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Steve Bannon Employee Lee Stranahan Purportedly Convinced Roger Stone to Love Guccifer 2.0

As I’ve been laying out, there are discrepancies between what Steve Bannon told the FBI in his second interview on February 14, 2018 and the fragments of his grand jury appearance on January 18, 2019 revealed during his testimony at the Roger Stone trial on November 8, 2019. (His first interview on February 12, 2018 contains similar convenient forgetfulness, and his second on October 26, 2018 remains unavailable; he reportedly had a trial prep interview where he backtracked on some of what he had said under penalty of perjury in early 2019.)

Bannon and the campaign were more interested in WikiLeaks than he initially let on.

Bannon tried to hide his role and knowledge of Stone’s back channel to WikiLeaks

While the 302s currently redact Stone’s name, in his first interview, Bannon claimed — after a discussion of the email about WikiLeaks that Don Jr forwarded to others on the campaign — that he didn’t remember anyone else in contact with WikiLeaks, and didn’t remember anyone reaching out to Stone.

Bannon did not remember anyone else in contact with WikiLeaks or trying to get in contact with WikiLeaks. There was discussion during the campaign on how WikiLeaks would 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 [redaction, probably Stone], WikiLeaks, or any other intermediary to see what information might be coming.

In the grand jury testimony that prosecutors made him hew to during the trial, however, Bannon admitted that the campaign understood that Stone was the access point, if one were pursued, to WikiLeaks.

Q. Now, I want you to turn to page 14, line 4. I’m going to read line 4 through 8 on page 14. And you’re asked, “And just within the campaign, who was the access point to WikiLeaks?”

And you responded, “I think it was generally believed that the access point or potential access point to WikiLeaks and to Julian Assange would be Roger Stone.”

Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And did you, at that time, did you personally believe or you personally view Roger Stone as the access point between Trump campaign and WikiLeaks?

A. Yes.

Bannon likely first began to admit this in October 2018, when prosecutors showed him the email reflecting Bannon emailing Stone (via his non-campaign email) on October 4, 2016 to ask why WikiLeaks hadn’t dumped anything on that day, as predicted. Bannon seemed less squirmy about admitting that at Stone’s trial.

Q. Why then, why did you send this email then, that date on October 4th, 2016, to Mr. Stone?

A. I don’t believe — I think the press conference was about another topic or it wasn’t about the topic that everybody had hyped it about.

Q. Was one of the reasons why you sent this email to Mr. Stone because he was the access point to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the campaign?

A. Yes, he had a relationship or told me he had a relationship with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, so it would be natural that I would reach out to him.

Q. So were you sending this email to try to find out why there wasn’t any announcement that day?

A. I think it’s twofold. One is to find out why there’s no announcement, and the other was a little bit of a heckle.

But at the trial, Bannon was also squirmy about admitting the timing of his knowledge that Stone claimed to have a back channel to WikiLeaks.

Q. So you were asked at page 7, line 15, “And when you had private conversations with him about his connection to Julian Assange, approximately how far in advance of your joining the campaign did that conversation take place?”

And you responded, “Oh, I think the first time it was months before, but I think it all the way led up to right before I joined the campaign. It was something he would, I think, frequently mention or talk about when we talked about other things.”

Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. All right. Now, in any of your conversations with Mr. Stone, did he ever brag to you about his connections to Assange?

A. I wouldn’t call it bragging, but maybe boasting, I guess the difference between bragging and boasting, but he would mention it.

Q. What do you mean by “boast”?

A. That he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

On its face, that’s damning because it puts Stone’s claimed awareness of WikiLeaks’ plans back to around June 2016, when (according to trial evidence) Stone was calling Trump just as Guccifer 2.0 started dropping emails on June 14, 2016 and also calling Rick Gates to get Jared Kushner’s email so they could strategize the release.

Q. Did you know why Mr. Stone was asking you for Mr. Kushner’s contact information at that time?

A. Mr. Stone indicated that he wanted to reach out to Mr. Kushner and Mr. Murphy to debrief them on the developments of the DNC announcement.

I’ve come to realize that that line from Bannon — “it all the way led up to right before I joined the campaign” — is actually more damning. That’s because of the role of Lee Stranahan in this story. I also suspect Bannon is a key player in what I suspect is Roger Stone’s use of stolen emails in his social media campaigns sowing racial division.

When I’ve thought of the dumps of stolen emails in the past, I’ve thought of the DNC emails, the DCCC emails about state races, and the Podesta emails.

Then Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan’s outreach to Guccifer 2.0 coincided with Stone’s efforts to learn what WikiLeaks had coming

But as the GRU indictment reminds (in a paragraph that immediately precedes the one discussing Roger Stone’s interactions with Guccifer 2.0), the persona also gave then Breitbart journalist Lee Stranahan access to some documents on Black Lives Matter over a week before releasing them publicly.

On or about August 22, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent a reporter stolen documents pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement. The reporter responded by discussing when to release the documents and offering to write an article about their release.

What is believed to be the entirety of Stranahan’s exchanges with Guccifer 2.0 appear here. The first of those DMs is one from August 2, 2016, where Stranahan introduces himself.

In the wake of the Roger Stone trial, the date is more interesting. Days earlier, Stone had ratcheted up his efforts to learn — and possibly get — the emails that would soon be dumped, with key emails with Jerome Corsi on July 25 and 31, and Corsi’s response hours earlier on August 2 to Stone promising Podesta emails. There are also calls from Stone to Gates (on July 31). Stone wrote Manafort on July 29 promising “Good shit happening.” In the wake of Corsi’s email about Podesta emails, Stone had calls with Trump on on August 2, and a text to Gates reporting as much. Then the next day, after Stranahan had introduced himself to get no response, Stone wrote Manafort boasting he had “an idea to save Trump’s ass.”

The Breitbart column that led Stone to interact with Guccifer 2.0

Days later (and after Stone claimed to Sam Nunberg that he had dined with Julian Assange on August 3), Stone wrote a column in Breitbart — still under the direction of Steve Bannon — claiming that Guccifer 2.0 was the lone culprit behind the DNC hack, not Russia.

I have some news for Hillary and Democrats—I think I’ve got the real culprit. It doesn’t seem to be the Russians that hacked the DNC, but instead a hacker who goes by the name of Guccifer 2.0. The original Guccifer famously hacked Hillary’s home email server, you might remember.

[snpi]

Then Guccifer 2.0 even did an interview going into detail about how they had done the hacking and tried to get some media traction but the media wasn’t biting. Someone from The Hill did a piece, but that was about it. For some strange reason, the establishment press didn’t want to take on the establishment Democrat machine.

[snip]

Inspiration stuck: ignore Guccifer 2.0. The DNC being hacked by one person didn’t look sinister enough. Time for the victim card! Blame the Russians! Blame Putin! Blame Trump!

No, it didn’t make any sense. Yes, the evidence about Guccifer 2.0 was already out there. But it’s good to the be the Queen.

Now, common sense would inform most sane people that if Russia were dong what Hillary says they were doing they simply would have gone straight to Wikileaks. However, common sense didn’t fit Hillary’s narrative and so the press went all in with her fable.

Bannon now admits, when pressed to adhere to his sworn grand jury testimony, that in precisely this period he and Stone remained in discussions about his back channel to WikiLeaks.

The Breitbart column became the public impetus for Stone and Guccifer 2.0’s own exchanges over the weekend of August 12. At 10:23PM, Guccifer 2.0 tweeted publicly to Stone, “Thanks that u believe in the real #Guccifer2,” a reference to that Breitbart post. At 11:40 ET (I believe Stranahan was in Idaho at the time, but these DMs appear to be printed out on ET), Stranahan DMed Guccifer 2.0 taking credit for convincing Stone that Guccifer 2.0 was not Russian.

But Guccifer 2.0 didn’t respond to Stranahan right away. Instead, over the weekend, Stone  Tweeted that “Gruccifer is a HERO.” The next day, Stone complained that Guccifer 2.0 had been banned by Twitter (technically he did so after Guccifer had been reinstated, if indeed he was actually banned). Then, sometime that same day, Stone DMed Guccifer 2.0 and told the persona he was “Delighted you are reinstated.”

At 1:33AM on August 15, Stone tweeted about John Podesta for the first time ever. “@JohnPodesta makes @PaulManafort look like St. Thomas Aquinas Where is the @NewYorkTimes ?” Sometime on August 15, Guccifer 2.0 DMed Stone, “thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!  . . . do u find anyting interesting in the docs I posted?” Stone responded, asking Guccifer to RT a story on how the election could be hacked. Guccifer followed up with more platitudes on August 17.

All the while, Stone kept bragging publicly that he had a back channel to WikiLeaks.

Steve Bannon consults with the Mercers before joining the Trump campaign

Even as that was happening, Steve Bannon was consulting with his bosses about whether he should go save the Trump campaign. Before he joined the campaign, someone he consulted (given the reference to an anti-Hillary Super PAC and the timing of the June meeting, this is almost certainly the Mercers, then the owners of both Breitbart and part owners of Cambridge Analytica) worried about Breitbart being blamed if Trump lost.

Bannon had read a NYTimes article describing the Trump campaign being in disarray, so he started to make a few phone calls. At the time, Trump was 12-16 points down, there was talk of the Republican National Committee (RNC) cutting Trump loose, and the Republicans were distancing themselves from Trump for fear of losing control of the House of Representatives. Bannon called [redacted] and there was worries that if Bannon became involved in the Trump campaign, Breitbart could be blamed if Trump lost. Bannon had previously talked to [redacted] back in June 2016 in an effort for them to make peace with Trump.

Ultimately, he joined the campaign at a time — he says over and over again in his interviews that have been made public — the campaign was badly underwater in the polls and broke.

Bannon was hired on August 14, but it became public on August 17, then Paul Manafort resigned on August 19.

Who did what with social media on August 18?

At 1:02 AM on the morning of August 18, Stone wrote Bannon at his arc-ent email.

Trump can still win –but time is running out.

Early voting begins in six weeks.

I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.

Campaign has never been good at playing the new media.

Lots to do–let me know when u can talk.

R

Bannon replied at 6:14 AM: “Let’s talk ASAP.”

In my opinion, this is the most puzzling public email from the entire Mueller investigation. That’s because the date and content seems to be the subject of a different DOJ investigation, about which Manafort at first provided details, seemingly implicating Kushner, and then reneged, seemingly blaming it all on Stone. The email to Bannon makes it clear this is about “new media” — the social media we’ve heard so much about, where the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica which led to a social media strategy that purportedly found new Republican voters and suppressed black turnout. It’s possible that’s what the other DOJ investigation was into, as references to Cambridge Analytica in Bannon’s 302 are redacted under an ongoing investigation redaction.

Indeed, when Bannon was first asked about such things (indeed, about joining the campaign), Bannon said Kushner — the guy that Manafort implicated — was “in charge of the digital campaign.”

In August 2016, Kushner was in charge of the digital campaign and fundraising. Bannon was the CFO of the campaign with Jeff DeWitt. The campaign had almost no cash and they were receiving only a small amount from cash contributions. The campaign was losing cash at the time and they were down by a double digit lead with the 1st debate coming. They needed $50 million from Trump, which eventually became $10 million.

The reference within the 302 was out of context, but it seems that Bannon offered up that at a time when the campaign was broke and underwater, the candidate’s son-in-law embraced a strategy that turned things around.

Remarkably, prosecutors at Stone’s trial didn’t get Bannon to explain precisely what this email meant — aside from suggesting that he agreed there was a tie to WikiLeaks and used a bunch of nice words to explain this had to do with Stone’s rat-fucking.

Q. When Mr. Stone wrote to you, “I do know how to win but it ain’t pretty,” what in your mind did you understand that to mean?

A. Well, roger is an agent provocateur, he’s an expert in opposition research. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics. And when you’re this far behind, you have to use every tool in the toolbox.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, opposition research, dirty tricks, the types of things that campaigns use when they have got to make up some ground.

Q. Did you view that as sort of value added that Mr. Stone could add to the campaign?

A. Potentially value added, yes.

Q. Was one of the ways that Mr. Stone could add value to the campaign his relationship with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange?

A. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but he could — you know, I was led to believe that he had a relationship withWikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Rather than getting Bannon to explain what this email was about in more detail, they instead moved to talk about the October 4 email where Bannon asked about why WikiLeaks had not yet dropped the promised October surprise.

Likewise, prosecutors did not ask Bannon what Stone meant by the end of that October 4 email, where Stone demanded Bannon get Bannon to give him money for his own digital campaign.

I know your surrogates are dumb but try to get them to understand the Danney Williams case

chick mangled it on CNN this am

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3819671/Man-claiming-Bill-Clinton-s-illegitimate-son-prostitute-continues-campaign-former-president-recognize-him.html

I’ve raise  $150L for the targeted black digital campaign thru a C-4

Tell Rebecca to send us some $$$

On August 18, Stone complained about the campaign’s paltry new media campaign. On October 4, Stone demanded Bannon help him raise money for a digital campaign. It’s unclear what the modifier “black” refers to, but in the context of Stone’s focus on Danney Williams — a black man that Stone was focusing on to suggest Bill Clinton had a secret child of a prostitute — suggests the digital campaign was about sowing division based on race (not coincidentally, the same strategy the IRA’s trolls were using).

In fact, Stone had started that campaign at least as earlier as October 16, 2015 (when he first tweeted about Williams), and he continued it persistently through the campaign. At times, he tied it to an effort to source the Black Lives Matter movement on Hillary, which Stone also used Hillary’s record in Haiti and Libya to do.

Incidentally, that demand for money from the chair of the campaign probably amounts to illegal coordination, as would Stone’s repeated demand from Rick Gates for voter lists, which was also revealed at the trial.

Stranahan obtains files pertinent to Stone’s social media focus

On 9:24 AM on August 21, Stone tweeted the “time in the barrel” tweet that first raised questions about his foreknowledge that WikiLeaks would release the John Podesta emails. Almost 12 hours alter, Guccifer 2.0 finally responded to Stranahan’s DMs. Guccifer offers Stranahan “exclusive files,” as the persona had for journalists and a Republican Florida lobbyist.

They DM back and forth for an hour and a half, after which Guccifer says he’s sending “some exclusive files” to Stranahan’s Gmail. Guccifer makes sure to get Stranahan to confirm he has received them. Stranahan almost immediately focuses on a Black Lives Matter “thing,” something that Breitbart had been stoking just as long as Stone had been stoking the Danney Williams thing.

The next day, Guccifer gets Stranahan to confirm that the Black Lives Matter documents are important. The go back and forth about what the optimal timing for their release is. On August 30 at 10:41AM, Guccifer asks Stranahan, “how about doing it today?”

An hour and a half later, at 12:17 PM, Stone tweets, “BLACK LIVES MATTER- unless you are in Libya in which case @HillaryClinton bombs you,” a lead up to his efforts to get stolen emails on Libby from WikiLeaks via Credico in the following weeks. Sometime that afternoon, Stone emails Corsi asking him to call; Stone would ask Corsi to create a cover story for their discussions of Podesta earlier that month, which he did in one day.

At 4:03, Guccifer DMs Stranahan and offers to release the Black Lives Matter file at any particular time. But ultimately, Guccifer publishes the file — purporting that it came from Pelosi’s computer — on August 31, without getting Stranahan’s advance okay.

There’s no reason to believe Stone was in the loop with Stranahan on this, particularly given their dramatically different response to the next exchange. On September 9, the same day Guccifer floats the DCCC turnout models to Florida that Stone judges are “Pretty standard” to Guccifer, Stranahan says that “it’s great” but adds he’s “having trouble with my company right now so let me figure out the right way to break this.”

Stranahan would go on to quit Breitbart — in part because they wouldn’t let him attend White House press briefings to pester Sean Spicer about Crowdstrike hoaxes — and move to his own radio show at Sputnik.

But it was not just Stranahan at Breitbart that remained in the loop of Stone’s focus on WikiLeaks. Before Bannon emailed Stone about WikiLeaks on October 4, Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle exchanged emails with Stone. He asked Stone what Assange had, Stone implied he knew and complained that “Bannon … doesn’t call me back.” Boyle forwarded the email to Bannon and told him he “should call Roger.” Which Bannon tried to brush off by saying he had “important stuff to worry about.”

Yet he did write Stone (the context of that earlier exchange did not come up at Stone’s trial). And Stone came right back and asked for money for his “black digital campaign.”

I don’t know what to make of all this. But Stone’s actions with respect to Guccifer 2.0 look far more damning when viewed in parallel with Stranahan’s actions.

Curiously, even in spite of his mention in the GRU indictment, that incident doesn’t appear to be mentioned even in the redacted passages of the Mueller Report, as Stranahan doesn’t appear in the glossary at all.

Which may suggest his import had more to do with the August 2 column, written with Stone for Bannon, than his ongoing exchanges with Guccifer 2.0.

The Slow Firing of Robert Mueller[‘s Replacement]

On December 5, I suggested that Speaker Pelosi delay the full House vote on impeachment until early February. I intimated there were public reasons — the possibility of a ruling on the Don McGahn subpoena and superseding charges for Lev Parnas — I thought so and private ones. One of the ones I did not share was the Stone sentencing, which at that point was scheduled for February 6. Had Pelosi listened to me (!!!) and had events proceeded as scheduled, Stone would have been sentenced before the final vote on Trump’s impeachment.

But things didn’t work out that way. Not only didn’t Pelosi heed my suggestion (unsurprisingly), but two things happened in the interim.

First, Stone invented a bullshit reason for delay on December 19, the day after the full House voted on impeachment. The prosecutors who all resigned from the case yesterday objected to the delay, to no avail, which is how sentencing got scheduled for February 20 rather than the day after the Senate voted to acquit.

Then, on January 6, Trump nominated Jessie Liu, then the US Attorney for DC, to be Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, basically the person who oversees the process of tracking criminal flows of finance. She won’t get that position — her nomination was pulled yesterday in advance of a Thursday confirmation hearing. But her nomination gave Barr the excuse to install a trusted aide, Timothy Shea, at US Attorney for DC last Thursday, the day after the impeachment vote and in advance of the now-delayed Stone sentencing.

Liu, who is very conservative and a true Trump supporter, had been nominated for a more obvious promotion before. On March 5, Trump nominated her to be Associate Attorney General, the number 3 ranking person at DOJ. But then she pulled her nomination on March 28 because Senators objected to her views on choice.

But let’s go back, to late August 2018. Michael Cohen and Sam Patten had just pled guilty, and Cohen was trying to find a way to sort of cooperate. Rudy Giuliani was talking about how Robert Mueller would need to shut down his investigation starting on September 1, because of the election. I wrote a post noting that, while Randy Credico’s imminent grand jury appearance suggested Mueller might be close to finishing an indictment of Stone, they still had to wait for Andrew Miller’s testimony.

Even as a I wrote it, Jay Sekulow was reaching out to Jerome Corsi to include him in the Joint Defense Agreement.

During the entire election season, both Paul Manafort and Jerome Corsi were stalling, lying to prosecutors while reporting back to Trump what they were doing.

Then, the day after the election, Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matt Whitaker. Whitaker, not Rosenstein, became the nominal supervisor of the Mueller investigation. Not long after, both Manafort and Corsi made their game clear. They hadn’t been cooperating, they had been stalling to get past the time when Trump could start the process of ending the Mueller investigation.

But Whitaker only reactively kept Mueller in check. After Michael Cohen’s December sentencing made it clear that Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to cheat to win, Whitaker started policing any statement that implicated Trump. By the time Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019 — after Trump’s plan to replace Whitaker with the expert in cover ups, Bill Barr — Mueller no longer noted when Trump was personally involved, as he was in Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

But then, when Barr came in, everything started to shut down. Mueller moved ongoing prosecutions to other offices, largely to DC, under Jessie Liu’s supervision. As Barr came to understand where the investigation might head, he tried to promote Liu out of that position, only to have GOP ideology prevent it.

Barr successfully dampened the impeach of the Mueller Report, pretending that it didn’t provide clear basis for impeaching the President. It was immediately clear, when he did that, that Barr was spinning the Stone charges to minimize the damage on Trump. But Barr did not remove Mueller right away, and the Special Counsel remained up until literally the moment when he secured Andrew Miller’s testimony on May 29.

The next day, I noted the import of raising the stakes for Trump on any Roger Stone pardon, because Stone implicated him personally. That was more important, I argued, than impeaching Trump for past actions to try to fire Mueller, which Democrats were focused on with their attempt to obtain Don McGahn’s testimony.

Still, those ongoing investigations continued under Jessie Liu, and Stone inched along towards trial, even as Trump leveraged taxpayer dollars to try to establish an excuse to pardon Manafort (and, possibly, to pay off the debts Manafort incurred during the 2016 election). As Stone’s trial laid out evidence that the President was personally involved in optimizing the release of emails Russia had stolen from Trump’s opponent, attention was instead focused on impeachment, his more recent effort to cheat.

In Stone’s trial, he invented a new lie: both Randy Credico and Jerome Corsi had falsely led him to believe they had a tie to WikiLeaks. That didn’t help Stone avoid conviction: Stone was found guilty on all counts. But it gave Stone yet another cover story to avoid revealing what his ties to WikiLeaks actually were and what he did — probably with Trump’s assent — to get it. For some reason, prosecutors decided not to reveal what they were otherwise prepared to: what Stone had really done.

Immediately after his conviction, Stone spent the weekend lobbying for a pardon. His wife appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show and someone got inside White House gates to make the case.

But, as impeachment proceeded, nothing happened, as the Probation Office started collecting information to argue that Stone should go to prison for a long while. The day Democrats finished their case against Donald Trump, though, Bill Barr made his move, replacing Liu before she was confirmed, removing a very conservative Senate confirmed US Attorney to install his flunkie, Timothy Shea. But even that wasn’t enough. Prosecutors successfully convinced Shea that they should stick to the probation office guidelines recommending a stiff sentence. When Timothy Shea didn’t do what Barr expected him to, Barr intervened and very publicly ordered up the cover up he had promised.

Effectively, Bill Barr is micro-managing the DC US Attorney’s office now, overseeing the sentencing of the man who could explain just how involved Trump was in the effort to maximize the advantage Trump got from Russia’s interference in 2016, as well as all the other prosecutions that we don’t know about.

Trump has, finally, succeeded in firing the person who oversaw the investigations into his role in the Russian operation in 2016. Just as Stone was about to have reason to explain what that role was.

Timeline

August 21, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty

August 31, 2018: Sam Patten pleads guilty

September 5, 2018: Jay Sekulow reaches out to Corsi lawyer to enter into Joint Defense Agreement

September 6, 2018: In first Mueller interview, Corsi lies

September 17, 2018: In second interview, Corsi invents story about how he learned of Podesta emails

September 21, 2018: In third interview, Corsi confesses to establishing a cover story about Podesta’s emails with Roger Stone starting on August 30, 2016; NYT publishes irresponsible story that almost leads to Rod Rosenstein’s firing

October 25, 2018: Rick Gates interviewed about the campaign knowledge of Podesta emails

October 26, 2018: Steve Bannon admits he spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks

October 31, 2018: Prosecutors probably show Corsi evidence proving he lied about source of knowledge on Podesta emails

November 1 and 2, 2018: Corsi continues to spew bullshit in interviews

November 6, 2018: Election day

November 7, 2018: Jeff Sessions is fired; Matt Whitaker named Acting Attorney General

November 9, 2018: Corsi appears before grand jury but gives a false story about how he learned of Podesta emails; Mueller threatens to charge him with perjury

November 15, 2018: Trump tweets bullshit about Corsi’s testimony being coerced

November 23, 2018: Corsi tells the world he is in plea negotiations

November 26, 2018: Corsi rejects plea

December 7, 2018: Trump nominates Bill Barr Attorney General

January 18, 2019: Steve Bannon testifies to the grand jury (and for the first time enters into a proffer)

January 24, 2019: Roger Stone indicted for covering up what really happened with WikiLeaks

February 14, 2019: Bill Barr confirmed as Attorney General

March 5, 2019: Jessie Liu nominated to AAG; Bill Barr briefed on Mueller investigation

March 22, 2019: Mueller announces the end of his investigation

March 24, 2019: Bill Barr releases totally misleading version of Mueller results, downplaying Stone role

March 28, 2019: Liu pulls her nomination from AAG

April 19, 2019: Mueller Report released with Stone details redacted

May 29, 2019: As Mueller gives final press conference, Andrew Miller testifies before grand jury

November 12, 2019: Prosecutors apparently change Stone trial strategy, withhold details of Stone’s actual back channel

November 15, 2019: Roger Stone convicted on all counts

January 6, 2020: Jessie Liu nominated to Treasury

January 16, 2020: Probation Office issues Presentence Report calling for 7-9 years

January 30, 2020: Bill Barr replaces Liu with Timothy Barr, effective February 3; DOJ submits objection to Presentence Report

February 3, 2020: Timothy Shea becomes acting US Attorney

February 5, 2020 : Senate votes to acquit Trump

February 6, 2020: Initial sentencing date for Roger Stone

February 10, 2020: Stone sentencing memoranda submitted

February 11, 2020: DOJ overrules DC on Stone sentencing memorandum, all four prosecutors resign from case

February 20, 2020: Current sentencing date for Roger Stone

Bill Barr’s DOJ Says Trump Is Too Old for Another 4 Year Term

The supplemental sentencing memo DOJ submitted for Roger Stone after all the people who had prosecuted him withdrew from the case is a pained document. It starts with a highfalutin appeal to “sovereignty” of a prosecutor seeking “justice shall be done.” But ultimately, it doesn’t say what the sentence should be.

It is well established that the prosecutor “is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935). This axiom does not simply apply to the process of bringing charges or securing a conviction—it also “must necessarily extend” to the point where a prosecutor advocates for a particular sentence. See United States v. Shanahan, 574 F.2d 1228, 1231 (5th Cir. 1978) (reviewing sentencing conduct of prosecutor). Applying that principle here, to the specific facts of this case, the government respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances. The government ultimately defers to the Court as to the specific sentence to be imposed.

I could make a more compelling argument about what the sentence should be. But, aside from arguing the witness tampering was too serious (something that’s reasonable), that’s not really done here.

Ultimately, having laid out reasons why Stone should still be sentenced to about 4-5 years, the government then argues he should get a deal because he’s old, and in ill-health, and not that much of a rat-fucker.

Finally, the Court also should consider the defendant’s advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence.

Roger Stone is 67. If Roger Stone is too old the go to prison until he’s 74, then the guy on whose behalf DOJ is arguing, Donald Trump, probably is too old — at 73 — to run for a term that will last until he’s 78.

It’s not me arguing that 73 is too old for a four year term. It’s Bill Barr’s DOJ.

Bill Barr Needs to Soften Roger Stone’s Sentence to Prevent Him from Talking

As noted, after DOJ recommended what Roger Stone’s own memo makes clear is a a guidelines sentence yesterday, top DOJ officials almost certainly named Bill Barr have objected and announced they’re going to lower the recommendation.

I believe the brazenness of this fight may be a reflection of the damaging information Roger Stone may have about Trump’s own conduct.

The trial itself provided ample evidence of what Mark Meadows considers “collusion” involving Donald Trump personally. It showed the campaign — and probably Trump personally — were working through Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases from the very day they came out on June 14, 2016. It showed that Stone was informing Trump personally about his efforts to optimize the releases. After some arm-twisting to adhere to his grand jury testimony, Steve Bannon testified he knew of all this, contrary to some of what he had said in earlier testimony that Trump would learn about. Erik Prince was in the loop. Gates testified that Stone was strategizing with Jared Kushner on all this. And it appears that Paul Manafort was in the loop, too.

But all that really damning evidence came out in a trial that only had to prove that Stone had lied to cover up the actions he took to optimize the release of the WikiLeaks emails. The trial did not need to explain what Stone’s actual back channel was, what he had to do to obtain it, and how involved Trump was in that process. And the trial did not explain it.

Indeed, there’s evidence I’ll lay out at more length in a follow-up that the government chose not to lay out all it knew. That is, it appears the government came to trial prepared to present evidence about the underlying “collusion,” but ultimately decided to hold it back for now.

At multiple times during the trial, however, the prosecution pointed to suspiciously timed phone calls, right before or after Stone discussed WikiLeaks with Gates, Manafort, or Jerome Corsi. Only Stone or Trump can tell us what happened between the two men, what Trump’s actual role in maximizing the degree to which his campaign benefitted from Russia’s theft of his opponent’s email.

Immediately after the trial, Stone made an intense effort to get Trump to pardon him, with his wife Nydia appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show to ask directly and a man with a vuvuzela inside the White House calling for a pardon gates.

Since that time, Stone was silent, until the time that the Probation Office provided the sentencing range for the crimes that was built in to the way that Mueller charged this just over a year ago. That is, by charging Stone with witness tampering, Mueller built in the possibility that Stone would be facing the steep sentence recommended yesterday. And that steep sentence may have been envisioned not as the sum of what Stone’s actual actions entailed — certainly every single warrant save the last four showed probable cause that Stone had done far more — but rather as leverage to get Stone to tell what he knows about Trump’s involvement in all this.

Bill Barr was brought in as AG to bury abundant evidence that Trump was personally involved in efforts to maximize the Russian operation, to deny all the ways that Trump did cheat to win. From his initial misleading claims in the wake of the report’s release, he was always suppressing the centrality of Roger Stone in all this.

So it’s fairly safe to conclude that DOJ’s reversal today is not just an effort to prevent a rich white man, Roger Stone, from facing the full consequences of his actions, but to prevent voters from learning what another rich white man did to cheat to get elected.

Yes, ultimately Trump will commute what is left of Roger Stone’s sentence, probably on November 4, just like he fired Jeff Sessions the day after the 2018 election. But I suspect that Roger Stone, rightly, isn’t going to leave anything to chance. And so neither can Bill Barr.

Update: Aaron Zelinsky just quit his position as Special Assistant USA, providing notice to ABJ he’s withdrawing from the case immediately. This likely gives her the opportunity to hear from him, but also frees him up to testify before HJC. And these several steps — the harsh sentence in witness tampering and the possibility that Zelinsky would quit, creating the opportunity for transparency about the case in one or another place, probably has been built in from Barr’s first efforts to shut down this investigation.

Update: Now all four prosecutors are off the Stone team, with Acting DC Criminal Division Chief John Crabb Jr (who replaced the existing CD Chief yesterday) signing a memo that makes a flaccid case that Stone’s guidelines were totally out of whack. Of the four, it appears that Jonathan Kravis left DOJ entirely.

The Frothy Right’s Redaction-Ray Glasses in Defense of Roger Stone

Update: As Fox first reported and WaPo has written up, the highers up at DOJ have now announced they’re going to change the sentencing guidelines submitted last night. This means they’re arguing that Stone should not have the guidelines sentence submitted by the Probation Office.

As noted yesterday, I think prosecutors larded on upward enhancements in their sentencing memo for Roger Stone — though as Stone’s own sentencing memo makes clear, those enhancements came from the Probation Office.

But in Stone’s argument — and that of his acolyte, Chuck Ross — against those enhancements, they just make shit up, including but not limited to the Mueller Report.

Stone invests much, for example, in a claim that Mueller had access to both Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico (but doesn’t mention that he has repeatedly said he would not cooperate with any investigation, which is precisely the point, and probably one reason prosecutors are asking for a harsh sentence).

As discussed above, the Office of the Special Counsel had access to both Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico, as well as to the communications between Stone and each of them, and found no evidence of any connection to Russia. Stone’s convictions for obstruction of justice and witness tampering should similarly be viewed in the broader context of the investigation. In other words, Stone stands convicted for having sought to conceal information ultimately determined to be of no investigative value. Neither Corsi, nor Credico, nor any of their communications provided any useful information in the investigation into election interference.

Stone’s buddy, Chuck Ross, goes further, utterly misstating the results of various investigations.

Despite Democrats’ and the special counsel’s initial suspicions that Stone conspired with Russia or WikiLeaks, investigators found no evidence that the Trump associate had direct contact with anyone involved in stealing or disseminating Democrats’ emails.

The special counsel’s report said that investigators found no evidence that any Trump associates worked with Russia or WikiLeaks to release Democrats’ emails.

Both are absolutely, brazenly lying about the record.

I guess both stances were necessary to justify Trump’s wails of injustice.

In both the GRU indictment and the Mueller Report, Mueller showed that Stone did have direct contact with someone involved in the dissemination of Democrats’ emails, Guccifer 2.0. And even the unredacted parts of report show that witnesses said Stone had knowledge of emails before they were released and the ultimate transfer of the ones he knew of, the Podesta emails, remained undetermined back in March 2019.

Plus, neither Stone nor Ross have the basis to make such claims, unless they have x-ray vision (and unless Stone violated his protective order by sharing with Ross).

There are significant sections (this is page 57) — which remains redacted for us but which Stone got in unredacted fashion and Judge Amy Berman Jackson reviewed closely in response to Stone’s effort to get the entire report in unredacted fashion — that likely lays out how important it would be to have truthful testimony from Stone.

And there are sections that Stone has not seen in unredacted fashion at all, such the entirety of page 177 (or the ongoing and referred prosecutions, three of which pertain to Stone’s trial).

More amusing still, further claims that Stone makes actually undermine his point. He compares two Senate Intelligence Reports on entirely different subjects to claim his false testimony didn’t harm the House Intelligence Committee’s ability to find the truth.

It is speculation that HPSCI’s Report on Russian Active Measures, released March 22, 2018, is “erroneous.” To the contrary, the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election,” Volumes 1 and 2, and the Special Counsel’s “Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Volumes I and II, made findings consistent with those found in the publicly available, redacted HPSCI Report. In other words, even had Stone testified differently and even had Credico testified before HPSCI, the conclusions drawn in its report would not have been materially different.

Thus, Probation’s claim that the HPSCI Report “lacked valuable information which would have been provided by witnesses who chose not to testify” (PSR ¶77) grossly overstates the importance and significance of Roger Stone (and Randy Credico).

Not only has SSCI not released their report on Trump’s possible coordination with WikiLeaks yet (and it is likely to be shown to have shortcomings when it is finally released), but a report released last week (in time to be cited in this memo) suggests there’s far more we don’t know about both WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.

From there, Stone makes much of where Credico’s testimony shows up in the Mueller Report, without mentioning the significant passages where Corsi’s (still redacted to us) testimony makes clear the big questions remaining about Stone’s role.

In the end, Credico was mentioned on five pages of the Special Counsel’s Report, not mentioned in either volume of the Senate Intelligence Report, and not mentioned at all in the HPSCI Majority Report. He was mentioned on two pages of the HPSCI Minority Report, where they noted that Stone identified Credico to the Committee.

Ultimately, though, as has been true in the past, the specific forms of Stone’s denials are as interesting that he’s making them.

In the end, the investigations yielded no evidence of the involvement of any American with the Russian government or any agent operating on its behalf to interfere in the 2016 election. It is also undisputed that Roger Stone had nothing to do with obtaining the compromised emails or providing them to WikiLeaks.

Just on its face and based off unredacted passages, the first is questionable, as the Mueller investigation provided ample evidence that WikiLeaks served as an agent of Russia, and Stone has obstructed the true nature of his ties to WikiLeaks. Given the uncertainty regarding how the Podesta emails got to WikiLeaks — and Craig Murray’s claims to have been involved in that process with someone telling similar bogus stories to the ones Stone is still telling — it is far from undisputed that Stone had nothing to do with the process. Plus, this trial was not about whether he provided them to WikiLeaks; it was about whether he optimized their release via some cutout.

Timothy Shea Signs Off on Aggressive Sentencing Recommendation for Roger Stone

Update: As Fox first reported and WaPo has written up, the highers up at DOJ have now announced they’re going to change the sentencing guidelines submitted last night. This means they’re arguing that Stone should not have the guidelines sentence submitted by the Probation Office.

I’ll have more to say about the government’s sentencing memorandum for Roger Stone once Stone submits his. But I want to emphasize something notable about the recommended sentence of 87-108 months: it’s that prosecutors recommended a sentence at all.

Up until now, the government has placed sentencing, within guideline ranges, into the judge’s hands, as laid out explicitly in the second Paul Manafort sentencing memo.

Consistent with the practice the Special Counsel’s Office has followed, the government does not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed. Instead, the government sets forth its assessment of the nature of the offenses and offender and the applicable advisory sentencing guidelines and sentencing factors.

As recently as January 29, they took a similar stance with Mike Flynn, repeating “guidelines sentence” when they wanted Judge Emmet Sullivan to sentence him favorably, “guidelines sentence” when they wanted to punish him for reneging on his plea deal, and “guidelines sentence” when they backed off that somewhat.

Prosecutors were far more aggressive with Stone, though, adding on four sentencing enhancements — one hefty, for the threat to Randy Credico, who wrote a letter asking for leniency —  and calling for real punishment at the end.

Roger Stone obstructed Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness. And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law. For that, he should be punished in accord with the advisory Guidelines.

Just as interestingly, the newly appointed US Attorney approved this aggressive stance, though not without some pushback.

Front-line prosecutors, some previously with Mueller’s team, argued for a sentence on the higher end for Stone than some of their supervisors were comfortable with, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

A recommendation on the higher end prevailed, with prosecutors’ filings citing federal sentencing guidelines that ratchet up in cases involving obstruction that impedes the administration of justice.

[snip]

Hours before the filing was due Monday, the new head of the D.C. office, interim U.S. attorney Timothy Shea — a former close adviser to Attorney General William P. Barr — had not made a final decision on Stone’s sentencing recommendation, according to the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Disagreements among prosecutors about sentencing recommendations are not uncommon, especially when it comes to politically sensitive high-profile cases. It would have been unusual, however, for the U.S. attorney’s office to endorse a sentence below the guideline range after winning conviction at trial, according to former federal prosecutors.

I think WaPo understates how aggressive this memo is, and I suspect Judge Amy Berman Jackson will find it so too (I wouldn’t be surprised if Stone pushed for probation to 12 months).

And, as WaPo notes, it’s the Mueller prosecutors left on the team (just Aaron Zelinsky and Adam Jed remain on the team) who pushed for this aggressive stance.

 

The Black Hole Where SSCI’s Current Understanding of WikiLeaks Is

Four years after it started, the Senate Intelligence Committee continues its investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, this week releasing the report on what the Obama Administration could have done better. For a variety of reasons, these reports have been as interesting for their redactions or silences as for what the unredacted bits say.

This latest report is no different.

Putin responded to Obama’s warnings by waggling his nukes

The most interested unredacted bit pertains to Susan Rice’s efforts, scheduled to occur just before ODNI and DHS released their report attributing the hack to Russia, to warn Russia against continuing to tamper in the election. That would place the meeting at just about precisely the moment the Access Hollywood video and Podesta email release happened, a big fuck you even as Obama was trying to do something about the tampering. The meeting also would have occurred during the period when Sergei Kislyak was bitching about FBI efforts to prevent Russia from sending election observers to voting sites.

The description of the meeting between Rice and Kislyak is redacted. But the report does reveal, for the first that I heard, that Russia responded to being warned by raising its nukes.

Approximately a week after the October 7. 2016. meeting, Ambassador Kislyak asked to meet with Ambassador Rice to deliver Putin’s response. The response, as characterized by Ambassador Rice, was “denial and obfuscation,” and “[t]he only thing notable about it is that Putin somehow deemed it necessary to mention the obvious fact that Russia remains a nuclear power.”

This exchange is all the more interesting given that there’s an entirely redacted bullet (on page 37) describing actions that “Russian cyber actors” took after Obama warned Putin. Given that the state and county scanning and the alleged hack of VR Systems shows up, there’s something we either still don’t know about or SSCI continues to hide more details of the VR Systems hack.

The page long post-election response to the election year attack

The longest subsection in a section devoted to describing Obama’s response is redacted (pages 39-41).

Here’s what the timing of the unredacted parts of that section is:

  • A: Expulsion of Russian diplomats (December 29, 2016)
  • B: Modifying the EO and sanctions (December 29, 2016)
  • C: redacted
  • D: Cybersecurity action in the form of the issuance of two technical reports (December 29, 2016 and February 10, 2017)
  • E: Tasking the ICA Report (initiated December 6, 2016; completed December 30, 2016; published January 5 and 6, 2017)
  • F: Protecting election infrastructure (January 5, 2017)

That might suggest that whatever secret action the Obama Administration took happened right in December, with everything else.

John Brennan was proved fucking right

There’s a redacted passage that may undermine the entire premise of the John Durham investigation, which purports to review what agencies, other than FBI, did to lead to an investigation focused on Trump’s campaign. Some reporting suggests Durham is investigating whether CIA tricked FBI into investigating Trump’s flunkies.

But this report describes how, in spite of knowing about related Russian hacks in 2015 and Russia’s habit of leaking information they stole, the IC really wasn’t aware of what was going on until John Brennan got an intelligence tip during the summer of 2016. That intelligence tip was described at length in a WaPo story that resembles this section of the report.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence.

The section in this report is redacted.

Effectively, this report seems to confirm the WaPo reporting (which may have been based off sources close to those who testified to SSCI). It also emphasizes the import of this intelligence. But for this intelligence, the IC may have continued to remain ignorant of Putin’s plans for the operation.

The IC won’t let SSCI share its current understanding of WikiLeaks

But the most interesting redactions pertain to WikiLeaks.

There are four redacted paragraphs describing how hard it was for the IC to come up with a consensus attribution for the hack and leak operation.

Senior administration officials told the Committee that they hesitated to publicly attribute the cyber efforts to Russia m1til they had sufficient information on the penetration of the DNC network and the subsequent disclosure of stolen information via WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and Guccifer 2.0.

More interesting still, almost the entirety of the page-plus discussion (relying on testimony from Ben Rhodes, Michael Daniel, Paul Selva, Mike Rogers, and others) of why it took so long to understand WikiLeaks remains redacted.

One reference that is unredacted, however, describes WikiLeaks as “coopted.”

This information would be of particular interest as the prosecution of Julian Assange goes forward. That — and the fact that some of this determination, relying as it does on former NSA Director Mike Rogers, appears to rely on NSA information — may be why it remains redacted.

Update: I’ve deleted the remainder of this post. It came from Wyden’s views, not the report itself.

The Real News in Bill Barr’s Announcement: He’s Vetoing Campaign Finance Investigations, Too

Yesterday, NYT broke the news that Attorney General Barr had issued a memo, as promised, requiring his approval before opening an investigation into a presidential candidate. (Update: here’s the memo.)

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that President Trump was acquitted on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. The memo said that the F.B.I. and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Mr. Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

The NBC version of this — written by Barr mouthpiece Pete Williams — falsely suggests this decision was justified by the entirety of the IG Report.

His directive follows a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that harshly criticized the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. It recommended an evaluation of the kind of sensitive matters that should require high-level approval, particularly those involving politics.

While the IG Report recommended different practices for sensitive investigations going forward, the report actually showed that a lot of conspiracy theories that Barr had embraced about the opening of the investigation and the use of informants were false. The criticisms — as distinct from recommendations — were largely limited to the Carter Page FISA.

The distinction is important because the other excuse Barr offers is that, if an investigation became known — like both the Hillary email investigation and the Breitbart-dirt predicated Clinton Foundations ones — it might affect the election.

“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Mr. Barr wrote.

Those concerns, combined with the inspector general’s findings, seemed to underpin Mr. Barr’s memo to top Justice Department officials.

All the evidence in the world suggests that the known problems in Crossfire Hurricane stemmed from the opposite problem, working too hard to keep the investigation secret. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep it secret, it wouldn’t have been run out of FBI HQ, and so would have had more resources available. Had the FBI not avoided overt steps, it would have obtained call records to indicate that George Papadopoulos (and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), and not Carter Page, should have been the priority targets. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep this secret, it might have caught several of Trump’s flunkies in the act of selling out the country. (And all three of those men hid information to prevent their actions from becoming known.) And now Bill Barr wants to make it harder, not easier, to find people selling out our country before they do real damage.

Indeed, this extends even to the larger investigation into Russian interference. SSCI released its report on what the Obama Administration should have done better in 2016 yesterday, and many of the criticisms stem from how closely it held the intelligence about the attack, from Congress, election professionals, and agencies that might respond. (The report also undermined Barr’s justification for the Durham investigation, in that it suggested the IC should have warned policy makers far earlier than happened about Russian intentions, and points to John Brennan’s sensitive intelligence about the operation as the first alarm.)

So the stated purpose doesn’t hold up, as most of Barr’s stated purposes don’t. That’s all the more true when you look at how Barr’s rule has dramatically expanded since he first floated it.

As both NYT and NBC noted, Barr announced the policy in January. The policy, as laid out back then, was far more limited — extending just to counterintelligence investigations.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced the Justice Department’s first policy change in response to the FBI’s mucking around in the 2016 election. Henceforth, both an AG and the FBI director must sign off on any proposed counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign.

Neither the NYT nor NBC describe any such limitation. Indeed, the make it clear that criminal investigations, including into donors!!!, must be approved.

While the department must respond “swiftly and decisively” to credible threats to the electoral process, “we also must be sensitive to safeguarding the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship,” he wrote.

He previewed the new policy at a news conference in January, when he said his approval would be required in future investigations involving presidential candidates or campaigns.
In the memo, Mr. Barr established a series of requirements governing whether investigators could open preliminary or full “politically sensitive” criminal and counterintelligence investigations into candidates or their donors.

No investigation into a presidential or vice-presidential candidate — or their senior campaign staff or advisers — can begin without written notification to the Justice Department and the written approval of Mr. Barr.

The F.B.I. must also notify and consult with the relevant leaders at the department — like the heads of the criminal division, the national security division or a United States attorney’s office — before investigating Senate or House candidates or their campaigns, or opening an inquiry related to “illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign.”

This rule would have protected the following people from any investigation in 2016:

  • Trump, for paying off former sex partners
  • Paul Manafort, for taking $2.4M after discussing carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in 2016
  • Roger Stone, for dark money activity and coordination still unresolved as well as optimizing materials stolen from the Democrats
  • Mike Flynn, for being on Turkey’s payroll while attending Top Secret candidate briefings
  • George Papadopoulos, for trying to monetize his access to Trump with foreign countries including Israel
  • Illegal donations from Russians, Malaysians, Emiratis, and Ukrainians in 2016
  • Illegal coordination between the campaign and its SuperPAC

The only criminal investigations into Trump flunkies that wouldn’t have been covered in 2016 would be the money laundering investigation into Manafort (which started two months before he joined the campaign) and, possibly, the counterintelligence investigation into Page (because his tie to the campaign was not known at the time).

As stated, the rule would require pre-approval for the Ukrainian grifter investigation and any investigation into known coordination problems Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has engaged in. It would protect not just Trump, but also (because they work on his campaign) his failson and son-in-law.

Plus, Barr believes that because the President can’t be indicted, he should not be investigated. So this is, quite literally, a guarantee that no crime Trump commits between now and election day will be investigated — not even shooting someone on Fifth Avenue  (at the federal level, at least, but DOJ has maintained that NYS cannot investigate the sitting president either). Barr has just announced, using fancy language to avoid headlines describing what this is, that from now until November, he will hold President Trump above the law.

Citizens United has opened up a floodgate of barely hidden cash from foreign donors into our elections. This is not a partisan thing; as noted, Mohammed bin Zayed was dumping huge money into both Hillary and Trump’s campaign. And the Attorney General of the United States has just made it easier for foreigners to tamper in our elections.

Barr has snookered reporters into believing this is the same announcement as he made in January.

It’s not. This is not about spying on a campaign, much as Pete Williams wants to pretend it is. This is about telling Trump and his associates they will not be prosecuted by DOJ, going forward, for the same crimes they’ve committed in the past.

Update: Two more details. The memo requires signed approval by the Deputy Attorney General to open a preliminary investigation of any presidential candidate. But it also requires prompt notice to the Assistant Attorney General for any assessment. That means the AG is demanding that his top deputies learn when someone does a database search.

Manafort’s Efforts to Insinuate Himself into Trump’s Campaign Earlier Than Previously Known

The Mueller Report describes Trump’s decision to hire Paul Manafort this way.

Manafort served on the Trump Campaign from late March to August 19, 2016. On March 29, 2016, the Campaign announced that Manafort would serve as the Campaign’s “Convention Manager.”871 On May 19, 2016, Manafort was promoted to campaign chairman and chief strategist, and Gates, who had been assisting Manafort on the Campaign, was appointed deputy campaign chairman.872 Thomas Barrack and Roger Stone both recommended Manafort to candidate Trump.873

In early 2016, at Manafort’s request, Barrack suggested to Trump that Manafort join the Campaign to manage the Republican Convention.874 Stone had worked with Manafort from approximately 1980 until the mid-1990s through various consulting and lobbying firms. Manafort met Trump in 1982 when Trump hired the Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly lobbying firm.875 Over the years, Manafort saw Trump at political and social events in New York City and at Stone’s wedding, and Trump requested VIP status at the 1988 and 1996 Republican conventions worked by Manafort.876

According to Gates, in March 2016, Manafort traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to meet with Trump. Trump hired him at that time.877 Manafort agreed to work on the Campaign without pay. Manafort had no meaningful income at this point in time, but resuscitating his domestic political campaign career could be financially beneficial in the future. Gates reported that Manafort intended, if Trump won the Presidency, to remain outside the Administration and monetize his relationship with the Administration. 878

Gates’ description for some of this (two of the cited Gates 302s and all of the Manafort ones have not been released yet) is fairly anodyne:

Thomas Barrack and Roger Stone acted as liaisons between Manafort and the Trump Campaign prior to Manafort’s hiring. Trump had just lost the primary in Wisconsin and then won the primary in Louisiana, but the delegates refused to support him. Trump did not understand the mechanics of delegates and the way the system worked. Barrack and Stone had been lobbying for Trump to hire Manafort for some time and it wasn’t until after the Wisconsin and Louisiana primaries that Trump agreed. Barrack was the person who set up Manafort’s first meeting with Trump, Hicks and Lewandowski in Mar a Lago.

The bolded footnotes in the Mueller passage above derive, at least in part, from Tom Barrack’s 302, which was released yesterday.

That 302 describes the background in more interesting fashion:

In January 2016, knowing of BARRACK’s close association with then U.S. Presidential candidate TRUMP, MANAFORT asked BARRACK to intervene on his behalf to become the convention manager for the TRUMP Presidential Campaign. BARRACK initially thought this was MANAFORT being MANAFORT. In other words, BARRACK described MANAFORT as an opportunist. MANAFORT was a good political strategist and had good ideas. But MANAFORT’s relationship with [redacted] would make it difficult for BARRACK to intervene on his behalf. BARRACK stated MANAFORT’s biggest impediment to joining the campaign was [redacted] who BARRACK described as someone with brilliance and bizarreness all wrapped up into one. Nonetheless, BARRACK met MANAFORT for coffee in Los Angeles, California to discuss the concept. MANAFORT told him TRUMP needed help and MANAFORT was the person who could help TRUMP. At this coffee meeting, MANAFORT also asked BARRACK whether he could do him a favor and give [redacted] a job interview with BARRACK’s company.

BARRACK eventually approached TRUMP with the idea of MANAFORT helping the Presidential campaign but TRUMP dismissed the idea because of MANAFORT’s connection to [redacted]

MANAFORT followed up their coffee meeting with a briefing paper about why the Republican Convention and its delegates were so important to the TRUMP campaign. In February or the beginning of March 2016, BARRACK again approached TRUMP about MANAFORT’s involvement with the Convention, which TRUMP eventually agreed. MANAFORT stated he did not need to be paid by the campaign for his work on the convention, which TRUMP liked because he was paying for the campaign out of his own pocket.

[snip]

BARRACK stated the TRUMP campaign did not conduct any due diligence into MANAFORT’s background before bringing him on to be the Convention Manager. BARRACK described the campaign at the time as amateur, which is why bringing on an experienced political professional like MANAFORT was important. BARRACK also stated STONE, who had a continuing and intermittent relationship with TRUMP, weight in on supporting MANAFORT as the Convention Manager.

Those redactions in bold appear to be 5-characters long, so could well be Stone. The convention in 302s is to introduce someone’s full name then include it in parentheses, but Stone would have been introduced pages earlier when Barrack described meeting Manafort’s business partners from when Stone was a named partner. As noted, Stone shows up a paragraph later in the 302 in the same kind of context.

Whoever it is, the exemptions in that paragraph include b7A, ongoing investigation.

Whoever the redacted name, that Manafort was affirmatively asking for the Convention Manager job as soon as January is of particular interest. That’s when DOJ opened the money laundering investigation into Manafort, after all. That was after the time when Felix Sater was pitching the Trump Tower deal.

And significantly, it raised the stakes on Trump’s failure to manage his delegates before Manafort came in, something that Manafort buddy Roger Stone was closely involved with in his initial Stop the Steal effort. It also makes Manafort’s second offer — to work for free — appear even more desperate (though he was financially desperate at the time).

Update: Added the follow-on language referencing Stone.

“Project Rasputin:” The Michael Caputo Interview

Yesterday, the government released another tranche of 302s in response to the BuzzFeed/CNN FOIA. There are actually a slew of interesting interviews.

One of those is Michael Caputo’s. Remember, in addition to having a background in and ongoing ties with Russia (which may have unfairly led to more scrutiny of him than others in the early days of the congressional investigations), he’s very close to Roger Stone. Shortly after Stone was indicted, the government put together a sealed list of witnesses with whom Stone could not have contact, and Caputo learned he was on it. After Stone’s guilty verdict, Caputo wrote Judge Amy Berman Jackson to request that she lift the gag so they could spend time over Christmas together.

Mr. Stone and I have been close friends since 1986. We work together, we dine together, our families share holidays together. I still do not fully understand why this order was entered — I was never a witness in his case and I had never testified before the grand jury — but I respected your order. Even as I attended his recent trial, we did not communicate. Mr. Stone has been especially obedient in this matter and I do not wish to disrupt his commitment to staying within the letter and spirit of your order.

But it’s Christmas, Judge, and our family wants to spend time with his. I also want his wife and children to know they can count on us to assist them through this difficult time, and that we’ll always be there to help them. I want them to know this now.

ABJ never responded to Caputo, and given that yesterday she invited prosecutors to complain about Stone’s violations of her gag in the weekend after his guilty verdict, I suspect she’s less convinced than Caputo is that Stone abided by her gag order.

MINUTE ORDER as to ROGER J. STONE, JR. The parties are directed to include in their sentencing memoranda any arguments they wish to make concerning the defendant’s compliance with the Court’s media communications orders 36 149 and conditions of release as modified on February 21, 2019 and July 16, 2019, including, in particular, his compliance during the trial, and on or about November 13-15, 2019. SO ORDERED.

Caputo’s interview is all the more interesting given that he gave among the most detailed descriptions of his testimony of any witness the day he testified back in 2018.

Caputo described that the Mueller investigators knew more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.

After being interviewed by special counsel investigators on Wednesday, former aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign Michael Caputo told CNN that Robert Mueller’s team is “focused on Russia collusion.”

“It’s clear they are still really focused on Russia collusion,” Caputo said, adding, “They know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.”

[snip]

“The Senate and the House are net fishing,” Caputo said. “The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.”

In other words, hours after Caputo finished testifying, he went to CNN to alert everyone, including (presumably) Stone that Mueller knew of things they were otherwise not telling.

The 302 describes that Caputo started the interview by noting that he had prepared a binder of notes and documents for the Senate Intelligence Committee interview he had the day before. Particularly given Caputo’s response after his testimony, that’s significant because multiple SSCI witnesses put together carefully massaged stories to tell less damning stories. Caputo obviously missed some things.

From the 302, it appears Caputo was asked (of Mueller’s prosecutors, just Aaron Zelinsky attended this interview) a general question from the start: what his official and unofficial role in the 2016 election was. He was hired by longtime Roger Stone friend Paul Manafort.

After Donald J. Trump (Trump) won the primary, Caputo was invited to join the Trump Campaign by Paul Manafort. A meeting was held at Trump Tower on 04/25/2016 to discuss the opportunity. After the meeting, Caputo served as a senior advisor to the Trump Campaign in charge of communications for the candidate in New York until his resignation on 06/20/2016.

Note that Manafort was not yet campaign manager when Caputo was hired, and his Convention Manager job at the time had little to do with the daily talking points that it sounds like Caputo spent his time doing. So his hiring is fairly curious. There are other 302s where references to what is probably Caputo — and his June resignation — are redacted.

After Caputo resigned, he worked for Tom Barrack, fundraising. It’s clear he emphasized he only raised money from American donors. Barrack’s 302 was also released yesterday; we know the government still has questions about whether that American donor claim is true.

Relatively early on, there is a 5-paragraph redacted discussion preceded by Caputo’s comment that,

Regarding the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s missing 33,000 emails, Caputo thought it implausible to think that wasn’t happening.

The passage ends with Caputo saying he wasn’t involved in such activities and denying that he heard any discussion of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange.

Caputo said there was no coordination on his part on those types of activities. Additionally, Caputo did not recall hacking and/or Assange being a topic of conversation at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Caputo initially said Stone never mentioned WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, however, Caputo later modified this statement as documented below.

That was his second denial that he had made about WikiLeaks thus far into his interview. That comment is followed by four redacted paragraphs. There’s also a later 12-paragraph section that is entirely redacted, which immediately precedes questions about DC Leaks. Both those of those passages, plus the 5-paragraph redaction noted above, are redacted under B6, B7C, and B7A exemptions. The first two exemptions are for privacy, and are very common. But the B7A exemption reflects an ongoing investigation. This formula is particularly interesting given that up until now, everything Stone related has been redacted under B7ABC exemptions tied to ABJ’s gag.

In other words, just days before Stone and prosecutors will submit their sentencing memoranda, DOJ is still redacting things relating to Stone because of an ongoing investigation.

The balance of the 302 discusses Sergei Millian and Caputo’s ties to Russia and includes a redacted list of the people he told he had an interview with Mueller (also protected under b7A).

Finally, the interview includes Caputo’s explanation for the Henry Greenberg story, which WaPo first reported this way, based in part on Stone’s version of events

One day in late May 2016, Roger Stone — the political dark sorcerer and longtime confidant of Donald Trump — slipped into his Jaguar and headed out to meet a man with a “Make America Great Again” hat and a viscous Russian accent.

The man, who called himself Henry Greenberg, offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the upcoming presidential election, according to Stone, who spoke about the previously unreported incident in interviews with The Washington Post. Greenberg, who did not reveal the information he claimed to possess, wanted Trump to pay $2 million for the political dirt, Stone said.

“You don’t understand Donald Trump,” Stone recalled saying before rejecting the offer at a restaurant in the Russian-expat magnet of Sunny Isles, Fla. “He doesn’t pay for anything.”

Later, Stone got a text message from Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign communications official who’d arranged the meeting after Greenberg had approached Caputo’s Russian-immigrant business partner.

“How crazy is the Russian?” Caputo wrote, according to a text message reviewed by The Post. Noting that Greenberg wanted “big” money, Stone replied, “waste of time.”

Two years later, the brief sit-down in Florida has resurfaced as part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s sprawling investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to Caputo. Caputo said he was asked about the meeting by prosecutors during a sometimes-heated questioning session last month.

Stone and Caputo, who did not previously disclose the meeting to congressional investigators, now say they believe they were the targets of a setup by U.S. law enforcement officials hostile to Trump.

As noted, the story deserves particular attention given that both Stone and Caputo failed to disclose this to the Intelligence Committees (though both sent revisions admitting to it after Caputo’s testimony, which distinguishes it from Stone’s lies about having a back channel to WikiLeaks).

When Zelinsky originally asked Caputo, generally, about any “connection to Russians and/or Russian nationals during the campaign” — the same question that had been asked by the Intelligence Committees — he claimed “this event occurred after his involvement with the campaign,” the same kind of story that George Papadopoulos told to separate a possible Russian dangle, temporally, from involvement in the campaign. But then he admitted it happened in May, before he resigned.

It’s clear Caputo offered a bunch of stories for why he believed this guy was Russian, which seems like an effort to minimize what he had learned before the event:

  • He assumed he was a Russian US citizen of Russian descent (meaning, not an immigrant)
  • He had an accent
  • His close friend [redacted] had made this assertion

Caputo revealed that he met Greenberg again on January 5, 2017 at a cancer research fundraiser he ran and claims Greenberg told him at that time he was a US citizen.

Caputo also dodged when asked why he referred this information to Stone.

Caputo didn’t recall why he sent Greenberg to Stone, but thought it was probably because [redacted] and was involved in opposition research for years. Caputo typically didn’t like relaying this type of opposition research material, and was not likely to give it to anyone at Trump Tower.

In other words, after unsuccessfully attempting to distance the event from the campaign temporally, he tried to do so ethically, suggesting he would never share this with the actual campaign, just with his rat-fucker buddy.

Perhaps the most interesting line in his description of Henry Greenberg, however, distinguished that Russian tie he tried to hide from something called “Project Rasputin.”

“Project Rasputin” was mutually exclusive from anything having to do with Greenberg.

That reference to a heretofore unidentified project immediately precedes yet another paragraph redacted because of an ongoing investigation. And there’s one more ongoing investigation paragraph before that passage ends with Caputo’s explanation about how Stone might be easily duped by Russians.

Caputo advised he lived in Russia for approximately seven years, thereby having more experience with Russian than Stone.

Michael Caputo doesn’t understand why ABJ still won’t let him talk to Stone. The redactions in his 302 appear to provide some hint.