Posts

Two Trajectories: Sleazy Influence Peddler Paul Manafort and Foreign Agent Prosecutor Brandon Van Grack

Like many, while I expected TS Ellis to give Paul Manafort a light sentence, I’m shocked by just how light it was.

Ellis gave Manafort 47 months of prison time for crimes that the sentencing guidelines say should start at a 19 year sentence. Even if Amy Berman Jackson gives Manafort the stiffest sentence she can give him — 10 years — and makes it consecutive, he’ll still be facing less than the what sentencing guidelines recommend. Ellis even declined to fine Manafort beyond the $24 million he’ll have to pay in restitution (Zoe Tillman lays out the money issues here).

There are a number of reasons to be outraged by this.

Ellis explicitly suggested that Manafort’s crimes were less serious than similar organized crime that people of color would commit. In the wake of this sentence, any number of people (especially defense attorneys) have pointed to non-violent criminals facing more prison time than Manafort. That said, I agree with those who suggest we should aim to bring those other sentences down in line with what the civilized world imposes, and not instead bump white collar criminals up to the barbaric levels that come out of the drug war.

Ellis gave this sentence even though Manafort expressed no remorse. Ellis commented that “I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct. In other words, you didn’t say, ‘I really, really regret not doing what the law requires,'” but nevertheless sentenced him as if he had.

Perhaps most infuriating were the backflips Ellis did to spin Paul Manafort as a good man. He emphasized that Manafort was “not before the court for any allegation that he or anybody at his direction colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election,” which is true; but Ellis received the breach determination materials showing that at a time when Manafort was purportedly cooperating, he instead lied about sharing polling data with a suspected Russian asset while discussing a Ukrainian peace deal that he knew amounted to sanctions relief, a quid pro quo. Because those materials go to the issue of whether Manafort took responsibility and was a risk for recidivism, they were fair game for consideration, but Ellis didn’t consider them.

Indeed, because of time served, Ellis effectively sentenced Manafort to an equivalent sentence that Michael Cohen faces having committed an order of magnitude less financial fraud, pled guilty, and provided limited cooperation to the government. Effectively, then, Ellis has sanctioned Manafort’s successful effort to avoid cooperating in the case in chief, on how he and Trump conspired with Russia to exploit our democratic process.

Instead of referring to the materials on Manafort’s refusal to cooperate, Ellis instead just regurgitated defense materials and claimed that aside from stealing millions of dollars from taxpayers and whatever else went on before Amy Berman Jackson, Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life.”

And that’s where I step away from a generalized discussion of the barbaric nature of our criminal justice system to look specifically at the barbaric nature of what Paul Manafort has done with his life. I feel much the way Franklin Foer does.

In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

[snip]

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.

[snip]

In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

In an otherwise blameless life, he stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.

Paul Manafort invented the profession of sleazy influence peddler. His own daughter once acknowledged, “Don’t fool yourself. That money we have is blood money.” And our democracy, as well as more corrupt regimes around the globe where Manafort was happy to work, are much less just because of Manafort’s life’s work.

Which is why I take more solace in something that happened the night before Manafort’s sentencing: A CNN report that DOJ has put Brandon Van Grack — a prosecutor who, under Mueller, prosecuted Mike Flynn and his sleazy influence peddler business partners — in charge of a renewed effort to crack down on unregistered sleazy influence peddlers.

The initiative at the Justice Department to pursue violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires that an entity representing a foreign political party or government file public reports detailing the relationship, will be overseen by Brandon Van Grack, who left Mueller’s team in recent months to rejoin the national security division.

Van Grack’s appointment to the newly created position and the Justice Department’s interest in expanding its pursuit of foreign influence cases stemmed largely from the impact of Russian operations on the 2016 presidential election, John Demers, the head of the national security division, said Wednesday at a conference on white-collar crime.

With Van Grack’s new role, the Justice Department will shift “from treating FARA as an administrative obligation and regulatory obligation to one that is increasingly an enforcement priority,” Demers said.

He also pointed to the impact of a recent settlement with one of the country’s highest-profile law firms — Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP — on the department’s decision to escalate its enforcement in that area.

[snip]

Demers added that the Justice Department is considering seeking congressional authorization for administrative subpoena power to enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which it currently lacks.

“That’s something that we’re taking a hard look at,” he said. Referencing Skadden, he added: “Do I think the firm would have behaved differently if they had received a subpoena versus they had just received a letter? Yes.”

This marks a decision to treat FARA violations — sleazy influence peddling that hides the ultimate foreign customer — as a real risk to our country. As I have laid out in my comparison of Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life” and Maria Butina’s efforts to infiltrate right wing politics, a venal insider with an already rich political network will be far more effective (and insidious) than even a beautiful woman backed by a mobbed up foreign government official and abetted by her own washed out Republican insider.

I don’t know what Mueller is doing with all the evidence of a conspiracy that he continues to protect. I don’t know that he’ll be able to deliver a prosecutorial conclusion that will deliver justice for the sleazy things that Trump did to win the election. Prosecuting very powerful people is very difficult, and we shouldn’t forget that.

But one other point of this entire investigative process was to learn lessons, to make it harder for hostile outsiders to hijack our democratic process going forward.

In letting Manafort off with a metaphorical wrist-slap, TS Ellis did nothing to deter others who, like Manafort, will sell out our country for an ostrich skin jacket. Even ABJ will face some difficult challenges in DC when she tries to sentence FARA crimes (particularly those of Sam Patten, who cooperated) without precedents to do so.

But the way to build those precedents — the way to establish a record that causes a Skadden Arps or a Rob Kelner to treat FARA registration as the official declaration to the government that it is — is to pursue more of these cases, against sleazy influence peddlers working for all foreign entities, not just the ones we despise.

So Manafort may get off easy for helping Russia interfere in our election in a bid to line up his next gig white-washing brutal oligarchs.

But along the way, our justice system may be adapting to the certainty that he did not live an otherwise blameless life

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. 

Paul Manafort Sold Out Donald Trump — and His Anonymous Leakers Are Lying about It Publicly

Back when Paul Manafort’s lawyers redaction fail first revealed that Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, someone made the following claim to the NYT:

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Given what appears in the breach hearing transcript, that appears to be a totally blatant lie. And Manafort’s lawyers appear to have made similar cynical lies in that hearing to deny what Manafort had actually done.

For reference, here are the other filings on Manafort’s breach:

The data was incredibly detailed

The discussion of the polling data starts on page 82. Judge Amy Berman Jackson starts by noting that Manafort tried to deny the data had been shared and claimed at one point that it was just public data.

He said it just was public information.

Later in the hearing, when Manafort’s lawyers suggest that this was mostly public data — part of the claim that someone leaked to the NYT — ABJ asked then why the pollster (this is probably a reference to Tony Fabrizio, whom Mueller met with in the weeks before Rick Gates flipped and after Gates first revealed that they had shared the data) was making so much money.

In response, Richard Westling, from the same defense team working so hard to claim this was public data, then wildly shifted, arguing that the data was so detailed it would be meaningless to someone like him. In response, ABJ notes that that’s what makes the sharing of it so important.

But, as Weissmann lays out, not only had Kilimnik worked for Manafort (and therefore with this pollster, Fabrizio) for many years — so would know how to read the data — Manafort walked him through the data at the August 2 meeting.

Later in this exchange, ABJ has an ex parte discussion with the prosecutors, to see if something she’s been made aware of can be shared with Manafort’s lawyers. Remember: she is also presiding over Sam Patten’s case. Patten worked with both Gates and Manafort, and was working with Kilimnik in this period. He not only might be able to corroborate the data-sharing story, but he would be able to help Kilimnik use it, even if the years of working with Manafort hadn’t already prepared Kilimnik to do so himself. When Patten submitted a status report on December 31, it was filed under seal; his next status report is due on Monday.

The data was shared with multiple people, which Manafort considered a win-win

Andrew Weissmann lays out that Manafort ultimately admitted that the data would be shared both with a named individual and with some other entity. And he describes Manafort considering the sharing of that data to be a win-win, perhaps suggesting that it might help Donald Trump, but even if it didn’t, it would get him work in Ukraine and Russia down the road.

Weissmann returns to that — sharing this data, for Manafort, was a win-win, unless the fact that he shared the data subsequently became public.

Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

[snip]

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

Of course, now it’s public and Manafort is willing to lie himself into further prison time to try to downplay that he shared detailed polling data with someone the FBI maintains has ties to the same Russian agency that hacked the DNC right in the middle of the campaign.

Update: JL notes that neither of the two Ukrainian oligarchs identified by NYT’s leakers, Lyovochkin and Akhmetov, fit the 9-character redaction after “Mr.” in the last screen cap. But “Deripaska” does. And we know this meeting was specifically focused on Kilimnik reporting back to Deripaska. In addition, Deripaska’s plane was in NY just after the meeting.

Manafort and Gates shared the data on August 2, not in the spring

At least according to ABJ’s understanding, Gates and Manafort shared the data not in the spring (as claimed to the NYT) but at the August 2, 2016 meeting at the Havana Club, to which — discussion elsewhere made clear — the two men came and left separately, emphasizing the clandestine nature of this hand-off.

ABJ’s understanding is backed by several Gates’ 302s, which must also correlate with emails that, per ABJ, corroborate Gates’ account.

Even before ABJ made that point, Westling appears to suggest that what Gates shared with Kilimnik was the most recent data.

One other reason this is important — but which didn’t get mentioned in this hearing: Manafort shared incredibly detailed polling information with someone who has ties to GRU a month before GRU went back to hack Hillary’s analytics. So they had very detailed data from both sides.

Kevin Downing twice attempts to render a jury verdict against Gates

Manafort’s team, generally, tries to claim that the sharing of polling data is just a matter of Gates’ word against Manafort’s, in spite of there being emails involving Manafort himself on sharing the data (and, apparently, emails showing whom Kilimnik shared them with).

But when ABJ notes that the poll data hand-off happened at the August 2 Havana Club meeting, in a fit of desperation, Kevin Downing claims that this all depended on Gates’ testimony and ABJ shouldn’t take anything he said as true because the jury found he totally lacked credibility. ABJ warns him twice not to go there.

MR. DOWNING: Your Honor, one other point. I know this Court hasn’t had the opportunity to review the testimony, probably, of Mr. Gates from Eastern District of Virginia, but he was found so incredible by the jury that a juror said to the press that they completely disregarded his entire testimony. So to the extent that this Court would cite Mr. Gates as any evidence, I think a review of the findings of the jurors in EDVA should be undertaken because if he is not corroborated —

THE COURT: Don’t. Don’t.

MR. DOWNING: Your Honor, it’s a fact.

THE COURT: I’m not going to base anything on what one juror said to the press.

In spite of having been warned once, Downing again returns to what the juror in EDVA said later in the hearing.

MR. DOWNING: And I will admit, on my end I won’t take it as a failure on my part because I did not think this Court wouldn’t take into consideration the fact how he was found to have no credibility at all by the jury over there.

THE COURT: You cannot keep saying that.

MR. DOWNING: I can keep saying it, Your Honor, because it’s true

THE COURT: First of all, you’re asking me to make a determination about what 12 jurors concluded because of what one juror was quoted in the paper as saying, which right now I don’t even have in front of me. But I believe she said we decided to vote on whether or not we could find him beyond a reasonable doubt, putting his testimony aside, which is different than saying we agreed, as 12 people, that nothing he said was true.

MR. DOWNING: That’s — that’s —

THE COURT: That’s totally different.

MR. DOWNING: I disagree with you. But I could go and get the press account of that.

THE COURT: I don’t know. I don’t have the press account. The press account is not evidence.

Downing floats bringing ABJ the press account himself, but then suggests he could provide the transcript. ABJ even offers to call Gates before her to testify.

Over lunch, ABJ goes on her own to find that press account. And, as she explains immediately after lunch, she doesn’t agree with Downing’s reading of it. Indeed, she calls it hyperbolic.

I went back and read the article that I believe I read at the time and, indeed, there was a juror who spoke publicly. She spoke publicly because she said she wanted the public to know that while she wanted Mr. Manafort to be not guilty, the evidence was overwhelming.

She indicated that the only reason he was not convicted on all counts was because of a lone holdout in the jury. She did not attribute that to Mr. Gates’s credibility. And reportedly, she did say, as I thought I recalled, some of us had a problem accepting his testimony because he took the plea. So we agreed to throw out his testimony and look at the paperwork. And then she added, I think he would have done anything to preserve himself, that’s just obvious in the fact that he flipped on Manafort.

So, I don’t believe — there’s certainly not anything in this record for these proceedings, or the public record, for that matter, that supports your argument that I should consider the fact that the jury unanimously concluded he was a liar, as was reported in the press by a juror, and threw out his testimony. I don’t believe that that is what the newspaper articles reported. Not that I would have relied on the newspaper article or what happened in the Eastern District of Virginia anyway, but I believe your argument was a little hyperbolic.

Manafort’s lawyers knew about this allegation because they tried to air it during the EDVA trial

In addition to trying to claim that this matter just pits Gates against Manafort, Manafort’s lawyers try to claim that Gates only made the claim about sharing polling data last fall, late in the process of his cooperation, meaning that they didn’t have an opportunity to prep their client on it.

I may be wrong about this, but we have a note — a September 27th, 2018 interview which we did not see until this submission was made, where Mr. Gates makes that statement.

Mr. Weissmann has suggested we had all of Mr. Gates’s 302s where he said this previously. I don’t think he said it before that interview. And so as far as we know, that’s new testimony from Mr. Gates compared to what he said in prior proffer sessions, where I think he said something more like it was more what was publicly available.

Weissmann corrects that by noting that at a proffer on January 30, 2018, Gates laid all that out.

Mr. Weissmann, with respect to the specific argument that they just made that this was a new twist by Mr. Gates, only in the 302 that they most recently received, do you have anything you want to add to that, respond to that?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes, I do. So, I would direct the Court’s attention to Exhibit 236, which is a 302 with respect to Mr. Gates, and the date of that is January 30th, 2018.

He later notes the two 302s from early in Gates’ cooperation where that came up (it was actually January 31, not January 30).

In any case, after first raising Gates’ proffer from January mentioning Manafort sharing this polling data, Weissmann notes that Kevin Downing called attention to this during the EDVA trial.

Back in September, I suggested that Greg Andres’ success at getting this sidebar sealed probably had something to do with Manafort’s willingness to take a fairly shitty plea deal. It was a big fucking deal at the time. And the notion that Kevin Downing — who tried to get the information in the public record at the trial — is now claiming he didn’t know about it is simply contemptuous.

Manafort lied about sharing data with a Russian asset in hopes of getting a pardon

And this is where what appears to be at least the second reference in the hearing to Manafort’s hopes of getting a pardon appears (by context, this is almost certainly Weissmann, though the transcript labels it as Westling).

Manafort knows well what he did in August 2016. But he — and his lawyers, and whoever lied anonymously to the NYT — continue to lie about it in hopes that, by refusing to confirm that he conspired with Russia to get Trump elected, Trump will pay him off with a pardon.

The truth appears to be that Manafort walked Konstantin Kilimnik through recent, highly detailed polling data at a clandestine meeting in NYC on August 2, 2016, in part because even if it didn’t help Trump, it might help his own fortunes down the way. And he’s willing to bet that lying about that fact is his best chance for a pardon.

Update, from the comments: Eureka notes that the same night Manafort shared campaign data, probably with Oleg Deripaska, Stone defended him, insisting he was doing “everything humanly possible to help” Trump.

Aug 2, 2016 09:59:24 PM The idea that @PaulManafort is not doing everything humanly possible to help @realDonaldTrump win is patently false [Twitter for iPhone]

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. 

The Timing of the Inauguration Subpoena

By last May, it was clear that part of Mueller’s investigation covered how Russians laundered money to Trump and his associates via his inauguration fund. It turns out that Sam Patten started talking to prosecutors about his own laundering of Ukrainian money into the inauguration that month. And during Paul Manafort’s trial last summer, Rick Gates had to admit to stealing money from Trump’s inauguration fund. Around that time, I started predicting that Mueller would spin off such “garden variety” corruption to other parts of DOJ.

Meanwhile, the press’ efforts to liberate Michael Cohen’s April 9 search warrant affidavits failed because so many other people were named in it.

Among the things seized in that raid was a recording from Cohen to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who handled some of the money that disappeared from Trump’s inauguration.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

And yet it was just in recent days that SDNY has subpoenaed the inauguration committee for the materials that will reveal all the other ways that Trump profited off his inauguration.

The subpoena broadly asks for all documents related to the committee’s donors and vendors, including documents related to the Federal Election Commission filings in which the committee disclosed its donations. It also seeks records related to any “benefits” such as tickets, photo opportunities or receptions that donors received in exchange for their contributions.

[snip]

Among the subpoena’s requests is one for documents regarding any donations to the committee “made by or on behalf of foreign nationals, including but not limited to any communications regarding or relating to the possibility of donations by foreign nationals.”

The subpoena also asks for documents related to “donations or payments made by donors directly to contractors and/or vendors” used by the committee, including any communications related to the possibility of such donations being “made or directed to contractors or vendors.”

The subpoena seeks information relating to a bunch of conspiracy-related crimes — parallel to the crimes Mueller looked at in the Russian investigation, but including other countries.

It discloses that prosecutors are investigating a litany of potential crimes: conspiracy against the US, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, inaugural committee disclosure violations, and violations of laws prohibiting contributions by foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person, also known as straw donors.

This investigation may explain why SDNY alum Guy Petrillo dropped Michael Cohen in recent weeks: since Cohen refused to cooperate with SDNY on what would have been this investigation, he’s likely to face further criminal exposure for his efforts to get rich off the big party.

My guess is that SDNY is only now getting around to digging into what is surely a vast swamp of corruption because Mueller asked them to wait until his inauguration related equities were done. Which may be consistent with reports that his investigation is coming to a head, perhaps pending just the Mystery Appellant, Andrew Miller, and William Barr’s confirmation. Which may mean that after the results in Mueller’s Russian investigation soften Trump up, this investigation will just be ripening, possibly even at a time where Trump can be indicted.

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. 

Paul Manafort’s Ongoing Conspiracy with Suspected Russian Agent Konstantin Kilimnik

Update: The NYT had it correct the first time. They got — badly — played.

Because the NYT corrected an error (noting that Paul Manafort instructed Konstantin Kilimnik to pass on Trump polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska), the usual suspects are claiming that the really damning disclosures revealed by Paul Manafort’s filing of the other day don’t yet prove Trump’s campaign manager conspired with Russia.

Manafort already pled guilty to conspiring with Russian Konstantin Kilimnik

I saw claims as recently as the other day that no Trump associate has been charged or pled guilty to conspiring with a Russian. That’s false.

As part of his plea agreement in September, Manafort pled guilty to conspiring with Kilimnik, a Russian citizen, to witness tamper.  Admittedly, this particular conspiracy took place in 2018, not 2016, and it served not to tamper with the 2016 election, but to hide the ways in which Manafort kept secret that he was an agent of Ukraine spending millions to influence US policy. But, as Mueller has described it, Manafort committed a series of crimes designed to hide his ongoing ties to Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs after being fired from the Trump campaign in significant part to sustain lies he and Rick Gates told while still working for Donald Trump.

In other words, one purpose of his conspiracy with Kilimnik was to hide the fact that Trump’s campaign manager — who, in spite of being broke, worked for “free” throughout the campaign — had been a paid agent of Ukraine.

The Russian Manafort conspired with, Konstantin Kilimnik is suspected of ties to the same agency that hacked the DNC

Past Mueller filings have made it clear that Kilimnik is suspected to have ties to a Russian intelligence agency. The FBI thinks so.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that [Kilimnik] has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016

And Rick Gates knew of those ties.

During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, [Alex] van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him [Kilimnik] was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

The GRU, of course, is the Russian intelligence agency that hacked the Democrats in 2016. So Manafort has pled to conspiring not just with any Russian, but a Russian believed to have ties with the agency that hacked the DNC.

Akhmetov was named — in the same interview as Deripaska — in the affidavit for a 2017 probable cause search warrant targeting Manafort

Akhmetov, one of the oligarchs with whom NYT’s correction say Manafort did share data, was described in the probable cause warrant the FBI used to raid Manafort’s condo in July 2017. Indeed, Manafort described working for both Akhmetov and Deripaska in the same period he was supporting Viktor Yanukoych.

This suggests it’s difficult to separate Manafort’s historical criminal behavior involving Akhmetov from that involving Deripaska. And Kilimnik was involved in both.

Akhmetov and Lyovochkin were paying Manafort while he was working for Trump for “free”

As part of Manafort’s spox’s “clarifications” about the disclosures made clear in the redacted filing, he admitted that a $2.4 million payment Manafort anticipated — in an August 2016 email to his accountant — that he would receive in November was from Akhmetov and Lyovochkin. While that payment is understood to be debts owed for past work, his decision to share campaign data with the oligarchs seems to have been tied to ensuring he did get that payment.

If that’s right, it suggests that that $2.4 million payment, at a time when Manafort was broke but nevertheless working for “free,” had some tie to his work on the campaign.

Lyovochkin made an illegal donation to Donald Trump’s inauguration fund

Another Kilimnik business partner, Sam Patten, pled guilty (in part) to laundering a $50,000 donation to Trump’s inauguration fund for tickets to his inauguration.

To circumvent the foreign donation restriction, PATTEN, with the knowledge of Foreigner A, solicited a United States citizen to act as a “straw” purchaser so that he could conceal from the [Presidential Inauguration Committee] that the tickets for the inauguration were being paid for from a foreign source. The straw purchaser paid $50,000 for four inauguration tickets. The straw purchaser paid that sum one day after receiving from [Begemot Ventures] a check signed by PATTEN in the sum of $50,000. In turn, [Lyovochkin] had paid [Begemot] for the tickets though a Cypriot account. [Kilimnik and Lyovochkin] another Ukrainian, and PATTEN were allocated the four inauguration tickets. Thereafter, PATTEN attended a PIC event in Washington, D.C. with [Lyovochkin].

Thus, in addition to paying Trump’s campaign manager during the campaign, Lyovochkin made an illegal donation to Trump’s inauguration (and remember, there are outstanding questions about where all the inauguration funds went).

Manafort discussed Ukraine every time he spoke with Kilimnik during the campaign; those discussions included a Russian-friendly “peace plan”

Among the other lies Manafort told when he was supposed to be cooperating with Mueller pertained to his repeated conversations with Kilimnik. And while Manafort tried to minimize the persistence with which they discussed such things, suggesting he may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan more than once.

After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion

But Mueller maintains they have detailed descriptions showing the peace plan came up “at each” meeting they had, which suggests it was a key part of why the Russians and Ukrainians in touch with Manafort through Kilimnik were in touch with him.

And, again, both these lies and Manafort’s lies in 2018 and Manafort’s lies in 2016 and 2017 were all intended to hide these ongoing relationships, in significant part to hide Trump’s campaign ties to all of this.

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. 

Robert Mueller Finally Found a Way to Get Paul Manafort to Keep a Secret

Update: Or not. Manafort’s lawyers did submit a filing, with all their redactions easily reversed, showing that Manafort lied about his cooperation with his Russian handler Konstantin Kilimnik. I’ll do another post on that filing.

On one of the last days of last year, Rudy Giuliani repeated a refrain he made in August, dick-wagging Mueller to “put up or shut up” and release the report that Rudy has spun fables about. That taunt happened ten days after the House Intelligence Committee voted to release Roger Stone’s testimony transcript to Mueller. It happened eight days before Paul Manafort failed to submit a filing (at least in unsealed form) explaining whether it contests the government’s claims that he lied while purportedly cooperating with the Special Counsel. In between, Sam Patten submitted a status report in his own cooperation agreement — cooperation that would surely have covered some of the same questions about his Russian partner Konstantin Kilimnik that Manafort lied about — under seal.

I raise all these together because — while it’s a safe bet that something happened at some point with Manafort that remains under seal — any explanation about what that might be may have as much to do with Mueller’s request for Stone’s transcripts as it does Manafort’s own actions. After all, Adam Schiff has already committed to releasing all the HPSCI transcripts to Mueller; it’ll be only a matter of days until he constitutes the committee and has the new Democratic majority on it vote that through. So something has to explain why Mueller couldn’t wait — why Mueller needed Stone’s transcript on December 20 and not January 10.

Back when he was pretending to cooperate, Manafort did get questions about his lifelong buddy Roger Stone. Mueller put Manafort before the grand jury twice after that, possibly locking in the lies he had told. Notably, however, lies about Stone were not among those Mueller publicly aired (in heavily redacted form) last month. For that matter, neither were any responses Manafort made about Trump’s foreknowledge of the June 9 meeting, which we also know came up between Manafort and Mueller.

If I’m right that this is all connected, that still leaves several possibilities. Perhaps Mueller — as Andrew Weissmann suggested they might — charged Manafort for these additional lies or perhaps charged him in the conspiracy-in-chief, finally. Perhaps Manafort made yet another deal with prosecutors, proffering answers to the questions about Stone and Trump they really need him to answer for them, in an attempt to limit his own punishment for that conspiracy in chief.

Whatever it is, it has produced unusual silence from Manafort’s camp.

Whatever it is, we may find out in the next month. Sam Patten’s status report was extended for just one month. Perhaps we’re waiting on SCOTUS’ response to the Mystery Appellant’s plea. Perhaps we’re waiting on the DC Circuit’s response to Andrew Miller’s challenge.

Until then … silence.

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. 

Sam Patten Reminds Us Cooperation Deals Are Not Cookie Cutters

One of the last filings of 2018 in the cases I keep track of here was a three line joint motion in Sam Patten’s case, noting that the parties had filed a joint status report under seal. Sam Patten, recall, is the sleazy influence peddler who (like Paul Manafort) was a business partner with alleged GRU operative Konstantin Kilimnik who first proffered information to Mueller’s office on May 22 of last year, but who didn’t plead guilty until August 31. He pled guilty to lying on FARA registration, lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee and withholding documents from them, in part about setting up straw purchasers to let foreigners donate money to Trump’s inauguration. He’s also got ties to Cambridge Analytica, though that did not show up in his plea at all.

So rather than a routine status report — either telling the court that Patten continued to cooperate with Mueller, the DC US Attorney’s Office, and other law enforcement entities with which his deal required him to cooperate — or rather than moving towards sentencing, the government instead filed something under seal.

When asked what this might mean, I’ve deferred any answer, because it could be so many things and there’s so little to go on.

But CNN’s Katelyn Polantz has what (for any straight news outlet — and I mean that as a genre issue, not a competence one) is remarkably good analysis. She points to the timing of Patten’s plea (just before Paul Manafort was set to go to trial on his own FARA crimes, and thus just weeks before Manafort decided to flip) and to Patten’s multi-office cooperation obligations to suggest this sealed plea may have to do with Mueller’s case.

Patten agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and other Justice Department actions before Manafort pleaded guilty to criminal charges in September. Manafort had been Mueller’s target for almost a year before his plea deal — and the Mueller team initially charged him with a host of financial crimes and foreign lobbying violations. A jury found Manafort guilty of tax and bank fraud related to his Ukrainian lobbying proceeds, then Manafort flipped and agreed to help prosecutors in September to avoid a second trial related to his foreign lobbying operation.

Patten was lined up by prosecutors as a person involved in that planned second trial against Manafort.

Typically, in a plea deal such as Patten’s, once prosecutors no longer need his cooperation for an upcoming trial or to put pressure on a criminal target, they would move the case to the sentencing phase. No date has been set yet by the court for Patten’s sentencing, and it’s still not determined when that process would even begin.

What she doesn’t say, but I would add, is that we’ve heard remarkably little about Manafort’s fate since a hearing on December 11 where Manafort’s lawyers pushed to begin adjudicating this month (in advance of his sentencing in the EDVA case) whether they agreed that Manafort had lied to the government while supposedly cooperating, even while saying they were having ongoing discussions with the government about those lies. Judge Amy Berman Jackson set a deadline for next Monday, January 7, for Manafort’s lawyers to file some kind of statement about whether they agree with the government or not. Sure, the holidays happened in the middle of that. But throughout the period before that, we got regular updates from Rudy Giuliani and Manafort’s lawyers making the extent of Manafort’s cooperation clear; we’ve gotten nothing since December 11.

Polantz also notes something most reporters covering the Mueller investigation forget: prosecutors don’t just hold off on sentencing until a cooperating witness testifies (note, the same mob of reporters also falsely suggest that Michael Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller is done, misunderstanding that Mueller will reward Cohen’s cooperation with a sentencing adjustment if it continues). Indeed, the only Mueller cooperating witness who has thus far testified before sentencing has been Rick Gates, and he remains under a cooperation agreement over five months later. Prosecutors also use (and Mueller seems to have especially) cooperating witnesses to pressure other witnesses. Indeed, that seems to be the significance of this passage from the addendum describing Mike Flynn’s cooperation.

Mueller used Flynn to get all the other people — starting with but by no means limited to KT McFarland — who originally lied about the Russian conspiracy to testify, and to do so as witnesses who clarified their testimony rather than sustained a lie and therefore got branded a liar making them less useful as witnesses at trial.

In other words, Polantz seems to suggest that Mueller rolled out Patten’s cooperation agreement just before Manafort’s trial in a bid to get him to flip. That worked. But not well enough to get Manafort to really cooperate.

Which may explain why his current status is such a big secret: because no one wants to give Manafort — or Trump — any hints about his status until Manafort decides what he’s going to do this week.

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. 

If the Government Obtains the Full Manafort Forfeiture, the Mueller Investigation Will Have Netted Almost $21 Million

The Special Counsel’s Office has released their latest expenditures report.

Thus far, here’s how the SCO spending breaks down (as the reports make clear, SCO is not legally obligated to track the indirect expenses that DOJ would spend otherwise, but they have been asked to do so).

Period

Direct

Indirect

Total

May 17, 2017 to September 30, 2017

$3,213,695

$3,546,000

$6,759,695

October 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018

$4,506,624

 $5,476,000

$9,982,624

April 1, 2018 through September 30, 2018

$4,567,533

 $3,906,000

$8,473,533

Total

$12,287,852

$12,928,000

$25,215,852

 

As a reminder, as part of his plea deal, Paul Manafort has to forfeit as much of the $46 million he can scrape together of the ill-gotten gains he earned from his crimes.

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of entities — most amazingly Steven Calk’s bank — contesting Manafort’s claims to actually own a number of the financial and real estate holdings that he said he did.

Still, if the US government can find enough assets to squeeze out of Manafort, the Mueller investigation will have — through October 1 — netted $20,784,148 million for the US Treasury. And that’s before the $500,000 Michael Cohen will have to pay, as well as any forfeiture Sam Patten will pay when he is sentenced for his sleazy influence peddling, in cases referred by Mueller to other US Attorney’s offices.

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Having Former FEC Commissioner Don McGahn as Your Campaign Lawyer

Of all the posts I’ve written about Roger Stone, I’m only aware of two that he responded to directly. One was this post from September 5, laying out how stupid Stone was for using Jerome Corsi’s August 31 report as a cover story for his August 21 “time in the barrel” tweet. We now know that the very next day, Jerome Corsi would tell material lies to Mueller’s team in an attempt to sustain a cover story that started with that August 31 report. Indeed, we also know that 16 days after I wrote that post, Corsi would testify to the grand jury that the August 31 report was written entirely to offer cover for that August 21 tweet (and, I suspect, Stone’s August 15 one).

Perhaps before this is over I’ll get the opportunity to play poker with Roger Stone.

The other post Stone reacted against — and he reacted even more aggressively — was this post focusing on Don McGahn’s history of helping Trump’s people get out of campaign finance pickles.

To be fair to rat-fucker Roger, the post actually laid out how Don McGahn has been covering for Trump’s campaign finance problems for seven years, not just Roger’s.

Of significant import, that history started in the follow-up to events from 2011, when Trump’s then-fixer, a guy named Michael Cohen, set up a presidential exploratory committee using Trump Organization funds. Democrats on the FEC believed that violated campaign finance law, but a guy named Don McGahn weighed in to say that FEC couldn’t use public reporting to assess complaints.

During McGahn’s FEC tenure, one of those he helped save from enforcement action was Trump himself. In 2011, when the future president-elect was engaged in a high-profile process of considering whether to enter the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was formally accused in an FEC complaint of violating agency regulations. The case was dismissed on a deadlocked vote of the FEC commissioners.

A four-page complaint filed by Shawn Thompson of Tampa, Fla., accused Trump of illegally funneling corporate money from his Trump Organization into an organization called ShouldTrumpRun.com. McGahn and fellow FEC Republicans Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen voted to block FEC staff recommendations that Trump be investigated in the matter—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6462.

Ultimately, Trump opted not to run for president in 2012. Nonetheless, FEC staff attorneys concluded his activities before that decision may have violated campaign finance rules regarding money raised to “test the waters” for a candidacy. A staff report from the FEC Office of General Counsel, based largely on news articles and other documents about Trump’s flirtation with running for president—including Trump’s own quoted statements— recommended that the commissioners authorize a full FEC investigation backed by subpoena power.

FEC Democrats voted to pursue the recommended probe, but the votes of McGahn and the other FEC Republicans precluded the required four-vote majority needed for the commission to act.

McGahn and Hunter issued a “ statement of reasons” explaining their votes in the Trump matter in 2013. The 11-page statement blasted FEC staff attorneys in the Office of General Counsel for reviewing volumes of published information regarding Trump’s potential 2012 candidacy in order to determine whether to recommend that the FEC commissioners vote to authorize a full investigation. McGahn and Hunter argued that the FEC counsel’s office was prohibited from examining information other than what was contained in the formal complaint submitted in the case.

The Office of General Counsel shouldn’t be allowed to pursue an “unwritten, standardless process whereby OGC can review whatever articles and other documents not contained in the complaint that they wish, and send whatever they wish to the respondent for comment,” the Republican commissioners wrote.

In the context of rat-fucking Roger, in 2016, McGahn succeeded in getting a bunch of Democrats’ lawsuits against Stone’s voter suppression efforts in swing states thrown out.

But the history these sleazeballs all share is relevant for a reason explicitly raised in the SDNY Cohen filing last night. In the middle of the most shrill passage in the entire shrill filing (one that also uses language that might be more appropriate in — and is likely to eventually show up in — a ConFraudUs charge), SDNY notes that Cohen can’t play dumb about campaign finance law because of his 2011 run-in with the law.

Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1. In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.

It is this type of harm that Congress sought to prevent when it imposed limits on individual contributions to candidates. To promote transparency and prevent wealthy individuals like Cohen from circumventing these limits, Congress prohibited individuals from making expenditures on behalf of and coordinated with candidates. Cohen clouded a process that Congress has painstakingly sought to keep transparent. The sentence imposed should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.

Cohen’s submission suggests that this was but a brief error in judgment. Not so. Cohen knew exactly where the line was, and he chose deliberately and repeatedly to cross it. Indeed, he was a licensed attorney with significant political experience and a history of campaign donations, and who was well-aware of the election laws. 11 In fact, Cohen publicly and privately took credit for Individual-1’s political success, claiming – in a conversation that he secretly recorded – that he “started the whole thing . . . started the whole campaign” in 2012 when Individual-1 expressed an interest in running for President. Moreover, not only was Cohen well aware of what he was doing, but he used sophisticated tactics to conceal his misconduct.

11 Cohen was previously the subject of an FEC complaint for making unlawful contributions to Donald Trump’s nascent campaign for the 2012 presidency. The complaint was dismissed for jurisdictional reasons, but it certainly put Cohen on notice of the applicable campaign finance regulations. See In the Matter of Donald J. Trump, Michael Cohen, et al., MUR 6462 (Sept. 18, 2013). [my emphasis]

To the extent that Cohen and his sole client, Individual-1, committed campaign finance crimes in 2016 — especially the corporate funding of campaign activities — they can’t claim to be ignorant, because they only narrowly avoided proceedings on precisely this point in 2013.

That’s all the more true given that that very same FEC commissioner was their campaign lawyer.

Now, any discussion about Cohen’s knowledge of campaign finance law in this instance is one thing if you’re talking whether SDNY will charge Trump and his company with conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws because Cohen bought off several women. But then there’s the matter of SuperPACs that illegally coordinated with Trump Org, and other dark money groups — including Stone’s — that coordinated with the campaign. Given that the donation Manafort lied about to Mueller is reportedly from Tom Barrack’s SuperPAC (along with his lies about whether he and Barrack met with Konstantin Kilimnik right after he got fired), that may be a campaign finance problem as well. Kilimnik partner Sam Patten has already pled guilty for using a straw donor to hide the foreign oligarchs ponying up to attend Trump’s inauguration, so that’s a second campaign finance guilty plea from people close to Trump and his aides, in addition to Cohen’s.

And all that’s before you get to the big one, Russia’s direct assistance to the campaign as part of a quid pro quo, and the stakes of whether any of the players can be said to know campaign finance law go up.

In short, Trump’s campaign was a serial campaign finance disaster in 2016, even in spite of having former FEC commissioner Don McGahn at their legal helm. And even if they weren’t running these legal questions by McGahn, Individual-1 and his fixer, at least, were also (as the government has already now alleged) “on notice of the applicable campaign finance regulations.”

Remember: After meeting with prosecutors for 20 hours late last year, McGahn had something around another 10 quality hours with Mueller’s prosecutors. The assumption has always been that those interviews were exclusively about the cover-up (though this May AP story on Tom Barrack’s own questioning describes that, “Investigators have for months been inquiring about the Trump campaign’s finances and compliance with federal election law,” and it doesn’t even include a single one of the crimes laid out here).

But it’s highly likely McGahn has given significant testimony about the (campaign finance) crime.

As I disclosed in 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. 

The Manafort Election Season Lying Bonanza Stall

I’d like to look at the timing laid out in Mueller’s filing arguing that Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement.

Manafort lied about his handler and his bankers

As the government lays out, Manafort lied about several things.

  • His communications with Konstantin Kilimnik: He appears to have denied his ongoing reporting to Kilimnik during the campaign, and (as WSJ reported), he appears to have hidden details about a boat trip he made with Tom Barrack after being fired from the campaign. There’s one more instance of a Kilimnik contact he’s lying about.
  • Kilimnik’s role in witness tampering: This one is frankly remarkable. As part of Manafort’s plea, he agreed that Kilimnik helped him attempt to witness tamper. Then, after that plea, he denied that very thing. Then, “when asked whether his prior plea and sworn admissions were truthful, Manafort conceded that Kilimnik had conspired with him.”
  • Payment to a firm working for him: Manafort lied about someone — it doesn’t say whom — paying off a $125,000 debt for him. Maybe this explains who is paying his spox, or maybe it even pertains to legal fees (though the amounts don’t come close to the fees covering the latter he must have incurred).
  • Another DOJ investigation: After proffering information that would help another investigation before his plea, Manafort told an exculpatory story after he signed his plea agreement. I suspect @liberty_42 is correct that this investigation pertains to the mortgage Manafort got from Steve Calk, especially given that his bank is (remarkably) contesting the forfeiture and the charges pertaining to him are among those Mueller seems to be considering retrying.
  • Contact with the Administration: I said in this post that if Mueller has evidence that Manafort discussed pardons with the Administration, now would be a good time to show it. In the passage describing Manafort’s lies about contacts with the Administration, it records him making a blanket denial; he had “no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the Administration while they were in the Administration” [my emphasis], but then goes on to suggest that Mueller had interest in “certain individuals.” Manafort claimed he had only spoken with those “certain individuals” before or after they worked for the Administration. This is kind of a dumb lie by Manafort to begin with, as there’s reporting of him talking to people like Reince Priebus. But Mueller’s invocation of a text from a specific date — May 26, 2018 — as well as what appears to be Rick Gates’ testimony that Manafort remained in communication with a senior Administration official up until February 2018 (when Gates flipped), suggests Mueller not only knows that Manafort had these discussions, but knows what was discussed. And I’m betting that involves pardons. If I’m right, then it would mean that Amy Berman Jackson will soon review whether Manafort lied about asking for a pardon.

June 9 lies are not alleged

There are a few things to conclude about the substance of Manafort’s claimed lies — aside from the fact that he really doesn’t want to tell the truth about Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the government alleges has ties to GRU.

First, the government notes that “at four of the post-plea meetings, prosecutors from other Department of Justice components attended.” If Manafort lied about Calk, that makes sense, because Calk would be prosecuted in NDIL or SDNY (where Mueller referred everything else). Konstantin Kilmnik’s other business partner, Sam Patten, is being managed out of DC, so prosecutors from there may have sat in. It may just be that National Security Division lawyers attended because all this involves counterintelligence. But the presence of outsiders at almost half of the post-plea meetings suggests that the Mueller investigation was not the prime focus.

And in spite of CNN’s scoop today that the June 9, 2016 meeting did come up with Manafort, it’s not mentioned here. That seems to suggest that while Mueller did get Manafort on the record on certain subjects relating to the election, aside from lies about his handler Kilimnik, Mueller is not including those lies here.

But Mueller did put Manafort before a grand jury on two occasions, after what must be weeks of lying, but right before the election, on October 26 and November. Significantly, that was a key time for Mueller’s Roger Stone investigation, especially November 2, when other Stone witnesses testified. We know that Mueller did ask Manafort for information about his lifelong buddy Roger Stone even in the time period leading up to Manafort’s grand jury testimony.

Still, aside from lying about his handler, Mueller doesn’t lay out any of Manafort’s lies on these subjects, if he did tell lies.

Immediately after the election Mueller started to deal with their liar

Here’s the timeline of what all this lays out.

Prior to September 14: Three proffers that presumably matched what prosecutors knew

September 14: Manafort pleads guilty

October 14: Based on CNN’s accurate count, end date for regular meetings between Manafort and Mueller

October 22: Rudy mouths off about continuing to get reports from Manafort

October 26: Manafort testifies to the grand jury

November 2: Manafort testifies to the grand jury

November 8: The government informs Manafort he has breached his plea agreement; Trump’s people work the press suggesting he may not respond to Mueller’s questions

November 13 [one day after return from France]: Trump initially promised to turn in open book test

November 15: Blaming leaked Corsi plea, Trump balks on submitting his open book test

November 13-16: Manafort’s lawyers argue he didn’t lie

November 20: Trump turns in his open book test, having refused to answer questions on the transition

November 26: Manafort’s lawyers argue he didn’t lie; Mueller refuses another extension to continue that effort

Thanks to CNN’s stakeout journalism, which accurately reported 9 meetings in the post-plea four weeks, we know that it’s not like Mueller suddenly realized at the end of all this that Manafort was lying. Because all the meetings they counted predated Manafort’s two grand jury appearances, we can be virtually certain that Mueller knew by that point Manafort was lying, and lying about silly stuff to which he had just pled guilty. Mueller gave Manafort nine post-plea changes to tell the truth, put him before the grand jury twice after that, and then less than a week later (the day after Sessions got fired and the first day that Matt Whitaker would have been Acting Attorney General, and on the very day Trump publicly balked on whether he was really going to turn in his open book test), Mueller for the first time told Manafort he had failed to meet the terms of the plea agreement.

Then starting again on the day when Trump said he maybe kind of would turn in his answers after taking a day to recover after his Paris trip, Manafort’s lawyers started to argue that their client hadn’t lied. That argument continued until the day after Trump balked again and the government got a 10-day extension on the status report on Manafort. Finally, after using that 10 day extension to … apparently do nothing, Manafort’s lawyers made one more try to argue their client didn’t lie.

In the interim period, Trump turned in his open book test.

Throughout this period, at least according to the government, Manafort’s lawyers didn’t advance any argument to refute the government claim their client lied. “In none of the communications with Manafort’s counsel was any factual or legal argument made as to why the government’s assessment was erroneous or made without good faith.”

Who was stalling whom?

I have argued that by entering a pardon-proof plea deal with a known liar while Trump pondered how to answer Mueller’s open book test, Mueller may have lulled Trump into answering those questions. The record doesn’t entirely support that case (though it is not incompatible with it), as Trump knew before he handed in his open book test that Mueller had branded Manafort a liar. Plus, because Mueller doesn’t allege that Manafort lied about some of the big questions — and because Mueller seems to have been tending other investigative priorities, like Steve Calk — we can’t tell (aside from the public report that Manafort got asked about his buddy Roger and Rudy’s claim Mueller’s prosecutors told Manafort Trump was lying about June 9) whether Mueller asked questions about key events like the June 9 meeting and Manafort lied, whether he just didn’t pose them, or whether he doesn’t have the other credible sources to present to Amy Berman Jackson.

So it’s unclear how Mueller approached the aborted election season plea deal.

But if Mueller’s claims that Manafort lied hold up — and his lies look really contemptuous — then it appears clear that Manafort is either hopelessly pathological and/or he used the plea deal just to buy time, presumably for Trump.

As I disclosed in 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. 

Updating the Mueller Docket: What Has Zainab Ahmad Been Working On?

I’ve been meaning for some days to update my running commentary on what Mueller’s prosecutors are doing.

But yesterday’s Mike Flynn filing made a point that I’ve been meaning to make: counterterrorism and international extradition expert Zainab Ahmad remains on Mueller’s team, but we’ve barely heard from her.

I’ve recently updated my own running docket (which is far too unwieldy to fit on a page anymore). It also includes a number of related cases:

  • Michael Cohen’s SDNY prosecution
  • Sam Patten’s DC prosecution
  • Maria Butina’s DC prosecution
  • Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova’s EDVA charges

I’ve also noted the departures of the prosecutors who have left (suggesting either that their part of the investigation is completed, or they’re bringing some part of it back to their home departments at DOJ to pursue).

One thing I’ve been following in recent Mueller activities is Jeannie Rhee’s seeming central role in what we’re seeing. If there’s a conspiracy-in-chief prosecution, she seems to be in charge of that.

Also of interest, Rush Atkinson appears to have ties to a seemingly disparate series of cases involving Russia: the IRA prosecution and related Pinedo case, the GRU prosecution. He’s also involved in both Michael Cohen’s Mueller prosecution and Jerome Corsi’s aborted cooperation. Notably, he’s not involved in the Andrew Miller subpoena, which may mean that he’s not involved in everything pertaining to Roger Stone. So his presence on a case may suggest a direct tie to Russians.

But perhaps the most interesting thing this docket shows is that, among the prosecutors (as distinct from the appellate specialists, though it’s unclear whether Elizabeth Prelogar is on the team for her Russian expertise as well as her appellate speciality or not), Zainab Ahmad is the only person whose work we’ve barely seen. While she has had a role in the Flynn cooperation, Brandon Van Grack (who’s in the process of transitioning back to his National Security Division home) took the lead on that.

As an experienced counterterrorism prosecutor normally located in EDNY (the district where JFK Airport is located), Ahmad is an expert in prosecutions involving extraditions (because of the JFK connection, many of those go through EDNY, and that’s where a lot of the important precedents are). Also of note, given the questions around whether there are two or three parts of a Mueller investigation on which Flynn cooperated, she’s an Arabic speaker.

We’ve not seen a substantive plea or charge related to what I’ll call the Middle Eastern graft (centered around, but not limited to, the Seychelles meeting Flynn attended), though we know that Mueller has spent a lot of time investigating it, and that’s an area where Flynn’s cooperation would be key. Given Ahmad’s skill set, it would make sense that she would be involved in those areas of the investigation.

As I disclosed in 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.