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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.”

Mueller Tells Guy Who Legally Can’t Be a Target That He’s Not a Target, Perhaps in a Bid to Make Him Legally Targetable

The WaPo has a fascinating report describing that Robert Mueller informed Trump’s lawyers “in early March” that he doesn’t consider Trump a target in his investigation. That news made Trump even more determined to sit for an interview with Mueller, a decision which some of Trump’s less appropriate lawyers seem to have supported. That’s what led John Dowd to quit on March 22 (which would presumably have been two weeks or so later).

John Dowd, Trump’s top attorney dealing with the Mueller probe, resigned last month amid disputes about strategy and frustration that the president ignored his advice to refuse the special counsel’s request for an interview, according to a Trump friend.

Of course, as many people have pointed out, a sitting President can’t be indicted. NYCSouthpaw pointed to the appropriate section of the US Attorney’s Manual, which states that, “A ‘target’ is a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant.”

If Trump, as President, can’t be indicted, then he can’t be a putative defendant. So he’ll never be a target so long as he remains President. Dowd is likely the only lawyer on Trump’s team who has enough defense experience to understand that this should offer the President zero assurance at all.

He left when the other, ill-suited attorneys refused to believe him on this point.

Which is why the other main thrust of the story is so interesting. Mueller has also indicated that Mueller wants to start writing his report on obstruction — according to Robert Costa, with the intent of finishing it by June or July, just before Congress breaks for August recess, the official start of campaign season — with plans for a second report on the election conspiracy to follow.

The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.

Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.

[snip]

Mueller’s investigators have indicated to the president’s legal team that they are considering writing reports on their findings in stages — with the first report focused on the obstruction issue, according to two people briefed on the discussions.

Under special counsel regulations, Mueller is required to report his conclusions confidentially to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who has the authority to decide whether to release the information publicly.

“They’ve said they want to write a report on this — to answer the public’s questions — and they need the president’s interview as the last step,” one person familiar with the discussions said of Mueller’s team.

Trump’s attorneys expect the president would also face questions about what he knew about any contacts by his associates with Russian officials and emissaries in 2016, several White House advisers said. The president’s allies believe a second report detailing the special counsel’s findings on Russia’s interference would be issued later.

That leads us to the question of how a report that Rod Rosenstein has authority to quash could be assured of “answering the public’s questions.” One option is Mueller could propose charges he knows Rosenstein won’t — or can’t — approve, which guarantees that the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Judiciary Committees (currently, Bob Goodlatte, who is retiring, Jerry Nadler, Chuck Grassley, and Dianne Feinstein, who faces a real challenge this year) will get at least a summary.

Mueller could trigger a reporting requirement in the special counsel regulations under which the attorney general must inform “the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Judiciary Committees of each House of Congress” — both parties, in other words — at the end of the special counsel’s investigation, of any instance in which the attorney general vetoed a proposed action. Simply by proposing to indict Trump, Mueller could ensure that Congress gets the word. But this would be of only limited scope: instead of an evidence dump, it need only be a “brief notification, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.”

Alternately, Mueller could recommend impeachment, but Rosenstein would be bound by grand jury secrecy rules.

If Mueller believes he has information that could warrant impeachment, he could weave it into a narrative like the Starr Report. But even if Rosenstein wanted to make the report public, he would be limited by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which imposes strict limits on the disclosure of grand jury materials. This rule, which has the force of law, is intended to preserve the integrity of grand jury investigations and encourage witnesses to testify fully and frankly. Rosenstein could, if he chose, issue a redacted report that conveys the gist of Mueller’s findings.

While the election conspiracy has involved grand jury subpoenas (to people like Sam Nunberg and Ted Malloch, most recently), the obstruction investigation into Trump has involved (as far as I remember) entirely voluntary interviews and mostly, if not entirely, voluntarily produced evidence. So whereas for the larger investigation, Rosenstein will face this limit (but not if the targets — like Roger Stone — are indicted), he may not here.

All of which is to say we may be looking at a public report saying that Trump should be impeached just as Republicans attempt to keep Congress.

Even as some of Mueller’s 17+ prosecutors write that up (by my estimate, only Watergate prosecutor James Quarles has been working the Trump obstruction full time), the rest will continue to roll out evidence — possibly in the form of very inflammatory indictments — of what Trump was trying to obstruct.

Effectively, I think Mueller is giving the GOP Congress a choice. They impeach Trump on the less inflammatory stuff,which will remove all threat of firing and/or pardons to threaten the investigation, not to mention make Trump eligible to be a target for the actual election conspiracy he tried to cover up. Or after they fail to hold the House while explaining why they’re covering up for Trump’s cover up, they will face a more serious inquiry relating to Trump’s involvement in the election conspiracy.

About the Oleg Deripaska Reference in the Mueller Memo

As I promised in my general summary of the Mueller memo and my assertion that there are more memos from DAG Rosenstein authorizing expanded scope on Mueller’s investigation, I want to comment on the reference to Oleg Deripaska in the memo.

The memo, remember, ostensibly only needs to lay out how Mueller’s appointment “to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters” authorizes him to prosecute a bunch of money laundering used to hide the fact that Paul Manafort was lobbying for the interests of the Party of Regions, the Russian backed effort to keep its favored oligarchs in power in Ukraine, when he was pretending to represent an independent entity.

But at the end of a long paragraph explaining how Rosenstein’s appointment order alone would justify that prosecution — because Manafort played a key role in Trump’s campaign, and because Manafort resigned after his extensive ties to Yanukovych were exposed — Mueller drops in a reference to “open source reporting” tying Manafort to Deripaska.

The Appointment Order itself readily encompasses Manafort’s charged conduct. First, his conduct falls within the scope of paragraph (b)(i) of the Appointment Order, which authorizes investigation of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” The basis for coverage of Manafort’s crimes under that authority is readily apparent. Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager in March 2016 and served as campaign chairman from May 2016 until his resignation in August 2016, after reports surfaced of his financial activities in Ukraine. He thus constituted an “individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Appointment Order ¶ (b) and (b)(i). He was, in addition, an individual with long ties to a Russia-backed Ukrainian politician. See Indictment, Doc. 202, ¶¶ 1-6, 9 (noting that between 2006 and 2015, Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of Ukraine, its former President, Victor Yanukovych—who fled to Russia after popular protests—and Yanukovych’s political party). Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”8 [my emphasis]

There’s no explicit reference to Deripaska in Manafort’s indictment. The only public references to him in the Manafort prosecution I’m aware of are instead to Deripaska’s crony, Konstantin Kilimnik, laying out his efforts to spin the indictment in an op-ed in the Kyiv Post, which Mueller’s prosecutors argued was an attempt to skirt the gag rule in the case. There’s admittedly more detailed reference to Kilimnik — referred to as Person A — in the same team’s sentencing memo for Alex Van der Zwaan, including the assertion that,

[T]he lies and withholding of documents were material to the Special Counsel’s Office’s investigation. That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.2

2 Person A worked with Manafort and Gates in connection with their Ukraine lobbying work. Person A is a foreign national and was a close business colleague of Manafort and Gates. He worked in Ukraine at Manafort’s company Davis Manafort International, LLC (DMI). Up until mid-August 2016, Person A lived in Kiev and Moscow

But thus far, nothing specifically relating to Deripaska or Kilimnik has been charged, even while a different open source report describing Manafort’s offer to give private briefings to Deripaska via Kilimnik laid out a much closer tie between Deripaska and election tampering, and another open source report described FBI scrutiny of Kilimnik’s role in changing the GOP platform.

As noted, instead of referencing those more damning open source reports, Mueller instead points to the August 15, 2016 NYT article that precipitated Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign. The report, sourced to investigators in “Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau” laid out the secret ledgers showing that Manafort may have received $12.7 million in off-the-book payments for his consulting services that tampered with Ukraine’s electoral process.

The report goes on to lay out the general logic of the money laundering prosecution at issue — how Manafort’s money laundering prevented others from understanding how much he actually made for his services to Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.

Mr. Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the United States Justice Department — as required of those seeking to influence American policy on behalf of foreign clients — although one of his subcontractors did.

It is unclear if Mr. Manafort’s activities necessitated registering. If they were limited to advising the Party of Regions in Ukraine, he probably would not have had to. But he also worked to burnish his client’s image in the West and helped Mr. Yanukovych’s administration draft a report defending its prosecution of his chief rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in 2012.

Whatever the case, absent a registration — which requires disclosure of how much the registrant is being paid and by whom — Mr. Manafort’s compensation has remained a mystery.

From there, it turns to the Pericles Open Market fund that Manafort, Gates, and others got Deripaska to fund. The story doesn’t describe any direct tie between the secret ledgers at issue in the story and the Deripaska investments. Rather,the Deripaska lawsuit against Manafort made details of the fund available to Ukraine’s special prosecutor, who cited them as an example of how Yanukovych’s cronies laundered money.

In a recent interview, Serhiy V. Gorbatyuk, Ukraine’s special prosecutor for high-level corruption cases, pointed to an open file on his desk containing paperwork for one of the shell companies, Milltown Corporate Services Ltd., which played a central role in the state’s purchase of two oil derricks for $785 million, or about double what they were said to be worth.

“This,” he said, “was an offshore used often by Mr. Yanukovych’s entourage.”

[snip]

Mr. Deripaska agreed to commit as much as $100 million to Pericles so it could buy assets in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, including a regional cable television and communications company called Black Sea Cable. But corporate records and court filings show that it was hardly a straightforward transaction.

The Black Sea Cable assets were controlled by a rotating cast of offshore companies that led back to the Yanukovych network, including, at various times, Milltown Corporate Services and two other companies well known to law enforcement officials, Monohold A.G. and Intrahold A.G. Those two companies won inflated contracts with a state-run agricultural company, and also acquired a business center in Kiev with a helicopter pad on the roof that would ease Mr. Yanukovych’s commute from his country estate to the presidential offices.

The Deripaska reference in a memo describing why Mueller was authorized to prosecute Manafort for related (but not explicitly) money laundering would otherwise be a non-sequitur. Because it appears in an article that not only lays out the basis for the underlying charges, but does so in an article that had an impact on Manafort’s role in the campaign, it doesn’t seem so obviously tangential. Plus, it has the added benefit (unlike the open source reporting deriving from leaks from Congress or law enforcement) of being an on-the-record source from someone perfectly entitled to the talk to the press about Ukraine’s investigation into Manafort. This, then, was a legally permissible way to insert Deripaska into a filing where he otherwise might not have belonged.

Plus, that same open source report lays out that Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau can’t prosecute suspects, but instead has to rely on entities like the FBI — with which it has an evidence sharing agreement — to do so.

The bureau, whose government funding is mandated under American and European Union aid programs and which has an evidence-sharing agreement with the F.B.I., has investigatory powers but cannot indict suspects. Only if it passes its findings to prosecutors — which has not happened with Mr. Manafort — does a subject of its inquiry become part of a criminal case.

During Jim Comey’s March 20, 2017 testimony (which is cited explicitly in the Mueller memo to lay out the initial unclassified scope of the investigation), Jim Himes tried to get the then FBI Director to admit that DOJ had not responded to seven requests for MLAT assistance to secure Manafort’s cooperation in their inquiry.

HIMES: And the reason I bring all this up with you is because the story also says and it appears to have been confirmed by the Department of Justice that the current Ukraine regime, hardly a friend of the Russians. And very much targeted by the Russians has made seven requests to the United States government’s — the United States government for assistance under the MLA treaty in securing the assistance of Paul Manafort as part of this on anti-corruption case. And in fact, the story says that you were presented personally with a letter asking for that assistance.

So my question Director Comey is, is that all true? Have you been asked to provide assistance to the current Ukrainian government with respect to Paul Manafort? And how do you intend to respond to that request?

COMEY: It’s not something I can comment on. I can say generally, we have a very strong relationship and cooperation in the criminal and national security areas with our Ukrainian partners, but I can’t talk about the particular matter.

Comey, while not confirming the report, instead suggested that the FBI continued to cooperate closely with Ukraine on this issue — a strong suggestion that Ukraine ultimately had asked an entity that could take prosecutorial action to do so.

To sum up thus far: this reference to Deripaska is, to the best of my knowledge, the first explicit reference to him anywhere in the Manafort docket. It has no obvious place in a memo explaining why Mueller is authorized to prosecute Manafort for money laundering tied to the Party of Regions. But there it is, in the middle of a paragraph explaining why Manafort’s prosecution follows logically even from the original grant of authority, to say nothing of any unredacted or redacted bullet points explicitly including Manafort’s alleged and documented ties to Deripaska in the scope of Mueller’s authority. By including it in the memo, Mueller effectively includes Deripaska in the ongoing discussions of the things Judge Amy Berman Jackson will likely soon agree Mueller has the authority to prosecute.

It is, then, the most telling line in the entire memo, and the most clever. It uses the opportunity of this memo to pre-authorize where Mueller is going, without having to reveal what evidence Mueller is sitting on to go there.

Of course, where he’s going — to this oligarch and his crony’s role in Trump’s election — is very obviously tied to the case in chief, the Russian tampering in the US election.

Update: Later today Mueller’s team requested permission to file one of the exhibits from their filing — which given Judge Berman Jackson’s description has to be the Rosenstein memo — under seal. Which suggests they want him to know what else he’s being investigated for, which is probably the Deripaska stuff.

There Are Almost Certainly Other DAG Rosenstein Memos

As I noted in this post, Robert Mueller’s team of “Attorneys for the United States of America” responded to Paul Manafort’s claim that Rod Rosenstein’s grant of authority to the Special Counsel did not extend to the money laundering he is currently being prosecuted for by revealing an August 2, 2017 memo from Rosenstein authorizing Mueller to investigate, along with a bunch of redacted stuff,

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

As the filing notes, this memo has not been revealed before, neither to us nor to Manafort.

That’s all very interesting (and has the DC press corps running around claiming this is a big scoop, when it is instead predictable). More interesting, however, is the date, which strongly suggests that there are more of these memos out there.

Mueller is unlikely to have waited two and a half months to memorialize his scope

I say that, first of all, because Rosenstein wrote the August 2 memo two and a half months after he appointed Mueller. Given Trump’s raging attacks on the investigation, it’d be imprudent not to get memorialization of the scope of the investigation at each step. Indeed, as I’ve noted, in the filing Mueller points to the Libby precedent, arguing that this memo “has the same legal significance” as the two memos Jim Comey used to (publicly) memorialize the scope of Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation.

The August 2 Scope Memorandum is precisely the type of material that has previously been considered in evaluating a Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. United States v. Libby, 429 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2006), involved a statutory and constitutional challenge to the authority of a Special Counsel who was appointed outside the framework of 28 C.F.R. Part 600. In rejecting that challenge, Judge Walton considered similar materials that defined the scope of the Special Counsel’s authority. See id. at 28-29, 31-32, 39 (considering the Acting Attorney General’s letter of appointment and clarification of jurisdiction as “concrete evidence * * * that delineates the Special Counsel’s authority,” and “conclud[ing] that the Special Counsel’s delegated authority is described within the four corners of the December 30, 2003 and February 6, 2004 letters”). The August 2 Scope Memorandum has the same legal significance as the original Appointment Order on the question of scope.

The first of those Comey letters, dated December 30, 2003, authorized Fitz to investigate the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. The second of those, dated February 6, 2004, memorialized that Fitz could also investigate,

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses; to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted; and to pursue administrative remedies and civil sanctions (such as civil contempt) that are within the Attorney General’s authority to impose or pursue.

It’s the second memo that memorialized Fitz’ authority to prosecute Scooter Libby for protecting Dick Cheney’s role in outing Valerie Plame.

Mueller, then the acting FBI Director, would presumably have been in the loop of the Fitz investigation (as Christopher Wray is in Mueller’s) and would have known how these two letters proceeded. So it would stand to reason he’d ask for a memo from the start, particularly given that the investigation already included multiple known targets and that Trump is even more hostile to this investigation than George Bush and Dick Cheney were to Fitz’s.

Admittedly, unlike the Comey memo, which was designed for public release, there’s no obvious, unredacted reference to a prior memo. Though something that might imply a prior memo is redacted at the top of the released memo (though this is probably a classification marking).

And, given that this memo was designed to be secret, Rosenstein may have written the memo to obscure whether there are prior ones and if so how many.

The memo closely follows two key dates

That said, the date of the memo, August 2, is mighty curious. It is six days after the July 27 Papadopoulos arrest at Dulles airport. And seven days after the July 26 no knock search of Paul Manafort’s Alexandria home.

That timing might suggest any of several things. It’s certainly possible (though unlikely) the timing is unrelated.

It’s possible that Rosenstein wrote the memo to ensure those two recent steps were covered by his grant. That wouldn’t mean that the search and arrest wouldn’t have been authorized. The memo itself notes that Mueller would be obliged to inform Rosenstein before each major investigative step.

The Special Counsel has an explicit notification obligation to the Attorney General: he “shall notify the Attorney General of events in the course of his or her investigation in conformity with the Departmental guidelines with respect to Urgent Reports.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(b). Those reports cover “[m]ajor developments in significant investigations and litigation,” which may include commencing an investigation; filing criminal charges; executing a search warrant; interviewing an important witness; and arresting a defendant.

Both Papadopoulos’ arrest and that dramatic search would fit this criteria. So it’s virtually certain Rosenstein reviewed Urgent Memos on both these events before they happened. Plus, his memo makes it clear that the allegations included in his memo “were within the scope of the Investigation at the time of your appointment and are within the scope of the Order,” meaning that the inclusion of them in the memo would retroactively authorize any activities that had already taken place, such as the collection of evidence at Manafort’s home outside the scope of the election inquiry.

As I noted, the memo also asserts that Special Counsels’ investigative authority, generally, extends to investigating obstruction and crimes the prosecutor might use to flip witnesses.

The filing is perhaps most interesting for the other authorities casually asserted, which are not necessarily directly relevant in this prosecution, but are for others. First, Mueller includes this footnote, making it clear his authority includes obstruction, including witness tampering.

The Special Counsel also has “the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses” and has the authority “to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). Those authorities are not at issue here.

Those authorities are not at issue here, but they are for the Flynn, Papadopoulos, Gates, and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, and for any obstruction the White House has been engaging in. But because it is relevant for the Gates and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, that mention should preempt any Manafort attempt to discredit their pleas for the way they expose him.

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.

Mueller used the false statements charges against Papadopoulos to flip him. He surely hopes to use the money laundering charges against Manafort to flip him, too. Both issues may have been at issue in any memo written to newly cover the events of late July.

Mueller may not have revealed the scope of the Manafort investigation at that time

Now consider this detail: the second bullet describing the extent of the investigation into Manafort has a semi-colon, not a period.

It’s possible Mueller used semi-colons after all these bullets (of which Manafort’s is the second or third entry). But that, plus the resumption of the redaction without a double space suggests there may be another bulleted allegation in the Manafort allegation.

There are two other (known) things that might merit a special bullet. First, while it would seem to fall under the general election collusion bullet, Rosenstein may have included a bullet describing collusion with Aras Agalarov and friends in the wake of learning about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting with his employees. More likely, Rosenstein may have included a bullet specifically authorizing an investigation of Manafort’s ties with Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik.

The Mueller memo actually includes a specific reference to that, which as I’ve noted I will return to.

Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

The latter might be of particular import, given that we know a bunch of fall 2017 interviews focused on Manafort’s ties to Deripaska and the ongoing cover-up with Kilimnik regarding the Skadden Arps report on the Yulia Tymoshenko prosecution.

All of which is to say that this memo may reflect a new expansion of the Manafort investigation, perhaps pursuant to whatever the FBI discovered in that raid on Manafort’s home. If so, that should be apparent to him, as he and his lawyers know what was seized.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he inquired about what authorized that July 26 raid, if for no other reason than to sustain his effort to make more information on Mueller’s investigation public.

The redactions almost certainly hide two expansions to the investigation as it existed in October 2016

Now let’s turn to what else (besides another possible Manafort bullet) the redactions might show, and what may have been added since.

The unredacted description of the Manafort investigation takes up very roughly about one fifth of the section describing allegations Mueller was pursuing.

The Schiff Memo revealed that DOJ had sub-investigations into four individuals in October 2016.

Endnote 7 made it clear that, in addition to Page, this included Flynn and Papadopoulos, probably not Rick Gates, and one other person, possibly Roger Stone.

In August 2017, all four of those would have been included in a Rosenstein memo, possibly with a bullet dedicated to Gates alone added. That said, not all of these would require two or more bullets (and therefore as much space as the Manafort description). Papadopoulos’ description might include two, one dedicated to the collusion and one to the lying about collusion, or just one encompassing both the collusion and the lying. Flynn’s might include three, one dedicated to the collusion, one to the lying about it, and one to the unregistered foreign agent work, including with Turkey, that we know Mueller to have been investigating; or, as with Papadopoulos, the lying about the collusion might be incorporated into that bullet. Stone’s bullet would likely have only reflected the collusion, an investigation that is currently very active. Carter Page’s suspected role as a foreign agent might be one bullet or two.

That suggests, though doesn’t confirm, that there are a few other things included in those redacted bullets, things not included in the investigation in October 2016 as reflected in the Schiff memo.

Indeed, we should expect two more things to be included in the bullet points: First, the name of any suspect, including the President, associated with the obstruction of justice. Rosenstein himself had already been interviewed with respect to that aspect of the investigation by August 2, so surely Rosenstein had already authorized that aspect of the investigation.

The redactions most likely also include the names of Don Jr and Jared Kushner (and Paul Manafort), for their suspected collusion with Russia as reflected in the June 9 meeting. At least according to public reporting, Mueller may have first learned of this in June when Manafort and Kushner confirmed it in turning over evidence to Congress and Mueller. The first revelations that Mueller was obtaining subpoenas from a dedicated grand jury were on August 3, just one day after this memo. That same day, reports described Mueller issuing subpoenas related to the June 9 meeting.

Indeed, it’s quite possible Rosenstein issued this memo to memorialize the inclusion of the President’s spawn among the suspects of the investigation.

Rosenstein has almost certainly updated this memo since August 2

All that said, there’s not enough redacted space to include the known expanded current scope of the investigation, and given that the newly expanded scope gets closer to the President, Rosenstein has surely issued an update to this memo since then. These things are all definitively included in the current scope of the investigation and might warrant special mention in any update to Rosenstein’s authorizing memo:

Many of these — particularly the ones that affect only Russians — might be included under a generic “collusion with Russia” bullet. The closer scrutiny on Jared, however, surely would get an update, as would any special focus on the Attorney General.

More importantly, to the extent Mueller really is investigating Trump’s business interests (whether that investigation is limited just to Russian business, or more broadly) — the red line the NYT helpfully set for the President — that would necessarily be included in the most up-to-date memo authorizing Mueller’s activities. There is no way Mueller would take actions involving the President personally without having the authorization to do so in writing.

Which is why we can be virtually certain the August 2 memo is not the last memo Rosenstein has written to authorize Mueller’s actions.

Mind you, Mueller probably wouldn’t want to release a memo with several pages of redacted allegations. Which may be why we’re looking at the redacted version of an almost certainly superseded memo.

Updated: Later today Mueller’s team asked to file a copy of an exhibit–which given Judge Berman Jackson’s description of it as released in redacted form, has to be the Rosenstein memo–under seal. Which suggests they’re going to show Manafort what else they’re investigating (which I bet is the Deripaska stuff).

The Mueller Filing

Robert Mueller’s team has submitted its response to Paul Manafort’s motion to dismiss his indictment based on a claim Mueller isn’t authorized to prosecute crimes like the money laundering he is accused of. As I predicted, this filing lays out some theory of his case — but much of it is redacted, in the form of a memo Rod Rosenstein wrote last August laying out the parameters of the investigation at that time. As the filing makes clear, that memo (and any unmentioned predecessors or successors) form the same function as the public memos Jim Comey gave Patrick Fitzgerald to memorialize any seeming expansions of his authority in the CIA leak case, which the DC Circuit relied on to determine that the Libby prosecution was clearly authorized by Fitzgerald’s mandate.

Nevertheless, midway through the legal description, the filing lays out what I have — Manafort’s Ukrainian entanglements are part of this investigation because 1) he was a key player in the campaign and 2) had long ties to Russian backed politicians and (this is a bit trickier) Russians like Oleg Deripaska.

The Appointment Order itself readily encompasses Manafort’s charged conduct. First, his conduct falls within the scope of paragraph (b)(i) of the Appointment Order, which authorizes investigation of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” The basis for coverage of Manafort’s crimes under that authority is readily apparent. Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager in March 2016 and served as campaign chairman from May 2016 until his resignation in August 2016, after reports surfaced of his financial activities in Ukraine. He thus constituted an “individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Appointment Order ¶ (b) and (b)(i). He was, in addition, an individual with long ties to a Russia-backed Ukrainian politician. See Indictment, Doc. 202, ¶¶ 1-6, 9 (noting that between 2006 and 2015, Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of Ukraine, its former President, Victor Yanukovych—who fled to Russia after popular protests—and Yanukovych’s political party). Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

[snip]

The Appointment Order is not a statute, but an instrument for providing public notice of the general nature of a Special Counsel’s investigation and a framework for consultation between the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel. Given that Manafort’s receipt of payments from the Ukrainian government has factual links to Russian persons and Russian-associated political actors, and that exploration of those activities furthers a complete and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and any links and/or coordination with the President’s campaign, the conduct charged in the Indictment comes within the Special Counsel’s authority to investigate “any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

I’ll do a follow-up on why the Deripaska reference is a bit tricky. It’s tricky in execution, not in fact.

The “Attorneys for the United States of America”

I’ll refer to the author of this memo as Mueller for convenience sake, but because I obsess about how Mueller’s team deploys, it’s worth noting how the memo is signed.

The memo is signed by Andrew Weissman, the lead in the Manafort prosecution and (as the memo notes) a career AUSA in his own right. Greg Andres, who has also been on all the Manafort filings, includes his DC district license, making any continuity there clear. Adam Jed, an appellate specialist who has been deployed to this team in the past, is included. But before all them is Michael Dreeben, the Solicitor General’s killer attorney on appeals.

Aside from Mueller himself, Andres is the only lawyer listed who was not a DOJ employee when Jim Comey got fired, which is relevant given the memo’s argument that these attorneys could have prosecuted this with or without Mueller present.

Notably, Kyle Freeny, who has been on all the other Manafort filings, is not listed.

I’m unsure whether the filing uses the title, “Attorneys for the United States of America” because it underscores the argument of the memo — all their authority derives directly from Rosenstein — or if it signifies someone (probably Dreeben, who maintains his day job at the Solicitor General’s office) isn’t actually a formal member of Mueller’s team. But it is a departure from the norm, which since at least the roll-out of Brian Richardson as a “Assistant Special Counsel” with the Van der Zwaan plea, has used the titles “Senior” and “Assistant Special Counsel” to sign their filings.

Update: Christian Farias notes that this Attorneys for the US is not unique to this filing.

Manafort is especially screwed because Rosenstein is so closely involved

The memo starts by laying out what its presents as the history of the investigation. It includes the following events:

  • Jeff Sessions March 2, 2017 recusal
  • Jim Comey’s March 20, 2017 public confirmation of an investigation into “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was an coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
  • Rod Rosenstein’s May 17, 2017 order appointing Mueller Special Counsel “to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters”

It then lays out the regulatory framework governing Mueller’s appointment. While this generally maps what Rosenstein included in his appointment order — which cites 28 USC §§ 509, 510, 515, and 600.4 through 600.10 — Mueller also cites to the basis of the Attorney General’s authority, including 28 USC §§ 503, 516, and all of 600. The latter citation is of particular interest, as it notes that the AG (Rosenstein, in this case) ” is not required to invoke the Special Counsel regulations” (which the filing backs by citing some historical examples). The filing then asserts that the Special Counsel regulations serve as ” a helpful framework for the Attorney General to use in establishing the Special Counsel’s role.”

Mueller then describes what the filing implies has been the process by which Mueller has informed Rosenstein of major actions he’s about to take. This consists of “‘providing Urgent Reports’ to Department leadership on ‘major developments.'” By doing it this way, Mueller implies a process without providing a basis to FOIA these Urgent Reports.

Then, the filing lays out how the scope of his authority has evolved. Initially, he notes, that was based on his appointing order. On August 2 — two and a half months after his appointment, almost a week after George Papadopoulos’ arrest, and the day after Andres joined Mueller’s team — Rosenstein wrote a memo describing the scope of Mueller’s investigation and authority.  That memo (which is included in heavily redacted form) authorizes Mueller to investigate,

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

In other words, by August 2 (if not before) Rosenstein had authorized Mueller to prosecute Manafort for the money laundering of his payments from Yanukovych.

Significantly, the filing notes that the August 2 memo told Mueller to come back if anything else arises.

For additional matters that otherwise may have arisen or may arise directly from the Investigation, you should consult my office for a determination of whether such matters should be within the scope of your authority. If you determine that additional jurisdiction is necessary in order to fully investigate and resolve the matters assigned, or to investigate new matters that come to light in the course of your investigation, you should follow the procedures set forth in 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(b).

The filing then lays out Manafort’s DC indictments and his challenge to Mueller’s authority. The summary of that argument looks like this:

Manafort’s motion to dismiss the Indictment should be rejected for four reasons. First, the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel have acted fully in accordance with the relevant statutes and regulations. The Acting Attorney General properly established the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction at the outset and clarified its scope as the investigation proceeded. The Acting Attorney General and Special Counsel have engaged in the consultation envisioned by the regulations, and the Special Counsel has ensured that the Acting Attorney General was aware of and approved the Special Counsel’s investigatory and prosecutorial steps. Second, Manafort’s contrary reading of the regulations—implying rigid limits and artificial boundaries on the Acting Attorney General’s actions—misunderstands the purpose, framework, and operation of the regulations. Properly understood, the regulations provide guidance for an intra-Executive Branch determination, within the Department of Justice, of how to allocate investigatory and prosecutorial authority. They provide the foundation for an effective and independent Special Counsel investigation, while ensuring that major actions and jurisdictional issues come to the Acting Attorney General’s attention, thus permitting him to fulfill his supervisory role. Accountability exists for all phases of the Special Counsel’s actions. Third, that understanding of the regulatory scheme demonstrates why the Special Counsel regulations create no judicially enforceable rights. Unlike the former statutory scheme that authorized court-appointed independent counsels, the definition of the Special Counsel’s authority remains within the Executive Branch and is subject to ongoing dialogue based on sensitive prosecutorial considerations. A defendant cannot challenge the internal allocation of prosecutorial authority under Department of Justice regulations. Finally, Manafort’s remedial claims fail for many of the same reasons: the Special Counsel has a valid statutory appointment; this Court’s jurisdiction is secure; no violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure occurred; and any rule-based violation was harmless. [my emphasis]

The bolded bit is the key part: Mueller is treating Manafort’s challenge as a challenge to Article II authority, making the appointment even more sound than previous Ken Starr-type Independent Counsel appointments were, because they don’t present a constitutional appointments clause problem. Mueller returns to that argument several times later in the filing.

Under the Independent Counsel Act, constitutional concerns mandated limitations on the judiciary’s ability to assign prosecutorial jurisdiction. In the wholly Executive-Branch regime created by the Special Counsel regulations, those constitutional concerns do not exist.

[snip]

[T]he court contrasted [limitations on Independent Counsels] with the Attorney General’s “broader” authority to make referrals to the independent counsel: the Attorney General “is not similarly subject to the ‘demonstrably related’ limitation” because the Attorney General’s power “is not constrained by separation of powers concerns.” Id.; see also United States v. Tucker, 78 F.3d 1313, 1321 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 820 (1996). That is because the Attorney General’s referral decision exercises solely executive power and does not threaten to impair Executive Branch functions or impose improper duties on another branch.

[snip]

It is especially notable that Manafort, while relying on principles of political accountability, does not invoke the Appointments Clause as a basis for his challenge, despite the Clause’s “design[] to preserve political accountability relative to important Government assignments.” E

From there, the memo goes into the legal analysis which is unsurprising. The courts, including the DC Circuit in the Libby case, have approved this authority. That’s a point the filing makes explicit by comparing the August 2 memo with the two memos Jim Comey wrote to document the scope of Patrick Fitzgerald’s authority in the CIA leak investigation.

The August 2 Scope Memorandum is precisely the type of material that has previously been considered in evaluating a Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. United States v. Libby, 429 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2006), involved a statutory and constitutional challenge to the authority of a Special Counsel who was appointed outside the framework of 28 C.F.R. Part 600. In rejecting that challenge, Judge Walton considered similar materials that defined the scope of the Special Counsel’s authority. See id. at 28-29, 31-32, 39 (considering the Acting Attorney General’s letter of appointment and clarification of jurisdiction as “concrete evidence * * * that delineates the Special Counsel’s authority,” and “conclud[ing] that the Special Counsel’s delegated authority is described within the four corners of the December 30, 2003 and February 6, 2004 letters”). The August 2 Scope Memorandum has the same legal significance as the original Appointment Order on the question of scope. Both documents record the Acting Attorney General’s determination on the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. Nothing in the regulations restricts the Acting Attorney General’s authority to issue such clarifications.

Having laid out (with the Rosenstein memo) that this investigation operates in equivalent fashion to the Libby prosecution, the case is fairly well made. Effectively Manafort is all the more screwed because the Acting AG has been personally involved and approved each step.

The other authorities cover other prosecutions Mueller has laid out

The filing is perhaps most interesting for the other authorities casually asserted, which are not necessarily directly relevant in this prosecution, but are for others. First, Mueller includes this footnote, making it clear his authority includes obstruction, including witness tampering.

The Special Counsel also has “the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses” and has the authority “to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). Those authorities are not at issue here.

Those authorities are not at issue here, but they are for the Flynn, Papadopoulos, Gates, and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, and for any obstruction the White House has been engaging in. But because it is relevant for the Gates and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, that mention should preempt any Manafort attempt to discredit their pleas for the way they expose him.

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.

I’ll comment more on the memo tomorrow. But for now, understand this is a solid memo that puts the Manafort prosecution squarely on the same footing that the Libby one was.

 

Mueller Prepares to Reveal the First Cards in the Hack-and-Leak Conspiracy

For weeks, I’ve been having a persistent exchange with people, including editors. They say there’s no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russians. I say it wouldn’t be collusion anyway, but conspiracy. They say there’s no evidence of conspiracy either. Then I point to Rick Gates’ guilty plea on conspiracy to defraud the US. I note that Gates effectively pled guilty to hiding the fact that he and Paul Manafort were working for pro-Russian Ukrainians while pretending to be engaging in politics for independent reasons. My interlocutors always say, in spite of the fact that Mueller has always insisted this went through the election period, that that doesn’t have anything to do with the election.

Yesterday’s news that Rick Gates and Alex Van Der Zwaan believed that Konstantin Kilimnik, the Oleg Deripaska crony with whom they were engaging through the entire period Manafort and Gates were working on the Trump campaign, was a current or former Russian military intelligence agent, should put that canard to rest. As the government sentencing memo in Van Der Zwaan’s plea explains,

That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

Worse still, and less commented on in the coverage of this, at some point, Kilimnik actually worked for Manafort’s company!

Person A worked with Manafort and Gates in connection with their Ukraine lobbying work. Person A is a foreign national and was a close business colleague of Manafort and Gates. He worked in Ukraine at Manafort’s company Davis Manafort International, LLC (DMI).

So Manafort either still was or had employed a person that the FBI believes still works for the intelligence agency behind the hack-and-leak of Hillary Clinton’s emails (the same agency, as I keep pointing out, that Sergei Skripal shared secrets about with the Brits), and that’s one of the things Manafort and Gates were hiding all the way through their election work by not disclosing who they were really working for on the Ukrainian lobbying.

That seems like pretty significant evidence in the hack-and-leak conspiracy.

Still, commentators seem to miss some of what is going on with this disclosure, made to ensure that Van Der Zwaan gets prison time for actions that (as I’ll return to, probably next week) make Van Der Zwaan look far sketchier than even his plea does.

Mueller’s team (effectively, the same prosecutors who are prosecuting Manafort, with one junior prosecutor added) filed this sentencing memo on March 27. Last week, the same folks filed a request for extra time to respond to Manafort’s various challenges to his prosecution so far: a challenge to Mueller’s jurisdiction in this matter (arguing it’s outside the scope of what Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to do), as well as two challenges to the way he was charged. In their motion (which Manafort did not oppose), they asked for an extension from March 28 — yesterday — to April 2 for their response to Manafort’s challenge to Mueller’s authority, and two more days for the challenge to how he was charged. Significantly, they asked for the extension because 1) they were busy with other matters preparing this case for trial and 2) they needed to sit down with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to work out how they were going to respond to the challenge to Mueller’s authority.

Under that schedule, the government’s response to [the challenge to Mueller’s authority] would be due on April 2 and the government’s response to [the challenge to how he was charged] would be due on April 4, 2018. The additional time is needed because the government is preparing its responses while conducting other matters to prepare this case for trial and because one of the responses—involving the challenge to the Special Counsel’s authority to conduct this prosecution—requires the Special Counsel to coordinate closely with other interested components of the Department of Justice, including the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, who is the Acting Attorney General for this case.

Understand, while these are totally valid challenges in their own right, the special counsel challenge, especially, is unlikely to succeed, not least because of the strong precedent in the Scooter Libby case, so long as Mueller shows how Rosenstein approved his actions and agreed they were related to the hack-and-leak case. That said — and the real reason Manafort’s team challenged Mueller’s authority — by laying out how Manafort’s efforts to hide who he’s actually working for and the overwhelming debt that led Manafort to trade influence with Trump to obtain loans to stave off bankruptcy relate to the hack-and-leak and therefore legitimately arose out of that investigation, Mueller will have to disclose a significant part of his theory of the case.

Effectively, Manafort is doing this in significant part to understood how much Mueller understands about the conspiracy as it pertains to the hack-and-leak.

Manafort made a similar (and equally justifiable) demand yesterday for unredacted versions of the search warrants against him, again, to understand more about the investigation and case against him.

Manafort is likely doing this for two reasons. First, to weigh whether he wants to flip on Trump, while he still can. And relatedly, to reveal to Trump where Mueller is going, and how much it implicates things Trump and his family members have done. This is Manafort’s bid to change the momentum in this case, which is now all working against him. 

It has been clear for some time that Mueller has been trying to line up as many cooperating witnesses as he can and obtain evidence in the case in chief without revealing to Trump details that will make Trump do something rash, like firing Mueller and/or pardoning Manafort and all his spawn. Manafort has, unsurprisingly, employed various tactics to undermine Mueller’s ability to implement his timing strategy unchallenged. This one is a legitimate tactic bolstered by his trial schedule.

So faced with the deadline to lay out how the Ukrainian lobbying relates to Manafort’s involvement in the hack-and-leak, Mueller asked for a slight delay. One thing he did in that slight delay was reveal that he knows that Rick Gates knows that Konstanin Kilimnik — who was working with Gates to try to delay the disclosure of how Gates and Manafort had screwed over Ukraine before the election, and was trying to help Manafort spin his prosecution as recently as November — is or was part of the same intelligence agency behind the hack-and-leak conspiracy.

Surely Mueller’s team knew they were going reveal this detail in the sentencing memo, and the certainty that Mueller would provide such details may be why Manafort agreed to the delay.

Mueller just revealed that at the same time GRU was implementing a hack-and-leak campaign designed to hurt or defeat Ukrainian hawk Hillary Clinton, a current or former GRU official was also conspiring to prevent or delay (until after the election) full disclosure of how GRU and Russia conspired with Trump’s campaign manager and his deputy to tamper in Ukrainian affairs.

At the same time GRU was tampering in our election, GRU was conspiring with Trump’s campaign manager to hide how they had conspired to tamper in Ukrainian democracy as well.  

The other thing Mueller did with the delay is win one more day before the grand jury.

I’m vacationing in an undisclosed location right now, writing this while the spouse sleeps so he doesn’t accuse me of failing vacation, hoping to hell none of this breaks while I’m still supposed to be relaxing. But it seems like a whole lot is going to start breaking on Monday.

Does NSC Consider the Skripal Assassination Attempt to Be Election Related?

There’s something that remains unspoken about the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal.

While most observers do not question that Russia was behind the attack, and while Russia certainly seems to be flouting their role in it, I’ve seen no substantiated explanation for why Russia would carry out the attempt in the way they did. It’s not just that Russia conducted another apparent assassination operation in the UK even as recent press attention has focused on a series of similar attacks. But they did so using a nerve agent, justifying the kind of elevated response we’re seeing from Europe and being contemplated in the US.

There were reports that Skripal was a source for either Christopher Steele or someone close to Steele, suggesting that he might be responsible for some of the dossier or the more recent, related report, that Russia’s Foreign Ministry bragged about getting Mitt Romney eliminated from consideration to be Secretary of State (which might explain the timing of the attack, except that it probably required more planning than that). But Luke Harding, who has made similar denials that other deaths are related to the dossier, denies that’s the case.

It is understood he had nothing to do with the dossier on Russia and Trump written by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Before Steele went into private business he led MI6’s response to Litvinenko’s murder. Skripal was not a source and whatever he knew about Russian military intelligence was long out of date.

Given the response — with 10 European countries following the UK’s decision to expel Russian diplomats believed to be spies — I’ve been wondering what the motive is. All the more so given this detail in a story on the likelihood the US will also follow UK’s move.

Trump’s National Security Council reached recommendations for a U.S. response to the U.K. attack at a meeting on Wednesday and presented the proposals to him on Friday. Trump discussed the issue that day with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, FBI Director Chris Wray, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others, two people familiar with the talks said.

It’s interesting enough that Wray was among the NatSec officials Trump has consulted on whether to match the British action. The FBI was key in decisions in the 2016 sanctions, including the focus on San Francisco, but this is about the UK action, not US.

But Trump consulted Rod Rosenstein, not Jeff Sessions, on the decision. Particularly given how half-assedly Sessions has adhered to his own recusal on the Russia investigation, Rosenstein’s inclusion suggests the expulsion decision may be more closely linked to the Mueller investigation than otherwise known.

Perhaps Harding is lying about Skripal’s tie to Steele. Perhaps Skripal has GRU connections to others running the GRU hack-and-leak operation. But the inclusion of Rosenstein makes me wonder if there’s some closer tie to the Mueller investigation than we know.

John Bolton Will Get to Start His Iran War Because Nine Iranians Stole Academic Dissertations

Earlier today, Rod Rosenstein rolled out a dangerously vague indictment of nine Iranians, allegedly tied to the Revolutionary Guard, for hacking hundreds of universities and some private companies and NGOs.

I say it’s dangerously vague because, while it’s clear the Iranians compromised thousands of university professors, it’s not clear precisely what they stole. But it appears that most of data stolen from universities (some privacy companies, government agencies, and NGOs were targeted too) consists of scholarship.

[M]embers of the conspiracy used stolen account credentials and obtained unauthorized access to victim professor accounts, though which they then exfiltrated, or transferred to themselves, academic data and documents from the systems of compromised universities, including, among other things, academic journalist, these, dissertations, and electronic books.

The indictment describes the stolen data benefitting (along with the IRGC) “Iran-based universities.” And it specifies that the hackers sold the information so that Iranians could access US academic online libraries.

Magapaper sold stolen academic resources to customers within Iran, including Iran-based public universities and institutions, and Gigapaper sold a service to customers within Iran whereby purchasing customers could use compromised university professor accounts to directly access the online library systems of particular United States-based and foreign universities.

The indictment claims the Iranians stole “academic data and intellectual property” which cost the affected 144 US universities “$3.4 billion to procure and access.” But that’s reminiscent of the Aaron Swartz case (to which several people have likened this), where the prosecutor justified pursuing Swartz because he had downloaded “intellectual property that cost millions to create,” something like 4.75 million articles and 87 Gigabytes of data (See the extensive discussion about cost and damages in this MIT report.) DOJ accuses the Iranians of stealing 31 terabytes of data.

As I said, this is a dangerously vague indictment. And, from the metadata, it appears that the indictment may be more than a month old. ( h/t z3dster)

There are also not dates on any of the signature lines, so it may be this indictment has just been sitting in a drawer in southern Manhattan, waiting to serve as a casus belli.

Perhaps there was more sensitive data stolen here. Perhaps the professors who got hacked were more selectively targeted than the sheer number of academics targeted — 100,000 got phished, with almost 8,000 responding — suggests.

But absent far more details, this indictment seems to make an international incident out of people in a very closed society trying to access academic information that is readily available here.

I’ve long written about the potential downsides of indicting nation-state hackers, which is effectively what these guys are — particularly the possibility that doing so will invite retaliation against our own official hackers. But in some cases — with the OPM hack, with hacks of national security information, with the Russians who targeted the election — that might make sense.

But indicting nation-state hackers for stealing dissertations?

Update: This confirms what z3dster noted: this thing has been sealed since February 7. Why? And why did it get unsealed the day after Bolton was hired?

“What Did the President Do and What Do His Lawyers Claim He Was Thinking?”

Ever since Richard Nixon, the big question one asks of presidential involvement in scandals is about the cover-up: “what did the president know and when did he know it?” Not so Trump in the investigation into his campaign’s conspiracy with Russia.

Robert Mueller’s prosecutors are already asking about the president’s actions: “What did the president do and what was he thinking when he did it?” WaPo describes the Trump team’s effort to dodge such questions by offering a summary of what his lawyers claim he did and was thinking.

The written materials provided to Mueller’s office include summaries of internal White House memos and contemporaneous correspondence about events Mueller is investigating, including the ousters of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James B. Comey. The documents describe the White House players involved and the president’s actions.

Special counsel investigators have told Trump’s lawyers that their main questions about the president fall into two simple categories, the two people said: “What did he do?” and “What was he thinking when he did it?”

Trump’s lawyers expect Mueller’s team to ask whether Trump knew about Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, for example, and what instructions, if any, the president gave Flynn about the contact, according to two advisers.

Trump said in February that he fired Flynn because he had misled Vice President Pence about his contact with Kislyak. He said he fired Comey because he had mishandled an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

CNN’s version of the same story seems to suggest such a summary is something they’ve already done, that what was new about last week was a sit-down with Watergate lawyer James Quarles.

As President Donald Trump’s reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller grows more irate by the day, attorneys on both sides sat down last week in a rare face-to-face discussion about the topics investigators could inquire of the President. It was the first in-person meeting after several weeks of informal discussions between the two sides, according to two sources familiar with the talks.

Mueller’s team added granularity to the topics it originally discussed with the defense team months ago, like the firing of FBI Director James Comey, according to one of the sources.

[snip]

The President’s attorneys sent the special counsel a summary of evidence they had turned over to prosecutors already, a practice they’ve followed multiple times throughout the investigation. Mueller himself didn’t attend the meeting. But prosecutors including former Watergate prosecutor James Quarles III gave Trump’s lawyers enough detail that the President’s team wrote a memo with possible questions they expect to be asked of him.

In addition to Trump’s involvement in directing Mike Flynn to ask Sergey Kislyak to defer any response to the new sanctions imposed in December 2016, CNN says that Jeff Sessions’ involvement in firing Comey is also on the list of questions they have for the president.

This time around, for instance, the prosecutors said they would ask about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ involvement in the Comey dismissal and what Trump knew about national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016.

[snip]

CNN reported in January that Mueller’s team had given the President’s lawyers general topics for an interview, such as Trump’s request that Comey drop the investigation into Flynn, his reaction to Comey’s May 2017 testimony on Capitol Hill, and Trump’s contact with intelligence officials about the Russia investigation.

A source familiar with the talks said more recent discussions about Trump’s interview also touched on Sessions and Flynn. Sessions previously spoke to Mueller’s team while investigators looked into possible obstruction of justice. And during the transition, Flynn had spoken to Kisklyak about sanctions and the United Nations, then lied to investigators about the calls before Trump fired him. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with Mueller in December.

The questions about Sessions and Flynn are both interesting because of recent events.

First, CNN’s story reporting an interest in Sessions’ role in Comey’s firing came out after the report that Sessions and the president traveled separately yesterday to the opioid event they appeared at together. I found that odd at first — Trump should be happy that Sessions fired Andy McCabe for him last Friday. Perhaps Trump is mad that by firing McCabe, Sessions and Rod Rosenstein have taken one excuse he could use to fire both of them off the table. Or perhaps Sessions has realized that he needs to avoid talking to Trump about his own conversations with prosecutors. But if Sessions has become a witness against Trump and the discussions last week made that clear, then it puts the president in a particularly exquisite bind, because the Senate would not take kindly if Trump fired one of their own after he went to such lengths to fire McCabe.

The separate flight is all the more interesting given the news that three witnesses have testified that Sessions was actually more supportive of Trump’s outreach to Russia than he himself (and JD Gordon) has claimed.

And given Mueller’s apparent efforts to confirm what has long been obvious — that KT McFarland was relaying Trump’s orders to Flynn on what to say to Kislyak back in December 2016, consider Mike Flynn’s odd campaign appearance last Friday. Amid stories that he’s beginning to rebuild his life, Flynn started a campaign speech for a right wing nut job attempting to unseat Maxine Waters by alluding to his unfair treatment in an unfair process.

“I’m not here to complain about who has done me wrong or how unfair I’ve been treated or how unfair the entire process has been,” Flynn said to a small audience, which laughed at his remark, though Flynn did not.

Flynn then went on to reflect his role in getting Trump elected.

“All of us are imperfect,” he said. “Heck, I used to introduce … Trump during our various campaign stops as an imperfect candidate. I mean, clearly, he’s not a traditional politician. But his ‘Make America Great Again’ philosophy energized the country enough to get him overwhelmingly elected.”

“Whether we like it or not, that’s what happened,” Flynn added.

Particularly given the others who’ve endorsed Omar Navarro, like Roger Stone and Alex Jones, you’d think this was all a dig at Mueller, and it may well be. Except that Jared Kushner had an opportunity to exonerate Flynn last fall; his failure to do so is what led Flynn to flip, leading to these questions about whether Trump ordered Flynn to ask the Russians to delay their response to sanctions.

Now, any confirmation that the president ordered Flynn to ask Kislyak to delay his response on one level makes Flynn’s effort less damning: it’s one thing for an incoming National Security Advisor to freelance in trying to undermine the incumbent’s policies. It’s another thing for the incoming president to do so.

But contrary to the obstruction narrative that every fool has been repeating, Mueller is not just interested in how and why Jim Comey got fired. He’s also interested in why Trump fired Flynn. That question becomes more pressing if the president ordered Flynn to chat up Kislyak, and if the president ordered Flynn to lie to hide what he had done (leading to his lie to the FBI). Why not just admit that that was incoming policy? Why not just admit to the FBI that Flynn was acting on Trump’s orders? Instead of doing that, Flynn lied and Trump tried instead to thwart the investigation into Flynn, up to and including firing Comey.

Why fire Comey just before the meeting with the Russians and then brag about it to them?

For months, credulous journalists have been distinguishing between the president’s presumed obstruction and the substantive conspiracy others were being accused of, as if no Trump flunkies were involved in the cover-up and Trump was walled off from the conspiracy. But that distinction has never held up, especially not given the interest in why Trump fired Flynn.

“What did the president do and what the fuck was he thinking when he did it?” are questions not about the cover-up, but about the substantive crime.

And that’s the question Mueller’s Watergate prosecutor has now posed to the president’s lawyers.

On McCabe’s Firing

Update: 8/28/19: I just re-read this amid discussion that Andrew McCabe may be fired. Much of this I stand by. I was right about the import of Mike Flynn already pleading guilty, I stand by my comments about Michael Horowitz and think the IG Report is damning, though in his lawsuit, McCabe credibly argues it was no developed in the normal fashion. I was right that McCabe would not be a big witness in any obstruction investigation; I was wrong that Comey wouldn’t be. But I want to admit that obstruction did end up being what Mueller effectively issued an impeachment referral for. That said, there was obstruction in both the Stone and Manafort threads of any interactions with Russia. 

I’m going to refrain from making any conclusions about Andy McCabe’s firing until we have the Inspector General Report that underlies it. For now (update: I’ve now cleaned this up post-Yoga class), keep the following details in mind:

Michael Horowitz is a very good Inspector General

The allegations that McCabe lacked candor in discussions about his communications with Devlin Barrett all arise out of an investigation Democrats demanded in response to FBI’s treatment of the investigation into Hillary Clinton. It is being led by DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz. Horowitz was nominated by Barack Obama and confirmed while Democrats still had the majority, in 2012.

I’ve never seen anything in Horowitz’ work that suggests he is influenced by politics, though he has shown an ability to protect his own department’s authority, in part by cultivating Congress. Of significant note, he fought with FBI to get the information his investigators needed to do the job, but was thwarted, extending into Jim Comey’s tenure (as I laid out in a fucking prescient post written on November 3, 2016).

As I’ve long covered, in 2010, the FBI started balking at the Inspector General’s proper investigative demands. Among other things, the FBI refused to provide information on grand jury investigations unless some top official in FBI said that it would help the FBI if the IG obtained it. In addition, the FBI (and DEA) have responded to requests very selectively, pulling investigations they don’t want to be reviewed. In 2014, the IG asked OLC for a memo on whether it should be able to get the information it needs to do its job. Last year, OLC basically responded, Nope, can’t have the stuff you need to exercise proper oversight of the FBI.

DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, has been trying for some time to get Congress to affirmatively authorize his office (and IGs generally, because the problem exists at other agencies) to receive the information he needs to do his job. But thus far — probably because Jim Comey used to be known as the world’s biggest Boy Scout — Congress has failed to do so.

I care about how FBI’s misconduct affects the election (thus far, polling suggests it hasn’t done so, though polls are getting closer as Republican Gary Johnson supporters move back to supporting the GOP nominee, as almost always happens with third party candidates). But I care even more about how fucked up the FBI is. Even if Comey is ousted, I can’t think of a likely candidate that could actually fix the problems at FBI. One of the few entities that I think might be able to do something about the stench at FBI is the IG.

Except the FBI has spent 6 years making sure the IG can’t fully review its conduct.

So while I don’t think he’d be motivated by politics, he has had a running fight with top FBI officials about their willingness to subject FBI to scrutiny for the entirety of the Comey tenure.

McCabe has suggested that the investigation into him was “accelerated” only after he testified to the House Intelligence Committee that he would corroborate Jim Comey’s version of his firing.

I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens.

I’m not sure this timeline bears out (the investigation was supposed to be done last year, but actually got extended into this year). The statement stops short of saying that he was targeted because his testimony — presumably already delivered to Robert Mueller by the time of his HPSCI testimony — corroborated Comey’s.

What we’ve seen of the other personnel moves as a result of this investigation — the reassignment of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for texts that really did raise conflict issues (to say nothing of operational security problems), and the reassignment of James Baker — seem reasonable. McCabe’s firing was reviewed by a whole bunch of people who have been around DOJ a long time.

So it’s possible the underlying claim has merit. It’s also possible that McCabe is getting the same punishment that a line agent would get if he did not answer the IG honestly.

Trump’s comments matter

Obviously, all that cannot be taken out of context of Trump’s own statements and Jeff Sessions’ efforts to keep his job.

We will get these details in upcoming days, and almost all the details will come from people who’ve got a big stake in the process.

Michael Bromwich — McCabe’s lawyer — says they didn’t get a review of the allegations against McCabe until very recently, and were still trying to contest the firing two days ago (as was publicly reported). I find his claim that this was “cleaved off” from the larger investigation unconvincing: so were Strzok and Page, but that was done to preserve the integrity of the Mueller investigation, and Chris Wray had said publicly that he wanted to act on problems as they found them. Bromwich curiously is not saying that McCabe’s firing violates any agreement McCabe made when he took leave to await retirement.

Undoubtedly, Jeff Sessions did this in the most cowardly way possible. While I think it’s likely, I’m not 100% convinced that the timing was anything other than trying to make a real decision rather than let the retirement make it.

There’s no evidence, yet, that McCabe will lose all his pension

It has been said for over a month that McCabe was just waiting out his birthday so he could “get” his pension. That was so he could start drawing on it immediately. Josh Gerstein laid out the best thing I’ve seen on the implications (as well as what limited legal recourse McCabe has).

The financial stakes for McCabe could be significant. If he had made it to his 50th birthday on Sunday while still in federal service, he would have been eligible to begin drawing a full pension immediately under provisions that apply to federal law enforcement officers, said Kimberly Berry, a lawyer in Arlington, Virginia, who specializes in federal retirement issues.

Berry disputed reports, however, that McCabe would lose his pension altogether.

“He doesn’t lose his retirement,” she said. “It’s not all thrown out in the garbage.“

Even after his dismissal, McCabe will probably be eligible to begin collecting his pension at about age 57, although he would likely lose access to federal health coverage and would probably get a smaller pension than if he stayed on the federal payroll, experts said.

There have been claims McCabe could get hired by a member of Congress for a week so he can start drawing on it. But I’ve heard the finances aren’t even the issue, it’s the principle, which if you want to be a martyr, being fired works better.

This will have a far smaller impact on the Mueller probe than Comey-McCabe loyalists and John Dowd lay out

McCabe and others have suggested that there has been a successful effort to retaliate against Comey’s three corroborating witnesses, though that is least convincing with regards to Jim Rybicki, who was replaced as happens as a matter of course every time a new FBI Director comes in.

But the Comey-McCabe loyalists make far too much of their role in the Mueller probe, making themselves the central actors in the drama. Yes, if their credibility is hurt it does do some damage to any obstruction charges against Trump, which, as I keep repeating, will not be the primary thrust of any charges against Trump. Mueller is investigating Trump for a conspiracy with Russians; the obstruction is just the act that led to his appointment as Special Counsel and with that, a much more thorough investigation. Contrary to what you’re hearing, little we’ve seen thus far is fruit of the decisions Comey and his people made. While all were involved in the decision to charge Mike Flynn, he has already pled guilty and started spilling his guts to Mueller. There’s no reason to believe McCabe or Comey are direct witnesses in the conspiracy charges that will be filed against people close to Trump, if not against Trump himself.

For all those reasons, John Dowd’s claim that McCabe’s firing should end the investigation is equally unavailing.

I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.

I mean, if this really is Dowd’s impression of why his client is being investigated, I almost feel sorry for Trump.

But the truth is the dossier has always been a distraction. The obstruction charge was probably used to distract Trump (and his NYT stenographers) while Mueller’s team collected the far more serious evidence on the conspiracy charges, though events of this week may well add to the conspiracy charges. And Comey didn’t manufacture any investigation; if anything, his people were not aggressive enough in the months he oversaw the investigation, particularly as it pertains to George Papadopoulos.

So if Dowd thinks McCabe’s firing will affect the core of the evidence Mueller has already developed (and, I suspect, started hanging on a sealed magnet indictment), he is likely to be very disappointed.

Regardless of the merits of the McCabe firing, it (and the related shit storm) may give Rosenstein and Mueller more time to work. It’s not clear they need that much more time to put together the conspiracy charges that are sitting right beneath the surface.

Finally — and I’m about to do a post on this — the far more important news from yesterday is that Facebook is cutting off Cambridge Analytica for violating its agreements about data use. That may well lead to some far more important changes, changes that Trump has less ability to politicize.