.

Note, the oppo file was first released publicly on June 15, 2016. That’s still spring, but barely.

In any case, while most of the coverage has focused on the White House efforts to prevent Hicks from answering questions, her responses on WikiLeaks make it clear she herself was unwilling to answer basic questions as well.

Which is why this exchange about the Joint Defense Agreement as part of which her attorney got paid half a million dollars by the RNC is telling.

Ms. Scanlon. Okay. Do you now or have you had any joint defense agreements with anyone in connection with your activities either during the campaign or since then?

Mr. Trout. Objection.

Ms. Hicks. Be privileged with my counsel.

Mr. Trout. I’m not going to answer that.

Ms. Scanlon. I believe you’re not going to answer, but is she going to answer it?

Mr. Trout. No.

Ms. Scanlon. Okay. On what basis?

Mr. Trout. On privilege.

Ms. Scanlon. What kind of privilege.

Mr. Trout. Joint defense privilege.

Ms. Scanlon. The fact of having a joint defense agreement is not —

Mr. Trout. I will — it will be privileged

Hicks is absolutely entitled to keep details of her legal representation secret. But this — like some of the questions she refused to answer about her time in the White House — is public information. As such, her non-responsiveness about the degree to which she has compared answers with Trump is as obvious an obstruction tactic as the White House absolute immunity effort.

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

Trump Is Willing to Pay for Joint Defense for Hope Hicks, But Not for France

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

I keep coming back to this exchange between Dana Bash and Rudy Giuliani over the weekend.

BASH:  But let’s just focus on one of the things that you said…

GIULIANI: Go.

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight-lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

They have nothing, Dana. They wouldn’t be pressing for this interview if they had anything. [my emphasis]

Rudy asserts that every critical witness is a member of a Joint Defense Agreement involving Trump.

That’s a big Joint Defense Agreement. It also suggests that if Mueller can learn who is in it, he’s got a map of everyone that Trump himself thinks was involved in the conspiracy with Russia.

Some people will be obvious — not least, because they share lawyers. Witnesses with shared lawyers include:

Erik Prince, Sam Clovis, Mark Corallo (represented by Victoria Toensing)

Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn (represented by William Burck)

Don Jr, Rhona Graff (represented by Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas)

Almost certainly, it includes the key witnesses who’ve been moved onto various parts of the Reelection campaign, including 2020 convention security head Keith Schiller (represented by Stuart Sears) and Brad Parscale (defense attorney unknown).

Others are obvious because we know they’re centrally involved — people like Jared Kushner (represented by Abbe Lowell) and Hope Hicks (represented by Robert Trout). Indeed, Hicks may also fall into the category of shared lawyers — at least from the same firm — as Trout Cacheris & Janis got paid $451,779 by the RNC in April for representing Hope and two other witnesses.

One implication from this (which would be unbelievable, if true) is that Paul Manafort remains a part of the Joint Defense Agreement. But that is the only way that Trump can assess his vulnerability — as he has in the past, and appears to have shared with the Russians — to go exclusively through Manafort.

There are other implications of claiming that every critical witness is part of the Joint Defense Agreement — including that the Attorney General (represented by Iran-Contra escape artist lawyer Charles Cooper) must be part of it too. So, too, must Stephen Miller (defense attorney unknown).

But here’s the really telling thing. A key part of Trump’s foreign policy — one he’ll be focusing on relentlessly in advance of next week’s NATO summit — is that other members of the United States’ alliances are freeloaders. He’s demanding that NATO members all start paying their own way for our mutual defense.

But Trump is willing to make sure that those protecting him get paid (even if he’s not willing to pay himself). (I stole this observation from an interlocutor on Twitter.)

Which is saying something about what Trump is willing to do when he, himself, is at risk.