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Wherein WikiLeaks Brags about Entertaining a Pardon Dangle from a Suspected Russian Asset and a White Supremacist

Yesterday, Julian Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson had a statement (which has not been released) read at his extradition hearing describing that she witnessed a meeting between Assange and Dana Rohrabacher on August 15, 2017 (Neo-Nazi Chuck Johnson was also present), where the Congressman said he had a win-win deal to offer: Trump would pardon Julian Assange if Assange would say that the source of the stolen DNC emails was not Russia.

Robinson stated that Assange did not disclose the source. Based on reports, though, she did not appear to deny that Assange had claimed his source was not Russia, which is what Rohrabacher reported at the time.

A lawyer representing the United States did not contest Robinson’s report, agreeing that the offer occurred. But representatives from the US did state that Trump had not agreed to it (which, without access to the exact statement, could mean any thing, but Trump certainly hasn’t pardoned Assange, yet).

Amid a laudable parade of arguments at Assange’s extradition hearing about the Espionage Act and discussions of all the important disclosures associated with the 2010 WikiLeaks releases for which Julian Assange is fighting extradition — including testimony read from German torture victim Khaled al-Masri, one of the first times he has had his say in public — including this statement was a cynical, and I would argue, damning, ploy.

In spite of the frenzy from the US press about the statement, the claim is not new. It was reported immediately by the Daily Caller (I covered that report here). Then Assange tweeted and then released on Facebook a statement asserting that reports from others should not be deemed authoritative. “Only unmediated statements coming directly from me can be considered authoritative.” Rohrabacher issued a statement, in which he promised to divulge what Assange stated to Trump.

Neither explicitly admitted what was obvious, that it was a pardon quid pro quo.

In a follow-up interview with the Daily Caller, Rohrabacher claimed not to remember whether he spoke to anyone at the White House about the meeting. Then, in a follow-up interview with Sean Hannity, Rohrabacher said, “It is my understanding from other parties who are trying to arrange the rendezvous that a rendezvous with myself and the President is being arranged for me to give him the firsthand information from him.” Earlier this year (when WikiLeaks announced that Robinson was going to resuscitate this story), Kim Dot Com released texts describing how he had pushed Trump’s best friend (whom he claimed not to identify) to accept the deal.

Those texts identified the best friend as Sean Hannity, the same guy who hosted Rohrabacher to explain that, “other parties [were] trying to arrange the rendezvous that a rendezvous with myself and the President is being arranged for me to give him the firsthand information from him.”

Ultimately, Chief of Staff John Kelly refused to let the President meet with Rohrabacher, just like he refused other agents of disinformation about the Russian hack to meet with him in the same period.

Mr. Rohrabacher confirmed he spoke to Mr. Kelly this week but declined to discuss the content of their conversation. “I can’t confirm or deny anything about a private conversation at that level,” he said in a brief interview. He declined to elaborate further.

A Trump administration official confirmed Friday that Mr. Rohrabacher spoke to Mr. Kelly about the plan involving Mr. Assange. Mr. Kelly told the congressman that the proposal “was best directed to the intelligence community,” the official said. Mr. Kelly didn’t make the president aware of Mr. Rohrabacher’s message, and Mr. Trump doesn’t know the details of the proposed deal, the official said.

In the call with Mr. Kelly, Mr. Rohrabacher pushed for a meeting between Mr. Assange and a representative of Mr. Trump, preferably someone with direct communication with the president.

On its face, the pardon dangle story proves only that Julian Assange was willing to meet with someone widely presumed to be Russian asset, Dana Rohrabacher, and a far right white nationalist to help float false claims about Russia’s role in getting Trump elected. It also proves that, at the time (when Trump was desperately trying to shut down the investigation into his coordination with Russia in the 2016 election and one after another were giving false prepared statements denying such coordination), the President had a Chief of Staff with the ability to look out after his legal interests.

And while I doubt lawyers for the US will go there, in context, the fact that WikiLeaks’ defense team presented just one of the at least four pardon dangles — including one for which the import of Russian disinformation is more obvious than others — is a testament to the degree to which the true story of those pardon discussions would make WikiLeaks’ compromise by Russia clear.

Here are the known discussions of pardons since WikiLeaks released emails in such a way as to optimize their benefit to getting authoritarian torture fan Donald Trump elected.

  • Starting at least by November 16 (and probably earlier) and lasting at least through January 11, 2018, Roger Stone tried to broker a pardon; according to sworn testimony by Randy Credico, Margaret Kunstler was involved in this effort (and threatening to expose whatever role Kunstler had in the process is one of the ways Stone used to discourage Credico’s testimony).
  • Starting at least by January 12 and continuing until at least March 28, 2017, Adam Waldman — the lawyer that Assange shared with Oleg Deripaska, whom the SSCI Report shows had a central role in the 2016 operation — tried to negotiate a deal via which Assange would provide limited information to mitigate the harm of the Vault 7 leak and DOJ (or if that failed, SSCI) would give him immunity, effectively a pardon. Given WikiLeaks’ history of sharing raw documents with Russia and others, the entrée would have come long after WikiLeaks had had the opportunity to broker the files, which would have helped Russia not only identify CIA’s hacks of Russian computers, but also NOCs working for CIA. (I’ve started to wonder whether the Russian treason case from late 2016 has a tie.) John Solomon — who has spread Deripaska’s propaganda before — even blamed Jim Comey for the compromise that resulted. In short, the offer was far too late to be meaningful, but it was an effort to give Assange impunity for burning the CIA to the ground.
  • From August to October 2017, Rohrabacher pursued his pardon for disinformation deal.
  • Last week, in the guise of defending journalism, Glenn Greenwald went on Tucker Carlson’s show (where a number of people have successfully lobbied for a pardon) and pitched pardons for both Assange and Ed Snowden not, as he claimed, out of any defense of journalism or whistleblowers — both things that Trump affirmatively reviles — but instead because it’s a great way to stick it to the Obama Deep State.

So one pardon pitch immediately after Assange worked with Russia to get Trump elected, another one brokered by Oleg Deripaska’s lawyer, a third pitched by a Congressman widely believed to be a Russian asset, and finally Glenn’s pitch for a pardon as a great way to do damage to the intelligence community.

Not only did Russia figure in all of those pardon dangles, but each was pitched not as a way to honor Assange’s debt to journalism, but instead to serve Russia’s purposes. And for some reason WikiLeaks thinks that raising just one of these — while remaining silent about perhaps the most damning pardon dangle — helps prove its case that Julian Assange is a journalist and not the Russian spy the prosecutors in this case claim to believe he is.

Bill Barr Deems 11 Months to Charge False Statements, “the Proper Pace”

Last night, in response to Sean Hannity pressuring Billy Barr to be (as Trump stated earlier), “the greatest of all time” with respect to the John Durham investigation, Barr violated DOJ guidelines to reveal there would be a development today (and further developments before the election) in the John Durham investigation.

Perhaps in an attempt to shut down Hannity’s time pressure, Barr said whatever that development was, “the proper pace, as dictated by the facts in this investigation.”

HANNITY: The president said today that he hopes that the Durham report and that you, as attorney general, won’t be politically correct.

I hope that too. Mr. Attorney General, I have spent three years unpeeling the layers of an onion, in terms of premeditated fraud on a FISA court. You have deleted subpoenaed e-mails. You have knowledge we know that they were warned in August of 2016 not to trust that dossier, which was the bulk of information for the FISA warrants.

The sub source in January 2017 confirms, none of that was true, and it was bar talk.

I guess, just as the wheels of justice turn slowly, I feel impatience over it. Can you give us any update?

BARR: Yes, Sean.

Well, first, as to the political correctness, if I was worried about being politically correct, I wouldn’t have joined this administration. As I made clear…

HANNITY: That’s actually a good line, too. OK.

BARR: Yes.

Well, as I made clear, I’m going to call them as I see them. And that’s why I came in. I thought I’m in a — I think I’m in a position to do that.

There are two different things going on, Sean. One, I have said that the American people need to know what actually happened. We need to get the story of what happened in 2016 and ’17 now out. That will be done.

The second aspect of this is, if people cross the line, if people involved in that activity violated the criminal law, they will be charged.

And John Durham is an independent man, highly experienced. And his investigation is pursuing apace. There was some delay because of COVID. But I’m satisfied with the progress.

And I have said there are going to be developments, significant developments, before the election. But we’re not doing this on the election schedule. We’re aware of the election. We’re not going to do anything inappropriate before the election.

But we’re not being dictated to by this schedule. What’s dictating the timing of this are developments in the case. And there will be developments. Tomorrow, there will be a development in the case.

You know, it’s not an earth-shattering development, but it is an indication that things are moving along at the proper pace, as dictated by the facts in this investigation.

That development happened to be the charge of a single False Statements charge against Kevin Clinesmith, the lawyer who altered an email — he said, “to clarify facts for a colleague” — in the Carter Page investigation.

There’s an aspect of the Criminal Information I’ll return to.

But for the moment, consider that Billy Barr has said this Criminal Information, for one count of False Statements, was “moving along at the proper pace.” Per the DOJ IG Report, Clinesmith’s actions were referred to DOJ and FBI in June 2018. That means it has taken DOJ at least 13 months to charge a fairly clearcut false statements case.

[Note: I’ve reread this. DOJ IG referred Clinesmith to FBI for his politicized texts in June 2018. It’s unclear when they referred his alteration of an email. He resigned from FBI on September 21, 2019, so it would have happened before then. I’ve changed the headline accordingly.]

George Papadopoulos was charged, in an investigation that Barr’s boss Donald Trump said was far too long, just over eight months after he lied to the FBI.

Mike Flynn was charged, in an investigation that Trump claims was far too long, just over ten months after he lied to the FBI.

Even in the Roger Stone case, the longest lasting of the investigations into Trump’s flunkies, Mueller charged obstruction just over eight months after Mueller’s team discovered how Stone was threatening Randy Credico and other witnesses.

In short, Billy Barr has now said that the pace Mueller worked at was better than what he thinks is proper.

Billy Barr probably didn’t realize it, but the only thing his politicized Durham investigation has to show thus far is that Trump is wrong when he assails Mueller for the length of his investigation.

Roger Stone’s Flip Story Evolves for the Cameras

Last night, Roger Stone went on Sean Hannity’s show, mostly to lay the groundwork for withdrawing his appeal. But he also repeated a story he told at least twice shortly after his gag ended, describing how a Mueller prosecutor offered Stone leniency if he would testify that the content of some number of calls he had with Trump (29 in one telling, 36 in another) pertained to WikiLeaks.

Well, in the beginning of the case, Sean, I don’t think that [flipping on Trump] was their intention. But as they got closer and closer to having to issue the Mueller report and they realized that they had no Russian collusion because there was no Russian collusion, it was a hoax. On July 24, Jeannie Rhee, who was heading my prosecution within the Mueller team — that’s extraordinary in itself because she previously represented Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation in the illegal email server case, the missing email case. So she had a clear bias. She was a maximum donor to both of Hillary’s presidential campaigns. By the way, she has all the charm of a North Korean prison guard. She made it very clear to one of my lawyers — after a hearing she asked to see them privately — that if I would really remember certain phone conversations I had with candidate trump, if I would come clean, if I would confess, that they might be willing to, you know, recommend leniency to the judge perhaps I wouldn’t even serve any jail time. I didn’t have to think about it very long. I said absolutely not. There was no circumstance under which I would bear false witness against the president.

This story, as told, is impossible.

The problem is with the date.

In the version of the story Stone told to Lou Dobbs earlier this spring, Stone was quite clear: the meeting between this prosecutor and his lawyer happened on July 24, 2019.

DOBBS: We’re back with Roger Stone. And Roger, do you think you were targeted by Mueller, specifically to get dirt — to put you under pressure to get dirt on President Trump?

STONE: There’s no question whatsoever. After illegal leaks over a year saying I would be charged with treason and conspiracy against the United States, being the link between the Trump campaign and Russia. They indicted me on the flimsiest charges of lying to Congress even though there was no underlying crime for me to lie about. And then on July 24th, 2019, a member of the Mueller’s dirty cop squad approached one of my lawyers proposing a deal. If Stone would be willing to really re-remember the content of some 36 phone calls I had with candidate Trump, and admit that they were about Russia and WikiLeaks, they would be willing to perhaps recommend no jail time and I said, no. This President needs to be reelected, Lou. He is the greatest President in my lifetime, I would never give false testimony against him.

Similarly, the version Stone told some Daily Caller hack stated that this conversation happened on July 24, 2019.

On July 24, 2019, one of the prosecutors approached my lawyer and proposed, essentially, a deal. If your client would be willing to come clean, if your client would be prepared to confess, that these 29 phone calls between himself and candidate Donald Trump were about WikiLeaks and the Russians, we might be willing to recommend no jail time.

All three of these stories place this conversation on July 24, and two of them place it on July 24, 2019.

Jeannie Rhee withdrew from the case (and left DOJ) on April 16, 2019, before this discussion allegedly took place (unless it happened in 2018, which would raise a whole slew of different questions).

Mind you, in both the Hannity version and the Daily Caller version, Stone claims this conversation happened in the lead-up to the Mueller Report.

Their purpose was very clear. This was days before the Mueller Report. So they knew that their Russian section of the report was a dud, that they had nothing. So they wanted me to be their ham in their ham sandwich. And I declined, because it’s not true.

Rhee was at four hearings with Stone, post-indictment, before the report was issued:

  • January 29, 2019 (Arraignment)
  • February 1, 2019 (Status hearing)
  • February 21, 2019 (Gag hearing)
  • March 14, 2019

The latter of those certainly was in the days before the Mueller Report was released, but it was also at a time when the report was drafted. So if the conversation happened then, it is unlikely such testimony would have been included in the report.

Indeed, it is better thought of as a part of the second part of the investigation into Stone, the one for which the raid on Stone’s house was an attempt, in part, to obtain the notebook in which Stone had written notes of every conversation he had with Trump during the campaign.

53. On May 8, 2018, a law enforcement interview of [redacted] was conducted. [redacted] was an employee of Stone’s from approximately June 2016 through approximately December 2016 and resided in Stone’s previous New York apartment for a period of time. [redacted] provided information technology support for Stone, but was not formally trained to do so. [redacted] was aware that Stone communicated with Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and afterward, both in person and by telephone. [redacted] provided information about a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump and Stone during the time [redacted] worked for him, to which Sterne carried a “file booklet” with him. Stone told [redacted] the file booklet was important and that no one should touch it. [redacted] also said Stone maintained the file booklet in his closet.

54. On December 3, 2018, law enforcement conducted an interview of an individual (“Person 1 “) who previously had a professional relationship with a reporter who provided Person 1 with information about Stone. The reporter relayed to Person 1 that in or around January and February 2016, Stone and Trump were in constant communication and that Stone kept contemporaneous notes of the conversations. Stone’s purpose in keeping notes was to later provide a “post mortem of what went wrong.”

If the conversation happened on March 14, then, it might reflect prosecutors’ review of that notebook, if indeed they found it in the raid. If the conversation happened on March 14, prosecutors might already have known that those conversations pertained to WikiLeaks (remember, 29 or 36 conversations would just be a subset of the 60 or so prosecutors showed Stone had directly with a Trump phone number).

And if that’s the case — if prosecutors asked Stone to testify about 29 to 36 calls that, because of the rat-fucker’s carelessness (or instincts for self-preservation) they knew from his notes pertained to WikiLeaks — then this publicity tour about what a hero he was for risking prison to protect the President is just that, PR.

Effectively, Stone is telling this story on every show that Trump watches closely, presumably to reassure the President he succeeded in protecting him. With that notebook out there, it’s not at all clear that is true.

On Trump’s COVID Rallies: Lying and Bullying Are Different Things

Ben Smith wrote a column about how the press should deal with Trump’s daily COVID pressers rallies that has pissed a lot of journalists off. In it, he suggests even having the debate that he’s actually engaging in is tiresome.

I don’t intend to reopen the tiresome debate over whether news organizations should broadcast Mr. Trump’s remarks. The only people really debating this are the outlets for whom it doesn’t really matter, unless you’re big on symbolism. How many listeners to Seattle’s NPR affiliate are proud red hat wearers? And who thinks that the outlets for whom it would matter — Fox News, most of all — are even considering it? The whole debate seemed rooted in the idea that if only your favored news outlet didn’t live stream the president, he would just go away.

But that’s not the biggest problem with Smith’s column.

The very first line of the column suggests — in mocking tone — that the story of Trump’s COVID rallies is his bullying.

Did you hear? The president said some things today. Mean things! About someone I know … I can’t quite remember the details, or whether it was today or yesterday, or what day of the week it is, anyway.

In claiming the COVID rallies are about Trump’s bullying, Smith focuses on the warm mutual dysfunction of Maggie Haberman’s relationship with the President. He doesn’t talk about the way that the President uses the COVID rallies to denigrate beautiful smart women who are in the room with him, questioning him, which in my opinion is a story unto itself if you want to talk whether symbolism is worth airing or not.

And that’s one of the reasons why — contrary to Smith’s claim — it’s not clear the rallies really are, “The most effective form of direct presidential communication since Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats,” because they continue to alienate people like the suburban women whose support Trump would need to win reelection. If it were just about Trump’s bullying, Smith’s argument would still be suspect regarding Trump’s efficacy.

But the debate about the COVID rallies is not just about Trump’s bullying.

On the contrary, it’s about his lies. In his column, Smith suggests that Trump’s COVID rallies only “occasionally” derail the public health response.

[T]hey should cover them as what they are, a political campaign, not as a central part of the public health response except to the degree that it occasionally derails that response.

Trump has encouraged people to take untested medicine, he has refused to model the rules on social distancing his own CDC recommends, to say nothing of wearing a mask in public. He has at times interrupted his medical experts and ad-libbed responses to serious questions with no basis in fact, much less science. He has suggested, over and over and over, that tests are not a crucial part of this response when every single expert says they are. He has used the briefings to celebrate corporations — like Tyson Foods — that haven’t provided their employees adequate protection. He has accused medical professionals of stealing supplies.

Trump’s derailments of the public health response are in no way an “occasional” thing. They happen daily.

Which is why it’s all the more irresponsible — in providing decent advice to go show the human cost of this tragedy (which would entail dedicating the time spent showing Trump’s briefing to showing those human interest stories) — that Smith dismisses the import of fact-checking, of the kind that CNN’s Daniel Dale and Vox’s Aaron Rupar do in real time.

But if the cable networks want an alternative to the briefings, they can get out of the studio and back to what first made TV news so powerful — not fact-checking, but emotionally powerful imagery of human suffering.

During Katrina, for instance, “the power of CNN was having an army of cameras and correspondents all over the Gulf, showing the brutal human and economic toll split-screened against the anemic assurances of the Bush administration,” Mr. Hamby, a former CNN staff member, recalled. “It was crippling.”

Virtually every media outlet has published at least one story emphasizing the main lesson from the 1918 flu: that leaders need to tell the truth, most importantly to convince people to comply with public health guidelines over time. Here’s the version of that argument Smith’s NYT published, written by John Barry, who wrote The Great Influenza.

That brings us back to the most important lesson of 1918, one that all the working groups on pandemic planning agreed upon: Tell the truth. That instruction is built into the federal pandemic preparedness plans and the plan for every state and territory.

In 1918, pressured to maintain wartime morale, neither national nor local government officials told the truth. The disease was called “Spanish flu,” and one national public-health leader said, “This is ordinary influenza by another name.” Most local health commissioners followed that lead. Newspapers echoed them. After Philadelphia began digging mass graves; closed schools, saloons and theaters; and banned public gatherings, one newspaper even wrote: “This is not a public health measure. There is no cause for alarm.”

Trust in authority disintegrated, and at its core, society is based on trust. Not knowing whom or what to believe, people also lost trust in one another. They became alienated, isolated. Intimacy was destroyed. “You had no school life, you had no church life, you had nothing,” a survivor recalled. “People were afraid to kiss one another, people were afraid to eat with one another.” Some people actually starved to death because no one would deliver food to them.

Society began fraying — so much that the scientist who was in charge of the armed forces’ division of communicable disease worried that if the pandemic continued its accelerating for a few more weeks, “civilization could easily disappear from the face of the earth.”

The few places where leadership told the truth had a different experience. In San Francisco, the mayor and business, labor and medical leaders jointly signed a full-page ad that read in huge all-caps type, “Wear a Mask and Save Your Life.” They didn’t know that masks offered little protection, but they did know they trusted the public. The community feared but came together. When schools closed, teachers volunteered as ambulance drivers, telephone operators, food deliverers.

Compliance today has been made vastly more difficult by the White House, echoed by right-wing media, minimizing the seriousness of this threat. That seemed to change on Monday. But will President Trump stick to his blunt message of Monday? Will his supporters and Rush Limbaugh’s listeners self-quarantine if called upon? Or will they reject it as media hype and go out and infect the community?

This is not a hoax.

Telling the truth is a life or death issue during a pandemic. An early study even suggests that Hannity — one of the most important players in Trump’s echo chamber — encouraged his watchers to sustain behaviors that could get them killed.

And in recent days, Trump has repeatedly undermined the advice of his experts, lying about the social distancing of rent-a-mobs challenging shut-downs, and magnifying those who say this virus is, indeed, a hoax.

You cannot separate Trump’s COVID rallies from the public health story. Because his rallies — especially the lies he tells — are a menace to public health.

Update: Here’s Charles Blow’s op-ed arguing the same point.

Trump Threatens to Withhold Disaster Declaration for Michigan because Gretchen Whitmer Was Mean to Him

Update: According to NBC’s Geoff Bennett, Trump has now approved the request.

Last night, Donald Trump suggested that he might withhold a disaster declaration for Michigan requested by Governor Whitmer on March 26 because he doesn’t like Governor Whitmer’s public comments about the Federal government’s failures.

“We’ve had a big problem with the young — a woman governor. You know who I’m talking about — from Michigan. We don’t like to see the complaints,” President Trump told Sean Hannity during a FOX News interview on Thursday.

Gov. Whitmer has been openly critical of the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak, voicing her frustration with not having enough COVID-19 test kits and a lack of “clear and concise guidance from the federal government.”

The comments from President Trump come on the same day Gov. Whitmer requested a major disaster declaration for Michigan over the coronavirus outbreak.

“She doesn’t get it done, and we send her a lot. Now, she wants a declaration of emergency, and, you know, we’ll have to make a decision on that,” President Trump continued. “I don’t know if she knows what’s going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government.”

Here are the states for which Trump has declared an emergency with the number of positive cases on the date Trump made that declaration and the party of their governor.

As of yesterday, Michigan has had 2,856 people test positive for COVID-19. Dr. Deborah Birx pointed to SE Michigan’s Wayne County (which includes Detroit and the mostly working class suburbs), along with Cook County, IL, as the alarming hotspots in the country.

And yet Trump doesn’t want to approve a disaster declaration because a girl was mean to him.

Kim DotCom Posts Evidence Trump’s “Best Friend (Name Redacted)” in Pardon Discussions

Last night, Kim DotCom tried to take credit for brokering the meeting at which Dana Rohrabacher tried to pardon a pardon deal whereby Julian Assange would claim Seth Rich was his source for the DNC emails and Trump would pay him off with a pardon. He posted a bunch of texts with “Trumps best friend (name redacted)” where he pushed his  interlocutor to get Trump to take a public step in favor of the deal.

Only, the name of Trump’s “best friend (name redacted)” was not actually redacted.

While I have no doubt DotCom is overselling his own role in this, it does appear he was talking directly to Sean Hannity about it.

Which would suggest a real continuity between whatever happened when Hannity met Assange in January 2017, not long after Roger Stone reached out to Margaret Kunstler to discuss a pardon, and what happened in August 2017, when Dana Rohrabacher resumed discussion of the pardon. That suggests pardon discussions were not — as WikiLeaks is now falsely portraying — a one-time bid that got rejected, leading to Assange’s prosecution, but rather continued from late December 2016 until at least August 2017, through the time when Mike Pompeo labeled WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency.

Back Channel: How Sean Hannity Came to Believe “Every Word [Assange] Says”

In a pre-hearing hearing in London today, a lawyer for Julian Assange said they’d call a witness who would testify that Julian Assange was offered a pardon if he would say that Russia wasn’t behind the 2016 hack.

This has led to people discovering for the first time the abundant evidence that Assange and the Trump Administration were discussing pardons in a bunch of different contexts. They weren’t all, at all, an exchange for Assange’s false testimony about his ties to Russia. That’s just the only legally convenient one Assange can mention, because the others involve extortion (either a quid pro quo for the initial campaign dirt, or an offer to limit the damage of the Vault 7 leak in exchange for immunity) that would easily reach the bar for extradition.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, one of the most interesting questions Robert Mueller failed to get Trump to answer in good faith pertained to pardon discussions starting even before the inauguration.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

Trump’s answer did not cover the transition, when — testimony from his trial made clear — Roger Stone was already working on a pardon.

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

The record shows that discussions of an Assange pardon — for any of a variety of reasons — continued from late 2016 through early 2018.

But now that Assange is preparing to unpack one point of blackmail he has against Trump — and given the abundant effort we’ve seen that various people (including but not limited to Paul Manafort) use Sean Hannity as a back channel to the President — it’s time for folks to reconsider the Sean Hannity interview of Julian Assange from early January, 2017, just days after Roger Stone was known to be pursuing a pardon for Assange.

How Paul Manafort Lied to Mueller to Protect Jared Kushner

Paul Manafort appears to have saved the President’s son-in-law by lying to Mueller’s prosecutors.

That’s what his 302 from September 13, 2018, released yesterday under FOIA, appears to show.

The 302 records the last interview before he sealed his plea deal (starting at PDF 223). Much of it focuses on how the campaign dealt with WikiLeaks. The 302 includes the following topics:

  1. A reminder that on the previous two days, Manafort had lied about meeting Konstantin Kilimnik in February 2017, but after being shown travel records in this interview he admitted it.
  2. Mostly redacted (for ongoing investigation likely tied to Roger Stone’s prosecution) discussions about how Manafort didn’t want Trump “distracted by the titillation of a WikiLeaks release.”
  3. A claim that the RNC would handle press on the WikiLeaks release, even though three Trump staffers had been strategizing just that for weeks.
  4. Manafort’s claim he was surprised by the “Russia are you listening” comment, which is consistent with other people’s claims, if unbelievable.
  5. Language designed to sustain a claim that Manafort had no idea why Trump attributed the stolen emails to Russia in his “Russia are you listening” comment.
  6. A claim that no one suspected Trump of “colluding” with Russian before Robbie Mook made the allegation.
  7. A discussion that ties the two October 7 events (the release of the Podesta emails and the Access Hollywood tape) with details of his own crimes in Ukraine, along with an admission that Manafort spoke to Trump about all that.
  8. Manafort’s claims to be absolutely ignorant about whether Trump had any entanglements with Russia.
  9. Lies about (almost certainly) Steve Calk’s awareness that his bank loan paperwork submission was false.

Between topic 8 and 9, the 302 also captures the basis for one of Mueller’s claims that Manafort lied during his cooperation agreement, an allegation (that Judge Amy Berman Jackson upheld) that Manafort lied about another DOJ investigation to protect someone.

I laid out what the breach determination disclosed about the investigation here. Basically, shortly before Manafort left the campaign, someone (which it’s now clear is almost certainly Roger Stone and indeed appears to have come up in Stone’s trial) offered up a way to save the candidate. The question is how closely involved someone else — someone with a 7-character name — got involved in this effort to save the candidate. According to the breach proceedings, Manafort told one story that incriminated the person with a 7-character name when first interviewed, prior to getting his plea deal, on September 13 (that is, in this 302). But when Mueller’s team brought prosecutors from another investigation in to hear the story on October 5, Manafort at first gave a very different version, one that was much less incriminating to that 7-character name person, a version that aligned with the story that person was telling the FBI at the time, and that put more of the blame on the 5-character name person, presumably Stone.

It appears highly likely that the person he was protecting was Jared Kushner.

In the breach hearing (discussion starts on page 110), the names of both people involved are redacted.

But in the 302 released yesterday, Kushner’s name is not redacted.

Numerous times in Paul Manafort’s texts with Sean Hannity (who, in another of the 302s released yesterday, he admitted to treating as a back channel to Trump), Manafort talked about his certainty that Mueller would go after Kushner. Indeed, he claimed that’s who he would have to give up to get a plea deal.

We now know he discussed Kushner the day before he got a plea deal. And then he reneged on telling that story.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

Was Chris Ruddy a Second Back Channel between Manafort and Trump?

Yesterday, Buzzfeed released the next tranche of FOIAed Mueller 302s. There’s actually some interesting details. They show:

  • Details of how KT McFarland lied and then, when she realized Mueller had obtained Transition emails, cleaned up her story in a panic
  • Some but not all of Jerome Corsi’s 302s, which are actually fairly informative
  • Some but not all of Manafort’s 302s where he lied (one of which I’ll return to)
  • Manafort’s admission he used Sean Hannity as a go-between with Trump

It also includes Chris Ruddy’s 302 (starting at PDF 58). As DOJ has been doing with most 302s, they’ve left mostly stuff that showed up in the Mueller Report unredacted, hiding the rest under deliberative (b5) exemptions.

But I’m interested in Ruddys’ 302 because four paragraphs that show a b7ABC redaction, which mostly has been used to hide stuff pertaining to Roger Stone.

I doubt this redaction pertains to Stone, though, at least not exclusively.

As I noted last June when Amy Berman Jackson liberated the Sean Hannity texts with Manafort, she withheld another set of communications (probably showing Kevin Downing reached out to the media, as he had done with Hannity, which is why they were submitted as part of Manafort’s sentencing). She withheld the other texts because of an ongoing proceeding.

At the time, I suggested that the other proceeding might pertain to Chris Ruddy because:

  • Ruddy was a key source for a key Howard Fineman story in the same time frame as Kevin Downing had reached out to Hannity
  • Prosecutors probably obtained all of Manafort’s WhatsApp texts after learning he had been witness tampering using that account
  • Ruddy testified to Mueller the day after they had extracted the Manafort-Hannity texts, suggesting he was a likely candidate to be the other person whose texts showed ongoing communication with the media

Here’s my logic from that post:

All that provides one possible explanation for why Manafort decided it’d be a good idea to put his lawyer directly in touch with Hannity, in violation of her gag order. But that doesn’t explain the other reason ABJ decided not to release the second set of texts: some “ongoing matters” that require the communications remain secret.

[snip]

There’s one other notable date in that time period. As I’ve noted, the Downing – Hannity discussions came just before Howard Fineman reported, on January 30, 3018, not only that Trump planned to beat Mueller by having Sessions investigate him…

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

… But also reported that Trump was confident that Manafort would not flip on him.

He’s decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to “flip” and sell him out, friends and aides say.

Chris Ruddy was one source for the Fineman story. And Ruddy was interviewed by the FBI about his knowledge of Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice on June 6, 2018, the day after the FBI extracted the Hannity texts from Manafort’s phone.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive ofNewsmax Media and a longtime friend of the President’s, met at the White House with Priebus and Bannon.547 Ruddy recalled that they told him the President was strongly considering firing the Special Counsel and that he would do so precipitously, without vetting the decision through Administration officials.548 Ruddy asked Priebus if Ruddy could talk publicly about the discussion they had about the Special Counsel, and Priebus said he could.549 Priebus told Ruddy he hoped another blow up like the one that followed the termination of Corney did not happen.550 Later that day, Ruddy stated in a televised interview that the President was “considering perhaps terminating the Special Counsel” based on purported conflicts of interest.551 Ruddy later told another news outlet that “Trump is definitely considering” terminating the Special Counsel and “it’s not something that’s being dismissed.”552 Ruddy’s comments led to extensive coverage in the media that the President was considering firing the Special Counsel.553

547 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 5.

548 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 5-6.

549 Ruddy 6/6/ l 8 302, at 6.

550 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 6.

551 Trump Confidant Christopher Ruddy says Mueller has “real conflicts” as special counsel, PBS (June 12, 2017); Michael D. Shear & Maggie Haberman, Friend Says Trump ls Considering Firing Mueller as Special Counsel, New York Times (June 12, 2017).

If you’re going to contact one of Trump’s close media allies — Hannity — to send Trump an ultimatum about Manafort and get the media person on board for a plan to undercut Mueller, you’re likely to contact Trump’s other closest media ally, Chris Ruddy.

None of that answers what Downing had to explain to Hannity and what the ongoing proceeding might be. But it does suggest that Ruddy was in the same kind of discussion circle in January 2018 as Hannity was.

The four paragraphs in Ruddy’s 302 that, nine months after Mueller finished remain redacted because of an ongoing investigation, suggest my speculation was probably right, and that the ongoing proceeding pertains to communications between either Manafort or Downing back before Howard Fineman reported that Trump had confidence that the one witness who might hurt him, Manafort, would not flip on him.

I’m not sure what ongoing proceeding that would entail. And if Manafort was also using Ruddy as a back channel to Trump, it would mean his later testimony was false, because he didn’t also admit to using Ruddy in that fashion.

The Persistence of Jared in the WikiLeaks Operation

As I noted repeatedly (one, two), there were a number of provocative loose threads left in Roger Stone’s trial. I want to look at one more: Roger Stone’s effort to involve Kushner in WikiLeaks related stuff.

Rick Gates testified that in the weeks before WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails in July 2016, a group including Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Paul Manafort, and him brainstormed how they would respond to emails that — according to Roger Stone (as well as other public reporting) — would soon be released.

Jared Kushner was pointedly not named as participating in that group.

That’s interesting because, just before 10PM on June 14, 2016 — the day that the DNC first announced it had been hacked — Stone had two phone calls with Trump on his home line, lasting a total of 4:18 minutes. The government admits they don’t know what happened on those calls, but for some reason they seem to be certain it had to do with the DNC emails. Late afternoon the next day, after Guccifer 2.0 first released documents billed as DNC documents, Stone wrote Gates asking first for Jared Kushner’s contact info, then his email. There were also a number of texts that day (the trial exhibit doesn’t clarify whether these are ET or UTC, so it’s unclear whether they happen around 4 and 12 PM, which is most likely, or 8PM and 4AM the next day).

Stone: Call me. Important

Gates: On con call but will call right after. Thanks.

Stone: Please

Stone: Awake ?

Gates: Yep.

Stone: Call me?

Gates said that Stone wanted Jared’s contact info to debrief him on the hacked materials. Which is one reason it’s weird that Kushner was not named in the group that prepared for new emails to drop.

Especially since, late in the campaign, Kushner is the one Paul Manafort advised on how to capitalize on WikiLeaks’ releases. On October 21, for example, Manafort told him to use WikiLeaks to demonstrate Hillary’s alleged corruption.

For example, on October 21, 2016, Manafort sent Kushner an email and attached a strategy memorandum proposing that the Campaign make the case against Clinton “as the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” and that “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”936

When, on November 5, Manafort sent Kushner an email warning that Hillary would blame any win on hacked voting machines, Steve Bannon responded by linking Manafort, Russia, and the WikiLeaks releases. (PDF 258)

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

They are going to try and say the Russian worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us

Paul is nice guy but can’t let word out he is advising us

That suggests that Bannon was a lot warier of continuing to accept Manafort’s counsel than Kushner was — and Bannon was wary because it linked a campaign win to Russia’s help.

When Bannon was asked about this in an early, not entirely truthful, interview, he in turn linked Manafort to someone else who, given the name length and redaction purpose, is likely Stone.

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [5 letter name redacted for ongoing proceeding] or Manafort. Bannon knew they were going to win, and in this email he wanted to avoid Manafort because Bannon believed that if people could link them to Manafort, they could then try to link them to Russia.

Now go back to something else introduced in the trial. On August 18, the day after Bannon was first hired onto the campaign (but the day before Manafort would resign), Stone emailed him and explained, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.”

That appears to be the “other investigation” that Paul Manafort was supposed to, but reneged, on helping DOJ investigate last year, one where Manafort first implicated (to get his plea deal), then tried to exonerate (after he got it) someone with a seven-letter name. Even at the time, a different part of DOJ was investigating it.

Finally, consider one other detail. Back in March 2018, when Sean Hannity was grilling Paul Manafort about whether he might flip, Manafort explained that he would be expected to give up Kushner.

These are just data points.

But they are consistent with there being two strands of WikiLeaks discussions on the campaign. One — involving Gates, Stephen Miller, and Jason Miller — doing little more than optimizing the releases. And another — involving Manafort and Kushner, one that Bannon didn’t want any tie to — involving something more.