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Bill Barr’s Bullshit Claim that Trump Obstructed the Investigation Out of Frustration and Anger

I’ve grown increasingly bothered by the justification William Barr made for Trump’s obstruction of the Russian investigation. Basically, the Attorney General of the United States argued that because the President was “frustrated and angered” about the investigation into the Russian ties he kept lying about, his obstruction was not corrupt.

In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context.  President Trump faced an unprecedented situation.  As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, [1] federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates.  At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability.  Yet, as he said from the beginning, [2] there was in fact no collusion.  And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, [3] propelled by his political opponents, and [4] fueled by illegal leaks.  Nonetheless, [5] the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, [6] directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.  And at the same time, [7] the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

There are, of course, a slew of errors in this passage, which I address by number.

  1. Federal Agents and prosecutors weren’t investigating the President until after he had committed several acts of obstruction
  2. The report doesn’t address collusion, it addresses a criminal conspiracy; Roger Stone’s actions, done at the behest of Trump, probably reach any measure for “collusion”
  3. There’s no evidence that the Steele dossier drove the FBI investigation — and certainly not the Mueller investigation that Trump obstructed
  4. The only leak that had a substantial effect on this investigation was the one about Flynn being picked on Sergei Kislyak’s FISA intercept, but it may not have been illegal (if John Brennan authorized the leak, for example, it would have been done with the consent of an original classification authority), and Flynn’s actions would have been included as part of the already-predicated counterintelligence investigation into him in any case
  5. Trump personally refused to cooperate with the investigation; his responses to Mueller’s questions are outright contemptuous
  6. Trump knew several of his aides were lying and encouraged that
  7. Trump was probably involved in withholding key emails about the Moscow Trump Tower project and probably had a role in attempts to withhold Transition emails possessed by GSA

But the thing that has really begun to irk me is the Attorney General’s claim that, “as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency,” which is the core of Barr’s excuse for the President’s obstructive acts: the President was frustrated and so it’s cool that he totally undermined rule of law.

Barr is largely wrong about what the report says about the President’s anger and frustration, though, and to the extent he’s not, he’s basically arguing it’s cool for the President to be angry that the system worked as it should.

To show how much he exaggerates that, I reviewed below what the Mueller Report says about the President’s:

  • Frustrations
  • Anger
  • Motivations for obstructing the investigation

There are several categories of references that are on-point to Trump’s feelings about the investigation. In the two most persistent cases, Trump was angry that people engaged in ethical behavior. He was angry and frustrated that Jeff Sessions followed ethics guidelines and recused from the investigation.  He was angry that Comey adhered to DOJ guidelines (both general and specific with respect to this investigation) about confirming or denying targets of an investigation (though the report also describes Trump denying he was angry). So one category of evidence that shows Trump was angry or frustrated — which the Attorney General claims justifies his obstruction — involves Trump reacting emotionally because people did the ethically correct thing.

In one case, he was angry that his administration got caught doing something improper. Trump was angry that Mike Flynn’s totally inappropriate secret efforts to undermine Obama’s policy towards Russia got exposed. He also was angry at Flynn for other reasons, though. Yes, Trump may be right to be angry if this was illegally leaked (something that hasn’t yet been proven), but ultimately he’s pissed that he got caught doing something wrong.

In the sections that deal with Trump’s motives for obstructive acts, the report describes what might be described as frustration about two things. First, that the focus on Russia (both the investigation and the press coverage of it) delegitimized his victory. If Barr thinks this justifies obstruction of justice, it suggests that he thinks Trump is entitled — after having cheered Russia’s hacks of his opponent — not to have it reflect on his own victory. Effectively, the Attorney General seems to think Trump should be able to benefit from help from a foreign adversary — with his encouragement!! — and then have no one mention that, which is an alarming prospect.

The report also describes how Trump was frustrated that he was stymied in foreign policy, most especially in his desire to work with Russia, by the focus on the Russian investigation. This is particularly interesting, as some of the policies Trump was thwarted in pursuing — reversing sanctions on Russia — might have been proof of a quid pro quo (remember, Trump refused to answer all questions about sanctions, even one covering the election period). Given the report’s silence on the most alarming interactions with Trump (such as Putin’s involvement in writing the June 9 statement), there could be more to Trump’s frustrations, which any Attorney General pretending to care about American national security should attend to. In any case, while the Constitution permits the President great leeway to set the country’s foreign policy, it does expect the President will be subject to political pressure on those decisions. That Trump is frustrated that the manner in which he won — plus his encouragement of it and his subsequent lies about it — has constrained his ability to work with Russia is not something that should justify obstruction of justice.

Some of the other descriptions of Trump’s response to the investigation describe him making false claims — denying that Russia did the hack, preferred him, and also denying he had business with Russia. That is, Trump was not denying the allegations in the dossier, but was denying other things that were, in fact, true. That’s also not a basis to obstruct an investigation, that it will expose your lies.

For most of the instances after Trump himself became the subject of the investigation, the Mueller Report concludes Trump was motivated out of a desire to shield his own conduct — that is, pure corrupt obstruction.

In short, even to the extent that the Mueller Report confirms Barr’s claim that Trump was motivated out of frustration, in the most justifiable case (that Trump was prevented from working closely with Russia), Barr is excusing obstruction of justice because Trump got political pressure he deserved for his actions. But in most cases, Trump was frustrated by the ethical actions of others, that he got caught doing something wrong, that winning while cheering the interference of a hostile power aiming to help you undermines your legitimacy. That any lawyer would think such things — which basically amount to a democracy holding someone accountable — would justify obstruction of justice is downright insane.

Nevertheless, that’s where Attorney General Barr has taken us.


Frustration

Four of six references to frustration in the report describe Trump directly.

In the context of reaching out to WikiLeaks, one described Trump’s frustration that Hillary’s deleted emails had not been found.

Gates recalled candidate Trump being generally frustrated that the Clinton emails had not been found.

Chris Christie hypothetically describes Trump as being “frustrated” with the investigation.

The President asked Christie what he meant, and Christie told the President not to talk about the investigation even if he was frustrated at times.222

Trump was frustrated with Comey before his March 20 testimony, which got worse afterwards.

According to McGahn and Donaldson, the President had expressed frustration with Comey before his March 20 testimony, and the testimony made matters worse.318

Trump was frustrated that the Russian investigation made relations with Russia difficult.

The President expressed frustration with the Russia investigation, saying that it made relations with the Russians difficult.348 The President told Rogers “the thing with the Russians [wa]s messing up” his ability to get things done with Russia.349

Anger

The following are the nine of ten references to “angry” and all eleven references to “anger” in the Report involve Trump directly.

A double instance describes Trump being angry — but he was angry that the WaPo had correctly reported that Flynn undermined Obama’s sanctions on Russia. Trump is described another time as being angry that Flynn’s actions were exposed.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127

The President paid careful attention to negative coverage of Flynn and reacted with annoyance and anger when the story broke disclosing that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.

Trump was angry with Flynn that his behavior with Sergey Kislyak was causing him trouble again.

The President instructed McGahn to work with Priebus and Bannon to look into the matter further and directed that they not discuss it with any other officials. 154 Priebus recalled that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, “not again, this guy, this stuff.” 155

Trump was also angry at Flynn for other things, including his stupid spawn.

Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017.

The Report describes Trump being angry at Jeff Sessions four times for following DOJ guidelines on recusal.

Hicks recalled that after Sessions recused, the President was angry and scolded Sessions in her presence, but she could not remember exactly when that conversation occurred.

The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”505

And after Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, the President expressed anger at the decision and told advisors that he should have an Attorney General who would protect him. That weekend, the President took Sessions aside at an event and urged him to “unrecuse.”

The President became very upset and directed his anger at Sessions.393 According to notes written by Hunt, the President said, “This is terrible Jeff. It’s all because you recused.

Trump was also angry at McGahn because Sessions recused.

The President expressed anger at McGahn about the recusal and brought up Roy Cohn, stating that he wished Cohn was his attorney.294

One instance reports Trump denying that he fired Comey because he was angry about the Russian investigation.

The next day, the President acknowledged in a television interview that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Department of Justice’s recommendation and that when he “decided to just do it,” he was thinking that “this thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” In response to a question about whether he was angry with Comey about the Russia investigation, the President said, “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” adding that firing Comey “might even lengthen out the investigation.”

But two other references describes Trump being angry that Comey complied with DOJ guidelines and instructions and did not specifically say Trump was not under investigation.

After Comey publicly confirmed the existence of the FBT’s Russia investigation on March 20, 2017, the President was “beside himself’ and expressed anger that Comey did not issue a statement correcting any misperception that the President himself was under investigation.

But during his May 3 testimony, Comey refused to answer questions about whether the President was being investigated. Comey’s refusal angered the President, who criticized Sessions for leaving him isolated and exposed, saying “You left me on an island.

Trump claimed others were angry that Hillary was not being investigated.

On October 29, 2017, the President tweeted that there was “ANGER & UNITY” over a “lack of investigation” of Clinton and “the Comey fix,” and concluded: “DO SOMETHTNG!”756

Trump claimed others were angry because Mike Flynn was prosecuted for lying to the FBI and DOJ.

On December 15, 2017, the President responded to a press inquiry about whether he was considering a pardon for Flynn by saying, “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this: When you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”845

Trump twice accused Mueller’s prosecutors of being angry (and being Democrats).

On July 31, 2018, Manafort’s criminal trial began in the Eastern District of Virginia, generating substantial news coverage.862 The next day, the President tweeted, “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”86

“While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!” @rea!DonaldTrump 11/28/ 18 (8:39 a.m. ET) Tweet.

Motivations

As far as motive, the report has several discussions of Trump’s motives after every act of obstruction it analyzes, but it also suggests that those motives are different before and after he fired Comey and made himself a focus of the investigation.

Although the series of events we investigated involved discrete acts, the overall pattern of the President’s conduct towards the investigations can shed light on the nature of the President’s acts and the inferences that can be drawn about his intent. In particular, the actions we investigated can be divided into two phases, reflecting a possible shift in the President’s motives. The first phase covered the period from the President’s first interactions with Comey through the President’s firing of Come. During that time, the President had been repeatedly told he was not personally under investigation. Soon after the firing of Comey and the appointment of the Special Counsel, however, the President became aware that his own conduct was being investigated in an obstruction-of-justice inquiry. At that point, the President engaged in a second phase of conduct, involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation. Judgments about the nature of the President’s motives during each phase would be informed by the totality of the evidence.

The Flynn section includes a passage that describes Trump being angry that Russia’s interference tainted his own victory.

Evidence does establish that the President connected the Flynn investigation to the FBI’s broader Russia investigation and that he believed, as he told Christie, that terminating Flynn would end “the whole Russia thing.” Flynn’s firing occurred at a time when the media and Congress were raising questions about Russia’s interference in the election and whether members of the President’s campaign had colluded with Russia. Multiple witnesses recalled that the President viewed the Russia investigations as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election. The President paid careful attention to negative coverage of Flynn and reacted with annoyance and anger when the story broke disclosing that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Just hours before meeting one-on-one with Corney, the President told Christie that firing Flynn would put an end to the Russia inquiries.

The confirmation of the investigation section includes a lot of language about protecting himself but also concern about the legitimacy of his victory and his ability to work with Russia.

Evidence indicates that the President was angered by both the existence of the Russia investigation and the public reporting that he was under investigation, which he knew was not true based on Comey’s representations. The President complained to advisors that if people thought Russia helped him with the election, it would detract from what he had accomplished.

Other evidence indicates that the President was concerned about the impact of the Russia investigation on his ability to govern. The President complained that the perception that he was under investigation was hurting his ability to conduct foreign relations, particularly with Russia. The President told Coats he “can’t do anything with Russia,” he told Rogers that “the thing with the Russians” was interfering with his ability to conduct foreign affairs, and he told Corney that “he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult.”

The Comey firing passage does suggest Trump was frustrated he couldn’t work with Russia, but also shows that he had reason to worry an investigation would show he had broken the law, and he worried the investigation would delegitimize his victory.

We also considered why it was important to the President that Comey announce publicly that he was not under investigation. Some evidence indicates that the President believed that the erroneous perception he was under investigation harmed his ability to manage domestic and foreign affairs, particularly in dealings with Russia. The President told Comey that the “cloud” of “this Russia business” was making it difficult to run the country. The President told Sessions and McGahn that foreign leaders had expressed sympathy to him for being under investigation and that the perception he was under investigation was hurting his ability to address foreign relations issues. The President complained to Rogers that “the thing with the Russians [ was] messing up” his ability to get things done with Russia, and told Coats, “I can’t do anything with Russia, there’s things I’d like to do with Russia, with trade, with ISIS, they’re all over me with this.” The President also may have viewed Comey as insubordinate for his failure to make clear in the May 3 testimony that the President was not under investigation.

[snip]

As described in Volume I, the evidence uncovered in the investigation did not establish that the President or those close to him were involved in the charged Russian computer-hacking or active-measure conspiracies, or that the President otherwise had an unlawful relationship with any Russian official. But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns. Although the President publicly stated during and after the election that he had no connection to Russia, the Trump Organization, through Michael Cohen, was pursuing the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project through June 2016 and candidate Trump was repeatedly briefed on the ro ress of those efforts.498 In addition, some witnesses said that Trump was aware that [redacted] at a time when public reports stated that Russian intelligence officials were behind the hacks, and that Trump privately sought information about future WikiLeaks releases.499 More broadly, multiple witnesses described the President’s preoccupation with press coverage of the Russia investigation and his persistent concern that it raised questions about the legitimacy of his election.500

The report describes his efforts to fire Mueller, efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation, attacks on Sessions, and attempt to get McGahn to write a false statement denying he tried to fire Mueller as an effort to stop the investigation into himself for obstruction.

Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the President’s conduct- and, most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.

Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.

There is evidence that at least one purpose of the President’s conduct toward Sessions was to have Sessions assume control over the Russia investigation and supervise it in a way that would restrict its scope.

Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn ‘s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.

The report explains that Trump wrote the June 9 statement in an attempt to avoid public disclosure about the meeting.

The evidence establishes the President’s substantial involvement in the communications strategy related to information about his campaign’s connections to Russia and his desire to minimize public disclosures about those connections.

While the analysis on floating a pardon for Flynn is inconclusive and that on Stone is redacted, the report does say that Trump floated a pardon to Manafort to encourage him not to cooperate and also to influence his jury.

Evidence concerning the President’s conduct towards Manafort indicates that the President intended to encourage Manafort to not cooperate with the government.

And the report concludes that Trump’s efforts to discourage Cohen from cooperating were an attempt to cover up Trump’s own conduct during the campaign.

In analyzing the President’s intent in his actions towards Cohen as a potential witness, there is evidence that could support the inference that the President intended to discourage Cohen from cooperating with the government because Cohen’s information would shed adverse light on the President’s campaign-period conduct and statements.

Update: Fixed mention of Trump Tower meeting when I meant Trump Tower Moscow.

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

The Scope and Results of the Mueller Report

There’s a Twitter account, TrumpHop, that tweets out Donald Trump’s tweets from years earlier, which is a really disorienting way to remind yourself how crazy he’s been since he’s been on Twitter. This morning, it recalled that two years ago today, Trump was inventing excuses for having shared highly classified Israeli intelligence at the same meeting where he boasted to Sergei Lavrov that he fired Jim Comey a week earlier because of the Russian investigation.

Two years ago, Rod Rosenstein — the same guy who stood, mostly stoically, as a prop for Bill Barr’s deceitful press conference spinning the Mueller Report one last time before releasing it — was in a panic, trying to decide what to do about a President who had fired the FBI Director to end an investigation into what might be real counterintelligence compromise on his part by a hostile foreign country and then went on to share intelligence with that same hostile foreign country. Tomorrow is the two year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment.

As I noted days after the Mueller Report was released, it is utterly silent on that sharing of information and two of the other most alarming incidents between Trump and Russia (though that may be for sound constitutional, rather than scope reasons) — Trump’s conversation with Putin about the subject of his own June 9 false statement even as he was drafting that statement, and the Helsinki meeting. That said, it cannot be true that Mueller didn’t consider those counterintelligence issues, because his treatment of Mike Flynn would have been far different if he didn’t have good reason to be sure — even if he deliberately obscures the reasons why he’s sure in the report — that Flynn, at the time under active counterintelligence investigation for his suspect ties to Russia, wasn’t entirely freelancing when he undermined US policy to offer sanctions considerations to Russia on December 29, 2016.

Nevertheless, a rising cry of people are suggesting that because we weren’t told the results of the counterintelligence investigation (whether it included the President or, because of constitutional reasons, did not), Mueller did not conduct a counterintelligence investigation. He (and, especially, FBI Agents working alongside him) did. Here’s what the report says, specifically, about the FBI writing up CI and Foreign Intelligence reports to share with the rest of FBI.

From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division met with the Office regularly for that purpose for most of the Office’s tenure. For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Those communications and other correspondence between the Office and the FBI contain information derived from the investigation, not all of which is contained in this Volume. This Volume is a summary. It contains, in the Office’s judgment, that information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results.

Mueller didn’t report on it, as he states explicitly, because that’s outside the scope of what he was required and permitted to report under the regulations governing his appointment, which call for a prosecutions and declinations report.

That’s just one of the misconceptions of the scope, intent, and results of the Mueller Report that persists (and not just among the denialist crowd), almost a month after its release.

The Mueller Report does not purport to tell us what happened — that would be a violation of the regulations establishing the Special Counsel. It only describes the prosecutorial and declination decisions. The scope of those decisions includes:

  • Who criminally conspired in two Russian election interference efforts (just one American was charged, but he did not know he was helping Russians troll the US)
  • Whether Trump’s associates were agents of a foreign power in violation of FARA or 18 USC 951, including whether they were agents of Ukraine (as Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were before the election), Israel (as lots of evidence suggested George Papadopoulos might have been), Turkey (as Mike Flynn admitted he had been during and for a short while after the election), as well as Russia
  • Whether Trump’s associates conspired with Russia in some way; Mueller’s review included a quid pro quo, but his prosecutorial decisions did not include things unrelated to Russia’s election interference (which might, for example, include pure graft, including during the Transition period or related to the inauguration)
  • Which of Trump’s associates got charged with lying (Flynn, Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone), were ruled by a judge to have lied (Paul Manafort), and which lied but were not charged (at least three others, including KT McFarland) in an effort to obstruct the investigation
  • Whether accepting a meeting offering dirt as part of the Russian government’s assistance to Trump or optimizing WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by Russia to help Trump’s campaign amount to accepting illegal donations from foreigners
  • Whether Trump’s numerous efforts to undermine the investigation amount to obstruction

Two facts necessarily follow from Mueller’s limit in his report to prosecutorial decisions rather than describing what happened, both of which are explained on page 2 of the report (though even the Attorney General, to say nothing of the denialist crowd, appears not to have read that far). First, Mueller did not weigh whether Trump “colluded” with Russia, because that’s not a crime that could be prosecuted or declined.

In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of “collusion.” In so doing, the Office recognized that the word “collud[e]” was used in communications with the Acting Attorney General confirming certain aspects of the investigation’s scope and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.

Because “collusion” is not a crime, Mueller could not weigh in one way or another without being in violation of the regulations underlying his appointment. Mind you, Bill Barr could have changed these reporting requirements if he wanted and asked Mueller to comment on “collusion.” He did not.

In addition, Mueller’s measure was always whether his investigation “established” one or another crime. But stating that he did not establish a crime is not the same as saying there was no evidence of that crime.

A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.

Mueller describes in very general way that he didn’t get all the information he’d have liked to weigh whether or not conspiracy was committed.

The investigation did not always yield admissible information or testimony, or a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office’s judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity. The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information–such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media–in light of internal Department of Justice policies. See, e.g. , Justice Manual §§ 9-13.400, 13.410. Some of the information obtained via court process, moreover, was presumptively covered by legal privilege and was screened from investigators by a filter (or “taint”) team. Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete, leading to some of the false-statements charges described above. And the Office faced practical limits on its ability to access relevant evidence as well-numerous witnesses and subjects lived abroad, and documents were held outside the United States.

Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated–including some associated with the Trump Campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.

More specifically, we know this language covers at least the following limits on the investigation:

  • Encryption or evidence destruction prevented Mueller from clarifying details of the handoff to WikiLeaks, Gates’ sharing (on Manafort’s orders) of polling data with Russia, Manafort’s communications with various people, and Erik Prince and Steve Bannon’s communications about the Seychelles meeting with Kirill Dmitriev
  • Mueller did not pursue the role of Trump and other associates’ lawyers’ substantial, known role in obstruction
  • Mueller likely did not pursue an interview with Julian Assange (and other media figures), because that would violate US Attorney Handbook warnings against compelling the sharing of journalism work product to investigate a crime related to that work product
  • Some foreigners avoided cooperating with the investigation by staying out of the country; Emin Agalarov canceled an entire US tour to avoid testifying about what kind of dirt he offered Don Jr
  • Both Donald Trumps refused to be interviewed
  • President Trump refused to answer all questions pertaining to his actions after inauguration, all but one question about the Transition, and all questions about sanctions; his other answers were largely contemptuous and in a number of cases conflict with his own public statements or the testimony of his associates

Finally a more subtle point about the results, which will set up my next post. Mueller clearly states that he did not establish a conspiracy between Trump’s people and the Russian government on election interference. By definition, that excludes whatever coordination Roger Stone had with WikiLeaks (and even with the extensive redactions, it’s clear Mueller had real First Amendment concerns with charging that coordination). But whereas Mueller said that the contacts between Trump’s associates and Russians did not amount to a crime, he suggested that the two campaign finance issues he explored — the June 9 meeting and the release of stolen emails — were crimes but not ones he could sustain a conviction for.

The Office similarly determined that the contacts between Campaign officials and Russia-linked individuals either did not involve the commission of a federal crime or, in the case of campaign-finance offenses, that our evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction.

The gaps in evidence that Mueller was able to collect strongly impact this last judgment: as he laid out, he needed to know what Don Jr understood when he accepted the June 9 meeting, and without interviewing either Emin Agalarov and/or Jr, he couldn’t get at Jr’s understanding of the dirt offered.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, it is absolutely false to claim –as Attorney General Barr did — that Mueller’s report says there was no underlying crime to cover up with Trump’s obstruction. Mueller specifically mentions SDNY’s prosecution of Trump’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, a crime which was charged, and which was one of the explicit purposes behind the raid on Cohen’s home and office. And as such, that crime is pertinent to the pardon dangle for Cohen.

In January 2018, the media reported that Cohen had arranged a $130,000 payment during the campaign to prevent a woman from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter she had with the President before he ran for office.1007 This Office did not investigate Cohen’s campaign period payments to women. 1008 However, those events, as described here, are potentially relevant to the President’s and his personal counsel’s interactions with Cohen as a witness who later began to cooperate with the government.

But with regards to the Russian-related campaign finance investigation, Mueller describes that Trump may have believed those would be criminal.

[T]he evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns.

The distinction about whether a crime was committed versus whether it was charged may be subtle. But it is an important one for the obstruction investigation. And as I’ll show, that may have interesting repercussions going forward.

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

Undead Testify: Welcome to the Zombie Apocalypse

[NB: Come on, look at the head, byline, and blurb. Of course it’s me. /~Rayne]

The zombie apocalypse wasn’t supposed to look like this; it should have been more cinematic. And yet here we are, surrounded by the undead.

You think I’m joking, right?

That bloated grey mass seated in the witness chair before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week is a revenant.

Yes, a revenant — from the French word, revenir, meaning one returned, revived from the dead. Revenant describes more than one type of undead reanimated being, including zombies and vampires.

We’ve seen revenants in culture more frequently over the past two decades. Some argue they represent the same biases we’ve seen before; for example, the popularity of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was attributed to xenophobia, aimed at eastern Europeans migrating west. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla may have been an expression of fears of lesbianism. And we’ve seen fears of immigrants and LGBTQ people used by the right-wing to rally and control their conservative, authoritarian base since the Reagan administration.

More recently the re-emergence of revenants in culture has been attributed to anti-capitalist sentiment, in addition to traditional xenophobia — the unthinking drive of consumerism underpinning toxic capitalism mirrored by zombies’ ravening hunger for living brains or vampires’ unending thirst for fresh blood in the form of human labor.

But the undead animus we all watched and heard this week was both simpler and more serious — it was the dark remnants of corruption in Reagan’s administration.

If you think about it, Reagan should not have held office as long as he did; his son Ron said he was already suffering from early symptoms of Alzheimer’s while in office. Illegitimate activities went on under his nose which may have relied heavily on his slowly-fading mental competency.

And Barr was the fixer who swept up after Iran Contra.

Now we have a president — who may have been illegitmately seated with help by hostile foreign entities — with a tenuous grasp on mental competence.

(How many raving tweets has he published this week? How many lies has he uttered or written in his 28 months in office?)

Once again, a fixer is needed. The GOP, a walking dead vamipiric party which is killing itself with its toxic xenophobia and its dogmatic insistence on ending government’s oversight power for the benefit of unfettered capitalism, summoned the undead spirit of the Reagan administration to deal with the threat to its deathgrip on power.

Lo, the bloated grey mass bubbled forth from entombment last summer with a letter persuading the vampires it would address the ongoing obstruction of the Special Counsel’s investigation with more obstruction.

And obstruct the zombie did.

He wasn’t alone in his obstruction. He had the help of other undead, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who both obstructed the public’s view of the Russian interference in the 2016 election and who ensured the judiciary would be infected with unqualified appointees, who further ensured the approval of Barr as attorney general.

And Senator Lindsey Graham, who was clearly bitten by the Zombie-in-Chief while playing golf one day. Graham exemplifies best how insidious they are, how rapidly revenants can infect those who are too close to their reach — one minute victims are anti-zombie and the next they are happily chomping on brains, distorting reality.

Given the presence of so many revenants covering Barr’s back, expect a return of the same acts we saw after the Iran Contra hearings: Barr will encourage pardons if he doesn’t ask for commutations. The shades behind him will do their best to obscure other criminality and unethical behavior in a fog of decaying right-wing rhetoric. Favors will be paid back somewhere along the way; did Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly do anything for George Bush’s dad or Bill Clinton which might yet need repayment?

The only way to deal with the undead is wrest them out fearlessly and stake them out in the sun — there is no better disinfectant. Examine the corpses for weaknesses, cut off reviving animus in full view of the public, and purge their glorification from history. Impeachment will label them as anathema for future generations.

Then seek out and dispatch all the other lingering revenants before they sneak up on us.

Don’t be surprised if some of them arrive wearing candidate’s clothing, either; you’re already seeing the ghost of Clarence Thomas’s wretched nomination walking among the living.

This is an open thread.

Did Rod Rosenstein Pressure Mueller to Enter the Plea Deal with Paul Manafort?

Bill Barr’s admission the other day that he and Rod Rosenstein started talking about how to deny that Trump obstructed justice on March 5, long before even getting the Mueller Report, has raised real questions about whether the two men pushed Mueller to finish his investigation (even though the Mystery Appellant and Andrew Miller subpoenas were still pending).

But I’ve started wondering whether Rosenstein — the guy who promised Trump he’d “land the plane” while he was trying to keep his job — hasn’t been pressuring Mueller to finish up even longer than that.

At the beginning of Manafort’s breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann described how this plea deal was different from most normal plea deals.

There were two points that I wanted to make to the Court. There are a number of subparts to them.

But, the first point has to do with sort of the context in which we operated at the time that we entered into the agreement. As the Court will recall, the agreement was entered into just shortly before the trial was to commence before this Court, and it was after three proffer sessions. And then, of course, there were many debriefings after that. And a couple things about that timing that are relevant.

One, at the end of the third proffer session, before entering into the agreement, we had made clear to the defense that we were willing to go forward. But, that given the limited opportunity, and yet the need to make a decision because of the eminent [sic] trial, we wanted to make clear to the defense that, of course, we were going in with good faith.

But we could not say at that point that we either could say the defendant was being truthful or that the defendant was going to be able to meet the substantial assistance prong. In other words, two parts of the agreement.

Of course, I think everyone was hopeful that all of that would be met. But we wanted to make it clear to the defense that they weren’t being misled in any way as to what we were thinking.

And the second component of that is, I think, something unusual — there were two factors that were unusual in this case compared to, I think, the cases that all of us at this table have had in the past. One was, there’s enormous interest in what I will call — for lack of a better term — the intelligence that could be gathered from having a cooperating witness in this particular investigation. And that would account for the Government agreeing to have Mr. Manafort cooperate, even though it was after a trial. Because that’s certainly an — not — not — it’s not that that never happens, but it’s more atypical.

By the same token, there was an unusual factor — the second unusual factor, which was [redacted] the normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement.

To sum up, it was unusual because:

  • They didn’t do all the vetting they would normally do before entering into a plea deal,
  • There was a big push to avoid the September 2018 trial
  • They entered a plea deal when they weren’t sure about Manafort’s reliability in part to get intelligence, not prosecutorial information
  • Another factor, which is redacted, which by context is likely to be Trump’s floating of a pardon

In other words, there was great pressure to enter into this plea deal that led them not to do the vetting they would normally have.

We already know from the breach determination that Manafort said some things during his proffers that led prosecutors to give him the plea deal, but about which he promptly changed his story. Those subjects include, at a minimum, the degree to which his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik had formally entered into a conspiracy with him, how his kickback system worked, and the criminality of some Trump associate who tried something in August 2016 to save Trump’s campaign.

But the breach determination also revealed that Manafort was always lying about his ongoing discussions with Kilimnik about a “peace” deal. Over the course of his “cooperation,” he came to admit some parts of it after being shown evidence, but he never offered up those details.

That means that when Mueller entered into that plea deal, they knew Manafort was lying to them, at least about the Ukrainian “peace” deals and his coordination with Kilimnik.

But the Mueller Report also reveals were also two details Manafort told them during his proffers that the prosecutors didn’t believe. Manafort told prosecutors that he could not recall “anyone informing candidate Trump of the [June 9] meeting, including Trump Jr;” prosecutors already had other testimony suggesting this was false, and the day after Manafort told them this on September 11, 2018 (and before they actually finalized the deal), Michael Cohen described Don Jr discussing a meeting secretly with Trump in this time period.  That same day, Manafort also told prosecutors, “that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian ‘spy,'” even though several other Kilimnik colleagues, including Rick Gates, had told Mueller’s team he was.

So Mueller knew Manafort was lying, and yet still gave him a plea deal, which had the effect of averting a trial that would have been a key focus of press attention during the midterm elections. I laid out how Manafort’s failed plea ended up providing cover during the election season in this post.

Rudy Giuliani, remember, repeatedly said that Mueller would have to wrap up the entire investigation before DOJ’s 90 day election season.

I know there are a lot of DOJ beat reporters trying to chase down whether Barr told Mueller he had to finish up as soon as he got cleared to oversee the investigation in March. But I wonder whether Rosenstein wasn’t already pressuring Mueller to finish, going back to August. If he was, that would change the import of Trump’s tactic to avoid testifying — first stalling through the election, and then refusing any real cooperation — significantly.

It would also change the import of the fact that prosecutors still claim that the investigation into Manafort is ongoing.

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

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing: AG William Barr

Catch Marcy’s live tweeting of today’s Senate Judiciary Committee featuring star witness Attorney General William Barr:

I set up a list of folks covering Trump-Russia, most of whom are covering the hearing today:

Rayne’s Trump-Russia Twitter list

CourthouseNews’ Brandi Buchmann is also covering the hearing today via Twitter:

Background on Barr leading up to today’s hearing:

08-JUN-2018 — William Barr sent a (unsolicited-?) 20-page letter(pdf) to the Department of Justice outlining his opinion on the Office of Special Counsel’s Trump-Russia investigation and the SCO’s questions about obstruction of justice by Trump.

27-JUN-2018 — Barr has a brown bag lunch with DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (see today’s hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s second round of questions, approx. 3:03 p.m. EDT).

07-NOV-2018 — Jeff Sessions’ apparent exit from role at Department of Justice as Attorney General.

07-DEC-2018 — Trump announced he would nominate Barr to succeed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

03-JAN-2019 — Trump formalized Barr’s nomination.

15-JAN-2019 — Barr appeared for two days before the Senate Judiciary Committee in nomination hearings.

04-FEB-2019 — Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Barr as Attorney General, 12-10 along party lines.

07-FEB-2019 — Senate voted to approve Barr as Attorney General, 54-45 nearly along party lines.

14-FEB-2019 — Barr was sworn in as AG.

05-MAR-2019 — Meeting between Barr and Special Counsel Robert Mueller regarding the SCO investigation.

22-MAR-2019 — Barr decided outcome of the SCO this day (see today’s hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s second round of questions approx. 3:00 p.m. EDT).

24-MAR-2019 — Barr released a 4-page letter summarizing the impending Special Counsel’s Office’s Trump-Russia investigation report.

27-MAR-2019 — Mueller sent a letter to Barr in which he said Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the SCO’s report.

18-APR-2019 — Trump-Russia investigation report by SCO released to public with redactions by Barr.

30-APR-2019 — March 27 letter from Mueller to Barr reported by Washingon Post.

This thread is dedicated to the Barr hearing — please stay on topic.

ADDER: Former FBI director James Comey’s op-ed in NYT published today, How Trump Co-opts Leaders like Bill Barr.

Giorgi Rtslchiladze’s Honor Has Been Sullied because He Can’t Decide Whether He Knows the Tapes He Suppressed Exist or Not

The image for this post is associated with this post.

Giorgi Rtslchiladze believes his honor has been sullied by Robert Mueller.

Rtslchiladze is a naturalized American businessman from Georgia who shows up several times in the Mueller Report.

First, the section that describes Michael Cohen’s attempts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal explains that Cohen pitched Rtslchiladze on a Trump Tower deal in fall 2015, before deciding to pursue the Sater deal instead.

Also during the fall of 2015, Cohen communicated about the Trump Moscow proposal with Giorgi Rtslchiladze, a business executive who previously had been involved in a development deal with the Trump Organization in Batumi, Georgia.313 Cohen stated that he spoke to Rtskhiladze in part because Rtskhiladze had pursued business ventures in Moscow, including a licensing deal with the Agalarov-owned Crocus Group.314 On September 22, 2015, Cohen forwarded a preliminary design study for the Trump Moscow project to Rtskhiladze, adding “I look forward to your reply about this spectacular project in Moscow.” Rtskhiladze forwarded Cohen’s email to an associate and wrote, “first we could organize the meeting in New York at the highest level of the Russian Government and Mr. Trump this project would definitely receive the worldwide attention.”315 On September 24, 2015, Rtskhiladze sent Cohen an attachment that he described as a proposed “[l]etter to the Mayor of Moscow from Trump org,” explaining that “[w]e need to send this letter to the Mayor of Moscow (second guy in Russia) he is aware of the potential project and will pledge his support.”316 In a second email to Cohen sent the same day, Rtslchiladze provided a translation of the letter, which described the Trump Moscow project as a “symbol of stronger economic, business and cultural relationships between New York and Moscow and therefore United States and the Russian Federation.”317 On September 27, 2015, Rtslchiladze sent another email to Cohen, proposing that the Trump Organization partner on the Trump Moscow project with “Global Development Group LLC,” which he described as being controlled by Michail Posikhin, a Russian architect, and Simon Nizharadze.318 Cohen told the Office that he ultimately declined the proposal and instead continued to work with I.C. Expert, the company represented by Felix Sater.319

313 Rtskhiladze was a U.S.-based executive of the Georgian company Silk Road Group. In approximately 2011, Silk Road Group and the Trump Organization entered into a licensing agreement to build a Trump-branded property in Batumi, Georgia. Rtskhiladze was also involved in discussions for a Trum -branded ro’ect in Astana, Kazakhstan. The Office twice interviewed Rtskhiladze, [redacted]

The details on this second Trump Tower deal show that at some of the initiative for an election season Trump Tower deal came from Trump, not the Russians. This Rtskhiladze deal is noteworthy because he pursued (note the word) deals in the past with the Crocus Group — the Agalarov company — and because Mueller at least suggests he doesn’t entirely buy Rtslchiladze’s representation of the ownership of Global Development Group. Note that Rtskhiladze himself promised Cohen he had ties to the Mayor of Moscow.

An interview with Rtskhiladze is also footnoted in a discussion of Trump Organization’s decision to close out certain business deals in the wake of the election.

After the election, the Trump Organization sought to formally close out certain deals in advance of the inauguration.945

945 Cohen 9/18/18 302, at 1-2; see also Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 8-9.

The report doesn’t explain why Trump Org would have any open business deals with Rtskhiladze in November 2016.

Note that Silk Road Group is funded by Kazakh bank BTA group, payments to Michael Cohen from which were one of the reasons Mueller investigated him in the first place (and which has sued Felix Sater for attempting to launder funds through a Trump Tower deal).

It’s the second mention of Rtskhiladze that has sullied his name, according to reports and a letter his attorney sent Bill Barr asking for a retraction (Rtskhiladze’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, works for the same firm, ReedSmith, that is engaging in a trollish defense of Concord Management; the letter he released to the press is actually a revised version of one he sent the day before).

As part of an explanation of why Jim Comey briefed Trump on the Steele dossier on January 6, 2017, a footnote explains that Rtskhiladze texted Cohen about compromising tapes in October 2016.

112 Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Comey 11/15/17 302, at 3. Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/ 12/ 18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

As I read it, the entire point of including this reference is not to substantiate the existence of a pee tape. Rather, it’s to explain why Trump may have believed in the existence of one. It actually provides one explanation that makes Trump’s response to Comey’s briefing (as reflected in Comey’s own notes on it) less incriminating, not least his oblique reference to the Stormy Daniels and Susan McDougal allegations.

After all, the communications between Rtskhiladze and Cohen on October 30, 2016 would have happened just days after Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels on October 27. It would be unsurprising if Cohen discussed both with Trump at the same time.

Rtskhiladze is  complaining about a number of things. Some of them are fair complaints about how his communications with Cohen were portrayed in the footnote.

  • Referring to Rtskhiladze as a “Russian” businessman, his lawyer claims, it “implies he participated in a conspiracy to collude or interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.”
  • Quoting from the texts in isolation, “the isolated texts are suggestive of nefarious undertakings and, as such, defame Mr. Rtskhiladze’s character. Viewing the texts in their entirety against the backdrop of Mssrs. Cohen and Rtskhiladze’s cordial relationship places them in their proper context.”
  • Quoting the “‘Stopping the flow’ gives the impression that you are referencing the alleged salacious content of the alleged acts viewed on the tapes. To the contrary, this was a colloquialism by Mr. Rtskhiladze indicating that there was nothing to the rumors of the tapes, and that he did not believe there were any tapes, nor had he seen what was on the tapes, even if they existed.”
  • Misquoting the text without the word “some” — making the correct quote “stopped flow of some tapes from Russia.” Bolden claims, illogically, that the word some “is crucial as it establishes the fact that Mr. Rtskhiladze had no knowledge of the tapes’ content.”

That last bullet point, of course, makes zero sense. From there, the letter gets even more self-contradictory. Bolden first claims,

The texts that were excised from the Mueller Report clearly indicate that Mr. Rtskhiladze does not have direct knowledge of what was said at the party in Moscow, which he did not attend. Mr. Rtskhiladze also does not know and cannot identify who allegedly made the statements about the tapes. Furthermore, Mr. Rtskhiladze has never seen the tapes and cannot opine on whether they exist. [my emphasis]

Just a few paragraphs after claiming that Rtskhiladze does not know whether the tapes he assured Cohen he had suppressed existed or not, his attorney then claims that he knew the tapes did not exist.

The suggestion that Mr. Rtskhiladze tried to curry favor with Mr. Cohen, the Trump Organization and possibly President Trump himself by allegedly texting that he had “stopped the flow of tapes from Russia” — knowing all the while that the tapes did not exist — is an outrageous and sensation distortion of the communications between Mssrs. Cohen and Rtskhiladze.

Footnote 112 of the Mueller Report would  have the world believe that Mr. Rtskhiladze is at best a caricature of an idle gossip or, worse, an opportunist with deep ties to the Russian business community2 and privy to untoward conduct by President Trump that Mr. Rtskhiladze and others intended to use to embarrass then Candidate Trump, derail his campaign and/or manipulate him after assuming the elected office. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support these inferences and to suggest otherwise is defamatory. [my emphasis]

Footnote 2 in this passage references the other discussions of Rtskhiladze in the report, which show him telling Cohen he had ties to (among others) the Mayor of Moscow; Rtskhiladze doesn’t contest that he has the ties laid out on those sections.

I mean, Bolden is right: these texts do suggest that Rtskhiladze is either a gossip or, more likely, trying to capitalize on information he claimed to not only know about, but be able to affect.

But he’s not actually offering a less damning explanation for them.

What he has done, however, is to call far more attention to them, all in a way that purports to assail Mueller’s credibility, but instead raises even more questions about the relationship between him and Cohen.

Finally, Bolden issues a non-denial denial of having ties with Crocus.

In a similar vein, Mr. Rtskhiladze has not had contact or dealings with the Crocus Group in 14 years, although he considers Crocus a reputable and successful business group. It is inaccurately stated that Mr. Rtskhiladze had a licensing deal with the Crocus Group.

As I noted above, the report doesn’t claim that Rtskhiladze had a licensing deal, it said he was pursuing one. And there’s nothing about this non-denial denial that might suggest Rtskhiladze heard a rumor that — say — fellow Georgian-American Ike Kaveladze was bragging about some compromising tapes, and he made an effort to chase it down.

So one other possible purpose of Bolden’s efforts to impugn Mueller’s integrity all while bringing more publicity to the incident that he claims makes his client look bad is to try to diminish any ill-will the Agalarovs feel towards Rtskhiladze.

Ultimately, though, Rtskhiladze’s lawyer is making thoroughly contradictory claims about this incident rather than offering a less damning explanation of it.

Update: I engaged with the spokesperson for Rtskhiladze, and specifically mentioned the inconsistency between his claim that he didn’t know if the video existed and that he affirmatively did not know. She said that was a typo, and promised to write the most up-to-date statement, but did not send anything.

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

 

Mueller’s Language about “Collusion,” Coordination, and Conspiracy

The answer to a key question — what did the rest of the sentence William Barr censored when declaring Trump’s innocence by quoting a sentence in the Mueller report that says, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” — is, in one instance, this:

Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,

The Attorney General was censoring Mueller’s judgment that Russia was trying to get Trump elected, and the campaign recognized that Russia’s help would benefit the campaign.

There’s another key passage of the report that addresses this language in particular. It says two things. First, when Mueller says the investigation “did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”

The report describes actions and events that the Special Counsel’s Office found to be supported by the evidence collected in our investigation. In some instances, the report points out the absence of evidence or conflicts in the evidence about a particular fact or event. In other instances, when substantial, credible evidence enabled the Office to reach a conclusion with confidence, the report states that the investigation established that certain actions or events occurred. A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.

In other words, while the report says the investigation did not establish certain things, it means there was evidence of it, but did not establish it to reach a conclusion with confidence.

Immediately after that passage, the report makes it clear it is not addressing collusion because — as I’ve pointed out over and over — it is not a crime.

In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of “collusion.” In so doing, the Office recognized that the word “collud[e]” was used in communications with the Acting Attorney General confirming certain aspects of the investigation’s scope and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law. For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law. In connection with that analysis, we addressed the factual question whether members of the Trump Campaign “coordinat[ed]”-a term that appears in the appointment order-with Russian election interference activities. Like collusion, “coordination” does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law. We understood coordination to require an agreement-tacit or express- between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. That requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests. We applied the term coordination in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

Then, in defining how it uses “coordination,” it says that coordination requires more than “two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests,” which might be one definition of collusion and of which the report provides plenty of evidence.

So for all the people claiming this report says Trump didn’t collude with Russia–it says anything but.

Three Things: Big Day, Big Top

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s going to be a big day under the big top. Attorney General Bill Barr has planned quite the circus, beginning right now with his so-called press conference. But first, three things, one of which includes hygiene for the day ahead.

~ 3 ~

Let’s face it: it’s Maundy Thursday, the weather in West Palm Beach is supposed to be partly sunny tomorrow and Saturday, and sunny on Easter Sunday. Which means Trump will likely be on Air Force One this afternoon, winging his way to Mar-a-Lago and the promise of golf at one of his courses because that’s about all he can focus on for more than the time it takes to send a tweet.

This is likely why he wants to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfer Tiger Woods after winning his latest green jacket at The Masters this past weekend. Trump said,

So shallow and self-centered, recognizing a fellow marital cheat and a golfing buddy, one who designed a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai.

And yet par for this pathetic hole.

~ 2 ~

I don’t write often about Trump-Russia because it’s Marcy’s beat — there’s little she hasn’t scrutinized and picked apart during the course of the Special Counsel’s investigation. But this one thing has stuck in my craw, especially after all the hubbub this past week about Julian Assange’s removal from the Ecuadoran embassy and arrest by Metropolitan Police-UK.

It’s in this email exchange from October 2016, about WikiLeaks’ 10th anniversary when Assange was supposed to have made a big announcement and didn’t. The following

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

What was that this morning???

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Roger Stone
TO: Steve Bannon
EMAIL:
Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done.

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

He didn’t cut deal w/ clintons???

Why did former Trump campaign chief executive and former White House adviser Steve Bannon express surprise that Assange hadn’t cut a deal with the Clintons?

Was it a given that Assange would have attempted to extort money from one or both of the Clintons to halt the release of hacked emails?

Why would Bannon in particular have thought this? Was it common knowledge in certain circles that Assange would use blackmail? Or has blackmail been one of the other unaddressed methods by which targets have been compromised and evidence simply hasn’t been shared because it’s classified?

Did Special Counsel’s Office ask any member of the Clinton campaign or Bill Clinton or any Clinton family support staff whether they had been contacted about hacked materials in an attempt to extort money or performance from them?

It seemed like odd hyperbole at the time in early August 2016 that Assange would accuse Hillary Clinton of electoral extortion, claiming she tried to scare the electorate into voting for her. But was it really a form of projection to muddle possible leaks about other extortion attempts? (Yes, the source at that link above is a right-wing outlet, but that’s the point: they carried water for this effort.)

Ecuadoran official said they are investigating whether Assange attempted to blackmail President Moreno. It looks more like a pattern of behavior based on WikiLeaks’ handling of Vault 7 and if Bannon’s email assumed an earlier attempt on the Clintons

~ 1 ~

Okay, I’ll skip a third non-Barr report item because we’re all a little short on patience. If you need something to preoccupy your time you can focus on taking action.

See Celeste_pewter’s Twitter thread for calls you can make, or check her TinyLetter site; once again she’s done the heavy lifting and prepared scripts for you.

She’s also laid out the anticipated schedule today for AG Barr’s three-ring circus:

9:30 AM: Barr and Rosenstein will hold a press conference on Mueller report

(Mueller not in attendance)

10:30 AM (approx): Trump will issue a rebuttal

11:00 – 12:00 PM: DOJ will provide hard copies of the report to Congress

TBD: Trump MAY give a press conference at this point

2:00 PM (approximate): Report posted on special counsel website (https://www.justice.gov/sco)

I’m setting up a list in my Twitter account to follow folks for analysis and feedback on the Trump-Russia investigation including today’s Barr report.

(And yes, I’m calling it the ‘Barr report’ because the method of its reception will have been substantially shaped by Barr.)

~ 0 ~

Lastly, the matter of hygiene: this site will be busy. Trolling may be heavy depending on what’s visible in the report and what is pointed out by Marcy in particular. If the site bogs down, please be patient.

If necessary, reach one of us via Twitter though you may not get an immediate response because we’re going to be busy.

Moderation will be firm and aggressive. We don’t have time for temper tantrums, trolling, or for internecine squabbles.

Keep all off topic discussion to this thread; if it gets too deep, like more than 200 comments, I will open a new thread for off topic material. Posts Marcy opens related to the report should remain on topic.

This is going to be a long day. Pace yourselves. Drink water regularly. Take a break from social media when you’re getting worked up. Digest this pile of elephant one bite at a time.

We have plenty of time after the circus’s acts have finished to sweep up and dig through the animal poo they leave behind.

This is an open thread.

How to Read the Mueller Report

Politico has a piece describing how key players will read the Mueller report that starts by admitting the usual workaround — reading the index — won’t work.

The capital has already evolved one model for processing a big tell-all book: “the Washington read,” where you scan the index (assuming there is one) to find everything it says about you, your boss and your enemies and then fake like you’ve read the rest. But this time that won’t be enough. The goods might not come easily. They might be buried in an obscure subsection. And there’s way more at stake than in the typical gossipy memoir.

Further down, David Litt graciously included me on a list of legal and analytical voices he’ll turn to to help understand the report.

Former Obama White House speechwriter David Litt will have Twitter open while he’s making his way through the report, watching in particular for posts from several of the more prominent legal and analytical voices who have narrated the story’s plot twists as it evolved: Ken White (@popehat), Mimi Rocah (@Mimirocah1), Renato Mariotti (@Renato_Mariotti), Marcy Wheeler (@emptywheel), Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) “for the definitive word on special-counsel regs” and Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight “to think through the political implications.”

Since most of the methods described by Politico’s sources actually will be counterproductive for anything but rushing a self-serving message to the press, I thought I’d lay out some tips for how I’ll read it.

Understand what the report is and is not

Even before Barr releases the report, those planning on reading it would do well to reflect on what it is — and what it is not. It is, by regulation, a report on the prosecutions and declinations the Mueller team took during their tenure.

It is not supposed to be, contrary to many claims, a report on everything that Mueller discovered. Already there have been hints that it will not include the second half of Rod Rosenstein’s mandate to Mueller — to figure out the nature of links between Trump’s team and Russia. If that stuff is excluded, then it probably will get reported, secretly, to the Intelligence Committees and no further. That’s important because the stuff that would compromise Trump — but would not necessarily implicate him in a crime — may by definition not show up in this report (though the stuff specifically relating to Trump may show up in the obstruction case).

Finally, it’s unclear how much Mueller will include about referrals and ongoing investigations. I expect he’ll include descriptions of the things he and Rosenstein decided deserved further prosecutorial scrutiny but did not fit under the narrow rubric of whether Trump’s team coordinated or conspired with the Russian government on the hack-and-leak. But with the sole exception of three known referrals: the hush payments negotiated by Michael Cohen, the prosecution of Mike Flynn partner Bijan Kian, and the prosecution of Sam Patten, I expect any discussion of these matters to be redacted — appropriately so.

Map out what we already know about prosecutorial decisions

Since the report is by regulation supposed to describe the prosecutorial and declination decisions, we already know much of what will show up in the report, because Mueller has helpfully showed his prosecutorial decisions right here on his webpage. Here are some questions we should expect the report to answer (working from the bottom):

Papadopoulos

  • Why did Mueller consider George Papadopoulos’ lies to the FBI material to the investigation? [Note, Mueller has already answered this in Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo.]
  • Did Mueller find any evidence that Papadopoulos had passed on news that Russia was planning to dump emails pertaining to Hillary in an effort to help Trump? What did those people do with that information?
  • What did the investigation of Sergei Millian, who started pitching a Trump Tower deal and other seeming intelligence dangles to Papadopoulos in July 2016 reveal? [This is a subject that may either be redacted, referred, or treated as counterintelligence saved for the Intelligence Committees.]

Mike Flynn

  • Why were Flynn’s lies about assuring Sergey Kislyak that Trump would revisit sanctions deemed material to the investigation? [Note, Mueller has already answered this in Flynn’s sentencing memo, but it is significantly redacted]
  • Why did Mueller give Flynn such a sweet plea deal, as compared to his partner Bijan Kian, who was named a foreign agent? What information did he trade to get it? [Some of this is included in his sentencing memo — because he flipped early, it led others to correct their lies — but key parts of it remain redacted.]
  • What other Trump aides (like KT McFarland) lied about the same topics, and why were their attempts to clean that up before being charged deemed sufficient to avoid prosecution?

There’s likely a great deal pertaining to Flynn — likely including the third topic on which he cooperated — that will be deemed counterintelligence information that will be briefed to the Intelligence Committees.

Richard Pinedo

  • Why did Mueller prosecute Pinedo as part of his investigation?
  • How did Mueller determine that Pinedo had not wittingly worked with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls?

There’s likely some counterintelligence information about how the trolls duped Pinedo and how the US might shore up that vulnerability, but given the focus on the trolls, I expect FBI has already briefed that to the Intelligence Committees in substantial part.

The Internet Research Agency

  • Given that Russia’s activities weren’t under the original scope of Mueller’s investigation; why did the trolls get moved under him? [The answer may be because of the Trump people found to have interacted with the trolls.]
  • Why did Mueller consider prosecuting Concord Management worth the headache?
  • How much of the relationship between Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Putin impacted this prosecution?
  • What did the three Trump campaign officials in Florida described in the indictment do after being contacted by the trolls about events in August 2016? Did any other people in the campaign join in the efforts to coordinate with the trolls? Why weren’t they prosecuted? [Whether the names of these three people are unredacted will be one of the more interesting redaction questions.]
  • Why weren’t the Trump and other political activists prosecuted?

We already know the answer to why Americans (save Richard Pinedo) were not prosecuted in this indictment: because they did not realize they were coordinating with Russian-operated trolls, and because, unlike Pinedo, nothing about their activities was by itself illegal.

There’s likely to be a lot of counterintelligence information on this effort that has been shared with the Intelligence Committees in ongoing fashion.

Alex van der Zwaan

  • Why did Mueller prosecute van der Zwaan himself, rather than referring it (as he did with Greg Craig and the other Manafort-related corruption)? Did that have to do with van der Zwaan’s independent ties with either Konstantin Kilimnik or his father in law, German Khan?

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort

  • Why did Mueller keep both Gates and Manafort prosecutions (the tax fraud prosecuted in EDVA and the FARA and money laundering violations in DC) himself? Was this just an effort to flip both of them, or did it pertain to an effort to understand the nature of their relationship with Kilimnik and a bunch of Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs?
  • What continuity is there between the methods and relationships involved in Manafort’s work in Ukraine with that he did for Trump?
  • What did Mueller get out of the cooperation agreements with Gates? This will be extensive! But a lot of it may be redacted because it pertains to counterintelligence or ongoing investigations.
  • What did Mueller get out of the failed cooperation agreement with Manafort? Part of this, too, is counterintelligence, plus Manafort appears to have made it through one grand jury appearance on November 2 without lying. But that topic may be redacted as either as part of either counterintelligence or ongoing investigations.

Konstantin Kilimnik

Because he charged Kilimnik and Kilimnik was so central to so much of his investigation, Mueller could describe why the government believes Kilimnik has a tie with the GRU. He likely won’t.

GRU hack indictment

  • Russia’s activities weren’t under the original scope of Mueller’s investigation; why did the GRU hack get moved under him? [The answer may be because Roger Stone and Lee Stranahan and Trump — in his encouragement — were implicated.]
  • Why weren’t WikiLeaks and/or Assange charged in the indictment?
  • What was the nature of Stone’s ties to Guccifer 2.0?
  • Was there reason to believe Trump knew GRU would respond to his encouragement?
  • How did the GRU operation link up with the activities of other people suspected to have ties to GRU, like the broker on the Trump Tower deal, Kilimnik, and a Mike Flynn interlocutor?
  • How did Mueller assess whether and how Russia used the data stolen from the Democrats, especially the analytics data stolen in September?
  • Did the data Kilimnik received from Manafort and shared with others make its way into GRU’s hands?

Michael Cohen

  • Why were Cohen’s lies about the Trump Tower deal deemed material to the investigation? [Unlike with Flynn and Papadopoulos, Mueller didn’t really explain this in the sentencing memo.]
  • Why was Cohen charged with lying, but not those he conspired to lie with, including Jay Sekulow, Don Jr,  and the President?
  • What other details of Trump’s business dealings did Cohen share?

Roger Stone

  • Why were Roger Stone’s lies to Congress deemed material to the Mueller investigation?
  • From whom did Stone and Jerome Corsi learn what GRU and WikiLeaks were planning to release?
  • Did Stone succeed in holding the release of the Podesta emails to dampen the Access Hollywood video release, as Corsi alleges?
  • What was Stone trying to hide when he had Corsi write a cover story for him on August 30, 2016?
  • Why didn’t Stone’s coordination to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases amount to coordination with Russia?
  • Why weren’t Corsi and Randy Credico (the latter of whom Stone accuses of lying to the grand jury) charged?
  • Why wasn’t Assange charged in conjunction with Stone?

Stone is still awaiting trial and prosecutors have just told the press that Stone remains under active investigation. So I expect virtually all the Stone section to be redacted.

Map out the big questions about declinations

Mueller will also need to explain why he didn’t charge people he investigated closely. This is another section where the fight over redactions is likely to be really heated.

Trump on obstruction and conspiracy

  • Did Mueller consider Trump’s enthusiastic encouragement of Russia’s operation and his move to offer Russia sanctions relief from a prosecutorial standpoint (that is, a quid pro quo trading the Trump Tower deal and election assistance for sanctions relief)? If so, what were the considerations about potential criminality of it, including considerations of presidential power? If not, was any part of this referred?
  • What was the consideration on Trump and obstruction? Did Mueller intend to leave this decision to Congress? [The report will not answer the second question; if Mueller did intend to leave the decision to Congress, as his predecessors Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr did for good Constitutional reasons, he will not have said so in the report.]

Paul Manafort on quid pro quo

  • Was Mueller able to determine why Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016? Did he know it would be shared with Russians close to the election interference operation? Did he agree to a quid pro quo involving the Ukrainian peace deal as sanctions relief he pursued for another 20 months? Did Manafort’s lies prevent Mueller from answering these questions?
  • What was the nature of and what was ultimately done with that polling data?
  • Why didn’t Mueller charge this as conspiracy or coordination? Did it have to do with Manafort’s lies and Gates’ limited credibility?

The June 9 meeting and follow-up

  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging this as an instance of conspiracy or coordination?
  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging the public claims about this meeting as an instance of false statements?
  • Did Trump know about this meeting and if so did that change the calculus (because of presidential equities) on a quid pro quo?
  • Did Mueller decide Don Jr is simply too stupid to enter into a conspiracy?
  • Did Mueller consider (and is DOJ still pursuing) prosecutions of some of the members of the Russian side of this meeting? [Note that Barr did not clear all US persons of conspiracy on the hack-and-leak; Emin Agalarov canceled his concert tour this year because his lawyer said he’d be detained, SDNY’s indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya treats her as a Russian agent, and Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze may both have exposure that the Trump flunkies would not.]

The Seychelles meeting and related graft

  • Did Mueller decide the graft he uncovered was not criminal, not prosecutable, or did he refer it?

Carter Page

I, frankly, am not that interested in why Mueller didn’t prosecute Carter Page, and this section might be redacted for his privacy. But I am interested in whether leaks played a part of it, or whether Russians used him as a decoy to distract from where the really interesting conversations were happening.

Understand referrals and ongoing investigations, to the extent they’re included

As noted above, Mueller may have included a description of the referrals he made and the ongoing investigations that reside with some of his prosecutors and/or the DC AUSAs brought in to pick up his work. This includes, at a minimum:

  • Inauguration graft
  • Potential Don Jr and Jared Kushner graft
  • Mystery Appellant
  • Ongoing Stone investigations
  • The Cohen hush payments
  • Bijan Kian’s prosecution
  • Sam Patten’s prosecution
  • Other Manafort graft, including potential coordination with states
  • Tom Barrack’s graft
  • Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, Steve Calk
  • Konstantin Kilimnik (which is likely a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal one)

One big question I have is whether any criminal conduct with Russia that doesn’t involve the election would be covered by this report, referred, or considered an ongoing investigation??

While we should expect details of the decision to refer the Cohen, Bijan Kian, and Sam Patten prosecutions, most of the rest of this would likely be redacted (including the Craig prosecution, since it only just got indicted).

Understand the structure of the report

Having prepped yourself for what to expect in the report (and what won’t be there, like the counterintelligence stuff), you can now start by reviewing the structure of the report. Bill Barr claims the report is split into two sections, the Russian interference and Mueller’s thinking on obstruction. That may or may not be true — it’s one thing to assess when first reviewing the report.

One particularly interesting question will be the extent to which Mueller included stuff that might otherwise be counterintelligence information — things Russia did that would compromise or embarrass Trump — in the obstruction section.

Another thing to do while understanding the structure of the report is to see where all the things that must be in there appear. This will be particularly helpful, for example, in figuring out where what is sure to be a lot of redacted content on Roger Stone appears.

Do a first read of the report, paying particular attention to the footnotes

I find it really useful to share screen caps of what I’m finding in a first read, either on Twitter (for crowd sourcing) or in a working thread. The press flacks will do the work of finding the key takeaways and running to the cable news about them. Better to spend the time finding the details that add nuance to claimed takeaways, if only because adding nuance to claimed takeaways quickly helps avoid an erroneous conventional wisdom from forming.

Develop theories for redacted content

You’re not going to be able to prove what lies behind a redaction unless Mueller and DOJ commit redaction fail (they’re not Paul Manafort trying to signal to co-conspirators, so that won’t happen) or unless they accidentally leave one reference out. But based on the grammar of sentences and the structure of the report and — hopefully — Barr’s promised color coding of redactions, you should be able to develop theories about what generally is behind a redaction.

Identify big redacted sections

There may be sections that are both entirely redacted about which no clues as to the content exist. At the very least, identify these, and at least note where, structurally, they appear, as that may help to explain what big questions about the Mueller report are outstanding.

Read it again

I know most editors in DC won’t pay for this, which is why reporting on documents is often less rigorous than journalism involving talking to people. But for documents like this, you really need to read iteratively, in part because you won’t fully understand what you’re looking at until reading the whole thing a first time. So after you read it the first time, read it again.

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

The Many Sided Stone: The Investigation Is Not Over

While we have been talking about how good and done Robert Meuller’s investigation is, a slew of filings and other reports relating to Roger Stone in the last few days remind us that the fruits of his investigation are definitely not done.

Roger Stone’s cry for help

As background, consider this cry for help, in a local, as opposed to the kind of national media outlets that had recently hung on Roger’s every word. In it, he describes the burden of spending all his money on defense attorneys.

“The worst part of this is being broke,” he said on the SiriusXM program that airs weekdays on the Faction Talk channel 103.

“I’ve lost my home, my insurance, what little savings I had, my ability to make a living because people pay me to write and talk, and of course the things they want me to write and talk about are the very things I’m not allowed to talk and write about. In the blink of an eye you can lose everything.

“I have to pay everything I have to lawyers. And I could no longer pay the rent in the property that I was in. I moved from a nine-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. Had to do the move myself with my wife renting a truck. On the last day of the move in kind of a freak accident the truck slips out of gear and rolls over my wife’s ankle, breaking it.”

More interestingly, Stone claims he hasn’t spoken with Donald Trump for almost two years (he doesn’t say whether his attorneys have spoken to Trump’s attorneys).

“I’ve known him for 40 years. We’re very good friends. I don’t agree with everything he does, I agree with a lot of what he does,” Stone said. Stone said Trump was at his wedding, and he at two of Trump’s weddings; he was at the funerals for Trump’s parents, and is friendly with his sister. “I do miss him.”

He also complains that Alex Jones is not selling T-shirts for him.

“I am grateful for Alex Jones for giving me a platform. He is a friend of mine. I like the guy, I like hanging out with him. I do not agree with everything he says, I agree with some of the things he says. He probably doesn’t agree with everything I say. But you know, the check would be nice.”

While I’m sure Stone exaggerates his financial straits, I’m also sure they’re considerable. These two specific calls for help, though (especially in the wake of allegations that InfoWars may have been providing hush money to Jerome Corsi), are especially interesting.

Stone’s throw of the dice

Meanwhile, the lawyers that are bankrupting Stone have been busy, filing six challenges to his indictment last night, several of them meritorious, the others not. The motions include:

  1. A bid to throw out the prosecution on several grounds designed to appeal to William Barr’s prejudices
  2. A demand for the full Mueller report based on some specious (appeals to Bill Barr) and some justified bases (prosecutorial decisions on Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico)
  3. A motion to enjoin his prosecution based on a claim that Congress hadn’t funded this Special Counsel investigation
  4. A motion to dismiss based on the claim that Mueller violated separation of powers by charging him for lying to HPSCI without a formal referral
  5. A request for discovery to support a selective prosecution claimed designed, in large part, to accuse Randy Credico of lying to the grand jury
  6. A renewed objection to having his case judged by Amy Berman Jackson along with the GRU hackers

He seems to be pursuing several strategies (beyond just throwing a bunch of spaghetti against the wall).

Embarrass Credico

The first is to use the motions process to discredit the witnesses against him. That’s most true of a passage of his selective prosecution motion that accuses Credico of lying to the grand jury.

Another witness, Randy Credico lied about speaking to Assange and Assange’s lawyer to federal agents. It is curious that the Special Counsel found one aspect of Credico’s interactions with Stone so compelling that it made its way into Stone’s Indictment. In Paragraph 14(e) of the Indictment, the Special Counsel quotes the conversation between Stone and Credico from Credico’s radio show of August 23, 2016. Stone and Credico have a discussion regarding communications with the “head of Organization 1.” Yet, astonishingly, in Credico’s testimony to the Grand Jury (DOJ-3500-RC-000111) Transcript Page 44, Lines 7-22, Credico tells the Grand Jury that on the very show they quote, Stone and Credico never discussed the head of Organization 1. For unknown reasons and the precise reason why discovery is mandated in these situations, the Special Counsel elected not to charge Credico with lying to the Grand Jury, something expressly within their regulatory authority.

Later in his testimony, Credico says that prior to his interview with presidential candidate Gary Johnson on September 10, 2016, that he had never spoken to Stone about WikiLeaks or Assange.3 This is a demonstrated lie as according to the text messages between Stone and Credico that Stone voluntarily released, and the Special Counsel possessed. As early as August 19, 2016, Credico was bragging to Stone that he had a connection to Assange and that it was through Margaret Kunstler, Esq., an attorney represented to be on Julian Assange’s legal team. There is no indication based on the initial review of discovery provided by the government that the Grand Jury was ever informed of Credico’s lies regarding the August 23d radio interview.

It’s unclear whether Stone’s representation of Credico’s grand jury testimony is fair. But if it is, the selective prosecution claim provides a way to discredit Credico.

Appeal to Barr and Trump

Then there’s a series of arguments that appear to be an attempt to appeal to Bill Barr’s prejudices, and through him, Trump. There’s the separation of powers argument about the lack of a criminal referral that suggests — incorrectly — that Mueller would have needed to rely on Adam Schiff’s testimony to assess whether and how Stone lied in his testimony (as a matter of courtesy, HPSCI shared informal copies of the transcripts with the IC) and claims — probably ridiculously — that an equivalent example of Barr’s contention that the president can’t be guilty of obstruction without committing the underlying crime is also true for the President’s rat-fucker. Stone repeats this argument in his demand for the full Mueller report, claiming that it will show there was no “collusion,” which therefore means he couldn’t obstruct anything.

The most novel of these arguments, however, is that the President — and his campaign from before he was elected!! — can’t be investigated under the Take Care Clause. This is mostly bullshit, a dime store version of Bill Barr’s own opininion excusing many kinds of obstruction for the President. Trump will like it best where Stone argued that investigating all links with Russia inhibited Trump’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

The Mueller Appointment grants the Special Counsel the authority to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Accordingly, every action taken by President Trump since he formed his campaign with regard to the United States’ relationship with Russia has been second guessed as evidence of “collusion,” or a conspiracy between Trump and Putin.20 Many have asserted that Putin has some form of control over Trump.21 The Special Counsel investigation has stimulated this second guessing, significantly undermining the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy with regard to Russia. The Special Counsel investigation hog-ties the President in the execution of his foreign policy.

The Mueller Appointment not only hobbles the President’s ability to conduct a rational foreign policy with regard to Russia, it undermines his ability to deal with every world leader. No President can deal effectively with the heads of other nations when he is the subject of a Department of Justice investigation that is prominently being portrayed in the press as imminently removing him from office. Counterparts will be inhibited in reliance on a President who may not serve out his term

This is bait for the frothy right. More importantly, it treats Roger Stone as the President for investigative purposes when according to both him and the President he wasn’t even formally part of the campaign for the key periods under investigation.

This is mostly spaghetti throwing for the frothy right, but there’s no telling what will happen if some of the nuttier GOP judges latch on to one of these strands of spaghetti.

Engage in graymail

Stone repeats his demand for the full Mueller report in several ways — first in a bid for the report itself, then as the “prologue” to a bunch of mostly spurious attacks on Mueller’s authority (some of which have already been rejected in the larger Mueller investigation). This is graymail. Of course Stone is not going to get the full report, which includes grand jury material unrelated to his prosecution and descriptions of ongoing investigations likewise unrelated to his prosecution. But he probably does have a good case to claim that he should get the parts that will be redacted for us that pertain to him.

Misstate Barr’s citation of Mueller’s findings

I’m perhaps most interested in the way Stone engages in Russian hack trutherism. For example, his first justification for needing the full Mueller report — even before he claims to need to know why Credico and Corsi weren’t charged — is to understand Mueller’s “assumption” that Russia hacked the Democrats (something that Stone himself admitted until August 2016, when it became inconvenient).

His lawyers must be allowed to review the Report in its entirety because it contains the government’s evidence and conclusions on matters essential to Stone’s defense. Starting with the base assumptions by the Special Counsel that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Clinton Campaign email databases (see Indictment, ¶¶ 1-3, 7, 18, 20, 39);

And in Stone’s bid to get his case reassigned, he makes several misrepresentations of the public record. For example, he claims Barr’s representation of Mueller’s finding said there was no evidence of “collusion” between Trump’s associates and Russia.

The Office of the Special Counsel has since concluded its investigation and has found that there is no evidence of collusion between Russia and those associated with the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.

Barr addressed only conspiracy and coordination, and all the language is consistent with Mueller not finding enough evidence to charge it, while finding some evidence.

Stone also claims that prosecutors have claimed that his case is associated with the GRU indictment only because communications between Stone and Guccifer 2.0 were obtained with the GRU warrants.

Previously, however, opposing counsel designated this case as related to that of United States of America v. Netyksho, et al. (1:18-cr-00215-ABJ), because the government claimed that communications between Guccifer 2.0 and Stone were obtained from the Netyksho search warrant.

If they said specifically that, then it was in private. In public, the government said this:

The defendant’s false statements did not arise in a vacuum: they were made in the course of an investigation into possible links between Russian individuals (including the Netyksho defendants), individuals associated with the dumping of materials (including Organization 1), and U.S. persons (including the defendant).

[snip]

In the course of investigating that activity, the government obtained and executed dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release, as well as to discuss the timing and promotion of their release. Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 and with Organization 1.

Even ignoring that Stone seems to cede that at least one of the number of warrants referred to in that filing included his communications with Guccifer 2.0, it’s even more amusing that Stone ignores WikiLeaks — I wonder if they took it out after Julian Assange got arrested?

Stone then misstates another thing Barr said, claiming he claimed no American citizens conspired with “Russian agents.”

[T]he Department of Justice has concluded that there was no conspiracy between Russian agents and any American citizen, including Roger Stone, this “connection” is unsubstantiated.

What the Barr memo actually says about the hack-and-leak operation is,

Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

Barr’s statement only refers to the Russian government, not possible Russian cut-outs like WikiLeaks, and only discusses Americans with ties to Trump.

Stone then claims that the GRU indictment claims no American was part of the conspiracy.

Additionally, the only document filed in Netyksho, the Indictment, states no American was part of the conspiracy charged. There is nothing left to “connect” Roger Stone to.

It doesn’t name any Americans, but also doesn’t say no Americans were part of the conspiracy. Here’s what it says about the conspirators.

[The defendants] were GRU officers who knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury (collectively the “Conspirators”),

Stone’s effort to get a new judge is not going to work in any case. Which leads me to wonder why he repeatedly misstates the public record.

In any case, assuming normal judicial review, Stone’s request for more of the Mueller report might have promise and he could get some thoughtful briefing on a few of the other claims. But most of this is wall-splat for specific audiences: Trump, Barr, and the frothy right.

Andrew Miller claims he has been mooted

Meanwhile, as expected, Stone associate Andrew Miller just requested an en banc review of the DC Circuit ruling that he needs to testify against Stone. Along with the arguments he already lost on, he is now asking the court to find out whether the government really still needs his testimony, arguing (in part) that Mueller’s authority has expired.

Since the subpoena issued to Mr. Miller was for the purpose of obtaining evidence related to Mr. Stone’s connection with WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and Guccifer 2.0, it would appear that the Special Counsel would no longer need Mr. Miller’s testimony regarding that subject matter. Nevertheless, the next business day, Monday, January 28, 2019, undersigned counsel was advised by the Special Counsel’s office that it believed the case to be a live controversy since the grand jury was still active, though it was not apparent whether the grand jury or its foreperson was consulted as to any continued interest in hearing Mr. Miller’s testimony. 3

On March 22, 2019, Special Counsel submitted his final report to Attorney General Barr pursuant to the Special Counsel regulations, 28 C.F.R. 600.8(c), concluding his investigation, explaining his prosecutions and declinations, and finding that no conspiracy or coordination took place between the Trump campaign or any aides associated with the campaign and Russia regarding interference with the 2016 campaign or hacking the emails of Hillary Clinton or the DNC. 4 No further indictments are expected. According to Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec, “The investigation is complete.”5 Thus, like Cinderella’s carriage that turned into a pumpkin at midnight, Special Counsel Mueller’s authority expired. Accordingly, the intervening events described above that have occurred since the issuance of the subpoena in question over nine months ago, strongly, if not definitively, demonstrate Mr. Miller’s testimony regarding Mr. Stone is no longer required nor can be legally obtained. Thus, this Court should invite the government’s views to verify whether this case continues to be a live controversy or is moot to assure itself that it continues to possess judicial power to adjudicate the instant petition for rehearing and suggestion for rehearing en banc and any subsequent action in this appeal

3 Notably, while the mandate was stayed as is the usual practice until 7 days after the time for the filing a petition for rehearing had expired or after disposition of any timely filed petition (45 days from the decision, or April 12), the Special Counsel had the right to ask the Court to issue the mandate ever since February 26 if Mr. Miller’s testimony was needed. The Special Counsel declined to do so. [my emphasis]

This is really just decoration on an en banc review that will be denied, but along the way he’s fishing for information about where else prosecutors (including the DC AUSAs who’ve been involved since Stone’s indictment, at least) are headed.

Mueller may be done but prosecutors are not

Which brings us, finally, to this response from prosecutors (signed by two DC AUSAs, Jonathan Kravis and Michael Marando, from the Stone team and Aaron Zelinsky from the Mueller team) in response to what is fairly characterized as a media request for all outstanding warrant materials in the Mueller investigation, with a focus on Stone. After getting two extensions, one because the attorneys involved in it were involved in a press of other work, one to transition to the DC AUSAs who’d take over because Mueller was done, the government today issued a narrowly targeted (to Stone) response.

After introducing the scope of the investigation as it proceeded from Comey’s March 20, 2017 scope to Mueller’s May 17, 2017 scope to his March 22, 2019 closure, the government response then stated the media request in remarkably narrow terms, focused just on Stone.

The movants seek to unseal search warrant materials related to the Stone prosecution. Specifically, the movants seek unsealing of “warrants, applications, supporting affidavits, and returns relating to all search or seizure warrants relevant to the prosecution of Roger J. Stone, Jr.” Doc. 4, at 2 (Order) (quoting Media Coalition Mem. 1). 2 It is unclear whether the movant’s request is limited to warrants issued pursuant to Rule 41 or also includes warrants under the SCA. In an abundance of caution, the government is treating the request as covering both categories. It is similarly unclear whether the reference to “warrants relevant to the Prosecution of Roger J. Stone, Jr.” means only warrants to search Stone’s property and facilities or includes other warrants that were executed as part of the same line of investigation. Again, in an abundance of caution, the government is treating the request as covering both categories.3

2 In places, the movant more broadly references warrant materials pertaining to “the Russia investigation” (Mot. 1, 4; Mem. 4) and once references “Manafort records” (Mot. 3). Consistent with this Court’s March 1, 2019 order (Doc. 4, at 2), and the movants’ detailed description of the records sought, see Mem. 4-5, the government understands those references as context for this specific request to unseal records related to the prosecution of Stone. See Mot. 1, 3, 4; Mem. 1, 4, 5.

Yes, it makes a big show of interpreting the media request broadly to interpret the request as both a request for Rule 41 and Stored Communication Act warrants and both Stone’s property and others (though again, they remarkably blow off all requests for anyone but Stone). But then they get to footnote 3, which reveals that there were warrants targeting entirely different people that ended up “merely happen[ing] to yield evidence that concerns Stone.”

3 The government does not understand the request to include warrants that were not related to Stone or that line of investigation but that merely happened to yield evidence that concerns Stone and is being provided to him in discovery.

This is a fairly remarkable disclosure, that the government obtained warrants thinking they were getting one thing that “merely happened to yield evidence that concerns Stone.” Particularly when you consider the earlier discussion of the “multiple lines” of Mueller’s investigation, some of which have been spun off.

The Special Counsel’s investigation has involved multiple lines of inquiry. Many have been handled in the Special Counsel’s Office. But the Special Counsel has also referred a number of matters to other offices in the government for investigation.

[snip]

On March 22, 2019, the Special Counsel notified the Attorney General that he had completed his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Special Counsel, however, referred a number of matters to other offices in the Department of Justice. Those matters remain ongoing.

The filing claims, again, that this is an ongoing investigation, with stuff still being handled by “other offices and entities,” plural,

As explained, although the Special Counsel has concluded his work, the Special Counsel referred a number of matters that are ongoing and are being handled by other offices and entities. Disclosure of the warrant materials threatens the harms that courts have catalogued in holding that the First Amendment provides no right of access to search warrant materials in ongoing investigations.

Nor would it make sense to recognize a right of access automatically once any indictment has been returned. In complex investigations, such as this one, where a single warrant may have relevance to interconnected lines of investigation, that test would fail to take into account tangible investigative harms from disclosure. An indictment does not end an overall investigation, for example, when a defendant is potentially involved in activities with other subjects or targets, and the warrant in question seeks evidence bearing on that joint activity, but the defendant has been charged only with a subset of his conduct under investigation. The probability of a continuing investigation post-indictment grows when the search targets are linked to other persons of interest by ties to a single organization, common associates, or coordinated activities. Disclosure of warrant materials could reveal sources, methods, factual and legal theories, and lines of investigation extending beyond the charged conduct.

It suggests a “single warrant may have relevance to interconnected lines of investigation” (I assume those targeting Rick Gates are one example), then specifically says an indictment, like that targeting Stone, “does not end an overall investigation” perhaps because the “defendant has been charged only with a subset of his conduct under investigation” and he “is potentially involved in activities with other subjects or targets … linked to other persons of interest by ties to a single organization, common associates, or coordinated activities.”

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