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The Papadopoulos Delay

We now know that sometime after July 22, 2016, Australian Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, told the FBI that George Papadopoulos got drunk with Australia’s Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer, two months earlier and told him he had learned the Russians had dirt, emails, on Hillary Clinton.

That revelation has led a lot of people to ask why it took so long — January 27, 2017 — for the FBI to interview Papadopoulos.

I don’t have an answer for that. But I want to point to some dates from his arrest affidavit and information that are newly of interest giving that timing.

As numerous people have pointed out, those documents provide the outlines of the dates when FBI first interviewed Papadopoulos, on January 27, when they had a follow-up interview, on February 16, and when, the day after, he deleted his Facebook account. The follow-up would have happened in the wake of FBI interviewing Joseph Mifsud while he was in the US for the Global Ties conference on February 8. They didn’t arrest Papadopoulos until July 27, roughly a year after the Australians first informed the FBI that he had foreknowledge of what may have been the hacked emails.

But I’m at least as interested in how the other dates from the documents on Papadopoulos relate to that timeline as laid out in the two timelines below.

Note that every Facebook message is to Ivan Timofeev — a legal target under 702. Even in the July arrest affidavit, some emails between Americans are cited. Thus, the need for the warrant.

Importantly, there are no texts cited, at all. In the arrest affidavit, just Papadopoulos’ shutdown of his Facebook account is mentioned. The information explains that, “On or about February 23, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using anew number.” Whatever texts he might have had on his phone (including more secure Signal texts) would have been destroyed. While Papadopoulos wasn’t using particularly good operational security (particularly in that he was communicating with Timofeev over a PRISM provider), it is possible that the most sensitive communications with the Trump campaign involved texts that got destroyed after his first interview with the FBI.

My guess is that the FBI didn’t start pursuing warrants against Papaopoulos until after that first interview (remember, he remained involved with Trump up until he wasn’t given the energy portfolio on the National Security Council). It’s possible, too, they used FISA orders at first (which would take some time to obtain, unless they got emergency ones), then obtained search warrants to parallel construct the evidence.

“Emails obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant”

March 24, Papadopoulos to campaign

Papadopoulos: “just finished a very productive lunch with a good friend of mine, [Mifsud] . . . ‐ who introduced me to both Putin’s niece and the Russian Ambassador in London who also acts as the Deputy Foreign Minister.”

“The topic of the lunch was to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump. They are keen to host us in a ‘neutral’ city, or directly in Moscow. They said the leadership, including Putin, is ready to meet with us and Mr. Trump should there be interest. Waiting for everyone’s thoughts on moving forward with this very important issue.”

Early April: Papadopoulos writes multiple emails about his “outreach to Russia.”

April 10, Papadopoulos to Olga Vinogradova

“We met with [Mifsud] in London. The reason for my message is because [Mifsud] sent an email that you tried contacting me.”

“it would be a pleasure to meet again. If not, we should have a call and discuss some things.”

April 11:

Vinogradova: “now back in St. Petersburg” but would be “very pleased to support your initiatives between our two countries and of course I would be very pleased to meet you again.”

Papadopoulos, cc’ing Mifsud: “I think good step would be for me to meet with the Russian Ambassador in London sometime this month” would “like to discuss with him, or anyone else you recommend, about potential foreign policy trip to Russia.”

Mifsud: “This is already been agreed. I am flying to Moscow on the 18th for a Valdai meeting, plus other meetings at the Duma.”

Vinogradova: “I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. . . . As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”

April 12, Vinogradova to Papadopoulos:

I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. The Embassy in London is very much aware of this. As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”

April 18, Mifsud to Papadopoulos, cc’ed to Ivan Timofeev

“long conversation in Moscow with my dear friend [Timofeev] . . . about a possible meeting between the two of you. [Timofeev] is ready to meet with you in London (orUSA or Moscow). I am putting the two of you in touch to discuss when and where this potential meeting can actually take place.”

April 18, Papadopoulos to Timofeev

“try and come to Moscow,” sets up Skype call for 3PM Moscow time 

April 22, Timofeev to Papadopoulos

Thanks him “for an extensive talk!” and proposing “to meet in London or Moscow”

April 22, Papadopoulos to Timofeev:

Suggests “we set one up here in London with the Ambassador as well to discuss process moving forward.”

April 25, Papapopoulos to Stephen Miller

“The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities.”

April 26: Papadopoulos learns of the “dirt” in the form of emails

April 27, Papadopoulos to Miller

“Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos to Corey Lewandowski

“to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos authored speech that he tells Timofeev is “the signal to meet

April 29:

Papadopoulos “I am now in the process of  seeing if we will come to Russia. Do you recommend I get in touch with a minister or embassy person in Washington or London to begin organizing the trip?”

Vinogradova: “I think it would be better to discuss this question with [Mifsud].” 

Papadopoulos:  “0k. called him.”

April 30, Papadopoulos to Mifsud:

Thanks for the “critical help” in arranging a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government

“It’s history making if it happens.”

May 4 [this gets forwarded to Lewandowski, Clovis, and Manafort by May 21]:

Timofeev to Papadopolous “just talked to my colleagues from the MFA. [They are] open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow.”

Papadopolous to Timofeev: “Glad the MFA is interested.”

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 5: Papadopoulos has a conversation with Sam Clovis, then forwards Timofeev email, with header “Russia updates.”

May 8, Timofeev to Papadopoulos:

Emails about setting Papadopoulos up with the “MFA head of the US desk.”

May 13, Mifsud to Papadopoulos:

“an update” of what they had discussed in their “recent conversations,” including: “We will continue to liaise through you with the Russian counterparts in terms of what is needed for a high level meeting of Mr. Trump with the Russian Federation.”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

May 21, Papadopoulos to Paul Manafort, forwarding May 4 email:

“Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump”

“Regarding the forwarded message, Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”

May 21, Manafort forwards Papadopoulos email to Rick Gates:

“Lets discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

June 1: Papadopoulos to Clovis, after having been told Clovis was “running point” by Lewandowski

“Re: Messages from Russia”: “I have the Russian MFA asking me if Mr. Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point. Wanted to pass this info along to you for you to decide what’s best to do with it and what message I should send (or to ignore).”

June 9: Trump Tower meeting

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 starts releasing emails

June 19: Papadopoulos to Lewandowski

“New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if a campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

July 14, 2016, Papadopoulos to Timofeev:

Proposes “meeting for August or September in the UK (London) with me and my national chairman, and maybe one other foreign policy advisor and you, members of president putin’s office and the mfa to hold a day of consultations and to meet one another. It has been approved from our side.”

August 15, Clovis to Papadopoulos

“I would encourage you” and another foreign policy advisor to the Campaign to “make the trip[], if it is feasible.”

Facebook messages “obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant”

July 15:

Papadopoulos: “We can chat on this, this weekend if you can’t tonight.”

Timofeev: 

July 21, Papadopoulos to Timofeev:

“How are things [Timofeev]? Keep an eye on the speech tonight. Should be good.”

July 22: Wikileaks starts releasing DNC emails

July 22, Papadopoulos to Timofeev [Particularly given NYT’s confirmation they spent a lot of time together, I wonder if this is about Sergei Millian?]:

“If you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

October 1, Papadopoulos sends a link to this Interfax article.

“The Goals That Are Being Scored” … the Carter Page Saga

In the middle of the Carter Page testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last week, Adam Schiff tried to get him to answer whether he spoke about buying a stake of Rosneft during his July 2016 trip to Moscow — a key claim from the Steele dossier. Page professed that it might be possible, but he couldn’t remember such a discussion because he was watching Ronaldo on TV at the time.

He may have briefly mentioned it when we were looking up from this Portugal — Ronaldo, whoever the — you know, the goals that are being scored. That may have come up. But I have no definitive recollection of that.

Page comes off, often, as someone utterly clueless about how both the Trump campaign officials and the Russians trying to use him were doing so.

It depends on the definition of meet

That said, the most interesting bits involve the things Page tried to hide or obfuscate, such as his claim he never met Trump even after having been in a lot of meetings with him.

Mr. Rooney: Did you ever meet Mr. Trump?

Mr. Page: I have never met him in my life. I’ve been in a lot of meetings with him, and I’ve learned a lot from him, but never actually met him face-to-face.

He does the same with Arkadiy Dvorkovich, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, when Adam Schiff tries to point out that meeting him in July 2016 would amount to meeting a senior official.

Mr. Schiff: And you don’t consider him to be a high-up official or someone in an official capacity?

Mr. Page: I — nothing I — it was — again, I did not meet with him. I greeted him briefly as he was walking off the stage after his speech.

Page even compares these two instances of not-meetings later in his testimony.

[I]t goes back to the point I mentioned with listening to speeches, listening to particularly Arkadiy Dvorkovich’s speech, right. Again, great insights just like I learned great insights — even though I’ve met — I’ve never met Donald J. Trump in my life, I’ve learned a lot from him.

Ultimately, even Trey Gowdy finds this obfuscation around the word “meet” to be too much.

Mr. Gowdy: All right. I’ve written down four different words. I didn’t think I’d ever be going through this with anyone, but we’ve got to, I guess. You seem to draw a distinction between a meeting, a greeting, a conversation, and you hearing a speech.

JD Gordon’s central role

I pointed out last week how JD Gordon was playing the press in the wake of the Papadopoulos plea agreement being unsealed. Page’s testimony may explain why: because Gordon was the key person coordinating Page’s activities.

Page at first tries to hide this, before he admits that JD Gordon was his supervisor on the campaign.

And J.D. Gordon was brought in, and he was sort of the de facto organizers [sic] for our group, although not — there was no official command structure, because, again, it was an informal quasi think tank, if you will.

Page later describes Gordon as the most formal of the foreign policy group.

[T]he thing with J.D. is that — again, we’re an informal group, right. He was probably the most formal. I believe he may have even had — if I’m not mistaken, he may have had a Trump campaign email address. I had spoken with him on that — a few occasions that are — you know, we’d get together for a dinner. I may have sent an email or two to him on that. And again, he never definitively answered one way or another.

And Page seems to have treated his conversations with Gordon with some sensitivity (though there’s any number of reasons why this might be true, including that they were running a cutthroat political campaign). Eric Swalwell walks Page through an email in which he warned Gordon, in advance of a call, that he’d be in the “Third World” Laguardia Sky Club so could only listen, not speak.

Mr. Swalwell: In a May 24th, 2016, email to J.D. Gordon, Bates stamped [redacted], you wrote: “FYI: At the Newark Sky Club, Delta has a private room when you can have a confidential conversation, but, unfortunately, no such luck at Third World LaGuardia. So I’ll mostly be on receive mode, since there are a significant number of people in the lounge.”

Later in testimony, Schiff describes an email Page sent two days later, telling Gordon, “I’m planning to speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank as we’ll both be giving commencement addresses as Mosscow’s New economic School on July 8” (in fact the meeting never happened; though that may be because Dvorkovich replaced him).

Perhaps most damning of all, when Page “mentioned to [Jeff Sessions] in passing” (yet another exchange that shows Sessions perjured himself before the Senate) that he was about to go to Moscow, Gordon and Papadopoulos were present as well.

Mr. Schiff: Let me take you back to what we were discussing before our break, the meeting you had at the Republican National Headquarters I think is the building you’re referring to, if I understand correctly. What was the nature of the discussions at that meeting with Mr. Sessions, then-Senator Sessions — was J.D. Gordon present?

Mr. Page: I believe he was.

Mr. Schiff: And George Papadopoulos you believe was there?

Mr. Page: I believe, yes, to the best of my recollection.

This puts some of the key players together, discussing how Page’s trip to Moscow might benefit the campaign.

Finally, in spite of his efforts to downplay his exchange with Dvokovich, Page’s letter to Gordon boasting about it was a key focus.

Mr. Schiff: And in that [email], Dr. Page, didn’t you state, on Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8, 2016: “Campaign Adviser Carter Page” — you’re referring to yourself in the third person — “presented before gatherings at the New Economic Schoo, NES, in Moscow, including their 2006 [sic] commencement ceremony. Russian Deputy Prime Minister and NES Board Member Arkadiy Dvorkovich also spoke before the event. In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems”?

The others

While less substantive than the focus on JD Gordon, it’s clear Democratic members were interested in the roles of others: Corey Lewandowski, who “hired” Page and okayed his trip to Russia, Hope Hicks, who was in the loop, Sam Clovis, who made him sign an NDA and had another meeting with him before he left for Russia, and Michael Cohen, who kept the NDA (and in fact didn’t provide Page his promised copy). Schiff also got the list of those responsible for changing the platform (which I think is overblown) into the record: in addition to Gordon, Joseph Schmitz, Bert Mizusawa, Chuck Kubic, Walid Phares, and Tera Dahl.

But the most interesting exchange came right at the end, when Schiff walked Page through a list of people he might have interacted when. When he asked about Eric Trump, Page admitted to sending his resignation to the son.

Mr. Schiff: Eric Trump.

Mr. Page: I — when I sent in my letter of — saying that I am taking a leave of absence from the campaign, I sent an email to him and a bunch of other individuals. So that was on — late Sunday night, after I sent the letter to James Comey. I sent a copy of that to them.

Mr. Schiff: So you sent a letter to Eric Trump, but you have had no other interaction with him apart from that?

Mr. Page: No. No.

Mueller probably interviewed Page during the Papadopoulos lag

Finally, there is perhaps the most important detail. Page admits he has spoken with the FBI this year 4-5 times (he appears to have been represented by a lawyer earlier this year, but he’s now draining his savings and representing himself). When asked if he has met with Mueller’s investigators, he notes what I did: his October 10 letter sort of pleading the Fifth was addressed, first and foremost, to Robert Mueller, which would put his testimony between the time George Papadopoulos pled guilty to false statements and the time it was unsealed — the time when Mueller was locking in the testimony of everyone implicated by Papadopoulos’ cooperation.

As I noted the other day, in the affidavit the FBI wrote explaining why they wanted to seal any notice of Papadopoulos’ plea deal, they described their plans to get the testimony of the people who had knowledge between Russians and the campaign.

The investigation is ongoing and includes pursuing leads from information provided by and related to the defendant regarding communications he had, inter alia, with certain other individuals associated with the campaign. The government will very shortly seek, among other investigative steps, to interview certain individuals who may have knowledge of contacts between Russian nationals (or Russia-connected foreign nationals) and the campaign, including the contacts between the defendant and foreign nationals set forth in the Statement of Offense incorporated into the defendants plea agreement.

All the people interviewed in what I’ll call the Papadopoulos lag — the time between when he pled guilty and the time they unsealed his plea — likely operated with the false confidence that the Mueller team would not know of conversations among campaign staffers. It appears that Page (like Sam Clovis, and, probably,JD Gordon) was interviewed in that period.

JD Gordon Says Any Investigators He’s Been Speaking with, He’s Been Honest

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On Monday, I noted that the George Papadopoulos plea deal presented a big problem for Jeff Sessions, as Papadopoulos’ description of a March 31, 2016 meeting made it clear Sessions did know of people reaching out to Russia, contrary to what he has repeatedly stated in sworn testimony. As others caught up to that reporting, and as the Senators that Sessions lied to started pressuring him to fix his past stories, Sessions’ surrogates started pushing back.

At first, that came in the form of anonymous claims that Sessions shot down the idea of setting up a meeting with the Russians. As the week progressed (and as I bitched on Twitter that there was no reason to give anonymity to people who were trying to clear up Sessions’ perjury for him), Trump campaign advisor JD Gordon started going on the record saying the very same things that had previously been said anonymously — sometimes in unmarked updates of the very same articles.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

For the purposes of the Russian inquiry, Gordon is the guy who changed the plank of the Republican platform to be less aggressive towards Russia (one part of the scandal that — as I have written — I think Democrats have overblown).

But longterm readers of this blog may remember that JD Gordon is the guy who, as a press officer covering Gitmo, trumped up a sexual harassment claim against Carol Rosenberg out of her tendency to swear, at him. At one point, Gordon claimed that, “I’ve been abused worse than the detainees have been abused;” at another he accused Rosenberg of “use of profanity that would make even Helen Thomas blush.”

In other words, Gordon has a history of ginning up false claims to try to shut down reporting.

Given Gordon’s rush to explain away the implications of the Papadopoulos plea, I’d like to focus closely on what Sky News bills as an Exclusive interview (for some reason placed with an overseas Murdoch outlet rather than one which might attract more attention here in the states) with Gordon explaining the meeting.

In addition to making the now-familiar claim that Sessions (Gordon’s boss on the campaign) shot down Papadopoulos’ offer to broker a meeting with Putin, Gordon makes a number of other remarkable claims. First, he suggests that, rather than severing any relationship with Papadopoulos (presumably because they were so opposed to the idea of chumming up to Russia), the Trump presidential campaign instead decided to appease a 30-year old nobody so he didn’t embarrass the campaign.

Mr Gordon described Mr Papadopoulos as a “peripheral figure” but someone who “they wanted to appease and not upset, at the same time as reining him in so that he doesn’t embarrass the campaign.”

The only reason you’d have to keep Papadopoulos around and appeased is if he had information that could compromise the campaign. You know, the kind of information he spent 2 months secretly sharing with the FBI?

Gordon then claimed that the reported continued conversations between Papadopoulos and campaign officials about meetings with Russia amounted to Papadopoulos going behind his and Sessions’ backs.

Mr Gordon said he was in a paid role and more senior to Mr Papadopoulos, but claims the 30-year-old advisor went behind his back.

He told Sky News: “I was very surprised that we’re still hearing about it today, because I had no idea that George was going around me, and going around Senator Sessions – his actual chain of command – to pitch this idea to others on the campaign who maybe weren’t there that day, or maybe weren’t paying attention to others.”

Gordon knows nothing and neither does Sessions, I guess.

Gordon then claims that he can’t say about Trump what the stories in which an anonymous source who has said all the same things Gordon has on the record in this interview because he has a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Mr Gordon said he could not discuss what Mr Trump said when the Russian meeting was raised because of a non-disclosure agreement, but added that the President certainly did not say “yes” to the idea.

Next, Gordon claims to have no idea why Papadopoulos would lie about setting up a meeting because that, in and of itself, wouldn’t have been illegal.

“Which is why it’s such a mystery why George Papadopoulos… would lie to the FBI about his meetings with Russians when they weren’t illegal.

“Maybe a bit shady, but they weren’t illegal.”

Curiously, Gordon doesn’t mention that Papadopoulos’ interlocutors have all the markings of Russian handlers. Nor does he mention that Papadopoulos also lied to hide whether and what he told the campaign about the “dirt” that had been floated, in the form of thousands of Hillary emails. Based on this remarkably incomplete representation of the substance of Papadopoulos’ plea, Gordon insists that allegations Trump cozied up to Russians for help getting elected in exchange for the softening of policies against Russia are a great big hoax.

Mr Gordon described the notion of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia in the 2016 US election as “the biggest hoax in history”.

He said: “There is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The smoke you see is people lighting Trump associates on fire, trying to make a story.”

He blames Hope Hicks, who will soon but has not yet testified to the grand jury, for making the campaign’s discussions with “lots” of Russians look nefarious.

He alleged that Mr Trump’s former press secretary and now White House head of communications, Hope Hicks, had made the situation worse by making unequivocal statements suggesting the campaign had not spoken to Russians when they had.

He claimed the campaign spoke to lots of Russians “but there was nothing nefarious.”

In other words, the guy who claimed a woman who swears sexually harassed him in an effort to shut down a super reporter tells a partial story in an attempt to claim there’s no there there, and blames another woman in the process. Fuck. The same guy claims these meetings and conversations were set up behind his back but admits he knows there were lots of them.

Here’s the part I find most interesting about Gordon’s remarkable interview, though. He dodges when asked whether he has testified or cooperated or what, though makes it clear he has been speaking with investigators.

When asked about whether he was co-operating with the FBI or special counsel Robert Mueller, he said: “I can just say that any investigators that I’ve been speaking with, clearly I’ve been truthful… there’s nothing to hide.

As I noted on Monday — in observing Victoria Toensing’s failed efforts to make Sam Clovis’ testimony to the grand jury look innocuous in advance of his now withdrawn confirmation for a USDA position — and described further to On the Media this week, from this point forward, we should expect those who have been interviewed by the FBI or grand jury to use the press to telegraph what they’ve said, so others can coordinate that story (though usually they do so through hack lawyers like Toensing, not directly). It’s a legal way to compare notes.

I’ve also noted that, at least as of October 18, Jeff Sessions was dodging bizarrely about whether he had been formally asked for an interview. Mind you, that was over two weeks ago, so who knows what has transpired since?

Ah well, if Sessions hasn’t testified yet, he now knows what Gordon told the authorities.

Because I do take Gordon’s comments to be confirmation that he has spoken with the authorities.

Which is interesting given this detail from the affidavit the FBI wrote a month ago explaining why they wanted to seal any notice of Papadopoulos’ plea deal.

The investigation is ongoing and includes pursuing leads from information provided by and related to the defendant regarding communications he had, inter alia, with certain other individuals associated with the campaign. The government will very shortly seek, among other investigative steps, to interview certain individuals who may have knowledge of contacts between Russian nationals (or Russia-connected foreign nationals) and the campaign, including the contacts between the defendant and foreign nationals set forth in the Statement of Offense incorporated into the defendants plea agreement.

If it wasn’t already obvious from the Sam Clovis grand jury timing, the Special Counsel hid the plea from those who might have their own stories to tell about “contacts between Russian nationals (or Russia-connected foreign nationals) and the campaign,” which Gordon admits (while pretending such efforts happened behind his and Sessions’ backs) were numerous, because they planned to “very shortly seek” to lock in those claimed stories.

And those who, like Clovis, appear to have told stories that deviated from the one Papadopoulous told may now be in the same kind of legal pickle that Papadopoulos found himself on July 27, when confronted with evidence that he had lied.

The question is whether JD Gordon is finding himself in the same kind of pickle based on post-Papadopoulos testimony that Clovis appears to be, or whether he just wants Jeff Sessions to know what story he told.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley Has Spent the Week Cowering from His Party’s Legal Problems

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Of all the Republicans responding their President’s increasing legal woes, Chuck Grassley — the Chair of the Judiciary Committee — has had the most appalling week.

On Monday (even before news of the George Papadopoulos plea broke), when reporters started asking about Paul Manafort’s indictment, Grassley used some American flags as cover to hide his escape.

On Wednesday, after it became clear that Papadopoulos told the FBI Grassley’s fellow Iowan, Sam Clovis, had prioritized chumming up to Russia on the campaign generally, and encouraged Papadopoulos to set up meetings with the Russians as late as August 2016 (two months after it was public they had hacked the DNC), the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair said the allegations would not be an issue in Clovis’ confirmation to US Department of Agriculture.

Grassley said he has reviewed emails provided by the Trump campaign that include a fuller account of Clovis’ interactions with Papadopoulos. According to those 80-some emails, Grassley said, Clovis does not appear to encourage any travel to meet with Russian officials.

“There’s an entirely different context than what was reported about Clovis and his relationship to this George P.,” Grassley told reporters.

The emails he reviewed cannot be released publicly, Grassley said, although some of them have been referenced in published newspaper accounts and are referred to in the court document from the Papadopoulos case.

When asked if he believes Clovis could face legal consequences over his role in the campaign, Grassley answered that it was “too early for me to say that.”

“But,” he went on, “reading these emails … that’s not an issue.”

Grassley was still prepared to introduce Clovis at his then planned confirmation hearing, even after the allegations.

Even the White House seems to disagree with Grassley’s assessment that these allegations are “not an issue” though, because Clovis has since withdrawn from consideration.

And then later on Wednesday, several days after I first showed that the Papadopoulos plea showed that Jeff Sessions had perjured himself yet again in Senate testimony, Chuck Grassley was still unsure whether he’d even call on the Attorney General to explain his serial lies before his committee.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Thursday he was still learning all the details about the Papadopoulos matter.
Asked if Sessions should amend his testimony before his committee, Grassley told CNN: “I’m looking into it.”

I’ve long defended Grassley’s legitimate questions about the investigation — most notably questions about the Steele dossier. But all week the senior Republican overseer of the Justice Department has been cowering from the clear implications of this scandal. Perhaps it’s because Grassley has a duty, here, to ensure the integrity of a department led by a serial perjurer, he has instead been hiding and dodging.

What Does the White House Know about Sam Clovis that Chuck Grassley Claims Not To?

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The other day I noted that Victoria Toensing’s press comments about her client, Sam Clovis’, appearance before the Mueller grand jury suggested there were discrepancies between his testimony and what George Papadopoulos has been telling the FBI for the last three months.

Nevertheless, after the disclosure that Clovis was the supervisor who told Papadopoulos to pursue a meeting with Russia as late as August 2016, Chuck Grassley still backed his fellow Iowan to serve as US Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics. Grassley (who on Monday hid in flags to avoid questions about the Manafort indictment) told Iowa journalists that he had seen the context of the emails and he believed they showed no evidence that Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to meet with Russian officials.

[I]n a conference call with Iowa reporters Wednesday, Grassley said he has reviewed emails provided by the Trump campaign that include a fuller account of Clovis’ interactions with Papadopoulos. According to those 80-some emails, Grassley said, Clovis does not appear to encourage any travel to meet with Russian officials.

“There’s an entirely different context than what was reported about Clovis and his relationship to this George P.,” Grassley told reporters.

The emails he reviewed cannot be released publicly, Grassley said, although some of them have been referenced in published newspaper accounts and are referred to in the court document from the Papadopoulos case.

When asked if he believes Clovis could face legal consequences over his role in the campaign, Grassley answered that it was “too early for me to say that.”

“But,” he went on, “reading these emails … that’s not an issue.”

Clovis has been scheduled to testify before Senate Agriculture Committee on Nov. 9 as part of his nomination as USDA undersecretary. That could be pushed back, Grassley said on Wednesday. In any case, Grassley said he will introduce Clovis when he comes before the committee.

Mind you, Grassley would have good reason to want an Iowan in a top USDA position, and might even relish the thought of having a non-scientist in charge of science there. So he may be biased.

In any case, the White House may now have a different understanding of matters.  CNN reports today that the White House may pull Clovis’ nomination entirely.

A White House source said the nomination of Sam Clovis is in danger and could be pulled soon. A source familiar with the White House’s thinking added that Clovis may have to withdraw, but it is not clear how that will happen, whether he will voluntarily pull out or be forced to do so.

[snip]
A Republican official close to Clovis said he remained loyal to Trump, adding that Clovis would almost certainly not fight the White House in backing away from his USDA nomination if asked.

“There’s no way he would fight this or cause trouble for the White House,” a Republican official and longtime associate of Clovis said.

Meanwhile, Clovis’ lawyer Toensing has gotten a whole lot less chatty about her client’s plight.

The White House did not comment Wednesday night, and messages to Clovis’ attorney were not returned.

Admittedly, it may be that the White House simply wants to avoid having to release the 80-some emails Grassley alluded to publicly, as Democrats would surely push to happen. Or it may be that there are details about Clovis’ actions — such as his description of cozying up to Russia as a key priority of the campaign — that the White House wants to avoid any questions about. Or, it may be that the White House simply doesn’t want to give Democrats any chances to focus attention on the substance of Papadopoulos’ plea.

Whatever it is, though, it does seem that Clovis’ immediate future seems to be less bright than Iowan Chuck Grassley claims it is.

Update: The AP reports that Clovis has withdrawn from consideration.

The False Statements George Papadopoulos Made about “Dirt” Were Designed to Hide Whether He Told the Campaign about the Emails

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Other outlets have now caught up to this post I wrote on Monday showing that a footnote in George Papadopoulos’ plea, describing a May 21, 2016 exchange between Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, probably means Manafort was trying to hide the campaign’s outreach to Russia rather than tamp it down via a low level staffer.

I want to turn now to some other details that become clear when similarly comparing Papadopoulos’ plea with the complaint, written two months earlier. In the plea, Papadopoulos’ false statements are listed as:

  1. PAPADOPOULOS met the professor and learned about Russian “dirt” before he joined the campaign
  2. PAPADOPOULOS’s contacts with the professor were inconsequential
  3. PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national before he joined the campaign, and his contacts with her were inconsequential

That is, the plea describes these false statements to pertain to the timing and significance of Papadopoulos’ communications with Professor Joseph Mifsud and the still unnamed woman that Papadopoulos once believed was the niece of Vladimir Putin (this WaPo story has the best descriptions of who is who in the documents). The plea disproves those three false statements by focusing on the timing of his meetings with the two (and his complete silence about Russian International Affairs Council program director Ivan Timofeev) and the sheer volume of his communications with the two. Significantly, the plea focuses on the impact of “omitt[ing] the entire course of conduct with the Professor and [Timofeev] regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.”

As I have noted, the grand jury testimony of at least one other person, Sam Clovis, appears to have downplayed that latter point, the assertiveness with which the campaign tried to set up meetings with the Russians. That and the limited hangout of these details shared with the WaPo in August suggests Trump people, collectively, know that email records show evidence the campaign was trying to set up meetings, and that more than one person has been lying to downplay how assertive they were.

The false statements as laid out in the affidavit supporting the complaint, however, have a significantly different emphasis. False statements 1 and 2 (as I’ve numbered them) were treated as one discussion under the heading “False Statements by PAPADOPOULOS Regarding Foreign Contact 1.” The first three paragraphs of the discussion look like this:

13. During the course of his January 27, 2017 interview with the FBI, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, acknowledged that he knew a particular professor of diplomacy based in London (“Foreign Contact 1”). Foreign Contact 1 is a citizen of a country in the Mediterranean and an associate of several Russian nationals, as described further below. PAPADOPOULOS stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton.

a. PAPADOPOULOS told the Agents that, in the early part of 2016, Foreign Contact 1 “actually told me that the Russians had emails of Clinton. That guy told me.” PAPADOPOULOS further stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians “have dirt on her,” meaning Clinton, and that “they have thousands of emails.”

b. PAPADOPOULOS, however, claimed to have received this information prior to joining the Campaign. He told Agents: “This isn’t like [Foreign Contact 1 was] messaging me while I’m in April with Trump.”

c. PAPADOPOULOS stated that he did not tell anyone on the Campaign about the “dirt” on Clinton because he “didn’t even know [if] that was real or fake or he was just guessing because I don’t know, because the guy [Foreign Contact 1]  seems like he’s … he’s a nothing.”

Laid out this way, the description of the false statements makes the import of them far more clear (import that the Special Counsel seems to want to obscure for now). Papadopoulos lied about the circumstances of his conversations with Mifsud — the FBI appears to have believed when they arrested him in July — as part of a story to explain why, after having heard about dirt in the form of thousands of emails from Hillary, he didn’t tell anyone else on the campaign about them. Laid out like this, it’s clear Papadopoulos was trying to hide both when he learned about the emails (just three days before the DNC did, as it turns out, not much earlier as he seems to have suggested in January), but also how important he took those emails to be (which in his false story, he tied to to a false story about how credible he found Mifsud to be).

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

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

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

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

Between the time they arrested Papadopoulos and the time he pled guilty, he became more forthcoming about his extensive efforts to broker a meeting between the campaign and the Russians, something Mifsud made clear was a high priority for the Russians. Mueller is perfectly happy — after securing the testimony of people like Clovis — to let everyone know that.

But Mueller is still hiding the pretty obvious answer to the question about whether Papadopoulos lied about Mifsud specifically to hide that he told people on the campaign that Russians had emails to deal in conjunction with such meetings.

Victoria Toensing’s Story about Sam Clovis’ Grand Jury Appearance

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Sam Clovis is the person in the George Papadopoulos plea who told Papadopoulos, just as Paul Manafort’s pro-Russian Ukrainian corruption was becoming a scandal, “‘I would encourage you’ and another foreign policy advisor to ‘make the trip[] [to Russia], if it is feasible.'”

Victoria Toensing is a right wing nutjob lawyer whose chief skill is lying to the press to spin partisan scandals.

Clovis has decided that Toensing can best represent him in the Russia investigation, which means in the wake of yesterday’s surprise plea deal announcement, a person with “first-hand” knowledge of Clovis’ actions decided to tell his side of the story to NBC. Significantly, securing Clovis’ testimony is one of the last things Mueller did before springing the Manafort indictment and unsealing Papadopoulos’ plea, meaning that’s one of the things he was building up towards.

Sam Clovis, the former top Trump campaign official who supervised a man now cooperating with the FBI’s Russia investigation, was questioned last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and testified before the investigating grand jury, a person with first-hand knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Before I go further, let me note that there are few people who can claim first-hand knowledge of “the matter:” the grand jury, which thus far hasn’t leaked, Mueller’s team, which has shown a remarkable ability to keep secrets, or Clovis or Toensing.

Which is to say this story is likely Toensing and Toensing.

Much later in the article, a person with the same kind of knowledge also confirmed Clovis’ very helpful SSCI testimony.

Clovis was also interviewed recently by the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Thus far Clovis looks very cooperative, huh, per this person who knows what he has been doing?

Having placed Clovis at the grand jury last week, Toensing says she won’t comment on the one thing she can’t directly comment on — what went on there.

His lawyer, Victoria Toensing, would neither confirm nor deny his interactions with the Mueller team.

“I’m not going to get into that,” she said in an interview.

But Toensing does confirm that Clovis is the guy who supported Papadopoulos’ trip to Russia, which she would only know from having prepped his testimony or learned what he was asked in the grand jury.

Toensing confirmed that Clovis was the campaign supervisor in the emails.

She then presents what must be the story he told to explain why emails show him endorsing a trip to Russia even as it became clear why that was a bad idea.

In a statement, Toensing’s office said Clovis set up a “national security advisory committee” in the Trump campaign that included Papadopoulos, “who attended one meeting and was never otherwise approached by the campaign for consultation.”

[snip]

In the statement, Toensing said the Trump campaign had a strict rule prohibiting travel abroad on behalf of the campaign, and but that Clovis would have had no authority to stop Papadopoulos from traveling in his personal capacity.

To be fair, this story doesn’t directly conflict with Papadopoulos’ (though Toensing’s earlier story, that as a midwestern “gentleman,” Clovis would have been unable to tell Papadopoulos no, does conflict — this is probably an attempt, perhaps post-consultation with her client, to clean that up).

But it does adopt a line that permits the possibility Papadopolous did (make plans to) travel to Russia, but that it was all freelancing (remarkably like Carter Page’s trip to Russia was).

That is, this is the story (or close to it) that Clovis told the grand jury last week, before he learned that Papadopoulos had beat him to the punch and told a different (but still not fully public) story.

Now, I’m guessing that all the other people named in the Papadopoulos plea have also already had whatever shot they’ll get to tell the truth to the grand jury, but in case they haven’t, they can now coordinate with what Clovis said, which is surely part of the point.

But I’d also suggest that Mueller would be sure to get the testimony of everyone who might try to lie before he unsealed the Papadopoulos plea, so they have to start considering fixing their testimony.

Update: Apparently the White House is rethinking the wisdom of subjecting Clovis to a confirmation hearing next week.