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Trump Flunkies Trading Legal Relief for Campaign Dirt: Julian Assange and Dmitro Firtash

When we discuss Trump’s abuse of pardon authority, we generally talk about how he has used it to persuade close associates to refuse to cooperate or affirmatively obstruct investigations into him. If you believe Michael Cohen, Jay Sekulow floated group pardons early in the Mueller investigation before he realized it would backfire, but he did suggest Trump would take care of Cohen in summer 2017; Rudy Giuliani reportedly repeated those assurances after Cohen got raided in April 2018. Trump has repeatedly assailed the prosecutions of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and suggested they might be rewarded with pardons for their loyalty. Trump has even suggested Mike Flynn might receive a pardon, which is good because his current attorney seems intent on blowing up his plea deal.

Even within the Mueller Report, however, there was a hint of a different kind of abuse of pardons. Trump was asked if he had discussed a pardon for Assange prior to inauguration day.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

Trump gave a typically non-responsive answer, claiming to not recall any such discussions rather than denying them outright, and limiting his answer to the campaign period, and not the transition period.

By the time Mueller asked the question, there was already abundant public evidence of a year-long effort on behalf of Trump’s flunkies to get Assange a pardon in exchange for mainstreaming his alternative version of how he obtained the emails he published in 2016. In the Stone trial, Randy Credico described how Stone reached out to Margaret Kunstler to initiate such discussions; that happened in late 2016.

At the very least, that suggests Trump’s flunkies were trying to reward Julian Assange for providing them dirt during the election. Sure, we don’t know whether those flunkies ran such proposals by Trump; we certainly don’t have the details about how Trump responded. But someone in Trump’s immediate orbit, Stone, moved to reward Assange’s actions by trying to get him immunized from any legal problems he had with the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With that in mind, consider these documents that Lev Parnas provided to HPSCI. Part of a set of notes that Parnas took last June while on a call from Rudy, it lays out what plan Parnas was supposed to present to Dmitro Firtash.

The idea was that Parnas would find a way to get rid of Lanny Davis as Firtash’s US lawyer on extradition, to be replaced by Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing. Meanwhile, Rudy would be in “DC” with a “package” that would allow him to work his “magic” to cut a “deal.” The package, it seems would involve relief from Firtash’s legal woes — an indictment for bribery in Chicago — plus some PR to make it possible for Firtash (whom just three months earlier Rudy was loudly accusing of having ties to the Russian mob) to do business in the US again. In exchange for totally perverting the US justice system so that a corrupt businessman could access the US market again, Rudy would get … bogus dirt about Joe Biden and a claim that somehow Ukraine’s publication of details on Paul Manafort’s corruption that Manafort knew about two months in advance improperly affected the 2016 election. Possibly, given other things Parnas said, it would also include a claim that Andrew Weissmann was asking Firtash for information on Manafort.

Remember: another of the oligarchs whom Manafort had crossed in the past, Oleg Deripaska, spent most of 2016 trying to feed up information to the FBI to get him indicted, even while tightening the screws on Manafort to get information about the Trump campaign. But Rudy Giuliani wants to suggest that asking Manafort’s former business partners for details of their work would be proof that Democrats cheated in 2016.

Regardless, these notes, if authentic, show that Rudy Giuliani believed he could make Firtash’s legal problems go away.

And all he would ask in exchange — besides a million dollars for his friends and another $200,000  for Parnas, chump change for Firtash — would be transparently shoddy propaganda to use to discredit the prosecution of Paul Manafort and hurt the reputation of Joe Biden.

Dirt for legal relief. A quid pro quo of a different sort.

Once again, there’s not yet any evidence that Trump’s flunkie — his ostensible defense attorney this time, not his rat-fucker — had looped Trump into this plot. Here, the legal relief would come via connections with Bill Barr (possibly with a nudge from the President), not Trump’s executive authority alone.

But in both cases, Trump’s closest associates appear to believe that the proper currency with which to obtain shoddy campaign dirt is legal relief.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation.

Steve Bannon’s 302 of Laughter and Forgetting

I want to wade through some half truths Steve Bannon told in his second Mueller interview, because it serves as a useful baseline to understand what has happened since, including Bannon’s testimony in Roger Stone’s trial.

Bannon had, according to the unredacted entries on a list of all Mueller FBI 302s, interviews with Mueller’s team on four days:

  • February 12, 2018 (26 pages)
  • February 14, 2018 (37 pages)
  • October 26, 2018 (16 pages; the interview list lists three different interviews, but they are likely just copies of the same one)
  • January 18, 2019 (4 pages)

The report (called a 302), notes, and backup for the February 14, 2018 interview were released via FOIA just before the Stone trial.

I knew — when this interview was first released — that he was shading the truth, because there was already public evidence that contradicted the story he told back in it and prosecutors caught him in a number of forgetfulness and omissions even within the interview. His Stone testimony and some other 302s released since that time make that even more clear. Which makes how he told the original half truths particularly interesting, as it points to several topics, at least some of which remain under investigation, where Bannon tried to obscure the truth.

Finding the line between false statements and being ousted from the right wing

Consider the background to the interview. Through the entire time he worked on the campaign and in the White House, Bannon was at odds with Jared Kushner, which ultimately led to his ouster from the White House in August 2017. In early January 2018, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which rather obviously relied heavily on Bannon as a source, came out. Among the incendiary claims Bannon was described as making in the book was that Don Jr’s acceptance of the June 9 meeting was “treasonous.” Even though he issued a sort of apology, Bannon was still ousted from Breitbart, cut off from the wingnut gravy train that is key to his power. Days later, Mueller used Bannon’s comments as an opportunity to subpoena him, long after obtaining testimony from similarly situated people in the investigation (Mueller may have waited because of the evidence Bannon had been part of some back channels during the transition). Between the time Mueller subpoenaed Bannon and he testified with Mueller, he testified to HPSCI, effectively previewing a story he knew would be shared with the White House. All those events likely made Bannon want to tell a story that backed off the inflammatory claims he shared with Wolff, while still hewing closely enough to the truth to avoid prison.

This was a long interview. The report extends 37 pages, the longest of any Mueller interview report noted.

The beginning focuses on obstruction. After five redacted pages, the interview discusses Trump’s disdain for Jeff Sessions. Five pages later, the interview remained focused on Trump’s obstruction, having moved onto his efforts to fire Mueller.

Several pages later, it moved to the June 9 meeting. Bannon said he had no knowledge of the meeting at the time it happened (remember, he joined the campaign in August 2016), which made it easy for him to accuse Jared of treason, since he was uninvolved.

Bannon can’t decide whether he got Manafort fired or tried to protect him

But Bannon’s response to and insulation from the June 9 meeting is important background to where things start to get interesting, an apparent attempt to get Kushner fired in the wake of the June 9 meeting revelations.

On page 14 of the interview, Bannon got shown a July 24 email (PDF 174), which shows him forwarding a July 24, 2017 story implicating Jared in Russian money laundering to someone at Breitbart, telling them not to touch it yet. But the subsequent conversation makes it clear that Bannon was preparing to try to get Jared fired in the wake of the June 9 meeting revelation.

Bannon’s explanation to Mueller’s team was totally nonsensical, not least because he doesn’t appear to address the article at all, but important for everything that came after. He talks about what happened when he joined the campaign.

Bannon knew Kushner was on vacation off the coast of Croatia with a Russian billionaire when Bannon took over the campaign. Kushner was with Wendy Deng, the Russian billionaire, and the Russian’s girlfriend. Bannon said his friends in the intelligence community said the girlfriend was “questionable.” Bannon called Kushner and told him to come back from vacation. They had 85 days to go, no money and they needed Kushner to come back and fire Paul Manafort.

Both by date — 85 days before the election would be — and by public reporting, Bannon is referring to something that happened in mid-August 2016, when Ivanka and Jared were pictured on David Geffen’s boat off of Dubrovnik, probably a hit piece meant to suggest that Kushner was really a Democrat. Later, the frothy left had, in 2017, made much of the fact that Dmitry Rybolovlev was in Dubrovnik at the same time Kushner was. But in his interview, Bannon was basically answering a question about a hit piece from the weeks before he was ousted by making a claim that he had had to recall Kushner from that vacation in Dubrovnik at a time the campaign was failing to fire Paul Manafort.

Two pages later, the interview turns to how Bannon get set up with Trump in the first place — both how he had earlier been aligned with other outsider candidates and then swooped in in August 2016 to take over the campaign. The notes, but not the report itself, reveals that he got to know Sam Nunberg pretty well. The narrative loops through discussions of Cruz and Lewandowski, includes discussions from June 2016, then turns back to where Bannon anachronistically put his answer to the previous question: to what sorry shape the campaign was in when he took over in mid-August.

At the time Trump was 16 points down, the campaign had no organization, no money, 75% of the population through the country was in decline, they were working with the “deplorables,” and  Bannon had a 100% certitude that they would win. Bannon believed that the big task was to give people permission to vote for Trump as commander in chief.

Bannon’s story shifts immediately back to how he ousted Manafort, but this time he tells a story that differs from what he told Mueller just pages earlier.

The next day Bannon met with Manafort, which was the same time that the news about the “Black Ledger” was breaking. Bannon was at campaign headquarters when Manafort told Bannon to come up to Trump Tower. When Bannon arrived, Manafort showed him something about a NY Times story about the “Black Ledger” and $15 million dollars from the Ukraine. Bannon asked when this story was coming out. Manafort replied that he had known about the story coming out for approximately 2 months and had not gotten involved in it. Bannon subsequently told Trump to keep Manafort, to not fire him, and to keep him around for a couple of weeks. Bannon called Kushner, and asked him to get back in order to do something publicity wise to counteract the negative press surrounding the story. Trump had asked Bannon at one time about “what was this thing with Manafort out of the Ukraine,” and they talked for approximately 15 minutes on it. Trump was never linked with other Russian news stories at the time, and he believed Manafort was a promoter. Trump was more worried about how they [sic] story made them look. Bannon believed that Trump talked with Manafort about the story.

Just pages earlier, Bannon had claimed he called Kushner back to fire Manafort; here he said he called Kushner back to do publicity to make it feasible to keep him on.

Bannon claims not to remember how Prince scripted Trump’s answers on Russia for the last debate

Then the interview moves to Erik Prince.

Remember, this interview takes place against he background of Mueller’s efforts to figure out Bannon’s role in sending Prince to set up a back channel with Kirill Dmitriev in the Seychelles. But rather than go there, the interview focuses on whether whether Prince had scripted the answers on Russia that Trump used in the final debate on October 19, 2016.

Bannon explained that he had never had a conversation with Prince about foreign policy with respect to the Trump campaign. Then, prosecutors asked him about a series of documents that proved him wrong:

  • Some talking points Prince sent on September 8, 2015 (PDF 181), effectively pitching his services, which Bannon forwarded to Corey Lewandowski
  • An email exchange showing Bannon forwarding those talking points, Bannon following up (after just having spoken to Prince) asking whether Lewandowski had read the Prince brief, Lewandowski responding they were meeting with Flynn shortly, followed by Bannon offering Prince to brief Trump
  • An email showing Bannon setting up an interview (possibly with Prince) regarding the GOP spat over Section 215 in December 2015
  • A January 14, 2016 where Bannon gave Prince a reference for someone he described as Muslim who was living in India, possibly suggesting Prince should hire him
  • A March 17, 2016 email showing Bannon inviting Prince on his show and trying to set up another Prince-Trump meeting
  • A May 23, 2016 email with Prince suggesting Trump meet with Oleg Hladkovskyy, then the National Security Advisor of Ukraine, who was being hosted by a Prince friend who was in the aerospace business
  • An October 18, 2016 email (PDF 196) from Prince suggesting that, “Mr. T should introduce, an alternative narrative” on Russian election interference by arguing that Putin and Lavrov, “know your weaknesses and your penchant for recklessness, ignoring rules and regulations, which has provided a treasure trove of sensitive information while you were Secretary of State” (!!!)
  • A November 16, 2016 email from Mark Corallo that Prince forwarded to Bannon showing that Corallo was fluffing Bannon with reporters, with the explanation, “We are getting you more PR help”

In response to seeing these documents, Bannon claimed to forget almost all of it.

He professed to not remembering whether Prince had briefed Trump in September 2015, and claimed — the written record notwithstanding — that he spoke to Prince infrequently. He then claimed to not remember whether Prince had come on his show but excused it because Prince was “on the right;” he doesn’t appear to have answered whether Prince briefed Trump. Bannon did not remember the Hladkovskyy pitch, but explained that by saying Prince “as someone with a good relationship with Trump.” Bannon appears to have responded to the Prince advice on how to change the Russian narrative — what the original question was directed towards — by suggesting that campaign headquarters were “loosey goosey” meaning Prince may have come in with free reign during the period Bannon was the campaign CEO (meaning that Bannon couldn’t be pinned down as the exclusive via which Prince scripted that question). Bannon claimed not to remember Prince going out of his way to help Bannon get good PR.

In other words, Mueller’s team first asked Bannon if he had been the channel for Prince to inject policy views — specifically the view that the US should partner with Russia to go after ISIS — into the campaign. Bannon said no. And then prosecutors showed him a bunch of emails showing that’s probably what happened, including Prince offering a scripted answer about Russia for the last debate.

The MBZ back channel

Mueller’s prosecutors then moved to another of the sensitive things Bannon had a role in: the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed during the transition.

The story goes back to a meeting Trump had with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, something George Papadopoulos had claimed credit for. Bannon gave Kushner the credit. He claimed he didn’t know if they talked about Russia. He also claimed that if he met George Nader, they did little more than shake hands (Bannon would retain ties with Nader for quite some time after this).

There’s a heavily redacted paragraph that, in the notes, clearly involves George Nader. Given his role in brokering the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev, that may be what the passage is about.

Bannon then claims that he last heard from Nader two or three months earlier (that is, late 2017), but that Nader hadn’t reached out to him about being forced to testify to Mueller the month earlier.

Bannon remembers Rick Gerson

Immediately after catching Bannon forgetting how central he was to channeling Prince into the campaign (above), he was asked about Rick Gerson, who would play a key role, with Kirill Dmitriev, in scripting the initial phone call between Trump and Putin. When he was first asked, Bannon said he didn’t remember him.

Then, after the Nader discussion, he was shown a picture, and Bannon recognized that he was Kushner’s hedge fund buddy whom he had referenced earlier. There are two redacted paragraphs, after which Bannon is again asked whether he spoke to Nader about his testimony. Bannon claimed to have learned of Nader’s testimony from the newspaper, “but then said that he could be wrong.” It seems like prosecutors knew it was wrong.

Bannon disclaims any knowledge of Trump’s Russian business ties

After over two redacted pages, the interview then turns to the Trump Tower Russia deal. Bannon started by blaming Michael Cohen for the shit he protected Trump from (a particularly notable comment since Wolff had reported him claiming that Cohen had “taken care of” a “hundred women” during the campaign).

Bannon described Cohen as the kind of guy who thought it would be a good idea to send $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

Bannon was then shown a document about Trump Tower (which was not released in the FOIA). In response, he tried to claim he had no knowledge of Trump having any business deals.

Bannon was told “zero” deals involving Russia and the Trump Organization. Candidate Trump would say he didn’t know any Russians and there was no collusion. This came up during the campaign a couple of times. Bannon never asked Trump about any Russian business deals. In regard to the emails [sic] reference to Felix Sater, Bannon stated that this went back to the House Intelligence Committee, that they had a signed term sheet in December 2015 on Trump Tower Moscow. This was a big deal to Bannon, and Bannon described it as a “big reveal.”

Mostly, they’re asking Bannon about the cover story that wouldn’t be exposed as such for months after this interview. But it’s significant because before and after the question, Bannon claimed that when Manafort’s Russian ties were creating problems in August 2016, he had no knowledge that Trump had ties to Russia.

After a number of redacted paragraphs, the interview turns to Bannon’s knowledge — which he had reportedly bragged about to Wolff — of the Stormy Daniels payment. Bannon claimed, dubiously, to have spoken to Breitbart people about the payment (which happened while he was CEO of the campaign), but not anyone on the campaign. This dubious claim is of particular interest given that, shortly after Cohen was raided two months after this interview, Bannon started pushing to fire Rod Rosenstein to end the investigation.

Then the discussion returns to Trump’s Russian business deals. After twice already claiming that he had no knowledge of Trump’s Russian business ties, Bannon then admitted:

  • Having read stories from March and April in 2016 on the topic, but not discussing them with anyone on the campaign
  • Learning, while he was on the campaign, of the Dmitry Rybolovlev purchase of Trump’s mansion, but accepting Trump’s “plausible” explanation for it
  • Learning the limited hangout Trump Tower story, but reaching out to people at The Intercept, Fox, the Guardian, and ABC, and because they had no knowledge of it, thinking no further of it
  • Claiming to have “never talked to Trump on how he thought all these stories on his business dealings with Russia was absurd”

Bannon was then shown an email (this is out of order, in the back-up section starting at PDF 234) where he had asked Cohen about claims about Sergey Millian, which he didn’t remember getting, nor does he remember discussing it with the campaign, even though he included Kellyanne Conway, Jared, Stephen Miller, and two other people in his question to Cohen about it. It consisted of a September 22, 2016, response from Sergei Millian to an FT reporter on how sanctions affected deals with Russia, a follow-up four days later, followed by a specific disavowal on September 27 that he had worked, personally, for Trump. Millian forwarded it to Cohen that same day, and Cohen forwarded it to the campaign, misstating what Millian said as a disavowal of any relationship. When Bannon asked what the context was, Jared responded by explaining that Hillary was playing commercials claiming that Trump wasn’t releasing his taxes to hide his ties to Russian oligarchs.

Effectively, Bannon made a not very credible case, one undermined by the documentary record, that he never learned — and never asked about — the Russian business ties of his boss.

But her emails and those other emails and other emails still

Much of the rest of the interview focuses on at least five different uses of emails, oppo research, and social media during the campaign: Cambridge Analytica, Bannon’s own oppo research, Hillary 33,0000 emails, Papadopoulos’ advance notice of the Russian operation, and Stone’s activities. One interesting aspect of this is the way the interview seems to shift back and forth between these seemingly distinct issues, starting with Sam Nunberg, going through Cambridge Analytica and the 33,000 emails, then returning to Stone. That may be because this section is heavily redacted (much of it for ongoing investigative reasons, and not just the parts pertaining to Stone), but it also may have to do with the fact that Bannon’s role went from outside purveyor of junk oppo research and lackey of the Mercers to the guy leading the campaign. Remember, the Mercers funded both Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute and CA. While it’s not yet clear why, the way in which these two streams collapsed in August 2016 remains important.

First, Bannon was asked about a June 5, 2015 email from Barbara Ledeen (PDF 199) sharing her proposal to find Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails (which was specifically pitched in terms of opposition research, not — in Ledeen’s function on SJC — as an oversight goal). The Bates stamp on it suggests it came from his response to subpoena. Bannon said that was part of his work on Government Accountability Institute, and was part of his effort to package allegations about the Clinton Foundation into the book, Clinton Cash, that would go on to be the basis of an FBI investigation during the campaign.

Next, Bannon explained an August 4, 2015 email to Bannon saying that Lewandowski had “just confirmed green light on Trump :-)))”. It pertained to voter targeting, but the data operation people were not retained.  Bannon seems to have responded to this 2015 email by explaining that someone from Cambridge Analytica introduced Bannon to Ivanka and Jared after Ted Cruz withdrew in May 2016, which was the first time he met them.

Next, Bannon was asked about a June 12, 2016 email from someone in the UK (PDF 226). Based on the length of some of the redactions, Alexander Nix was almost certainly involved. The email pitched Bannon meeting with someone while on a trip to the UK in the next two weeks to discuss the Super PAC. Bannon responded “Love it,” but in the interview he claimed not remembering talking to what is almost certainly Nix about this meeting. Parts of this email are redacted under the b7ABC exemption, reflecting an ongoing investigation in November when it was released.

Then Bannon was asked whether he had worked with George Papadopoulos on setting up the meeting with al-Sisi as a way to ask if he had heard Papadopoulos’ information about Russian dirt. Bannon claimed that Flynn would be on the hook for the al-Sisi meetings Papadopoulos was floating, so he didn’t need to interact with Papadopoulos.

Importantly, Bannon said he “had all the dirt he needed from Clinton Cash and Uranium One,” so he didn’t need “any more dirt from ‘clowns’ like Papadopoulos and Clovis.” This is an important issue: Bannon claimed, back in February 2018, that he believed there was a finite amount of dirt needed between the dirt he had invented and the dirt others — the Russians — were offering. By saying he already had his own dirt, he was effectively disavowing an interest in dirt that came from Russia and suggesting they were separate. Note, too, that the answer is particularly interesting because when Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer about the Russian offer, he mentioned that the campaign already had a ton of dirt, which presumably would have been Bannon’s.

It appears, given his name appearing in the notes but not in unredacted form in the 302, that the discussion then turned to Sam Nunberg, who may have sent Bannon an email on January 7, 2016 — long before Bannon joined the campaign — referring to the “Data Guy in Trump Tower.” Bannon thought the name in the email was wrong though did remember meeting a “data guy” there in January 2016. He thought Nunberg did a great job running the campaign by himself for a year (which is interesting because he seemed to have a good relationship with Lewandowski, who was nominally running it).

Bannon is then shown two emails which were not released in FOIA, at least one of which pertains to CA. His responses are redacted under ongoing investigation exemptions.

Bannon then explained that in August 2016, Kushner was in charge of the digital campaign and fundraising, and “the campaign had almost no cash and they were receiving only a small amount from online contributions.” Thus, he repeats the refrain he used at the beginning of the interview, but this time in the specific context of social media and online fundraising.

The interview then turns to an April 20, 2016 email (this is out of order at PDF 239) showing what may be Bannon following up on a meeting by referring to someone else, with the interlocutor asking to call the next day. Bannon claimed not to remember that email.

Bannon is then shown a May 4, 2016 email (which seems to be an automatically forwarded text) that came from Cambridge Analytica. The CA sender described someone — either Ken Cuccinelli or someone who worked for him — being a “total pretender,” because “We worked on our very first pilot program with him in 2013.” Bannon believed that this pertained to an earlier email he had been shown (one of the ones not released under FOIA), and explained that “Cambridge Analytica claimed they could help micro-target voters on Facebook.” He goes on to discuss a project for CA.

The interview turns to two more emails, not provided under FOIA, withheld under the ongoing investigations exemptions.

The next refers to an email to someone dated August 26, 2016, asking if the recipient (by redaction length, this could be Stone) could talk because Bannon Had some ideas.

Bannon claimed not to remember what the ideas in question were. As noted, it was withheld as part of an ongoing investigation.

The next document was from Ted Malloch, dated August 30, 2016, who offered up the idea that Trump should hand Hillary an indictment during the first debate. Malloch said he’d been “in constant touch with the campaign” though the rest is redacted. Bannon claimed to have no contact, apparently with Malloch though possibly with Jerome Corsi (who was in contact with him at the time).

Bannon was shown another email, about which there was a short entirely redacted description. Then the interviewers took a 10 minute break. He was asked about the email again, and there was an extensive description, per the notes, possibly integrating two more issues. Whatever the email was, it is a significant part of this interview, redacted for ongoing investigations.

But it likely pertains to Stone, because Bannon claimed he was interested in the 33,000 emails, but not the John Podesta information.

Bannon was always interested in the missing 33,000 emails, but was not interested in the John Podesta information since he believed it was not going to impact the election. Bannon clarified that he was talking to [several sentences redacted] Bannon was interested in the verified 33,000 emails and how it related to Uranium One. Bannon might have talked with [redacted] at one time, about the 33,0000 emails. After Bannon came onto the campaign, it got into Candidate Trump’s “head” that the 33,000 emails might be important. Trump was focused on “crooked Hillary” and the Uranium One story, and thought the 33,000 missing emails might unlock it. They never discussed that the Russians might have them. Bannon thought that some hackers in Bulgarian might have them. There was not much of a response from Trump and every now and then he would bring up the 33,000 emails. One time when the Podesta emails were released, Trump asked if it was a big deal. Bannon [redacted] with Trump. Flynn or Kellogg might have had a disc on finding the 33,000 emails. Bannon though Flynn might have had an idea about using an outside company and finding the 33,000 missing emails. If it was anything cyber related, Bannon would always refer to Bannon and the cyber guys. Bannon did not think the WikiLeaks releases were that big of a deal, the important information was the 33,000 missing emails. Kellogg thought the same thing, and he was not a cyber guy. Priebus and Miller had talked about the 33,000 missing emails.

There’s a lot that’s obvious invention here (notably that no one thought Russia might have the 33,000 emails and that Bannon wasn’t interested in the WikiLeaks releases). But I’m particularly interested in the degree to which Bannon again pitches these things as unrelated — the 33,000 emails are one thing, the WikiLeaks releases are another. When Bannon joined the campaign, after all, Roger Stone was bragging about how the following dumps would be the missing emails.

The interview then turned to a discussion of the way the Podesta emails came out jut as the Billy Bush tape came out, with Bannon claiming that he “never thought the Podesta releases were a big deal.”

The interview then reviews three more emails, the discussion of one of which is redacted for ongoing investigations but the email itself appears largely unredacted in the backup.

This is, then, an email about debate prep for the same October 19 debate where Erik Prince appears to have scripted Trump’s answer on Russia, though this time there’s a reference to “Our friend in FL,” which might be Stone.

The next email and discussion is not redacted. It pertains to a Prince fundraiser, which leads Bannon to disavow any coordination issue. As I’ll discuss in a follow-up, we know that Prince was fundraising for Stone at this time, which did pose coordination problems. The issue was supposed to come up at Stone’s trial, but did not.

Then Bannon is asked about the September 21 email via which Trump Jr sends a link to a WikiLeaks site (though Bannon was forwarded the email — he didn’t get it directly). The discussion of the email is not interesting. But Bannon’s disavowals on WikiLeaks, again, have been refuted by his subsequent testimony, including during Stone’s trial.

Bannon did not remember anyone else in contact with WikiLeaks. There was discussion during the campaign on how WikiLeaks could impact the race. Bannon did not think anyone had any ideas on where WikiLeaks had got their information. Bannon did not remember anyone reaching out to [redacted, almost certainly Stone], WikiLeaks, or any other intermediary to see what information might be coming.

Indeed, Bannon’s claims were almost immediately challenged in the interview, when Bannon was asked about the November 5, 2016 thread that started with Paul Manafort sending Jared a memo warning that Hillary would,

move immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.

Jared forwarded it to Bannon and David Bossie, in response to which Bannon said,

We need to avoid this guy like the plague.

They are going to try and say the Russians worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us.

Paul is a nice guy but can’t let word get out he is advising us.

In response to being shown an email where he suggests Manafort was advising the campaign (the Mueller Report reveals that Rick Gates, in an interview just two days before this one, had revealed that Manafort told Gates he was still speaking with Trump, Kushner, and Bannon himself), Bannon claimed he,

was not aware of any instances of Manafort advising, or being involved in the campaign after his ouster.

Then, Bannon claimed that,

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [redacted, almost certainly Stone] or Manafort.

The substantive part of the interview ends, then, with Bannon making a tie between Manafort and (almost certainly) Stone that admits a tie between Stone and WikiLeaks that Bannon would later testify to, repeatedly, under oath, even while disclaiming any tie to Stone, even though emails would prove that false.

Bannon tells Mueller want to obtain warrants for

The last major paragraph of the interview lays out Bannon’s claims about his communications habits, including:

  • Bannon had three cell phones but did not use either the campaign one or the “secure” one provided by the Federal government to ensure his communications remained secure
  • He didn’t use the campaign iPad much
  • He had no idea that his cell phone had been set up to not archive text messages (which is pertinent because his messages with Prince got deleted)
  • He claimed not to use secure apps during the campaign and transition, but got ProtonMail and Signal not long before leaving the White House
  • Bannon never used Slack, though Breitbart did
  • Bannon got Wickr on Prince’s recommendation, but used Signal with other people
  • He claimed not to know of all the people using secure apps
  • After having just said he primarily used his personal cell phone, Bannon claimed not to have used his personal phone for White House business
  • Bannon several times disclaimed any discussion of the importance of keeping his text messages to comply with the Federal Records Act
  • Bannon said he primarily used his White House email to do business, but then described using his “arc-ent” one, but claimed they got archived a the White House

This language would be particularly useful for prosecutors to use in warrants.

But it’s also important for another reason. Most, if not all, of the referenced Bates stamps in this interview were clearly Steve Bannon’s own production, what he turned over himself. But we know of at least two key emails that don’t appear in this interview, either because they’re redacted, or because Bannon didn’t turn them over. One is an August 18, 2016 email from Stone, sent immediately after Bannon was publicly announced to be joining the campaign, promising Bannon he knew how to win the election. Another is an exchange from October 4 2016, showing Bannon showing great interest in WikiLeaks, in contradiction to the unredacted parts of his testimony. Plus, there’s a text from Bannon’s assistant, Andrea Preate, congratulating Stone after WikiLeaks stomped on the Access Hollywood tape.

To the extent that Mueller relied in this interview (and the earlier one, two days earlier) on Bannon’s production — and it’s not clear whether that’s what happened or not — it would leave the possibility that Bannon didn’t turn over things that were clearly responsive to any Mueller subpoena.

Again, we don’t know whether that happened or not. But Bannon’s unredacted testimony is inconsistent with exchanges with Stone we know were documented. And, as mentioned above, when Cohen was raided, Bannon lost it, pushing to fire Rosenstein after he had told Jared that firing Comey was the stupidest political decision in modern history.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. And as a reminder, a significant part of my PhD work involved Czech literature. 

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.

Jerome Corsi’s Descent into Madness

Among the Mueller documents released to BuzzFeed under FOIA the other day are five of Jerome Corsi’s six interview reports (called 302s). Two 302s from Ted Malloch were released as well. I suspect these were released now so that they could be released after Roger Stone’s trial, but before the gag order Amy Berman Jackson imposed is lifted when Stone is sentenced next month, meaning it was a convenient way to hide information behind b7ABC redactions for an ongoing investigation.

While some are heavily (and in one case, entirely) redacted, the reports read in conjunction with Corsi’s book provide a glimpse of what Mueller’s team was focused on in 2018 as they tried to finalize charges against Roger Stone.

Corsi’s “cooperation” can be broken into three periods. From September 6 to 21, Mueller’s team got Corsi to stop lying about his role in Roger Stone’s attempt to learn about WikiLeaks’ releases and testify to the grand jury that a report he did on August 31, 2016 was a cover story Stone asked him to write on August 30. From then until November 2, Mueller’s team unsuccessfully tried to get Corsi to tell them his (or Stone’s) source of information about WikiLeaks’ drops. In response, they tried to use false statements charges to get him to cooperate, but after the election, Jeff Sessions’ replacement with Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker, and some intervention from Trump, Corsi refused to cooperate on November 26.

While there’s a ton that’s still redacted, it seems that Corsi revealed a lot of details about how he and Stone tried to cover up what they were doing in August 2016, but not the stuff they were trying to cover up. Which may be why the government charged Stone just for that cover-up.

Corsi’s claims about joint defense agreements

In his book, Corsi provides an illogical explanation for why he purported was comparing notes with Trump’s lawyers, but not Stone’s.

September 5, 2018: He immediately precedes the description of his first trip to DC to meet with Mueller’s team with an explanation that Jay Sekulow had reached out to his lawyer, David Gray, to offer to enter into a Joint Defense Agreement. Contextually, Gray’s call to accept Sekulow’s offer may have been placed the night before they went to DC.

September 6: First interview (Zelinsky, Goldstein, Rhee)

In the first interview, Corsi attempted to (and publicly said in advance he would) testify that Stone had asked him to break the law, but he had not done what Stone requested. After going through background about how Corsi met Trump, some people on his campaign, and Stone, Aaron Zelinsky made it clear that they had proof Corsi had done what Stone requested. That led Gray to ask prosecutors excuse Corsi’s false testimony because he didn’t have his emails, so hadn’t been able to review what really happened. After Gray offered to have Corsi restore his emails and review what really did happen, they broke for the day.

The unredacted parts of the 302 contradict Corsi’s claims about two topics: how many FBI Agents were in his interview (the 302 appears to show just two) and who started a discussion about recording the interview. According to the 302, Corsi’s lawyer did — and asked to record the interview himself, which led Mueller’s team to ask whether he or Corsi were taping the interview and whether they had recorded their conversations with the FBI Agent who had picked them up. After this discussion in the 302, there’s a long redaction that may pertain to the terms on which Corsi shared his devices.

Much of the unredacted interview includes Corsi’s background, including how he came to move from WorldNetDaily to InfoWars, though this passage redacts Stone’s name for ongoing investigation reasons.

The unredacted passage describes Corsi’s description of visiting Trump campaign headquarters in June. He does not, at least in the unredacted passages, reveal something that he revealed in his book: that he met Trump there, who said, “That’s trouble there.” The 302 includes a detail that isn’t in his book though: that he had extensive interactions with Michael Cohen, who “relayed messages to Trump” for him.

The 302 redacts Corsi’s description of how he came to know Stone, and his claims about what happened in July and August 2016.

Which leads to this description of interacting with Sam Clovis about Ted Malloch.

Around the same time, Corsi told Sam Clovis about Malloch. Clovis was being ignored by the campaign and his foreign policy team was failing. Corsi never met with Clovis in person, but Clovis knew of Corsi’s work.

In his book, Corsi provides a version of something that’s totally redacted (for ongoing investigations) in the 302: how he claimed he did not respond to Stone’s request to try to find out what Julian Assange had.

“As I result of that experience, I told Stone, ‘No,’ that I would not contact Assange or ask anyone to get in touch with Assange,” I explained. “I knew that from the moment I contacted Julian Assange, I would be under investigation from several different intelligence agencies, including those of the U.S. government.” Besides, I asserted to Mueller’s team, even if Assange had told me what Democratic National Committee emails he had and what he planned to do with them, no one would believe me. I argued that I had decided to wait until Assange published the emails. Then, I could write about the stolen emails without being involved in an investigation.

In response to this lie, Zelinsky told Corsi they had proof that he did actually respond (which was an email he forwarded to Ted Malloch on July 25).

The 302 includes (but redacts) some things Corsi said to the FBI Agent who drove him back to his hotel; he said he asked them for help figuring out what proof Zelinsky had that he had actually responded.

In Corsi’s book, he explains how the night after he testified, one of Stone’s lawyers called David Gray. Corsi describes the dilemma he faced about whether to respond (which, he claimed, he worried would leak) or not to (which, he worried, would make Stone think he flipped on him). Ultimately they claim they told Stone’s lawyer, “We decline, for now,” to tell him what happened. Even assuming this is true, Corsi doesn’t reveal whether they later did tell Stone what was going on in his interviews. Effectively Corsi would like you to believe he had no problem sharing notes with Trump but he thought it would be a problem to share them with Stone.

The day after his interview, Agents return his devices, and he describes restoring his emails from 2016. He describes “discovering” the July 25 email (but not, allegedly, the August 2 one or an August 15 one that clearly pertains to WikiLeaks files, nor an August 16 one to Ted Malloch discussing Putin). He also “discovers” an August 15 story he wrote about Stone.

Note: it’s bullshit that he didn’t have the July 25 and August 2 emails. On April 3, 2017, Stone lawyer Grant Smith had sent Corsi what he claimed were the only two emails discussing a request between them.

This got sent while Corsi and Stone were further elaborating on his cover story, so might have been interpreted as a code not to mention Corsi’s response or an August 15 email from him reflecting further knowledge of what emails would drop.

September 17: Second interview (Zelinsky, Rhee, Goldstein)

In any case, at the beginning of the next interview on September 17, per Corsi’s book, Zelinsky told Grey they have specific knowledge that Corsi predicted the Podesta emails and had some effect over their release in October.

In this interview, per his book, Corsi admits he told Stone that the Podesta emails were coming, but claimed not to know who told him about them. The unredacted parts of the 302 seem to show some of what explanation he gave, including his ties to Ted Malloch. The 302 shows Corsi admitting he spoke with Malloch (on Facetime), did not recall Malloch ever providing information from Assange.

The 302 describes Corsi claiming, “[M]any people were interested in Corsi getting in touch with Assange.” That’s probably true, as his WND editor wanted him to interview Assange. But I wonder if it reflects speaking to Trump about it.

Corsi also explained that he had additional ties to the Trump campaign, via Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller, the latter of whom is particularly interesting, given his ties to white supremacist culture.

The 302 redacts all of Corsi’s bullshit claims not to know who told him about the Podesta emails.

September 21: Third interview (Zelinsky, Rhee, Goldstein), proffer signed

Corsi’s third interview took place at the DC Courthouse, just before he testified for half an hour before the grand jury. Over the course of the interview, his lawyer asked for a proffer to protect Corsi for being charged with suborning perjury for writing part of Stone’s cover story.

The interview started with Corsi repeating his bullshit story about telling Stone that Podesta’s emails were coming (which is redacted in the 302), but claiming that he didn’t know his own source for that information.

Corsi said, as of August 2016, he had watched and seen Podesta for a long time. Corsi thought WikiLeaks would release Podesta’s emails serially in order to continually feed the news cycle, as opposed to dropping all the information at once. Corsi also thought Julian Assange (Assange) would designed the release of Podesta’s emails to be an “October surprise.”

After that the interview turned to Corsi’s claims in an email (which Mueller was never able to determine the truth of) to have been responsible for WikiLeaks releasing the Podesta emails to stomp on the Access Hollywood video. In this interview, he stated he had no input over that release.

The 302 redacts the discussion of the cover story Corsi helped craft on August 30, but shows the process of Mueller’s team verbally and then later writing up a proffer protecting Corsi from any criminal exposure for doing that.

10:50 AM: SCO enters into a verbal proffer (Corsi’s lawyer realizing his client was at risk for cover-up)

Corsi’s discussion of Ted Malloch is totally redacted (Corsi told Malloch in August that he knew the Podesta emails were coming).

There’s a partly redacted discussion of Corsi’s relationship to someone whose name is redacted. It likely relates to Brexit (because it mentions the EU), and it appears someone offered Corsi a job, which Corsi claims felt like a con-job.

Then interview moves to someone Russian he knows (redacted with b7A but not B, suggesting it was counterintelligence). That discussion appears before the 302 notes that, “Corsi said many people contact him and he doesn’t always know who they are.”

Some of the discussion about October 7, the Podesta email release, is redacted. But there’s a great deal of bullshit claims about how Corsi got the emails released via the strength of his own tweeting.

Corsi was convinced, however, it was through his efforts that WikiLeaks released Podesta’s emails when they did.

Finally, this passage is likely a reference to Stone trying to coach Corsi’s testimony, though the redacted name is likely not Stone’s (because it’s not redacted for b7ABC). Given that one of Stone’s lawyers called him on September 6, it seems likely it was one of the lawyers (possibly Grant Smith by length and his seeming role in Stone’s cover stories). Note he may be trying to move Corsi back to the Credico cover story.

This passage — and the references to Trump getting reports on his testimony — is all the more weird given that his lawyer probably was in close contact with Sekulow during this process (Sekulow doesn’t seem to fit based on length).

After Corsi gave testimony about the August 30 cover story to the grand jury, Mueller’s team told him he might be called back to talk more about his source.

October 22: In the middle of this process, I wrote a post arguing that Stone and Corsi appeared to have not just gotten news of Podesta’s emails, but got the actual emails in advance. I’m sure Mueller’s team had far more evidence to get there on their own, but I find this post worth marking.

October 25:  Before they brought Corsi back again, they interviewed Rick Gates on WikiLeaks stuff, including asking why he got sent Corsi stuff. (PDF 39)

October 29: The FBI finished the first batch of Corsi’s 302s, from September 6, 17, and 21, on October 29, also before he was called back.

October 31: Proffer continued.

DOJ did not release the October 31 Corsi 302 (though it’s supposedly going to come out in a January 17 production). Corsi’s book discusses his testimony from October 31, November 1, and November 2 all in one bunch. But it seems clear that on October 31, the prosecutors showed him more records showing that he was lying about his source for Podesta.

November 1 (Rhee, Goldstein, Zelinsky, Atkinson for some of the interview): Proffer continued

This is the one interview where Rush Atkinson showed up for parts of the interview, which is interesting given that he worked on the Russian side of the investigation.

The interview starts with Corsi shifting his story yet again, claiming he did not remember a lot of what he was shown the day before, so he “realized that the way he wanted to remember things was not actually how things happened.” The interview discusses a bunch of redacted stuff, then again Corsi admitted he, “had been lying to himself to believe his own cover story.”

The discussion then turns to Ted Malloch, interspersed with discussions about WND. He clearly invents another story about how he learned about Podesta’s emails (which Corsi lays out in his book). After more redacted material, the 302 reveals that, rather than (or in addition to) asking Assange about Bernie’s brother on August 16, 2016 — a request Stone had made of him in July — he also mentioned Putin. (!!!)

Corsi did not remember sending Malloch an email on August 16, 2016 about Putin.

This leads directly into a discussion claiming his October 6, 2016 story on John Podesta — which I argued in my October 22 post suggested Corsi had already seen the Joule Holding emails that WikiLeaks would not release until October 11 — is just his August 31 cover story report.

Corsi published the August 31, 2016 memo on October 6, 2016. At that time, he still help himself out as the connection to WikiLeaks. The trigger for the release of the article was the publication of an article about [Paul] Manafort and [Viktor] Yanukovych. Corsi wanted to counter it with a story about Podesta, but he really wanted to provide stimulus to Assange to release whatever he had on Podesta. Corsi was angry with Assange for not releasing emails on October 4, 2016.

The interview then returns to events of October 7, with Corsi again offering some story for how he forced Assange to optimize the release of those Podesta emails. The unredacted parts of this show Corsi equivocating about what he did and did not have a clearly memory of, just as he lays out in his book. But in this case, he admits he did not deserve credit for optimizing the release; the paragraph is half redacted, suggesting maybe he says Stone should get credit for it.

The interview reveals that Corsi met with Malloch and another person on January 7, 2017; but he did not recall any conversation about WikiLeaks, Stone, or Assange

From there, prosecutors made Corsi walk though the March 2017 version of his August 31 report to explain where each bit came from.

The 302 then describes Corsi [going] through the [March 2017 cover story] “Blame Me!” article and said [redacted] Paragraphs three through six were pulled from the Schweitzer report. Over a page is redacted here, which probably pertains to the ongoing cover-up that he and Stone engaged in.

The interview ends with a discussion of his work changes, most notably the move from WND to DCI and InfoWars, which paid better. Whereas an earlier 302 redacts that it was Stone who got Corsi his job, this one reveals that, “Stone told Corsi that WND was not big enough for him and he should work for Jones.” He also revealed he “did not get paid by InfoWars directly.” There were reports that prosecutors were investigating whether this was a means to bribe Corsi to remain silent, which they would later return to. Corsi stopped working for DCI in March or April 2018.

Interspersed in all this, Corsi described Malloch trying to get him involved in a Turkey contract.

November 2: Proffer continued (Rhee, Zelinsky, entirely redacted)

The November 2 302 is entirely redacted (and shorter — just a page long), aside from the boilerplate language that revealed that for the first time, Goldstein did not attend the interview, perhaps because Corsi was just flinging bullshit on most topics.

November 6: Election day.

November 7: November 2 Corsi 302 finished, Sessions gets fired.

November 8: On his podcast, Corsi suggests something big is going down with Mueller/

November 9: Corsi appears before the grand jury and doesn’t give the answer — regarding how he learned that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails — that prosecutors expected; they told him they were going to charge him with perjury.

November 12: On his podcast, Corsi says he expects to be indicted; a huge media frenzy follows.

November 13: The media frenzy continues until (Corsi claims), moments before starting an MSNBC interview, his lawyer tells him to call it off.

November 13: Plea first offered.

November 14: November 1 Corsi 302 finished.

November 15: Trump tweet apparently reflects Corsi’s claim of prosecutors yelling at him to give specific testimony they seek.

November 18: According to Corsi’s book, he wrote his delirious rant on how he guessed the Podesta emails would be dumped on this date. It is clearly a cover story preparing to reject the plea deal.

November 23: Corsi goes to the WaPo (off the record), AP, and MSNBC (the latter two both on the record) to tell them he is in plea negotiations.

November 25: Zelinsky writes letter on plea deal.

November 26: Corsi announces he has been offered, but will reject, a plea deal to one count of perjury, accuses Mueller of Gestapo tactics, and claims he will file a complaint with Whitaker.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

How Paul Manafort Lied to Mueller to Protect Jared Kushner

Paul Manafort appears to have saved the President’s son-in-law by lying to Mueller’s prosecutors.

That’s what his 302 from September 13, 2018, released yesterday under FOIA, appears to show.

The 302 records the last interview before he sealed his plea deal (starting at PDF 223). Much of it focuses on how the campaign dealt with WikiLeaks. The 302 includes the following topics:

  1. A reminder that on the previous two days, Manafort had lied about meeting Konstantin Kilimnik in February 2017, but after being shown travel records in this interview he admitted it.
  2. Mostly redacted (for ongoing investigation likely tied to Roger Stone’s prosecution) discussions about how Manafort didn’t want Trump “distracted by the titillation of a WikiLeaks release.”
  3. A claim that the RNC would handle press on the WikiLeaks release, even though three Trump staffers had been strategizing just that for weeks.
  4. Manafort’s claim he was surprised by the “Russia are you listening” comment, which is consistent with other people’s claims, if unbelievable.
  5. Language designed to sustain a claim that Manafort had no idea why Trump attributed the stolen emails to Russia in his “Russia are you listening” comment.
  6. A claim that no one suspected Trump of “colluding” with Russian before Robbie Mook made the allegation.
  7. A discussion that ties the two October 7 events (the release of the Podesta emails and the Access Hollywood tape) with details of his own crimes in Ukraine, along with an admission that Manafort spoke to Trump about all that.
  8. Manafort’s claims to be absolutely ignorant about whether Trump had any entanglements with Russia.
  9. Lies about (almost certainly) Steve Calk’s awareness that his bank loan paperwork submission was false.

Between topic 8 and 9, the 302 also captures the basis for one of Mueller’s claims that Manafort lied during his cooperation agreement, an allegation (that Judge Amy Berman Jackson upheld) that Manafort lied about another DOJ investigation to protect someone.

I laid out what the breach determination disclosed about the investigation here. Basically, shortly before Manafort left the campaign, someone (which it’s now clear is almost certainly Roger Stone and indeed appears to have come up in Stone’s trial) offered up a way to save the candidate. The question is how closely involved someone else — someone with a 7-character name — got involved in this effort to save the candidate. According to the breach proceedings, Manafort told one story that incriminated the person with a 7-character name when first interviewed, prior to getting his plea deal, on September 13 (that is, in this 302). But when Mueller’s team brought prosecutors from another investigation in to hear the story on October 5, Manafort at first gave a very different version, one that was much less incriminating to that 7-character name person, a version that aligned with the story that person was telling the FBI at the time, and that put more of the blame on the 5-character name person, presumably Stone.

It appears highly likely that the person he was protecting was Jared Kushner.

In the breach hearing (discussion starts on page 110), the names of both people involved are redacted.

But in the 302 released yesterday, Kushner’s name is not redacted.

Numerous times in Paul Manafort’s texts with Sean Hannity (who, in another of the 302s released yesterday, he admitted to treating as a back channel to Trump), Manafort talked about his certainty that Mueller would go after Kushner. Indeed, he claimed that’s who he would have to give up to get a plea deal.

We now know he discussed Kushner the day before he got a plea deal. And then he reneged on telling that story.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

There’s a small detail in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that deserves further mention.

When the FBI was sending informants — including Stefan Halper — to talk to people in conjunction with its investigation, it always asked them about what the campaign knew of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election.

When Halper asked Carter Page on August 20, 2016, Page was — as he often is — hard to pin down, first suggesting there would be an October Surprise, then dodging, then suggesting the October Surprise pertained to the conspiracy theory that Russia had Hillary’s Clinton Foundation emails, then suggesting that the campaign would just “egg on” reporting on the topic (Rick Gates testified that he was doing just that, with Stephen Miller and Jason Miller).

When Source 2 raised the issue of an “October Surprise,” Carter Page said “there’s a different October Surprise … [a]lthough maybe some similarities” to the October Surprise in the 1980 Presidential Campaign. Page did not elaborate. Source 2 raised the issue again later in the meeting, and asked if the Trump campaign could access information that might have been obtained by the Russians from the DNC files. Source 2 added that in past campaigns “we would have used [it] in a heartbeat.” Page’s response was that, because he had been attacked by the media for his connections to Russia, he was “perhaps … [being] overly cautious.” When the October Surprise issue came up again, Page alluded to “the conspiracy theory about…the next email dump with … 33 thousand” additional emails, but did not further explain what he meant. Source 2 asked “[w]ell the Russians have all that don’t they?” to which Page responded “I don’t, 1-I don’t know.”

Page also said that “we were not on the front lines of this DNC thing” during the Philadelphia convention and wondered aloud “who’s better to do this?” Page asked Source 2 whether the Trump campaign should just leave it to the “other forces that be” and just let it “run its course,” with the Trump campaign “egg[ing] it a long a little bit” but without being “seen as the one advancing this in concert with the Russians.” Source 2 responded “it needs to be done very delicately and with no fingerprints” to which Page said “[o]kay.” Page asked Source 2 if “picking out a couple trusted journalists” and giving them “some ideas of … potential big stories” would be the right way to handle it. Page also suggested that “there may be people that kind of work this angle” but that Page was being “very cautious, you know, right now.”

When Halper asked George Papadopoulos about it on September 15, he also said something was coming in October, attributing that to Assange.

Source 2 also asked Papadopoulos about the possibility of the public release of additional information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos responded that Julian Assange of Wikileaks had said in public statements to “get ready for October … [but] [w]hatever that means no one knows.”

In a second conversation that same day, Papadopoulos suggested trying to optimize the releases — what Stone spend part of July and August doing — would be illegal and would amount to treason.

Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic] …. So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands…. [F]or example, our campaign is not. .. engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that…. Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason …. I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, “Russia if you’re listening …. ” Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.

[snip]

to run a shop like that. .. of course it’s illegal. No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. But the media, of course, wants to take a statement that Trump made, an off-the-cuff statement, about [how] Russia helped find the 30,000 emails and use that as a tool to advance their [story]. .. that Trump is … a stooge and if he’s elected he’ll permit the Russians to have carte blanche throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East while the Americans sit back and twiddle their thumbs. And that’s not correct.

The FBI believed this was a rehearsed answer.

Case Agent 1 told the OIG that Papadopoulos’s “response to the direct questions seemed weird” to the Crossfire Hurricane team because it “seemed rehearsed and almost rote.” Case Agent 1 added that at these points in the conversation, Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Source 2] to almost a canned response. You could tell in the demeanor of how [Papadopoulos] changed his tone, and to [the Crossfire Hurricane team] it seemed almost rehearsed.” Case Agent 1 emailed SSA 1 and others to report that Papadopoulos “gave … a canned answer, which he was probably prepped to say when asked.” According to Case Agent 1, it remained a topic of conversation on the Crossfire Hurricane team for days afterward whether Papadopoulos had “been coached by a legal team to deny” any involvement because of the “noticeable change” in “the tenor of the conversation.”

Even ignoring the way DOJ IG edited this conversation, which may have excluded a claim Papadopoulos has stated he made (that he had nothing to do with Russia) but would have been a demonstrable lie at the time, there’s good reason to believe it was, because Papadopoulos had, in fact, been instructed to avoid overt overtures to Russia.

Plus, in a conversation with another informant, Papadopoulos said he thought Halper would share his comments about WikiLeaks with the CIA, which suggests he was saying what he thought he should say.

So both Page and Papadopoulos answered a question about Russia by suggesting the October Surprise might be a dump of Clinton Foundation emails (which is what Stone had predicted in August).

In a conversation with Sam Clovis on September 1 (we know it was Clovis from Chuck Ross’ reporting), however, Halper got a very different answer.

We reviewed the consensual monitoring of the September 1, 2016 meeting between Source 2 and the high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation. 468 In the consensual monitoring, Source 2 raised a number of issues that were pertinent to the investigation, but received little information in response. For example, Source 2 asked whether the Trump campaign was planning an “October Surprise.” The high-level Trump campaign official responded that the real issue was that the Trump campaign needed to “give people a reason to vote for him, not just vote against Hillary.” When asked about the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the high-level Trump campaign official told Source 2:

Honestly, I think for the average voter it’s a non-starter. I think in this city [Washington, D.C.] it’s a big deal. I think in New York it’s a big deal, but I think from the perspective of the average voter, I just don’t think they make the connection.

The high-level Trump campaign official added that in his view, the key for the Trump campaign “is to say what we have said all along-we need to raise the level of abstraction, we need to talk about the security of the election system, which includes things like voter IDs.”

The response is neither more nor less incriminating with regards to advance knowledge of the release than the responses from Page and Papadopoulos — it’s just different and arguably more sophisticated (remember that in one interview with the FBI in 2017, Papadopoulos said he had told Clovis about Russia planning to drop emails). It also might reflect Clovis’ experience running campaigns in Iowa and so a focus on what he understands Iowans to think about.

So it doesn’t say anything about who, on the campaign, were privy to Stone’s role in trying to optimize the releases.

But it does say something about the utter disdain one of the Trump flunkies with the most campaign experience has about democracy. He responded to a question about Russia’s efforts to influence the US election, posed by someone he perceived to be a friendly Republican, by saying the campaign should respond to concerns about Russia by raising voter IDs, a Republican effort to suppress the vote.

Do you think Russia is helping the Trump campaign, Halper asked, and Clovis answered, we’ve got our own way to undermine democracy.

 

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

 

Amy Berman Jackson Disputes Claims of “Exculpatory” Information on Russia and Ukraine

For all its import showing the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application, I’ll eventually show the DOJ IG Report  commits some of the same errors of inclusion and exclusion of important information that it accuses FBI of. Most importantly, it treats as exculpatory comments that George Papadopoulos made to Stephan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 when the FBI agents involved rightly (the record now confirms) suspected Papadopoulos’ answer was a cover story. Notably, Rosemary Collyer did not include the Papadopoulos comments in her letter to the government yesterday, suggesting she doesn’t think exclusion of those comments to be noteworthy.

Given Michael Horowitz’s focus on FBI’s withholding of exculpatory information (which they absolutely did, on a number of occasions), I find the focus of Amy Berman Jackson’s comments at Rick Gates’ sentencing hearing yesterday notable. (Thanks to CNN for culling these comments from the transcript.)

Some of the comments — including some focusing on Ukraine — seemed targeted at Republicans debating impeachment. For example, she emphasized that Gates’ information was not hearsay, and it implicated individuals associated with Ukraine and Russia.

Mr. Gates provided information — not hearsay, but information — based on his personal knowledge, meetings he attended, conversations in which he was a participant and information that was verified with contemporaneous records of numerous, undeniable contacts and communications between individuals associated with the presidential campaign, primarily but not only Manafort, and individuals associated with Russia and Ukraine.

ABJ likely recognizes, as I have emphasized, that Paul Manafort’s August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik and its aftermath — including his booking $2.4 million from pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs eight days later — represents a clearcut case of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election.

She also takes a shot at those claiming there was no basis for the investigation into Russia, and suggests that obstruction successfully prevented prosecutors from charging the underlying coordination.

Gates’ debriefings, his multiple incriminatory bits of evidence on matters of grave and international importance are a reminder that there was an ample basis for the decision makers at the highest level of the United States Department of Justice — the United States Department of Justice of this administration — to authorize and pursue a law enforcement investigation into whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the known foreign interference in the election, as well as into whether there had been any attempt to obstruct that investigation, and to leave no stone unturned, no matter what the prosecutors determined they had evidence to prove at the end of that investigation.

And she emphasizes that pursuing this investigation was critical for election security.

Gates’ information alone warranted, indeed demanded, further investigation from the standpoint of our national security, the integrity of our elections and the enforcement of our criminal laws.

But there’s a line in here that seems directed at the discussion surrounding the IG Report.

One cannot possibly maintain that this was all exculpatory information. It included firsthand information about confidential campaign polling data being transmitted at the direction of the head of the campaign to one of those individuals to be shared with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.

The investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia in its election interference started 3 days before Roger Stone spoke to Trump about how to optimize the WikiLeaks releases. It started 5 days before Trump’s campaign manager met with Konstantin Kilimnik to explain how he planned to win the investigation, discussed carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking (an effort Manafort pursued for over a year afterwards), and how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. It started 11 days before Manafort booked $2.4 million in revenues — to be received in November — from his Ukrainian paymasters.

Again, ABJ has seen more of the underlying evidence from this investigation than anyone. And she sure seems to think that Bill Barr, Donald Trump, and Michael Horowitz are dismissing the seriousness of this investigation.

While Republicans Continue to Claim Collusion Didn’t Happen, George Papadopoulos Labeled Roger Stone’s Actions as Treason

As part of its claim that the FBI withheld exculpatory information in Carter Page’s FISA application, the DOJ IG Report described George Papadopoulos’ interactions with Stefan Halper in mid-September 2016. When Halper twice asked Papadopoulos, “whether help ‘from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful’ in securing a campaign victory,” Papadopoulos categorically denied the campaign would reach out to WikiLeaks.

Well as a campaign, of course, we don’t advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s, ah, illegal. First and foremost it compromises the US national security and third it sets a very bad precedence [sic] …. So the campaign does not advocate for this, does not support what is happening. The indirect consequences are out of our hands…. [F]or example, our campaign is not. .. engag[ing] or reaching out to wiki leaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that…. Unless there’s something going on that I don’t know which I don’t because I don’t think anybody would risk their, their life, ah, potentially going to prison over doing something like that. Um … because at the end of the day, you know, it’s an illegal, it’s an illegal activity. Espionage is, ah, treason. This is a form of treason …. I mean that’s why, you know, it became a very big issue when Mr. Trump said, “Russia if you’re listening …. ” Do you remember? … And you know we had to retract it because, of course, he didn’t mean for them to actively engage in espionage but the media then took and ran with it.

When asked a second time, Papadopoulos called that “collusion.”

No one’s looking to … obviously get into trouble like that and, you know, as far as I understand that’s, no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way. [my emphasis]

When Papadopoulos has described this previously, he claimed he also denied having anything to do with Russia. If he did, it would be a lie. The very dates he was in London meeting with Halper, Papadopoulos had intended to conduct a secret meeting with Russia, something he failed to fully explain to Mueller. Even two weeks later, Papadopoulos was sharing an anti-sanction column in the Russian site Interfax with Joseph Mifsud.

It’s unclear whether Papadopoulos really believed that the campaign was not and would not coordinate with WikiLeaks. The most likely person he would have told that Russia planned to drop emails on Hillary back in April 2016 would be Stephen Miller, whom he emailed the day after learning of the emails and said, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” According to Rick Gates’ testimony at Roger Stone’s trial, Miller was one of several people with whom he brainstormed months later on how to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

Q. Without saying what they said, who was involved in those brainstorming sessions about what to do if information was leaked?

A. Sure. It was Mr. Manafort; myself; Mr. Jason Miller, who was our director of communications; and Mr. Stephen Miller, who was our director of policy at the time.

According to the DOJ IG Report, the investigation team believed Papadopoulos had rehearsed his answer to Halper (and indeed, the Mueller Report makes clear that in the wake of Trump’s “Russia, are you listening” comment, everyone but Manafort stopped pursuing previous plans to reach out to Russia).

Case Agent 1 told the OIG that Papadopoulos’s “response to the direct questions seemed weird” to the Crossfire Hurricane team because it “seemed rehearsed and almost rote.” Case Agent 1 added that at these points in the conversation, Papadopoulos “went from a free-flowing conversation with [Source 2] to almost a canned response. You could tell in the demeanor of how [Papadopoulos] changed his tone, and to [the Crossfire Hurricane team] it seemed almost rehearsed.”

Whether or not he lied about knowing about “collusion,” which he defined to include reaching out to WikiLeaks, Papadopoulos defined doing so as treason. He’s wrong, but that is, apparently, what he said.

And less than a month ago, the government laid out evidence that Roger Stone had attempted to reach out to WikiLeaks via cut-outs, including Jerome Corsi. At the trial, the government did not disclose how Corsi and Stone had learned of the John Podesta emails in advance, but Stone invented yet a new cover story for the trial to continue to deny that he had done so, this time that Corsi had been lying about obtaining such information, just like Credico.

Absent a pardon, Stone is headed to prison because he refused to reveal what really happened in July and August 2016.

And whatever it is that Stone is hiding, what’s clear is he definitely tried to reach out to WikiLeaks, something that Papadopoulos claimed to consider treason.

Stone did so with the enthusiastic encouragement of Donald Trump.

During the impeachment “debate,” Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee just repeated over and over that the Mueller Report showed no “collusion.” But the facts show that, at least according to Papadopoulos’ definition, it did.

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

American Democracy Needs Better Reporters than Pete Williams

Bill Barr made big news yesterday saying intemperate things in what has charitably been called an “interview” with NBC’s Pete Williams. Those comments have distracted from other details of the so-called interview, which deserve further attention for the way that Williams was utterly useless in guiding the interview towards any of the questions that needed to be answered. Given Barr’s assault on the rule of law, garbage interviews like this undermine the Constitution.

Williams helps Barr continue to cover up his role in the Ukraine investigation

First, consider the exchange that Williams and Barr have to exonerate the Attorney General in involvement in Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine conspiracy.

Williams: Were you ever asked by the White House to talk to anybody in Ukraine about an investigation of Joe Biden? (18:40)

Barr: No.

Williams: Are you concerned that Ukraine has a missing server from the Hillary Clinton emails?

Barr [searching look]: Fortunately I haven’t gotten into the Ukraine thing. I don’t know. I’m not even sure about the nature of these allegations.

Williams: What about the allegation that it was the Ukrainians who meddled in the election, not the Russians. Are you satisfied that’s not the case?

Barr: I am confident the Russians attempted to interfere in the election. I don’t know about the Ukrainians. I haven’t even looked into it, frankly.

Williams: What was your involvement in the Department’s decision not to investigate the President’s phone call to Ukraine?

Barr: We put out a statement that explained the process, which was the Criminal Division made that decision and in the process consulted with the senior most career employees who are the experts on campaign finance laws and that process was supervised by the Deputy but I’m not going to go beyond what we’ve already said about that process.

Williams: Well, were you satisfied that everything that was done–

Barr: Absolutely.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams were using a script DOJ gave him, because Williams asks none of the questions that remain unanswered about DOJ’s role in the Ukraine investigation, such as why they didn’t do the bare minimum of connecting the dots implemented after 9/11, why the didn’t refer the complaint to the FEC, why they didn’t abide by the whistleblower protection act, why (on demand, apparently) they issued a statement exonerating the President, or who the three Ukrainians that DOJ admitted have been fed into John Durham’s investigation are.

Instead, Williams lets Barr ignore his question about his role in reviewing the whistleblower complaint and claim — as the person who knew of the Lev Parnas investigation that also knew of the whistleblower complaint — he has no role in the Ukraine thing. This exchange raises more questions about Barr’s involvement, but Williams instead allows him to claim a clean bill of health.

Williams allows Barr to pretend bypassing MLAT is normal

Perhaps the most alarming part of this so-called interview is how Williams let Barr claim that entirely bypassing the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process in requesting law enforcement assistance from other countries is normal.

[Why he went to three countries] The presentation of that in the media [laughs] has been silly. The person running the investigation is John Durham. But this is a very unusual circumstance where we are going to foreign governments where we are asking them to assist and cooperate including some of their sensitive materials and personnel. A US Attorney doesn’t show up on the doorstep of some of these countries like London and say, Hey, I want to talk to your intelligence people and so forth. All the regularities were followed. I went through the — my purpose was to introduce Durham to the appropriate people and set up a channel where he could work with these countries. At the request of these countries — I went through the Ambassadors of each country, and the governments wanted to initially talk to me to find out, what is this about, what are the ground rules, is this going to be a criminal case, are you going to do a public report. They wanted to understand the ground rules before I met with Durham and I met with them and I set up appropriate channels. This was perfectly appropriate. (14:37)

This issue goes to the core of the problem with Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy. Barr’s nervous answer suggests he knows bypassing normal process might implicate him in a criminal conspiracy.

And Williams, supposedly a DOJ beat journalist who should know better, just lets this bullshit answer sit there, unchallenged.

Williams allows Barr to lie about techniques used by the FBI

Barr’s attack on the FBI is based on a lie about how it operates. The FBI has what’s called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. The entire point of it is to make sure paperwork is filed before any investigative steps are taken. Barr turns that on its head when he complains that the FBI opened an investigation before taking an investigative step.

They jump right into a full-scale investigation before they even went and talked to the foreign officials about exactly what was said the opened an investigation of the campaign

The DIOG lists what an agent can do at each of three levels of investigation — assessment, preliminary investigation, and full investigation. It permits the government to use Confidential Human Sources — the basis for most of Barr’s complaint about “spying” on the campaign — at the Assessment level (which is basically a tip).  Thus, in spite of what Barr says, the fact that FBI opened this as a full investigation (which DOJ IG found to be proper) had nothing to do with the FBI’s ability to use informants.

Suggests the investigation shouldn’t have been sustained once it got opened (0:20)

There has to be some basis before we use these very potent powers in our core First Amendment activity, and here, I thought this was very flimsy (2:18)

The Department as a rule of reason, … Is what you’re relying on sufficiently powerful to justify the techniques you’re using

What are the alternatives … When you step back and ask what was this all based on, it’s not sufficient (2:48)

they used very intrusive techniques they didn’t do what would normally be done under those circumstances, which is to go to the campaign and certainly there were people in the campaign who could be trusted including a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the governor of New Jersey (5:13)

Anyone covering DOJ has an obligation to point out that this is a lie, especially because Barr has never in his history leading the DOJ complained about such techniques being used with others, especially minorities, when exercising their First Amendment rights. Indeed, Barr’s DOJ currently investigates not only Muslims in mosques (which has been going on under both parties), but people protesting Trump’s immigration policies or legally representing immigrants. Barr’s DOJ used a wiretap in a garden variety leak investigation when it already knew the leaker this year. Williams has an obligation with calling Barr out for his very selective concern about the First Amendment.

But that’s not the only complaint about process. Barr keeps demanding not just that the FBI give Trump a defensive briefing (one of the subjects of the investigation, Mike Flynn, attended his first campaign briefing, and that was within days of the time Flynn inked his deal to become an undisclosed agent of Turkey), but that they just waltz to the campaign and start asking questions.

From day one they say they’re not going to talk to the campaign, they’re going to put people in there, wire them up, and have these conversations with people involved in the campaign because that way we’ll get the truth (8:44)

Barr would never let FBI approach any other investigation like this, starting by allowing the subject of the investigation to excuse their actions.

Note, one of the people Barr thought FBI should have asked — Jeff Sessions — ultimately came to be a subject of this investigation.

Barr takes this so far that he complains that John Brennan and Barack Obama tried to limit an ongoing Russian attack that was going on whether or not Trump’s flunkies were involved. 

What I find particularly inexplicable is that they talked to the Russians but not to the Presidential campaign. On August 4 Brennan braced the head of Russian intelligence, he calls the head of Russian intelligence, … they go and confront the Russians, who clear are the bad guys, and they won’t go and talk to the campaign and say what is this about (5:51)

He’s basically complaining, here, that Obama tried to keep the country safe from hostile interference in the election.

And Williams just sat there looking at his list of questions like a child.

Williams lets Barr minimize what happened in the Russian investigation

Predictably, Barr minimizes what the Russian investigation showed. He claims that what has subsequently been explained to be a suspected Russian asset with ties to both sides of the Russian operation, Joseph Mifsud, telling George Papadopoulos they were going to drop emails that later got dropped was not worthy of investigation.

In May 2016, a 28 year campaign volunteer says in a social setting … a suggestion of a suggestion that Russians had adverse information from Hillary that they might dump in the campaign (3:24)

Barr then claims there was no evidence of “collusion,” something Williams agrees with.

There never has been any evidence of collusion … completely baseless (2:57) [Well, it doesn’t turn out that way at the beginning, at the start ]

According to Mark Meadows’ definition of “collusion,” it was proven by the guilty verdict in the Roger Stone trial. Moreover, the Mueller Report makes it clear there was evidence not just of “collusion,” but also conspiracy, just not enough to charge. In this case, Williams affirmatively adds to the disinformation on this point.

Barr conflates the investigation into Carter Page and everyone else

Barr did something that the Republicans have been doing all day: conflating the investigation into Carter Page with the investigation into Trump’s other flunkies, in spite of the fact that the investigation of each individual was also individually predicated and that the investigation into Page was based off stuff going back years before he joined the Trump campaign and most of the investigative activities took place after he was fired from the campaign. In one comment, Barr literally conflates Carter Fucking Page with the President himself, and ignores that the President was only investigated after he tried to obstruct the investigation into Mike Flynn.

At that point [when FBI talked to Steele’s source], when their entire case collapsed, what did they do? They kept on investigating the President well into his administration. (10:26)

He repeats that claim a second time.

Their case collapsed after the election (13:57)

Barr not only does that, but ignores the incriminatory evidence against Page, so as to be able to claim that the investigation should never have started.

From the very first day of this investigation, which was July 31 … all the way to September 2017, there was not one bit of incriminatory evidence to come in, it was all exculpatory. The people they were taping denied any involvement with Russia, denied the very specific facts that the FBI was relying on, … the FBI ignores it, presses ahead, withholds that information from the court, withholds critical exculpatory information from the court  (9:07)

Barr made an interesting claim — that the sole reason the FBI got a FISA (including a physical search FISA, which allows them to obtain stored communications like email) was to access his comms from the campaign.

I think going through people’s emails, which they did as a result of the FISA warrant, they went through everything from Page’s life. … his emails go back. The main reason they were going for the FISA warrant initially was to go back historically and seize all his emails and texts … that’s exactly why they got the FISA (12:30)

That may be true (obviously, the FBI would have wanted to know why Page went to Moscow during the campaign), but DOJ imposed minimization procedures to limit dissemination of those materials.

The final PMPs restricted access to the information collected through FISA authority to the individuals assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane team and required the approval of a DAD or higher before any FISA-derived information could be disseminated outside the FBI. In normal circumstances, the FBI is given more latitude to disseminate FISA-derived information that appears to be foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime. Evans told us that he believed these added restrictions were warranted here because of the possibility that the FISA collection would include sensitive political campaign related information.

Barr’s conflation of Page with the campaign as a whole and Trump himself was all a ploy, and a journalist could have noted the game Barr was playing in real time. Williams did not.

Williams lets additional Barr bullshit go unquestioned

In addition to those general problems, Barr made a number of other bullshit assertions. For example, Barr claimed the investigation into Trump was the first counterintelligence investigation into a candidate even though that’s what the Hillary email investigation was.

Greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent use apparatus of state to spy and effect outcome, first time in history this has been done (1:14)

Later, Williams lets a renowned authoritarian to claim not just that he cares about civil liberties, but that his primary job is protecting them.

[In response to Williams’ suggestion that this authoritarian cares about civil liberties] I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press … the Attorney General’s primary responsibility is to protect against the abuse of the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus and make sure it doesn’t play an improper role in our political life. That’s my responsibility. (18:06)

Barr poo poos the regularity of illegal foreign money coming into campaigns.

In most campaigns signs of illegal foreign money coming in (2:01)

Don’t assume campaign is acting in league with foreign powers, there has to be some basis (2:13)

This makes me, for the first time, concerned about how DOJ rolled out the Andy Khawaja indictment.

Finally, Williams asks, but doesn’t follow up on his question about whether it was appropriate for Durham to make a comment.

[After Williams mentions the grand jury] I think it was definitely appropriate because it was necessary to avoid public confusion. … Durham’s work was not being preempted, Durham was doing something different, (15:33)

Interestingly, Barr effectively confirmed Williams’ insinuation this was now a grand jury investigation, which would amount to sharing grand jury information.

I have been pointing out increasingly often that many members of the press seem uninterested in defending the parts of the Constitution that don’t directly affect press protections. The duty to uphold the rule of law is particularly important for DOJ reporters, who should know enough about how investigations work to identify when something is abnormal (as Barr’s direct involvement, generally, is, to say nothing of his international field trip).

Williams was not up to the task in this interview.

Horowitz

With Release of DOJ IG FISA Report, Democrats Should Pause on Impeachment

Democrats are going to roll out at least two articles of impeachment today.

But I think, in the wake of the release of the DOJ IG FISA Report, they should take a brief pause.

Don’t get me wrong. I think impeachment is necessary and urgent. I can see why Democrats might want to impeach even as Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov — particularly given Trump’s assault on Chris Wray for making some honest comments about the IG Report yesterday.

But I’ve gotten far enough into the IG Report to believe that it merits a pause for both sides to consider what it says. That’s because it basically says both parties were right. Democrats were right to think the investigation into Trump was fair and legitimately predicated. The Mueller Report has provided abundant evidence not only that Paul Manafort and Roger Stone (at a minimum) were willing to “collude” in the Russian hack-and-leak, but that they both took affirmative efforts to prevent Mueller from finding out whether they succeeded in doing so. Trump was a key player in that effort to obstruct the investigation. So the investigation was warranted, fairly predicated, and produced results that confirmed Trump’s people wanted to conspire with the Russian operation, whether or not they succeeded.

Republicans, however, were right that the Steele dossier was not adequately vetted by the FBI, and the FISA on Carter Page may not have been adequately substantiated (and the vetting on the follow-ups was even worse). That doesn’t mean Page shouldn’t have been investigated; he was already being investigated in April 2016, and things he did through December 2016 provided more cause for concern.

But neither of those things — the dossier’s shoddy vetting or the Page FISA — were key to the more substantive investigation into Trump. Indeed, Stone wasn’t even a subject in this early process; the first big investigative steps on him took place in August 2017, under Mueller.

I’ve got some quibbles with the report (mostly about how it treats exonerating information and Bruce Ohr and information sharing).

That said, the report should be an opportunity to step back and reflect on how the key issue — that Russia aggressively interfered in the US and a number of Americans embraced that effort — has gotten lost. That focus might make a few people, including Republicans who otherwise would not support impeachment but are appalled by the way Rudy has doubled down on his Ukrainian escapades, even meeting with KGB trained thugs, rethink the investigation into Trump.

Plus, the FISA Report provides one basis for bipartisan work in the near term.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act was due to get reauthorized on December 15. That got extended 3 months in the continuing resolution, but it will need reauthorized at that point. Meanwhile, over the past year, evidence that FBI misused FISA under both Jim Comey (with this IG Report) and Chris Wray (with the earlier report on problems with 702).

I’ve been arguing since at least February — and more aggressively since September, when I got the first concrete descriptions of how much this report would focus on process issues at FBI — that this IG Report would present an opportunity to call more substantive review of FISA. I got pushback among allies, because Carter Page is such an unsympathetic person to Democrats. But I think the report really demonstrates that, no matter how unsympathetic he is, no matter how warranted the investigation into him, the FISA process used against him was appalling.

So the surveillance community, which previously was able to unite Jim Jordan and the most Progressive Dems, really ought to take a step back and propose a three-part fix for FISA, one that could guide the further audit of FISA Michael Horowitz announced and one that might implement immediate legislative fixes to known FISA problems. At least beginning those conversation would provide some of the people yelling most loudly at each other a chance to talk about something they claim to agree on.

Let me be clear: I’m just arguing for a pause — maybe a week. Trump has violated every word of his oath of office and he threatens to undo our Constitution. But let’s take a few days and reflect on the way that the events of 2016 have sown division without getting us to do the things to prevent further Russian aggression. It won’t happen, but it’s what I think should happen.