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August 2016: When Paulie’s Panic Set In

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

Back in June, Eric Trump made news when he claimed that, “My father’s life became exponentially worse the minute he decided to run for president.”

That’s not yet clear — though I think it possible that conspiring with Russians to get elected may yet bring down the Trump empire and put at least one of his family members in prison.

The case may be easier to make for Paul Manafort however. As evidence laid out in his trial has made clear this week, it is true that when Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in Ukraine, he started going broke. Yet somehow, he tried to trade up the oligarch ladder, to do for Donald Trump what he had done for his Russian client in Ukraine. In doing so, however, Manafort made himself far more vulnerable to having his influence peddling and corruption exposed.

In August 2016, things started to fall apart. That’s a story increasingly told in the collective legal proceedings revealed by the Mueller inquiry.

First, recall that the Mueller team appears to have the communications between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik since March 2016, as this spreadsheet that appears to show a parallel constructed source of such communications suggests.

That would suggest the government has a good deal of background on the two meetings Kilimnik and Manafort had during the campaign, including the one that took place on August 2.

In August, as tension mounted over Russia’s role in the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat down to dinner with a business associate from Ukraine who once served in the Russian army.

Konstantin Kilimnik, who learned English at a military school that some experts consider a training ground for Russian spies, had helped run the Ukraine office for Manafort’s international political consulting practice for 10 years.

At the Grand Havana Room, one of New York City’s most exclusive cigar bars, the longtime acquaintances “talked about bills unpaid by our clients, about [the] overall situation in Ukraine . . . and about the current news,” including the presidential campaign, according to a statement provided by Kilimnik, offering his most detailed account of his interactions with the former Trump adviser.

[snip]

Kilimnik said his meetings with Manafort were “private visits” that were “in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the U.S.” He said he did not meet with Trump or other campaign staff members, nor did he attend the Republican National Convention, which took place shortly before the Grand Havana Room session. However, he said the meetings with Manafort included discussions “related to the perception of the U.S. presidential campaign in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, as much of the evidence presented in Manafort’s EDVA case last week makes clear, he was in deep financial trouble. That’s why, prosecutors allege, he submitted fraudulent numbers to get loans fromThe Federal Savings Bank of Chicago and Citizen’s Bank, among other banks. Next week, prosecutors will probably present exhibits 268 and 269, emails to an employee, Dennis Raico (who will be granted immunity if he testifies) of TFSBC asking for the professional details of his boss, Stephen Calk. (h/t pinc)

268 2016.08.03 Email D. Raico to P. Manafort re Need S. Calk Resume

269 2016.08.04 Email P. Manafort to S. Calk re S. Calk- Professional Bio

The next day, Trump named Calk to his financial advisory committee.

Last week, prosecutors showed that, on August 10, Manafort told his tax preparer, Cindy LaPorta, that she should claim he’d be paid $2.4 million for work in Ukraine in November. (h/t NYCSouthpaw for this observation)

Even as he was allegedly engaging in bank fraud to stay afloat, Manafort (and his daughter) would get what appear to be blackmail attempts — threats to release details of his corrupt actions in Ukraine — details of which were later leaked on the dark web.

A purported cyberhack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer.

The undated communications, which areallegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump.

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to “bulletproof” evidence related to Manafort’s financial arrangement with Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

[snip]

In a Tuesday interview, Manafort denied brokering a 2012 meeting between Trump and Tulub and also pointied out that he wasn’t working for Trump at the time.

However, Manafort did confirm the authenticity of the texts hacked from his daughter’s phone. And he added that, before the texts were sent to his daughter, he had received similar texts to his own phone number from the same address appearing to be affiliated with Leshchenko.

He said he did not respond directly to any of the texts, and instead passed them along to his lawyer. He declined to provide the texts to POLITICO.

[snip]

Manafort said that the first of the texts arrived shortly before The New York Times published an August exposé revealing that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine had obtained documents — which have since come under scrutiny — that appeared to show $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort.

That NYT story came out on August 14, just 3 days after he promised a bank he had millions more coming from Ukraine around the same time as the presidential election. The very next day, the AP would pile on, asking for comment on a story about Manafort’s undisclosed lobbying for Yanukovych that it would publish on August 17. As prosecutors pointed out in a filing in the DC case, this exchange with the AP — and the Manafort-Gates effort to sustain a lie about their lobbying campaign — is a big part of the reason they lied when DOJ asked them to register under FARA that fall.

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie.

The day the article came out, August 17, Trump gave Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway larger roles in the campaign. Two days later, Manafort would resign, though he would remain in the loop with Trump. Indeed, according to the hacked texts from his daughter, he remained involved and actually “hired [Bannon and Conway]. Interviewed them in trump towers.” (h/t ee)

But according to leaked texts allegedly hacked from the phone of his daughter Andrea Manafort Shand, Manafort’s resignation was all for show, and he continued to wield influence in the campaign.

On August 19, when Paul Manafort officially resigned, the allegedly hacked texts show that Manafort Shand wrote to one her contacts:

So I got to the bottom of it, as I suspected my dad resigned from being the public face of the campaign. But is still very much involved behind the scenes.

He felt he was becoming a distraction and that would ultimately take a toll on the campaign.

Several hours later, a different contact appears to have texted Andrea Manafort to say, “Thoughts go out to your pops—I can only imagine that he’s relieved, angry, hurting, a combination of a lot of emotions. Wishing you and your fam the best.” To which Andrea responded: “Hahaha you’re so silly. It’s all just pr.”

But — as the Mueller filing makes clear — the pushback on the AP and NYT stories didn’t end Manafort and Gates’ efforts to lie about their activities in Ukraine. A filing in the Alex van der Zwaan prosecution details that on September 12, 2016, in the wake of the Kyiv Post’s exposure of new details about this work (h/t ms), Kilimnik would contact van der Zwaan, leading to a series of communications between the two of them and Skadden Arps’ Greg Craig regarding how Manafort and Gates laundered money and its sources to pay Skadden for a report on Yulia Tymoshenko’s prosecution.

Instead of truthfully answering questions about his contacts with Gates and Person A, van der Zwaan lied. He denied having substantive conversations with Gates and Person A in 2016. When confronted with an email dated September 12, 2016, sent by Person A to van der Zwaan, the defendant again lied. The email was sent to the defendant’s email address at his law firm, though the Special Counsel’s Office had obtained the email from another source. The email said, in Russian, that Person A “would like to exchange a few words via WhatsApp or Telegram.” van der Zwaan lied and said he had no idea why that email had not been produced to the government, and further lied when he stated that he had not communicated with Person A in response to the email.

[snip]

Further, van der Zwaan in fact had a series of calls with Gates and Person A—as well as the lead partner on the matter—in September and October 2016. The conversations concerned potential criminal charges in Ukraine about the Tymoshenko report and how the firm was compensated for its work. The calls were memorable: van der Zwaan had taken the precaution of recording the conversations with Gates, Person A, and the senior partner who worked on the report. In van der Zwaan’s recorded conversation with Person A, in Russian, Person A suggested that “there were additional payments,” that “[t]he official contract was only a part of the iceberg,” and that the story may become a blow for “you and me personally.”

[snip]

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

These are the contacts van der Zwaan hid, at first, from Mueller’s investigators. Van der Zwaan would claim he wasn’t hiding those contacts because he knew Kilimnik was a former GRU officer, but instead to hide that he recorded the conversation with Craig from the Skadden lawyers who represented him in the first interview with the FBI. But it’s still not clear why he made the recording. It sure feels like blackmail to me, though may also have been an effort to stay on track on his quest to make partner at Skadden (remember that van der Zwaan was being romanced into the family of Alfa Bank founder German Khan during 2016; he would marry Khan’s daughter in 2017).

Indeed, Paul Manafort’s life looks like a series of blackmail attempts during that period.

Which makes the stakes of the question Carrie Johnson asked in her Manafort trial round-up all the greater.

Left unanswered so far, Scott, is why Manafort joined the Trump campaign in 2016 for no money when he was bleeding. He was bleeding money and got no salary from that Trump campaign.

Why was Manafort, badly underwater at the time, willing to work for Trump for “free”? What was the $2.4 million he expected to be paid in November for?

And given all the publicly known things Manafort did out of desperation at the time, what kind of non-public desperate things could he also be coerced into doing?

Update: Added the Kyiv Post and Andrea Manafort details.

Update: Added Calk and TFSBC details.

Timeline

August 2: Manafort has an in-person meeting with Kilimnik where they discussed “the perception of the U.S. presidential campaign in Ukraine”

August 3: Manafort asks Dennis Raico for the resume of his boss, Stephen Calk

August 4: Manafort asks Raico for Calk’s professional biography

August 5: Trump named Calk to his financial advisory committee

August 10: To obtain a fraudulent bank loan, Manafort tells his tax preparer to claim $2.4 million in payments from Ukraine for which he had no documentation

Before August 14: Manafort is blackmailed, allegedly by Ukrainian politician Serhiy Leshchenko

August 14: NYT publishes “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief”

August 15: In advance of an AP story on their undisclosed lobbying, Manafort and Gates work out a false story with Mercury Consulting and the Podesta Group

August 17: AP publishes “Paul Manafort helped a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2M to DC lobbyists”; Trump gives Bannon and Conway larger roles in the campaign

August 19: Manafort resigns from campaign

September 12: Kilimnik contacts van der Zwaan regarding cover-up regarding payments to Skadden Arps

A Warning about Hype Surrounding the Manafort Tax Evasion Trial

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

Because Mueller has already obtained the testimony of chatty Trump allies who promptly leaked the content of their interviews to the press, the constant stream of easy updates on the Mueller inquiry has dried up. No outlet has thus far invested in the critical thinking to figure out the publicly available side of what I reported to the FBI that subsequently got moved under Mueller. No one has thought about why Michael Cohen’s very competent attorney is letting him leak to the press rather than (or, at best, in parallel with) offering a proffer to the Feds. Instead, outlets are dedicating front page space to recycled stories they first reported three months earlier. We actually spent half the day Friday getting our fix from the news that Don Jr and Robert Mueller not only had reason to fly out of National Airport’s shitty 35X gate, but were doing so at the same time (for the record, I would have been in the 35X terminal with Trey Gowdy Thursday, but he apparently got rebooked from a badly delayed Greenville flight onto an on-time Charlotte one across from 35X; he wore shades right up to boarding the plane to avoid detection but that didn’t thwart my powers of observation).

We’ve hit the summer doldrums of the non-stop Mueller inquiry news addiction and things are getting bleak.

Perhaps because of that, news outlets are hugely hyping the Paul Manafort trial, due to start on Tuesday. Here’s Politico reporting “Risks pile up for Trump as Manafort heads to trial.” And here’s WSJ claiming “Manafort Trial Holds Big Implications for Russia Probe.” [Update: Here’s the WaPo contribution to the hype; I make some specific compliments and criticisms of it in this thread.]

Yes, it is true that (as both Politico and WSJ point out) there will be a small campaign angle to the trial: Mueller’s team wants to explain how Manafort got a $16 million loan from Chicago’s Federal Savings Bank by promising its Chairman, Stephen Calk, a position in the Trump Administration. But that’s garden variety sleaze, not conspiring with Russia.

It’s also true we’ll get salacious new details on the luxury goods Manafort used to launder money. But most of that, including details of a bizarre arrangement with the local antique rug shop, have already been stipulated in pre-trial filings. Manafort is even trying to get details of his ties to Viktor Yanukovych excluded from the trial, but in doing so, he released a ton of documents that the press has already mined for worthwhile reporting.

It’s also possible that Manafort will decide, between today and Tuesday, to cooperate with Mueller rather than face a fairly straightforward trial, or that a guilty verdict in four weeks time will induce him to cooperate. Thus far, there’s little sign of that, and a guilty verdict will have no immediate change on his jailhouse conditions that might persuade him to cooperate. Any federal sentence will ultimately be served in conditions better than the ones he currently is in at Alexandria jail.

Barring some unexpected jury intransigence or judicial rulings, it still looks like Manafort’s best shot to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison is a pardon, and he looks to be operating accordingly, imposing as much reputational damage to Mueller as possible, without budging on his willingness to stay the course in apparent expectation he’ll be rewarded at some point in the future.

Aside from Rick Gates — who is sure to be beat up by Manafort’s attorneys — the most interesting witness who might testify at trial is Bernie Sanders’ former campaign manager Tad Devine, who would testify about PR work done before 2014. We’ll have to wait to see Tony Podesta and Vin Webber and similarly illustrious people testify for the DC trial, if it happens. This trial is just the appetizer course for the feast on sleazy DC influence peddling we’ll get in September, if the DC trial actually happens.

The newsworthiness of the trial will be limited further still by the outdated policies of the courthouse, EDVA. No devices are permitted in the courthouse, which means there will be no real time coverage. To break news, you have to leave the courthouse, and go to your (meter parked) car or the cafe where you’ve left your device across the square to report out. As a result, any “breaking” scoops will likely come from less responsible journalists with less grasp of both how trials and Judge TS Ellis works (as we saw earlier this year, when Daily Caller led everyone to believe one of Ellis’ typical rants indicated trouble for Mueller). Responsible journalists (Josh Gerstein and Zoe Tillman are particularly good bets for this trial) will sit through the entire proceeding before reporting out something more measured.

This is a tax trial, not a spy trial. Financial experts call it a “paper trial,” meaning the jurors will weigh dry documentary evidence rather than the reliability of unreliable witnesses (like Gates), which makes the outcome more predictable, though in no way guaranteed.

One of a slew of reasons why I declined an offer to cover this trial is I expect any interesting Mueller news to happen elsewhere — perhaps in his apparent relentless pursuit of testimony from Roger Stone’s allies, perhaps in the negotiations over Julian Assange’s continued residence in Ecuador’s embassy, perhaps even in fallout from Mariia Butina’s arrest (though Butina is not a Mueller case, in spite of what some outlets will tell you). I didn’t want to miss such news because I was stuck in a court room watching witnesses talking about financial documents.

Undoubtedly, the trial will be well-watched and in some outlets well-reported. It will teach a lot of people about how white collar trials of privileged defendants work. It may well be the rare moment when a white collar criminal faces consequences for his acts.

But don’t rest your hopes for continued Mueller disclosures on the Manafort trial.

Denial and Deception: Did Trump Really Hire and Fire the Suspected Russian Assets on His Campaign?

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

Recent developments in both the investigations into Carter Page and Paul Manafort have focused attention on a question I’ve been wondering about for some time: how any investigation will prove whether suspected Russian assets on the Trump campaign were ever with the campaign or really got fired.

Carter Page’s alleged denial and deception that he did what a potentially disinformation-filled dossier says he did

First, consider the Carter Page FISA applications. As I’ve said repeatedly, I actually think the FBI should be held accountable for their inclusion of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff article based off of Steele’s work given their credulity that that reporting wasn’t downstream from Steele, particularly their continued inclusion of it after such time as Isikoff had made it clear the report relied on Steele. To be clear — given that they include this from the start, I’m not suggesting bad faith on the part of the FBI; I’m arguing it reflects an inability to properly read journalism that gets integrated into secret affidavits (this is something almost certainly repeated in the Keith Gartenlaub case). If you’re going to use public reporting in affidavits that will never see the light of day, learn how to read journalistic sourcing, goddamnit.

The Page application defenders argue that the inclusion of Isikoff in the Page application is not big deal because it didn’t serve to corroborate the Steele dossier on which it was based. That’s generally true. Instead, Isikoff is used in a section titled, “Page’s Denial of Cooperation with the Russian Government to Influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.” The section serves, I think, to show that Page was engaging in clandestine support of a Russian effort to undermine the election. The application claims FBI had probable cause that Page was an agent of a foreign power because he met clause E, someone who aids, abets, or conspires with someone engaging in clandestine activities, including sabotaging the election.

(A) knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power, which activities involve or may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

(B) pursuant to the direction of an intelligence service or network of a foreign power, knowingly engages in any other clandestine intelligence activities for or on behalf of such foreign power, which activities involve or are about to involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

(C) knowingly engages in sabotage or international terrorism, or activities that are in preparation therefor, for or on behalf of a foreign power;

[snip]

(E) knowingly aids or abets any person in the conduct of activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) or knowingly conspires with any person to engage in activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C).

To prove this is all clandestine, the FBI needs to show Page and his alleged co-conspirators were hiding it, in spite of the public reporting on it.

The FBI cites this Josh Rogin interview with Page as well as a letter he sent to Jim Comey, to show that Page was denying that he was conspiring with Russians.

“All of these accusations are just complete garbage,” Page said about attacks on him by top officials in the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and unnamed intelligence officials, who have suggested that on a July trip to Moscow, Page met with “highly-sanctioned individuals” and perhaps even discussed an unholy alliance between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

As far as Page’s denials, he was specifically denying meeting with Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin. He was definitely downplaying the likelihood that he got the invitation to Moscow because he was associated with Trump’s campaign, and he was not fulsome about having a quick exchange with other high ranking Russians.

But to this day, there is no evidence that Page did meet with Sechin and Diveykin (in the Schiff memo, he points to Page’s dodges about meeting other Russians as proof but it’s not). So citing Page’s denials to Rogin and Comey that he had had these meetings worked a lot like Saddam’s denials leading up to the Iraq War. Sometimes, when someone denies something, it’s true, and not proof of deception.

A similar structure appears to be repeated when what appears to be the section describing ongoing intelligence collection, starting with the third application (see PDF 340-1) excerpts a letter Page wrote in February 2017 attacking Hillary for “false evidence” that he met with Sechin and Diyevkin; as batshit as the letter sounds, as far as we know that specific claim is not true, and therefore this attack should only be treated as deception and denial if FBI has corroboration for other claims he denies here.

In other words, because the specific claims in the Steele dossier were the form of the accusations against Page, rather than the years-long effort the Russians made to recruit him, his willingness to play along, his interest in cuddling up to Russia, and his potential involvement in ensuring that Trump’s policy would be more pro-Russian than it otherwise might, Page’s specific denials of being an agent of Russia may well have been true even if in fact he was or at least reasonably looked like one based off other facts.

But was the Trump campaign deceiving about his departure from the campaign?

The applications don’t just show Page denying (correctly, as far as we know) that he met with Sechin and Diveykin. They also show great interest in the terms of his departure from the Trump campaign. Here’s part of what the application says about the Isikoff article:

Based on statements in the September 23rd News Article, as well as in other articles published by identified news organizations, Candidate #1’s campaign repeatedly made public statements in an attempt to distance Candidate #1 from Page. For example, the September 23rd News Article noted that Page’s precise role in Candidate #1’s campaign is unclear. According to the article, a spokesperson for Candidate #1’s campaign called Page an “informal foreign advisor” who” does not speak for [Candidate #1] or the campaign.” In addition, another spokesperson for Candidate #1’s campaign said that Page “has no role” and added “[w]e are not aware of his activities, past or present.” However, the article stated that the campaign spokesperson did not respond when asked why Candidate #1 had previously described Page as an advisor. In addition, on or about September 25, 2016, an identified news organization published an article that was based primarily on an interview with Candidate #1’s then campaign manager. During the interview, the campaign manager stated, “[Page is] not part of the campaign I’m running.” The campaign manager added that Page has not been part of Candidate #1’s national security or foreign policy briefings since he/she became campaign manager. In response to a question to a question from the interviewer regarding reports that Page was meeting with Russian officials to essentially attempt to conduct diplomatic negotiations with the Russian Government, the campaign manager responded, “If [Page is] doing that, he’s certainly not doing it with the permission or knowledge of the campaign . . . “

That passage is followed by three lines redacted under FOIA’s “techniques and procedures” (7E) and “enforcement proceedings” (7A) exemptions.

Again, this section seems dedicated to proving that Page and his conspirators are attempting to operate clandestinely — that they’re denying this ongoing operation. And the FBI treats Page’s and the campaign’s denials of any association as proof of deception.

To this day, of course, President Trump considers the Page FISA to be an investigation into his campaign.

Sure, the continued conflation of the Page FISA with his campaign serves a sustained strategy to confuse his base and discredit the investigation. But by willingly conflating the two, Trump only adds to the basis for which FBI might treat the conflicting admissions and denials of Page’s past and ongoing role in the campaign in fall 2016 as part of an effort to deceive.

Which is to say that while Page’s denials of meeting with Igor Sechin might be bogus analysis, the competing claims from the campaign — while they were likely at least partly incompetent efforts to limit damage during a campaign — might (especially as they persist) more justifiably be taken as proof of deception.

Steve Bannon got picked up on Page’s wiretaps in January 2017

All the more so given that Steve Bannon reached out to Page — via communication channels that were almost surely wiretapped — in early 2017 to prevent him from publicly appearing and reminding of his role on the campaign. As Page explained in his testimony to HPSCI:

MR. SCHIFF: Have you had any interaction with Steve Bannon?

MR. PAGE: We — we had a brief conversation in January, and we shared some text messages. That’s about it.

MR. SCHIFF: January of this year?

MR. PAGE: Yes.

MR. SCHIFF: What was the nature of your text message exchange?

MR. PAGE: It was — he had heard I was going to be on I believe it was an MSNBC event. And he just said it’s probably not a good idea. So —

MR. SCHIFF: And he heard this from?

MR. PAGE: I am not sure, but —

MR. SCHIFF: So he was telling you not to go on MSNBC?

MR. PAGE: Yes.

MR. SCHIFF: And he texted this to you?

MR. PAGE: He called me. It was right when I was — it was in mid-January, so —

MR. SCHIFF: And how did he have your number?

MR. PAGE: Well, I mean, I think there is the campaign had my number. He probably got it from the campaign, if I had to guess. I don’t know.

MR. SCHIFF: And did Mr. Bannon tell you why he didn’t want you to go on MSNBC?

MR. PAGE: No. But it turns out, I mean, I saw eventually the same day and in the same hour slot in the “Meet the Press” daily, it was Vice President Pence. And this is kind of a week after the dodgy dossier was fully released. And so I can understand, you know, given reality, why it might not be a good idea when he heard, probably from the producer — somehow the word got back via the producers that I would be on there, so —

MR. SCHIFF: I am not sure that I follow that, but in any event, apart from your speculating about it, what did he communicate as to why he thought you should not go on MSNBC?

MR. PAGE: I can’t recall the specifics.

MR. SCHIFF: Did he tell you he thought it would be hurtful to the President?

MR. PAGE: Not specifically, although there was a — I had received — we had some — letter exchanges perviously, kind of sharing — between Jones Day and myself, just saying — I forget the exact terminology, but — you know, the overall message was: Don’t give the wrong impression. Or my interpretation of the message was: Don’t give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.

And my response to that was, of course, I’m not. The only reason I ever talked to the media is to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.

[snip]

MR. SCHIFF: So, when Mr. Bannon called you to ask you not to go on, did he make any reference to the correspondence from the campaign?

MR. PAGE: I can’t recall. Again, I had just gotten off a 14-hour flight from Abu Dhabi.

MR. SCHIFF: He just made it clear he didn’t want you to do the interview?

MR. PAGE: That’s all I recall, yeah.

MR. SCHIFF: And what did you tell him?

MR. PAGE: I told him: I won’t do it. That’s fine. No big deal.

In the wake of the release of the Steele dossier, Trump’s top political advisor Steve Bannon (who, we now know, was in the loop on some discussions of a back channel to Russia) called up Carter Page on a wiretapped phone and told him not to go on MSNBC to try to rebut the Steele dossier.

I can get why that’d be sound judgment, from a political standpoint. But the attempt to quash a Page appearance and/or present any link to Pence during a period when he was pushing back about Mike Flynn and when Bannon was setting up back channels with Russians sure seems like an attempt to dissociate from Page as the visible symbol of conspiring with Russia all while continuing that conspiracy.

Speaking of Paul Manafort’s many conspiracies

Which brings me, finally, to a filing the government submitted in Paul Manafort’s DC trial yesterday.

Every time people claim that neither of the Manafort indictments relate to conspiring with Russia, I point out (in part) that Manafort sought to hide his long-term tie with Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian oligarchs paying his bills in an attempt to limit damage such associations would have to the ongoing Trump campaign. Effectively, when those ties became clear, Manafort stepped down and allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to hide those ties, all while remaining among Trump’s advisors.

In response to Manafort’s effort to preclude any mention of the Trump campaign in the DC case, the Mueller team argued they might discuss it if Manafort raises it in an attempt to impeach Rick Gates.

Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign, however, is relevant to the false-statement offenses charged in Counts 4 and 5 of the indictment. Indeed, Manafort’s position as chairman of the Trump campaign and his incentive to keep that position are relevant to his strong interest in distancing himself from former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, the subject of the false statements that he then reiterated to his FARA attorney to convey to the Department of Justice. In particular, the press reports described in paragraphs 26 and 27 of the indictment prompted Manafort and Gates to develop their scheme to conceal their lobbying. Dkt. 318 ¶¶ 26-27.

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie. [my emphasis]

Finally, Mueller is making this argument. The reason Manafort went to significant lengths in 2016 to avoid registering for all this Ukraine work, Mueller has finally argued, is because of his actions to deny the ties in an effort to remain on the Trump campaign and his effort to limit fallout afterwards.

This argument, of course, is unrelated to the competing stories that Trump told about why he fired Manafort (or whether, for example, Roger Stone was formally affiliated with the campaign during the period when he was reaching out to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0). But since at least fall 2016 the FBI has been documenting efforts to lie about Trump’s willing ties to a bunch of people with close ties to Russians helping to steal the election and/or set up Trump as a Russian patsy.

And while the evidence that Page was lying when denying the specifics about the accusations against him in the dossier remains weak (at least as far as the unredacted sections are concerned), the evidence that the campaign has been involved in denial and deception since they got rid of first Manafort and then Page is not.

Carter Page’s incoherent ramblings may not actually be denial and deception. But Donald Trump’s sure look to be.

In Trumpian Fashion, Paul Manafort Wins by Losing on Challenge to Mueller

Remember how Republicans were gleeful over the ass-kicking T.S. Ellis gave Mueller’s team arguing over the scope of the Special Counsel’s authority back in May? As predicted by close EDVA watchers, Ellis ruled yesterday against Paul Manafort, finding that the tax fraud investigation into Manafort was a logical part of understanding whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the election.

The opinion is actually a political shitshow, though, which guarantees both a Manafort appeal (if he continues his valiant effort to win a future Trump pardon using stall tactics, anyway) and Congressional gamesmanship using it.

Ultimately, Ellis rules (as Amy Berman Jackson already had) that Mueller was authorized to investigate Manafort, in this case for tax fraud, based on his primary authority to investigate the ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Ellis makes the case that this investigation falls under Mueller’s primary grant perhaps even more plainly than ABJ did.

Given that the Special Counsel was authorized to investigate and to prosecute this matter pursuant to ¶ (b)(i) of the May 17 Appointment Order and the August 2 Scope Memorandum, that conclusion is dispositive and defendant’s arguments with respect to ¶ (b)(ii) of the May 17 Appointment Order need not be addressed.

[snip]

To begin with, defendant concedes that ¶ (b)(i) is a valid grant of jurisdiction. Specifically, defendant acknowledges that the Acting Attorney General acted consistently with the Special Counsel regulations when the Acting Attorney General authorized the Special Counsel to investigate the matters included in ¶ (b)(i) of the May 17 Appointment Order, namely “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” May 17 Appointment Order ¶ (b)(i). Thus, the only issue is whether the Special Counsel’s investigation and prosecution of the matters contained in the Superseding Indictment falls within the valid grant of jurisdiction contained in ¶ b(i) of the May 17 Appointment Order.

It does; the Special Counsel’s investigation of defendant falls squarely within the jurisdiction outlined in ¶ b(i) of the May 17 Appointment Order, and because ¶ b(i) was an appropriate grant of authority, there is no basis for dismissal of the Superseding Indictment on this ground. Specifically, in the May 17 Appointment Order, the Acting Attorney General authorized the Special Counsel to investigate, among other things, “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump … .” May 17 Appointment Order ¶ (b)(i). It is undisputed that defendant is an “individual[] associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump[;]” indeed, defendant served as the chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign from March 2016 until August 2016. Moreover, the Special Counsel’s investigation focused on potential links between defendant and the Russian government. In particular, the Special Counsel investigated defendant’s political consulting work on behalf of, and receipt of substantial payments from, then-President Victor Yanukovych of the Ukraine and the Party of Regions, Yanukovych’s proRussian political party in the Ukraine. See Superseding Indictment ¶¶ 10-11. To be sure, history is replete with evidence of the existing and longstanding antagonism between the Ukraine and Russia. Indeed, armed conflict in the eastern Ukraine is still underway.19 Nonetheless, the fact that the Yanukovych was a strongly pro-Russian President warranted the investigation here. The fact that the Russian government did not make payments to defendant directly is not determinative because the text of the May 17 Appointment Order authorizes investigation of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”

This language is all Ellis needed to rule against Manafort’s challenge. His discussion of the alternate issues is welcome, but superfluous.

But along the way, Ellis engages in a bunch of often inaccurate blather which serves mostly to foment the kind of politicization he claims to despise.

About the only neutral thing he does in his long discussion of special counsels is to give Steven Calabresi the ass-kicking he deserved for an op-ed that Kellyanne Conway’s spouse George condemned for its “lack of rigor.”

Yet, even the current Special Counsel regulations are not entirely free from constitutional attack. Indeed, Professor Steven Calabresi has argued that the appointment of the Special Counsel may run afoul of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution because the Special Counsel is a principal, not an inferior officer, and therefore must be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. See Steven G. Calabresi, Mueller’s Investigation Crosses the Legal Line, Wall Street J. (May 13, 2018) https://www.wsj.com/articles/muellersinvestigation-crosses-the-legal-line-1526233750; see also Steven G. Calabresi, Opinion on the Constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s Appointment (May 22, 2018) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3183324. Defendant does not argue that the appointment of the Special Counsel violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, so that particular objection need not be addressed in detail here, but it is worth noting that such an objection would likely fail. The Special Counsel appears quite plainly to be an inferior officer. He is required to report to and is directed by the Deputy Attorney General.

But the rest of his long history of special counsels plays to the partisan assault on prosecutorial independence led by Republicans. For example, Ellis gets key distinctions about the current Special Counsel from past ones wrong, and even argues that this one, which meets bi-weekly with top DOJ officials and has provided a shit-ton of documents to Congress to review, is “in some ways less accountable than the independent counsel of the past,” in part because it gave annual progress reports to Congress.

He suggests that a Special Counsel’s hiring choices might inject bias into the investigation, echoing Trump’s inaccurate 13 Angry Democrats line.

The Special Counsel must also hire others to assist in the investigative process, and those applying to join the investigation may have their own biases and incentives to prosecute the target of the investigation, or their self-selection into the investigation may create an appearance of bias. See Akhil Amar, On Impeaching Presidents, 28 Hofstra L. Rev. 291, 296 (1999) (“An ad hoc independent counsel must build an organization from scratch, and those who volunteer may have an ax to grind, since the target is known in advance.”). In this case, many of the individuals working for the Special Counsel have donated to or worked for Democrats in the past, creating a public appearance of possible bias. See Alex Hosenball et al., Meet special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution team, ABC News (Mar. 17, 2018) https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/meet-special-counsel-robert-muellers-prosecutionteam/story?id=55219043. Similar accusations of bias were made against Kenneth Starr during the Whitewater investigation, with a number of Democrats criticizing the appointment of Kenneth Starr because of his connections to the Republican Party. See David Johnston, Appointment in Whitewater Turns into a Partisan Battle, N.Y. Times (Aug. 13, 1994) https://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/13/us/appointment-in-whitewater-turns-into-a-partisan-battle. html. Both cases highlight the fact that even the selection of the Special Counsel and his or her subordinates can provide grist for the media mill, heightening partisan tension and increasing the likelihood that substantial portions of the public will perceive work of the Special Counsel as partisan warfare.

He argues that it would be better to investigate election interference with a bipartisan commission than a Department of Justice made up of experienced professionals bound by certain guidelines and precedents, something that would look a lot like the Intelligence Committee reviews which exhibit varying degrees of dysfunction.

The Constitution’s system of checks and balances, reflected to some extent in the regulations at issue, are designed to ensure that no single individual or branch of government has plenary or absolute power. The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into investigation of matters of public importance.27

27 A better mechanism for addressing concerns about election interference would be the creation of a bipartisan commission with subpoena power and the authority to investigate all issues related to alleged interference in the 2016 Presidential election. If crimes were uncovered during the course of the commission’s investigation, those crimes could be referred to appropriate existing authorities within the DOJ.

All that’s ridiculous enough. But perhaps the most alarming thing Ellis does is use the ex parte review he did of an unredacted copy of Rod Rosenstein’s August 2, 2017 memo to telegraphically confirm that Trump is named as a subject of investigation. He does that, I argue, by putting footnotes 14 and 15 right next to each other.

With respect to the defendant, the August 2 Scope Memorandum identified several allegations, including allegations that the defendant:

[c]ommitted a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

[c]ommitted a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych[.] Id. at 2.

The August 2 Scope Memorandum noted that these allegations against the defendant “were within the scope of [the Special Counsel’s] investigation at the time of [his] appointment and are within the scope of the [Appointment] Order.” Id. at 1. Several months later, on February 22, 2018, the Special Counsel charged defendant15 with, and a grand jury indicted defendant on (i) five counts of subscribing to false income tax returns, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1) (Counts 1-5); (ii) four counts of failing to file reports of foreign bank accounts, in violation of 31 U.S.C. §§ 5314, 5322(a) (Counts 11-14); and (iii) nine counts bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1344, 1349 (Counts 24-32).

14 Prior to the hearing, the Special Counsel submitted the August 2 Scope Memorandum in this record, albeit with significant redactions. In the course of the hearing on defendant’s motion to dismiss the Superseding Indictment, the Special Counsel was ordered to produce an un-redacted copy of the August 2 Scope Memorandum. The Special Counsel complied with this directive, and a review of the un-redacted memorandum confirms that the only portions pertinent to the issues in this case are those already available in this public record and excerpted above.

15 Given the investigation’s focus on President Trump’s campaign, even a blind person can see that the true target of the Special Counsel’s investigation is President Trump, not defendant, and that defendant’s prosecution is part of that larger plan. Specifically, the charges against defendant are intended to induce defendant to cooperate with the Special Counsel by providing evidence against the President or other members of the campaign. Although these kinds of high-pressure prosecutorial tactics are neither uncommon nor illegal, they are distasteful.

This passage states that everything pertinent to “the issues in this case” are public, which actually falls short of stating that none of the rest of them pertain to Manafort. Then, visually, the next line after describing the memo, Ellis states that “even a blind person can see that the true target of the Special Counsel’s investigation is President Trump.”

We are all blind to what’s behind those redactions, he is not, but even we can see, Ellis suggests, that Trump is the target. From that Ellis goes on to suggest that pressuring someone to flip is “distasteful,” which I hope gets quoted back at him liberally by people are are not the President’s former campaign manager.

I mean, it is true that we all knew that Trump’s obstruction was, by August 2, 2017, part of the investigation (and that since then his “collusion” has likely been added to Rosenstein’s memos). It is by no means a given that proof of “collusion” will go beyond the people, including Manafort, who may have orchestrated it. But Ellis puts the suggestion, visually at least, into the record for those of us who otherwise can’t see it, that “collusion” itself is about Trump.

All of which makes this legal opinion more about further embroiling political strife Ellis claims to dislike than about the law.

The Mueller Filing

Robert Mueller’s team has submitted its response to Paul Manafort’s motion to dismiss his indictment based on a claim Mueller isn’t authorized to prosecute crimes like the money laundering he is accused of. As I predicted, this filing lays out some theory of his case — but much of it is redacted, in the form of a memo Rod Rosenstein wrote last August laying out the parameters of the investigation at that time. As the filing makes clear, that memo (and any unmentioned predecessors or successors) form the same function as the public memos Jim Comey gave Patrick Fitzgerald to memorialize any seeming expansions of his authority in the CIA leak case, which the DC Circuit relied on to determine that the Libby prosecution was clearly authorized by Fitzgerald’s mandate.

Nevertheless, midway through the legal description, the filing lays out what I have — Manafort’s Ukrainian entanglements are part of this investigation because 1) he was a key player in the campaign and 2) had long ties to Russian backed politicians and (this is a bit trickier) Russians like Oleg Deripaska.

The Appointment Order itself readily encompasses Manafort’s charged conduct. First, his conduct falls within the scope of paragraph (b)(i) of the Appointment Order, which authorizes investigation of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” The basis for coverage of Manafort’s crimes under that authority is readily apparent. Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager in March 2016 and served as campaign chairman from May 2016 until his resignation in August 2016, after reports surfaced of his financial activities in Ukraine. He thus constituted an “individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Appointment Order ¶ (b) and (b)(i). He was, in addition, an individual with long ties to a Russia-backed Ukrainian politician. See Indictment, Doc. 202, ¶¶ 1-6, 9 (noting that between 2006 and 2015, Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of Ukraine, its former President, Victor Yanukovych—who fled to Russia after popular protests—and Yanukovych’s political party). Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

[snip]

The Appointment Order is not a statute, but an instrument for providing public notice of the general nature of a Special Counsel’s investigation and a framework for consultation between the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel. Given that Manafort’s receipt of payments from the Ukrainian government has factual links to Russian persons and Russian-associated political actors, and that exploration of those activities furthers a complete and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and any links and/or coordination with the President’s campaign, the conduct charged in the Indictment comes within the Special Counsel’s authority to investigate “any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

I’ll do a follow-up on why the Deripaska reference is a bit tricky. It’s tricky in execution, not in fact.

The “Attorneys for the United States of America”

I’ll refer to the author of this memo as Mueller for convenience sake, but because I obsess about how Mueller’s team deploys, it’s worth noting how the memo is signed.

The memo is signed by Andrew Weissman, the lead in the Manafort prosecution and (as the memo notes) a career AUSA in his own right. Greg Andres, who has also been on all the Manafort filings, includes his DC district license, making any continuity there clear. Adam Jed, an appellate specialist who has been deployed to this team in the past, is included. But before all them is Michael Dreeben, the Solicitor General’s killer attorney on appeals.

Aside from Mueller himself, Andres is the only lawyer listed who was not a DOJ employee when Jim Comey got fired, which is relevant given the memo’s argument that these attorneys could have prosecuted this with or without Mueller present.

Notably, Kyle Freeny, who has been on all the other Manafort filings, is not listed.

I’m unsure whether the filing uses the title, “Attorneys for the United States of America” because it underscores the argument of the memo — all their authority derives directly from Rosenstein — or if it signifies someone (probably Dreeben, who maintains his day job at the Solicitor General’s office) isn’t actually a formal member of Mueller’s team. But it is a departure from the norm, which since at least the roll-out of Brian Richardson as a “Assistant Special Counsel” with the Van der Zwaan plea, has used the titles “Senior” and “Assistant Special Counsel” to sign their filings.

Update: Christian Farias notes that this Attorneys for the US is not unique to this filing.

Manafort is especially screwed because Rosenstein is so closely involved

The memo starts by laying out what its presents as the history of the investigation. It includes the following events:

  • Jeff Sessions March 2, 2017 recusal
  • Jim Comey’s March 20, 2017 public confirmation of an investigation into “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was an coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
  • Rod Rosenstein’s May 17, 2017 order appointing Mueller Special Counsel “to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters”

It then lays out the regulatory framework governing Mueller’s appointment. While this generally maps what Rosenstein included in his appointment order — which cites 28 USC §§ 509, 510, 515, and 600.4 through 600.10 — Mueller also cites to the basis of the Attorney General’s authority, including 28 USC §§ 503, 516, and all of 600. The latter citation is of particular interest, as it notes that the AG (Rosenstein, in this case) ” is not required to invoke the Special Counsel regulations” (which the filing backs by citing some historical examples). The filing then asserts that the Special Counsel regulations serve as ” a helpful framework for the Attorney General to use in establishing the Special Counsel’s role.”

Mueller then describes what the filing implies has been the process by which Mueller has informed Rosenstein of major actions he’s about to take. This consists of “‘providing Urgent Reports’ to Department leadership on ‘major developments.'” By doing it this way, Mueller implies a process without providing a basis to FOIA these Urgent Reports.

Then, the filing lays out how the scope of his authority has evolved. Initially, he notes, that was based on his appointing order. On August 2 — two and a half months after his appointment, almost a week after George Papadopoulos’ arrest, and the day after Andres joined Mueller’s team — Rosenstein wrote a memo describing the scope of Mueller’s investigation and authority.  That memo (which is included in heavily redacted form) authorizes Mueller to investigate,

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

In other words, by August 2 (if not before) Rosenstein had authorized Mueller to prosecute Manafort for the money laundering of his payments from Yanukovych.

Significantly, the filing notes that the August 2 memo told Mueller to come back if anything else arises.

For additional matters that otherwise may have arisen or may arise directly from the Investigation, you should consult my office for a determination of whether such matters should be within the scope of your authority. If you determine that additional jurisdiction is necessary in order to fully investigate and resolve the matters assigned, or to investigate new matters that come to light in the course of your investigation, you should follow the procedures set forth in 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(b).

The filing then lays out Manafort’s DC indictments and his challenge to Mueller’s authority. The summary of that argument looks like this:

Manafort’s motion to dismiss the Indictment should be rejected for four reasons. First, the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel have acted fully in accordance with the relevant statutes and regulations. The Acting Attorney General properly established the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction at the outset and clarified its scope as the investigation proceeded. The Acting Attorney General and Special Counsel have engaged in the consultation envisioned by the regulations, and the Special Counsel has ensured that the Acting Attorney General was aware of and approved the Special Counsel’s investigatory and prosecutorial steps. Second, Manafort’s contrary reading of the regulations—implying rigid limits and artificial boundaries on the Acting Attorney General’s actions—misunderstands the purpose, framework, and operation of the regulations. Properly understood, the regulations provide guidance for an intra-Executive Branch determination, within the Department of Justice, of how to allocate investigatory and prosecutorial authority. They provide the foundation for an effective and independent Special Counsel investigation, while ensuring that major actions and jurisdictional issues come to the Acting Attorney General’s attention, thus permitting him to fulfill his supervisory role. Accountability exists for all phases of the Special Counsel’s actions. Third, that understanding of the regulatory scheme demonstrates why the Special Counsel regulations create no judicially enforceable rights. Unlike the former statutory scheme that authorized court-appointed independent counsels, the definition of the Special Counsel’s authority remains within the Executive Branch and is subject to ongoing dialogue based on sensitive prosecutorial considerations. A defendant cannot challenge the internal allocation of prosecutorial authority under Department of Justice regulations. Finally, Manafort’s remedial claims fail for many of the same reasons: the Special Counsel has a valid statutory appointment; this Court’s jurisdiction is secure; no violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure occurred; and any rule-based violation was harmless. [my emphasis]

The bolded bit is the key part: Mueller is treating Manafort’s challenge as a challenge to Article II authority, making the appointment even more sound than previous Ken Starr-type Independent Counsel appointments were, because they don’t present a constitutional appointments clause problem. Mueller returns to that argument several times later in the filing.

Under the Independent Counsel Act, constitutional concerns mandated limitations on the judiciary’s ability to assign prosecutorial jurisdiction. In the wholly Executive-Branch regime created by the Special Counsel regulations, those constitutional concerns do not exist.

[snip]

[T]he court contrasted [limitations on Independent Counsels] with the Attorney General’s “broader” authority to make referrals to the independent counsel: the Attorney General “is not similarly subject to the ‘demonstrably related’ limitation” because the Attorney General’s power “is not constrained by separation of powers concerns.” Id.; see also United States v. Tucker, 78 F.3d 1313, 1321 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 820 (1996). That is because the Attorney General’s referral decision exercises solely executive power and does not threaten to impair Executive Branch functions or impose improper duties on another branch.

[snip]

It is especially notable that Manafort, while relying on principles of political accountability, does not invoke the Appointments Clause as a basis for his challenge, despite the Clause’s “design[] to preserve political accountability relative to important Government assignments.” E

From there, the memo goes into the legal analysis which is unsurprising. The courts, including the DC Circuit in the Libby case, have approved this authority. That’s a point the filing makes explicit by comparing the August 2 memo with the two memos Jim Comey wrote to document the scope of Patrick Fitzgerald’s authority in the CIA leak investigation.

The August 2 Scope Memorandum is precisely the type of material that has previously been considered in evaluating a Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. United States v. Libby, 429 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2006), involved a statutory and constitutional challenge to the authority of a Special Counsel who was appointed outside the framework of 28 C.F.R. Part 600. In rejecting that challenge, Judge Walton considered similar materials that defined the scope of the Special Counsel’s authority. See id. at 28-29, 31-32, 39 (considering the Acting Attorney General’s letter of appointment and clarification of jurisdiction as “concrete evidence * * * that delineates the Special Counsel’s authority,” and “conclud[ing] that the Special Counsel’s delegated authority is described within the four corners of the December 30, 2003 and February 6, 2004 letters”). The August 2 Scope Memorandum has the same legal significance as the original Appointment Order on the question of scope. Both documents record the Acting Attorney General’s determination on the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. Nothing in the regulations restricts the Acting Attorney General’s authority to issue such clarifications.

Having laid out (with the Rosenstein memo) that this investigation operates in equivalent fashion to the Libby prosecution, the case is fairly well made. Effectively Manafort is all the more screwed because the Acting AG has been personally involved and approved each step.

The other authorities cover other prosecutions Mueller has laid out

The filing is perhaps most interesting for the other authorities casually asserted, which are not necessarily directly relevant in this prosecution, but are for others. First, Mueller includes this footnote, making it clear his authority includes obstruction, including witness tampering.

The Special Counsel also has “the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses” and has the authority “to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). Those authorities are not at issue here.

Those authorities are not at issue here, but they are for the Flynn, Papadopoulos, Gates, and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, and for any obstruction the White House has been engaging in. But because it is relevant for the Gates and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, that mention should preempt any Manafort attempt to discredit their pleas for the way they expose him.

The filing includes a quotation from DOJ’s discussion of special counsels making it clear that it’s normal to investigate crimes that might lead someone to flip.

[I]n deciding when additional jurisdiction is needed, the Special Counsel can draw guidance from the Department’s discussion accompanying the issuance of the Special Counsel regulations. That discussion illustrated the type of “adjustments to jurisdiction” that fall within Section 600.4(b). “For example,” the discussion stated, “a Special Counsel assigned responsibility for an alleged false statement about a government program may request additional jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct with respect to the administration of that program; [or] a Special Counsel may conclude that investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.”

That one is technically relevant here — one thing Mueller is doing with the Manafort prosecution (and successfully did with the Gates one) is to flip witnesses against Trump. But it also makes it clear that Mueller could do so more generally.

I’ll comment more on the memo tomorrow. But for now, understand this is a solid memo that puts the Manafort prosecution squarely on the same footing that the Libby one was.

 

Investigate All the Sleazy Influence Peddlers!

Back when CNN revealed that Paul Manafort had been the subject of a FISA order prior to his work on Trump’s campaign, only to have a new one approved after events of the campaign raised new concerns, I suggested Tony Podesta likely had been included on that first FISA order.

Manafort was first targeted under FISA for his (and associated consulting companies, probably including Tony Podesta) Ukrainian influence peddling in 2014.

As CNN noted, the earlier investigation pertained to Manafort’s and Podesta’s work for Viktor Yanukovych.

The FBI interest in Manafort dates back at least to 2014, partly as an outgrowth of a US investigation of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president whose pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption, and Ukrainian authorities claimed he squirreled millions of dollars out of the country.

Investigators have spent years probing any possible role played by Manafort’s firm and other US consultants, including the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, that worked with the former Ukraine regime. The basis for the case hinged on the failure by the US firms to register under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that the Justice Department only rarely uses to bring charges.

[snip]

Last year, Justice Department prosecutors concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against Manafort or anyone of the other US subjects in the probe, according to sources briefed on the investigation.

Today, NBC reports that Robert Mueller has opened a separate investigation into Podesta on the activities targeted in the original FISA order.

Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to the sources. As special counsel, Mueller has been tasked with investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West.

The sources said the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA.

Presumably, as Mueller collected evidence against Manafort, he got some on Podesta that merited (re)opening this investigation, and he feels it sufficiently tied to the Russian investigation to keep it under his supervision.

This is a lovely development, and not just because all DC’s sleazy influence peddlers deserve far more legal scrutiny.

Now that it’s public that one of the most important names in Democratic politics — Podesta (nevermind that it’s Tony and not John — the wingnuts can never tell the brothers apart) — is also targeted by Mueller’s probe, it will change the politics around the investigation, at least a little. The nutjobs are likely to scream mightily about Podesta’s corruption (conflating Tony with John). But as they do so, they’ll also be making a case that Manafort (who set up the non-profit in question) is also corrupt. So to the extent that the nutjobs wail about Podesta (Tony or John), it will make it harder for Trump to pardon Manafort, when that time comes. It may also buy Mueller some time to work through the entire investigation.

Update: This, from August, provides detail on both what Podesta did and how closely it was tied to the Russian government. Notably, John Podesta’s brother was pitching DC power brokers using quotes from some of the same people who would, four years later, attack the campaign his brother was running.

To try to sanitize Ukraine’s elections, the firm distributed materials to Hill staff with quotes from election observers praising Ukraine’s process. It was a tall order, given Yanukovych’s penchant for imprisoning his political opponents. But the Podesta Group did its best.

“Initial Reactions from International Observers Positive,” claimed one Podesta Group document.

One person they quoted to make that argument was Sergey Markov, described as “Observer—The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.”

“The elections to the Ukrainian parliament were successful, democratic and organized according to standards even better than some of the European Union member states,” he said.

Markov likely relished the chance to bash the EU. He was no ordinary election observer; rather, Markov is well-known as an informal adviser to Vladimir Putin. He also advised Yanukovych on campaign tactics, according to a former State Department official with knowledge of the region’s politics. The official said Markov was likely in Ukraine helping Yanukovych at Putin’s behest.

Why Is CIA Avoiding the Conclusion that Putin Hacked Hillary to Retaliate for Its Covert Actions?

The most logical explanation for the parade of leaks since Friday about why Russia hacked the Democrats is that the CIA has been avoiding admitting — perhaps even considering — the conclusion that Russia hacked Hillary in retaliation for the covert actions the CIA itself has taken against Russian interests.

Based on WaPo’s big story Friday, I guessed that there was more disagreement about Russia’s hack than its sources — who seemed to be close to Senate Democrats — let on. I was right. Whereas on Friday WaPo reported that it was the consensus view that Russia hacked Hillary to get Trump elected, on Saturday the same journalists reported that CIA and FBI were giving dramatically different briefings to Intelligence Committees.

The question the Republicans and Democrats in attendance wanted answered was whether the bureau concurred with the conclusions the CIA had just shared with senators that Russia “quite” clearly intended to help Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton and clinch the White House.

For the Democrats in the room, the FBI’s response was frustrating — even shocking.

During a similar Senate Intelligence Committee briefing held the previous week, the CIA’s statements, as reflected in the letter the lawmakers now held in their hands, were “direct and bald and unqualified” about Russia’s intentions to help Trump, according to one of the officials who attended the House briefing.

[snip]

“The FBI briefers think in terms of criminal standards — can we prove this in court,” one of the officials said. “The CIA briefers weigh the preponderance of intelligence and then make judgment calls to help policymakers make informed decisions. High confidence for them means ‘we’re pretty damn sure.’ It doesn’t mean they can prove it in court.”

The FBI is not sold on the idea that Russia had a particular aim in its meddling. “There’s no question that [the Russians’] efforts went one way, but it’s not clear that they have a specific goal or mix of related goals,” said one U.S. official.

Subsequent leaks have continued to make it clear there’s a dispute both about what motive Russia had to target Hillary (to destabilize the US? to get Trump elected?) and how much evidence there is (the FBI thinks it is circumstantial, the CIA thinks it a  smoking gun). In addition, there have been unanswered questions about why CIA only briefed that Russia affirmatively supported Hillary this week, when reportedly they have had the evidence that conclusion is based on for months.

Remarkably, only secondary commenters (including me, in point 13 here) have suggested the most obvious explanation: The likelihood that Russia targeted the former Secretary of State for a series of covert actions, all impacting key Russian interests, that at least started while she was Secretary of State. Those are:

  • Misleadingly getting the UN to sanction the Libya intervention based off the claim that it was about protecting civilians as opposed to regime change
  • Generating protests targeting Putin in response to 2011 parliamentary elections
  • Sponsoring “moderate rebels” to defeat Bashar al-Assad
  • Removing Viktor Yanukovych to install a pro-NATO government

Importantly, the first three of these happened on Hillary’s watch, with her active involvement. And Putin blamed Hillary, personally, for the protests in 2011.

Never mind the relative merit of these covert operations. Never mind that Putin has not, yet, released any evidence to support his claim that Hillary (or CIA) supported the 2011 protests targeting him personally; there is no doubt he believes it. During the primary Hillary as much as confirmed that when her diplomats negotiated the UN voted in 2011, they had regime change in mind the whole time. The US has acknowledged its covert operations against Assad in Congressional testimony. And hackers released a call from Victoria Nuland acting like she was in charge of deciding what post-Yanukovych Ukraine would look like.

In other words, whatever the merits and evidence behind these four events, there is no doubt Putin sees them as a threat to Russian interests and blames the US for all of them, with merit in at least some of the cases.

And yet, this most obvious motive has not been leaked to the press, creating the impression that it has never been considered by the people who carried out these covert actions.

To admit this possible motive publicly, of course, would require admitting that the US still tampers in other governments, including some that are elected (even if in elections of dubious fairness). It would also require admitting that our own government got targeted as a response to these covert interventions, which would make concerns about how novel this intervention was a lot less convincing.

Finally, if this motive were the real reason Putin tampered in our election, it might explain why Obama has been reluctant to respond. Perhaps the US believes that Putin has evidence that might prove — or at least create a convincing case that — that the US did intervene to try to weaken him in 2011. And again, the US has already stated on the record they’ve got a covert operation to topple Assad.

Update: I’ll add that DC Leaks, which has always been conflated with Guccifer 2 (which released only Democratic files) and the DNC and Podesta leaks to Wikileaks, started by releasing documents with very clear ties to Ukraine, including a great many targeted at George Soros. If DC Leaks is considered part of the same operation, it is all the more unbelievable that CIA has not considered this explanation.

Update: At an October 18 event, Michael Hayden said (after 20:30) Putin did this because he believes that we do this to him all the time, citing the Rose Revolution, 2011 protests, and Maidan, but not mentioning Libya and Syria. Hayden did claim that the US doesn’t actually do those things (again, not mentioning Libya and Syria), but earlier he said he had done similar things to the actual hack while Director of NSA.