“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.


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.


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.

How the DNC Hack Skeptics’ Dominant Theory Sinks Stone

I’ve been thinking about something since I wrote this piece on Roger Stone’s Swiss cheese denials of conspiring with Guccifer 2.0 or Wikileaks on the hack-and-leak. As I laid out, Stone’s denial consists of two tactics: he admits he spoke with Guccifer 2.0 at a time he believed him to have done the hack but notes that that happened after (he claims six weeks, but it was really three) the documents already started coming out. And he denies knowing anything in advance about Wikileaks, which wouldn’t be a problem anyway, he says, because there’s no evidence Wikileaks is a Russian asset.

Effectively, that puts Stone’s involvement after the undeniably criminal act — the hack of the DNC and puts the rest into simple general foreknowledge of Wikileaks’ plan.

As I noted in my first post on Stone’s non-denials, that doesn’t address the possibility he was involved in the Peter Smith led rat-fuck negotiations with Russian hackers to find Hillary’s deleted emails.

But there’s one other problem with it.

According to the public record, Guccifer 2.0 first spoke with Stone on August 12 (though in his statement to Congress, he fudged that date interestingly and claimed the first contact — perhaps meaning DM — was August 14). While that post-dates all known hacking, it pre-dates at least one and possibly several key dates on the leak part of the operation. As Raffi Khatchadourian lays out, Wikileaks may have obtained the John Podesta emails around this time.

A pattern that was set in June appeared to recur: just before DCLeaks became active with election publications, WikiLeaks began to prepare another tranche of e-mails, this time culled from John Podesta’s Gmail account. “We are working around the clock,” Assange told Fox News in late August. “We have received quite a lot of material.” It is unclear how long Assange had been in possession of the e-mails, but a staffer assigned to the project suggested that he had received them in the late summer: “As soon as we got them, we started working on them, and then we started publishing them. From when we received them to when we published them, it was a real crunch. My only wish is that we had the equivalent from the Republicans.”

All of the raw e-mail files that WikiLeaks published from Podesta’s account are dated September 19th, which appears to indicate the day that they were copied or modified for some purpose.

Indeed, Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment, which Chuck Todd noted addressed Tony but not John Podesta, may even have preceded Wikileaks’ receipt of the emails.

But Stone’s discussions with Guccifer 2.0 undeniably precede an event that, at least according to the skeptics’ theory, necessarily precedes the publication of Podesta’s emails. That’s Craig Murray obtaining … something from someone while he was in the US for the Sam Adams Award on September 25. He has said he didn’t obtain the documents, but it might be a key or something.

That still doesn’t, by itself, make Stone’s conduct criminal. But it does mean his timeline is not exonerating.

Roger Stone’s Rat-Eating Swiss Cheese Denials

Back when Roger Stone leaked his September testimony to HPSCI, I noted that it misrepresented the key allegations against him, meaning he never denied the important parts.

I’m even more interested in how he depicts what he claims are the three allegations made against him.

Members of this Committee have made three basic assertions against me which bust be rebutted her today. The charge that I knew in advance about, and predicted, the hacking of the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email, that I had advanced knowledge of the source or actual content of the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton or that, my now public exchange with a persona that our intelligence agencies claim, but cannot prove, is a Russian asset, is anything but innocuous and are entirely false.

In point of fact, this tripartite accusation is actually a misstatement of the allegations against him (though in his rebuttal of them, he is helped immensely by the sloppiness of public statements made by Democrats, especially those on the panel, which I’ve criticized myself). Generally, the accusation is more direct: that in conversing with both Julian Assange (though a cut-out) and Guccifer 2.0, Stone was facilitating or in some way helping the Trump campaign maximally exploit the Russian releases that were coming.

The same is true of his interview with Chuck Todd yesterday.

I’m most interested in the way Stone addresses his direct exchange with Guccifer 2.0, then restricts the rest of his denials to Wikileaks. When Todd asks Stone why he reached out to both Guccifer and Wikileaks, Stone focuses his attention on the former.

Todd: Why did you reach out to Guccifer? Why did you reach out to Wikileaks?

Stone: First of all, my direct messages with Guccifer 2.0, if that’s who it really is, come six weeks, almost six weeks after the DNC emails had been published by Wikileaks. So in order to collude in their hacking, which I had nothing whatsoever to do with, one would have needed a time machine. Secondarily, I wrote a very long piece, you can find it still at the Stone Cold Truth. I doubt that Guccifer is, indeed, a Russian operative. I also once believed that he had hacked the DNC. I don’t believe that anymore either. I believe it was an inside job and the preponderance of evidence points to a load to a thumb drive or some other portable device and the device is coming out the back door. But, Chuck, ten days ago, the Washington Post that based on the Democratic minority that the Russians had sent documents to me for review. I never received any documents from the Russians or anybody representing them. I never had any contact with any

Todd: Did you receive any documents and you didn’t know it was a Russian?

Stone: I never received any documents from anyone purporting to be a Russian or otherwise, and I never saw the Wikileaks documents in advance.

In his response he does the following:

  • Raises doubts that he was actually talking to Guccifer 2.0 (even though Guccifer 2.0’s only identity was virtual, so Stone’s online interactions with any entity running the Guccifer Twitter account would by definition be communication with Guccifer 2.0)
  • Repeats his earlier doubts that Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian operative
  • Emphasizes that he couldn’t have couldn’t have been involved in any hack of the DNC Guccifer 2.0 had done because he first spoke to him six weeks after the email release (in reality, he was speaking to him three weeks after the Wikileaks release)
  • Admits he once believed Guccifer 2.0 did the hack but (pointing to the Bill Binney analysis, and giving it a slightly different focus than he had in September) claims he no longer believes that
  • Invents something about a WaPo report that’s not true, thereby shifting the focus to receiving documents (as opposed to, say, information)
  • Denies he received documents from anyone but not that he saw documents (other than the Wikileaks ones) before they were released

This denial stops well short of explaining why he reached out to Guccifer. And it does nothing to change the record — one backed by his own writing — that Stone reached out because he believed Guccifer, whoever he might be, had hacked the DNC.

At the time Stone reached out to Guccifer (as I pointed out, he misrepresented the timing of this somewhat in his testimony), he believed Guccifer had violated the law by hacking the DNC.

He never does explain to Todd why he did reach out.

Guccifer 2.0 never comes back in the remainder of the interview. The first time Todd asks Stone if there had been “collusion” with the Russians, Stone answers it generally, insisting Trump needed no help to beat Hillary.

Todd: You have made the case here that there was no collusion here that you’re aware of. Would it have been wrong to collude with a foreign adversary to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

Stone: Well, there’s no evidence that this happened, you’re asking me to answer a hypothetical question. It seems to me that Mr. Steele was colluding with the Russians.

Todd: Let me ask you this. Do you think it’s fair game to get incriminating evidence from a foreign government about your political opponent?

Stone: But that didn’t happen, Chuck, so I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question. It was unnecessary. The idea that Donald Trump needed help from the Russians to beat Hillary Clinton it’s an excuse, a canard, a fairy tale. I don’t believe it ever happened.

The next time — when Stone first labels then backs way the fuck off labeling conspiring with the Russians as treason — Stone then focuses on how such conspiring would only be treason if you believed that Assange was a Russian agent.

Stone: Chuck I’ve been accused of being a dirty trickster. There’s one trick that’s not in my bag. That’s treason. I have no knowledge or involvement with Russians–

Todd: And you believe

Stone: And I have no knowledge of anybody else who does.

Todd: Let me establish something. You believe, if unbeknownst to you, there is somebody on the Trump campaign who worked with the Russians on these email releases, that’s a treasonous act?

Stone: No, actually, I don’t think so because for it to be a treasonous act, Assange would have to be provably a Russian asset, and Wikileaks would have to be a Russian front and I do not believe that’s the case.

Todd: Let me back you up there. You think it’s possible Wikileaks and the Trump campaign coordinated the release?

Stone: I didn’t say that at all. I have no knowledge of that and I make no such claim.

Todd: No, I understand that. You just issued that hypothetical. So what you’re saying is had that occurred you don’t believe that’s, you don’t believe, you don’t believe that that’s against the law?

Stone: This is all based on a premise that Wikileaks is a Russian front and Assange is a Russian agent. As I said I reject that. On the other hand I have no knowledge that that happened. It’s certainly did not happen in my case. That isn’t something I was involved in.

When asked whether it would be illegal to work with Wikileaks (Stone’s contacts with Guccifer at a time he believed Guccifer to have hacked the DNC go unmentioned) Stone again focuses on whether Wikileaks was Russian, not on the conspiracy to hack and leak documents.

This focus on Wikileaks instead of Guccifer 2.0 carries over to the statement Stone issued to ABC:

I never received anything whatsoever from WikiLeaks regarding the source, content or timing of their disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton, the DNC or Podesta. I never received any material from them at all. I never received any material from any source that constituted the material ultimately published by WikiLeaks. I never discussed the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton or the DNC with candidate or President Donald Trump before during or after the election. I don’t know what Donald Trump knew about the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary or the DNC if anything and who he learned it from if anyone.

No one, including Sam Nunberg is in possession If any evidence to the contrary because such evidence does not exist … This will be an impossible case to bring because the allegation that I knew about the WikiLeaks disclosures beyond what Assange himself had said in interviews and tweets or that I had and shared this material with anyone in the Trump campaign or anyone else is categorically false. Assange himself has said and written that I never predicted anything that he had not already stated in public.

There’s very good reason Stone would want to focus on Wikileaks rather than Guccifer.

Even by his own dodgy explanation, at the time he reached out to Guccifer, he believed that Guccifer had hacked the DNC. While it’s true that the public record shows Stone stopping short of accepting documents from Guccifer (all this ignores Stone’s reported involvement in a Guccifer-suggested Peter Smith effort to obtain Hillary’s Clinton Foundation emails), Stone’s interest in coordinating with the hack-and-leak is clear.

And it seems Sam Nunberg may fear that his past testimony and communications with Stone would document that interest. If he knows Stone did have non-public communications with Guccifer, but didn’t believe Guccifer to be Russian, it would also explain why Nunberg said he thought Putin was too smart to collude with Trump, but that his testimony might hurt Stone.

Adding one more point to this: early in the interview, Stone goes to some lengths to say that he proved he had actually separated from the Trump campaign by contemporaneously showing two reporters his resignation letter. This is akin to something Carter Page did in his HPSCI testimony. But given how many of those conspiring with Russia on the Trump campaign (Carter Page — especially after his departure, George Papadopoulos, and Paul Manafort) didn’t have formal roles, it’s not clear that letter would be definitive. Indeed, it might be the opposite, one of a group of people who arranged plausible deniability by getting or staying off the campaign payroll.

Update: Fixed my misrepresentation of Stone’s claim about the six week delay, and fact-checked it to note it was only three weeks.

Nunberg’s Claim that Trump Talked of the June 9 Meeting the Week Before Is Plausible

Sometime ratfucker Sam Nunberg has been running from cable channel to cable channel trying to get them to believe he’s going to blow off a subpoena from Robert Mueller to repeat what he said a week and a half ago in an interview before the grand jury, protected by immunity.

Among his crazy rants, he claimed that Trump knew about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting “the week before.”

You know it’s not true. He talked about it the week before. And I don’t know why he did this. All he had to say was, yeah, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something and we thought they had something and that was it. I don’t know why he went around trying to hide. He shouldn’t have.

Nothing has reported on how he would know this. He’s close with Roger Stone (indeed, that’s who he says he’s trying to protect by blowing off the subpoena), and Stone remained in touch with Trump — reportedly still does. So maybe that’s how he knows.

But the claim is plausible.

After all, when Rob Goldstone first emailed Don Jr about the meeting on June 3 (six days before the meeting), he suggested he could go through Trump’s assistant Rhona.

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

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

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

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

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

He was instead reaching out to Don Jr because the meeting was “ultra sensitive.” But the implication was, ultimately, that Trump should know about this meeting, but that perhaps this was even too sensitive to run through Rhona (as I’ve said, I don’t think Goldstone is really talking about the crown prosecutor).

So the idea was Goldstone calls Don Jr, and Don Jr tells Pops directly.

Had he done that, then Trump would, indeed, have known about the meeting the previous week (June 9 was a Thursday; the 3rd would have been the previous Friday).

So had Uday gone and told Pops right away it is conceivable that Trump (whom Nunberg elsewhere accused of being incapable of colluding with Russian because he would blab about it) was talking about it “the week before.”

Which would change the stakes of the meeting dramatically.

Update: Nunberg told Zack Beauchamp that he was talking of Trump’s public statement on June 7.

Nunberg was actually talking about public comments Trump made on June 7, 2016 — two days before the Trump Tower meeting. In it, Trump promised that he would soon be offering interesting revelations about Clinton.

“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” then-candidate Trump said. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

Nunberg interpreted Trump’s comments as a veiled reference to the Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had set up. “He said publicly we’ll find something out about Hillary Clinton,” Nunberg told me about Trump. “You can look it up.”

This, he emphasized during our conversation, is only his interpretation of Trump’s comments. He has no special inside knowledge that Trump was informed of the meeting before it happened, as many have taken his CNN comments to imply, or that Trump was referencing it in that speech. Nunberg thinks that’s what Trump meant, but he never heard any proof.

The Mueller Subpoena Starts at the Moment a Real Estate Deal in Moscow Might Get Trump Elected

Axios got a copy of a subpoena someone got from Robert Mueller last month. It asks for all communications (including handwritten notes) “this witness sent and received regarding the following people.” The list of people includes a lot of people you’d expect, but it’s missing a few:

  1. Carter Page
  2. Corey Lewandowski
  3. Donald J. Trump
  4. Hope Hicks
  5. Keith Schiller
  6. Michael Cohen
  7. Paul Manafort
  8. Rick Gates
  9. Roger Stone
  10. Steve Bannon

Cooperating witnesses George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn aren’t on this list, but cooperating witness Rick Gates is (which may date the subpoena to before Gates flipped on February 23). The order is of particular interest (or, maybe they’re just alpha order by first name): Page, the long term suspected Russian asset, followed immediately by Lewandowski, who was in the loop on the stolen email offer, followed by the President and those closest to him, followed by Manafort and his closest aide. Then Stone and then — in the same month he gave 20 hours of testimony — Bannon.

Neither Don Jr nor Kushner is on this list. Given the emphasis on communications “regarding” the listed people, and given the way that Abbe Lowell purposely avoided giving “about”communications to Congress (and possibly to Mueller), and also given that Jonathan Swan is Axios’ key White House scoopster, I actually don’t rule out the witness being Jared. Or, as I joked on Twitter, like Flynn and Papadopoulos, maybe he has already flipped and so isn’t on this list.

Whoever it is, the absences on the list are probably a function of who is legitimately in this person’s circle.

Perhaps most telling, however, is the timing: November 1, 2015, to the present. Recall that on November 3, sometime FBI informant Felix Sater sent Michael Cohen (on the list) an email promising that a real estate deal in Moscow might lead to Trump becoming President. (Here’s the original WaPo scoop on the story.)

On November 3, 2015, two months before the GOP primary started in earnest and barely over a year before the presidential election, mobbed up real estate broker and sometime FBI informant Felix Sater emailed Trump Organization Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Trump, Michael Cohen. According to the fragment we read, Sater boasts of his access to Putin going back to 2006 (when the Ivanka incident reportedly happened), and said “we can engineer” “our boy” becoming “President of the USA.”


Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, said he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under American sanctions for involvement in Moscow’s efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine. In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow.

“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

That’s the start date Mueller uses for potential communications among people including Trump’s closest aides, including Cohen (but not including Sater) in the Russian investigation.

Update: Adding, we know that on October 21, 2016, the FBI had investigations into Manafort, Page, Stone, and possibly Gates. Is it possible this list is the sum of all those against whom sub-investigations have been opened (or were at the time this subpoena was issued)?

Mueller Wants to Know How Far the Game of Email Telephone Got within the Trump Campaign

NBC has a story that has gotten a lot of people excited, reporting that Mueller’s team has been asking:

  • Policy towards Russia: Why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Roger Stone: Whether Stone was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released
  • Trump’s knowledge: Whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release

I think this story is both less and more than people are making it out to be.

It’s being overhyped for its facial value. Of course Mueller is going to ask about what the president knew and when he knew it. Of course he’s going to chase down whether Roger Stone’s repeated claims to know what was coming were bluster or not.

But on at least two counts, I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

First, as I noted when George Papadopoulos’ plea came out, the FBI charged the former foreign policy advisor for lying about whether he had been told of dirt on Hillary in the form of emails (which we now know they said they might anonymously leak to help Trump) before or after he joined the campaign. That they believed this important enough to charge suggests that, after two full months of cooperation, they got the answer they expected.

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

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

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

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

There’s no way Papadopoulos’ plea would have been rolled out in the way it was except to get everyone he had told about the emails (as well as those who were instructing him on how to negotiate a meeting with Putin) on the record first.

So Mueller has a good idea of who learned first hand from Papadopoulos about the emails. What he may not know (or may be trying to lock in with further testimony) is how far that game of telephone extended; did it include Trump, and if so via what interlocutors. (Rick Gates may be, or may already have, enlightened Mueller on this point.)

These questions are also interesting against the background of something else suggested by the Papadopoulos plea (and subsequent NYT reporting), which I laid out here. Papadopoulos appeared to be signaling Ivan Timofeev, and those signals were closely tied to email releases.

In this post I did a timeline of all the known George Papadopoulos communications. The timeline made something clear: on two occasions, Papadopoulos alerted Ivan Timofeev to something in a Trump speech. On each occasion, something happened with emails.


I’m not saying that the timing of these email releases were dictated by the speeches. Of course they weren’t. They were timed to do maximal damage to the Hillary campaign (not incidentally, in a way that coincided with the “later in the summer” timing Don Jr asked for in his communications with Rob Goldstone).

Rather, I’m saying that Papadopoulos seems to have been signaling Timofeev, and those signals closely mapped to email releases.

And those signals are among the things he tried to destroy.

Importantly, that signaling pertained to public statements on policies of Russian interest. I laid out three apparent incidences in that post, incidences mentioned in the plea.

In this post, I suggested what might be a fourth: when Trump’s twitter account tweeted about Hillary’s emails just 40 minutes after the June 9 Trump Tower meeting started and incorporated a potentially accurate number for how many staffers Hillary had.

I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?


I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

If this (or, specifically mentioned in the NBC story, Trump’s July call for Russia to release Hillary’s emails) were part of the signaling, then Trump either could have been in the loop, or one of the flunkies who ran his iPhone account before he switched to iPhone himself could have been.

Which leads me to one more question reported by NBC today, almost as an afterthought. At least one witness was asked about the boundaries of Dan Scavino’s job.

At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

I’m particularly interested in this given the report that Scavino was involved in negotiations through Rob Goldstone for promotions on Russian social media platform VKontakte, and the odds that he might have been the one tweeting any signaling tweets using Trump’s campaign.

So while these questions are, on the one hand, bloody obvious, they also may suggest a far more advanced understanding of how this operation might have worked.

Chuck Johnson’s Narrowed Scope of What a Russian Is Excludes Known Conspirators in Operation

Michael Tracey has a story that purports to show that the Senate Intelligence Committee, in negotiating voluntary cooperation with Chuck Johnson, is criminalizing being Russian.

The Senate committee probing alleged Russian interference in the U.S. political system has deemed anyone “of Russian nationality or Russian descent” relevant to its investigation, according to a document obtained by TYT.


On July 27, 2017, Charles C. Johnson, a controversial right-wing media figure, received a letter from Sens. Burr and Warner requesting that he voluntarily provide materials in his possession that are “relevant” to the committee’s investigation. Relevant materials, the letter went on, would include any records of interactions Johnson had with “Russian persons” who were involved in some capacity in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The committee further requested materials related to “Russian persons” who were involved in some capacity in “activities that related in any way to the political election process in the U.S.” Materials may include “documents, emails, text messages, direct messages, calendar appointments, memoranda, [and] notes,” the letter outlined.

Doss’s statement was in response to a request made by Robert Barnes, an attorney for Johnson, for clarification as to the SSCI’s definition of a “Russian person.”

How the committee expects subjects to go about ascertaining whether a person is of “Russian descent” is unclear. “It does indicate that the committee is throwing a rather broad net,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, said. “It is exceptionally broad.” In terms of constitutionality, Turley speculated that “most courts would view that as potentially too broad, but not unlawful.”

Johnson played a key role in several known parts of the election operation. In addition to brokering Dana Rohrabacher’s meeting with Julian Assange, all designed to provide some alternative explanation for the DNC hack, Johnson worked with Peter Smith and Weev to try to find the deleted emails from Hillary’s server.

Johnson said he and Smith stayed in touch, discussing “tactics and research” regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help tracking down Clinton’s emails. “He wanted me to introduce to him to Bannon, to a few others, and I sort of demurred on some of that,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think his operation was as sophisticated as it needed to be, and I thought it was good to keep the campaign as insulated as possible.”

Instead, Johnson said, he put the word out to a “hidden oppo network” of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort. Johnson declined to provide the names of any of the members of this “network,” but he praised Smith’s ambition.

“The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive,” Johnson said. “He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republican operatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone—to Russian government hackers.)

Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer—who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine—declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

Tracey’s claims are based on this email (and, clearly, cooperation with Johnson).

Except Tracey (and so presumably Johnson) appear to be misrepresenting what is going on.

When SSCI originally asked for Johnson’s cooperation in July, they asked him to provide communications “with Russian persons, or representatives of Russian government, business, or media interest” relating to the 2016 election and any hack related to it.

And while Tracey calls the December follow-up a “clarification,” Doss clearly considers it a “narrowing” of that July description. So the description Tracey finds so outrageous — people of Russian nationality or descent — appears to be a subset of what might be included in the original request.

Moreover, the narrowing might be really detrimental to SSCI’s ability to learn what Johnson was up to when he was seeking out Russian hackers who might have Hillary’s server. Consider just the examples of Karim Baratov or Ike Kaveladze. Both are likely suspects for involvement in the events of 2016. Baratov — the hacker who recently pled guilty to compromising selected Google and Yandex accounts for FSB — is a Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan. Kaveladze — who works for Aras Agalarov, has past ties to money laundering, and attended the June 9, 2016 meeting — is an American citizen born in Georgia. Neither is ethnically Russian. So if Johnson had any hypothetical interactions with them, he could cabin off those interactions based on this narrowed definition of what counts as a Russian.

To say nothing of Johnson’s interactions with Assange, who is Australian, yet whose ties to Russia are unclear. Effectively, even if Johnson knew that Assange had coordinated with Russia last year, he wouldn’t have to turn over his communications with him, because he’s not himself Russian.

According to Tracey’s piece, Johnson says he won’t cooperate regardless, in spite of his lawyer’s efforts to narrow the scope of any cooperation.

But I find it interesting that his lawyer attempted to narrow any testimony in a fashion that might hide important parts of Johnson’s actions.

Cambridge Analytica and the Hillary Emails

Update: I made an error in this post: WSJ has made it clear the emails in question were the DNC emails, not the Hillary ones. I’ve deleted the parts that are inaccurate accordingly.

For some time, I have been interested in the many pieces of evidence that, partly as a result of late GOP ratfucker Peter Smith’s efforts, Julian Assange ended up with something approximating Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. We know Smith alleged Mike Flynn was involved in the effort. Weev and Chuck Johnson were involved. There are reasons to believe Roger Stone was involved in the effort. And there are reasons to believe Guccifer 2.0 was involved in the effort.

Plus, everyone from Stone to Attorney General Sessions (who “did not recall” whether he had spoken to Russians about email in his SJC testimony) seems to be ignoring that part of the scandal in their denials of colluding with Russians.

And now, Cambridge Analytica — the data firm paid for by far right wing oligarch Bob Mercer that played a big role in getting Trump elected — is involved in it.

The DailyBeast reports that Congressional investigators have found an email from CA head Alexander Nix to some unnamed person (Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale was interviewed by HPSCI yesterday) saying he offered to help Assange with the project.

Nix, who heads Cambridge Analytica, told a third party that he reached out to Assange about his firm somehow helping the WikiLeaks editor release Clinton’s missing emails, according to two sources familiar with a congressional investigation into interactions between Trump associates and the Kremlin. Those sources also relayed that, according to Nix’s email, Assange told the Cambridge Analytica CEO that he didn’t want his help, and preferred to do the work on his own.

Assange, who insists he never says anything to compromise sources, released his own statement saying he rejected the help.

After publication, Assange provided this statement to The Daily Beast: ”We can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”

Remember, Stone told the Russian hackers he was soliciting that, allegedly because he couldn’t verify the authenticity of any emails obtained from hackers, they should turn them over to Assange. And both the Nix email and the Assange denial seem to admit that WikiLeaks did, indeed, receive at least one set of those emails. Which would explain why Roger Stone was so certain WikiLeaks was going to drop Clinton Foundation emails — not the Podesta ones that Stone showed no interest in — in October of last year. And it would seem to explain why Guccifer 2.0 had the same belief.

That is, there are a whole bunch of dots suggesting WikiLeaks got something approximating Clinton’s emails, and either because they couldn’t be verified, or because his source was too obviously Russian, or some other unknown reason, he decided not to publish.

If that’s right, all these non-denial denials about the operation seem to point to a confluence of interest around this effort that touched pretty much everyone. And involved Russians, their agents, and GOP ratfuckers willfully working together.

Update: The Trump campaign just did some amazing bus under-throwing of CA. Compare that to this November 10 piece attributing their win to CA.

Not Mentioned in Roger Stone’s Straw Rat-Fucker Statement: the Peter Smith Rat-Fuck

Earlier today, legendary rat-fucker Roger Stone had a three hour interview before the House Intelligence Committee. Before the interview, he leaked his testimony, as all of the most implicated Trump officials — save Paul Manafort — have.

The testimony is telling for multiple reasons. Given the recent trouble I got in for saying “rat-fucker” on TV, I’m particularly invested in the way he avoided calling himself one.

As to the substance of the report, it is delightfully, tellingly, squirrelly in two different ways. First, his generalized denial is very specific to colluding with the Russian state to affect the outcome of the 2016 election; this is a point Renato Mariotti makes here.

I have no involvement in the alleged activities that are within the publicly stated scope of this Committee’s investigation  — collusion with the Russian state to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.

I’m even more interested in how he depicts what he claims are the three allegations made against him.

Members of this Committee have made three basic assertions against me which bust be rebutted her today. The charge that I knew in advance about, and predicted, the hacking of the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email, that I had advanced knowledge of the source or actual content of the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton or that, my now public exchange with a persona that our intelligence agencies claim, but cannot prove, is a Russian asset, is anything but innocuous and are entirely false.

In point of fact, this tripartite accusation is actually a misstatement of the allegations against him (though in his rebuttal of them, he is helped immensely by the sloppiness of public statements made by Democrats, especially those on the panel, which I’ve criticized myself). Generally, the accusation is more direct: that in conversing with both Julian Assange (though a cut-out) and Guccifer 2.0, Stone was facilitating or in some way helping the Trump campaign maximally exploit the Russian releases that were coming.

Which is why I find one other silence quite interesting: Stone makes no mention of the Peter Smith operation to find the emails, purportedly related to the Clinton Foundation, deleted from Hillary’s server. As I noted here, along with reaching out to multiple suspected Russian hackers and advising those with emails that might be Foundation emails to share them with WikiLeaks, rat-fucker Smith also pushed GOP operatives like rat-fucker Stone to reach out to Guccifer 2.0.

Instead, Johnson said, he put the word out to a “hidden oppo network” of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort. Johnson declined to provide the names of any of the members of this “network,” but he praised Smith’s ambition.

“The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive,” Johnson said. “He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republicanoperatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone—to Russian government hackers.)

As I noted, there is much about the events from August to October that suggest Republicans may have believed WikiLeaks had obtained, and might be leaking, the Clinton Foundation emails, only to have the John Podesta ones released in their stead.

If I’m right, it would mean that by pitching everything as pertaining to Podesta, and not to other emails, Stone can more successfully deny his involvement.

And Stone’s timeline obscures some of the key details here, notably leaving out his incorrect predictions not just of an October 5 release, but that they’d be the Foundation emails.

Also note: Stone describes his exchange with Guccifer as starting on August 14. That’s actually not right. It started on August 13 (actually, August 12 East Coast time), with this tweet, which puts it in the context of two offers for files.

It’s definitely true (in the DMs that Stone includes) that Stone ultimately doesn’t response to Guccifer 2.0’s offers of data.

But that timeline also extends matters just to where things were heating up on Smith’s hunt for Clinton Foundation documents.

As noted above, Stone has denied colluding with the Russian state to affect the outcome of the election. But that’s not a denial of colluding with Russian hackers or Russian assets (the latter a rather curious term Stone uses twice to refer to Guccifer 2.0 in his statement, but not in the Breitbart piece in which he claims to have refuted claims he was an “asset”) to “prove Hillary’s corruption” or some such excuse for digging up more dirt on Hillary.

And that’s precisely the kind of thing we know a rat-fucker like Stone would do, and precisely the kind of thing we know other rat-fuckers were doing.

The (Thus Far) Flimsy Case for Republican Cooperation on Russian Targeting

A number of credulous people are reading this article this morning and sharing it, claiming it is a smoking gun supporting the case that Republicans helped the Russians target their social media, in spite of this line, six paragraphs in.

No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise;

Not only is there not yet evidence supporting the claim that Republican party apparatchiks helped Russians target their social media activity, not only does the evidence thus far raise real questions about the efficacy of what Russia did (though that will likely change, especially once we learn more about other platforms), but folks arguing for assistance are ignoring already-public evidence and far more obvious means by which assistance might be obtained.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m acutely interested in the role of Cambridge Analytica, the micro-targeting company that melds Robert Mercer’s money with Facebook’s privatized spying (and was before it was fashionable). I first focused on Jared Kushner’s role in that process, which people are gleefully discovering now, back in May. I have repeatedly said that Facebook — which has been forthcoming about analyzing and sharing (small parts) of its data — and Twitter — which has been less forthcoming — and Google — which is still channeling Sargent Schultz — should be more transparent and have independent experts review their methodology. I’ve also been pointing out, longer than most, of the import of concentration among social media giants as a key vulnerability Russia exploited. I’m particularly interested in whether Russian operatives manipulated influencers — on Twitter, but especially in 4Chan — to magnify anti-Hillary hostility. We may find a lot of evidence that Russia had a big impact on the US election via social media.

But we don’t have that yet and people shooting off their baby cannons over the evidence before us and over mistaken interpretations about how Robert Mueller might get Facebook data are simply degrading the entire concept of evidence.

The first problem with these arguments is an issue of scale. I know a slew of articles have been written about how far $100K spent on Facebook ads go. Only one I saw dealt with scale, and even that didn’t do so by examining the full scale of what got spent in the election.

Hillary Clinton spent a billion dollars on losing last year. Of that billion, she spent tens of millions paying a 100-person digital media team and another $1 million to pay David Brock to harass people attacking Hillary on social media (see this and this for more on her digital team). And while you can — and I do, vociferously — argue she spent that money very poorly, paying pricey ineffective consultants and spending on ads in CA instead of MI, even the money she spent wisely drowns out the (thus far identified) Russian investment in fake Facebook ads. Sure, it’s possible we’ll learn Russians exploited the void in advertising left in WI and MI to sow Hillary loathing (though this is something Trump’s people have explicitly taken credit for), but we don’t have that yet.

The same is true on the other side, even accounting for all the free advertising the sensationalist press gave Trump. Sheldon Adelson spent $82 million last year, and it’s not like that money came free of demands about policy outcomes involving a foreign country. The Mercers spent millions too (and $25 million total for the election, though a lot of that got spent on Ted Cruz), even before you consider their long-term investments in Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica, the former of which is probably the most important media story from last year. Could $100K have an effect among all this money sloshing about? Sure. But by comparison it’d be tiny, particularly given the efficacy of the already established right wing noise machine backed by funding orders of magnitude larger than Russia’s spending.

Then there’s what we know thus far about how Russia spent that money. Facebook tells us (having done the kind of analysis that even the intelligence community can’t do) that these obviously fake ads weren’t actually focused primarily on the Presidential election.

  • The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate.
  • Rather, the ads and accounts appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.
  • About one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted, and of those, more ran in 2015 than 2016.

That’s not to say sowing discord in the US has no effect, or even no effect on the election. But thus far, we don’t have evidence showing that Russia’s Facebook trolls were (primarily) affirmatively pushing for Trump (though their Twitter trolls assuredly were) or that the discord they fostered happened in states that decided the election.

Now consider what a lot of breathless reporting on actual Facebook ads have shown. There was the article showing Russia bought ads supporting an anti-immigrant rally in Twin Falls, ID. The ad in question showed that just four people claimed to attend this rally in the third most Republican state. Another article focused on ads touting events in Texas. While the numbers of attendees are larger, and Texas will go Democratic long before Idaho does, we’re still talking relatively modest events in a state that was not going to decide the election.

To show Russia’s Facebook spending had a measurable impact on last year’s election, you’d want to focus on MI, WI, PA, and other close states. There were surely closely targeted ads that, particularly in rural areas where the local press is defunct and in MI where there was little advertising (WI had little presidential advertising, but tons tied to the Senate race) where such social media had an important impact; thus far it’s not clear who paid for them, though (again, Trump’s campaign has boasted about doing just that).

Additionally, empiricalerror showed that a number of the identifiably Russian ads simply repurposed existing, American ads.

That’s not surprising, as the ads appear to follow (not lead) activities that happened on far right outlets, including both Breitbart and Infowars. As with the Gizmo that tracks what it claims are Russian linked accounts and thereby gets credulous journalists to claim campaigns obviously pushed by Americans are actually Russian plots, it seems Russian propaganda is following, not leading, the right wing noise machine.

So thus far what we’re seeing is the equivalent of throwing a few matches on top of the raging bonfire that is the well established, vicious, American-funded inferno of far right media. That’s likely to change, but that’s what we have thus far.

But as I said, all this ignores one other key point: We already have evidence of assistance on the election.

Except, it went the opposite direction from where everyone is looking, hunting for instances where Republicans helped Russians decide to buy ads in Idaho that riled up 4 people.

As I reminded a few weeks back, at a time when Roger Stone and (we now know) a whole bunch of other long-standing GOP rat-fuckers were reaching out to presumed Russian hackers in hopes of finding Hillary’s long lost hacked Clinton Foundation emails, Guccifer 2.0 was reaching out to journalists and others with close ties to Republicans to push the circulation of stolen DCCC documents.

That is, the persona believed to be a front for Russia was distributing documents on House races in swing states such that they might be used by Republican opponents. Some of that data could be used for targeting.

Now, I have no idea whether Russia would risk doing more without some figure like Guccifer 2.0 to provide deniability. That is, I have no idea whether Russia would go so far as take more timely and granular data about Democrats’ targeting decisions and share that with Republicans covertly (in any case, we are led to believe that data would be old, no fresher than mid-June). But we do know they were living in the Democrats’ respective underwear drawers for almost a year.

And Russia surely wouldn’t need a persona like Guccifer 2.0 if they were sharing stolen data within Russia. If the FSB stole targeting data during the 11 months they were in the DNC servers, they could easily share that data with the Internet Research Association (the troll farm the IC believes has ties to Russian intelligence) so IRA can target more effectively than supporting immigration rallies in Idaho Falls.

Which is a mistake made by many of the sources in the Vanity Fair article everyone keeps sharing, the assumption that the only possible source of targeting help had to be Republicans.

We already know the Russians had help: they got it by helping themselves to campaign data in Democratic servers. It’s not clear they would need any more. Nor, absent proof of more effective targeting, is there any reason to believe that the dated information they stole from the Democrats wouldn’t suffice to what we’ve seen them do. Plus, we’ve never had clear answers whether or not Russians weren’t burrowed into far more useful data in Democratic servers. (Again, I think Russia’s actions with influencers on social media, particularly via 4Chan, was far more extensive, but that has more to do with HUMINT than with targeting.)

So, again, I certainly think it’s possible we’ll learn, down the road, that Republicans helped Russians figure out where to place their ads. But we’re well short of having proof of that right now, and we do have proof that some targeting data was flowing in the opposite direction.

Update: This post deals with DB’s exposure of a FB campaign organizing events in FL, which gets us far closer to something of interest. Those events came in the wake of Guccifer 2.0 releasing FL-based campaign information.