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Viktor Orbán’s Mar-a-Lago Field Trip

The Atlantic has a very good piece on how Trump campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita plan to win November’s election by shifting a focus from traditional field work to (stop me if this gives you 2016 headaches) digital microtargeting.

Published as it was in the last few days, it starts by laying out the premise: Wiles and LaCivita, to the extent they were going to work, presumed that Joe Biden was the nominee.

Only one thing could disrupt that plan: a change of candidates atop the Democratic ticket.

There was always a certain danger inherent to this assault on Biden’s faculties. If Wiles and LaCivita were too successful—if too many Democrats decided, too quickly, that Biden was no longer capable of defeating Trump, much less serving another four years thereafter—then they risked losing an ideal opponent against whom their every tactical maneuver had already been deliberated, poll-tested, and prepared. Campaigns are usually on guard against peaking too soon; in this case, the risk for Trump’s team was Biden bottoming out too early.

Of course they would build a campaign against Biden. Trump has been tailoring all his electoral plans — all of them — to Joe Biden since 2018. Six years, Trump and the GOP have focused on dirtying up Joe Biden.

And they’ve had help.

In conjunction with the disruption of a Russian botnet operating on Xitter (which I may return to) on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines issued one of the announcements that the Intelligence Community has been trying to get right since 2016: Russia, Iran, and China are playing in US electoral politics again. And Russia continues to target Joe Biden.

Russia’s efforts to influence this year’s U.S. election through information warfare have the same aim as in previous elections — to undermine President Joe Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party and weaken public confidence in the electoral process, intelligence officials said Tuesday.

Russia’s election influence operations, which include covert social media accounts and encrypted direct messaging channels, are targeting key voter groups in swing states to exploit political divisions in the U.S. and erode support for Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, officials with the Office of the Director National Intelligence, or ODNI, told reporters.

Asked whether Russia’s information campaign is trying to boost or undermine one of the presidential candidates, an ODNI official said: “We have not observed a shift in Russia’s preferences for the presidential race from past elections, given the role the U.S. is playing with regard to Ukraine and broader policy toward Russia.”

Speaking without attribution, some spook further said that Russia was laundering its efforts through “influential US voices” and commercial firms.

“We are beginning to see Russia target specific voter demographics, promote divisive narratives and denigrate specific politicians. Moscow seeks to shape electoral outcomes, undermine electoral integrity and amplify domestic divisions,” the ODNI official said.

“To accomplish this, Moscow is using a variety of approaches to bolster its messaging and lend an air of authenticity to its efforts. This includes outsourcing its efforts to commercial firms to hide its hand and laundering narratives through influential U.S. voices,” the official said.

Such microtargeting of disgruntled types has a European counterpart — not just efforts to sway the various recent elections (which were wildly successful at the EU, but less so elsewhere), but also recruiting people to engage in sabotage.

A trove of Kremlin documents obtained by a European intelligence service and reviewed by The Washington Post illustrate the breadth of Russia’s efforts to identify potential recruits.

The documents show that in July 2023, Kremlin political strategists studied the Facebook profiles of more than 1,200 people they believed were workers at two major German plants — Aurubis and BASF in Ludwigshafen — to identify employees who could be manipulated into stirring unrest.

The strategists drew up excel spreadsheets analyzing the profiles of every worker, highlighting posts that demonstrated the employees’ anti-government, anti-immigration or anti-Ukrainian views.

At the BASF chemical plant, special attention was paid to the workers’ attitudes toward the closure of several facilities at the plant in spring 2023 because of soaring production costs, including natural gas price hikes, which led to the loss of 2,600 jobs. At the Aurubis metals plant, the strategists noted anti-immigrant views in the posts of some of the workers, one of the documents shows.

“We can concentrate on inciting ethnic hatred,” one of the strategists wrote. “Or on organizing strikes over social benefits.”

We see more on intelligence targeting in Europe than we do in the US, which is one of many reasons to suspect we know about it because the US has shared information to be released publicly (something they can’t do for US persons). But all that would change if Trump were to win the election: He has already threatened to stop sharing that kind of intelligence.

Trump advisers have told allied countries the reduced intel sharing would be part of a broader plan to scale back U.S. support and cooperation with the 32-nation alliance, according to three European officials and a senior NATO official, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

The officials said they learned about the proposal to curb intelligence-sharing during discussions with Trump advisers about broader plans to reduce U.S. involvement with NATO. The former president repeatedly questioned and sought to undercut the alliance during his first term in office.

The curtailment of intel could have dire security consequences, especially for Ukraine as it tries to repel the Russian invasion.

“It’s the American intelligence that helped convince a lot of NATO countries that Putin was resolved to invade Ukraine,” one European official said. “Some countries didn’t believe Russia had the capabilities to carry out a successful military campaign.”

Which brings us to Viktor Orbán’s shenanigans.

Hungary just started serving a six-month term as President of the EU. No sooner had Hungary adopted that position than Orbán promptly used it to fly around the world seeking to do Vladimir Putin’s bidding.

In a leaked letter seen Tuesday by POLITICO, the Hungarian prime minister underlined Russian President Vladimir Putin’s maximalist position on Ukraine so thoroughly he could have been auditioning for the role of Kremlin spokesperson.

The missive, addressed to European Council President Charles Michel and shared with other members of the European Council, lays out Putin’s thinking about the status of his war in Ukraine — and what Orbán reckons the EU’s next steps should be.

It caps a week of manic diplomacy, during which Orbán visited Kyivthen Moscow, and then Beijing, on a self-described Ukraine “peace mission” days after Hungary assumed command of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

Orbán told Michel that, according to Putin, “time is not on the side of Ukraine, but on the side of the Russian forces,” without providing evidence for the battlefield analysis.

Having largely blown off Biden at the NATO summit, Orbán heads to Mar-a-Lago today to pitch this “peace” deal.

A person familiar with Trump’s plans said the former president was scheduled to stay in Florida until Friday, at which point he would fly to Philadelphia for a rally, and that there was “no time even hypothetically” to meet with Orbán afterwards. That left Thursday as the only day that Orbán could fly down to meet with the Republican candidate.

Trump would also be wary of Orbán trying to position himself as a power broker in Europe, the person said. Bloomberg News reported that Trump had not asked Orbán to negotiate the peace deal for him.

Orbán has not had an official meeting with Biden for the past four years but met Trump in March this year at his beachfront compound in Mar-a-Lago. Orbán endorsed him several times throughout the past eight years and expressed support, calling him a “man of honor” after Trump was found guilty on 34 counts in a criminal trial.

This all comes after Trump performed like a trained seal at the debate, twice raising the Hunter Biden laptop, repeatedly claiming that Putin wouldn’t have invaded if he had been President, describing speaking to Putin before Putin did invade — and promising to achieve a peace deal before inauguration.

To think that I would, in front of generals and others, say suckers and losers – we have 19 people that said it was never said by me. It was made up by him, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was made up, just like the 51 intelligence agents are made up, just like the new thing with the 16 economists are talking.

It’s the same thing. Fifty-one intelligence agents said that the laptop was Russia disinformation. It wasn’t. That came from his son Hunter. It wasn’t Russia disinformation. He made up the suckers and losers, so he should apologize to me right now.

[snip]

As far as Russia and Ukraine, if we had a real president, a president that knew – that was respected by Putin, he would have never – he would have never invaded Ukraine.

A lot of people are dead right now, much more than people know. You know, they talk about numbers. You can double those numbers, maybe triple those numbers. He did nothing to stop it. In fact, I think he encouraged Russia from going in.

I’ll tell you what happened, he was so bad with Afghanistan, it was such a horrible embarrassment, most embarrassing moment in the history of our country, that when Putin watched that and he saw the incompetence that he should – he should have fired those generals like I fired the one that you mentioned, and so he’s got no love lost. But he should have fired those generals.

No general got fired for the most embarrassing moment in the history of our country, Afghanistan, where we left billions of dollars of equipment behind, we lost 13 beautiful soldiers and 38 soldiers were obliterated. And by the way, we left people behind too. We left American citizens behind.

When Putin saw that, he said, you know what? I think we’re going to go in and maybe take my – this was his dream. I talked to him about it, his dream. The difference is he never would have invaded Ukraine. Never.

Just like Israel would have never been invaded, in a million years, by Hamas. You know why? Because Iran was broke with me. I wouldn’t let anybody do business with them. They ran out of money. They were broke. They had no money for Hamas. They had no money for anything. No money for terror.

[snip]

TRUMP: No, they’re not acceptable. No, they’re not acceptable.

But look, this is a war that never should have started. If we had a leader in this war – he led everybody along. He’s given $200 billion now or more to Ukraine. He’s given $200 billion. That’s a lot of money. I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it. Every time that Zelenskyy comes to this country, he walks away with $60 billion. He’s the greatest salesman ever.

And I’m not knocking him, I’m not knocking anything. I’m only saying, the money that we’re spending on this war, and we shouldn’t be spending, it should have never happened.

I will have that war settled between Putin and Zelenskyy as president-elect before I take office on January 20th. I’ll have that war settled.

People being killed so needlessly, so stupidly, and I will get it settled and I’ll get it settled fast, before I take office.

[snip]

TRUMP: Just going back to Ukraine for one second, we have an ocean separating us. The European nations together have spent $100 billion, or maybe more than that, less than us. Why doesn’t he call them so you got to put up your money like I did with NATO? I got them to put up hundreds of billions of dollars. The secretary general of NATO said Trump did the most incredible job I’ve ever seen. You wouldn’t – they wouldn’t have any – they were going out of business. We were spending – almost 100 percent of the money was – it was paid by us.

He didn’t do that. He is getting all – you got to ask these people to put up the money. We’re over $100 billion more spent, and it has a bigger impact on them, because of location, because we have an ocean in between. You got to ask them.

As far as Israel and Hamas, Israel’s the one that wants to go – he said the only one who wants to keep going is Hamas. Actually, Israel is the one. And you should them go and let them finish the job.

He doesn’t want to do it. He’s become like a Palestinian. But they don’t like him, because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one.

[snip]

And we mentioned the laptop, We mentioned “Russia, Russia, Russia,” “Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.” And everything he does is a lie. It’s misinformation and disinformation. The “losers and suckers” story that he made up is a total lie on the military. It’s a disgrace.

[snip]

TRUMP: Just to finish what he said, if I might, Russia – they took a lot of land from Bush. They took a lot of land from Obama and Biden. They took no land, nothing from Trump, nothing.

He knew not to do it. He’s not going to play games with me. He knew that. I got along with him very well, but he knew not to play games.

He took nothing from me, but now, he’s going to take the whole thing from this man right here.

That’s a war that should have never started. It would’ve never started ever with me. And he’s going to take Ukraine and, you know, you asked me a question before, would you do this with – he’s got us in such a bad position right now with Ukraine and Russia because Ukraine’s not winning that war.

He said, I will never settle until such time – they’re running out of people, they’re running out of soldiers, they’ve lost so many people. It’s so sad.

They’ve lost so many people and they’ve lost those gorgeous cities with the golden domes that are 1,000-years-old, all because of him and stupid decisions.

Russia would’ve never attacked if I were president.

Trump said he’d get Ukraine settled, and Orbán swooped in, with his plan to “settle” it.

Note, too, how Trump links Hamas and Ukraine (and the slur, Palestinian, here). With both Hamas and Russia, Biden is facing hostage situations — most notably with Evan Gershkoich’s detention — that Trump claims he can solve.

While Trump claims to be wary of following Orbán’s lead, that’s no more credible than his claim to disavow Project 2025, the Heritage-linked project with its own ties to Orbán.

It’s all happening in front of our eyes.

But back to Trump’s campaign plan to use digital microtargeting instead of traditional field. The idea is that Trump is going to focus on people who don’t vote, and after getting people who never turn out to turn out, he’ll then throw his election deniers — people like Christina Bobb, who was indicted in Arizona for her false claims in 2020 — to “protect the vote.”

Scouring precinct-level statistics from the four previous times Trump had competed in Iowa—the primary and general elections in 2016 and 2020—they isolated the most MAGA-friendly pockets of the state. Then, comparing data they’d collected from those areas against the state’s voter file, LaCivita and Wiles found what they were looking for: Some 8,000 of those Iowans they identified as pro-Trump—people who, over the previous seven or eight years, had engaged with Trump’s campaign either physically, digitally, or through the mail—were not even registered to vote. Thousands more who were registered to vote had never participated in a caucus. These were the people who, if converted from sympathizers to supporters, could power Trump’s organization.

[snip]

The RNC under Ronna McDaniel, who chaired the national party from early 2017 until LaCivita’s takeover, had become a frequent target of Trump’s ire. He didn’t like that the party remained neutral in the early stages of the 2024 primary—and he was especially furious that McDaniel commissioned debates among the candidates. But what might have bothered him most was the RNC’s priorities: McDaniel was continuing to pour money into field operations, stressing the need for a massive get-out-the-vote program, but showed little interest in his pet issue of “election integrity.”

“Tell you what,” Trump said to Wiles and LaCivita. “I’ll turn out the vote. You spend that money protecting it.”

The marching orders were clear: Trump’s lieutenants were to dismantle much of the RNC’s existing ground game and divert resources to a colossal new election-integrity program—a legion of lawyers on retainer, hundreds of training seminars for poll monitors nationwide, a goal of 100,000 volunteers organized and assigned to stand watch outside voting precincts, tabulation centers, and even individual drop boxes.

The Atlantic piece is really good for understanding what Wiles and LaCivita claim they’re doing.

But it suffers from a category error, which is believing that Trump is thinking exclusively in terms of electoral victory.

It’s all happening in front of our eyes.

Natalie Harp: Gatekeeper to the Reich

I want to unpack a Marc Caputo story about Natalie Harp, who he says is the person who posted the Reich meme video to Trump’s Truth Social account this week.

Trump’s account posted the Reich video on Monday.

On Tuesday, AP identified a troll (which it describes as a “meme creator”), Ramble_Rants, as the source of the video, and a Wikipedia entry on WWI as the source of the Reich image.

At least one of the headlines flashing in the video appears to be text copied verbatim from a Wikipedia entry on World War I: “German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified Reich.”

In one image, the headlines “Border Is Closed” and “15 Million Illegal Aliens Deported” appear above smaller text with the start and end dates of World War I.

The video appears to have been created by a meme creator who goes by the username Ramble_Rants.

The creator, who is part of a group of meme makers that The New York Times reported has previously collaborated with the Trump campaign, posted the video on the social platform X Monday morning.

In a post on X, Ramble_Rants defended the video, arguing it was about “American peace and prosperity.”

Then Media Matters described (as the earlier NYT story also had) that Ramble_Rants is part of a trolling group, led by a guy named Brenden Dilley, that the Trump team has closely integrated with the campaign.

Regardless of the intention behind the video Trump shared, Dilley and his team’s association with the Trump campaign is noteworthy.

Trump and his campaign have repeatedly shared the meme team’s material, and the campaign reportedly “privately communicated with members of the meme team, giving them access and making specific requests for content,” and “in at least one instance … shared behind-the-scenes footage to be used in videos, according to members of the team.” Trump has been photographed with Dilley and reportedly “sent personalized notes to several of the group’s members, thanking them for their work.”

Additionally, Dilley disclosed that the campaign gave him and another member of the meme team a “special” and “exclusive” press credential for the campaign’s Iowa caucuses night, where “you hang out with all these wonderful people, and Don Jr. comes through, and Eric Trump comes through, and pretty much the entire Team Trump comes through.” (Reporting has indicated that several journalists from mainstream publications, including The Washington Post, NBC News, Axios, and Vanity Fair, have been denied press access to Trump’s campaign events.)

What we’re seeing is the War Room in which Douglass Mackey, Microchip, and Don Jr collaborated to hijack mainstream news narratives together in 2016, integrated more closely with the campaign. It’s not surprising Trump did that. Even in 2016, Baked Alaska described a Trump HQ Slack that was “coordinat[ing] efforts.”

Remember: Andrew Auernheimer, better known as Weev, and then still posting under his handle rabite, was a key early player in professionalizing that effort, even as he was serving as Webmaster for the Daily Stormer.

Given that pure Nazi lineage, the Nazi allusions are surely not happenstance.

In a post called Elon Musk’s Machine for Fascism, I described how since 2016, trolls and their overlords have been working to perfect the conditions that allowed such trolls to have a significant influence in the 2016 election and an even bigger influence in Trump’s attempted coup. One of the only things that stopped the trolls, and Trump, from sustaining his coup attempt after January 6 was Twitter suspending Trump’s account. This time around, neither Elon Musk nor Trump’s own social media platform will do that. Nor will Telegram, where the organizing function for all this trolling has moved offshore, away from the easy reach of US legal process, shut anything down.

All of which is to say, the Reich meme is not some random mistake. Rather, it is the manifestation of a trolling effort with roots in overt Neo-Nazism that goes back to 2015.

Which brings us back to what Caputo did in a story identifying Natalie Harp as the person who posted the Reich meme to Trump’s account.

Caputo is a Florida-based journalist with very extensive sourcing to the far right. He was recently on Roger Stone’s show. His legal instincts — pretty clearly just parroting of what Trumpsters tell him to say — suck ass, but his political instincts are formidable.

About 16 paragraphs into his story, after he presented Harp’s role in printing out content from social media and right wing sources to placate the boss, and after he described Harp’s trajectory from Liberty University to being cured of cancer by a Trump initiative to working for the 2020 campaign to working for OANN to now driving his social media account, Caputo finally got around to identifying Harp as the culprit behind the Reich meme.

Harp also helps manage Trump’s Truth Social media account and has taken over some of the duties from Trump’s former caddy-turned-senior-adviser Dan Scavino.

This can be a taxing job. On Monday, while he was on trial in New York, Trump’s Truth Social media account reposted a video, published first on X by a supporter using the handle @ramble_rants, called “What happens after Trump wins?” The video featured mock old-fashioned newspaper headlines. One of the sepia-toned faux-newspaper stock images included the phrase “Unified Reich.” Maybe not the best look for a candidate who has dined with actual neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes and “joked” that he would like to be a dictator for a day.

After the Associated Press reported about the video, the Trump campaign deleted the Truth Social post and said Trump wasn’t at fault.

“This was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a junior staffer who clearly did not see the word, while the President was in court,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a written statement that accused Democrats of being more antisemitic than Trump. The campaign wouldn’t identify the name of that “junior staffer,” but sources tell The Bulwark it was Harp. Scavino, one of the few others who has access to Trump’s Truth Social account, isn’t a “junior staffer.” Harp couldn’t be reached for comment.

In most outlets, this would be the scoop, in paragraph one and two, rather than buried 16 paragraphs deep. But that’s not the premise of Caputo’s story. That’s not what a political reporter with very good sourcing in the Florida far right focuses on. Caputo is more interested in Harp’s role as a gatekeeper, which he puts in paragraphs four and five.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Harp gatekeeps much of what Trump sees on social media and reads in the news.

“IF YOU WANT THE PRESIDENT TO SEE SOMETHING, the best route is Natalie,” says a knowledgeable source who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal workings of Trump’s inner team and who has passed information to the candidate via Harp. “Don’t underestimate her importance.”

Caputo is not wrong to find this an important point of emphasis (though some people contest it). Dan Scavino has had a near monopoly on Trump’s social media accounts since 2016. Anyone joining him in that role does play an absolutely central role in his means to power. And to the extent that Trump has moved off reading things on his own phone and instead reading what Harp prints out (is Trump’s eyesight getting worse, or is he simply more paranoid?), she does play an absolutely central gatekeeping role.

Dick Cheney’s memoir included a single solitary hint about the lessons he learned, not least as a very young White House Chief of Staff, that allowed him to become the most formidable DC bureaucrat for almost 50 years: to park someone outside the President’s office. Effectively, Harp is the person parked outside Trump’s digital office.

Caputo’s story, then, is that the woman who posted a meme that was interpreted — with good reason — as an intentional allusion to Nazism happens to be the person parked outside Trump’s digital office.

Harp’s key role may be why Caputo described posting that Reich meme as nothing more than, “Maybe not the best look.” Because she’s not going to get fired for doing so.

All the more so for another reason. Around about paragraph 21, Caputo describes that Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita “don’t directly oversee Harp and … essentially leave her alone.”

“No one spends as much time on this campaign around him as Natalie,” said one insider. “If people think she’s an airhead because of her looks, they don’t understand how smart she is and how much the president relies on her.”

The campaign’s co-managers, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, don’t directly oversee Harp and, the source said, and essentially leave her alone.

“Natalie fills a role and Chris and Susie know that’s what he wants,” the source said, “so they focus on other things.”

Again, if true (it appears to be single sourced), it is a really important insight: Trump’s digital gatekeeper doesn’t work for the ostensible campaign managers. The campaign — which serially offers statements in response to reporting on Project 2025 claiming that unless something comes from the campaign then it is not official policy — does not control Harp.

Caputo’s source claims that the campaign doesn’t control what comes in and out of Trump’s digital persona. Harp does.

And people amenable to fascism know that, and know how to exploit it.

The Phone Contacts between the “Total Moron” and the PAC Head

According to Person 16 — who has the potty mouth and performed candor we’ve come to expect from Eric Herschmann — Person 5 is a “total moron” — an opinion about Boris Epshteyn that Herschmann has expressed elsewhere.

“I certainly am not relying on any legal analysis from either of you or Boris who — to be clear — I think is an idiot,” Mr. Herschmann wrote in a different email. “When I questioned Boris’s legal experience to work on challenging a presidential election since he appeared to have none — challenges that resulted in multiple court failures — he boasted that he was ‘just having fun,’ while also taking selfies and posting pictures online of his escapades.”

Mr. Corcoran at one point sought to get on the phone with Mr. Herschmann to discuss his testimony, instead of simply sending the written directions, which alarmed Mr. Herschmann, given that Mr. Herschmann was a witness, the emails show.

In language that mirrored the federal statute against witness tampering, Mr. Herschmann told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Epshteyn, himself under subpoena in Georgia, “should not in any way be involved in trying to influence, delay or prevent my testimony.”

“He is not in a position or qualified to opine on any of these issues,” Mr. Herschmann said.

At that same November 2, 2022 interview, Person 16 went on to tell Jack Smith’s investigators how Person 5 ingratiated himself to Trump after the former President left the White House.

Post January 2021, [Person 5] constantly sent FPOTUS what [he] had uncovered on the election fraud and maneuvered [his] way into FPOTUS’ circle. [Person 16] was unaware of an actual [redacted] for [Person 5], stating it was [Person 5] who would instruct media to report [on him] as [redacted].

I long laughed at the the way that journalist after journalist credited Ephsteyn with playing a role in Trump’s legal defense even while Ephsteyn was billing Trump’s PAC for strategy consulting, not law.

For the entirety of the time that Epshteyn was quarterbacking Trump’s response to the stolen documents probe, someone in his immediate vicinity has been telling reporters that he was playing a legal function, all the while billing Trump for the same old strategic consulting his firm, Georgetown Advisory, normally provides (though the two payments the campaign made to Epshteyn after Trump formalized his candidacy, totalling $30,000, were filed under “communications and legal consulting”).

NYT has, in various stories including Maggie in the byline, described Epshteyn’s role in the stolen documents case as “an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump’s legal efforts,” “in-house counsel for the former president who has become one of his most trusted advisers,” and “who has played a central role in coordinating lawyers on several of the investigations involving Mr. Trump.” Another even describes that Epshteyn “act[ed] as [a] lawyer [] for the Trump campaign.” The other day, Maggie described his role instead as “broader strategic consulting.”

All the time that NYT was describing Epshteyn as playing a legal role — and NYT is in no way alone in this — he was telling the Feds he wasn’t playing a legal function, he was instead playing a strategic consulting one. Many if not most of these stories also post-date the time, in September, when the FBI seized Epshteyn’s phone, which would give him a really good reason to try to claim to be a lawyer and not a political consultant.

According to Person 16, he “believed [Person 5] was now trying to create [redacted] to cover [him] for previous activities. [Person 16] believed [Person 49’s] records may reflect recent [redacted] that did not reflect what actually transpired.”

It was around the time of this interview, in November 2022, when Ephsteyn did start billing for legal services, even while the press was credulously reporting that he had always been serving in a legal role. That happened in the aftermath of Ephsteyn’s phone being seized, in September 2022.

Person 16 also thought that “total moron” Person 5 might have shifted the concern about witness tampering from the January 6 investigation[s] to the stolen document one.

[Person 16] could not recall where the information that the concern about witness tampering was related to the document investigation and not the January 6th Committee. [Person 16] commented that sounded like something [Person 5] would do.

That interview was in November 2022.

In January 2023, according to an exhibit submitted in support of a discovery request for records on all correspondence and/or communications regarding counsel, Jack Smith’s office asked the FBI to pull together the toll records between Person 49 — who may be Susie Wiles, the head of America First PAC — and both Person 5 and Stanley Woodward.

The contacts between Person 49 and Woodward are not that interesting — just four phone calls in fall 2022, when Woodward started representing Kash Patel.

The contacts between Person 5 (whom I suspect is Ephsteyn) and Person 49 (whom I suspect is Wiles) are more interesting.

The contacts started on April 20, 2021, when Person 5 called Person 49, with sustained contact for a few months and then a lapse.

The contacts resumed in September and October 2021 (when the January 6 Committee was ratcheting up).

There were four phone calls in one week in November 2021, and two longer calls in December 2021.

And then nothing, until when Ephsteyn started ingratiating himself in Trump’s orbit after the documents issue went public in February 2022. From that point forward they were “in contact almost daily.”

Of course, these SMS texts might not be that useful. The paragraph of the superseding stolen documents indictment that describes Wiles vetting Carlos De Oliveira’s loyalty before arranging legal representation of him describes that Nauta confirmed his now co-defendant’s loyalty on a Signal chat, not an SMS text.

Just over two weeks after the FBI discovered classified documents in the Storage Room and TRUMP’s office, on August 26, 2022, NAUTA called Trump Employee 5 and said words to the effect of, “someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good.” In response, Trump Employee 5 told NAUTA that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal and that DE OLIVEIRA would not do anything to affect his relationship with TRUMP. That same day, at NAUTA’s request, Trump Employee 5 confirmed in a Signal chat group with NAUTA and the PAC Representative that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal. That same day, TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and told DE OLIVEIRA that TRUMP would get DE OLIVEIRA an attorney. [my emphasis]

Among the exhibits included in this request for discovery is a fragment of an interview with Person 49 denying unequivocally that she had done such vetting (as well as an earlier interview in which she said Person 16 was at the forefront of finding lawyers). If this is Wiles, she denied conducting loyalty checks before agreeing to find legal representation for people.

Mind you, that’s not the only place Wiles shows up in the superseding indictment.

In August or September 2021, when he was no longer president, TRUMP met in his office at the Bedminster Club with a representative of his political action committee (the “PAC Representative”). During the meeting, TRUMP commented that an ongoing military operation in Country B was not going well. TRUMP showed the PAC Representative a classified map of Country B and told the PAC Representative that he should not be showing the map to the PAC Representative and to not get too close. The PAC Representative did not have a security clearance or any need-t0-know classified information about the military operation.

That was around the time when Person 49 resumed phone contact with Person 5 again.

This ABC piece talks about what a big deal it is that Wiles might have to testify at trial in the height of a campaign she’s leading (though Aileen Cannon seems dead set on preventing that from happening).

And this post describes how Wiles likely showed up in another Trump-related indictment as the Florida campaign official who interacted — unwittingly — with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

The $40 Million, Er, the Unlimited Slush Fund Man

Something weird happened in the last few days.

On Sunday, Trump whisperer Josh Dawsey scooped that campaign finance filings that would be submitted yesterday would show that Trump’s PAC, Save America, had spent more than $40M on legal fees in the first half of 2023.

Save America, the former president’s PAC, is expected to disclose about $40.2 million in legal spending in a filing expected Monday, said the people familiar with the filing, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not been made public.

That total is more than any other expense the PAC has incurred during Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and, according to federal filings from earlier this month, more than Trump’s campaign raised in the second quarter of 2023.It will bring the PAC’s post-presidential legal spending to about $56 million, as Trump faces a federal indictment in Florida, state charges in New York, and the prospect of additional criminal indictments in Washington and Fulton County, Ga.

Shortly after, Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman matched that scoop and added another, that Trump had gotten a $60M “refund” from his own SuperPAC.

The political action committee that former President Donald J. Trump is using to pay his legal bills faced such staggering costs this year that it requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to another group supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.

[snip]

But the refund was sought as the political action committee, Save America, spent more than $40 million in legal fees incurred by Mr. Trump and witnesses in various legal cases related to him this year alone, according to another person familiar with the matter.

The numbers will be part of the Save America Federal Election Commission filing that is expected to be made public late on Monday.

That $40 million was in addition to $16 million that Save America spent in the previous two years on legal fees.

Dawsey’s version explained to readers that Save America’s fundraising was part of Jack Smith’s criminal investigation.

The PAC’s own fundraising and creation is under investigation, The Post has reported, though the group has not been accused of wrongdoing. Much of the money it is using to pay for legal bills was raised on false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Maggie’s version laid out that Trump had raised the money by promising that he’d spend it to address alleged voter fraud, without disclosing that those false claims may be a crime, much less state clearly that the claims were false.

The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought small-dollar donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

And then yesterday’s disclosures came out and, per the Daily Beast, the key claim, that Trump had spent over $40M of his PAC’s funds on legal fees, was wrong. It was exactly half that.

Early news reports of former President Donald Trump’s astronomical $40.2 million in legal expenses now appear to have been off by about $20.1 million, or exactly half, according to a new Federal Election Commission filing.

Perhaps more notable, however, is the financial state of his former flagship leadership PAC, “Save America,” which covered those fees. Once a fundraising juggernaut, Save America ended June with just $3.7 million in the bank—a $100 million drop from its $103 million stash just one year ago—as the legal threats are only increasing in scope and severity.

The highly anticipated filing shows about $20.1 million in legal costs, with another roughly $1.5 million in additional legal reimbursements.

The early news reports—sourced from “people familiar with the filing”—and the disclosure itself don’t provide enough data to show where the error lay. However, the seemingly neat halfway split could suggest an accounting mistake—or, alternatively, possibly unreliable or intentionally misleading sourcing. Those fees do appear to extend to an array of law firms—indicating financial support for a long list of possible witnesses in several cases—as well as to Trump’s own stable of attorneys.

The more interesting detail — involving the campaign of a guy whose corporate person was convicted of tax fraud last year and goes on trial for civil fraud in October — is that he between all of Trump’s committees, he had to correct a bunch of past reports.

Trump’s full operation also filed more than two dozen corrected reports across several committees on Monday, going back as far as January 2021.

The former President should have more reliable accounting than George Santos.

Meanwhile, the incorrect reporting from Sunday — which alerted MAGAts and rich Republicans who believe they’re stuck with Trump that his burn rate on legal fees is eating up any campaign funds — came days after Trump rolled out a legal defense fund. As Sollenberger notes, as a 527, it will allow for a whole bunch of slush. Campaign manager Susie Wiles, who is (at least) a witness in the stolen documents case and also in the thick of the alleged illegal use of PAC funds has a role in managing the fund.

And yet experts said the shadiest, most notable part of the legal defense fund was not that it would pay for lawyers for potential witnesses against Trump. That part isn’t all that new. The Trump team reportedly worked hand-in-hand with CPAC chair Matt Schlapp’s “First Amendment Fund” earlier this year to provide legal help to Jan. 6 committee subpoena targets, and Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC also bankrolled handpicked attorneys for Jan. 6 witnesses.

Instead, experts pointed to the group’s unique tax status opening an array of new fundraising opportunities for Trump as the most unsettling element—including for unlimited donations from individuals and corporations.

I can’t help but remember that DOJ shut down the investigation into the suspected $10 million donation in September 2016 from an Egyptian bank that was key to Trump remaining in the case.

Someone with knowledge of Trump’s filings preempted bad news about his terrible burn rate — but did so inaccurately (and in a way that has yet to be corrected, or explained). But it happened at a time when Trump is planning on using his criminal exposure to launch an entirely new kind of fundraising.

Trump’s campaign finance looks a lot like his corporate finance. And his criminal exposure is now part of what he’s selling.

Stan Woodward Wants to Give Walt Nauta a Need to Know the Contents of the Stolen Documents

The headline revelation in DOJ’s renewed bid for a classified protective order in the Trump case is that Trump wants to be able to discuss classified documents with his attorneys in his offices, which the government correctly notes, “seeks permission to do so in the very location at which he is charged with willfully retaining the documents charged in this case.”

I’m sure we’ll come back to that, particularly if Judge Aileen Cannon entertains Trump’s demand seriously (under CIPA the government could immediately appeal any decision to the 11th Circuit).

But I’ve been more interested in Walt Nauta’s demand: that he get to see all the stolen classified documents charged in the indictment.

Defendant Nauta objects to language that limits his personal access to classified information, as opposed to access by his cleared counsel;

[snip]

Defendant Nauta is charged only with obstruction and false statement offenses related the movement and concealment of Defendant Trump’s boxes; the contents of the classified documents contained in the boxes, and the national defense information that they contain, are not material to proving or defending against those charges. Moreover, Defendant Nauta’s counsel will have the opportunity to review the classified discovery, and should they see a need to share any particular classified documents with Defendant Nauta, counsel will have an opportunity to raise the issue with the Government and the Court.1

1 The Government intends to provide to Defendant Nauta’s counsel all classified discovery identified to date.

[snip]

As explained, Defendant Nauta has no need to review the contents of the classified information. His cleared counsel will have full access to the documents in preparing his defense, and the protective order will allow Nauta to seek permission to review classified information personally if he establishes a need to know. The procedure set forth in the Government’s proposed protective order appropriately balances the need to protect classified information while allowing Defendant Nauta’s counsel the ability to assess the documents.

I assume this is one more effort from Stan Woodward — who is being paid by Trump’s PAC — to test the boundaries of Judge Cannon’s indulgence, a tactical move to figure out how much the defense team can get away with.

This is, in my opinion as someone who has been covering Espionage Act cases for over 15 years, an ill-considered move.

As I noted in my first review of the original indictment, Nauta’s alleged overt acts already then fulfilled all the elements of the offense of 18 USC 793(g), conspiring with Trump to hoard classified documents, which would dramatically increase Nauta’s legal jeopardy. Already then, Nauta was at risk of being superseded with charges that expose him to over a decade of prison time, possibly two.

That’s all the more true given the additional acts in the superseding indictment.

Effectively, this demand from Woodward is a request: Please give my client a Need to Know what is in those 32 highly classified documents that Nauta wouldn’t even have had the Need to Know when he was working in the White House.

The one thing that would give Nauta a Need to Know what’s in the stolen documents — as the government intimates — is if Nauta were charged under the Espionage Act, as he could be under 18 USC 793(g).

Which brings me to a key detail in this WaPo story — which reveals that, tomorrow, Trump will disclose he has spent $40M on lawyers, eating up his campaign cash (which makes Will Hurd’s quip from the other night — that Trump is running for President to stay out of prison — pretty timely).

That’s a really important story (and will create still more damning, unprivileged documents for prosecutors to find). But WaPo’s story confirms what I suspected when I focused on ¶91 of the superseding indictment — the one that describes Trump assessing Carlos De Oliveira’s loyalty before he offered to pay for a lawyer — as, potentially, its most important.

Stan Woodward — the lawyer who has decided it’d be a good idea to ask that his client be given a Need to Know what’s in the stolen classified documents — has started to face very serious conflict problems that have been inevitable for months.

Woodward represents at least the following people (I’ll add more when I remember them):

  • Peter Navarro (who goes on trial for contempt in September)
  • Dan Scavino
  • Kash Patel
  • Walt Nauta
  • Will Russell, who testified on July 20
  • Taylor Budowich, who testified in Florida
  • Brad Parscale in AJ Delgado’s pregnancy discrimination suit against the Trump campaign
  • Kelly Meggs, who has already been sentenced for sedition
  • Freddie Klein, the former State Department official who was part of the Tunnel battle, also recently sentenced
  • Ryan Samsel, who kicked off the entire riot on January 6

Critically, Woodward was representing Yuscil Taveras, whose recent testimony is one of the things that made it possible to add Carlos De Oliveira (represented by a different Trump paid lawyer) to the indictment and include the Keystone Cops effort to delete footage. That created a conflict between Nauta’s interests and Taveras’, and someone — presumably Chief Judge James Boasberg — appointed a conflict counsel for Taveras, which is what led to Taveras becoming dramatically more forthcoming.

Nauta, who investigators long considered a key witness in the classified documents investigation, has been represented for many months by lawyer Stan Woodward, with Save America footing the bills. Woodward also represents several other Trump-linked clients who have been subpoenaed as part of Smith’s investigations, including an IT worker named Yuscil Taveras.

For much of the classified documents probe, there did not appear to be a conflict between Nauta and Taveras.

After Trump and Nauta were indicted in June, however, Taveras decided he had more he wanted to tell the authorities about his conversations with De Oliveira, according to people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

Taveras offered information implicating all three defendants in an alleged conspiracy to cover up evidence, these people said.

Legal ethics rules bar attorneys from arguing adverse positions in a case — such as defending one client by cross-examining another client, or advising one person who is testifying to investigators or a grand jury against another.

Once Taveras’s position put him potentially at odds with Nauta’s defense, a judge reviewed the issue, a person familiar with the matter said. A second lawyer — not paid by the PAC — was brought in to provide legal advice to Taveras, who then spoke to investigators, according to people familiar with the matter. [my emphasis]

I’ve been waiting for the moment when DOJ would ask for a conflict counsel to be appointed for Nauta: because Woodward getting paid by a PAC that is under investigation for this spending is, by itself, a potential conflict. But this describes that a judge, probably Boasberg, brought in a conflict counsel for Taveras.

It’s not clear whether Taveras has flipped or just gotten far more cooperative — he fits the description of a person who had received a target letter, so the decision to be more forthcoming may have been entirely about self-preservation.

But Taveras has not only provided damaging testimony about Nauta, De Oliveira, and Trump, but he likely can explain who from Trump Organization in New York participated in the still uncharged successful efforts to delete surveillance footage, who might be able to give someone the rights to do that.

That is, he likely has testimony that could implicate the Matthews Calamari, key players in Trump’s corporate empire.

More importantly, prosecutors will do with Taveras what DOJ did with Cassidy Hutchinson after she described that Stefan Passantino was discouraging her from being all that forthcoming: ask more about the nature of that legal arrangement. They may also ask about Susie Wiles’ role in it (which is also laid out in the WaPo article), which also came up in even Hutchinson’s publicly released testimony about these matters.

And Wiles, of course, is not only the person arranging all this conflicted legal representation for people and now running Trump’s campaign, but she’s also someone who has been involved in the use of the documents; she is also reportedly the person to whom Trump showed a classified document in Bedminster she was not cleared to see.

It’s not just that Trump is spending more on lawyers than he is taking in. But he’s spending on lawyers whose conflicts make this entire scheme a fragile game of jenga.

One that may have started to fall apart.

Update: Trump Employee 5 in the superseding indictment must also have given testimony, which may also be fairly recent. Given that he’s the kind of person who’d be consulted about loyalty, he presumably also was part of the in-house lawyering team.

Update: NYT has their own version of this preemptive limited hangout of Trump’s financial shell game. It mentions the potential legal problem with using funds raised for election security to pay lawyers, but steers clear of the ongoing investigation into it.

The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought small-dollar donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

Mr. Trump used some of that $100 million for other politicians and political activities in 2022, but he also used it to pay more than $16 million in legal fees, most of them related to investigations into him, and at least $10 million of which was for his own personal fees.

Save America began 2023 with just $18 million in cash on hand, which is less than half of what was spent on legal bills this year.

Campaign finance experts are divided on whether Mr. Trump is even able to continue to use the PAC to pay for his personal legal bills, as he became a candidate last November.

Update: CNN has confirmed the timeline: Taveras got a target letter after the first indictment, then ditched Woodward, then testified.

Yuscil Taveras, a Mar-a-Lago employee who oversees the property’s surveillance cameras, received a target letter from federal prosecutors after former President Donald Trump was first indicted in June on charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving office, sources told CNN.

[snip]

After receiving the target letter, Taveras changed lawyers because his attorney, Stan Woodward, also represented Nauta, which presented a conflict, sources said.

Update: Added two more Woodward clients.

Update: Added another Woodward client.

The Superseding Stolen Documents Indictment: Buying Loyalty

While all the journalists were in Prettyman Courthouse in DC, Jack Smith superseded the Florida stolen documents indictment to add Trump employee Carlos De Oliveira — the property manager — to the indictment.

He’s the guy who helped Walt Nauta move boxes around, including loading them to go to Bedminster. Nauta also allegedly asked him to help destroy surveillance footage.

The superseding indictment adds another stolen document count — the Iran document he showed others, which is classified Top Secret — and another obstruction count for attempting to destroy the video footage.

This passage describes how Nauta flew to Florida to attempt to destroy security footage.

This is a key paragraph of the superseding indictment. It shows how Trump uses legal representation to secure loyalty. It’s a fact pattern that crosses both of Trump’s crimes, and may well be in the expected January 6 indictment. It may help to break down the omerta currently protecting Trump.

Just over two weeks after the FBI discovered classified documents in the Storage Room and TRUMP’s office, on August 26, 2022, NAUTA called Trump Employee 5 and said words to the effect of, “someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good.” In response, Trump Employee 5 told NAUTA that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal and that DE OLIVEIRA would not do anything to affect his relationship with TRUMP. That same day, at NAUTA’s request, Trump Employee 5 confirmed in a Signal chat group with NAUTA and the PAC Representative that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal. That same day, TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and told DE OLIVEIRA that TRUMP would get DE OLIVEIRA an attorney.

Several uncharged Trump employees have been added to the indictment.

  • Trump Employee 3, who simply passed on the information that Trump wanted to speak to Nauta on the day Trump Organization received a subpoena
  • Trump Employee 4, who is the Director of IT who had control of the surveillance footage; according to some reports, he had received a target letter
  • Trump Employee 5, who is a valet, but from whom DOJ seems to have firsthand testimony

The passage above seems to rely on testimony from Trump Employee 5 and the final exploitation of Walt Nauta’s phone.

It remains to be seen how DOJ learned the specifics of Trump’s conversation with De Oliveira.

And the PAC Representative — to whom Trump showed an Iran document — has been referred to as Susie Wiles. She’s a pivotal person in the alleged misuse of PAC-raised money.

This superseding indictment substantiates the obstruction more. But it also starts chipping away at the dangling of lawyers to obstruct the investigation.

Update: Here’s Jack Smith’s description of the additions.

Susie Wiles Named in A(nother?) Trump-Related Indictment

ABC has identified two more people referred to in Trump’s Espionage Act indictment.

In addition to confirming earlier reports that Molly Michael is Trump Employee 2 — the person who, with Walt Nauta, helped Trump sort through boxes in advance of returning a subset of boxes in January 2022 — ABC describes that Trump Employee 1 is Hayley (née D’Antuono) Harrison.

Sources have also further identified some of the other figures mentioned by Smith’s team in the indictment. Hayley Harrison and Molly Michael are said to be “Trump Employee 1” and “Trump Employee 2,” respectively.

Michael, whose name was previously reported as an individual identified in the indictment, is Trump’s former executive assistant who no longer works for him, while Harrison is currently an aide to Trump’s wife, Melania Trump.

The role of Trump Employee 1 in the indictment is fairly minor: in a discussion with Michael she suggested moving other stuff to storage to make space in the gaudy bathroom for boxes of documents.

People often raise questions about whether she has familial ties with Steve D’Antuono, the former FBI Assistant Director who kept thwarting investigations into Trump; they share a last name but no known familial ties.

More interesting is the role of her spouse, Beau, whom she married last year. Both Beau and Hayley were employed by Trump’s PAC, and Beau was represented (as Cassidy Hutchinson had been) by Stephen Passantino. Beau made two appearances before the January 6 Committee, in the second of which his testimony evolved to match Tony Ornato’s testimony disclaiming Trump’s efforts to go to the Capitol on January 6. Harrison was interviewed in the January 6 investigation late last year.

The Harrisons are a couple in the thick of things.

ABC’s other identification is a much bigger deal — and Trump is making it one. According to ABC, Susie Wiles is the PAC Representative to whom Trump is described as showing a classified map in September 2021.

Susie Wiles, one of Trump’s most trusted advisers leading his second reelection effort, is the individual singled out in Smith’s indictment as the “PAC Representative” who Trump is alleged to have shown a classified map to in August or September of 2021, sources said.

Trump, in the indictment, is alleged to have shown the classified map of an unidentified country to Wiles while discussing a military operation that Trump said “was not going well,” while adding that he “should not be showing the map” to her and “not to get too close.”

[snip]

If the identification of Wiles by sources is accurate, it also raises the prospect that should Trump’s case go to trial prior to the 2024 election, one of the top figures leading his reelection bid could be called to testify as a key witness. Wiles, who previously helped lead Trump’s now-GOP primary opponent Ron DeSantis’s two campaigns for governor, is seen as one of Trump’s most trusted confidants.

She also led Trump’s campaign operations in Florida in 2016, and was later CEO of Trump’s Save America political action committee.

Note that Trump could not be surprised by Wiles’ inclusion in the indictment; the map-sharing incident was widely reported before the indictment.

Still, Wiles’ ID is important for several reasons. Even more than the prospect that Wiles might have to testify during the campaign, which ABC notes, consider how the primary release condition — that Trump not discuss the facts of the case with any witnesses — would affect this. Trump wants to turn being an accused felon into a key campaign plank. He’s running on being a victim. But the contact prohibition would make it more difficult for Trump and Wiles to discuss the best way to do that. And it would make any false claims the Trump campaign made about the prosecution legally problematic, because Wiles is a witness.

That would be true irrespective of Wiles’ role in running Save America PAC, which is the key subject of the fundraising prong of the investigation. But there’s a non-zero likelihood that Wiles’ conduct is being scrutinized for spending money raised for one purpose and spent on another. One way or another, Wiles was involved in a suspected Trump scheme to raise money based off a promise to spend it on election integrity, only to use the money for lawyers representing Trump in other matters.

More interesting still: this may not be Wiles’ first inclusion in a Trump-related indictment. At the very least, Wiles was the former 2016 campaign staffer who had to answer for the multiple contacts Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls made with Trump’s Florida campaign as laid out in the Internet Research Agency indictment, and she may well have been one of the three campaign officials referred to in it.

74. On or about August 15, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county. The activist identified two additional sites in Florida for possible rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators subsequently used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional rally in Florida.

75. On or about August 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the ORGANIZATION-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

77. On or about August 18, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent money via interstate wire to another real U.S. person recruited by the ORGANIZATION, using one of their false U.S. personas, to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.

78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain donaldtrump.com. On or about the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

79. On or about August 19, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account sent another message to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 3”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations. On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3. [my emphasis]

In the wake of the indictment, Wiles insisted, convincingly, that no official staffer wittingly cooperated with the trolls.

Susie Wiles, who was co-chair of the Trump campaign in Florida in August 2016 and later became the campaign’s chief Florida staffer, said no campaign official was aware of the Russian effort.

“It’s not the way I do the business; it’s not the way the Trump campaign in Florida did business,” she said. “It is spooky. It is awful. It makes you look over your shoulder. It shouldn’t happen. I’m anxious for this to be uncovered so this never happens again.”

Indeed, ultimately, DOJ argued that Prigozhin’s trolls had made approximately 26 real US persons unwittingly serve as agents of Russia, who otherwise should have registered under FARA. Had the Concord Consulting case gone to trial, the interactions of those real people with Prigozhin’s trolls would have been introduced as evidence.

But the focus on Florida led to a real focus on the Wiles family’s real actions tied to Russia. Notably, just days after the June 9, 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, Susie’s spouse Lanny arranged for Veselnitskaya to get a prominent seat at a Magnitsky sanctions hearing.

In fact, her seat had been reserved for her by a Republican consultant with close ties to the Trump campaign.

Lanny Wiles, whose wife, Susie, was then chairing the Trump campaign in Florida, said in an interview that he came early to scout out the seat and was there at the request of Akhmetshin, with whom he was working as a consultant on the sanctions-related adoption issue.

Lanny and Susie Wiles both said she was unaware of his role in the lobbying effort. Lanny Wiles said he was unaware that the Russian lawyer whose seat he was saving had just days earlier met with Trump Jr.

“I wasn’t part of it,” Susie Wiles said.

First Politico, then BuzzFeed, reported that Lanny Wiles had some kind of financial role in Akhmetshin’s anti-Magnitsky lobbying. And the Wiles’ daughter, Caroline, had to be moved from a job in the White House to Treasury after she failed a background check.

That back story is what makes it more interesting that Trump was sharing a classified map with Wiles in 2021.

Update: CNN matches ABC’s identification of Wiles, and adds that Wiles has been interviewed several times.

The campaign adviser, Susie Wiles, has spoken to federal investigators numerous times as part of the special counsel’s Mar-a-Lago documents probe, multiple sources told CNN.

[snip]

During her interviews, sources say that prosecutors repeatedly asked Wiles about whether Trump showed her classified documents. They also inquired about a map and whether she had any knowledge regarding documents related to Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, one source added.

[snip]

Wiles, one of Trump’s closest advisers, is effectively running his third bid for the presidency and has taken an active role in Trump’s legal strategy, including helping find lawyers and helping arrange payment to attorneys representing Trump associates being questioned in the multiple federal and state investigations into the former president.

Wiles is also a close associate of Chris Kise, who is on Trump’s legal team and appeared in court earlier this month when Trump was indicted.

Sources in Trump’s inner circle tell CNN they were blindsided by the news.

Wiles declined to comment to CNN.

Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told CNN that Wiles would not be taking a step back from the campaign.

“Jack Smith and the Special Counsel’s investigation is openly engaging in outright election interference and meddling by attacking one of the leaders of President Trump’s re-election campaign,” said Cheung.

Perhaps the most interesting detail in the CNN piece is that “sources in Trump’s inner circle” didn’t know this.

Update: A Trump rival (remember that Wiles used to work for DeSantis) finally finds something to attack Trump on — and in a Murdoch rag, no less: Wiles’ ties to China.

Susie Wiles works on Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign and is co-chair of Mercury Public Affairs, which has taken millions of dollars in recent years from Chinese companies such as Yealink, Hikvision and Alibaba.

[snip]

If confirmed, the episode is further complicated by both Wiles’ high standing in the Trump campaign and her firm’s lobbying for potential hostile entities — though a search of the Justice Department’s registry of foreign agents indicated Wiles had not worked directly for those clients.

“Susie could put Trump away for years in just one minute of testimony to Jack Smith,” a rival GOP operative told The Post. “She’s got Trump by the balls, which means she can name her price for her loyalty and Trump can’t say no.”

A Focus on Florida: What Happened to the Three Campaign Officials Chatting with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Trolls?

I want to go back to something I’ve been uniquely obsessed about for almost an entire year. As I’ve noted, the Internet Research Agency indictment describes the IRA trolls interacting with three Trump campaign officials that it describes in the manner used with possible co-conspirators.

74. On or about August 15, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county. The activist identified two additional sites in Florida for possible rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators subsequently used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional rally in Florida.

75. On or about August 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the ORGANIZATION-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

77. On or about August 18, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent money via interstate wire to another real U.S. person recruited by the ORGANIZATION, using one of their false U.S. personas, to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.

78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain donaldtrump.com. On or about the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

79. On or about August 19, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account sent another message to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 3”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations. On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

Since this indictment was rolled out last February, no one has identified these three Trump campaign officials nor what they did in response to dangles from Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

That said, contrary to the assumption made when a DC-based team of US Attorneys joined the IRA prosecution team, DOJ’s investigation on this front has continued. Not only was IRA accountant Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova charged in EDVA last September (the complaint was unsealed in October, during a pre-election disinformation campaign involving IRA trolls), but in August, Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson was still pursuing investigative action in the IRA case (this means it’s possible that the involvement of a DC prosecutor in Roger Stone’s prosecution serves largely to keep the Mueller team targeting him focused on other aspects of their investigation of him).

In any case, since the mention of three different campaign officials interacting with Prigozhin’s trolls, we’ve gotten a number of other reasons to be interested in what happened in Florida in 2016.

Obviously, there’s Roger Stone. The actions laid out in his existing indictment largely take place in DC and NY, but we know Mueller has pursued (and continues to pursue, with Andrew Miller) testimony from aides working for Stone elsewhere, including in Florida. We know in May 2016, for example, Stone met in Florida with a Russian using the name Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. In principle, his denials on that should be taken no more seriously than his denials pertaining to WikiLeaks, but he was willing to correct his testimony on that point, unlike his testimony on WikiLeaks.

And there are other connections in Florida of interest. In a piece adding to stuff we already knew about Sergei Millian (which bizarrely remains silent about Ivan Timofeev and Oleg Deripaska’s ties to him, or his promise to build a Trump Tower), the WaPo describes how Millian worked with a Florida-based Russian named Mikhail Morgulis to build support in Florida.

As he was working to build a relationship with Papadopoulos in 2016, Millian also offered to serve as a conduit to the Trump campaign for a Belarusan author in Florida with connections to the Russian government, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

The author, Mikhail Morgulis, who said he never ended up hearing from anyone in the campaign, later claimed that he rallied Russian Americans to back Trump.

[snip]

Morgulis took credit in interviews with Russian media for helping to elect Trump by organizing Russian-speaking voters.

“I personally visited 11 cities in Florida, where I said that if you want our new president to be a homosexual . . . vote for Hillary,” he said a July 2017 interview with the Russian government-funded outlet Sputnik, touting a false claim popular among some conservative conspiracy theorists. In the interview, he also said he had briefly met both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Then consider this detail from BuzzFeed’s report on what Suspicious Activity Reports say about Rinat Akhmetshin’s finances. Rather than getting paid by Lanny Wiles — as had previously been portrayed — Akhmetshin was in fact paying Wiles.

Akhmetshin continued receiving checks and wires from Wiles Consulting, a Florida-based company controlled by Lanny Wiles, a longtime Republican operator. Those payments, which began in January 2016, extended to April 2017, and totaled $72,500.

Investigators at Akhmetshin’s bank said the direction of the payments — from Wiles to Akhmetshin — contrasted with how their working relationship had been portrayed publicly. Investigators, citing unspecified public information, said Wiles claimed he was paid by Akhmetshin to work on the Magnitsky lobbying issue, not the other way around. The investigators did not cite their source, but a 2016 Politico article quoted Wiles saying he had been paid by Akhmetshin. Investigators at Bank of America did find that the foundation had issued checks to Wiles, but the amount is unclear. Wiles, whose wife was the chair of Trump’s Florida campaign, did not return messages seeking comment.

In the same Politico article, Wiles said he didn’t want to register as a foreign agent, but that Akhmetshin had told him it wouldn’t be necessary, as he would be working for BakerHostetler.

In the wake of the Natalia Veselnitskaya indictment in December, the government will have an easy time arguing that Akhmetshin and Wiles’ lobbying will easily be demonstrated to be work on behalf of Russia.

As noted, Wiles’ wife, Susie, was Trump’s Florida campaign chair, and the woman who got Veselnitskaya a seat in a hearing on Magnitsky sanctions.

Update: The Wiles’ daughter, Caroline Wiles, quit her White House job as director of scheduling after it became clear she’d fail a background check. (h/t LR)

Among those who won’t be working at the White House was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign director and former campaign manager for Governor Rick Scott. Wiles, who resigned Friday before the background check was completed, was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.

There seems to be a lot more that happened with Trump’s campaign in Florida in 2016 than we currently know about. Including the three campaign officials mentioned in the still active investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

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.