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Did Mueller’s Team Decide They No Longer Need Manafort to Flip?

One detail of the attacks TS Ellis made on Mueller’s team on Friday has gotten a lot of attention: his insinuation that Mueller’s team was only charging Manafort with bank fraud and tax evasion to get him to flip on Trump.

THE COURT: Apparently, if I look at the indictment, none of that information has anything to do with links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump. That seems to me to be obvious because they all long predate any contact or any affiliation of this defendant with the campaign. So I don’t see what relation this indictment has with anything the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate.

It looks to me instead that what is happening is that this investigation was underway. It had something. The special prosecutor took it, got indictments, and then in a time-honored practice which I’m fully familiar with — it exists largely in the drug area. If you get somebody in a conspiracy and get something against them, you can then tighten the screws, and they will begin to provide information in what you’re really interested in. That seems to me to be what is happening here. I’m not saying it’s illegitimate, but I think we ought to be very clear about these facts and what is happening.

[snip]

THE COURT: That’s right, but your argument says, Even though the investigation was really done by the Justice Department, handed to you, and then you’re now using it, as I indicated before, as a means of persuading Mr. Manafort to provide information.

It’s vernacular by the way. I’ve been here a long time. The vernacular is to sing. That’s what prosecutors use, but what you’ve got to be careful of is they may not just sing. They may also compose.

[snip]

THE COURT: It factually did not arise from the investigation. Now, saying it could have arised under it is another matter, but factually, it’s very clear. This was an ongoing investigation. You all got it from the Department of Justice. You’re pursuing it. Now I had speculated about why you’re really interested in it in this case. You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. Well, the government does. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever. That’s what you’re really interested in.

In spite of Ellis’ repeated suggestion that Mueller was just trying to get Manafort to flip and that that might not be illegitimate, Michael Dreeben never took Ellis’ bait, each time returning to the government’s argument that the indictment was clearly authorized by Rod Rosenstein’s  initial appointment memo, and in any case Manafort can’t challenge his indictment based off whether Mueller adhered to internal DOJ regulations.

THE COURT: Where am I wrong in that regard?

MR. DREEBEN: The issue, I think, before you is whether Mr. Manafort can dismiss the indictment based on his claim.

[snip]

In any event, your point, if I can distill it to its essence, is that this indictment can be traced to the authority the special prosecutor was given in the May and August letters. That, as far as you’re concerned, is the beginning and end of the matter.

MR. DREEBEN: Yes, Your Honor, it is the beginning and almost the end. And this is my last point, I promise.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. DREEBEN: The special counsel regulations that my friend is relying on are internal DOJ regulations. He referred to them as if they’re a statute. I want to be clear. They are not enacted by Congress. They are internal regulations of the Department of Justice.

Dreeben’s refusal to engage is all the more striking given one of the differences between the 45-page government response dated April 2 for Manafort’s DC challenge and the 30-page government response dated April 10 for Manafort’s EDVA challenge.

The two briefs are very similar and in some passages verbatim or nearly so. The DC version has more discussion of the Acting Attorney General’s statutory authority to appoint a Special Counsel — language like this:

Finally, Manafort’s remedial arguments lack merit. The Acting Attorney General had, and exercised, statutory authority to appoint a Special Counsel here, see 28 U.S.C. §§ 509, 510, 515, and the Special Counsel accordingly has authority to represent the United States in this prosecution. None of the authorities Manafort cites justifies dismissing an indictment signed by a duly appointed Department of Justice prosecutor based on an asserted regulatory violation, and none calls into question the jurisdiction of this Court.

It includes a longer discussion about how a Special Counsel differs from a Ken Starr type Independent Counsel. It cites some DC-specific precedents. And in general, the discussion in the DC brief is more extensive than the EDVA.

Generally, the differences are probably explained by differing page limits in DC and EDVA.

But along the way, an interesting passage I noted here got dropped: in addition to the general language about a special counsel appointment including the investigation of obstruction of that investigation, the DC brief noted the underlying discussion on Special Counsel regulations envisions the prosecution of people if “otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.”

[I]n deciding when additional jurisdiction is needed, the Special Counsel can draw guidance from the Department’s discussion accompanying the issuance of the Special Counsel regulations. That discussion illustrated the type of “adjustments to jurisdiction” that fall within Section 600.4(b). “For example,” the discussion stated, “a Special Counsel assigned responsibility for an alleged false statement about a government program may request additional jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct with respect to the administration of that program; [or] a Special Counsel may conclude that investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.” 64 Fed. Reg. at 37,039. “Rather than leaving the issue to argument and misunderstanding as to whether the new matters are included within a vague category of ‘related matters,’ the regulations clarify that the decision as to which component would handle such new matters would be made by the Attorney General.” Id.9

9 The allusion to “related matters” refers to the Independent Counsel Act’s provision that the independent counsel’s jurisdiction shall include “all matters related to” the subject of the appointment (28 U.S.C. § 593(b)(3)), which prompted the D.C. Circuit to observe that “the scope of a special prosecutor’s investigatory jurisdiction can be both wide in perimeter and fuzzy at the borders.” United States v. Wilson, 26 F.3d 142, 148 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1051 (1995).

This exclusion, too, likely arises from page limits (and its exclusion may explain why Dreeben didn’t point to it in Friday’s argument).

But given Ellis’ focus on it, I find the exclusion notable.

Again, it’s most likely this is just a decision dictated by page limits. But it’s possible that Mueller’s team believed this language less important to include in any decisions issued in EDVA than DC. For example, the existing cooperation agreements were all signed in DC, even where (with George Papadopoulos and Richard Pinedo) at least some of the crimes occurred elsewhere. If Manafort ever flips, that plea agreement will presumably go through DC as well.

Or maybe, given Rick Gates’ cooperation, Mueller’s team has decided they can proceed without Manafort flipping, and instead send him to prison the same way Al Capone went: with tax charges rather than the most heinous crimes.

The Fire Rosenstein Squad among Trump’s Buddies

WSJ has a fascinating story about the advice that former prosecutor and Trump lawyer Jay Goldberg gave the president last week after the Michael Cohen raid. Rather than keeping the advice confidential or even anonymous, Goldberg instead sat down for two hours to tell the WSJ precisely what he told the president in a 15 minute conversation last week.

The newsy bit is that Goldberg told Trump that Cohen would flip on him if he were charged, and might even agree to wear a wire.

One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

Mr. Trump made the call seeking advicel [sic] from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Mr. Trump.

[snip]

[H]e stressed to thje [sic] president that Mr. Cohen could even agree to wear a wire and try to record conversations with Mr. Trump. “You have to be alert,” Mr. Goldberg said he told the president. “I don’t care what Michael says.”

The more troubling revelation is that Goldberg told Trump straight out he should fire Rod Rosenstein.

Prompted by the president for his advice, he also said he recommended Mr. Trump fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller.

But here’s the other detail of interest. Goldberg told the WSJ that the Cohen raid puts him at more risk than the Mueller investigation.

Goldberg said the volume of correspondence taken and the potential pressure the government can bring to bear on Mr. Cohen to testify puts the president in more potential peril from the Cohen matter than from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Mueller is examining whether members of Mr. Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 election. Russia officials have denied meddling in the election, and Mr. Trump has denied any collusion took place.

And he said that even while asserting that he doesn’t believe Trump broke the law (in context, I presume this means with Russia, though I’m not certain).

Goldberg recalled the conversation in a two-hour interview in his apartment on New York’s Upper East Side Wednesday, emphasizing that he didn’t believe Mr. Trump had broken the law.

Here’s why I find this so fascinating.

First, clearly Goldberg wants this out, even the details (like that he thinks Cohen might wear a wire) designed to make Trump go nuts. This, then, is presumably another example of a Trump associate trying to speak to him through the press (though why Goldberg chose WSJ instead of Fox, I don’t know — maybe this is an attempt to get booked on Fox, where Trump will see it). Perhaps, too, Goldberg is trying to put pressure on Trump’s legal team, especially Ty Cobb, to let the president fire Rosenstein.

That said, the story will make the legal risk of firing Rosenstein still greater, because it will make the context of all this clear: that firing Rosenstein would be an attempt to prevent Cohen from being charged, which would have the effect of exposing Trump to legal risk. (That analysis seems problematic in any case, because — at least according to my understanding of things — while Rosenstein has to approve any charges Mueller makes, that may not be true of any charges Robert Khuzami would make as acting US Attorney for SDNY, though it’s possible DOJ would demand further approvals because of the political significance of this.)

But the entire premise, if Goldberg is to be believed (and if I’m understanding the context of his comment about Trump not having broken the law), is that Trump is not at legal risk from Mueller but he is at risk for … everything else that Cohen might implicate him in.

Of course, that sentiment was reported last Friday by NYT, in the lead of this story, attributed to “Trump’s advisers” and “people close to Trump” (both descriptions could clearly include Goldberg).

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the Special Counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

In other words, it’s highly likely that we’re seeing Goldberg say on the record to the WSJ what he said anonymously to the NYT last week. But in the process, we’re seeing why: Goldberg doesn’t think Trump broke the law in anything he did with regards to Russia. How much does Goldberg really know what Trump did, I wonder? Either he knows all the details, in which case his judgment may be valid, or he has no clue, in which case we shouldn’t necessarily take the opinion as all that reasonable.

Side note: if I’m Mueller, I’ve already drafted the subpoena for Goldberg, who presumably won’t be able to claim the substance of this conversation with Trump, which he shared with WSJ, is privileged.

All of which leads me to the most shocking part of Friday’s story: that Trump called Cohen that day to “check in.”

Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.

WSJ seems to suggest that, in addition to speaking with Trump, Goldberg also spoke to Cohen, which may be where he got the detailed description of the raid he shared with WSJ.

Mr. Cohen was “shocked,” according to Mr. Goldberg, who also spoke with Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, in recent days.

So what this looks like by reading the two stories together is that, probably before he spoke to Trump on Friday, Goldberg spoke to Cohen. Maybe that’s part of where he derived his opinion that Cohen would flip on Trump. And then Goldberg called Trump to tell him Cohen wouldn’t remain loyal.

Was that before or after Trump called Cohen to “check in”?

Goldberg may be trying to help Trump by pushing him to fire Rosenstein. But I can think of about five ways that this story really fucks Trump, and that’s assuming that Mueller doesn’t give Goldberg a call to invite him in for a chat.

It’s Not Hannity’s Pee Tape that Matters

Late afternoon on Sunday, Margaret Sullivan wrote a column arguing that Donald Trump might survive his own Saturday Night Massacre of firing Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller. The reason Trump might survive where Nixon didn’t, she argues, is Sean Hannity.

Nixon didn’t have Fox News in his corner.

President Trump does — and that might make all the difference if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein or even special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The pro-Trump media, led by Fox, would give cover, and huge swaths of Americans would be encouraged to believe that the action was not only justified but absolutely necessary.

You can see it coming.

Night after night — for many months — Trump’s sycophant-in-chief, Sean Hannity, has been softening the ground. And his message is sinking in.

In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, three of four Republicans said they believed the Justice Department and the FBI are actively working to undermine Trump.

“Hannity has been poisoning the well for Mueller’s ‘deeply corrupt’ investigation and laying the groundwork to support the president if he seeks an authoritarian recourse,” wrote Matthew Gertz, of the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America. That was back in October.

Six months, five convictions and more than a dozen indictments later, that poison has done its job.

Less than 24 hours later, Michael Cohen’s lawyer revealed the name of the third client to whom Cohen claimed to have provided legal advice he wanted to protect under attorney-client privilege, a person who — Cohen had claimed in a brief Sunday, hadn’t wanted his name disclosed. “The client’s name that is involved is Sean Hannity.

In response to the ensuing uproar over learning he was the hidden Client 3, Hannity offered a series of contradictory statements, presumably designed to tamp down any speculation that Cohen had negotiated a hush payment for the star, but which only served to make Cohen’s legal claims more specious.

Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.

I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.

In response to some wild speculation, let me make clear that I did not ask Michael Cohen to bring this proceeding on my behalf, I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.

As I joked, Hannity said he had eight lawyers. I wonder which three different lawyers wrote these statements, and whether one of them was the other lawyer he shares with Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow.

So Cohen advised Hannity “almost exclusively about real estate,” which in this crowd sometimes means money laundering, and not about buying off Playboy bunnies.

But what are the other conversations about?

Hannity has played even more of a role in protecting Trump than Sullivan makes out. It’s not just that he fed the uproar over Trump’s lawyer being raided. But he did an interview with Julian Assange in January 2017 that helped seed the narrative that Russia didn’t hand the DNC files to Wikileaks. More grotesquely, Hannity fed the conspiracy theories about Seth Rich (I hope the multiple entities that are suing Hannity over that will demand discovery on any claimed privileged conversations about the topic with Trump’s lawyer).

Sure, the matters on which Cohen purportedly gave legal advice to Hannity might be about buying a condo.

But given the effort Cohen made to protect those conversations from the eyes of the FBI, they also might involve coordination on some of the more insidious pushback on the Russian story.

The Libby Pardon: Trump’s Object Lesson in Presidential Firewalls

There are two reports out tonight:

  • Rod Rosenstein will be fired in an attempt to quash any further investigation of Trump’s crimes.
  • Scooter Libby will be pardoned in an obvious attempt to present an object lesson in presidential firewalls.

This post will be an initial attempt to explain the Libby pardon.

Side note: For those who claim Richard Armitage outed Plame, let’s just agree that you have no familiarity with the actual record and leave it there for now. Trust me on this: Bush and Cheney were very concerned that the written record showed Cheney ordering Libby to out Plame (whom, some evidence not introduced at trial suggests, he knew was covert). We can fight about that later, but I’ve got a library of records on this and you don’t. 

First: Libby has already had his right to vote and his bar license restored. This pardon is purely symbolic. I’m sure Libby’s happy to have it, but the audience here is Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and a slew of other people who can incriminate Trump.

This appears to be a stunt inspired by Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing (whom I’ll call DiG & T henceforth), who are great table pounders but not great lawyers. Also, remember that VT is representing Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, and Sam Clovis, all in some legal jeopardy, so this ploy may help them too.

Libby was Bush’s firewall because he was ordered–by either PapaDick Cheney and/or Bush–to out Valerie Plame as an object lesson to CIA people pushing back on their shitty Iraq case. By refusing to flip, he prevented Patrick Fitzgerald from determining whether Bush had really ordered that outing or whether Cheney and Libby freelanced on it.

Libby risked prison, but didn’t flip on Cheney or Bush. He avoided prison time with a commutation, not a pardon. While PapaDick pushed hard for pardon, it didn’t happen, in large part because Bush had far better lawyers than Trump has.

Here’s some of the differences between Libby and Trump’s many firewalls:

  1. Manafort, Kushner, and Cohen are exposed to state charges, in addition to federal (even ignoring how the Russian mob may treat them).
  2. Libby was the bottleneck witness. You needed him to move further, or you got nowhere. Not so with Trump, because so many people know what a crook he is.
  3. Bush commuted but did not pardon Libby, then refused, against PapaDick’s plaints, because (smarter lawyer) his lawyer counseled that’d be obstruction [update, or counseled that Libby could still incriminate Bush]. Trump can’t fully pardon his firewall, for the same reason: bc these witnesses will lose Fifth Amendment privileges against self-incrimination (which, as it happens, Cohen is invoking as we speak in a civil suit, which also can’t be dismissed by pardon).
  4. Di Genova and Toensing (who are not good lawyers but pound tables well) haven’t figured out that this won’t be a one-off: This won’t be one (Manafort) or two (Cohen) people Trump has to pardon. And THEY DON’T KNOW the full scope of who Trump would have to pardon here. There are too many moving parts to pull this off.
  5. And finally, because Trump is in a race. As I noted before, Mueller has already signaled he will label dangling pardons — as Trump has already done — as obstruction of justice. That presents far more risk for Trump, even assuming Mike Pence wants to go do the route of half-term infamy that Gerald Ford did by pardoning his boss.

All that’s before the fact that the crimes that Trump and his are facing are far, far uglier even than deliberately exposing the identity of a CIA officer to warn others off of exposing your war lies.

Maybe this will work? But I doubt it. There are just too many moving parts. And there is too little understanding among Trump’s closest advisors what they’re really facing.

So, congratulations to Scooter Libby at being a free man again. Condolences to Rod Rosenstein at being a free man again, if the firing does happen as predicted tomorrow.

But this is just a gambit, and there’s no reason to believe it will work.

Mueller Will Label Dangling Pardons as Obstruction of Justice Just as He Drops More Conspiracy Charges

NBC has a refreshingly sober and detailed report, explaining that Mueller and the President’s lawyers are giving up, at least for now, on the idea that Trump will be interviewed by the special counsel team.

Far more interesting than that news are the details about Mueller’s plans for his report on obstruction of justice. The report, originally slated for May to July, may come even sooner.

Prior to Monday’s raid, Mueller’s team had been aiming to finalize a report on its findings on whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation in the coming months, as early as May or as late as July, three sources said. That timeline hinged in part on reaching a decision on a presidential interview, these people said. One person familiar with the investigation described a decision on an interview as one of the last steps Mueller was seeking to take before closing his investigation into obstruction.

Now, according to two sources, Mueller’s team may be able to close the obstruction probe more quickly as they will not need to prepare for the interview or follow up on what the president says.

And it appears that Mueller will accuse the President of obstructing justice in four ways:

Three sources familiar with the investigation said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent for firing former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump’s dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

All of these are predictable (though some other details of obstruction, such as the role he asked Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions to play to provide cover for Comey’s firing, are not in there).

But the most interesting is the no-nonsense claim that offering pardons to people who might incriminate him personally amounts to obstruction of justice.

That makes a lot of sense — but it is constitutionally aggressive, because it’s unclear whether there can be any limit to the president’s pardon power. And it will go to Congress in a report inviting impeachment around the same time as Mueller will be rolling out the far more serious charges against Trump’s spawn, probably with Trump himself named as a co-conspirator.

I’m not sure whether that report will affect Trump’s calculation on whether he should pardon people like Don Jr and Jared — or if Congress will act to impeach to limit the political damage of what’s coming to themselves.

But it may change the legal status of any pardons offered after that date.

The Access Hollywood Search Doesn’t Mean Trump Coordinated with Assange

As I noted, yesterday several outlets reported that among the things included in the FBI warrant for Michael Cohen’s premises was communications between Trump, Cohen, and others (whom I suspect to include Steve Bannon and Marc Kasowitz) “regarding the infamous ‘Access Hollywood'” video.

FBI agents who raided the home, office and hotel of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer sought communications that Trump had with attorney Michael Cohen and others regarding the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump making lewd remarks about women a month before the election, according to sources familiar with the matter.

[snip]

The search warrant also sought communications between then-candidate Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape, according to one of the sources. In addition, investigators wanted records and communications concerning other potential negative information about the candidate that the campaign would have wanted to contain ahead of the election. The source said the warrant was not specific about what this additional information would be.

From that, people on both the right and the left have assumed, without presenting hard evidence, that this means there must be a tie to Russia. Most often, people assume this must mean Trump somehow managed the events of October 7, when the Intelligence Committee report blaming Russia for the DNC hack, the Access Hollywood video, and the first Podesta emails all came out in quick succession.

That’s certainly possible, but thus far there’s no reason to believe that’s the case.

Mueller and Rosenstein referred this

That’s true, first of all, because after consulting with Rod Rosenstein, Robert Mueller referred this to the Southern District of New York for execution and prosecution, rather than dealing with it himself. He did that surely knowing what a sieve for leaks SDNY is, and therefore knowing that doing so would undercut his remarkably silent teamwork thus far.

In spite of a lot of reporting on this raid this week, we don’t yet have a clear understanding of why the two chose to refer it (or, tangentially, why interim SDNY US Attorney Geoffrey Berman recused himself from this matter).

There are two options. The first is that Rosenstein believed hush payments and taxi medallion money laundering sufficiently attenuated to the Russian investigation that it should properly be referred. In which case, the fact that it was referred is itself reason to believe that Mueller — even while he had abundant evidence supporting the search warrant — has no reason to believe those releases were orchestrated with Wikileaks, and therefore have no direct interest to his investigation (though they may cough up one to three witnesses who will be more willing to cooperate when faced with their own fraud indictments). In which case, the Access Hollywood video would be just another example, like the Stormy Daniels and the Karen McDougal payoffs, of Trump’s efforts to bury embarrassing news, using whatever means necessary.

The other option is that Mueller does have evidence that Trump in some way managed the October 7 events, which would be one of the most inflammatory pieces of evidence we would have heard of so far, but that there was some other reason to refer the matter.

Michael Cohen wasn’t serving as an attorney for much of the reported documents

The really good reason to refer the warrant would be so that SDNY would serve as a natural clean team, sorting through seized items for privileged communications, only to hand them back to Mueller’s team in DC once they’ve sorted through them. It’s an idea Preet Bharara and Matt Miller, among others, have floated.

Before we conclude that SDNY is only serving as a clean team for Mueller’s team here, consider that coverage has vastly overstated the degree to which the items being searched will fall under attorney-client privilege.

The search also sought information on Cohen’s taxi medallions, a business in which he has had really corrupt partners, some Russian, with their own legal problems, and one that has reportedly left Cohen with some debt problems that make his purported personal payment to Stormy Daniels all the more sketchy.

In addition, as soon as Trump claimed to know nothing of the hush payment to Daniels last Friday, the government could credibly claim that either Cohen was not representing Trump when paying off Daniels, or involved in fraud.

The NYT has reported that the raid also sought all communications between Cohen and National Enquirer’s top brass, communications that would in no way be privileged.

Even the reported communications about the Access Hollywood video may not be privileged. If they involved four people, then the only way they’d be covered by privilege is if they counted as campaign emails and Marc Kasowitz, not Cohen, was the attorney providing privileged advice in question. In that case, Cohen would have been playing the press contact role he often did during the campaign.

Still, just because Cohen was not playing the role of an attorney during most of the activities the FBI is interested in doesn’t mean the FBI won’t be really careful to make sure they don’t violate privilege, and I’m sure they’ll still use a taint team.

Mueller has already dealt with (at least) two sensitive attorney-client relationships in his investigation

Even on top of the eight members of the White House Counsel’s office who have spoken with the Special Counsel, Mueller’s team has dealt with (at least) two other sensitive attorney-client relationships.

The first was Melissa Laurenza, a lawyer for Paul Manafort whom he had write false declarations for FARA registry. Judge Amy Berman Jackson permitted Mueller’s team to ask her seven of eight proposed question after proving Manafort had used her services to engage in fraud.

More recently, we’ve gotten hints — but only hints — of what must be extensive cooperation from Skadden Arps and its partner Greg Craig, describing how Manafort and Gates laundered money to pay the firm loads of money to write a report they hoped would exonerate Ukraine’s persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. While the cooperation of Skadden itself was probably effusive in its voluntary nature (the firm seems determined to avoid the taint that Tony Podesta’s firm has acquired in this process), Mueller did subpoena Alex Van der Zwaan and it’s unclear what methods the FBI used to obtain some of the materials he tried to hide from prosecutors.

Neither of those exchanges involves a search warrant. But they do show that Mueller is willing to take on the tricky issue of attorney testimony first-hand. Using SDNY as a clean team still may be the easiest option in the Cohen case, but Mueller clearly isn’t shying away from managing all such issues in-house in other cases.

The other possible explanations for the Access Hollywood search and the October 7 timing

Which brings us finally to the other possibilities behind the Access Hollywood search.

It’s certainly possible that the coincidental release of all these things was coordination, entirely orchestrated by the Trump campaign. But there are a number of reasons — on top of the fact that Mueller isn’t keeping this search far tighter under his own control — I think that’s not the most likely explanation.

Consider this story, arguing that the real story of Access Hollywood isn’t that it leaked on October 7 — the piece notes that David Farenthold had only received it that day — but that it didn’t leak earlier in the process, when it might have led Trump to lose the primary.

t is just impossible to believe that the tape not coming out at the start of Trump’s campaign, when logic dictates that it would have blown Trump instantly out of the water (before he was in a position where Republicans had no choice other than to keep backing him against the evil Hillary Clinton), was anything but a highly unethical political decision by someone at NBC. The fact that no one has ever even gotten an answer from NBC about how this could have happened is equally unfathomable and yet, given the news media’s overall incompetence, kind of expected.

[snip]

It has always struck me as EXTREMELY odd that it was the Washington Post, not NBC, who first released the tape on Friday Oct. 7, 2016, barely beating NBC which, it should be noted, was clearly ready to go with it immediately after the Post did. I presumed that perhaps NBC wanted this to be the case because it might take some of the focus off why they had not released it during the primaries (and thus chose not to prematurely kill off the media’s Golden Goose which was Trump’s ratings-friendly campaign).

However, there is another aspect of the Post being the outlet which got the big scoop that has always struck me as potentially very significant. The Post’s reporter, David Fahrenthold, has said that he was only made aware of the tape, via an unnamed source, THAT day — which is a clear indication that whomever was trying to get the Post to release it had decided to do so in tremendous haste. After all, if the source had planned it sooner they would have made contact with Fahrenthold well before then because he might have been out of pocket that day.

[snip]

For instance, what if it was actually someone from the TRUMP team who leaked the tape. At first glance, this seems ludicrous because no one thought that Trump would be anything but greatly harmed by the tape (though he clearly was not). But what if someone in Trump World got wind that the tape was about to be released and decided that stepping all over the Russia news (which would normally have dominated the narrative for the remainder of the campaign) would at least create the least bad outcome for them?

I don’t agree that the release was released when it was to distract from the Russia announcement that day. As I’ve long noted, in reality, the Access Hollywood distracted from the Podesta emails, effectively burying the most damning release in the bunch, the excerpts of Hillary’s speeches that even Democrats had been demanding she release since the primary. And while the Trump team might claim they didn’t control the release of the Podesta emails directly — and Roger Stone’s predictions that Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation rather than Podesta emails were dead wrong — the Trump team at least knew something was coming (indeed, Wikileaks had made that clear themselves). So there’s little reason they would stomp on what they had long welcomed with the Access Hollywood tape. As this post alludes, I also think the Trump team and Russians or Wikileaks may have been squabbling over whether Wikileaks would release possibly faked Clinton Foundation emails that week, only to scramble when Wikileaks refused to release whatever the Peter Smith effort had gotten dealt to them.

Like the Mediate piece, I’m interested in the way that Steve Bannon had Clinton accusers all lined up to go that weekend (indeed, I noted how quickly Stone moved to that after having raised expectations for a Clinton Foundation release). But I also think there are some reasons to believe that attack was in the works for other reasons (though I agree it might reflect advance knowledge that the video might come out, or even that Stormy Daniels might come forward).  Finally, I don’t think the release came from Trump because of all the reports of Republicans trying to convince Trump to step down (though it’s possible the GOP dropped the video in one last bid to get him to do so).

One alternative narrative, then, is that the real story about the Access Hollywood suppression goes back months or years earlier, as one of the things Trump managed to suppress throughout the campaign, but something happened internally to breach that agreement. And, separately, that either Assange by himself, with Russian help, or with Trump assistance, timed the Podesta emails to come out as the Russian attribution was coming out. That is, it could be that the real story remains that whoever orchestrated the Wikileaks release did so in an attempt to bury the Russian attribution, but that the coincidental release of the Access Hollywood video in turn buried the Podesta emails.

Finally, it’s possible that Democrats got ahold of the Access Hollywood video and they released it to (successfully) drown out the Podesta emails, which they (and the intelligence community) also would have known were coming, but by doing so, they also drowned out the all-important Russian attribution in the process.

The point is, we don’t know. And nothing we know thus far about the process leading to this warrant or about the suppression and release of either the video or the women’s stories suggest it all took place that week of October. Trump’s usual m.o. is about suppression, not timing.

That said, I’m curious if this raid will reveal details about one other item Trump probably tried to suppress: the nude Melania photos that NYPost released on July 31, 2016, just as campaign season got going in earnest.

Bannon Aims to Best Jared Kushner’s Biggest Mistake in Modern Political History

Back in September, Steve Bannon agreed on 60 Minutes that firing Jim Comey was the stupidest decision in modern political history.

In a “60 Minutes” interview that was posted online Sunday night, Bannon was asked whether he considered Comey’s dismissal — which ignited a political firestorm and directly led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential ties to Trump’s campaign — the biggest mistake in political history.

Bannon responded, “That would be probably — that probably would be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.

“He went on to acknowledge that if Comey had not been let go, it’s unlikely that the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller would have been established.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel, yes,” he said. “We would not have the Mueller investigation. We would not have the Mueller investigation and the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going for.”

At that time, Bannon insisted that he faced no risk from even the expanded Mueller investigation, and hadn’t even lawyered up.

All that changed, of course, after he ran his mouth to Michael Wolff. Bannon claimed to be offended by the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. In his apology he would even say the entire meeting offended his life’s work making movies about fighting “the evil empire.”

“My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them.”

But what really irked Bannon is that when Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Russians in an effort to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton, they didn’t use lawyers as cutouts.

“The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero,” said an astonished and derisive Bannon, not long after the meeting was revealed.

“The three senior guys in the campaign,” an incredulous Bannon went on, “thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the twenty-fifth floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately. Even if you didn’t think to do that, and you’re totally amoral, and you wanted that information, you do it in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people and go through everything and then they verbally come and tell another lawyer in a cut-out, and if you’ve got something, then you figure out how to dump it down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication. You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to. . . . But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

On Monday, the home, hotel, and office of the lawyer Trump has long used as such a cutout, Michael Cohen, got raided. Among the things the FBI sought — in addition to information on Cohen’s own corrupt business — were communications Trump and that lawyer and others had about the Access Hollywood video.

FBI agents who raided the home, office and hotel of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer sought communications that Trump had with attorney Michael Cohen and others regarding the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump making lewd remarks about women a month before the election, according to sources familiar with the matter.

[snip]

The search warrant also sought communications between then-candidate Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape, according to one of the sources. In addition, investigators wanted records and communications concerning other potential negative information about the candidate that the campaign would have wanted to contain ahead of the election. The source said the warrant was not specific about what this additional information would be. [my emphasis]

Bannon — and Marc Kasowitz, who sent a lawyer to meet with Trump in the wake of news of the raid — was probably among those associates. After all, Bannon also told Wolff that he and Kasowitz had to deal with a number of “near-death problems on the campaign” pertaining to women — like Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — making legal threats against Trump.

Unable to hire prestige talent, Bannon turned to one of the president’s longtime hit-man lawyers, Marc Kasowitz. Bannon had previously bonded with Kasowitz when the attorney had handled a series of near-death problems on the campaign, including dealing with a vast number of allegations and legal threats from an ever growing list of women accusing Trump of molesting and harassing them.

Now, Steve Bannon, the guy who claimed firing Jim Comey was the stupidest recent political decision, the guy who wasn’t so much opposed to political rat-fucking as he was opposed to doing it without using lawyers as a cutout, is shopping a new plan to get Trump out of his legal woes: fire Rod Rosenstein.

Stephen K. Bannon, who was ousted as White House chief strategist last summer but has remained in touch with some members of President Trump’s circle, is pitching a plan to West Wing aides and congressional allies to cripple the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to four people familiar with the discussions.

The first step, these people say, would be for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and in recent days signed off on a search warrant of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Bannon also wants to fire Ty Cobb, one of Trump’s remaining semi-legit lawyers, as part of an effort to invalidate all the testimony from White House officials — including himself!!!! — based on the claim it should have been covered by executive privilege.

And he is telling associates inside and outside the administration that the president should create a new legal battleground to protect himself from the investigation by asserting executive privilege — and arguing that Mueller’s interviews with White House officials over the past year should now be null and void.

“The president wasn’t fully briefed by his lawyers on the implications” of not invoking executive privilege, Bannon told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday. “It was a strategic mistake to turn over everything without due process, and executive privilege should be exerted immediately and retroactively.”

[snip]

Bannon believes Trump can argue he was given poor counsel by his lawyers on Russia, including Ty Cobb, who has encouraged a cooperative approach to Mueller’s team.

“Ty Cobb should be fired immediately,” Bannon said.

I’m agnostic about whether the Access Hollywood video actually relates to the Russian investigation. If it does, the only conceivable reason to refer it to Southern District of NY would be to establish a clean team — but Mueller’s team has already handled interactions with investigations involving two lawyers and/or legal teams, Melissa Laurenza (who testified that Manafort led her to lie on FARA forms), and Skadden Arps. I do think it possible — highly likely, actually — that Cohen may have been used as a cutout in some hotel room in New England to cover-up other sensitive issues.

But given Bannon’s response, the investigation into Cohen’s cover-up of Trump’s problems with women — including both the Access Hollywood tape and the legal negotiations with Daniels and McDougal — probably implicates Bannon as well as Cohen.

And so Bannon wants to do what Kushner did when he, similarly, realized how much a legal investigation jeopardized him personally: fire the guy running the investigation.

Indeed, Bannon seems so panicked he can’t even remember that such moves rank among the stupidest in modern political history.

Update: One more thing about the Stormy/McDougal/Access investigation. That may come directly out of Bannon’s own testimony, which would explain why he’d want to try to invalidate it.

Why Are Republicans Still Squealing about FISA Applications If HPSCI Report Cedes Carter Page Concerns?

Republicans in Congress continue to make fairly breath-taking demands on Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray in what seems to be an attempt to create a bogus claim of non-responsiveness that Trump can use to fire one or both of them.

First there was the demand that the House Intelligence Committee get all of FBI’s non-grand jury records on the Mueller investigation, a demand Paul Ryan backed. Then there was the push to publish the Nunes memo over DOJ’s objections. More recently, after Wray’s doubling the number of FBI staffers (to 54) in an attempt to meet a Bob Goodlatte document deadline for FISA, Hillary investigation, and McCabe firing materials proved insufficient, Jeff Sessions has put Chicago’s US Attorney, John Lausch, in charge of the response. As with Sessions’ selection of Utah US Attorney John Huber to review other GOP demands, Sessions seems to be giving himself and his deputies cover from fairly ridiculous GOP demands.

Nevertheless, such concessions have not entirely sheltered Trump’s main targets from the kinds of complaints that might expose Robert Mueller’s investigation below them. Mark Meadows, one of the lead attack dogs in this congressional obstruction effort, even suggested Congress might impeach Rosenstein for failing to meet a 2-week deadline on a Bob Goodlatte subpoena.

Through it all, the complaints that FBI used the Steele dossier as one piece of evidence in Carter Page’s FISA application, persist. This, in spite of the fact that Page had been under FISA surveillance years before, and in spite of the fact that all sides agree that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s aides started in response to the George Papadopoulos tip from Australia.

This, in spite of the passage from the Schiff memo (including one redacted sentence) that seems to assert that FBI considered Page an on-going counterintelligence concern.

DOJ cited multiple sources to support the case for surveillance Page — but made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016, chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials. [entire short sentence redacted] In fact, the FBI interviewed Page in March 2016 about his contact with Russian intelligence, the very month candidate Donald Trump named hi a foreign policy advisor.

And the Schiff memo is consistent with what Sheldon Whitehouse (among the few other people who had read the application at the time) said.

Whitehouse: I’ve got to be careful because some of this is still classified. But the conclusion that I’ve reached is that there was abundant evidence outside of the Steele dossier that would have provoked any responsible FBI with a counterintelligence concern to look at whether Carter Page was an undisclosed foreign agent. And to this day the FBI continues to assert that he was a undisclosed Russian foreign agent.

Importantly, however, it’s no longer just former prosecutors in the Democratic party who seem to confirm that Page was a real counterintelligence concern, and therefore legitimately a FISA target. At least, that’s what these two passages from the GOP House Intelligence Report suggest.

If you’re complaining that the Intelligence Community didn’t inform Trump about that members of his campaign team were “assessed to be potential counterintelligence concerns,” (and this likely includes Paul Manafort, as well as Page), then you can’t very well complain if FBI obtained a FISA warrant once those counterintelligence concerns left the campaign team. Hell, you’re practically inviting the FBI to obtain such a warrant while the counterintelligence concern is on the campaign, to help warn the candidate.

I know this is a bit to ask, but the GOP should not be able to have it both ways, to try to discredit the Trump investigation by pointing to the use of the Steele dossier in targeting Page, even while demanding FBI should have shared what it knew about Page because he posed a risk to Trump.

Michael Cohen’s Stormy Weather: Four Observations

As you’ve no doubt heard, the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office, home, and hotel today. They were looking for stuff related to his payoff to Stormy Daniels … and other things, including (per the WaPo) “possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.”

Some thoughts:

Geoffrey Berman, a symptom of Trump’s corruption, is responsible

As NYT first reported, this raid was a referral from Robert Mueller, not something executed by his team.

The prosecutors obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.

That means Mueller would have presented the evidence to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have made the decision to hand off the lead to Southern District of NY, with the folks there buying into not the investigation but the unusual raid of an attorney’s office.

Which, in turn, means it was approved by the US Attorney for SDNY. After Trump fired Preet Bharara (who was honing in on some of Trump’s corruption), he prioritized replacing Preet’s deputy, Joon Kim (who very recently returned to his former law firm). He replaced him not by elevating someone else, but by installing someone — Geoffrey Berman — he had interviewed personally. Berman is, if anything, a symbol of Trump’s abuse, not least because he hasn’t even been nominated formally. He’s a bureaucratic end-around.

And he had to have signed off on this raid (unless he recused, which will earn him the wrath of Trump all by itself).

Update: ABC did confirm yesterday that Berman did recuse. Daily Beast describes that Republican Robert Khuzami’s in charge.

[T]he recusal by Berman the developer’s son, the referral from Mueller is being handled by the deputy U.S. Attorney, Robert Khuzami. He is the son of two professional ballroom dancers.

That’s right, Mr. President, his dad and mom are ballroom dancers!

Deputy U.S. Attorney Khuzami is a Republican and even spoke at the 2004 Republican convention in support of George W. Bush.

But that will only make it harder for Trump to say he is the victim of Democrats.

And Khuzami is an expert at financial crimes, having ordered the arrest of 120 people for securities fraud in a single day during his earlier time as a Manhattan federal prosecutor. He subsequently served as head of enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Trump’s Friday comments probably made this worse

This raid is not all about Stormy Daniels, but some of it is. Which suggests Trump’s comments on Friday, in which he disavowed the payment Cohen made on his behalf, probably made this worse.

Q Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

THE PRESIDENT: No. No. What else?

Q Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Q Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t know. No.

By claiming — almost certainly falsely — not to have known about the payment to Daniels, Trump probably scotched any claim Cohen might make to privilege. It also meant that Cohen either claimed to be representing Trump falsely, or is lying in sworn documents about doing so.

This raid would have had to have been approved over some time, not Friday afternoon. But one way or another, I imagine these comments made it easier for DOJ and a judge to approve the raid, at least with respect to the Stormy Daniels material.

Manafort will shortly get this raid approved for Mueller

Last week, in my analysis of the Mueller filing explaining his mandate, I suggested he was getting some things approved that weren’t relevant to the Manafort challenge but were relevant to the larger investigation.

Like this:

The filing includes a quotation from DOJ’s discussion of special counsels making it clear that it’s normal to investigate crimes that might lead someone to flip.

[I]n deciding when additional jurisdiction is needed, the Special Counsel can draw guidance from the Department’s discussion accompanying the issuance of the Special Counsel regulations. That discussion illustrated the type of “adjustments to jurisdiction” that fall within Section 600.4(b). “For example,” the discussion stated, “a Special Counsel assigned responsibility for an alleged false statement about a government program may request additional jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct with respect to the administration of that program; [or] a Special Counsel may conclude that investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.”

That one is technically relevant here — one thing Mueller is doing with the Manafort prosecution (and successfully did with the Gates one) is to flip witnesses against Trump. But it also makes it clear that Mueller could do so more generally.

So when Amy Berman Jackson rules against what was ultimately a desperate bid by Trump’s campaign chair, she’ll be implicitly approving of practices like “investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness” if it’s “necessary to obtain cooperation.”

And just to be sure, Michael Dreeben will be on hand for this argument.

Trump has no appropriate lawyer to this task

Trump is wailing right now about this raid.

So I just heard they broke into the office of one of my personal attorn[ey]s…It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’ve wanted to keep it down. I’ve given over a million pages in documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward and here we are talking about Syria, we’re talking about a lot of serious things…and I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now. Actually it’s much more than that. You could say right after I won the nomination it started.

When I saw this, when I heard about it, that is a whole new level of unfairness.

This has been going on. I saw one of the reporters who is not necessarily a fan of mine…he said this is now getting ridiculous. They found no collusion what so ever with Russia.

This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I have ever seen. Democrats — all. Either Democrats or a couple of Republicans who worked for President Obama. They’re not looking at the other side — Hillary Clinton… all of the crimes that were committed, all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about from the Republican side and the independent side. They only keep looking at us.

They raided the office of a personal attorney early in the morning. It’s a disgrace. So we’ll be talking about it more.

[snip]

The stock market dropped a lot today as soon as they heard the noise you know of this nonsense that was going on. It dropped a lot. It was up — it was way up. It dropped quite a bit at the end. That we have to go through that. We’ve had that hanging over us from the very, very beginning. And yet the other side they’re not even looking. And the other side is where there are crimes and those crimes are obvious — lies under oath all over the place, emails that are knocked out, that are acid washed and deleted, 33,000 emails were deleted after getting a subpoena from Congress. And nobody bothers looking at that.

Amid the wailing, Trump suggested he might fire Mueller.

“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that’s a big statement.”

As he nudges closer to firing Mueller, remember: after having chased John Dowd off, Trump has no competent defense attorney.

He may well fire Mueller. But he has no one to guide him out of the morass that doing so will cause.

Is Manafort Getting Close to Crying “Uncle”?

Even before this hilarious Zoe Tillman report on a hearing in Paul Manafort’s civil suit against Robert Mueller, I was going to point to the things Manafort has learned that we haven’t. But the report that Manafort’s lawyers are trying to “Stop Bobby Three Sticks, before he indicts again!!!” makes the details all the more interesting.

In the hearing, Manafort’s lawyers tried to rescue their desperate lawsuit arguing Mueller’s appointment is improper by arguing they’re only trying to prevent prospective actions with this lawsuit — that is, they’re trying to prevent Mueller from larding on more charges.

During arguments Wednesday about whether Manafort’s lawsuit challenging special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment could go forward, Manafort’s lawyer said the case wasn’t about getting the existing indictments tossed out — it was about stopping future prosecutions against Manafort by the special counsel’s office.

Pressed by the judge about how Manafort could sue now if he was trying to stop activity by the special counsel’s office that hadn’t happened yet, Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing argued that the harm to Manafort was ongoing because the special counsel’s investigation and the grand jury were still active.

Without an order from the court stopping Mueller’s office from pursuing other charges in the future — based on an appointment order that Downing contends was unlawful — Manafort would have to “sit and wait” and keep chasing the special counsel’s office wherever they decided to prosecute him next in order to challenge Mueller’s appointment, Downing said. He didn’t specify what other types of charges he thought the special counsel might be investigating against Manafort.

Manafort’s civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office, filed in January in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, asked the court to not only declare Mueller’s original appointment in May invalid, but also to set “aside all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order.”

But Downing has since walked that back, saying that they’re only asking for a forward-looking order that blocks future action.

As I noted, there are several apparently unrelated things that Mueller’s team may have shown Manafort that they haven’t shown us.

First, back on March 1, Mueller’s team moved to unseal transcripts of some sidebar conferences from the status conferences on January 16 and February 14, as well as an ex parte discussion they had with the judge on February 14 (as well as discussions about why Manafort couldn’t yet, and still can’t, make bail from February 14).

The United States of America, by and through Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III, respectfully moves to unseal the sealed portion of the transcripts of sidebar/bench conferences that occurred during the status conferences held in this matter on January 16, 2018, and February 14, 2018. The transcripts of these bench conferences were sealed at the government’s request. At the time, the government indicated that the cause for sealing was likely to be mooted in the near future and that the government had no objection to making the transcript available to the public once that happened. The government respectfully submits that unsealing is now appropriate. The government also submits that the transcript of an ex parte sidebar discussion between the government and the Court, conducted at the February 14, 2018, status conference should also be unsealed and made available to the public, the cause for sealing having been mooted. [my emphasis]

The cause for sealing that would soon be mooted might either be the larding on of new charges against Manafort related to his more recent money laundering between 2015 and 2017 (which took place on February 22), or Rick Gates’ anticipated plea (which took place on February 23).

On March 7, Gates’ team asked for more time to object to the unsealing, until five days after they got the transcripts, based on the fact that Tom Green had just joined the case and wasn’t present at those hearings. On March 9, Manafort’s team asked for the same five days after they got the transcripts. Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted both those requests. Since then, there’s been no further developments on this unsealing reflected in the unsealed docket, though there are skips in the numbering (230 and 231, and 238). While it’s possible those transcripts aren’t ready yet, the original version of the January 16 transcript was ready in 7 days (there’s no notice for the February 14 transcripts, though two hearings since that one have been docketed).

So it’s quite possible Manafort now has the transcript of that ex parte sidebar from February 14, but has decided he doesn’t want us to see it.

Then there’s the minute notice from yesterday granting the government’s request to seal an exhibit from its Monday filing.

Berman Jackson’s approval notes that the government has already released a redacted version of the exhibit, meaning the exhibit in question must be the Rod Rosenstein memo. I suggested yesterday that the government was effectively providing Manafort a less redacted copy showing what else it was investigating Manafort for, which might well pertain to Oleg Deripaska, given that Mueller dropped an otherwise superfluous reference to Deripaska in Monday’s motion.

But who knows? There are definitely possible investigative prongs that might be even more damaging for Manafort than just his well-known relationship with Deripaska.

Whatever it is, Manafort’s team went from reading that memo to making a desperate bid to prevent Mueller from bringing any more indictments against Manafort.

That bid — as well as the bid to throw out the indictments — appears to be doomed. Based on Tillman’s report, Berman Jackson seems to have already read Monday’s filing, given that the doubts she raised in today’s hearing all were all laid out in that.

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — who is also handling Manafort’s criminal case in DC — expressed significant doubts on Wednesday about whether Manafort could pursue a civil lawsuit. She questioned whether there was a clear limit on how broad a special counsel’s authority could be from the get-go; how Manafort had standing to sue over a possible future prosecution that hadn’t yet happened; and why he should be able to bring a civil lawsuit when he could make the same arguments in the criminal cases, where he clearly had the right to challenge the indictments.

The judge noted that the Justice Department regulations Manafort cited explicitly said that they did not create rights that could be enforced in a civil lawsuit.

That she’s raising objections from that motion suggests she finds them (unsurprisingly) persuasive.

Which means, absent some action from Trump or Rosenstein, Manafort will have to just sit there trying to negotiate bail and waiting for new charges until such time as he screams “uncle.”