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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon knows nothing and neither does Sessions, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response to Monday’s server hiccups and in anticipation that Mueller is nowhere near done, we expanded our server capacity overnight. If you think you’ll rely on emptywheel reporting on the Mueller probe, please consider a donation to support the site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response to Monday’s server hiccups and in anticipation that Mueller is nowhere near done, we expanded our server capacity overnight. If you think you’ll rely on emptywheel reporting on the Mueller probe, please consider a donation to support the site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arpaio And Thomas: The Most Unethical Sheriff And Prosecutor In America Conspire To Abuse Power And Obstruct Justice

In addition to some of the finest weather and most spectacular natural beauty in the US, Arizona is also home to two of the biggest and most virulent self serving political hacks imaginable, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. For years, there has been an escalating turf war between the Siamese twins of local law enforcement oppression, Arpaio and Thomas on the one hand, and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the Maricopa County judiciary, who keep trying to reign in the out of control officers, on the other hand.

Last week, Arpaio and Thomas upped the ante in the war by filing a civil racketeering suit in Federal court. From The Arizona Republic:

Alleging widespread conspiracy, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday against county administrators, elected officials, judges and attorneys. Those defendants, they say, are violating federal racketeering laws by hindering criminal investigations and depriving their offices of resources.

County officials dismissed the claim as frivolous, saying Arpaio and Thomas have routinely lost on similar claims in state and local courts.

In the lawsuit, Thomas and Arpaio name all five members of the Board of Supervisors along with County Manager David Smith, Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson, four Maricopa County Superior Court judges, director of the county’s civil-litigation division, two attorneys and a law firm.

The suit, in essence, reiterates all of Thomas’ battles with the courts and county since 2006, including accusations of conspiracy by Judges Barbara Mundell, Anna Baca, Donahoe and Fields, claiming that the dispute began with the court’s opposition to Thomas’ immigration policies. It revisits the questions Thomas raised about the new $341 million court tower. Donahoe removed Thomas’ office from that investigation, and the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Donahoe’s decision. Coincidentally, on Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to reconsider that case. (emphasis added)

The last part in bold is key. Thomas and Arpaio have waged war against Maricopa County, the courts, elected officials and anybody else that dares to question or restrain their use and abuse of power. The issue here is a local concern, under purely Arizona state law, on which Thomas and Arpaio have resoundingly lost at every level of Arizona court, all the way to the Supreme Court of Arizona. With disdain and contempt for any court disagreeing with them, which is pretty much every court that reviews their conduct, they have now tried to counter the rule of law by tying the entire Maricopa County government in knots through spurious and unethical application to the Federal court.

The Judge Donahoe referred to in the Arizona Republic quote above is Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Gary Donahoe. Arpaio and Thomas have a special vendetta against Judge Donahoe and, today, doubled down on their crusade by criminally charging Judge Donahoe with bribery, hindering prosecution and obstruction based, amazingly, primarily on the same complaints and facts that the entire spectrum of trial and appellate courts in Arizona have previously rejected. From a late breaking story today by The Arizona Republic: Read more

A Dick Cheney Torture Trifecta!

First we have Judy "re-connected at the roots" Miller claiming Nancy Pelosi’s in trouble because Dick Cheney tortured.

Then we got Stephen "Hagiographer" Hayes, claiming Nancy Pelosi’s in trouble because Dick Cheney tortured.

And now we’ve got Victoria Toensing, claiming we shouldn’t prosecute John Yoo and Jay Bybee because they told Dick Cheney he could torture. This article is notably bad, even for Toensing. She invokes her Reagan-era legal experience as her basis of authority–but ignores the Reagan-era case which declared waterboarding to be torture.

In the mid-1980s, when I supervised the legality of apprehending terrorists to stand trial, I relied on a decades-old Supreme Court standard:

She claims the lawyers (she conveniently mentions just Yoo and Bybee, for obvious reasons) only had to determine whether waterboarding constitued a specific intent to torture, and not whether it shocked the conscience.

Our capture and treatment could not "shock the conscience" of the court. The OLC lawyers, however, were not asked what treatment was legal to preserve a prosecution. They were asked what treatment was legal for a detainee who they were told had knowledge of future attacks on Americans.

The 1994 law was passed pursuant to an international treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The law’s definition of torture is circular. Torture under that law means "severe physical or mental pain or suffering," which in turn means "prolonged mental harm," which must be caused by one of four prohibited acts. The only relevant one to the CIA inquiry was threatening or inflicting "severe physical pain or suffering." What is "prolonged mental suffering"? The term appears nowhere else in the U.S. Code.

Congress required, in order for there to be a violation of the law, that an interrogator specifically intend that the detainee suffer prolonged physical or mental suffering as a result of the prohibited conduct. Just knowing a person could be injured from the interrogation method is not a violation under Supreme Court rulings interpreting "specific intent" in other criminal statutes.

Bradbury, of course, spent a good part of his May 30, 2005 memo addressing the "shock the consicence" standard, because the program had been deemed illegal by the CIA’s own IG under that standard.

Read more

NOW Can We Dismiss the Notion that Toensing Is Independent?

Toensing

As TPM has reported (and a number of you have emailed) Scooter Libby’s press flack, Barbara Comstock, is running for office. Honestly, given the Democratic tilt of Virginia of late, I had been inclined to keep just half an eye on Comstock. After all, so long as she looks likely to lose, why give her any attention?

But news like this makes me rethink that. After all, what better way to undercut Comstock’s network of purportedly independent resources than to establish that they were on the host committee for Comstock’s earliest fund-raisers?

A who’s who of conservative women showed up at the home of Mildred Webber to register their support. Among them: the Ashcroft Group’s Juleanna Glover, National Review’s Kate O’Bierne and former Homeland Security official Fran Townsend.

Also on the host committee: Victoria Toensing, Jeri Thompson, Cathy Gillespie, Maria Cino and Kellyanne Conway.

Now, I know that there has been no doubt since the Clinton wars that Toensing is a Republican hack. But Toensing was able to attempt jury nullification with articles like this during the Libby trial, all under the claim that she was an independent entity.

And here we come to "find out" she’s one of Comstock’s closest buddies.