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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.

The Special Envoy for Ukraine Was Working on Paul Manafort’s Defense

In advance of this morning’s impeachment report, Just Security published Susan Simpson’s takedown of the GOP report on impeachment.

Simpson proves that the hold on aid was unprecedented in form and all the excuses for it bullshit. She shows that Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland were lying about knowing that Burisma was code for Biden. And she lays out how a defense the GOP are making — that this is all about a legitimate interest in 2016 interference — is not what Trump is actually claiming — which is that Trump and Rudy Giuliani are both claiming that Ukraine, not Russia, did the 2016 attack. Here’s her summary of the last bit:

Although the minority report argues that it is “undisputed” that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election due to “senior Ukrainian officials ma[king] negative and critical comments about candidate Trump,” this talking point comes from House Republicans only, not from President Trump. (Minority at 78) Neither Giuliani nor President Trump have ever expressed an interest in an investigation into whether Ukraine “interfered” in the 2016 election because of what some Ukrainians officials wrote in op-eds or on social media. The idea that this is what Trump wanted to investigate is a fiction that House Republicans invented to give themselves something they were willing to defend. The only investigation into the 2016 election that President Trump has expressed interest in – both in interviews in Fox News, and in his July 25th call with Zelensky – is an investigation aimed at proving Ukraine was behind the DNC hack.

President Trump’s desire for an investigation that would exonerate Russia is undeniable – it’s right there in the transcript of that “perfect” July 25th call – and it’s also indefensible. And so the minority report makes no attempt to try; instead the report concocts an alternative account that does not match the record.

That detail is important given something Simpson includes to substantiate her argument. In part of her proof that the Ukrainians knew well what was going on, she cites an April 5th interview with Ruslan Bortnik. Bortnik claims that it was already obvious at that point that Volker was not doing what he was hired (for “free”) to do: make peace with Russia.

This includes articles such as an April 5th report of an interview with the Director of the Ukrainian Institute for Policy Analysis and Management, Ruslan Bortnik, on his perception of Ambassador Volker’s role in Ukraine:

“Volker today turned out to be an ambassador without a message, that is, a person who nominally retains the function of special envoy for Ukraine, but really cannot meet anyone and does not conduct any negotiations because of his inability to organize a productive dialogue with the Russian Federation. However, he continues to try to play some important role in Ukrainian affairs, especially with regard to the Manafort case, allegedly Ukrainian interference in the US elections, Burisma Holding and the ongoing election campaign in the USA.”

Significantly, by April, Bortnik knew that along with working on alleged Ukrainian interference in the US elections and framing Joe Biden (both things that Volker’s sworn testimony says he wasn’t asked to do until later), Volker was also working on Paul Manafort’s case.

That suggests the guy who was supposed to be making peace with Russia was instead trying to find a way to help the guy who obstructed Mueller’s investigation into whether that guy entered into a quid pro quo with Russia for election assistance dodge his legal exposure for that and helping pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine loot the country.

The most charitable possibility to explain this (and Volker’s subsequent lies) is that he viewed it to be necessary to make Russia’s tampering in 2016 disappear before Russia would negotiate peace in Ukraine. But there are a whole lot of more sordid possibilities.

Speaker Pelosi Goes from Slow-Walking to Sprinting

This morning, Nancy Pelosi announced she’s asking Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff to draw up articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.

Both reports on scheduling from members of HJC and Congress generally as well as reporting from CNN suggest Pelosi intends a very quick schedule for this process: articles drawn up this weekend, a vote in HJC next week, then a full vote before Christmas.

This is a mistake, in my opinion. I think Pelosi should bump this schedule out to early February. I say this not out of any fondness for delay, but because several things will or are likely to happen in the interim that would make impeachment more thorough.

The first is a ruling on Don McGahn’s testimony. I think the case on impeaching Trump for obstructing the Mueller investigation should most importantly focus on his abuse of the pardon power, not least because preventing a Trump pardon may give Paul Manafort and Roger Stone reason to grow more chatty. But McGahn’s testimony, describing how Trump asked him to falsify a record to cover up the fact that the President asked him to get Mueller fired in summer 2017, would be important for other reasons. Jonathan Turley cited McGahn’s testimony, for example, as the clearest case in the Mueller Report supporting impeachment (though of course he claims it doesn’t reach the level of abuse that Turley claimed lying about a consensual blowjob did back when Clinton did it). It would also be powerful to have a key player in Republican politics — they guy helped Trump stack the courts — play a key role in his impeachment.

While there’s little hope the Democrats could force the testimony of the key witnesses in the Ukraine investigation (including McGahn’s one-time deputy, John Eisenberg) without long delay, they’re more likely to get a ruling requiring McGahn’s testimony.

Then there’s the high likelihood of a superseding indictment in the Lev Parnas case. At a hearing Monday, prosecutors made it clear they’re very likely to supersede the current indictment against Rudy Giuliani’s grifters, possibly including other targets of the probe.

Prosecutor Zolkind signaled that a grand jury would probably level more charges.

“We think a superseding indictment is likely, but no decision has been made, certainly,” Zolkind said.

Repeatedly emphasizing that the government’s investigation is ongoing, the prosecutor referred obliquely to possible other targets by explaining that redactions on search warrants do not relate to the charged case. Zolkind also explained that disclosing witness statements prematurely could risk compromising the probe.

While the judge in the case, Paul Oetken, signaled his willingness to share information from this probe with impeachment investigators, and Parnas and his lawyers indicated that they’d like to comply with HPSCI’s subpoena (probably in an attempt to leverage immunity), that may take some time, perhaps two months. But I think any evidence from this case will be stronger if it comes with a grand jury indictment alleging that more of the underlying activities in this grift were probably a crime.

The next hearing in this case is February 3. That’s why I think Pelosi should hold off on until February.

Those are just two of the reasons I think Pelosi should slow things down a bit — at least on the vote in the entire House — to allow other pieces to fall into place.

Republican Complaints about Phone Records Back Democratic Impeachment Case

Way back in 2001, Victoria Toensing wrote an article justifying the subpoena of phone records of her future client, John Solomon, to find out who leaked details to him that Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli had been picked up on a wiretap of a mob figure. In it, she justified serving limited subpoenas, approved by Robert Mueller, on a third party carrier to find out who had committed a crime. She emphasized there was nothing political about the subpoena of Solomon’s phone records.

By ensuring that journalists not be subpoenaed every time they possess evidence, the department was demonstrating its respect for the press’s constitutional role.

The guidelines set down specific conditions that must be met before a subpoena can be issued for a reporter’s telephone records: There must be reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed; the information sought must be essential to a successful investigation; the subpoena must be narrowly drawn; all reasonable alternative steps must have been pursued, and the attorney general must approve the decision. The department has 90 days to notify the reporter of a subpoena to a third party, such as a telephone company.

Were those conditions met in Solomon’s case? Clearly, yes. His articles state that wiretap information was disclosed. The subpoena was limited, asking for home phone records for a period of six days, May 2 through 7. The U.S. attorney, Mary Jo White, certified that all alternative steps had been taken. Then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III (now the FBI director) approved the subpoena — Ashcroft having recused himself. Solomon received his timely notice.

There is one other guideline factor: whether negotiations are required with the reporter before a subpoena is issued. The AP has argued — incorrectly — that the guidelines were violated because there were no negotiations. But negotiations are mandated only when the subpoena goes directly “to the reporter.” The guidelines do not require them if the subpoena is to a third party and the department concludes negotiations might be detrimental to the investigation.

Eighteen years later, Toensing is outraged that her own phone records were collected by the constitutionally appropriate authority in the investigation of multiple crimes.

A table of the April call records described in the report suggests the subpoena apparently targeted Lev Parnas — someone already indicted for crimes related to this investigation — and Rudy Giuliani — who’s a subject of that same investigation. (h/t Kelly for the table)

Nevertheless, in addition to Toensing and Solomon, the subpoena obtained records showing calls with Devin Nunes, several of the staffers most involved in sowing conspiracy theories, and numbers believed to involve the President (who is the subject of this investigation).

Nunes, of course, has made several efforts in recent years to expand the government’s collection of metadata in national security investigations, which this is. Trump also has favored continued, aggressive use of metadata collection in national security contexts.

The apparent fact that Schiff obtained all these records by targeting two suspected criminals hasn’t comforted the GOP, which is trying to claim that he violated the law or norms in issuing a subpoena.

One particularly delectable version of such complaints comes from Byron York. For some inconceivable reason, York decided to contact John Yoo — who, on multiple occasions in the year after Toensing wrote her column justifying a subpoena, wrote legal memos authorizing efforts to collect all phone records in the US with no legal process. York asked Yoo about whether subpoenaing AT&T for the phone records of two people as part of an impeachment investigation was proper.

John Yoo expressed a heretofore unknown respect for privacy. Even while he admitted that this presents no attorney-client problems, he suggested it would be proper for the White House to try to pre-empt any such subpoena.

There is certainly a constitutional privacy issue here, but I don’t think an attorney-client privilege issue. The attorney-client privilege covers the substance of the communication, but it doesn’t protect the fact that a communication took place.

For example, when one party to a lawsuit has to hand over documents to the other party, it can redact the content of the document if it is attorney-client privileged or withhold the document itself, but not the fact of the document’s existence (there is usually a log created that sets out the from, to, date information, etc.).

That is a separate question from whether Giuliani and Nunes had any constitutional rights violated by the House when it obtained these records. I am surprised that Giuliani and the White House did not think this would come up and sue their telecom providers to prevent them from obeying any demands from the House for their calling records.

York then quotes a policy from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that shows this subpoena — which did not target Solomon — does not fall under RCFP’s stated concern for subpoenas used to find out a journalist’s sources.

Courts…have begun to recognize that subpoenas issued to non-media entities that hold a reporter’s telephone records, credit card transactions or similar material may threaten editorial autonomy, and the courts may apply the reporter’s privilege if the records are being subpoenaed in order to discover a reporter’s confidential sources.

The subpoena didn’t discover Solomon’s sources; it just demonstrated Parnas and Rudy’s outlets.

Most remarkable of all, York quotes Rudy providing direct evidence supporting impeachment.

Schiff, Pelosi, Nadler have trashed the U.S. Constitution and are enabled by a pathetic fawning press. They have proceeded without respect for attorney-client privilege, including threats of contempt and imprisonment.

Here’s the thing. Either Rudy Giuliani was acting as a person the President appointed to pursue the foreign policy of the United States — something Republicans have, at times, argued in their attempts to defend the President.

Or, Rudy was acting as the President’s personal lawyer. Here, he asserts he was acting as the President’s lawyer. If that’s the case — and Rudy says it was — it confirms a key allegation made by Democrats: that Trump demanded concessions from Ukraine purely for his own personal benefit.

As Yoo notes, Rudy (and Jay Sekulow and Toensing) would not have an attorney-client claim over metadata in any case. But Rudy nevertheless claims Trump’s privilege has been implicated in these call records.

With that claim, he confirms that his client violated his oath of office.

Trump HJC Defenders Claim Ukraine Aid Withheld To Fight Corruption While Rudy Rounds Up Fired Corrupt Ukrainians To Help Trump

Just as the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing was getting underway today, Inside Defense published yet another debunking of one of the central Republican defenses of Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine by pointing out that the Defense Department, back in May of this year, certified that Ukraine had made sufficient progress in fighting corruption so that the defense assistance funds designated for Ukraine could be released. Once they later learned that the White House had blocked the funding, they never got a good explanation:

The senior Pentagon official who certified in May that Ukraine should receive $250 million in U.S. military aid because it had made sufficient progress combating corruption said today he never got a “very clear explanation” from the White House as to why the funds were delayed over the summer.

“In the weeks after signing the certification I did become aware that the aid had been held,” John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters this morning.

“I never received a very clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine,” he continued.

Rood was the person in charge of determining whether Ukraine had made sufficient progress:

Rood said he learned of the White House hold on the aid, which was part of a larger $400 million assistance package, “significantly after May,” when he certified that Ukraine had made sufficient anti-corruption progress to receive the aid.

“It was a requirement under the law that we certify that and I was the person that certified it,” he said.

Despite the fact that this has been widely known for months, Republicans continued to claim that Trump was very concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that was the only reason he withheld the aid.

And yet, also around the time the hearing started, we also learned of yet another foreign trip for Rudy Giuliani in his world tour aimed at protecting Trump against impeachment. As usual, Marcy was way ahead of this move, asking yesterday if Yuriy Lutsenko, Viktor Shokin, and Konstantin Kulyk were the three former Ukrainian prosecutors who had provided statements to John Durham in Bill Barr’s “investigations” aimed at protecting Trump. In what can only be seen as confirmation of her suggestion, the New York Times told us this morning that Rudy met Lutsenko yesterday in Budapest and was in Kiev today to meet with Shokin and Kulyk:

Even as Democrats intensified their scrutiny this week of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s role in the pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been in Europe continuing his efforts to shift the focus to purported wrongdoing by President Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, met in Budapest on Tuesday with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. He then traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday seeking to meet with other former Ukrainian prosecutors whose claims have been embraced by Republicans, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, according to people familiar with the effort.

Even Ken Vogel, who had the lead byline on this story, has to admit that these former prosecutors are corrupt:

The former prosecutors, who have faced allegations of corruption, all played some role in promoting claims about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a former United States ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in 2016.

Isn’t that interesting? We are being asked to believe that Trump withheld aid Ukraine desperately needed in its war with Russia because of his concerns about corruption. And yet, as Team Trump is doing its best to protect him, they feel that his best defense lies with some of the most corrupt of those Ukrainian officials who have been removed from office. They have provided statements that Bill Barr is likely depending on in his investigation and we learned in today’s Times article that Rudy was also traveling with a team from a wingnut media organization to film a “documentary” providing a “Republican alternative to the impeachment hearings”.

Let’s take a look at just how corrupt these three OAN stars are. First, Lutsenko. USA Today reported on a criminal investigation of him on October 1:

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) opened criminal proceedings against Yuriy Lutsenko over his possible abuse of power, the government agency said.

It said that Lutsenko and other former lawmakers may have conspired to “provide cover” for illegal gambling businesses in Ukraine. Lutsenko disputes the allegations.

And if that’s not enough, it appears that Lutsenko was also involved in the ouster of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch:

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

So Lutsenko helped the efforts to oust a very important ambassador who was doing good work and was so corrupt in general that he not only got fired but had a criminal case opened against him, and yet he’s one of the prime targets of Team Trump when they are trying to mount their final defense against impeachment.

But Shokin is even more corrupt. Recall that the false Trump claim is that Shokin was fired for investigating Hunter Biden. The truth is pretty much the opposite:

At the heart of Congress’ probe into the president’s actions is his claim that former Vice President and 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden strong-armed the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor in order to thwart an investigation into a company tied to his son, Hunter Biden.

But sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason Trump and his allies claim.

It wasn’t because Shokin was investigating a natural gas company tied to Biden’s son; it was because Shokin wasn’t pursuing corruption among the country’s politicians, according to a Ukrainian official and four former American officials who specialized in Ukraine and Europe.

Shokin’s inaction prompted international calls for his ouster and ultimately resulted in his removal by Ukraine’s parliament.

It comes as no surprise then, that Shokin’s “depostion” was central to John Solomon’s propaganda campaign in favor of Trump.

But what about Kulyk? It turns out that Kulyk is the first person mentioned in a Washington Post story that ran on Sunday informing us on the real progress Zelensky is making against corruption and that this progress comes at the risk of angering Trump:

By the end of this month, more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors will be out of their jobs as part of sweeping professional reviews under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Among the prosecutors heading for the exit: a key Kyiv contact for Rudolph W. Giuliani.

/snip/

Now that Zelensky’s reform push is underway, some of those Giuliani-linked officials are in the crosshairs.

A prosecutor named Kostiantyn H. Kulyk is one of the first.

Zelensky’s new prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka — “100 percent my person,” Zelensky told Trump in July — last week gave a dismissal notice to Kulyk, a key player in the effort to provide Giuliani with political ammunition of dubious accuracy. Kulyk denies meeting Giuliani, but former associates say he prepared a seven-page dossier that his boss later passed along to the former New York mayor. Kulyk did not respond to a request for comment.

And so Team Trump has decided that in order to protect Trump in relation to actions that they claimed were part of a fight against corruption in Ukraine, corrupt Ukrainians are needed in order to produce a narrative that will exonerate him. The Post summed it up well:

Trump’s views of Ukraine — and his demands to investigate the Biden family — were largely shaped by Giuliani, his personal lawyer. The theories and opinions that were passed to Giuliani came from some of the very officials whom Ukrainian activists claim are prime corruption culprits in their own system.

By relying on these corrupt Ukrainians to support their arguments, Trump, Giuliani and Barr are proving that under the Trump Administration, the US courts corruption in order to advance the personal and political future of its President, at great risk to the strategic interests of the US.

Are Kulyk, Lutsenko, and Shokin the Three Ukrainians that Show Bill Barr Is Part of the Conspiracy?

As part of DOJ’s extensive efforts to obstruct any investigation into Trump’s role in the Ukrainian conspiracy, they have made narrow denials that Bill Barr had an active role in the investigation in the wake of the July 25 call, while admitting that three Ukrainians volunteered information to John Durham.

“A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”

DOJ made that statement on September 25. Yet no reporter has yet obtained the names of the three Ukrainians who offered information to John Durham.

There’s a possible clue in the Impeachment Report released by HPSCI today. It describes three Ukrainians — Yuriy Lutsenko, Viktor Shokin, and Konstantin Kulyk — retaining Victoria Toensing back in April.

Beginning in mid-April, Ms. Toensing signed retainer agreements between diGenova & Toensing LLP and Mr. Lutsenko, Mr. Kulyk, and Mr. Shokin—all of whom feature in Mr. Solomon’s opinion pieces.81 In these retainer agreements, the firm agreed to represent Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Kulyk in meetings with U.S. officials regarding alleged “evidence” of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, and to represent Mr. Shokin “for the purpose of collecting evidence regarding his March 2016 firing as Prosecutor General of Ukraine and the role of Vice President Biden in such firing, and presenting such evidence to U.S. and foreign authorities.”82 On July 25, President Trump would personally press President Zelensky to investigate these very same matters.

While Kulyk is (or was) technically still part of the Ukrainian government at this time — he is reportedly being fired in Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts to clean up Ukraine’s prosecutors office — Rudy always cites three people to support his conspiracy theories about Ukraine.

If these three men already have shared information with Durham, it would be proof that the investigation is about collecting disinformation, not evidence.

Which is probably part of the reason Barr is claiming to doubt the outcome of the IG investigation. Because without any predicate for an investigation into the origin of the investigation into Trump, it becomes clear that it’s nothing but the use of DOJ resources to further a conspiracy to help Donald Trump get reelected.

The Origin of the Sharpie Quid Pro Quo Denial: An Effort to Craft a Cover Story on the Pages of the WSJ

Before I got caught up in Thanksgiving preparations, I started a post trying to recreate Susan Simpson’s analysis showing that the September 9 “no quid pro quo” call between Trump and Gordon Sondland never actually happened. Thankfully, she was already doing all that work, in a long post at Just Security.

[A]s shown from the testimony of other witnesses, the “no quid pro quo” call did not take place on September 9th. What’s more, the call was not prompted by any text from Bill Taylor. And lastly, Sondland’s testimony about the “no quid pro quo” call omitted the most important part: the part where President Trump informed Sondland that the security assistance would be at a “stalemate” until President Zelenskyy stood in front of a microphone and personally announced that he was opening an investigation into Trump’s political rivals.

Go read her post, which is meticulous and convincing.

Since she’s done that, I’d like to move onto where I had wanted to go from there, to unpack how that less-damning story got seeded.

The story first appears in an October 7 WSJ article purporting to preview Sondland’s testimony. The article was part of a series of articles, all involving Rebecca Balhaus, in which quid pro quo participants Kurt Volker, Sondland, Rick Perry, and Ron Johnson worked out a cover story. (I don’t fault Balhaus, at all, for reporting these stories; she killed the early reporting on this. But it’s quite clear now she was lied to in an effort to coordinate a false story, and she might consider describing how these stories came together given that these sources did lie.)

The stories are designed to take the existing record as reflected in the texts between many of them and come up with a story that denies both that by September 7, Trump had premised aid on investigations into 2016 and Biden, and the following day, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to that demand.

Perhaps because he was trying (unsuccessfully) to salvage his position at the McCain Institute, perhaps because he no longer had any legal tie to State, and perhaps because HPSCI got lucky, Kurt Volker testified first, after Mike Pompeo tried and failed to bully the committee into letting State sit in on what its witnesses would say to the committee.

In his statement and testimony, which was bound by the numerous texts he had reflecting discussions relating to the quid pro quo, Volker unconvincingly claimed not to know that when Rudy and the Ukrainians discussed investigating Burisma, everyone involved knew that to be code for Joe Biden. The day after his testimony, HPSCI released the texts he had shared with the committee, showing abundant evidence of a quid pro quo and setting off a bunch of reporting trying to nail down when Trump demanded the quid pro quo.

Ron Johnson then told the WSJ that he had asked Trump whether there was a quid pro quo, and Trump had angrily denied it.

Sen. Ron Johnson said that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had described to him a quid pro quo involving a commitment by Kyiv to probe matters related to U.S. elections and the status of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine that the president had ordered to be held up in July.

Alarmed by that information, Mr. Johnson, who supports aid to Ukraine and is the chairman of a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the region, said he raised the issue with Mr. Trump the next day, Aug. 31, in a phone call, days before the senator was to meet with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call, Mr. Trump flatly rejected the notion that he directed aides to make military aid to Ukraine contingent on a new probe by Kyiv, Mr. Johnson said.

“He said, ‘Expletive deleted—No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” the Wisconsin senator recalled in an interview Friday. Mr. Johnson said he told the president he had learned of the arrangement from Mr. Sondland.

That claim (which I believe Chris Murphy has challenged; I will return to Johnson’s role in this in a follow-up) in some ways necessitated the September 9 story now shown to be false.

Mr. Johnson’s account of Mr. Sondland’s description of the conditions placed on aid to Ukraine runs counter to what Mr. Sondland told another diplomat a little over a week later.

On Sept. 9, Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, in a text message to Mr. Sondland also linked the hold on aid to the investigations the president was seeking. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Mr. Taylor wrote.

Then, days later, Sondland released to WSJ what would be the first of at least three versions of testimony before he testified (along with the three versions given as testimony), though the WSJ story appears to rely heavily on leaks from Volker’s camp, too. The story appeared to be an attempt to deal with the problem presented by Volker’s testimony: that there was abundant evidence that the Three Amigos were scripting precisely what Zelensky had to say, and that even after (Volker claimed) Ukraine had hesitated, Sondland and Taylor continued to pursue such a statement.

A draft statement subsequently circulated by Mr. Volker included a line that Ukraine investigate “all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections.”

Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment.

That statement was ultimately scuttled over concerns in Ukraine about being perceived as wading into U.S. elections, among other matters, according to the person familiar with Mr. Volker’s testimony to House lawmakers.

But Mr. Sondland and Bill Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, continued to discuss the possibility of having Mr. Zelensky give a media interview in which he would make similar commitments about Ukrainian investigations, according to the person familiar with Mr. Volker’s testimony.

The story also tried to clean up a problem created by Johnson’s claim that Trump had denied there was a quid pro quo.

Mr. Sondland has come under fresh scrutiny in recent days after Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that Mr. Sondland had told him in August that the decision to hold up nearly $400 million aid to Ukraine was contingent on an investigation desired by Mr. Trump and his allies. Mr. Johnson said the president denied any quid pro quo.

Mr. Sondland doesn’t remember his conversation with the senator that way, according to a person familiar with his activities. He understood the White House visit was on hold until Ukraine met certain requirements, but he didn’t know of a link to the military aid, this person said.

Most importantly, the story shifted the date of Sondland’s call from September 7 to September 9 to shift Bill Taylor’s role in all this.

Yet text messages released by House lawmakers last week suggest some Trump administration officials believed there was a link between the aid to Ukraine and the investigations Mr. Trump sought.

“The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance,” Mr. Taylor wrote in a Sept. 8 text message to Mr. Volker and Mr. Sondland, referring to the interview they had discussed Mr. Zelensky giving about investigations.

The next day, Mr. Taylor told Mr. Sondland: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump before texting back less than five hours later, according to the person familiar with his activities.

“The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” Mr. Sondland said. He added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

This is when that lie was formed: after the limits imposed by Volker’s texts became clear.

Rick Perry then did an interview with the WSJ where he joined in the feigned ignorance that this was about Biden from the start, presenting the cover story Republicans would use since then, that this was just about Trump believing he was targeted in 2016.

Mr. Perry, in an exclusive interview with The Wall Street Journal, said he contacted Mr. Giuliani in an effort to ease a path to a meeting between Mr. Trump and his new Ukrainian counterpart. He said Mr. Giuliani described to him during their phone call several concerns about Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election, concerns that haven’t been substantiated.

Mr. Perry also said he never heard the president, any of his appointees, Mr. Giuliani or the Ukrainian regime discuss the possibility of specifically investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, and his son Hunter Biden. Mr. Trump’s request for a probe of the Bidens in a July 25 call with Ukraine’s president has sparked the impeachment inquiry in the House.

[snip]

“And as I recall the conversation, he said, ‘Look, the president is really concerned that there are people in Ukraine that tried to beat him during this presidential election,’ ” Mr. Perry said. “ ‘He thinks they’re corrupt and…that there are still people over there engaged that are absolutely corrupt.’ ”

Mr. Perry said the president’s lawyer didn’t make any explicit demands on the call. “Rudy didn’t say they gotta do X, Y and Z,” Mr. Perry said. “He just said, ‘You want to know why he ain’t comfortable about letting this guy come in? Here’s the reason.’ ”

In the phone call, Mr. Giuliani blamed Ukraine for the dossier about Mr. Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that was created by a former British intelligence officer, Mr. Perry said, and asserted that Ukraine had Mrs. Clinton’s email server and “dreamed up” evidence that helped send former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to jail.

Perry also floated a version of the July 10 meeting that downplays how aggressively this tied the investigation to any call.

During that meeting, U.S. officials including Mr. Volker and Mr. Perry pushed for a call to be scheduled between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky as a U.S. show of support for the new administration, according to people familiar with the conversation. Also during the meeting, Mr. Sondland brought up investigations the president was interested in Ukraine pursuing, a move that so alarmed Mr. Bolton and Fiona Hill , the top Russia adviser at the time, that Ms. Hill subsequently relayed her concerns to a National Security Council lawyer, Ms. Hill told House committees earlier this week.

After that meeting, Mr. Perry learned that administration aides had been told a call between Messrs. Trump and Zelensky didn’t need to be scheduled until they had something substantive to discuss, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Perry called Mr. Bolton on July 11 and again pressed for the two leaders to speak ahead of parliamentary elections on July 21, stressing that a call was needed to build the relationship and help counter Russian influence in Ukraine. Mr. Perry at that point also brought up investigations, reiterating that Mr. Zelensky was committed to rooting out corruption and wouldn’t prove an obstacle to any probes, the person said.

In the same interview, Perry curiously backed off previous reporting he was about to leave the Administration.

Those are the various narratives into which Sondland tried to squeeze his first sworn statement to Congress, one that he has had to revise twice.

And then Bill Taylor testified, which is when it became clear he had abundant notes that contradicted Sondland’s cover story.


October 3: Volker testimony (opening statement, deposition transcript)

October 4: HPSCI releases Volker texts; Ron Johnson claims to WSJ that Trump told him aid was not premised on an investigation

October 7: Sondland provides advance notice of purported testimony to WSJ and others that includes a fake September 9 call

October 12: Sondland releases a second version of testimony

October 14: Sondland releases a third version of testimony; Fiona Hill testimony

October 15: Leaks of Fiona Hill’s testimony creates problems around the July 10 meeting

October 16: Rick Perry interview with WSJ

October 17: Sondland opening statement, deposition

October 22: William Taylor testifies

Moron-Contra and Gordon Sondland’s Venezuela Involvement

The WaPo today clarified that the meeting Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski took with suspected foreign agent Rudy Giuliani after SDNY started to focus on his influence peddling was not, as I and other suspected, to pitch Dmitry Firtash’s case. But it did have a tie to Rudy’s Ukraine influence peddling.

Rudy was pitching the case of Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who is an unindicted co-conspirator in a different money-laundering case.

Giuliani was one of several lawyers representing Betancourt in Washington. The lawyers met with the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government attorneys to argue that the wealthy Venezuelan should not face criminal charges as part of a $1.2 billion money-laundering case filed in Florida last year, said the people, who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The criminal complaint alleges that top officials of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, elite business leaders and bankers conspired to steal money from the company and then launder it through Miami real estate purchases and other investment schemes.

Betancourt is not one of the eight men charged in the case, a group that includes his cousin. But a person familiar with the matter said that he is referred to in the criminal complaint as a uncharged co-conspirator, as previously reported by the Miami Herald.

And when Rudy and Lev Parnas were in Madrid in early August to coach Yermak on what Volodymyr Zelensky had to do to get Trump to deliver on his promises, Betancourt hosted them.

When Rudolph W. Giuliani went to Madrid in August to confer with a top aide to the Ukrainian president and press for political investigations sought by President Trump, he also met with a previously unidentified client with very different interests.

While in Spain, Giuliani stayed at a historic estate belonging to Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López, who had hired Trump’s personal attorney to help him contend with an investigation by the Justice Department into alleged money laundering and bribery, according to people familiar with the situation.

[snip]

During the trip, Giuliani met with Yermak at a hotel in Madrid, according to people familiar with the trip.

But he — along with Parnas and Fruman — stayed at an expansive estate belonging to Betancourt on the grounds of an ancient castle once used by Spanish royalty, the people said.

Effectively, then, Rudy’s ability to get Benczkowski to take his meeting subsidized Trump’s effort to coerce political benefits out of Ukraine.

As I have noted, Beczkowski’s claims of ignorance of investigations into Rudy might be true, but one way or another, they make it clear DOJ really went out of its way not to investigate the whistleblower complaint involving Rudy, Parnas, and Fruman, because if they had they would have known Rudy was under criminal investigation at the time of the meeting.

This story — in which one corrupt oligarch pays for Rudy to get other corrupt oligarchs to invent dirt on Trump’s enemies — makes the name some have adopted for this scandal — Moron-Contra — even more evocative, as Iran-Contra depended on slushing cash around various countries around the world.

The WaPo’s story notes the comparison to Iran-Contra may go still further. Fiona Hill expressed concern about what the Ukrainian grifters were doing in Venezuela.

In a closed-door deposition given to congressional investigators on Oct. 14, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill alluded to the possibility of a Venezuela tie to the ongoing Ukraine saga.

“I was told that by the directors working on the Western Hemisphere. I didn’t have a chance to look into this in any way. I was told that the same individuals who had been indicted had been interested at different points in energy investments in Venezuela and that this was quite well-known,” she said, referring to Parnas and Fruman, according to a transcript later released.

She did not detail the information she had been given, only that she had learned the two were “notorious in Florida” and involved with “strange things in Venezuela.”

“Well, I was extremely concerned that whatever it was that Mr. Giuliani was doing might not be legal, especially after, you know, people had raised with me these two gentlemen, Parnas and Fruman,” she said.

But there’s still another connection. As I noted when Gordon Sondland released his first of thus far three statements to Congress, he explicitly said that his mandate as Ambassador to the EU extended to (!!!) Georgia, Iran, and Venezuela.

My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests.

So the way in which Betancourt ties Venezuela to Moron-Contra should raise further questions about why the Ambassador to the EU has any business in Venezuela.

Paul Manafort Is the Linchpin in Russia’s Effort to Recorrupt Ukraine

Yesterday, a vague NYT report described Senators and their staffers being briefed that Russia was behind the effort to blame the 2016 hack on Ukraine.

Russian intelligence officers aimed part of their operation at prompting the Ukrainian authorities to investigate the allegations that people in Ukraine tried to tamper with the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, according to a former official.

One target was the leak of a secret ledger disclosed by a Ukrainian law enforcement agency that appeared to show that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, had taken illicit payments from Ukrainian politicians who were close to Moscow. He was forced to step down from the Trump campaign after the ledger became public in August 2016, and the Russians have since been eager to cast doubt on its authenticity, the former official said.

Intelligence officials believe that one of the people the Kremlin relied on to spread disinformation about Ukrainian interference was Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who had ties to Mr. Manafort. After his ouster from the campaign, Mr. Manafort told his former deputy later in 2016 that Ukrainians, not Russians, stole Democratic emails. Mr. Deripaska has broadly denied any role in election meddling.

The Deripaska role in this may partly explain the vagueness about the briefing. At least per FOIA redactions made in August, there was an ongoing investigation pertaining to Deripaska at the time.

The article is not vague about one thing: the purpose for the disinformation campaign, which (in addition to permitting Trump to deny the role Russia had in getting him elected) has to do with Ukrainian internal politics. Russia wants Ukraine to investigate people that, the conspiracy theories go, “tried to tamper in the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.”

This explains the nature of the campaign: Rudy’s disinformation packet (including the John Solomon articles that come from his efforts) target Sergii Leshchenko, NABU, and the Anti-Corruption Action Centre. None of those entities should be the focus of an American smear campaign, to say nothing of an impeachment defense. But painting Joe Biden’s efforts to combat Ukrainian corruption as the opposite and dropping the name of George Soros was sufficient to recruit Donald Trump into ordering his Administration to pursue the effort and enticing the fragile-minded Devin Nunes into chasing the conspiracy like a puppy. The US had been using the leverage it had over Ukraine to push it to address corruption. This disinformation campaign appealed to Trump’s weaknesses to get him to reverse that policy, creating conditions to expand corruption, even while tainting the newly elected President elected on an anti-corruption platform.

Still, Paul Manafort is a key part of that. That’s partly because Manafort continues to protect Trump and at least one of his associates — in part by lying about a meeting on August 2, 2016 where he discussed his ties with both Deripaska and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs as well as carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking. It’s also because legitimate concerns raised in 2016 about Manafort’s corruption one of the two main ways Ukrainians commented on the election (the other involves criticism of Trump’s comments on Crimea, comments he has since disavowed under oath). The claim — which is false on several levels — is that because Leshchenko publicized the Black Ledger, it led to Manafort’s resignation (Leshchenko has published a second piece making this clear). And, as I and Leschenko keep noting, Manafort knew he was in the Black Ledger months before it became public. If anyone should be held responsible for any taint the publication of his inclusion in the Black Ledger, it’s him; if it was a problem, he should have disclosed that problem to the candidate.

With all that said, then, I want to note something that happened with Rudy’s disinformation packet, which I unpacked in detail here. As I noted, there are two versions of three sets of notes from January 2016, one of a phone interview with Viktor Shokin conducted on January 23, 2019, and two of an in-person interview with Yuriy Lutsenko conducted in NY on January 25 and 26. The first set appears to be what Rudy gave Pompeo. The second may reflect Pompeo’s notes on them, which include some proofreading, stars for emphasis, remarks on timing.

But as I noted, the original version appears to have come with underlines already included.

The only annotation added to that section was to circle Leshchenko’s name (which is not transliterated as he does it, so this could either be emphasis or one of several really nitpicky notations of errors in the notes).

The reason I’m interested in this is because, while the passage has a bunch of errors (for example, the size of the Black Ledger is wrong, the allegation against Yovanovitch is invented, Leshchenko released something else, that’s not how US media got the story), it does make it clear that Manafort was in the Ledger. That is, even disinformation (which Lutsenko has since recanted) designed to help Trump includes the allegation that Manafort was in the Ledger. It also asserts that Manafort was laundering money through Kyrgyzstan, which is also true.

Furthermore, nothing here refutes the validity of the Ledger more generally.

That might not be clear to someone reading quickly, of course, because of the way the other details were underlined.

Which is why it is all the more inexcusable that Republicans — including but not limited to Rudy and Devin Nunes — continue to suggest that Manafort was unfairly tainted by the ledger, as happened in this exchange between Nunes and David Holmes last week.

Nunes: [Leshchenko] provided widely known as the black ledger, have you ever heard of the black ledger?

Holmes: I have.

Nunes: The black ledger, is that seen as credible information?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: The black ledger is credible?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: Bob Mueller did not find it credible, do you dispute what Bob Mueller’s findings were? They didn’t use it in the prosecution or in the Report?

Holmes: I’m not aware that Bob Mueller did not find it credible. It was evidence in other criminal proceedings. Its credibility was not questioned in those proceedings.

Even in Rudy’s own disinformation, which is full of easily identifiable lies, it states clearly that Manafort was in the ledger and was laundering money (the latter allegation of which he has pled guilty to). And yet Republicans are still running around ignoring even their own manufactured dirt to pretend the accusations against Manafort were simply made up.

Perhaps that’s because, without Manafort, Trump’s own stakes in this go down substantially.

The Virgin Birth of the First Rudy Giuliani-Mike Pompeo Call

In its story on the packet of State Department documents pertaining to Rudy Giuliani on Friday, NYT makes a significant error. It claims that Trump’s then-personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, helped arrange the first call between Rudy and Mike Pompeo.

The emails indicate that Mr. Pompeo spoke at least twice by telephone with Mr. Giuliani in March as Mr. Giuliani was urging Ukraine to investigate Mr. Trump’s rivals, and trying to oust a respected American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who had been promoting anticorruption efforts in the country. Mr. Pompeo ordered Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal the next month. The first call between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Pompeo was arranged with guidance from Mr. Trump’s personal assistant, the documents suggest. [my emphasis]

That’s an error that obscures one of the key questions that should arise from the packet: how the first call did get arranged.

The first call between Rudy and Pompeo happened on March 26 from 9:49 to 9:54 (PDF 39).

Westerhout’s first email in the packet was sent the next day, March 27, at 11:52, forwarding a request for a good contact for Pompeo from Rudy’s assistant Jo Ann Zafonte (PDF 55).

Then, on March 28, Rudy himself calls the number State gave his assistant, State’s schedulers, and schedules a call for the next morning. State informs his assistant about it via email (PDF 44).

I laid all this out in this post.

From that point forward, the second call with Rudy, which took place on March 29, shows up over and over again, as Pompeo’s schedulers record it in multiple versions of his schedule for the day and State’s control people arrange for it and discuss whether a monitor will be on the call. It, unlike the first call, also shows up in the metrics on Pompeo’s calls for the month.

That tells us two things: the first call happened without any formal planning, or even the involvement of Trump’s or Rudy’s assistants; Rudy’s assistant did not have any good phone number to call on March 27, the day after the first call, and Rudy himself used the number State gave Zafonte, so he obviously didn’t have a number for Pompeo either. And the first call happened without all the formal tracking that control the Secretary of State’s calls.

There’s a very likely explanation for all this, one that would explain so much else about how State dealt with the campaign against Marie Yovanovitch: that Trump put that call through and told Pompeo he wanted the Secretary of State to take Rudy’s efforts seriously.

Update: The NYT has removed any description of which call this was, without noting the correction or explaining why it matters.