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William Barr Ratchets Up the “Witch Hunt” over an Investigation He Judges to be “Anemic” Given the Threat

Bill Barr hit the right wing news circuit today to make vague claims designed to feed the hoax about inappropriate spying on the Trump campaign. With both the WSJ and Fox, he obfuscated about what led him to ask John Durham to conduct what amounts to at least the third review of the origins of the Russia investigation.

“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Mr. Barr told The Wall Street Journal, in his first interview since taking office in February. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”

He added: “Just like we need to ensure that foreign actors don’t influence the outcome of our elections, we need to ensure that the government doesn’t use its powers to put a thumb on the scale.”

[snip]

In his Wednesday interview, he declined to elaborate or offer any details on what prompted his concerns about the genesis of the Russia probe.

[snip]

Mr. Barr wouldn’t specify what pre-election activities he found troubling, nor would he say what information he has reviewed thus far or what it has shown. He said he was surprised that officials have been so far unable to answer many of his questions.

“I have more questions now than when I came in,” he said, but declined to detail them.

Given his inability to point to a reason to start this (aside from Trump’s direct orders), it’s worth looking back at something Barr said in his May 1 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Mike Lee attempted to get the Attorney General to substantiate his claim — made on April 10 — that the Trump campaign had been inappropriately spied on. In response, Barr explained his spying comment by suggesting that if the “only intelligence collection that occurred” were the FISA warrant on Carter Page and the use of Stefan Halper to question George Papadopoulos, it would amount to an “anemic” effort given the counterintelligence threat posed.

One of the things I want to look — there are people — many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I’d like to find out whether that is, in fact, true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.

Over the course of this exchange, Barr admits he doesn’t know or remember what the Mueller Report says about Carter Page, and Lee displays that he’s unfamiliar with several points about Page in the Mueller Report:

  • The report shows that Page had had two earlier ties to Russian intelligence before joining the Trump campaign, not just the one in 2013
  • After Page’s conversations with Viktor Podobnyy were quoted in the latter’s criminal complaint, Page went to a Russian official at the UN General Assembly and told him he “didn’t do anything” with the FBI
  • Page defended sharing intelligence with people he knew were Russian spies by explaining, “the more immaterial non-public information I give them, the better for this country”
  • Dmitry Peskov was Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich spoke about working with Page in the future
  • Mueller ultimately concluded that “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained”
  • According to Konstantin Kilimnik, on December 8, 2016 “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine”
  • The declinations discussion appears to say Page could have been charged as a foreign agent, but was not

Even with all the details about Page Lee appears to be unfamiliar with, there are more that he cannot know, because they’re protected as grand jury materials.

Which is to say neither of these men knew enough about the investigation on May 1 to be able to explain why Barr needed to do an investigation except that Barr thought not enough spying occurred so he was sure there must be more. Had Barr read the IG Report laying out some of these issues, he would know that the investigation was anemic, in part because on August 15, Peter Strzok lost an argument about how aggressively they should pursue the investigation.

In a text message exchange on August 15, 2016, Strzok told Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….” The “Andy” referred to in the text message appears to be FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was not a party to this text message, and we did not find evidence that he received it.

In an interview with the OIG, McCabe was shown the text message and he told us that he did not know what Strzok was referring to in the message and recalled no such conversation. Page likewise told us she did not know what that text message meant, but that the team had discussions about whether the FBI would have the authority to continue the Russia investigation if Trump was elected. Page testified that she did not find a reference in her notes to a meeting in McCabe’s office at that time.

Strzok provided a lengthy explanation for this text message. In substance, Strzok told us that he did not remember the specific conversation, but that it likely was part of a discussion about how to handle a variety of allegations of “collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.” As part of this discussion, the team debated how aggressive to be and whether to use overt investigative methods. Given that Clinton was the “prohibitive favorite” to win,

Strzok said that they discussed whether it made sense to compromise sensitive sources and methods to “bring things to some sort of precipitative conclusion and understanding.” Strzok said the reference in his text message to an “insurance policy” reflected his conclusion that the FBI should investigate the allegations thoroughly right away, as if Trump were going to win. Strzok stated that Clinton’s position in the polls did not ultimately impact the investigative decisions that were made in the Russia matter.

So the investigation was anemic, and it was anemic because the guy Lee blames for unfairly targeting Trump wasn’t permitted to investigate as aggressively as he believed it should be investigated.

In the exchange, Barr also says he doesn’t want to get into the “FISA issue,” on account of the IG investigation into it — which would seem to leave just the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange to investigate.

DOJ’s IG has probably given the initial results of its investigation into FISA to FBI. I say that because of Chris Wray’s objection to the use of the word “spying” to describe predicated surveillance, Trump’s attack on Wray because of it, and the unsealing of the names of additional people at the FBI involved in interviewing Mike Flynn — Mike Steinbach, Bill Priestap, James Baker — as well as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod in two of the documents tied to his sentencing released last night. That would suggest there’s nothing substantive there (which is not surprising, given how much more damning the information about Page is than we previously knew).

Which would mean the biggest reason Barr is starting this witch hunt is that the investigation was so anemic to begin with.

Chuck Ross Gets Pissy about Russian Disinformation

I noted a while back that after covering the dossier full time, Chuck Ross had finally figured out it might be Russian disinformation.

In his coverage of the then State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs notes of a briefing from Christopher Steele, he continues that beat, but proves himself to utterly misunderstand the significance of disinformation — and do some of his most dishonest reporting to boot.

The notes from Kathleen Kavalec, which Citizens United liberated and which have been feeding the frothy right and the credulous left for a week, show that she recognized the raw intelligence she was being briefed on had problems, most notably in the claim that payments to a network of Russians in the US were paid out of the Russian Consulate in Miami — a consulate that Kavalec notes in her own notes does not exist (though which is curiously in the same place as Roger Stone).

That said, there are parts of it that actually accord with what we know: that Dmitry Peskov was in the loop, that the election year operation was not run by FSB, and that Russian thought they could keep this operation anonymous but failed. Even the claim that Carter Page was involved is more credible than the actual dossier claims about him, given that when he was in Russia, according to the Mueller Report, Peskov considered meeting with Page but then said,

“I have read about [Page]. Specialists say that he is far from being the main one. So I better not initiate a meeting in the Kremlin.”

The most ridiculous thing in Kavalec’s notes are how the Trump Tower-Alfa Bank-Spectrum Health hoax had gotten into the Christoper Steele reporting chain, which I correctly laid out in March 2017. As Steele (or Jonathan Winer, who may have briefed Kavalec in a game of telephone) understood it, the DNS look ups included Tor and was used by Paul Manafort to communicate with Alfa. That makes the entire story even stupider than it always has been, both on technical grounds (which in turn suggests Steele doesn’t understand computers, which is apparent from every single one of his cybersecurity reports), on logistics (why would Paul Manafort communicate from his Trump Tower condo via a server in Pennsylvania), and Manafort’s own habits (we know him to use foldering and WhatsApp, not Tor).

In other words, Kavalec’s notes, which show either the even rawer  intelligence on which Steele based his raw intelligence reports or a game of telephone that inserted errors at each re-telling, show them to be at once shittier and in a few areas also potentially more accurate than the dossier itself.

It’s on a different area — Kavalec’s citation of Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov and former head of SVR Vyacheslav Trubnikov where Ross totally blows how disinformation works.

Ross takes these Kavalaec notes…

Which get translated into this typed summary by Kavalaec:

And he invents from that that Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Vladislav Surkov are sources, for Steele, for the pee tape allegation.

In her notes, State Department official Kathleen Kavalec also referred to the two Russians — former Russian foreign intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Putin aide Vladislav Surkov — as “sources.”

The references to Trubnikov and Surkov, which have not previously been reported, are not definitive proof that either were sources for Steele’s dossier or that they were involved in an effort to collect blackmail material on Trump.

[snip]

Trubnikov and Surkov are not identified by name in Steele’s dossier, which the FBI used as part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the information that the former British spy attributed to the two Russians involves the dossier’s most salacious allegation: that the Russian government had sexually compromising material on Trump.

Kavalec’s notes said Steele claimed Trump was “filmed engaged in compromising activities” with Russian prostitutes in 2013, but that “the Russians have not needed to use the ‘kompromat’ on [Trump] as he was already in cooperation.”

Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London, told Kavalec that Putin and some of his top advisers were running the Trump operation.

“Presidential Advisor Vladislov Surkov and Vyasheslov Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved,” wrote Kavalec, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian issues.

Kavalec’s handwritten notes also contain a reference to Trubnikov and Surkov as “sources,” but with no additional explanation.

Trubnikov served as head of Russia’s for

eign intelligence service, SVR, from 1996 to 2000. He went on to serve as first deputy for foreign affairs and ambassador to India.

The unverified allegations of sexual blackmail material on Trump are included in the June 20, 2016, memo from Steele’s dossier. Steele had been hired that same month by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid to investigate Trump.

Citing “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” Steele claimed Russian authorities had gathered a substantial amount of “embarrassing material” on Trump and would “be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”

It is difficult to know how to interpret Steele’s claims about Trubnikov and Surkov, given the numerous problems that have emerged with the former British spy’s reporting.

As a threshold matter, this is a gross misreading of Kavalec’s notes. As Ross screencaps, her actual notes put Trubnikov and Surkov’s names under a July heading. The pee tape appears just once in the Steele dossier, in a report dated June 20, 2016. So if Trubnikov and Surkov were sources for Steele in July, they could not be the sources for the pee tape allegation. Moreover, Trubnikov and Surkov appear on a separate page from the reference to the Ritz in her original notes that would reflect a pee tape discussion, and she seems to say the source for that allegation is complicated.

But at least as Kavalec renders the reference to Trubnikov and Surkov in her typed summary of her own notes — which is where Ross gets the claim they’re sources for the pee tape — they are not sources for Steele but instead participants in the election year operation.

Steele stressed that while Trump was filmed in compromising activities with prostitutes in the Ritz Carlton, the Russians have not needed to use that “kompromat” on him as h was already interested in cooperation. (Steele said he is persuaded the story about the prostitutes is accurate because they had their source speak with hotel contacts who confirmed 1) that the FBS was in the hotel while Trump was there and 2) Trump regularly availed himself of prostitutes while in Moscow.) Steele indicated that this operation is run by the Kremlin — former Kremlin COS Sergey Ivanov, Dmitry Peskov and President Putin — and not the FSB. Presidential Advisor Vladislov [sic] Surkov and Vyacheslov [sic] Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved.

Indeed, per Kavalec’s notes, Steele had just one source for the pee tape allegation, not two.

So Ross is, for starters, misreading what Kavalec’s notes say (which is not to say her own rendering of the notes — in either her handwritten notes or typed up summary — is accurate; this is ultimately a giant game of telephone).

But then, in a long piece that includes two paragraphs on how the Mueller Report debunked “Steele’s core claim of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin,” Ross doesn’t mention what the Report says about the pee tape.

The special counsel’s report all but debunked Steele’s core claim of a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. The report also said Michael Cohen did not visit Prague, which is where Steele claimed the former Trump lawyer met with Kremlin insiders to pay off computer hackers. (RELATED: Mueller Report Undercuts Several Steele Dossier Claims)

Public evidence has not backed up other allegations, including about “kompromat” on Trump. The president has vehemently denied the sex tape claim, and individuals who were with Trump during his Moscow trip have cast doubt on the allegation, saying Trump had virtually no time to take part in the steamy activities described by Steele.

The pee tape is the dossier claim that the Mueller Report most directly corroborates (though, given that Mueller never figured out what Manafort was doing sharing polling data he knew would be shared with Oleg Deripaska, in part because of Trump’s obstruction, we can’t discount the possibility he was coordinating more directly).

In the guise of explaining why Trump may have reacted badly when Jim Comey briefed him on the dossier, Mueller explained how Giorgi Rtskhiladze called Michael Cohen just before the election to assure him that he had “stopped flow of tapes from Russia,” which Rtskhiladze took to mean kompromat from the same 2013 trip Steele said the kompromat came from.

Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

Rtskhiladze has complained about how Mueller’s team portrayed this. But not only does his complaint contradict itself on the key issue of whether the tapes were real or not, it actually provides more reason to question whether the tapes exist or not (as Rtskhiladze worked so hard to deny he had seen them).

I’m not saying the tapes exist — but that’s the point about Russian disinformation, they don’t have to exist. There are four possibilities at this point:

  1. Steele made up the allegation, which no one is alleging
  2. The tape exists but is actually doctored to falsely claim either that Trump was sleeping with prostitutes or was engaging in kink in the Ritz Carlton
  3. The tape exists and is real
  4. The tape doesn’t exist, but someone lied when they told Steele’s source about it, and  Rtskhiladze or someone in his orbit heard of that lie (perhaps by Steele blabbing his mouth in DC) and Rtskhiladze repeated the lie to try to ingratiate himself to Cohen and make Trump fear the Agalarovs (which is who Rtskhiladze claimed had the tapes)

If you believe the dossier is substantially Russian disinformation, then either 2 or 4 are possibilities. Either one, though, changes the import of Russian disinformation, because it shows that Russia was just as happy to target Trump with disinformation in 2016 as they were with Hillary (something I strongly believe to be true).

That possibility would totally fuck with Chuck’s story — which also entails making much of the mention of the fact that Stefan Halper, someone the US government paid to collect intelligence on people including Russians, invited Trubnikov to an event where Halper might collect information from him.

Virtually all the denialists argue that we should not talk about how the pee tape appears in the Mueller Report, even though both Cohen and Rtskhiladze — seemingly independently — seem to have the same understanding of what those text messages relate to, even though both have said that they don’t believe the tapes to actually exist.

For Chuck Ross, the possibility that the Russians might actually use disinformation to manipulate Trump independent of any disinformation fed to Steele would totally fuck up his narrative, even though it is fundamental to the likelihood that the Russians fed Steele disinformation.

Chuck wants this to feed his partisan narrative that the Democrats — in compiling the same kind of oppo research that Steve Bannon did with Clinton Cash — did something bad (they did something incompetent, which is different) and the Russians capitalized on that to make Trump look bad (with information that, in significant parts, alleges things that really happened, but with other people involved). But real or fake, the pee tape referenced by Rtskhiladze undermines that narrative. It means that Russians were happy to sow disinformation targeting everyone.

Unsurprisingly, then, Chuck remains silent about it.

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. 

“Young George” Papadopoulos Wants “Mercy and Compassion” (from Trump) for Something He Believes Is Treason

George Papadopoulos submitted his sentencing memo last night. Rather than writing an honest sentencing memo, he’s still working with co-conspirators, in this case, in hopes of getting a pardon from Trump. Reading it, I’d be shocked if the government doesn’t charge him as a knowing participant whenever they drop the conspiracy indictment.

Papadopoulos claims he told two other countries Russia was dealing stolen emails, but not his bosses

The most important sentences in the sentencing memo — which have no purpose in an actual sentencing memo — are his revelations that he kept denying that he had told the campaign that Russia was planning on releasing emails stolen from Hillary.

He told the agents he was unaware of anyone in the campaign knowing of the stolen Hillary Clinton emails prior to the emails being publicly released.

[snip]

If investigators wished to know what George did with the information from Professor Mifsud, they could have asked George during his interview. Indeed, they did ask if George provided the information to the campaign and George denied ever doing so. In his later proffer sessions, George reiterated that he does not recall ever passing the information along to the campaign.

The introduction to the second of these mentions in fact serves no other purpose than to provide an excuse to repeat, again, in case Trump missed it the first time, that Papadopoulos lied and continued to lie about telling the campaign about the emails.

Rick Gates (among others) has surely told the FBI this is a lie, but Papadopolous repeats the lies for Trump’s benefit.

And Papadopoulos makes this claim in spite of the fact that he casually told Alexander Downer about Russia dealing stolen emails and, in the memo, he admits he also told the Greek Foreign Minister.

He detailed a meeting in late May 2016 where he revealed to the Greek Foreign Minister that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He explained that this meeting took place days before President Vladimir Putin traveled to Greece to meet with Greek officials.

So for the entire month of May, Papadopoulos was telling complete strangers about Russia dealing stolen Hillary emails. And yet, even though he professes to have “unbridled loyalty” to the Trump campaign, at a time he was thrilled that “his career [was] skyrocketing to unimaginable heights” and “gidd[y] over Mr. Trump’s recognition,” he didn’t tell any of those people on the campaign with whom he was currying favor.

Again, the notice that he always denied telling the campaign about Russia’s offer of stolen emails has no purpose in a sentencing memo designed as a sentencing memo. The FBI knows he continued to claim he didn’t tell the campaign. The judge — the one legally entrusted to sentence Papadopolous, anyway — has no need to know it. Trump, on the other hand, surely wants to know it.

Ten pages, of which three are drivel

And Trump is presumably the only audience Papadopolous cares about with this memo, or he would have spent more time talking about the case (indeed, he would have made an effort to be honest) and less time spouting drivel. Much of the first three pages, for example, lead up to a request for probation served with platitudes like this:

It is essential that a court’s sentencing decision be informed and guided by the fundamental doctrines of mercy and compassion. See United States v. Blarek, 7 F.Supp.2d 192, 210 (E.D.N.Y. 1998). While these principles are not specifically delineated as rationales for sentencing, they are evidenced by the federal sentencing statute’s mandate that the court impose the lowest possible punishment to accomplish the goals of sentencing.

Papadopoulos does this without making an honest case about his conduct, but I guess it makes sense to start pitching Trump with a request for mercy.

Even Papadopoulos’ narrative about Sergei Millian is (necessarily) bogus

A key part of Papadopoulos’ bogus narrative is that he lied about Mifsud, in part, because FBI Agents started his interview by telling him they wanted to ask him some questions about Sergei Millian (even while making it clear that the FBI correctly linked his relationship with Millian with his earlier interactions with Mifsud).

The agents asked George to accompany them to their office to answer a “couple questions” regarding “a guy in New York that you might know[,] [t]hat has recently been in the news.” George thought the agents wanted to ask him about Russian businessman Sergei Millian. Wanting clarification, he asked the agents, “…just so I understand, I’m going there to answer questions about this person who I think you’re talking about.” The agents assured George that the topic of discussion was Mr. Millian who had been trending in the national media.

[snip]

The FBI agent confirmed that the Sergei Millian inquiry was just a ruse to get him in a room when he told George that:

… the reason we wanted to pull you in today and have that conversation because we wanted to know to the extent of your knowledge being an insider inside that small group of people that were policy advisors who, if anybody, has that connection with Russia and what, what sort of connections there were.

For the next two hours, George answered questions about Professor Mifsud, Olga, Carter Page, Sergei Millian and the “Trump Dossier,” and George’s interactions with other people working on the campaign.

He claims — impossibly — that he answered their questions about Millian honestly.

Seemingly as promised, the agents began their questioning about George’s relationship with Sergei Millian. George knew Mr. Millian only as a businessman pitching an opportunity to George in his personal capacity. The agents asked how they first met, what they discussed, how often they talked or met in person, if George knew whether Mr. Millian was connected to Russia or a foreign intelligence service, and who else on Mr. Trump’s campaign may have been in contact with Mr. Millian. George answered their questions honestly.

I can say with confidence that he didn’t answer them truthfully, first of all, because Millian’s business pitch was not limited to “his personal capacity.” As Simona blabbed to the press, Millian had already tied financial offers to Papadopoulos’ access to Trump.

According to Simona Mangiante, whose husband George Papadopoulos briefly served on the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor, Millian offered Papadopoulos a $30,000 monthly retainer on the condition he remain attached to the campaign. Papadopoulos declined, she said.

Millian wanted to pay Papadopoulos money as one entree into the Trump Administration.

More importantly, Papadopoulos couldn’t have answered truthfully because, in both his interviews with the FBI, Papadopoulos hid the conversation he had on Facebook with Ivan Timofeev about Millian, something the FBI noted on his arrest affidavit.

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

Indeed, after his second interview, Papadopoulos deleted his Facebook account, in an apparent attempt to hide his relationship with Timofeev entirely, something he doesn’t mention at all in the sentencing memo.

The somersaults about Papadopoulos’ motive

The sentencing memo is perhaps most interesting in its presentation of Papadopoulos’ motive, in which he continues the line Simona has been feeding to the press that he didn’t have corrupt motive in lying to the FBI. Remember that one of the few things he told Stefan Halper in September 2016 is that he believed being involved in the hack targeting Hillary amounted to treason (I don’t agree). If that’s remotely true, when the FBI first revealed they knew he had been told about the emails, he would have been worried about going to prison for a very long time (something he may yet manage).

Instead of admitting that, Papadopoulos describes telling the lies about Mifsud because he was trying to “distance” those activities from Trump.

George found himself personally conflicted during the interrogation as he felt obligated to assist the FBI but also wanted to distance himself and his work on the Trump campaign from that investigation.

[snip]

In his answers, George falsely distanced his interactions with these players from his campaign work.

The problem with this claim is that both before and after they asked about Mifsud, he told the FBI he was concerned about how talking to them would jeopardize his chances of getting a job with Trump.

En route to the FBI office, George voiced concern about the repercussions of his cooperation ever becoming public because the Wall Street Journal had just reported that Sergei Millian was a key source in the “Trump Dossier” controversy. George explained that he was in discussions with senior Trump administration officials about a position and the last thing he wanted was “something like this” casting the administration in a bad light.

[snip]

At one point, George told the agents that he did not want to “get too in-depth” because he did not know what it would mean for his professional future. He told the agents he was “trying to help the country and you guys, but I don’t want to jeopardize my career.”

In the motive section of the memo, Papadopolous pitches this as the “personal reason” of getting a job. But in the intro, Papadopoulos is more honest, including that detail but also admitting he lied because of “loyalty to his master.”

The Government’s claim, however, that Mr. Papadopoulos intended that his false statements harm the investigation is speculative and contrary to the evidence. His motives for lying to the FBI were wrongheaded indeed but far from the sinister spin the Government suggests. Caught off-guard by an impromptu interrogation, Mr. Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master. [my emphasis]

The phrase suggests to Trump that he feels his lies have not been rewarded (yet), even while making it clear that (contrary to the way he spins it in this memo) he was doing it to protect Trump.

There are, as I’ll note in a follow-up, several interesting details (presumably offered to tell his co-conspirators what damaging information he did provide to the government) that only make it clearer that Papadopoulos was, and knows he was, a participant in the conspiracy.

But the overall purpose of this sentencing memo is to communicate to Trump that he’s still a loyal member of the conspiracy.

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Toensing likely recruited the Papadopouloses for her propaganda mission

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

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

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

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

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

The misleading mirror Papadopoulos would see in the Trumpian bubble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he’s being used, badly, here.

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

Dragons Caught in the Crossfire: On the Genealogy of the Current and Future Mueller Investigation

As I laid out last week, 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. 

Lawfare has one of the best summaries of the Russian hack indictment on Friday. It does an excellent job of laying out what the indictment shows technically and legally. But I really wish it didn’t start with this passage.

This was the investigation over which the president of the United States fired James Comey as FBI director.

This is the investigation Comey confirmed on March 20, 2017, when he told Congress, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

This was also the investigation that multiple congressional committees have spent more than a year seeking to discredit—most recently Thursday, when two House panels hauled the former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Department, Peter Strzok, a career FBI agent who worked on the Russia probe, up to Capitol Hill for 10 hours of public, televised, abusive conspiracy theorizing. When the president of the United States derides the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” and when congressional Republicans scream at FBI agents, this is the investigation they are trying to harass out of existence.

I get the sentiment. I get criticizing Republicans for attacking the “Mueller probe” (or whatever you want to call it). I’ve criticized the Republicans for doing that myself. But it is assuredly not the case that Friday’s indictment is the “investigation over which the president of the United States fired James Comey as FBI director” or the investigation Comey confirmed in March of 2017.

The investigation that resulted in Friday’s indictment is, rather, the result of investigations conducted primarily in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. At the time Comey confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s camp and at the time Comey got fired for not shutting the Trump counterintelligence investigation down, those San Francisco and Pittsburgh investigations were totally separate. Those two investigations almost certainly had little if any involvement from Peter Strzok (indeed, they involved a bunch of FBI cyber agents, a division of FBI that Strzok never tired of mocking in his texts to Lisa Page). The DOJ press release from Friday states that explicitly.

This case was investigated with the help of the FBI’s cyber teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Francisco and the National Security Division.

Those two investigations (plus the separate one noted in Philadelphia that started later, as I understand it from what a lawyer who represented a witness in that investigation described to me) got moved under the Mueller umbrella sometime in or just before November, and now the GRU officer part of the investigation will be moved back to Pittsburgh where it started, to languish forever like some other nation-state hacker indictments investigated by Western District of Pennsylvania.

There are several reasons, besides exactitude, I’m harping on this point.

First, House Republicans, working in tandem with the President, have made the CI investigation Comey confirmed the end-all and be-all of the investigation, a way of simplifying it so as to villainize and discredit it. An entire stable of right wing journalists and members of Congress are trying to discredit something in the early stages of the investigation — whether it’s the inclusion of the Steele dossier among other evidence to obtain a FISA order on long-time suspected Russian asset Carter Page, the use of a lifelong Republican operative to conduct interviews in the least intrusive way, or the fact that even as he was losing the fight to investigate aggressively, Peter Strzok shared a widespread belief that Trump was not fit to be President. They believe that if they can do so, they can claim everything downstream of those actions is tainted. They’re doing so even while launching conspiracies off of stories that clearly show the existence of four counterintelligence investigations focused on the Russian operation, just one of which is known to have targeted Trump’s people.

“Crossfire Hurricane” was one of the code names for four separate investigations the FBI conducted related to Russia matters in the 2016 election.

“At a minimum, that keeps the hurry the F up pressure on him,” Strzok emailed Page on Oct. 14, 2016, less than four weeks before Election Day.

Four days later the same team was emailing about rushing to get approval for another FISA warrant for another Russia-related investigation code-named “Dragon.”

The GOP is literally bitching that the FBI was expediting FISA applications targeted at likely Russian targets during an ongoing Russian attack.

It is important to show how each of these attacks on the CI investigation into Trump is bullshit.

  • It is common to use information from consultants like Steele or paid informants in FISA applications. Their credibility is measured, in significant part, based on past credibility. And whatever you think about the impropriety of using oppo research (as DOJ also did with Clinton Cash) and whatever the likelihood that in this case Steele’s intelligence network got fed disinformation, it is the case that in 2016, Steele’s track record with the DOJ was far more reliable than a host of other consultants that presumably get included in FISA applications.
  • The FBI is permitted to use human informants at the assessment level (and when Stefan Halper interviewed Papadopoulos, it appears to have been a full investigation), and using a Republican operative like Halper to question George Papadopoulos was both less likely to affect the election in any way, and legally less dangerous for Papadopoulos than an undercover FBI officer would have been.
  • Strzok definitely believed Trump was unfit to be President, but (as I noted), he fought to use more aggressive investigative methods with both Hillary and Trump, and he lost that fight both times.

Ultimately, when you ask people wielding these complaints as if they’re a big deal what investigative steps against Page (after he left the campaign) or Papadopoulos (when he remained on it) would have been acceptable, they start to scramble, because (and I say this as someone who exposed herself to significant FBI scrutiny by going to them as a witness) these were reasonable steps to take. And the other favorite suggestion — that Trump would have responded to a defensive briefing — ignores that Trump hired Mike Flynn as his National Security Advisor even after President Obama gave him far more explicit warnings about the counterintelligence concerns about Flynn at the time.

At some point, GOP hoaxsters have to commit to whether they think it is legitimate to investigate suspected Russian spies or not, and if so how.

It is equally important to note that — as is demonstrably the case both with the GRU indictment rolled out Friday and with the information I provided — there is a ton of really damning evidence that never touched Peter Strzok. As I explained the other day, you can put information I provided to a team that had nothing to do with the Mueller team at the time I spoke to them, together with several other pieces of information Mueller obtained via other means (some of it was public!), and get right to the question of Trump conspiring with Russians to win the election.

Treating a range of investigations as only one investigation plays into the Trump game of discrediting an overly simplistic caricature of the investigation.

The other reason those covering the Russian investigation should be far more careful with what the investigation consisted of over time is, without understanding where the investigation came from, you can’t understand where the investigation is going. There have been a slew of reports reading dockets and citing anonymous DOJ and Trump sources. Some show an awareness of why prosecutors get added to dockets in particular cases. Others completely ignore things that are in the public record.

It is my well-educated opinion that we’re seeing several things with recent developments. First, where possible, Mueller is handing off things (the Concord Management and GRU hack prosecutions) that don’t need to be politically protected. He has also handed off issues (the Cohen search) that don’t relate directly to conspiring with Russians, even while any prosecution there could result in cooperation on the conspiracy case; though note, Mueller’s reported investigation of inauguration funding would also implicate Cohen. I suspect, eventually, he’ll hand off things that amount to garden variety corruption, as distinct from graft tied directly to the election money laundering.

But when reports say Mueller is preparing to wrap it up, I suspect the reality is Mueller is close to taking steps that will lay out a case for conspiracies with Russia involving people very close to Trump, which will make it much harder for Trump to refuse an interview without putting himself at risk to be indicted personally. Those steps will show what a farce six months of Trump-planted stories emphasizing a focus on obstruction have been. That prosecution Mueller’s team will see through, I imagine, not least because that’s precisely why he included four appellate specialists on his team, including Solicitor General star lawyer Michael Dreeben.

Update: Tweaked the San Francisco/Pittsburgh discussion because it was confusing several people.

Timeline

June 15, 2016: Likely start date for FBI investigation into hack of DNC/DCCC (the genesis for Friday’s indictment)

July 31, 2016: Peter Strzok opens up Operation Crossfire

October 21, 2016: Carter Page FISA approved

January 12, 2017: Carter Page FISA reauthorized

February 18, 2017: Reuters describes a tripartite division of investigation, with DNC hack investigation in Pittsburgh, Guccifer 2.0 investigation in San Francisco, and Trump CI investigation in DC

Early April, 2017: Carter Page FISA reauthorized

May 2017: I learn of Philadelphia investigation targeted in some way at Guccifer 2.0

May 17, 2017: Rod Rosenstein appoints Robert Mueller to take over Operation Crossfire

June 29, 2017: Carter Page FISA reauthorized

August 2, 2017: Mueller investigation includes, at a minimum, George Papadopoulos obstruction, Paul Manafort graft, collusion (including June 9 meeting), and obstruction

October 5, 2017: Papadopoulos pleads guilty (waiving venue)

Mid-October, 2017: Technical witness preparing for interview with Mueller’s team

October 30, 2017: Papadopoulos guilty plea unsealed

Early November, 2017: Mueller adds cyber prosecutor Ryan Dickey

November 2, 2017: WSJ reports DOJ will prosecute GRU hackers, reports that Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Philadelphia, along with DC remain in charge of investigation

December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pleads guilty

February 12, 2018: Richard Pinedo pleads guilty, waives venue

February 16, 2018: Internet Research Agency (Concord Management) indictment

February 20, 2018: Alex van der Zwaan pleads guilty

February 22, 2018: Paul Manafort indicted in EDVA, refuses to waive venue

March 1, 2018: NBC reports that Mueller — not main DOJ — will prosecute GRU hackers

April 9, 2018: Michael Cohen searches executed by SDNY; SDNY investigation, covering taxi medallion fraud and hush money payments, is likely just part of his criminal exposure

May 3, 2018: Mueller adds Uzo Asonye to EDVA team prosecuting Paul Manafort at request of Judge TS Ellis

June 22, 2018: Mueller brings in DOJ team to prosecute Concord Management, freeing up tech-focused Mueller prosecutors

July 13, 2018: Mueller indicts GRU hackers, sends prosecution back to Pittsburgh

Mueller Frees Up the Troll Team

In the background of the celebrating over the Carpenter SCOTUS decision — which held that the government generally needs a warrant to access historical cell phone location — there were a few developments in the Mueller investigation:

  • The George Papadopoulos parties moved towards sentencing, either on September 7 or in October. If Mueller told Papadopoulos his wife Simon’s Mangiante seeming coordination of the Stefan Halper smear with Sam Clovis (and his lawyer, Victoria Toensing) and Carter Page got him in trouble, we got no sign of that.
  • Amy Berman Jackson dismissed a Paul Manafort attempt to limit the criminal penalties of his Foreign Agent Registration Act violations; this isn’t very sexy, but if the well-argued opinion stands, it will serve as a precedent in DC for other sleazy influence peddlers.
  • After ABJ made sure Rick Gates ask Mueller if he really didn’t mind Gates going on a trip without his GPS ankle bracelet, Gates got permission to travel — with the jewelry.
  • Kimba Wood accepted Special Master Barbara Jones’ recommendations, which among other things held that just 7 of the files reviewed so far pertain to the privilege of anyone, presumably including Trump,  to whom Michael Cohen was providing legal services. So Cohen and Trump just paid upwards of $150,000 to hide the advice Cohen has gotten from lawyers and seven more documents — that is, for no really good reason.
  • In two separate filings, four DOJ lawyers filed notices of appearance in the Internet Research Agency/Concord Management case.

It’s the latter that I find most interesting. Mueller has added a team of four lawyers:

  • Deborah A. Curtis
  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Kathryn Rakoczy
  • Heather Alpino

To a team with three (plus Michael Dreeben):

  • Jeannie Sclafani Rhee
  • Rush Atkinson
  • Ryan Kao Dickey

Devlin Barrett (he of the likely impressive link map) reported that Mueller did this to prepare for the moment when his office shuts down and the Concord Management nuisance defense drags on for years.

People familiar with the staffing decision said the new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation. The case those prosecutors are joining could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. Russia does not extradite its citizens.

The development suggests Mueller is contemplating the end of his work and farming out any potentially outstanding prosecutions to other parts of the Justice Department.

Except this doesn’t make sense. Not only are Concord and the judge, Dabney Friedrich, pushing for a quick trial, but Atkinson and Dickey are themselves DOJ employees, so could manage any residual duties.

Far more likely, Mueller is ensuring one of his A Teams — including Dickey, DOJ’s best cyber prosecutor — will be able to move on to more important tasks on the central matters before him.

Three Data Points on George Papadopoulos

The frothy right has grabbed ahold of this Chuck Ross story, thinking it helps their case, without realizing that the main finding in it actually confirms something Adam Schiff noted in February (which Ross struggled to understand at the time). So I’d like to point out what Papadpoulos said when.

May 10: “Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging”

Per Ross’ quotes from Alexander Downer’s April 28 interview, here’s what Papadopoulos told Downer on May 10, 2016.

“During that conversation, [Papadopoulos] mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,” Downer told The Australian.

Downer said he felt the information “seemed quite interesting” and “was worth reporting.”

That’s mostly consistent with a redacted passage of the Schiff memo, which as I noted at the time must say something to the effect of Russia said it had materials that that it would release to help Trump, though given the public record I suspect there’s a dispute about whether hurting Hillary in a two-person race amounts to helping Trump.

George Papadopoulos revealed [redacted] that individuals linked to Russia, who took interest in Papadopoulos as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, informed him in late April 2016 that Russia [two lines redacted]. Papadopoulos’s disclosure, moreover, occurred against the backdrop  of Russia’s aggressive covert campaign to influence our elections, which the FBI was already monitoring.

That Papadopoulos had not told Downer in May they were emails was made clear by the next line in the Schiff memo, which made it clear HPSCI (but not the US government) only learned Russians had said the damaging material was email (which, if Papadopoulos can be trusted, he took to be the 30,000 emails that Hillary deleted, which the Russians would only have had if they had previously hacked her) when Papadopoulos’ plea was released.

We would later learn in Papadopoulos’s plea that the information the Russians could assist by anonymously releasing were thousands of Hillary Clinton emails.

In any case, Downer’s public statements, as summarized by Ross, confirm what Schiff claimed back in February: Papadopoulos told a virtual stranger in May 2016 that someone had recently approached him, a newly-minuted Trump advisor, and told him Russia had damaging material on Hillary that they were thinking of releasing closer to the election.

Downer makes it clear he reported the Papadopoulos within 48 hours because it “seemed quite interesting” and “was worth reporting.” The Australians didn’t tell the US, however, until July, after the DNC release made it look like Papadopoulos had predicted that event several months earlier. In response, the FBI opened a CI investigation, and Peter Strzok  got on a plane and interviewed Downer. It’s possible he checked in with Stefan Halper, who had been chatting up Carter Page, about whom the FBI had had enough concern to interview him back in March, for a few weeks. It’s also possible Strzok asked the Brits what they knew about Joseph Mifsud (or it’s possible NSA started targeting Mifsud and captured his communications with the Russians). It’s also possible that the anonymous “Trump campaign policy adviser [who] testified [to SJC] that Mr. Papadopoulos informed him that he had information on Hillary Clinton from the Russians,” went to the FBI in the wake of the DNC release, so before the FBI (presumably) asked Halper to ask Papadopoulos more questions.

Whatever happened, in September, Halper met with Sam Clovis and from that basically created a reason to invite Papadopoulos to London to do research.

Mid-September: “Hacking emails would be treason”

In mid-September, after his assistant Azra Turk had already broached the subject (I’m not aware that Ross has ever revealed how Papadopoulos responded to her) Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of the emails. According to one version among several, Ross reports that Papadopoulos said that “hacking” the emails would be treason.

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ version of events say that during one conversation, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of DNC emails. Papadopoulos denied it, telling Halper that hacking emails would be treason.

Of course, that answer is nonsensical. Hacking emails is a CFAA violation, among other things. Absent knowing cooperation with Russian spies, it’s not treason. Moreover, as Ross depicts the question, Halper asked if he “was involved in the release of DNC emails,” which is different than hacking them. Did Papadopoulos instead suggest that being “involved in the release of DNC emails” hacked by Russia would be treason?

It’s a good question because, in spite of that answer and his subsequent lies to FBI, Papadopoulos doesn’t believe he “colluded” with Russia because he, “did not see, handle or disseminate Clinton emails, according to the source with information on the Downer meeting.” Note, he’s pointedly not denying that he told the campaign about the damaging material in the context of efforts to set up increasingly senior-level  meetings with the Russians.

January 27, 2017: Mifsud “actually told [Papadopoulos] that the Russians had emails of Clinton. That guy told me [the Russians] have dirt on her [and that] they have thousands of emails.”

When the FBI interviewed Papadopoulos on January 27, 2017, he provided a detail he hadn’t to Downer (but which FBI may have already confirmed elsewhere): that Mifsud had specified, even before the Democrats knew about it, that the Russians had thousands of emails.

Now, at least according to the public record, up until this point (and even later), the FBI hadn’t done one of the most basic things they do in investigations, which they can do on a relevance standard (meaning the person in question need not be suspected of any wrong-doing). They had not yet obtained Papadopoulos’ call records, nor had they searched already collected Section 702 data to see if Papadopoulos had had communications with any foreigner already under a full FBI investigation. The latter would have definitely alerted the FBI to something that Papadopoulos hid in his interviews with the FBI (and tried to hide by deleting his Facebook account, something Ross always leaves out of his efforts to spin Papadopoulos’ honesty): in addition to Mifsud and the fake Putin niece, he had been communicating with (and passing communications onto the campaign) Ivan Timofeev, someone Papadopoulos believed to be employed by the Russian government.

DOJ’s public Papadopoulos documents are curiously silent about whether he admitted that Mifsud had told him the Russians planned on releasing the emails to hurt Hillary (though I guarantee you his case file makes it clear).

Amid the squeals of surveillance, that point is worth noting. Again, at least according to the public record, it was some time after Papadopoulos had told Downer that the Russians had damaging material they might release closer to the election to hurt Hillary and after Papadopoulos had told the FBI that the damaging material in question was “thousands of emails” before the FBI took one of the most basic investigative steps, figuring out whom Papadopoulos had been talking to during that period. Though FBI put a preservation order on his campaign cell phone in March, it’s even possible, given Papadopoulos’ arrest in the wake of the disclosure of the June 9 meeting earlier in July 2017, that FBI didn’t take that step until after the later Russian offer of dirt on Hillary became known.

Trump may well think this amounts to spying. But given the year of concern about Russian meddling, it looks even more like an effort to bend over backwards to avoid touching materials that might impact campaign issues.

Update: Thanks to Mark S for this link to the Downer piece. Ross did not include this stronger language that the material definitely would be damaging to Clinton. Note the bolded stronger language.

Of the conversation at the upmarket Kensington Wine Bar, Downer recalls: “We had a drink and he (Papadopoulos) talked about what Trump’s foreign policy would be like if Trump won the election.

“He (Trump) hadn’t got the nomination at that stage. During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.’’

Did Downer think, “Oh boy, this is intriguing?”

“Well, it was worth reporting,’’ he said. “It wasn’t the only thing we reported. We reported (back to Australia) the following day or a day or two after … it seemed quite interesting.’’

Did you realise you were one of the first people to have known about this dirt?

Downer doesn’t hesitate: “He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.’’

[snip]

“For us we were more interested in what Trump would do in Asia. By the way, nothing he (Papadopoulos) said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton. It was just that this guy (Papadopoulos) clearly knew that the Russians did have material on Hillary Clinton — but whether Trump knew or not? He didn’t say Trump knew or that Trump was in any way involved in this. He said it was about Russians and Hillary Clinton; it wasn’t about Trump.”

[my emphasis]

A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Stefan Halper Conspiracy Theory

For some time, I’ve been agnostic about whether Chuck Ross’ series on Stefan Halper derived from his own discussions with George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Sam Clovis, or whether he relied on leaks from HPSCI.

Today, he gave one of the leading comments he often does, about Paul Ryan’s claimed concern about “FISA abuse.” (Ryan, remember, pushed through 702 reauthorization this year without reforming a single one of the abuses laid out in this report, but apparently Chuck’s gonna play along with the notion that Ryan gives a shit about FISA.)

That mirrors Ross’ own logically nonsensical focus on the dossier as a source for the Carter Page FISA order in conjunction with Halper. Which, especially since other journalists are making it clear the Halper focus is coming from Hill Republicans, suggests Ross was getting leaks from Republicans.

That’s even more true of this interview with Sam Clovis. In it, Clovis makes it very clear the meeting did not stick out in his memory.

It was an academic meeting. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China.

[snip]

No indication or inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it.

After describing how he hadn’t opened up attachments Halper sent later in the month, he said, “that is how little this registered with me.”

And yet, somehow, by March, someone had told Ross about this meeting.

Halper also requested and attended a one-on-one meeting with another senior campaign official, TheDCNF learned. That meeting was held a day or two before Halper reached out to Papadopoulos. Halper offered to help the campaign but did not bring up Papadopoulos, even though he would reach out to the campaign aide a day or two later.

Clovis seems to derive his memory of the meeting, in significant part, from the documentation he does (four emails setting the meeting up) and doesn’t (any notes) have about it.

There’s a record of the exchange of emails that we had, four emails to set the appointment.

[snip]

I had my notebook. Always take notes and always keep track of what’s going on. And there wasn’t anything — I didn’t have any notes on the meeting cause there must not have been anything substantive that took place.

That suggests someone knew to go back to look for communications involving Halper. Now, if HPSCI requested all the comms campaign aides had with investigative target Carter Page, then Clovis would have turned over these emails (which mentioned Page but probably discussed China, not Russia), and HPSCI staffers could have found the tie. If HPSCI only asked for Russia-related comms involving Page, then someone got Toensing or Clovis to search for Halper emails themselves.

Clovis explains that he’s bothered, now, about the meeting because he thinks he was used as an excuse to reach out to George Papadopoulos.

He had met with Carter Page. He had used that to get the bona fides to get an appointment with me.

[snip]

Then I think he used my meeting as bona fides to get a meeting with George Papadopoulos.

Remember, one of the inane complaints in the Nunes memo is that the Carter Page FISA application mentioned Papadopoulos.

The Schiff memo explains that Papadopoulos got mentioned because, after Alexander Downer told the FBI that Papadopoulos had told him the Russians were going to release Hillary emails to help Trump, they opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.

In other words, the frothy right likely believes, like Clovis, that Halper was networking as a way to get to Papadopoulos, and that in some way ties to the FISA application against Page.

And he may well have done so! As TPM clarifies some confusion created by WaPo, both Page, Clovis, and Clovis lawyer Victoria Toensing agree that Halper mentioned Page when he reached out to Clovis.

Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, previously said, according to the Washington Post that the informant had not mentioned his other Trump contacts when reaching out to Clovis. Clovis said he wasn’t sure “where she got that information,”since she had access to the emails setting up the September 2016 meeting.

Toensing, in an phone interview Tuesday with TPM, backed up Clovis’ account. She told TPM that the informant had said in an email to Clovis that Page had recommended that they meet. She also claimed that the informant had told Page when they met at the conference that he was a big fan of Clovis’. Page confirmed Toensing’s account in an email to TPM.

Halper met with Clovis on September 1 and then reached out to Papadopoulos the next day.

Though note: Page says Halper raised Clovis at the July conference where they met, a meeting that occurred before dossier reports started getting back to FBI (particularly to the people investigating the hack-and-leak) and before the Papadopoulos report. That either suggests the FBI already had concerns about Clovis by then, or Halper was more generally networking with Page along with checking out someone who had been a live counterintelligence concern in his own right since March and for years beforehand.

Here’s where things start to go off the rails for this whole conspiracy theory, though. Clovis (who, remember, testified to Mueller’s team in the days before Papadopoulos’ cooperation agreement was unsealed, and who therefore may have his own false statements to worry about) believes that the FBI had no business trying to ask Papadopoulos about his April knowledge of Russians dealing Clinton emails in a way that would not arouse Papadopoulos’ suspicion.

What unsettled me … is what he tried to do with George Papadopoulos and that was to establish an audit trail from the campaign or somebody associated with the campaign back to those Clinton emails, whether or not they existed we don’t know.

Clovis believes, as does the entire frothy right, that the FBI had no reason to check out leads from someone who predicted the Russians would leak dirt from Hillary to help Trump a month before it became publicly known.

What were they investigating? To be investigating, there has to be some indication of a crime. And there does not appear to have been any indication for a crime. And by the way the Fourth Amendment protects you in your place and your person from investigation without a clear indication of what, uh, probable cause.

Somehow, Clovis conveniently forgets that stealing emails is a crime. And the FBI had been investigating that crime since June 2016, a month before learning that Papadopoulos might have known about the stolen emails before the FBI itself did.

In other words, at the core of this entire conspiracy theory (on top of pretending that Carter Page wasn’t already a counterintelligence concern in March, as all the designated GOP stenographers do) is the GOP fantasy that the FBI had no business trying to chase down why Papadopoulos knew of the theft before the DNC itself did.

And they’re making an enormous case out of the fact that FBI used Halper — a lifelong Republican to whom Papadopoulos could and did lie to without legal jeopardy — to interview someone Clovis claims was “ancillary” to the campaign at the time.

It’s also clear to me that they misread George’s relationship with the campaign entirely, so, because he was not, he was ancillary at best at that point.

So that appears to be where this is heading: an attempt to criminalize a Republican networking with a goal of learning whether George Papadopoulos, and through him, Sam Clovis and the rest of the campaign, committed what Papadopoulos himself has said (though this is legally incorrect) might amount to treason.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: the GOP doesn’t think Russian theft of Democratic emails was a crime and therefore doesn’t think FBI had reason to investigate Papadopoulos’ apparent foreknowledge of that crime.

George Papadopoulos Was Trying to Hide Evidence He Thought Might Amount to Treason When He Lied to the FBI

Chuck Ross’ description of a September 2016 conversation between Stefan Halper and George Papadopoulos has evolved over the course of his reporting on it. In March, he described it this way:

According to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Halper asked Papadopoulos: “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?”

Papadopoulos told Halper he didn’t know anything about emails or Russian hacking, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. The professor did not follow up on the line of inquiry.

In his next story on the exchange, Ross described it this way:

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of their meetings said Halper randomly asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Democratic National Committee emails that had been hacked and leaked by Russians.

Papadopoulos strongly denied the allegation, sources familiar with his version of the exchange have told TheDCNF. Halper grew agitated and pressed Papadopoulos on the topic. Papadopoulos believes that Halper was recording him during some of their interactions, sources said.

The very next day, here’s how Ross described it:

During one of their dinners, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the Russian theft of Democrats’ emails, sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ account have told TheDCNF. Papadopoulos denied the allegation, saying that stealing emails would be treason.

Halper grew frustrated, according to sources.

This is the first story in this series where Ross describes what Papadopoulos pled guilty to, but he gets it wrong in a key way I’ll describe below.

Finally, Ross offers yet another description in a new story today.

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ version of events say that during one conversation, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of DNC emails. Papadopoulos denied it, telling Halper that hacking emails would be treason. Halper grew frustrated, according to the sources.

Today’s story claims we don’t know what Alexander Downer told FBI. We do know one detail he omitted: That Downer told the FBI that Papadopoulos told him Mifsud said the Russians were going to release the emails to help Trump.

Now, as I said, in yesterday’s story, Ross described the substance of the lies Papadopoulos told the FBI slightly wrong.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his encounters with Mifsud and two Russian nationals. He did, however, tell the FBI in his initial interviews that Mifsud mentioned Clinton documents.

Ross leans on his misunderstanding of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea to argue today that FBI should have interviewed Papadopoulos back in August, rather than ask a lifelong Republican to ask the same questions while hiding the FBI interest.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to the special counsel’s office for lying to the FBI during that interview. As part of his plea deal, Papadopoulos admitted he lied about the timing of his interactions with two Russian nationals and a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos initially told FBI agents that the contacts occurred prior to joining the Trump campaign when, in fact, they occurred after he learned that he would be joining the Trump campaign in March 2016.

FBI defenders could point to Papadopoulos’ deception in the January 2017 interview to argue that he would have lied had he been questioned earlier in Crossfire Hurricane. But that argument is undercut by what else Papadopoulos said in his FBI interview.

According to a statement of offense Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed, Papadopoulos told FBI agents that Mifsud mentioned the stolen Clinton emails.

And sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of the FBI interview say he claims that he, and not the FBI agents, first mentioned Mifsud during the interview, which was conducted in Chicago without lawyers present.

That is, Ross argues that because Papadopoulos offered up that he met a weird guy named Mifsud who told him the Russians were offering dirt in the form of Hillary emails, he could be trusted to have been honest had the FBI asked him in August.

As I said, though, Ross’ first description of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea is wrong in several ways. Ross hides how important Papadopoulos said Mifsud seemed; the FBI describes Papadopoulos claiming Mifsud was just BSing. The former Trump aide similarly denied having any relationship with the Russian woman Mifsud introduced him to. Both those details make Papadopoulos’ lies about the timing more important: he lied about how important he believed these two were and he lied about the way their outreach to him tied to his role on the campaign.

In Ross’ first description of his plea, however, he suggested that Papadopoulos affirmatively lied “about the timing of his encounters with Mifsud and two Russian nationals,” the second of whom we know to be Ivan Timofeev. That’s wrong. In the first interview, Papadopoulos (successfully) hid the entire existence of Timofeev. That’s key because Papadopoulos was forwarding communications from Timofeev, a Russian official, talking about setting up meetings with campaign officials. He was forwarding these emails to the campaign in the weeks leading up to the June 9 meeting. Indeed, Papadopoulos told Timofeev that Trump’s first campaign speech was a sign that the candidate was willing to meet. By hiding Timofeev, Papadopoulos was hiding high level campaign knowledge of the outreach (including Paul Manafort).

Ross fails to mention another damning thing the purportedly forthcoming Papadopoulos did the day after his second FBI interview: delete his Facebook account, and with it his communications with Timofeev, and get a new cell phone, presumably destroying secure communications.

There is no way Papadopoulos would have been any more honest with FBI in August 2016 than he was in January.

And if the third and fourth version of Ross’ description of the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange is any indication, then it’s very clear why Papadopoulos would have always lied about the communications: because he considered the very same kind of back and forth with Russians tied to the email release treason.

Papadopoulos was trying to cover up evidence he thought might prove treason.

Nunes Outraged that [American] Spies Paid to Brush Up against Trump Aides

I just saw this Devin Nunes quote, from a WaPo story on the fight over releasing details on Stefan Halper investigative activities into the infiltration of Trump’s campaign by Russian assets.

Nunes said he and his colleagues have been troubled by reports and indications that sources may have been repeatedly reaching out to Trump campaign members and even offering aides money to encourage them to meet. The president, he said, has ample reason to be angry and suspicious.

“If you are paying somebody to come talk to my campaign or brush up against my campaign, whatever you call it, I’d be furious,” Nunes said.

The reference to “paying somebody” is presumably a reference to Halper paying George Papadopoulos $3,000 for research as a way to get an opportunity to ask, in a possibly recorded phone call, about the DNC emails.

As TheDCNF reported back in March, Halper contacted Papadopoulos through email on Sept. 2, 2016, offering to fly him to London to discuss writing a policy paper about energy issues in Turkey, Israel and Cyprus. Halper offered to pay $3,000 for the paper.

Papadopoulos made the trip and had dinner multiple times with Halper and a Turkish woman described as his assistant. Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of their meetings said Halper randomly asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Democratic National Committee emails that had been hacked and leaked by Russians.

Papadopoulos strongly denied the allegation, sources familiar with his version of the exchange have told TheDCNF. Halper grew agitated and pressed Papadopoulos on the topic. Papadopoulos believes that Halper was recording him during some of their interactions, sources said.

Halper’s assistant, who is named Azra Turk, brought up Russians and emails over drinks with Papadopoulos. Turk also flirted heavily with Papadopoulos and attempted to meet him in Chicago, where he lives, a source told TheDCNF.

I’d be curious to see Papadopoulos’ notoriously inflated resume to see whether he included the research project on it after he completed it.

That Nunes thinks Trump should be outraged about this one incident is particularly notable, given that neither Nunes nor anyone else running cover for the Trump administration has ever expressed similar outrage about all the Trump aides that other countries were dangling money and other goods to brush up against. Those include (and this list is far from comprehensive):

  • Russian academics paying Carter Page to speak in Moscow
  • A pro-Russian Syrian group paying Don Jr to speak in Paris
  • Multiple Russian banks floating massive amounts of support to Jared
  • Russia’s RT paying Mike Flynn to appear at an event with Putin
  • Turkish pass-throughs paying Flynn to make a movie
  • Saudi, Israeli, and Emirati sources offering campaign assistance
  • Oleg Deripaska offering to forgive Paul Manafort’s $20 million debt for updates on the Trump campaign
  • Russians offering dirt on Hillary to get a meeting with Trump’s campaign manager, son, and son-in-law

I mean, even the Carter Page Moscow trip was more lucrative than the Papadopoulos research. And the other valuable things offered to campaign aides, by spooked-up sources from a range of countries, were tens or millions of dollars more valuable than what Halper offered, usually without any legit purpose tied to it.

And yet the only intelligence source that Nunes has expressed any outrage about — the only one! — is one associated with the United States, a person with long ties to the Republican party.

I mean, maybe Nunes is just dumb and doesn’t understand the stance he has now publicly adopted. Maybe he didn’t mean to say the only spies who shouldn’t be able to test whether Trump aides were willing to sell information for a price are American spies.

But thus far, the only lucrative outreach by spies that Nunes has objected to are American ones.