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The Nuances of the Carter Page Application

I’ve now finished a close read of the last Carter Page FISA application. I think the contents bring a lot more nuance to the discussion of it over the last three years. This post will try to lay out some of that nuance.

Hot and cold running Carter Page descriptions

In most ways, the declassified application tracks the DOJ IG Report and shows how the problems with the application in practice. One newly declassified example conservatives have pointed to shows that FBI Agents believed that Page’s media appearances in spring 2017 were just an attempt to get a book contract.

The FBI also notes that Page continues to be active in meeting with media outlets to promote his theories of how U.S. foreign policy should be adjusted with regard to Russia and also to refute claims of his involvement with Russian Government efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. [redacted–sensitive information] The believes this approach is important because, from the Russian Government’s point-of-view, it continues to keep the controversy of the election in the front of the American and world media, which has the effect of undermining the integrity of the U.S. electoral process and weakening the effectiveness of the current U.S. Administration. The FBI believes Page also may be seeking media attention in order to maintain momentum for potential book contracts. (57)

Even if Page were doing media to get a book contract, short of being charged and put under a court authorized gag, there’s nothing that prevents him from telling his story. He’s perfectly entitled to overtly criticize US foreign policy. And as so often happens when intelligence analysis sees any denials as a formal Denial and Deception strategy, the FBI allowed no consideration to the possibility that some of his denials were true.

Julian Sanchez argued when the IG Report came out that FBI’s biases were probably confirmation bias, not anti-Trump bias, and this is one of the many examples that supports that.

One specific Page denial that turned out to be true — that he was not involved in the Ukraine platform issue — is even more infuriating reading in declassified form. As the IG Report noted, by the time FBI filed this last application, there were several piece of evidence that JD Gordan was responsible for preventing any platform change.

An FBI March 20, 2017 Intelligence Memorandum titled “Overview of Trump Campaign Advisor Jeff D. [J.D.] Gordon” again attributed the change in the Republican Platform Committee’s Ukraine provision to Gordon and an unnamed campaign staffer. The updated memorandum did not include any reference to Carter Page working with Gordon or communicating with the Republican Platform Committee. On May 5, 2017, the Counterintelligence Division updated this Intelligence Memorandum to include open source reporting on the intervention of Trump campaign members during the Republican platform discussions at the Convention to include Gordon’s public comments on his role. This memorandum still made no reference to involvement by Carter Page with the Republican Platform Committee or with the provision on Ukraine.

On June 7, 2017, the FBI interviewed a Republican Platform Committee member. This interview occurred three weeks before Renewal Application No. 3 was filed. According to the FBI FD-302 documenting the interview, this individual told the FBI that J.D. Gordon was the Trump campaign official that flagged the Ukrainian amendment, and that another person (not Carter Page) was the second campaign staffer present at the July 11 meeting of the National Security and Defense Platform Subcommittee meeting when the issue was tabled.

Although the FBI did not develop any information that Carter Page was involved in the Republican Platform Committee’s change regarding assistance to Ukraine, and the FBI developed evidence that Gordon and another campaign official were responsible for the change, the FBI did not alter its assessment of Page’s involvement in the FISA applications. Case Agent 6 told us that when Carter Page denied any involvement with the Republican Platform Committee’s provision on Ukraine, Case Agent 6 “did not take that statement at face value.” He told us that at the time of the renewals, he did not believe Carter Page’s denial and it was the team’s “belief” that Carter Page had been involved with the platform change.

But the application’s treatment of this issue doesn’t just leave out that information. The utterly illogical explanation of why the FBI believed he had a role in the platform — which was quoted in the IG Report — appears worse in context.

During these March 2017 interviews, the FBI also questioned Page about the above-referenced reports from August 2016 that Candidate #1’s campaign worked to make sure Political Party #1’s platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces [this matter is discussed on pgs. 25-26]. According to Page, he had no part in the campaign’s decision. Page stated that an identified individual (who previously served as manager of Candidate #1’s campaign) more likely than not recommended the “pro-Russian” changes. As the FBI believes that Page also holds pro-Russian views and appears to still have been a member of Candidate #1’s campaign in August 2016, the FBI assesses that Page may have been downplaying his role in advocating for the change to Political Party #1’s platform. (55)

(Here’s the March 16, 2017 interview.)

It’s not just that the FBI had about five other pieces of evidence that suggested Page was not involved, but for the FBI, it was enough that he was pro-Russian to suggest Page would have had the influence and bureaucratic chops to make it happen, even in the absence of any evidence to the fact. Add in the fact that FBI obtained a pen register on Page as part of this application (as reflected by notations in the margin of redacted material), and the fact that FBI didn’t track what communications he did or did not have at any time is particularly inexcusable.

So there’s abundant evidence in the Page applications that FBI acted like they normally do, seeing in every denial yet more evidence of guilt.

That said, the application does show more to explain why the FBI suspected Page in the first place and continued to have questions about his veracity until the end. For example, here’s the full explanation of how Page came to tell a Russian minister he had been the guy that Viktor Podobnyy was recruiting.

Based on information provided by Page during this [March 2016] interview, the FBI determined that Page’s relationship with Podobnyy was primarily unidirectional, with Page largely providing Podobnyy open source information and contact introductions. During one interview, Page told the FBI that he approached a Russian Minister, who was surrounded by Russian officials/diplomats, and “in the spirit of openness,” Page informed the group that he was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. (16-17)

The FBI took this both as Page’s own confirmation that he was the person in the complaint, which in turn meant that Page knew he was being recruited, and, having learned that, sought ought well-connected Russians to identify himself as such.

As the application laid out later, Page at first denied what he had previously told the FBI about this incident and the Russians who had previously tried to recruit him in his March 2017 interviews. (This occurred in his March 16, 2017 interview.)

In a reference to the Buryakov complaint, Page stated that “nobody knows that I’m Male-1 in this report,” and also added that he never told anyone about this. As discussed above, however, during a March 2016 interview with the FBI regarding his relationship with Podobnyy, Page told the FBI he informed a group of Russian officials that he (Page) was “Male-1” in the Buryakov complaint. Thus, during the March 2017 interview, the FBI specifically asked Page if he told any colleague that he (Page) was “Male-1.” In response, Page stated that there was a conversation with a Russian Government official at the United Nations General Assembly The FBI again asked Page if he had told anyone that he was “Male-1.” Page responded that he “forgot the exact statement.”

Note, Page’s 302 quotes Page as telling the Minister, “I didn’t do anything [redacted],” but it’s unclear (given the b3 redaction) whether that relays what Page said in March 2017 or if the b3 suggests FBI learned this via other means. But the redacted bit remains one of the sketchier parts of this.

The application also describes how Page denied having a business relationship with Aleksandr Bulatov, the first presumed time Russia tried to recruit him, claiming he may have had lunch with him in New York. That Page claimed only to have had lunch with him is all the more absurd since this was the basis for his supposed cooperation with the CIA.

Having seen how Page handled his HPSCI interview and TV interviews, it’s not surprising to see he denied ties he earlier bragged about (which, in any case, undermines any claim he was operating clandestinely). But at best, Page didn’t deny the key thing he could have to avert suspicion: to admit (as George Papadopoulos readily did) that he was overselling his access in Russia to the Trump campaign, in emails the FBI presumably obtained using FISA. Nothing in the IG Report rebuts the claim that Page claimed things in communications that provided basis to believe he was lying (the actual communications are redacted in the applications because all of the FISA collection targeted at Page has been sequestered). So while the FBI did a bunch of inexcusable things with Page, there were things that Page did — and never explained — that explain the FBI’s sustained suspicion of him.

An explanation for some of the GOP’s core beliefs about the dossier and the investigation

The release of the full application also helps to explain how Republicans came to have certain beliefs about the Steele dossier and the Russian investigation. Take this passage:

Source #1 reported the information contained herein to the FBI over the course of several meetings with the FBI from in or about June 2016 through August 2016.

The passage is slightly inaccurate: Mike Gaeta first got reports from Christopher Steele in early July.

Shortly before the Fourth of July 2016, Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that he received a call from Steele requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Handling Agent 1 said he departed his duty station in Europe on July 5 and met with Steele in Steele’s office that day. During their meeting, Steele provided Handling Agent 1 with a copy of Report 80 and explained that he had been hired by Fusion GPS to collect information on the relationship between candidate Trump’s businesses and Russia.

Since initial details of Steele’s reporting have been made public, the frothy right has been unable to understand that information doesn’t necessarily flow instantaneously inside of or between large bureaucracies. And having read this line, I assume Kash Patel would have told Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy that it was proof that the FBI predicated the investigation on the Steele dossier, because “the FBI” had Steele’s reports a month before opening the investigation into Trump’s aides (though, in fact, that was months after NYFO had opened an investigation into Page). The IG Report, however, explains in detail about how there was a bit of a delay before Steele’s handler sent his reports to the NY Field Office, a delay there for a while, and a further delay after a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team asked NYFO to forward anything they had. As a result, the CH team didn’t receive the first set of Steele reports until September 19, over a month after the investigation started.

On August 25, 2016, according to a Supervisory Special Agent 1 (SSA 1) who was assigned to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, during a briefing for then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on the investigation, McCabe asked SSA 1 to contact NYFO about information that potentially could assist the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. 225 SSA 1 said he reached out to counterintelligence agents and analysts in NYFO within approximately 24 hours following the meeting. Instant messages show that on September 1, SSA 1 spoke with a NYFO counterintelligence supervisor, and that the counterintelligence supervisor was attempting to set up a call between SSA 1 and the ADC. On September 2, 2016, Handling Agent 1, who had been waiting for NYFO to inform him where to forward Steele’s reports, sent the following email to the ADC and counterintelligence supervisor: “Do we have a name yet? The stuff is burning a hole.” The ADC responded the same day explaining that SSA 1 had created an electronic sub-file for Handling Agent 1 in the Crossfire Hurricane case and that he

In any other world, this delay — as well as a delay in sharing derogatory information freely offered by Bruce Ohr and Kathleen Kavalec — would be a scandal about not sharing enough information. But instead, this passage about when FBI received the files likely plays a key part of an unshakeable belief that the dossier played a key role in predicating the investigation, which it does not.

Similarly, declassification of the application helps to explain why the frothy right believes that claims George Papadopoulos made to Stefan Halper and another informant in fall 2016 should have undermined the claims FBI made.

To be clear: the frothy right is claiming Papadopoulos’s denials should be treated as credible even after he admitted to a second informant that he told the story he did to Halper about Trump campaign involvement in the leaked emails because he believed if he had said anything else, Halper would have gone to the CIA about it. The FBI, however, believed the claims to be lies in real time, and on that (unlike Carter Page’s denials) the record backs them. There’s even a footnote (on page 11) that explicitly said, “the FBI believes that Papadopoulos provided misleading or incomplete information to the FBI” in his later FBI interviews.

That said, the way Papadopoulos is used in this application is totally upside down. A newly declassified part of the footnote describing Steele’s partisan funding claims that Papadopoulos corroborates Steele’s reporting (the italicized text is newly declassified).

Notwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s herein to be credible. Moreover, because of outside corroborating circumstances discussed herein, such as the reporting from a friendly foreign government that a member of Candidate #1’s team received a suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the release of information damaging to Candidate #2 and Russia’s believed hack and subsequent leak of the DNC e-amils, the FBI assesses that Source #1’s reporting contained herein is credible.

This is the reverse of how the IG Report describes things, which explains that the DNC emails came out, Australia decided to alert the US Embassy in London about what Papadopoulos had said three months earlier, which led the FBI to predicate four different investigations (Page, Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort; though remember that NYFO had opened an investigation into Page in April) to see if any of the most obvious Trump campaign members could explain why Russia thought it could help the Trump campaign beat Hillary by releasing emails. The Steele dossier certainly seemed to confirm questions raised by the Australia report (which explains why the FBI was so susceptible, to the extent this was disinformation, to believing it, and why, to the extent it was disinformation, it was incredibly well-crafted). The Steele dossier seemingly confirmed the fears raised by the Australia report, not vice versa. It seems like circular logic to then use Papadopoulos to “corroborate” the Steele dossier. That has, in turn, led the right to think undermining the original Australian report does anything to undermine the investigation itself, even though by the end of October Papadopoulos had sketched out the outlines of what happened with Joseph Mifsud and discussed wanting to cash in on it, and Papadopoulos continued to pursue this Russian relationship, including a secret back channel meeting in London, well into the summer.

Finally, I’m more sympathetic, having read this full application, to complaints about the way FBI uses media accounts — though for an entirely different reason than the frothy right. The original complaint on this point misread the way the FBI used the September 23 Michael Isikoff article reporting on Page, suggesting it was included for the facts about the meeting rather than the denials from Page and the campaign presented in it. The discussion appears in a section on “Page’s denial of cooperation.”  And — as I’ve noted before — the FBI always sourced that story to the Fusion GPS effort, even if they inexcusably believed that Glenn Simpson, and not Steele, was the “well-placed Western intelligence source” cited in the article.

But with further declassification, the way the application relied on two articles about the Ukraine platform to establish what the campaign had actually done (see page 25), rather than refer to the platform itself — or, more importantly, Trump’s own comments about policy, which I’ll return to — appears more problematic (not least because FBI confused the timing of one of those reports with the actual policy change.

Steele and Sergei Millian as uniquely correct about WikiLeaks

There’s another thing about sourcing in this application (which carries over to what I’ve often seen in FBI affidavits). While there are passages discussing the larger investigation into Russia’s 2016 operation that remain redacted (and indeed, there’s a substitution of a redaction with “FBI” on page 7 which probably hides that the IC as a whole continued to investigate Russian hacking), key discussions of that investigation cite to unclassified materials, even in a FISA application that would have under normal circumstances never been shared publicly. For example, the discussion describing attribution of the operation to Russia from pages 6 to 10 largely relies on the October 7 joint statement and Obama’s sanctions statement, not even the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, much less (with the exception of two redacted passages) anything more detailed.

Even ignoring secret government sources, there was a whole lot more attributing Russia and WikiLeaks’s role in the hack-and-leak, especially by June 2017. Yet the Page application doesn’t touch any of that.

And that makes the way the application uses the allegations — attributed to Sergei Millian — to make knowable information about the WikiLeaks dump tie to unsupported information in the dossier all the more problematic. As parroted in the application, this passage interlaces true, public, but not very interesting details with totally unsupported allegations:

According to information provided by Sub-Source [redacted] there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them [assessed to be individuals involved in Candidate #1’s campaign] and the Russian leadership.” Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the conspiracy was being managed by Candidate #1’s then campaign manager, who was using, among others, foreign policy advisor Carter Page as an intermediary. Sub-Source [redacted] further reported that the Russian regime had been behind the above-described disclosure of DNC e-mail messages to WikiLeaks. Sub-Source [redacted] reported that WikiLeaks was used to create “plausible deniability,” and that the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page. In return, according to Sub-Source [redacted], Candidate #1’s team, which the FBI assessed to include at least Page, agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise U.S.NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

The DOJ IG report describes how FBI responded to this report by (purportedly) examining the reliability of Steele and his sources closely.

The FISA application stated that, according to this sub-source, Carter Page was an intermediary between Russian leadership and an individual associated with the Trump campaign (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” that led to the disclosure of hacked DNC emails by Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign team’s agreement, which the FBI assessed included at least Carter Page, to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue. The application also stated that this same sub-source provided information contained in Steele’s Report 80 that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Trump’s campaign for an extended period of time and that the information had reportedly been “very helpful,” as well as information contained in Report 102 that the DNC email leak had been done, at least in part, to swing supporters from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. 300 Because the FBI had no independent corroboration for this information, as witnesses have mentioned, the reliability of Steele and his source network was important to the inclusion of these allegations in the FISA application.

Except there would seem to be another necessary step: to first identify how much of this report cobbled together stuff that was already public — which included Russia’s role, the purpose of using WikiLeaks, Carter Page’s trip to Russia (but not specifics of his meetings there), and — though the application got details of what happened with Ukraine in the platform wrong — the prevention of a change to the platform. On these details, Steele was not only not predictive, he was derivative. Putting aside the problems with the three different levels of unreliable narrators (Steele, his Primary Subsource, and Millian), all of whom had motives to to package this information in a certain way, the fact that these claims clearly included stuff that had been made available weeks earlier should have raised real questions (and always did for me, when I was reading this dossier). Had the FBI separated out what was unique and timely in these allegations, they would have looked significantly different (not least because they would have shown Steele’s network was following public disclosures on key issues).

This is not the kompromat you’re looking for

Which brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of this application.

As I started arguing at least by September 2017 (and argued again and again and again), to the extent the dossier got filled with disinformation, it would have had the effect of leading Hillary’s campaign to be complacent after learning they had been hacked, because according to the dossier, the Russians planned to leak years old FSB intercepts from when Hillary visited Russia, not contemporaneous emails pertaining to her campaign and recent history. It might even have led the Democrats to dismiss the possibility that the files Guccifer 2.0 was releasing were John Podesta files, delaying any response to the leak that would eventually come in October.

To the extent the dossier was disinformation, it gave the Russian operation cover to regain surprise for their hack-and-leak operation. At least with respect to the Democrats, that largely worked.

And, even though the Australians apparently believed the DNC release may have confirmed Papadopoulos prediction that Russia would dump emails, it appears to have partly worked with the FBI, as well. This passage should never appear in an application that derived from a process leading from the DNC emails to the shared tip about Papadopoulos to a request to wiretap Page:

According to reporting from Sub-Source [redacted] this dossier had been compiled by the RIS over many years, dating back to the 1990s. Further, according to Sub-Source [redacted] his dossier was, by the direct instructions of Russian President Putin, controlled exclusively by Senior Kremlin Spokesman Dmitriy Peskov. Accordingly, the FBI assesses that Divyekin received direction by the Russian Government to disclose the nature and existence of the dossier to Page. In or about June 2016, Sub-Source [redacted] reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time. Sub-Source [redacted] also reported that the Kremlin had been feeding information to Candidate #1’s campaign for an extended period of time and added that the information had reportedly been “very helpful.” The FBI assesses the information funneled by the Russians to Page was likely part of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Note, the FBI contemporaneously — though not after December 9, 2016 — would not have had something Hillary’s team did, the July Steele report on Russia’s claimed lack of hacking success that the FBI should have recognized as utterly wrong. Still, the earliest Steele reports they did have said the kompromat the Russians were offering was stale intercepts. At the very least, one would hope that would raise questions about why someone with purported access to top Kremlin officials didn’t know about the hack-and-leak operation. But the FBI seems to have expected there might be something more.

Trump clearly was not, but should have been, the target earlier than he was

There’s an irony about the complaints I lay out here: they suggest that Trump should have been targeted far earlier than he was.

The Page application rests on the following logic: One of the notably underqualified foreign policy advisors that Trump rolled out to great fanfare in March 2016 told someone, days later, that Russia had offered to help Trump by releasing damaging information on Hillary. The July dump of DNC emails suggested that Papadopoulos’ knowledge foreknowledge may have been real (and given Mifsud’s ties to someone with links to both the IRA and GRU people behind the operation, it probably was). The temporal coincidence of his appointment and that knowledge seemed to tie his selection as an advisor and that knowledge (and in his case, because Joseph Mifsud only showed an interest in Papadopoulos after learning he was a Trump advisor, that turned out to be true). That made the trip to Russia by another of these notably underqualified foreign policy advisors to give a speech he was even more underqualified to give, all the more interesting, especially the way the Trump people very notably reversed GOP hawkishness on Ukraine days after Page’s return.

In other words, the FBI had evidence — some of it now understood to be likely disinformation, and was trying to understand, how, after Trump shifted his focus to foreign policy, he shifted to a more pro-Russian stance in seeming conjunction with Russia delivering on their promise (shared with foreign policy advisor Papadopoulos) to help Trump by releasing the DNC emails.

It turns out the change in policy was real. And JD Gordan attributed his intervention on the RNC platform, in contravention of direction from policy director John Mashburn, to Trump’s own views.

Gordon reviewed the proposed platform changes, including Denman’s.796 Gordon stated that he flagged this amendment because of Trump’s stated position on Ukraine, which Gordon personally heard the candidate say at the March 31 foreign policy meeting-namely, that the Europeans should take primary responsibility for any assistance to Ukraine, that there should be improved U.S.-Russia relations, and that he did not want to start World War III over that region.797 Gordon told the Office that Trump’s statements on the campaign trail following the March meeting underscored those positions to the point where Gordon felt obliged to object to the proposed platform change and seek its dilution.798

[snip]

According to Denman, she spoke with Gordon and Matt Miller, and they told her that they had to clear the language and that Gordon was “talking to New York.”803 Denman told others that she was asked by the two Trump Campaign staffers to strike “lethal defense weapons” from the proposal but that she refused. 804 Demnan recalled Gordon saying that he was on the phone with candidate Trump, but she was skeptical whether that was true.805 Gordon denied having told Denman that he was on the phone with Trump, although he acknowledged it was possible that he mentioned having previously spoken to the candidate about the subject matter.806 Gordon’s phone records reveal a call to Sessions’s office in Washington that afternoon, but do not include calls directly to a number associated with Trump.807 And according to the President’s written answers to the Office’s questions, he does not recall being involved in the change in language of the platform amendment. 808

Gordon stated that he tried to reach Rick Dearborn, a senior foreign policy advisor, and Mashburn, the Campaign policy director. Gordon stated that he connected with both of them (he could not recall if by phone or in person) and apprised them of the language he took issue with in the proposed amendment. Gordon recalled no objection by either Dearborn or Mashburn and that all three Campaign advisors supported the alternative formulation (“appropriate assistance”).809 Dearborn recalled Gordon warning them about the amendment, but not weighing in because Gordon was more familiar with the Campaign’s foreign policy stance.810 Mashburn stated that Gordon reached him, and he told Gordon that Trump had not taken a stance on the issue and that the Campaign should not intervene.811

[snip]

Sam Clovis, the Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor, stated he was surprised by the change and did not believe it was in line with Trump’s stance.816 Mashburn stated that when he saw the word “appropriate assistance,” he believed that Gordon had violated Mashburn’s directive not to intervene.817

Sam Clovis would ultimately testify there had been a policy change around the time of the March 31 meeting (though Clovis’ testimony changed wildly over the course of a day and conflicted with what he told Stefan Halper).

Clovis perceived a shift in the Campaign’s approach toward Russia-from one of engaging with Russia through the NATO framework and taking a strong stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But (as noted above), to lay this out in the Page application, the FBI sourced to secondary reporting of the policy change rather than to the platform itself. More notably, in spite of all this happening after late July 2016, there’s no mention of Trump’s press conference on July 27, 2016, where he asked Russia to go find more Hillary emails (and they almost immediately started hacking Hillary’s personal accounts), said he’d consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting sanctions, and lied about his ongoing efforts to build a tower in Russia.

Trump directed Mueller to a transcript of the press conference, I’ve put excerpts below. They’re a good reminder that at the same press conference where Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails (and in seeming response to which, GRU officers targeted Hillary’s personal office just five hours later), Trump suggested any efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow were years in the past, not ongoing. After the press conference, Michael Cohen asked about that false denial, and Trump “told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’” He also said they’d consider recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which makes Konstantin Kilimnik’s travel — to Moscow the next day, then to New York for the August 2 meeting at which he and Paul Manafort discussed carving up Ukraine at the same meeting where they discussed how to win Michigan — all the more striking. Trump’s odd answer to whether his campaign “had any conversations with foreign leaders” to “hit the ground running” may reflect Mike Flynn’s meetings with Sergei Kislyak to do just that.

In other words, rather than citing Trump’s language itself, which in one appearance tied ongoing hacking to an even more dramatic policy change than reflected in the platform, the Carter Page application cited secondary reporting, some of it post-dating this appearance.

Mueller asked Trump directly about two of the things he said in this speech (the Russia if you’re listening comment and the assertion they’d look at recognizing Crimea) and obliquely about a third (his public disavowals of Russian business ties). Trump refused to answer part of one of these questions entirely, and demonstrably lied about another. Publicly, Mueller stated that Trump’s answers were totally inadequate. And these statements happened even as his campaign manager and Konstantin Kilimnik were plotting a clandestine meeting to talk about carving up Ukraine.

The FBI may have done this to stay way-the-fuck away from politics — though, to be clear, Trump’s call on Russia to find more Hillary emails in no way fits the bounds of normal political speech.

But by doing do, they ended up using far inferior sourcing, and distracting themselves from actions more closely implicating Trump directly — actions that remain unresolved.

The Carter Page application certainly backs the conclusions of the DOJ IG Report (though it also shows I was correct that DOJ IG did not know what crimes Page was being investigated for, and as such likely got the First Amendment analysis wrong). But it also shows that the Steele dossier, which fed the FBI’s inexcusable confirmation biases, undermined the FBI investigation into questions that have not yet been fully answered.

DOJ Is Abusing FOIA Exemptions to Hide Later, More Damning Testimony of Trump Aides

The government has now “released” around 200 302s (FBI interview reports) in response to BuzzFeed/CNN’s FOIA. The vast majority of those, however, are heavily and at times entirely redacted. DOJ is using an unprecedentedly broad interpretation of the already badly abused b5 (deliberative) FOIA exemption to keep much of this hidden. This includes treating communications with the following people as “presidential communications:”

a. Donald Trump, President

b. Michael Pence, Vice President

c. John Kelly, Chief of Staff

d. Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff

e. Donald McGahn, Counsel to the President

f. Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor

g. Emmett Flood, Special Counsel to the President

h. Sean Spicer, Press Secretary

i. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Deputy Press Secretary; Press Secretary

j. Robert Porter, Staff Secretary

k. Stephen Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Adviser to the President

l. Richard Dearborn, Deputy Chief of Staff

m. John Eisenberg, Deputy Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council

n. K.T. McFarland, Deputy National Security Advisor

o. Uttam Dhillon, Deputy Counsel to the President

p. Annie Donaldson, Chief of Staff to the Counsel to the President

q. Jared Kushner, Senior Adviser to the President

r. Ivanka Trump, Senior Adviser to the President

s. Hope Hicks, Director of Strategic Communications; Director of Communications

t. Stephen Miller, Senior Adviser to the President

DOJ has offered a similar — albeit smaller — list (pages 16-17) of people covered by “Presidential” privileges during the Transition (yes, both Ivanka and Jared are on that list, too).

This is outright abuse, and given yesterday’s opinion stating he will review the existing redactions in the Mueller Report, I expect Judge Reggie Walton to deem it as such once the litigation rolls around to that point.

All the more so given that it can be demonstrably shown that DOJ is selectively releasing 302s such that Trump aides’ false statements are public, but their later more accurate (and damning) statements are hidden. There are at least three examples (Steve Bannon, KT McFarland, and Mike Flynn) where DOJ is still withholding later, more accurate statements while releasing earlier deceitful ones, and two more cases (JD Gordon and Sam Clovis) where DOJ may be hiding discussions of Trump pro-Russian policy stances. And in one case (Clovis), DOJ appears to have used a b3 (protected by statute) exemption that doesn’t appear to be justifiable.

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon was interviewed on at least five occasions:

  • February 12, 2018: large swaths unredacted
  • February 14, 2018: Heavily redacted under both b5 and (pertaining to WikiLeaks, Stone, and Cambridge Analytica, ongoing investigation), but with key passages revealed
  • October 26, 2018: Not yet released
  • January 18, 2019: Proffer released, but 302 not yet released
  • Unknown date (in advance of Stone trial): Not yet released

There are significantly redacted discussions (protected under ongoing investigation redactions) in Bannon’s February 14 302 that conflict with his later public admissions. And Bannon’s testimony in the Roger Stone trial shows that his 302s — including the trial prep one — conflict with his grand jury testimony. What has thus far been made public includes denials of coordination on WikiLeaks that both his October 2018 and January 2019 302s must contradict. Yet DOJ has not released the later, more damning 302s yet.

KT McFarland

As has been publicly reported, KT McFarland at first lied to the FBI but — in the wake of Mike Flynn’s plea deal — unforgot many of the key events surrounding discussions about sanctions during the Transition. While DOJ has not yet released her first 302, the others are, in general, lightly redacted. They show how she appears to have told a cover story about discussions about sanctions during the Transition. The 302 in which she cleaned up her testimony, which would show what really happened during the Transition, is largely redacted.

  • August 29, 2017: Not yet released
  • September 14, 2017: Lightly redacted (though hiding details of Tom Bossert email and her claims about the Flynn sanctions discussion)
  • October 17, 2017: Lightly redacted, though with some Mar-a-Lago and sanctions cover story details redacted
  • October 19, 2017: Significantly redacted
  • December 5, 2017: Lightly redacted; this captures McFarland’s panic in the days after Flynn’s plea
  • December 22, 2017: Very heavily redacted

Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn’s initial 302, from January 24, 2017, has been public for some time. Flynn has twice admitted, under oath, that he lied in that 302.

None of his other Russia-related 302s, including those where he corrected his story in November 2017, have been made public (though DOJ may be withholding these because he has not yet been sentenced). Among the 302s DOJ is withholding involves at least one describing how the Trump campaign discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks after the John Podesta emails dropped.

JD Gordon

JD Gordon’s testimony was critical to Mueller’s finding that Trump and Paul Manafort had no personal involvement in preventing convention delegate Diane Denman from making the RNC platform more hawkish on Ukraine. Details of this investigation into Gordon’s role appear entirely unredacted in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page as part of the case that FBI should have removed any claim that Page was involved in the platform.

Gordon’s first interview is largely unredacted. It soft-pedals Trump’s pro-Russian stance on the campaign.

GORDON flagged DENMAN’s amendment because TRUMP had mentioned not wanting to start World War III over Ukraine. TRUMP had mentioned this both in public and in private, including at the campaign meeting on March 31, 2016. This was not GORDON’s stance but TRUMP’s stance on Ukraine.

[snip]

DENMAN [redacted] and asked GORDON what he had against the free people. GORDON explained TRUMP’s statements regarding World War III to her. She asked why they were there and who GORDON was on the phone with. GORDON told her he was on the phone with his colleagues but didn’t provide names.

But Gordon’s final 302 is largely redacted, though it leaves unredacted the World War III excuse. Some of the redactions appear to hide Gordon’s testimony about the things Trump said in campaign appearances that Gordon used to explain his intervention in the Convention.

There is also discussion in his last interview about whether he consulted with Jeff Sessions on the platform issue during phone calls placed at the time (which he denied he had).

The Mueller Report also describes how Sergey Kislyak invited Gordon to his residence in DC shortly after the convention; that reference is based entirely on emails exchanged between the two; it would be worthwhile to know what he said if he was asked about the invite in his FBI interviews, but if so, it is redacted.

Sam Clovis

Sam Clovis appears to have had three interviews, though it seems Mueller’s team may never have trusted his testimony. The interviews are cited just three times in the Mueller Report, and he makes denials in his interviews that conflict with communication-based evidence laid out in the Mueller Report and what he is reported to have told Stefan Halper in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page (PDF 367-370). Clovis’ testimony is particularly important because he claims there was a shift in policy towards Russia during the campaign, but his released testimony is inconsistent on that point.

Clovis was first interviewed on October 3, 2017 at his office at USDA. The 302 makes clear that “about a quarter of the way through the interview, CLOVIS was warned that lying to the agents could constitute a federal offense.” In that interview, Clovis makes extremely strong denials about Russia.

CLOVIS started off the interview by explaining that he hates Russia and that should be clear throughout his interview.

[snip]

Russia was never a topic between CLOVIS and TRUMP. They would occasionally discuss it in debate prep. CLOVIS did most of the debate prep during the primaries. They talked about a Ukrainian policy and discussed having a bipartisan approach to this because of the divided based on Ukraine.

[snip]

A lot of people approached the campaign with ideas about foreign policy topics. Some of them wanted to approach and engage Russia but CLOVIS never trusted RUSSIA.

[snip]

CLOVIS thought interacting with Russia was a bad idea on any level because of comments TRUMP made.

[snip]

CLOVIS thinks the Special Counsel investigation is more political than practical. From CLOVIS’ perspective he didn’t see anything that warranted an investigation. CLOVIS said the campaign didn’t have anything to do with Russians. No one advised anyone to meet with Russians. CLOVIS wanted nothing to do with Russia and would never approve a meeting with the Russians. CLOVIS explained that Russians are different with Russia. You can’t just sit down at the table with them.

[snip]

CLOVIS does not recall Russia being brought up in the March 31, 2016 meeting.

[snip]

PAGE had an interesting background, including time in the Navy, experience in energy policy and Russian business. They were rushed into putting a foreign policy team together. CLOVIS thought PAGE was pretty harmless but also didn’t provide much value. CLOVIS said he never talked to PAGE about meetings with Russia and doesn’t remember PAGE ever bringing up Russia.

[snip]

CLOVIS didn’t think the change [in platform] was in line with TRUMP’s stance. CLOVIS thought their plan was to support Ukraine in their independence by engaging their NATO allies. CLOVIS is concerned PUTIN is trying to establish a Soviet empire.

That very same day, the FBI interviewed Clovis a second time, also in his USDA office. In the second interview, Clovis made comments that probably conflict with what Clovis told Stefan Halper in August 2016.

CARTER PAGE and GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS were not involved with the campaign team. They were not players in the campaign.

More importantly, in the second interview — on the same day!! — Clovis admitted that Trump did want better ties with Russia.

TRUMP wanted improved relations with Russia. The “bromance” TRUMP had with PUTIN bothered CLOVIS but the press and the public fed on it. CLOVIS felt like he had to cleanup with a shovel because TRUMP played up his bromance with PUTIN for the public.

Clovis also denied discussions of a trip to Russia that the FBI had proof he was personally involved in.

CLOVIS was asked about emails regarding an “unofficial trip” to Russia which were discussed in a Washington Post article. CLOVIS indicated this was info he was not privy to. CLOVIS said he doesn’t know who would have authorized such meetings but he never gave PAPADOPOULOS any indication to setup meetings.

CLOVIS denied learning about any dirt on Hillary, something that Papadopoulos provided conflicting testimony on.

CLOVIS was asked if he ever heard anyone discuss Russians having dirt on HILLARY CLINTON. CLOVIS said he wasn’t aware of that and if someone had that info they probably wouldn’t bring it to CLOVIS. CLOVIS pointed out that he was never asked to do anything untoward.

And in this second interview, Clovis softened on whether anyone had been compromised by Russia.

CLOVIS further explained how Russia can be very sneaky and will try to distract you on one side while sneaking by you on the other side. They will use any mechanism they can. CLOVIS fought them for years. CLOVIS didn’t feel like there was anything going on with the campaign though.

The interview ends with what may to be a discussion about a subpoena.

CLOVIS asked the agents [redacted] since he had cooperated. He was concerned about his travel plans and indicated he planned on leaving [redacted] and returning to D.C. [redacted] Agents agreed to [redacted] but said they would contact him later with information [redacted].

Note, the most substantive redactions in these two 302s have b3 redactions, which covers information “exempted from disclosure by statute.” While some of the last paragraph might be a discussion about serving a grand jury subpoena, none of the rest of it should be. And in other 302s, discussions of the same events (such as the March 31 meeting) are not redacted under b3 exemptions. It is hard to see how that redaction is permissible.

Clovis’ October 26 interview is entirely redacted under b5 exemptions.

Beware the Deep State Bearing Granola Bars: George Papadopoulos’ 302s

The government released another bunch of 302s in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA last night. They include a bunch (but not all, and not the most important) of the reports from George Papadopoulos. This post will lay out what they show.

As background, however, remember what FBI knew about some of his interactions with Joseph Mifsud before interviewing Papadopoulos.

Interactions with informants

First, there was the tip FBI received from Australia on July 27, 2016, after the release of the WikiLeaks emails made it seem like Papadopoulos had had advance knowledge they would be released. As laid out in the DOJ IG Report, after telling Alexander Downer and Erica Thompson that,

he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and … the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

Papadopoulos then,

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

In at least one (late October 2016) interview with the informant identified as “Source 3” in the IG Report, Papadopoulos had laid out the outlines of his conversations with Mifsud in direct connection with the possibility he might meet Putin.

In the second consensually monitored conversation, at the end of October 2016, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Papadopoulos had been “on the front page of Russia’s biggest newspaper” for an interview he had given 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Papadopoulos said that he was asked “[w]hat’s Mr. Trump going to do about Russia if he wins, what are your thoughts on ISIS, what are your thoughts on this?” and stated that he did not “understand why the U.S. has such a problem with Russia.” Papadopoulos also said that he thinks Putin “exudes power, confidence.” When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian  Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

That said, with both Stefan Halper and this source, Papadopoulos had denied that the campaign had any foreknowledge of the WikiLeaks releases, likening optimizing them (in the way that Roger Stone did) to treason. Papadopoulos had told Source 3 that he gave that story to Halper, in part, because he thought Halper might tell CIA what he had said, so he was already crafting a story to tell authorities.

The FBI also knew Papadopoulos was spending a lot of time with Sergei Millian, whom they also had under a counterintelligence investigation.

January 27, 2017

The government didn’t release the substantive 302 from Papadopoulos’ first interview, there’s just the 302 recounting what happened on the way to the FBI and that Papadopoulos sent the FBI agent two emails after the interview. There are 12 pages withheld for a referral right before that 302 — which makes me wonder whether they’ve referred Papadopoulos’ original 302 to John Durham (which would be really corrupt, because there’s nothing classified in there, and hiding would make it harder to assess the legitimacy of the Durham investigation). The 302 that got released does make it clear the FBI told Papadopoulos, “the nature of the interview was to discuss a contact of his, who currently resides in New York,” meaning Millian, who had just been reported as a source for Christopher Steele. That is consistent with what Papadopoulos has said about the interview; he has complained he accepted the interview thinking it would only be about Millian.

Excerpts of this interview described in the government’s sentencing memo make it clear that Papadopoulos only raised Mifsud after pressed by agents.

the defendant identified the Professor only after being prompted by a series of specific questions about when the defendant first learned about Russia’s disclosure of information related to the campaign and whether the defendant had ever “received any information or anything like that from a [] Russian government official.” In response, while denying he received any information from a Russian government official, the defendant identified the Professor by name – while also falsely claiming he interacted with the Professor “before I was with Trump though.” Over the next several minutes in the interview, the defendant repeatedly and falsely claimed that his interactions with the Professor occurred before he was working for the Trump campaign, and he did not mention his discussion with the Professor about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Clinton. That fact only came up after additional specific questioning from the agents. The agents asked the defendant: “going back to the WikiLeaks and maybe the Russian hacking and all that, were you ever made aware that the Russians had intent to disclose information [] ahead of time? So before it became public? Did anyone ever tell you that the Russian government plans to release some information[,] like tell the Trump team ahead of time[,] that that was going to happen?” The defendant responded, “No.” The agents then skeptically asked, “No?” The defendant responded: “No, not on, no not the Trump [campaign], but I will tell you something and – and this is . . . actually very good that we’re, that you just brought this up because I wasn’t working with Trump at the time[.] I was working in London . . . with that guy [the Professor].” Only then, after acknowledging that the agents had “brought this up” and lying about when he received the information, did the defendant admit that the Professor had told him “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

February 1, 2017

On February 1, the FBI agent called Papadopoulos directly to set up a meeting at George’s Ice Cream & Sweets shop for another interview (the call was recorded in a 302).

The substantive 302 makes it clear that, in the previous one, Papadopoulos had agreed to help the FBI, because he “stated that he wished to hear more about how he could potentially help the FBI.” The agent explained that he wanted Papadopoulos’ cooperation “specifically in an attempt to obtain further information about his London-based contact, JOSEPH MIFSUD.” Papadopoulos revealed what he had learned from Googling Mifsud subsequent to his first interview. He revealed that Mifsud was “an associate of a Russian discussion club of some sort” — a reference to the Valdai Discussion Club, which Mifsud had attended between the time he first met Papadopoulos and started cultivating him in London.

It’s clear that Papadopoulos had provided more information about Olga Polonskaya (possibly her email), because the agent asked about her, and Papadopoulos explained he was first introduced as one of Mifsud’s students (which was true), but then Nagi Idris told him she was Putin’s niece.

The agent also asked Papadopoulos whether he had ever met the Russian Ambassador, which he had told Source 3 he had the previous October. Papadopoulos said he had not met any Russian government officials, the meeting with the Ambassador never happened.

The agent asked Papadopoulos (who, remember, said he learned about the emails before he joined the campaign) if he had told the campaign about the emails. He responded by saying he had raised Mifsud’s name, though appears to have dodged whether he raised the emails.

Papadopoulos told the FBI that Mifsud had recently reached out and would be in DC in February, and also offered to go meet with him in the UK.

Papadopoulos was asked about Millian; his responses appear defensive, affirmatively raising both whether Millian knew about the emails and his role in the dossier.

The agent then told Papadopoulos he may have been recruited and asked if there was anyone else who might be doing so.

The agent then asked Papadopoulos if he still wanted the FBI to analyze his phone for malware; Papadopoulos said he had replaced it, but would still like to have the FBI analyze his old phone (nothing in the record suggests that happened, and the statement of the offense reveals he got a new phone on February 23, so it’s possible he just decided he didn’t want to hand over the phone and afterwards got a new one).

Papadopoulos said he wanted to speak to an attorney before committing to help the FBI, said he did not yet have one, but would be getting one the following day.

Note: From this interview, I can understand why Republicans think Papadopoulos got a bad deal, because he clearly kept saying he wanted to cooperate.

February 2, 2017

As he said he would do, the agent tried to call Papadopoulos the next day, only to find his voicemail box was full. Instead, he texted Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos said he had discussed the matter with a lawyer and had been advised not to engage any longer.

I truly feel proud that was able to do my part to assist with everything I know but as you saw yesterday there was nothing else to add and we had a nice coffee but nothing of substance.

[snip]

You guys are professionals and am sure you can deal with that person if he truly is a threat. Can’t help anymore than I have. If there is something directly related to me then that’s another matter.

The agent said he had one more thing to clear up, asked to talk to Papadopoulos, they agreed to meet at 6:30 PM, then Papadopoulos called back and said he had spoken with an attorney who told him not to go, but offered to meet Monday in the Chicago Field Office.

In spite of repeated questioning, Papadopoulos did not offer up the name of the attorney he had consulted (nor did they meet the following Monday, which would have been February 6). That’s significant, because in his Congressional testimony, Papadopoulos revealed that he had called Marc Kasowitz — at a time when he was representing Trump — and asked him if he wanted to represent him (meaning, this happened before he had an attorney).

Q And you didn’t talk to anyone from the Trump organization about that interview with the FBI?

A I don’t think I did, no. Q So you were interviewed again by the FBI — A I can’t remember if I reached out to Marc Kasowitz about either that or my subpoena from the Senate. And I emailed him and I said, Look, would you be interested in representing me? I think that’s what happened. But I don’t — I can’t remember exactly why I emailed him, but I think I emailed Marc Kasowitz’ firm sometimes after the interview, but I don’t remember if he ever responded or anything like that.

[snip]

Q Right, right, right. So when you sent this email, would it have been after the first FBI interview, but before the second one, or –

A I think it would be after I was done with my initial contacts with the FBI.

It’s certainly possible that Papadopoulos just consulted a friend who was an attorney (who wisely told him to stop meeting with the FBI without representation). But it is possible that the President’s then-defense attorney told him to stop meeting with the FBI.

February 10, 2017

The date of interview recorded on the second 302 is February 10, 2017. But both Papadopoulos’ arrest affidavit and his statement of offense say the interview happened on February 16. That’s actually a fairly significant discrepancy because, per the Mueller Report, the FBI interviewed Mifsud on February 10, and one argument they made to substantiate that his lies were material were that those lies prevented them from pinning down Mifsud on his lies. It appears the February 10 date is correct, but that FBI treated a call (also with his counsel) on February 16, as the interview in question.

In any case, this is Papadopoulos’ first interview represented by counsel. The government has said that Papadopoulos repeated the same lies he told on January 27, and it’s clear he did. He said Mifsud wanted to impress him because he “had recently come off his advisory position for the BEN CARSON campaign.” Papadopoulos misrepresented how he got hired by Sam Clovis, suggesting there was a time between when they spoke and his hiring, when it happened on the same call; in the interview Papadopoulos said happened in person in London, though it happened by phone. Papadopoulos describes the emails coming up during a discussion about Hillary’s campaign, not Trump’s. He left out that Mifsud said the Russians planned to anonymous leak the emails. Papadopoulos twice falsely said he hadn’t told any foreign government officials that Russia planned to disclose information (in addition to Australia, he told a Greek official).

This 302 seems to reflect the FBI agents cueing Papadopoulos to tell them about telling someone at a nightclub about emails, which he said he had not; it makes me wonder if he said that to Source 3 in one of their interviews after the election (which, if so, would make the IG Report’s silence on the topic really suspect), or whether — as many people suspect — he said that to Erica Thompson at a dinner party, then repeated it again to her and Downer when they had drinks.

February 16, 2017

On February 16, the Assistant General Counsel for FBI’s Cyber Law Branch called and set up a phone interview to try to clarify the timing of the conversation with Mifsud, explaining that resolving some inconsistencies in his story was time sensitive. The 302 is heavily redacted, but it’s clear that Papadopoulos refused to be pinned down on timing — it even seems like FBI had figured out that it had occurred at his breakfast meeting with Mifsud, but Papadopoulos couldn’t recall whether it had happened then.

Papadopoulos then dug in on a story that tried to claim these emails couldn’t be the ones stolen from the DNC, first reiterating that “he did not believe MIFSUD’s claims that the Russians had HILLARY CLINTON’s e-mails” (a claim utterly inconsistent with having told others about it), and then suggesting that the emails might be Hillary’s deleted emails.  This passage — and its heavy redaction — is particularly interesting, because it appears to be the first time Papadopoulos told this story, and it’s the story he has since settled on, but it appears that he only told it after the FBI asked him about the comments three times.

This interview appears to be the first time the FBI asked Papadopoulos not to speak to the media, which he agreed to do.

July 27, 2017

The next interview report documents his arrest at Dulles on July 27, 2017. While this was not an interview — indeed, arresting agents had to tell Papadopoulos several times to shut up because he didn’t have his attorney present — Papadopoulos did offer up some lame excuses that seem to indicate he knew he hadn’t told the full truth:

[H]e was only able to provide the information that he remembered, PAPADOPOULOS then stated that if he had forgotten something, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s lying.

[snip]

[Papadopoulos] then added that he was only twenty-eight years old when he was thrust into the national spotlight with all this.

[snip]

PAPADOPOULOS stated that he didn’t understand why he was in the current situation that he was, when both FLYNN and MANAFORT are not.

[snip]

At one point while PAPADOPOULOS was waiting in the booking room he expressed concern with the fact that he was just a small fish and yet he was going to look like the fall guy for this investigation.

Papadopoulos appears to have asked to call a second attorney, in addition to his own, who by the length of last name could be Jay Sekulow, which would be consistent with him having reached out to Kasowitz earlier in this process.

Papadopoulos also repeatedly said he had told the whole story in a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is interesting given that this would have taken place when Jared Kushner and Michael Cohen were writing statements for Committee testimony as a way to script and coordinate stories. That would make it all the more interesting if Papadopoulos did mention Sekulow, because Sekulow was the one coordinating all these statements.

After he turned into a MAGA star, Papadopoulos would suggest the FBI bullied him during his arrest. According to the 302, he thanked them for their kindness.

At approximately 10:40 PM PAPADOPOULOS was provided with coffee and water and PAPADOPOULOS thanked the agents for treating him very well.

July 28, 2017

The day after he was arrested, Papadopoulos needed help getting home because he had had his passports confiscated and had not replaced his driver’s license after he had recently lost his wallet, so the agents drove him to the airport and made sure he could get on a plane.

Agents then provided PAPADOPOULOS with his attorney’s telephone number and a granola bar for his travel back to Chicago.

August 10, 2017

In his first interview after being charged, Papadopoulos told a very clear story of the chronology of working for Carson, then interviewing with Clovis and being hired that same call, then traveling to Rome where he met Mifsud, all details he had claimed to not remember previously. He explained how Olga offered to connect him with people in Russia. He described both Trump and Jeff Sessions responding to his offer to try to set up a meeting with Putin enthusiastically. He described Mifsud introducing him to Ivan Timofeev, something he had not disclosed previously (but which would have been apparent once FBI accessed his Facebook account). Papadopoulos still claimed, at this point, not to have told anyone about the Russians having dirt on Hillary.

August 11, 2017

Though heavily redacted, this 302 appears to parallel the August 10 one, getting the timeline of meeting Mifsud correct, describing Trump and Sessions’ enthusiasm for a Putin meeting,

It describes Papadopoulos remembering, then backing off a memory of discussing the emails with Clovis.

PAPADOPOULOS stated to the best of his recollection he remembered CLOVIS being upset after PAPADOPOULOS said, “Sam, I think they have her emails.” PAPADOPOULOS then reiterated he was not certain if that event actually happened or if he was wrongfully remembering an event which did not occur.

September 19, 2017

This interview, his most substantive, is almost entirely redacted. From what’s unredacted, it’s clear Papadopoulos was withholding information until shown the evidence of something via communication records. For example, he admitted to an April 12 meeting that did not appear elsewhere. He was prodded to describe a Skype conversation with Timofeev. Papadopoulos needed to be “specifically asked,” before he admitted he told the Greek Foreign Minister about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton, too.

This interview included questions about the Transatlantic Group that he attended with Walid Phares and Sam Clovis, during which Papadopoulos discussed a September 2016 meeting with Putin’s office in London. Papadopoulos refused to walk the FBI through his notes on this planned meeting.

PAPADOPOULOS then stated he could not read his own handwriting and, therefore he could not assist the interviewers with further identifying what his notes referenced.

September 20, 2017

Papadopoulos had one more interview during the pre-plea period, which was memorialized in a 4-page 302. But that was not included in yesterday’s dump. That interview covered:

  • How the campaign supported his efforts to set up a meeting with Putin.
  • Details about how he used his journal.
  • What he told others on the campaign about the Hillary dirt, possibly including the Sam Clovis reference.
  • What an email Sergei Millian sent him on August 23, 2016, offering a disruptive technology that might help his political work, meant.

October 5, 31, 2017

Papadopolous pled guilty on October 5, 2017. A 302 describes how Papadopoulos got the card of the FBI agent to talk to him about a problem he had had with his email account. The next day Papadopoulos explained what the problem was, and the agent told him to change his password and make sure forwarding was not on.

On October 28, the agent asked Papadopoulos whether the media or anyone from the Trump campaign had tried to contact him. Papadopoulos said neither had, and agreed to let the FBI know if that happened. After news of his plea broke on October 31, the FBI agent contacted Papadopoulos again, to find out whether he made any contact. Papadopoulos said he didn’t think the media has his phone number.

November 7, 2017

The agent called Papadopoulos to ask about media reports on people in the campaign that conflicted with his own testimony. Papadopoulos explained he had seenreports that Sessions had shut down his efforts to arrange a Trump Putin meeting. Papadopoulos said he “would stick to his original story,” (which is what he did earlier than year on telling anyone about emails). Papadopoulos said he wouldn’t have continued his efforts if Sessions hadn’t approved.

Papadopoulos disputed Bannon’s claims never to have met with Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos “remembered specifically coordinating with BANNON when he was arranging the meeting between TRUMP and the Egyptian president.” (Bannon would distance himself from Papadopoulos in his second interview with the FBI, saying that Mike Flynn handled all this.)

Papadopoulos responded to reading the first five pages of Carter Page’s HPSCI transcript by describing a call, possibly in late March, where Page told Papadopoulos to “stop showing off,” possibly because Papadopoulos was trying to broker a Russia meeting.

December 2017

Per the sentencing memorandum, the government reached out to set up a meeting in late December, but after learning that Papadopoulos had cooperated in a NYT interview, canceled the interview.

the government arranged to meet again with the defendant to ask further questions in late December 2017. However, upon learning that the defendant had participated in a media interview with a national publication concerning his case, the government canceled that meeting.

There may or may not be a 302 pertaining to this.

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

I’m still working through my deep dive of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page (see the list below for links to my prior posts). But to prep for a post showing that DOJ IG did not meet the standard it held the FBI to in its investigation, I want to first lay out what the IG Report shows about George Papadopoulos.

Why Papadopoulos matters in an IG Report on Carter Page

Papadopoulos is discussed in this IG Report for three reasons. First, the investigation into whether anyone on the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia, called Crossfire Hurricane, was opened after the Australian government passed on a report about what Papadopoulos said to their representative to the UK, Alexander Downer, over drinks in May 2016. The tip raised legitimate questions about whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia and if so via what channels, so FBI opened an investigation to find out. So Papadopoulos is in the IG Report because his big mouth predicated the investigation.

Papadopoulos is also included because after the GOP embraced conspiracy theories that FBI had “spied” on Trump’s campaign by introducing informants into it, the IG reviewed Papadopoulos’ interactions with two Confidential Human Sources (CHS; along with interactions Carter Page and Sam Clovis had with informants), ultimately showing that no CHSes were infiltrated into the campaign, but were instead used as what FBI believed was the most discrete but efficient way to investigate whether there was something behind Papadopoulos’ blather.

Finally, the review into the interactions between informants and Page and Papadopoulos led the IG to conclude that the FBI should have highlighted information from those interactions in Carter Page’s FISA applications. That judgment is undoubtedly true for Page’s meetings with informants, as he denied several of the specific allegations from the Steele dossier that made up a key prong in the probable cause against him.

But it’s a closer call with regards to Papadopoulos, even just based off the information included in the IG Report (and all the more so when matched up with information in other public documents). Two of the seventeen “significant inaccuracies and omissions” that the IG Report faults FBI for pertain to information on Papadopoulos, and a third pertains to Joseph Mifsud’s denials of telling Papadopoulos about the emails:

5. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in September 2016 denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails;

[snip]

15. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in late October 2016 (after the first application was filed) denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack;

16. Omitted Joseph Mifsud’s denials to the FBI that he supplied Papadopoulos with the information Papadopoulos shared with the FFG (suggesting that the campaign received an offer or suggestion of assistance from Russia); and

Given that FISA applications never get shared with defendants, this information should be shared, at least with DOJ’s Office of Information that does the applications. But all of these references were deemed to be — for good reason — cover stories. So I think they deserve more attention in any analysis of how to “fix” (or scrap) FISA moving forward, because they demonstrate one problem with warrant affidavits that will never see the light of day, what to consider exculpatory or not.

As background for that (and to rebut Papadopoulos’ claims that this Report backs any of the fevered claims he has made about the investigation into him), I want to lay out what the IG Report reveals about the investigation into Papadopoulos.

July 28 through August 10 2016: FBI receives the tip from Australia then opens the investigation

Days after WikiLeaks released the DNC emails, on July 26, Australia told someone in London (probably CIA, but the report describes the State Department being involved) about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with Papadopoulos as well as the one she attended with Downer) in May 2016.

The Report does not include the full text of the Australian tip, which has led people from the Attorney General on down to diminish the import of it based off a partial quote. In addition, DOJ has — at its own discretion — kept a few words reflecting other details from the Australian tip that the FBI used to predicate the investigation classified.

What the IG Report does include from the Australian report explains that Papadopoulos had,

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process [damaging Hillary] with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

A later quote from Bill Priestap, the FBI Manager who opened the investigation, reveals part of what DOJ chose to exclude from Papadopoulos’ quote: before mentioning the detail about Russia to Downer, Papadopoulos had expressed confidence that Trump would win because there was so much dirt on Hillary.

In fact, the information we received indicated that Papadopoulos told the [FFG] he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and Papadopoulos commented that the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

So Papadopoulos said, in May 2016, that Trump would win by throwing a ton of dirt at Hillary, and then said that the Russians were going to anonymously release dirt of their own. Two and a half months later, material Russia stole got released via WikiLeaks, hiding the Russian role, seemingly (and, the evidence shows, in fact) confirming that Papadopoulos had had advance knowledge of the dump.

It took two days for this tip to make its way from the UK to FBI HQ, which means Australia would have shared it before but it would have arrived after Trump made his “Russia if you’re listening” comment on July 27 suggesting he’d be happy to get help from Russia.

FBI HQ then spent 3 days deciding what to do about the tip. On July 31, the FBI opened an investigation to try to figure out whether the Trump campaign had gotten advance notice of the email drop and if so via what channel.

The next day, August 1, Peter Strzok and a Supervisory Special Agent went to London to find out more from Australian officials, plural, which suggests Thompson was included in the interview. The interview gave the FBI no clarity about whom Russia may have told about the emails and it did not rule out Papadopoulos being told himself.

According to Strzok and SSA 1, during the interview they learned that Papadopoulos did not say that he had direct contact with the Russians; that while his statement did not include him, it did not exclude him either; and that Papadopoulos stated the Russians told “us.” Strzok and SSA 1 also said they learned that Papadopoulos did not specify any other individual who received the Russian suggestion

That information led the FBI to do some intelligence analysis using database and name searches to draw up possible candidates. As a result of that analysis, the FBI opened investigations into Papadopoulos himself, as well as Mike Flynn, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort, the latter three of of whom had known ties to Russia.

August 10 to November 8: FBI pursues no legal process to collect on Papadopoulos

The Report confirms, obliquely, something I have long noted: the FBI did not do basic things like getting call records on Papadopoulos or anyone else (though the NY Field Office had gotten two basic National Security Letters on Carter Page earlier in the year). The Report notes that FBI did not ask NSD to help it submit criminal legal process on anyone in conjunction with this investigation before the election.

the FBI did not ask CES to assist with criminal legal process at any time before the 2016 U.S. elections

This is an important issue for both the political and policy debate. The FBI actually might have discovered really damning details about both Papadopoulos (who was planning a back channel meeting with Putin when the investigation was opened) and Paul Manafort (who was sharing campaign strategy in a meeting discussing how to carve up Ukraine) had they chosen to investigate more aggressively. By waiting, the FBI gave both men an opportunity to cover these activities up. Even if they had just gotten call detail records — something not considered any more intrusive than using informants — they would have discovered Joseph Mifsud’s ongoing communications with Papadopoulos.  They chose not to take those steps, in part, to prevent any word of the investigation from leaking. But as a result, the FBI failed to collect details about suspicious behavior in real time, potentially forgoing the possibility of mitigating follow-on damage from the Russian attack.

And rather than reviewing a report about why the FBI failed to prevent these ongoing activities, we’re instead reading a 400-page report about why, in an attempt to avoid doing the kind of damage it had already done to Hillary’s campaign, it did the bare minimum.

August 20: Stefan Halper asks Page about Papadopoulos

So instead of collecting communications and other records (the FBI didn’t even obtain Page’s financial records until the following spring), the FBI instead used informants. As it happened, Stefan Halper, who was a lifelong Republican and had worked prior presidential campaigns, had met Carter Page and knew Manafort and Flynn. He was a perfectly situated informant. So FBI asked him to collect more information.

In an August 20 meeting with Halper, Carter Page issued some of the first denials that should have been included in the FISA applications. Halper also asked him about the other subjects of the investigation. Page didn’t have much to say about Papadopoulos, aside from giving a telling “no comment” in response to a Halper question about how easily Papadopoulos can be set off emotionally.

Page said that Papadopoulos was the youngest guy on the campaign, that he used to live in London, and that he had not been to the last campaign meeting. Page also said he had “no comment” on whether Papadopoulos was easily triggered emotionally.

September 1: Stefan Halper asks Sam Clovis about Papadopoulos

Next, using an introduction from Page, Halper reached out to Sam Clovis, who had been closely involved with managing both Page and Papadopoulos on the campaign. Clovis had warm things to say about Page (even while admitting he was hard to pin down). Clovis described Papadopoulos, by contrast, as overly ambitious, which made Clovis suspicious of him.

Source 2 also asked about George Papadopoulos, who the high-level Trump campaign official described as “very eager” and “a climber.” The high-level campaign official added that he was “always suspicious of people like that.”

September 15: Two interviews with Stefan Halper

Next, Halper invited Papadopoulos to London to discuss doing a paper on Mediterranean energy issues for him, a ploy designed (the FBI hoped) to recreate the kinds of circumstances that had led Papadopoulos to make the comments he did to Downer four months before. Halper and Papadopoulos (and an undercover FBI Agent using the name Azra Turk) actually had two meetings. At the first, Halper started by eliciting Papadopoulos’ thoughts on other subjects of the investigation, which led Papadopoulos to describe both Page and Flynn as interested in ties with Russia.

During the meeting, Source 2 told Papadopoulos that Carter Page “always says nice things about you.” Papadopoulos told Source 2 that although Carter Page was one of the campaign’s “Russian people,” Page “has never actually met Trump … [and] hasn’t actually advised him on Russia … [but] [h]e might be advising him indirectly through [another campaign official].” Papadopoulos also told Source 2 that General Flynn “does want to cooperate with the Russians and the Russians are willing to … embrace adult issues.”

Then Halper asked Papadopoulos about his own ties to Russia. According to the parts of the transcript excerpted in the IG Report, he admitted he had been invited to a “faith talk” (an invitation I haven’t heard of before), but said it was too sensitive to go, particularly given what “is going with Paul Manafort.” In response to an initial question, Papadopoulos suggested that Julian Assange had predicted an October Surprise but “no one knows” what that means.

As for Papadopoulos’s own connections with Russia, Papadopoulos told Source 2 he thought that “we have to be wary of the Russians” and mentioned that “they actually invited me to their .. .faith talk. I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos explained to Source 2 that he made the decision not to go because it is “just too sensitive … [as an] advisor on the campaign trail…especially with what is going [on] with Paul Manafort.” Source 2 also asked Papadopoulos about the possibility of the public release of additional information that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos responded that Julian Assange of Wikileaks had said in public statements to “get ready for October … [but] [w]hatever that means no one knows.”

Papadopoulos’ answer about an October Surprise was not that different than — but almost a month after — a similar response to Halper from Page, though that comment did not get added to his FISA applications until his last renewal. The IG Report does not talk about this similar answer, which is particularly interesting given details about the campaign’s knowledge of Roger Stone’s claimed ties to WikiLeaks.

Then there are questions about whether DOJ IG included all the parts of the transcript that would be relevant to this analysis. In Papadopoulos’ own depiction of these meetings with Halper, he claimed he pushed back by saying, “I really have nothing to do with Russia.” It’s possible that was a self-serving claim, or it’s possible that the transcript included here does not include it. I asked and did not receive an answer about about whether such a phrase appeared in the full transcript or how much of that full transcript they had excerpted. Whether it is or not is actually fairly significant for the DOJ IG case about what should have been included in Page’s FISA applications, but alas, it’s not available. It would also be useful to see whether these topics followed closely or not, but again, this is just a selection from the transcript that doesn’t even offer guidance about what the ellipses are.

Anyway, that’s what happened at a brunch meeting between Halper and Papadopoulos. After it, the FBI deemed the meeting sufficiently successful to try to push further in an evening meeting over drinks.

At that evening meeting, Papadopoulos questioned whether the Russians had really done the hack, and then said a bunch of things about Israel that would lead to FBI digging up significant details of Papadopoulos’ influence peddling with Israel that almost turned into a Foreign Agent charge.

When Source 2 initially asked about Wikileaks, Papadopoulos commented that with respect to Assange “no one knows what he’s going to release” and that he could release information on Trump as a “ploy to basically dismantle … [ or] undercut the … next President of the United States regardless of who it’s going to be.” Papadopoulos also stated that “no one has proven that the Russians actually did the hacking,” then continued to discuss hacking by pointing out that he had “actually had a few .. .Israelis trying to hack” his cell phone, which Papadopoulos said “shocked” him because he had “done some sensitive work for that government,” and he said the Israelis had “allowed [him] quite a high level of access.” Papadopoulos also stated that “no one else” did the work that he did for the Israelis, and that it had led “some folks [to] joke … [that Papadopoulos] should go into the CIA after this if [Trump] ends up losing.”

Then, Halper asked about WikiLeaks for what would be the third and fourth time that day, this time more directly. Papadopoulos gave the answer that the frothy right has claimed, bizarrely, was exculpatory. By the time he gave this answer, had had already admitted receiving a non-public invitation from Russia and offered two different responses about WikiLeaks, along with a claim doubting that Russia had done the hack. That’s particularly notable given that Papadopoulos’ claim that WikiLeaks would have an interest in undercutting whoever might be the next President makes no sense unless Russia were the source.

So having expressed meeting with Russia was “sensitive” in the wake of disclosures about Paul Manafort and given inconsistent answers about WikiLeaks already that day, in response to more direct questions, Papadopoulos angrily stated that optimizing the WikiLeaks releases — which Rick Gates and Stephen Miller had been preparing to do leading up to the DNC release, and which Roger Stone had made even more extensive efforts to do, though there’s no evidence Papadopoulos knew of either effort — would amount to treason. Both times he made this denial, Papadopoulos raised Trump’s “Russia if you’re listening” comment.

Later in the conversation, Source 2 asked Papadopoulos directly whether help “from a third party like Wikileaks for example or some other third party like the Russians, could be incredibly helpful” in securing a campaign victory. Papadopoulos responded:

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

When Source 2 raised the issue again, Papadopoulos added:

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

There are a lot of reasons why, in context, this denial not only is not credible, but should have raised alarms. All the more so given that, according to the FBI team, Papadopoulos demeanor changed when he made it.

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

Granted, it would take a fairly extensive discussion to lay out how Papadopoulos’ denial was inconsistent with his earlier comments. The FBI team did not do that and instead left it out, which is one of the things DOJ IG criticized them for.

Early October/a few days before Page FISA filed: FBI learns that Papadopoulos has a sustained relationship with Sergei Millian

Meanwhile, there was one other significant investigative development, one which gets uneven coverage in the IG Report: the FBI came to focus on Sergei Millian.

Millian appears in the IG Report largely because he was an identifiable source in the Steele dossier whom Steele’s Sub-Source disclaimed a direct relationship with. Along the way, however, the Report provides details of an investigation into Millian in his own right. For example, one passage describes him as someone, “previously known to the FBI.” Other passages (including a heavily redacted footnote 302 describing a document circulating in early October) reveal the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in either early October or just days before the Page FISA application was approved on October 21. Not only did the FBI have an investigation into Millian, but they knew that he had been in close contact with Papadopoulos since at least August.

The Crossfire Hurricane team had information available to it by early October 2016 that the two reporting streams could have connectivity because they had learned that Person 1, an important Steele election reporting sub-source, had been engaging in “sustained” contact with Papadopoulos since at least August 2016.

The IG Report’s treatment of Millian is fairly confusing (partly, presumably, due to DOJ decisions). It deems his possible role as a Steele source to discredit the dossier but does not discuss the possibility he had a role in any disinformation in it (even while it does consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in seeding disinformation). It doesn’t reflect on what that means for Papadopoulos’ comments in fall 2016, including any denials of ongoing involvement in Russian matters. Additionally, whereas elsewhere, DOJ declassified the names of people discussed extensively in the Mueller Report, they don’t do that here.

The investigation into Millian would almost certainly be more aggressive than it was with Papadopoulos. So it’s possible DOJ accessed Papadopoulos’ comments to Millian — which were fairly damning, per the Mueller report — at a time when they were otherwise not collecting communications of anyone besides Page.

Third week of October: First interview with Source 3

DOJ’s odd treatment of Millian in the Report is notable for Papadopoulos’ comments to the one other informant used with him during the election.

FBI didn’t use Stefan Halper with Papadopoulos after September 15. They tried, but failed, to use several other informants with him. But with an informant the IG Report calls Source 3, they did succeed in getting meetings with Papadopoulos, just the pre-election ones which the IG Report describes.

Whoever Source 3 is, Papadopoulos appears to have trusted — and bragged to — him or her far more than he did Halper. In their first conversation, which took place in the week during which Page’s first FISA application was being finalized, Papadopoulos provided conflicting information about whether he really had left the Trump campaign in the wake of a very pro-Russian Intefax piece. He also refers to Millian as a friend and indicates a plan to travel to Russia the next summer.

In the first consensually monitored conversation, during the third week of October 2016, Papadopoulos described how he had worked for the presidential campaign of Ben Carson before joining the Trump campaign, and that when he was with the Trump campaign, he “set up a meeting with … [t]he President of Egypt and Trump.” Papadopoulos also told Source 3 that, since leaving the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos had “transitioned into like my own private brand.” Papadopoulos later stated he was “still with … the campaign indirectly” and that he had made “a lot of cool [connections] and I’m going to see what’s going to happen after the election.” He added that he had learned “[i]t’s all about connections now days, man.” Papadopoulos did not say much about Russia during the first conversation with Source 3, other than to mention a “friend Sergey … [who] lives in … Brooklyn,” and invite Source 3 to travel with Papadopoulos to Russia in the summertime.

Late October: Second interview with Source 3

Papadopoulos met — and continued to brag to — Source 3 once more before the election, just after the first Page FISA order. The IG Report focuses more on Papadopoulos unabashed plan to sell access. It focuses less on the fact that, before he issued denials that anyone in the campaign was involved with WikiLeaks, he basically laid out the outline of his interactions with Mifsud and claimed to have been invited to meet Putin. Papadopoulos then went on to admit that he told Halper what he did because he expected him to go tell the CIA unless he issued a full-throated denial.

In the second consensually monitored conversation, at the end of October 2016, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Papadopoulos had been “on the front page of Russia’s biggest newspaper” for an interview he had given 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Papadopoulos said that he was asked “[w]hat’s Mr. Trump going to do about Russia if he wins, what are your thoughts on ISIS, what are your thoughts on this?” and stated that he did not “understand why the U.S. has such a problem with Russia.” Papadopoulos also said that he thinks Putin “exudes power, confidence.” When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

Papadopoulos added that there are plenty of people who aren’t even smart who are cashing in, and asked Source 3 “Do you know how many Members of Congress I’ve met that know jack … about anything? Except what their advisors tell them? … They can barely put a sentence together …. I’m talking about Members of Congress dude.” In other portions of the conversation with Source 3, Papadopoulos repeated that what he really wanted to figure out was how to “monetize … [his] connections” because Papadopoulos felt like he knew “a lot of Ambassadors … [and] a lot of Presidents.” Papadopoulos said that once the election was over, Papadopoulos was going

to sit down and systematically write who I know, what they want, and how I can leverage that because if you know like government guys and ambassadors you should be making money, that’s all I know because there’s not one person I know who has those connections that isn’t making … money.

He observed that what he had to “sell is access,” and “[t]hat’s what people pay millions of dollars for every year. It’s the cleanest job.”

However, when Source 3 asked Papadopoulos whether Papadopoulos thought “Russia’s playing a big game in this election,” Papadopoulos said he believed “That’s all bull[].” Papadopoulos said “[n]o one knows who’s hacking [the DNC] …. Could be the Chinese, could be the Iranians, it could be some Bernie … supporters.” Papadopoulos added that arguments about the Russians are “all…conspiracy theories.” He said that he knew “for a fact” that no one from the Trump campaign had anything to do with releasing emails from the DNC, because Papadopoulos said he had “been working with them for the last nine months…. And all of this stuff has been happening, what, the last four months?” Papadopoulos added that he had been asked the same question by Source 2. Papadopoulos said he believed Source 2 was going to go

and tell the CIA or something if I’d have told him something else. I assume that’s why he was asking. And I told him, absolutely not …. it’s illegal, you know, to do that.. .. [my emphasis]

There’s more from that October 2016 interview that remains redacted, according to the discussion of the Rule 13 Letter informing the FISC of information that should have been included in the Page applications (as well as several other things).

Again, Papadopoulos’ comments, even just to Halper alone, are internally inconsistent particularly as it pertains to WikiLeaks. Depending on how much the FBI had learned about Papadopoulos’ communications with Millian by this point, the FBI made have had good reason to doubt some of the things he said (his ongoing ties with Millian, for example, would undermine his claim to have nothing to do with Russian, if in fact he made it). He made it clear to Source 3 that he said what he did to Halper because he believed saying anything else would alert law enforcement. And he made these denials to Source 3 while laying out a network of relationships that should have alerted the FBI that he had been in a situation to learn of the emails in advance.

That’s all aside from the comments Papadopoulos made about Page specifically, which should have been in the FISA applications.

The frothy right claims the September 15 Halper interviews included exculpatory information, not just for Page, but also for Papadopoulos, were ridiculous even without knowing that the FBI knew of Papadopoulos’ ties to Millian. That’s all the more true given the details about his demeanor changing and his admission to Source 3 he was worried that Halper would report him to the CIA.

But that’s the problem with FISA. Under a normal warrant situation, it’d be easy to exclude Papadopoulos’ dubious denials in a warrant application targeting Page. But because of the ex parte nature of FISA, those rules don’t apply.

Perhaps the more pertinent point — one not made here — is that Papadopoulos’ denials should have led the investigation to focus on him far earlier than it did.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

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

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

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

Report shortcomings

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

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

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

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

The FBI believed this was a rehearsed answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

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

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

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

Report shortcomings

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

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

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

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

 

The President’s Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

If we survive Trump and there are still things called museums around that display artifacts that present things called facts about historic events, I suspect John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee will be displayed there, in all its Comic Sans glory.

In it, Dowd memorializes a conversation he had with HPSCI Investigation Counsel Nicholas Mitchell on September 30, before he was officially the lawyer for Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, now placed in writing because he had since officially become their lawyer. He describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request and even if he could — this is the key part — much of it would be covered by some kind of privilege.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

Once that letter was sent, under penalty of prosecution for false statements to Congress, it became fact: Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph Di Genova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.

Dowd might be forgiven if he immediately adopted the strategy that worked so well in guiding Trump through the Mueller investigation: just engage in a 37-person conspiracy to obstruct justice and name it a Joint Defense Agreement. Indeed, there are even similarities with current events. Then, John Dowd, Jay Sekulow, and Rudy Giuliani offered things of value to the others in the JDA — pardons — in exchange for their silence or even lies. Conspicuously, Toensing represented two people that — the Mueller Report seems to suggest — weren’t entirely candid in their testimony, Erik Prince (who managed to lose texts that explained why he was taking back channel meetings with Russians) and Sam Clovis (who sustained his lack of memory of being told that Russians were offering emails long enough for George Papadopoulos to change his mind on that front). Papadopoulos even managed to call Marc Kasowitz, when he still represented the President, to ask if he also wanted to represent a coffee boy with an inclination to lie to the FBI. The strategy all built to its successful crescendo when, instead of cooperating with prosecutors as he signed up to do, Paul Manafort instead figured out what they did and didn’t know, lied to keep them confused, and reported it all back through his own attorney, Kevin Downing, and Rudy to the President.

It was never really clear who was paying the lawyers (aside from the RNC paying Hope Hicks’ lawyers and some other key staffers). And as details of Manafort’s lies came out, it became clear there was some kind of kick-back system to keep the lawyers paid.

Still, Mueller never tied Manafort’s trading of campaign strategy for considerations on Ukraine and payment by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs to the President. And so it may have seemed sensible for Dowd, in a bit of a pinch, to adopt the same strategy, with Rudy representing everyone, Dowd representing the Ukrainian grifters, and Kevin Downing even filling in in a pinch.

It all might have worked, too, if Parnas and Fruman hadn’t gotten arrested before they managed to flee the country, headed for what seems to have been a planned meeting a day later with their sometime attorney Rudy Giuliani in Vienna, just one day after a lunch meeting with him at Trump Hotel across the street from the Department of Justice that was busy inking an indictment against the Ukrainians even as they paid money to Trump Organization for their meal.

I mean, it still could work. Trump is still the President and DOJ, at least, will give some consideration to the attorney-client claims, so long as Rudy and Trump can maintain the illusion that Rudy is and was really doing legal work for the President.

But something that Dowd may not have considered, before he sent a letter to Congress laying out an incestuous nest of ethical atrocities, is that by the time he sent the letter, DiGenova and Toensing were on the record as representing Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was named in some of the early search warrants targeting Paul Manafort. And in March, Rudy Giuliani went on the record to explain that Firtash was, “one of the close associates of [Semion] Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend.” Yesterday, Reuters closed the circle, making it clear that Parnas and Fruman work for Firtash, the former as a translator for DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of Firtash.

Firtash, by the way, is in Vienna, where Parnas and Fruman attempted to flee and where the President’s lawyer was planning to meet them a day later.

Thus, when Dowd wrote Congress, explaining that Rudy worked for both Trump and the Ukrainian grifters, and the Ukrainian grifters worked for DiGenova and Toensing, he was asserting that the President is a participant in an ethical thicket of legal representation with a mob-linked Ukrainian oligarch fighting extradition (for bribery) to the United States. And all of that, Dowd helpfully made clear, related to this Ukraine scandal (otherwise he could not have invoked privilege for it).

In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA from hell with the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager, who apparently gets consulted (via Kevin Downing) on these matters in prison.

If that weren’t all overwhelming enough, there’s one more twist.

The reason Rudy was emphasizing the mob ties of his current partner in crime lawyering, Dmitry Firtash, back in March is because the President’s former former lawyer, Michael Cohen, shared a lawyer at the time with Firtash, Lanny Davis. Davis, the Democratic version of Paul Manafort, is every bit as sleazy as him (which should have been a huge red flag when Davis was parading Cohen around as a big hero). Curiously, at a time when Davis was also representing Firtash and Cohen was furiously trying to come up with some incriminating evidence he could tell prosecutors that might keep him out of jail, Cohen apparently didn’t mention Ukraine at all. Now, the lawyer that Cohen used to but no longer shares with Firtash claims he has some insight onto these Ukrainian dealings. That’s likely just a desperate effort to stay relevant. But who knows?

Until then, John Dowd’s desperate attempt to make this scandal go away the same way he made the Russia scandal go away (if you pretend they’re not actually all the same scandal and thus even the past JDA strategy may end up failing) at the same time involved admitting, in a letter to Congress, that his former client and his then current not-yet-but-soon-to-be-indicted clients are in a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian mob.

Don’t take my word for it. Take John Dowd’s legal representation to Congress.

One Man’s Declination Decision Is Another Man’s Criminal Suspect Failson

One thing Robert Mueller’s March 27 letter to Attorney General William Barr reveals — in addition to the fact that Mueller is as pissed as he has ever been in his career — is that the two men think very differently about the redactions in the now released report. DOJ has always said it redacted information for four reasons:

  • Grand jury material
  • Ongoing investigations
  • Investigative techniques (sources and methods)
  • Peripheral privacy

It was always clear the last category was — as described — abusively applied. That’s because a number of knowable PP details involve people who are not peripheral at all. For example, I suggested that the redacted description of someone who committed perjury on page 194 might be Carter Page (one other possibility, given the discrepancies between George Papadopoulos and Sam Clovis’ testimony, is the latter figure). One of the people whose lies are detailed on page 199 must be KT McFarland, who managed to correct the lies she told when first interviewed by the FBI in the wake of Mike Flynn’s plea deal.

But the most obvious example of this comes in the scope paragraph on page 12:

While the first redaction is uncertain, the second redaction of the expanded scope — which came after the investigation started focusing on the June 9 meeting — has to be Don Jr given the spacing on the second line, which can only be a suffix.

KT McFarland is not a peripheral figure by any shade. But the President’s son is the definition of a central player. And yet Bill Barr would have you believe that redaction is some coffee boy hired on a whim.

And the thing is, these redactions are hiding not just innocent bystanders. Don Jr is someone whom Mueller believed broke the law — at least on campaign finance and maybe on CFAA when he accessed a non-public site using a password obtained from WikiLeaks (I had thought the redaction on page 179 was of some script kiddies investigated in Philadelphia, but now that I realize these PP redactions are not of peripheral people at all, I’m reconsidering) — but who couldn’t or shouldn’t be charged.

Compare his treatment with that of Jeff Sessions’ forgetfulness about meeting with Sergey Kislyak, which the report presents as a complete exoneration. The discussion of that exoneration is unredacted in both the investigative scope on page 12 and declinations section (197-198).

Mueller in his letter makes it clear he doesn’t consider that PP category peripheral people. Rather, he treats it as a declination decision.

I previously sent you a letter dated March 25, 2019, that enclosed the introduction and executive summary for each volume of the Special Counsel’s report marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case. [my emphasis]

The appropriateness of the redaction may be the same in both cases: clearly Mueller believes those not charged, even if it was a close call, should not be identified (with the notable exception of Jeff Sessions).

But Mueller is not pretending these are peripheral figures. The Attorney General is hiding the seriousness of potential criminal acts by at least five Trump flunkies — including Trump’s failson — by pretending these people are peripheral figures rather than central figures that, for whatever reason, the Special Counsel decided not to charge.

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

Did Emmet Flood Mean to Create a Legal Morass, or Is He Off His Game?

As I’ve often said, Trump departed from his usual habit by hiring Emmet Flood, someone who is eminently qualified to help the President (or, as he did with Cheney, Vice President) stave off legal jeopardy from a Special Counsel or Congress. Which is why I’m trying to figure out whether the legal morass Trump created — presumably on Flood’s advice, given that Flood is serving as both the Mueller investigation White House Counsel lead and, until Pat Cipollone gets fully cleared, White House Counsel generally — by forcing Jeff Sessions’ resignation and replacing him with Matt Whitaker.

It’s not clear when Sessions’ authority ended

Start with the fact that it’s not clear when Jeff Sessions stopped acting as Attorney General. As numerous people have noted, he didn’t date the copy of his resignation letter that got released publicly.

He left DOJ in ceremonial fashion just after 5 PM on Wednesday night, which would suggest he may have remained AG until that time. If that’s right, then anything that Mueller and Rosenstein did that day would still operate under the older authority.

Indeed, DOJ issued an order under Sessions’ authority, imposing new limits on consent decrees used to reign in abusive local police departments, yesterday evening, a full day after he departed. He initialed it (dated 11/7/18), but the metadata on it shows the document wasn’t created until almost 5PM on Wednesday and was modified over a full day after that. (h/t zedster)

So he was at least still AG sometime after 4:53PM on Wednesday — and possibly well after that — or this consent decree policy is void.

Whitaker’s appointment may not be legal

Then there are the proliferating number of people — most prominently Neal Katyal and George Conway but also including John Yoo and Jed Sugarman — who believe his appointment is unconstituional.

There are two bases on which this might be true. First, the forced resignation of Jeff Sessions may in fact be a legal firing, something the House Judiciary Democrats are arguing with increasing stridency, most recently in a letter to Bob Goodlatte asking that he hold an emergency hearing on Sessions’ ouster, support legislation protecting Mueller, and join in requests for information about the ouster from the White House and DOJ. If Sessions was fired, there’s little question that Trump can only replace him with someone who is Senate confirmed.

But Katyal, Conway, and others argue that because the AG is a principal officer, whoever serves in that position must be Senate confirmed. Significantly, the Katyal/Conway argument begins by throwing what Steven Calabresi has said back at conservatives.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president.

This is probably why people like Yoo are joining in this argument — because if Whitaker’s appointment is legal, than a whole slew of other appointments of the kind that conservatives hate would also be legal.

Whitaker may be disabled with conflicts

Then there are Whitaker’s conflicts, which are threefold. Whitaker:

  • Repeatedly claimed that the Mueller probe was out of control, in spite of the fact he had no real information to base that on
  • Judged that Trump had neither “colluded” nor committed obstruction
  • Not only undermined the investigation, but suggested the underlying conduct — including meeting with Russians to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton at the June 9 meeting — was totally cool
  • Served as Sam Clovis’ campaign manager in 2014; Clovis was a key player in Trump’s efforts to cozy up to the Russians in 2016 and was one of the earliest known witnesses to testify before the grand jury

CNN captures many of these statements here.

The Clovis one may be the most important. 28 CFR 45.2 requires ethics exemption or recusal if a person has a political relationship with the subject of an investigation.

[N]o employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with:

(1) Any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution; or

Defining “political relationship” to include service as a principal advisor to a candidate.

Political relationship means a close identification with an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organization, arising from service as a principal adviser thereto or a principal official thereof;

And, as Mueller noted in their response to Andrew Miller’s appeal, recusal would amount to a “disability” that would put the DAG back in charge.

Finally, interpreting “disability” under Section 508 to include recusal makes logical and practical sense. Section 528 requires the Attorney General to recuse himself when he has a conflict of interest. Section 508 ensures that at all times an officer is heading the Department of Justice. If the Attorney General is recused, it is necessary that someone can head the Department for that investigation. It is inconceivable that Congress intended Section 508 to reach physical disability, but not to reach legal requirements that disabled the Attorney General from participating in certain matters.

Whitaker’s former company is under FBI investigation

Then there’s the news that a company for which Whitaker provided legal services is under criminal investigation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a criminal investigation of a Florida company accused of scamming millions from customers during the period that Matthew Whitaker, the acting U.S. attorney general, served as a paid advisory-board member, according to an alleged victim who was contacted by the FBI and other people familiar with the matter.

The investigation is being handled by the Miami office of the FBI and by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, according to an email sent to the alleged victim last year by an FBI victim specialist. A recording on a phone line set up by the Justice Department to help victims said Friday the case remains active.

When Whitaker was subpoenaed, he blew it off.

Whitaker, named this week by President Trump as acting attorney general, occasionally served as an outside legal adviser to the company, World Patent Marketing, writing a series of letters on its behalf, according to people familiar with his role.

But he rebuffed an October 2017 subpoena from the Federal Trade Commission seeking his records related to the company, according to two people with knowledge of the case.

But the public record shows that when customers complained, Whitaker threatened them, invoking his background as a former US Attorney.

In emails uncovered by the FTC investigation, Whitaker personally threatened a customer who complained, according to a story in the Miami New Times that was picked up by other news outlets.

The emails the FTC obtained, in fact, suggests Whitaker used his background as a U.S. attorney to try to silence customers who claimed they were defrauded by the company and sought to take their complaints public.

In this case, Whitaker sent an intimidating email to a customer on August 25, 2015, who had contacted World Patent Marketing with his grievances and and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

The FTC docket reviewed by New Times contains an email exchange on page 362 of 400 that described what happened next.

Rather than expressing concern about the customer’s charge of being cheated,  Whitaker wrote him to let him know that he, Whitaker, was “a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois…Your emails and message from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion.”

“You also mentioned filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and to smear WPM’s reputation online. I am assuming you know that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you if that is in fact what you and your ‘group’ is doing. Understand we take threats like this quite seriously…Please conduct yourself accordingly.”

This doesn’t necessarily impact the Mueller probe itself. But it suggests that Whitaker has real corruption problems that will undermine his actions as AG.

Trump and Whitaker may have spoken about the Mueller probe — and Trump is already lying about it

Shortly after Whitaker was appointed, WaPo reported that Trump told multiple people that Whitaker was “loyal” and wouldn’t recuse.

Trump has told advisers that Whitaker is loyal and would not have recused himself from the investigation, current and former White House officials said.

Then WaPo reported that Whitaker has no intention of recusing, reporting that would necessarily predate any discussion with DOJ’s ethical advisors.

Acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself from overseeing the special-counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to people close to him who added they do not believe he would approve any subpoena of President Trump as part of that investigation.

[snip]

On Thursday, two people close to Whitaker said he does not plan to take himself off the Russia case. They also said he is deeply skeptical of any effort to force the president’s testimony through a subpoena.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been negotiating for months with Trump’s attorneys over the terms of a possible interview of the president. Central to those discussions has been the idea that Mueller could, if negotiations failed, subpoena the president. If Whitaker were to take the threat of a subpoena off the table, that could alter the equilibrium between the two sides and significantly reduce the chances that the president ever sits for an interview.

Meanwhile, when asked today, Trump claimed (in spite of all the briefings Whitaker has attended in recent weeks) that he didn’t know him, even though he went on Fox and hailed him after the most recent attempt to use him to kill the Mueller probe.

“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left Washington for a weekend trip to Paris. But the president stressed that he did know Mr. Whitaker’s reputation well, calling him “a very respected man.”

[snip]

In addition, the president’s claim that he did not know Mr. Whitaker was called into question by Mr. Trump’s own words from just about a month ago, when he said in a “Fox & Friends” interview: “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Mr. Whitaker has also visited the Oval Office several times and is said to have an easy chemistry with the president, according to people familiar with the relationship. And the president has regarded Mr. Whitaker as his eyes and ears at the Justice Department.

As CNN notes, Whitaker seemed to have been actively plotting for his boss’ job since the NYT stupidly tried to get Rosenstein fired (which I suspect means Whitaker was a source for the NYT).

A source close to Sessions says that the former attorney general realized that Whitaker was “self-dealing” after reports surfaced in September that Whitaker had spoken with Kelly and had discussed plans to become the No. 2 at the Justice Department if Rosenstein was forced to resign.

In recent months, with his relationship with the President at a new low, Sessions skipped several so-called principals meetings that he was slated to attend as a key member of the Cabinet. A source close to Sessions says that neither the attorney general nor Trump thought it was a good idea for Sessions to be at the White House, so he sent surrogates.

Whitaker was one of them.

But Sessions did not realize Whitaker was having conversations with the White House about his future until the news broke in late September about Rosenstein.

All of this raises huge questions about whether Whitaker and Trump (or Kelly) had an agreement in place, that he would get this post (and shortly after be nominated for a judgeship in IA), so long as he would agree to kill the Mueller probe.

Debates over the legality of Whitaker’s appointment parallel challenges to Mueller’s authority

Then there’s the point I raised earlier today. If Whitaker’s appointment is legal, then so is Mueller’s, which undercuts one of the other efforts to undermine Mueller’s authority.

Whitaker’s nomination really undermines the arguments that Miller and Concord Management (who argued as an amici) were making about Mueller’s appointment, particularly their argument that he is a principal officer and therefore must be Senate confirmed, an argument that relies on one that Steven Calabresi made this spring. Indeed, Neal Katyal and George Conway began their argument that Whitaker’s appointment is illegal by hoisting Calabresi on his petard.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president.

While it may be true (as Conway argued at the link) that Calabresi’s arguments are wrong for Mueller, if they’re right for Mueller, then they’re all the more true for Whitaker. So if Mueller should have been Senate confirmed, then Whitaker more obviously would need to be.

John Kelly’s involvement may (and I suspect does) present added conflicts

Then there’s John Kelly’s role, as someone who had a key role in the firing but whose testimony Mueller is currently pursuing (possibly via subpoena).

Kelly is among the people about whom there is the most active dispute legal between the Special Counsel and the White House, a fight picked by the legally competent Emmet Flood.

And Kelly was the person who forced Jeff Sessions to resign on Wednesday. As far as is public (and there’s surely a great deal that we have yet to learn about who was in the decision to force Sessions to resign and when that happened and who dictated the form it would take).

But Kelly had the key role of conveying the President’s intent, in whatever form that intent was documented, to Sessions. If Trump’s past firings are any precedent, Kelly had a very big role in deciding how it would happen.

So the guy whose testimony Mueller may be most actively pursuing (indeed, one who might even be in a legal dispute with), effectuated a plan to undercut Mueller’s plans going forward.

CNN provides more context for Kelly’s role, showing him to be involved in the last attempt to install Whitaker and suggesting that Kelly consulted Trump before refusing Sessions’ request to stay through the week.

John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, asked Sessions to submit his resignation, according to multiple sources briefed on the call. Sessions agreed to comply, but he wanted a few more days before the resignation would become effective. Kelly said he’d consult the President.

[snip]

Rosenstein and [PDAAG Ed] O’Callaghan, the highest-ranked officials handling day-to-day oversight of Mueller’s investigation, urged Sessions to delay the effective date of his resignation.

Soon, Whitaker strode into Sessions’ office and asked to speak one-on-one to the attorney general; the others left the two men alone. It was a brief conversation. Shortly after, Sessions told his huddle that his resignation would be effective that day.

O’Callaghan had tried to appeal to Sessions, noting that he hadn’t heard back about whether the President would allow a delay. At least one Justice official in the room mentioned that there would be legal questions about whether Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general is constitutional. Someone also reminded Sessions that the last time Whitaker played a role in a purported resignation — a few weeks earlier in September, with Rosenstein — the plan collapsed.

Sessions never heard in person from the President — the man who gained television fame for his catch-phrase “You’re fired” doesn’t actually like such confrontation and prefers to have others do the firing, people close to the President say. Kelly called Sessions a second time to tell him the President had rejected his request for a delay.

Nevertheless, a guy Mueller is trying to interview was right there in the loop, making two efforts to install someone whose sole apparent job is to undercut Mueller.

Everything Whitaker touches may turn to shit

Now, maybe Flood would still have bought off on this — though the multiple reports now claim no one at the White House knew about Whitaker’s problems suggest he may not have been in the vetting loop (because, again, he’s competent and knows the import of vetting).

But there’s one more thing to account for. Everything Whitaker touches may turn to legal shit. It’s a point Katyal and Conway make.

President Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

This appointment could embroil DOJ in legal challenges for years, at least, as plaintiffs and defendants claim that DOJ took some action against them that can only be authorized by a legal Attorney General.

While I don’t think it’s likely, it’s possible that’s the point. As I noted earlier, on Thursday Mueller’s team seemed to be staking a claim that they can continue to operate as they have been.

But their authority, or at least Mueller’s and the others who aren’t AUSAs temporarily reassigned to Mueller, all stems from a legally valid Attorney General or Acting one. If Mueller continues to operate while the legally problematic Whitaker claims to authorize them, what does that do for their actions?

That may be why the DC Circuit wants more (public) briefing on this question in the Andrew Miller case. By appointing a totally inappropriate AG, Trump might just be pursuing his longterm strategy of chaos.

Is this Don McGahn’s last fuck-up?

This entire post is premised on two things: first, that Emmet Flood is among the rare people in Trump’s orbit who is very competent. It also assumes that because both these issues — White House Counsel until Cipollone takes over, and White House Counsel in charge of protecting Trump from the Mueller investigation — would fall solidly in Flood’s portfolios, he would have a significant role in the plot.

Perhaps not. Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo is claiming (in a CNN report that should be read in its entirety) he worked on the plan with Don McGahn.

Leonard Leo, the influential executive vice president of the Federalist Society, recommended to then-White House counsel Don McGahn that Whitaker would make a good chief of staff for Sessions.

“I recommended him and was very supportive of him for chief of staff for very specific reasons,” Leo said Friday.

So maybe this scheme was, instead, planned out by Don McGahn (who has been officially gone since October 17).

But that would raise questions of its own — notably, why this plan was on ice for so long. And why Flood wasn’t in the loop (and why the White House continues to neglect the most basic vetting of people they put in charge of huge parts of our government).

I expect basic competence out of Emmet Flood. But this whole scheme could only be judged competent if the point was to totally discredit anything DOJ does, including but not limited to the Mueller probe.

Paul Manafort Is One of 37 People in an Omertà with the President

Apparently, Bob Woodward committed some journalism along with canonizing racist John Kelly and wife-beater Rob Porter in his book: he got a number for how many people are included the Joint Defense Agreement that gives Rudy Giuliani such confidence the President is not at risk: 37.

And Politico committed still more journalism and answered the question we’ve all been asking: yes, Paul Manafort is among those 37.

Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been in regular contact and that they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information sharing.

“All during the investigation we have an open communication with them,” he said. “Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time where as long as our clients authorize it therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.”

Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort’s lead defense lawyer Kevin Downing shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in the Virginia trial, but the former mayor wouldn’t say what he discusses with the Manafort team. “It’d all be attorney-client privilege not just from our point of view but from theirs,” he said.

That means when John Dowd complained that the raid of Manafort’s condo (where his eight iPods were seized), that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers. And when, in January, Trump confidently said he was sure Manafort would protect him, that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers.  And when, just before the EDVA trial, Kevin Downing was ostentatiously saying there was no way Manafort was flipping, and when he was balking on a plea with Mueller immediately after the trial, he was also talking to Rudy Giuliani.

Mind you, Rudy G will learn right away if Manafort starts considering cooperating, rather than just pleading, because Manafort will have to (finally!) drop out of the JDA before those discussions start.

And while I suspect Mueller has slowly been peeling away people like Sam Patten, that the JDA is so big likely means some or most of the following people are part of the omertà (and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Mike Flynn were part of it):

  • Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Jared Kushner
  • The Trump Org defendants: Don Jr, Rhonna Graff
  • Bill Burck’s clients: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn (and up to three more)
  • Victoria Toensing’s clients: Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, Sam Clovis
  • The hush payment recipients: Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale, Keith Schiller
  • Roger Stone and his buddies: Stone, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, Andrew Miller, plus some (probably)

That’s 20. Some other likely (and enticing) JDA members are: Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Tom Barrack, Keith Kellogg, John Mashburn, KT McFarland, JD Gordon, Walid Phares, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer, Rob Porter, Corey Lewandowski, John Kelly. Heck, it’s not even clear that George Papadopoulos is not part of the JDA.

But that still leaves space in the JDA for people who were already comparing notes with known members of the JDA, including Rinat Akhmetshin, Rob Goldstone, and Ike Kaveladze (along with Emin and Aras Agalarov, who are all represented by Scott Balber).

No wonder Rudy thinks he knows everything that Mueller has.

That’s why the collective panic on the discovery that Stone’s phone was likely among the ~10 or so that Mueller got warrants for in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement is so interesting, and also why Manafort, playing his part as point, tried so hard to find out who the other four AT&T users whose phones were obtained with his own.

These guys may be good at omertà. But every single one we’ve seen so far has shitty OpSec; they’ve been saying their co-conspiracy communications on their phones and on iCloud. Plus there are people like Omarosa wandering among them, dismissed as irrelevant even while they record everything they hear. And meanwhile, Mueller is chipping away at the edges, people they haven’t considered (like Patten). And all the while he’s been building his case against Stone and Don Jr.

If You Have Rick Gates (and Omarosa) You Don’t Need George Papadopoulos

The Trumpian bubble — likely led by right wing legal talking head Victoria Toensing — may be about to lead a young couple to do something insanely stupid.

Yesterday, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, George’s wife, tweeted out a request for a pro bono lawyer for her spouse.

A few hours later, she tweeted out notice that she would follow up with those who have specific expertise.

Simona Papadopoulos wants to ditch George’s plea deal at the stupidest possible moment

As she explained to Chuck Ross, who reports from deep within that Trumpian bubble, she and George are thinking of backing out of his plea deal (at the stupidest imaginable time), and instead suing the government and taking their chances with the evidence the government had in hand when Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges that undercharged his conduct, as well as the evidence the government obtained over the course of a year of Papadopoulos pitching for and then engaging in a plea deal.

“George should drop off his plea agreement, in my opinion,” Mangiante Papadopoulos told The Daily Caller News Foundation when contacted after her tweet.

“The idea is to find a lawyer to drop off his plea agreement and sue the government,” she added, noting that she and her husband plan to wait until after a court hearing on Friday to make a final decision.

[snip]

Papadopoulos faces sentencing in the case on Sept. 7. The special counsel’s office will submit its recommendations for sentencing this Friday. While lying to the FBI carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, defendants in similar cases often receive six months or less in jail.

Remember: one reason Papadopoulos, relying on the advice of some of the more competent attorneys in this matter, pled guilty is because the FBI had evidence he had accepted payment from an Israeli asking for covert assistance. That’s on top of the lies to the FBI he already pled guilty to, not to mention the clear obstruction of deleting his Facebook account, and a key early role in setting up a conspiracy with Russia. When Stefan Halper (working for the FBI and therefore likely recording conversations) discussed these matters with Papadopoulos in September 2016, Papadopoulos admitted that being involved in them would amount to treason (it’s not treason, but his opinion that it might be makes his later actions far more damning).

This is what the Papadopouloses are reportedly entertaining, due no doubt to an entirely mistaken understanding of their status, one obtained by listening to people like Victoria Toensing and Chuck Ross.

Several things seem to have happened to get us to this point.

Mueller almost certainly has several other witnesses who can attest to knowledge Russians were offering emails

Consider: along with whatever else Rick Gates gave Mueller’s team in February when he became state’s evidence, he also probably described what Paul Manafort (and possibly, Don Jr) understood about the dirt Russians were offering to the Trump campaign when both attended the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. Indeed, one of the details included in Papadopoulos’ plea deal is that Gates and Manafort discussed how to respond to Russian (and Greek) offers for a meeting.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another highranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that OT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

We’ve also just learned that Omarosa also provided evidence to Mueller’s team in February, including her claim that Don Sr knew the Russians were offering emails before WikiLeaks released them.

That detail — that the campaign knew Russians were offering emails as dirt to help Trump — was one of the things that might have helped Papadopoulos avoid a prison sentence. But since he pled, others have almost certainly provided substantially the same information, based both on what Papadopoulos told them, and on what they in turn told their superiors on the campaign or what their superiors told them.

That is, Papadopoulos has served his purpose, and there are now better placed or more credible witnesses for any conspiracy trial.

Victoria Toensing likely recruited the Papadopouloses for her propaganda mission

Then there’s the most likely explanation for how the Papadopouloses got themselves in this position, considering ditching a plea deal and instead taking their chances with the evidence George participated in the case in chief.

Back in March, Chuck Ross started a series of articles — for which one or both of the Papadopouloses, Sam Clovis, and probably Clovis’ (and briefly, Trump’s) lawyer Toensing, were sources — naming lifetime GOP operative Stefan Halper as an informant (presenting evidence he sought to find out what Papadopoulos knew about the emails, possibly cultivated Carter Page, and got a meeting with Clovis to get an introduction to Papadopoulos). If you didn’t look too closely (as Ross did not) the stories served the Devin Nunes effort to suggest the investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with the Russians was based on a rocky foundation. If you looked closely, however, Ross’ series was actually quite damning. It confirmed Adam Schiff’s revelation that the Russians had specified that they intended to leak the dirt they were dealing to help Trump and that Papadopoulos believed, at the time he lied to the FBI about his interactions with Joseph Mifsud, that if he were involved in “hacking” emails it would amount to treason.

To those trying to rescue Trump from his own conspiracy exposure, the Papadopouloses were an easy mark. Perhaps offering a promise of a pardon, they got the two to break one of the requirements of George’s plea: that he not communicate with any of a list of co-conspirators, directly or indirectly. Surely Sam Clovis was on that list, not to mention the President.

That may explain why, as Nunes and his cronies started demanding every record pertaining to Halper, the government moved towards sentencing Papadopoulos, without waiting for him to testify in any trial.

There have been signs before yesterday that the government was not going to agree that Papadopoulos fulfilled his end of the plea deal. But yesterday is a pretty good sign that George doesn’t expect to get the sweet deal he might once have gotten, probably no prison time, had Papadopoulos not bought into conspiracy theories offered by people representing other clients.

The misleading mirror Papadopoulos would see in the Trumpian bubble

Much of this seems to be driven by Simona. I don’t have any reason to credit the rampant speculation she’s actually part of Russia’s influence operation. Rather, I just think she’s naive, working in a foreign country, and vastly underestimating the legal jeopardy the life she married into is in, in part because she is consuming shitty reporting from people within the Trumpian bubble.

Of which the Chuck Ross article reporting all this is a splendid example.

On top of omitting the fact that Papadopoulos obstructed the Russian investigation by deleting his Facebook and cell phone, and omitting Papadopoulos’ very damning comment about treason, Ross spins everything so as to totally misinform the frothy right, much to Simona’s misfortune.

For example, Ross offers Simona’s explanation up, as if it helps the legal case.

Mangiante Papadopoulos told TheDCNF that Papadopoulos believed Mifsud was referring to emails Clinton deleted from her private email server.

While this line has managed to confuse the frothy right about whether, in accepting dirt leading into the June 9 meeting, it would still amount to accepting a thing of value from a foreigner, it doesn’t much matter what Papadopoulos believed, either on April 26, 2016 or on January 27, 2017 (and repeated again a month later). What matters is after having learned the Russians wanted to release some emails that would help the Trump campaign, the campaign took overt actions accordingly.

Then Ross suggests that because some late summer meetings didn’t take place, it absolves Papadopoulos of initiating an effort that led to other meetings taking place.

Papadopoulos also attempted to set up meetings between campaign officials and Russian government officials, but according to the statement of offense submitted by the special counsel’s office, the meetings never took place.

Nope! George still took overt actions as part of a conspiracy, to say nothing of agreeing to join the conspiracy over and over.

Ross then suggests that because Papadopoulos didn’t have a lawyer at the first of two meetings at which he lied to the FBI, it means he didn’t commit a crime.

Prosecutors claim that during a Jan. 26, 2017 [sic], interview, Papadopoulos, who did not have a lawyer present, falsely claimed he met Mifsud prior to joining the campaign in March 2016. But Papadopulos first met Mifsud about a week after learning he would join the Trump team.

Remember, Papadopoulos not only repeated this lie a month later, with the benefit of counsel, but also swore that it was a lie when he pled guilty.

Ross then repeats a canard he has repeated earlier, that by offering up Mifsud’s name (but hiding Ivan Timofeev, the Russian he was engaging in call and response with) it’s exonerating for George.

As evidence that Papadopoulos did not intend to deceive the FBI, Mangiante Papadopoulos claims Papadopoulos volunteered Mifsud’s name to the agents who interviewed him.

Ross pretends that Mueller has questions, regarding Alexander Downer’s testimony, that only a bunch of frothy congressmen have questions about.

Details remain vague, but Downer allegedly claimed Papadopoulos mentioned Russia had derogatory information about Clinton.

Republican lawmakers have also questioned the premise of the FBI investigation and Downer’s role in the matter. One question has been why the information from Downer took over two months to reach the FBI.

Ross then repeats a whole bunch of baseless conspiracies about Stefan Halper — the very conspiracies that contributing to likely got the Papadopouloses in trouble — as if they were true because Devin Nunes said they were.

She also believes that government officials attempted to set up her husband with a series of approaches by government informants, including former Cambridge professor Stefan Halper.

[snip]

Halper, a veteran of four Republican presidential administrations, also made contact with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and Sam Clovis.

The FBI may use informants at an assessment level. By the time Halper approached Papadopoulos, the investigation into the Trump campaign was a predicated full investigation. Ergo, it doesn’t help Papadopoulos’ case that the FBI used an informant, because that’s what the FBI does, with the long-time explicit knowledge of Devin Nunes and everyone else who oversees the FBI.

And finally, Ross indulges Simona’s fantasy of spinning the approach from Sergei Millian (pretending this approach was out of the blue, rather than something discussed with Ivan Timofeev in one of the Facebook communications Papadopoulos tried to hide) as a second use of an informant rather than a pretty obvious part of Russia’s outreach to Trump and his surrogates, dangling a Trump Tower deal.

Millian contacted Papadopoulos out of the clear blue on LinkedIn on July 22, 2016. The pair became fast friends, meeting several times during the course of the campaign. Mangiante Papadopoulos says George claimed Millian offered him $30,000 a month to work on Russian energy issues from inside the Trump administration.

I get that Chuck Ross’ job is to feed the frothy right, to present conspiracies in isolation from the public information that would pop those conspiracies.

But it seems like these two are feeding each other, Simona giving Ross the latest scoop on his serial conspiracy theory, and Ross feeding her insane plan to ditch a plea deal and face what are likely to be foreign agent and conspiracy charges instead of whatever sentence Mueller pitches tomorrow.

I mean, George is a self-important little shit who showed willingness to sell out his country (to at least two other countries) for a bit of fast money.

But he’s being used, badly, here.

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