WTF Community

Day 693

Updated 12/13/2018 11:51 AM PST

1/ Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. Butina acted "under direction of" a senior Russian official to influence U.S. politics as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July in an effort to establish "unofficial lines of communication" with influential Americans in the NRA and in the Republican Party under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia's central bank, which matches the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin. Butina is also expected to provide evidence against Paul Erickson, who helped her with what she called her "Diplomacy Project." Butina faces up to five years in prison but is expected to only serve six months based on "the sentencing guidelines cited as part of the plea agreement." (Washington Post / CNN / New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Politico) / NBC News)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The plot continues to thicken…

Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed.

As part of a non-prosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, admitted that “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”

The “Statement of Admitted Facts” says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment “in concert with the campaign,” and says that Pecker, Cohen, and “at least one other member of the campaign” were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the “other member” was Trump.


We’re now discovering that Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, were even more extensive and substantial than previously reported and were initiated during the campaign.

In early December, special counsel Robert Mueller, in preparation for the upcoming sentencing of Michael Flynn, submitted two memos outlining his recommended punishment for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser. The documents noted that Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, deserved no prison time for his felony because he had provided “substantial assistance” to Mueller’s investigation and several other ongoing criminal probes. And one of the memos tantalizingly noted that Flynn had aided Mueller’s “investigation concerning any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald J Trump.” The memo does not specify what information Flynn provided on this topic, but perhaps he told Mueller about the Russian contacts of a key Trump campaign official: himself.

In February 2017, the Washington Post reported that Flynn had “a series of contacts” with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in 2016 that “began before the Nov. 8 election and continued during the transition.” Kislyak confirmed to the Post that he had communicated with Flynn by text, phone, and in person. But that article—and much of the Flynn coverage—focused on Flynn’s post-election contacts with Kislyak, conversations that he lied about to the FBI and that led to his indictment. There has been no public information, via the Mueller investigation or other sources, regarding Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak during the 2016 campaign when he was Trump’s top adviser on national security matters.

Yet two Flynn associates tell Mother Jones that Flynn has informed friends and colleagues that prior to Election Day he spoke with Kislyak about how Trump could work productively with Russia if he won the presidency.

One of these Flynn associates, who each asked not to be identified, notes that Flynn said he discussed with Kislyak a grand bargain in which Moscow would cooperate with the Trump administration to resolve the Syrian conflict and Washington would end or ease up on the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. The other Flynn associate says Flynn said he had been talking to Kislyak about Syria, Iran, and other foreign policy matters that Russia and the United States could tackle together were Trump to be elected. A third Flynn associate recalls that shortly after the election, Flynn told him he had been in contact with Kislyak about Syria—but without stating whether that was before or after Election Day…

Had Flynn privately met or communicated with Kislyak during the summer or fall, it would mean Trump’s chief national security aide was secretly interacting with the representative of a foreign power as that government was mounting information and cyber warfare against the United States. Such an interaction could signal to the Vladimir Putin regime that Trump didn’t mind the Kremlin’s interference in the election and would be willing to work with Moscow despite its efforts to subvert the US election. And if Flynn held such conversations with the Russian ambassador, this could have bolstered the Kremlin’s preference for Trump over Hillary Clinton and provided Moscow with further incentive for intervening in the 2016 campaign to assist Trump—especially if there was any talk of a sanctions-for-Syria deal or other policy aims desired by Putin…

Months before he joined the Trump campaign, Flynn held at least one meeting with Kislyak. Prior to traveling to Moscow in December 2015 to attend a 10th anniversary gala dinner for RT, Russia’s English-language, government-backed television network—where Flynn sat at a table with Putin—he visited Kislyak’s home for a private chat. According to the House Intelligence Committee, this “meeting was later described by General Flynn’s son in an email to the Russian embassy as ‘very productive.’”


Trump just keeps digging himself deeper and deeper into legal jeopardy.

President Donald Trump sent off a barrage of tweets attacking his former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen on Thursday morning. In the process, he may have waived attorney-client privilege.

“I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law,” Trump wrote. “He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Joshua Block pointed out the potential issue with Trump’s defense here.

“Asserting an ‘advice of counsel’ defense generally constitutes a waiver of attorney client privilege, Block tweeted. “Maybe the materials withheld by the special master Barbara Jones will eventually be turned over to SDNY after all.


THIS is a big find…and pundits are having a hey day on it. Inauguration Funds

Behind paywall on WSJ

By Rebecca Davis O’Brien,
Rebecca Ballhaus and
Aruna Viswanatha
Dec. 13, 2018 4:27 p.m. ET

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.

The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.

Here’s the WSJ article - Easier to retrieve via Twitter :smile:

Probe looking into whether committee misspent funds and top donors gave money in exchange for access to the administration

President Trump delivered his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rebecca Davis O’Brien,
Rebecca Ballhaus and
Aruna Viswanatha
Dec. 13, 2018 4:27 p.m. ET
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.
The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.
Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.
The investigation represents another potential legal threat to people who are or were in Mr. Trump’s orbit. Their business dealings and activities during and since the campaign have led to a number of indictments and guilty pleas. Many of the president’s biggest campaign backers were involved in the inaugural fund.
The investigation partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings, according to people familiar with the matter.
In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.
The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.
The inaugural committee hasn’t been asked for records or been contacted by prosecutors, according to a lawyer close to the matter, who said: “We are not aware of any evidence the investigation the Journal is reporting actually exists.”
The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors.
Money RaisedPrivate funds raised by each of the last fiveinaugural committeesSource: Federal Election Commission
Trump(2017) Obama(2013) Obama(2009) Bush (2005)Bush (2001)$0 million $50 $100 $150
The committee raised more than double what former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. President Trump’s funds came largely from wealthy donors and corporations who gave $1 million or more—including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co. , according to Federal Election Commission filings. There is no sign that those three donors are under investigation.
Federal prosecutors have asked Richard Gates, a former campaign aide who served as the inaugural committee’s deputy chairman, about the fund’s spending and its donors, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Gates has met with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Mr. Gates, who served as deputy in the inaugural fund, in February pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. involving foreign political consulting work unrelated to the campaign. The case was brought by Mr. Mueller’s office. Mr. Gates agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in ongoing investigations.
The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack Jr., a real-estate developer and longtime friend of Mr. Trump. There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack, and he hasn’t been approached by investigators since he was interviewed by the special counsel’s office last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, asked Mr. Barrack only a handful of questions about the inaugural fund, the person said.
Mr. Mueller has also probed whether any foreign money flowed to the inaugural fund, which is prohibited from accepting foreign funds. In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, on a referral from Mr. Mueller, obtained a guilty plea from a Washington consultant who admitted he used a U.S. citizen to serve as a “straw purchaser” so that a “prominent Ukraine oligarch” could attend the inauguration. The names were never disclosed.
Manhattan federal prosecutors in recent months asked Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney for documents related to a $1 million donation he made to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Haney in early April hired Mr. Cohen, at the time serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department for a nuclear-power project, the Journal has previously reported. Mr. Haney was asked for documents related to his correspondence with members of the committee, meeting calendars and paperwork for the donation, the person said. A loan application by Mr. Haney’s company is still pending at the Energy Department.
A lawyer for Mr. Haney didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment on the investigation. A lawyer for Mr. Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Since pleading guilty to federal crimes in August, Mr. Cohen has been cooperating with federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the special counsel’s office. He was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison.
According to the inaugural fund’s tax filings, the committee’s top-paid vendor was an event-production firm led by Ms. Wolkoff called WIS Media Partners. The company, which California corporate records show was formed 45 days before the inauguration, was paid $25.8 million, the largest sum paid to a vendor.
Ms. Wolkoff is a former unpaid adviser to Mrs. Trump who also helped produce events surrounding the inauguration. Ms. Wolkoff and several partners were paid about $1.6 million of the $25.8 million, and the remainder went to subcontractors, a person familiar with Ms. Wolkoff’s work said.
It couldn’t be determined which expenses are the focus of scrutiny by federal prosecutors. The committee said in its tax documents that it spent $77 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, plus $4 million on ticketing, $9 million on travel, $4.5 million on salaries and wages, and other expenses. Mr. Barrack has said that an external audit was completed of the inaugural committee’s finances, but the organization has declined to make that audit available.
The January 2017 inaugural events included a celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, receptions, private meals and inaugural balls.
People involved in Mr. Trump’s inaugural have attributed some of the costs to the last-minute nature of the planning. Few expected Mr. Trump to win the 2016 election, leaving his camp scrambling to arrange events for the inaugural, with little time to bid for competitive contracts, they said.


Oops – posted this around the same time as @dragonfly9 above, but I’ll leave it up since it contains a summary by The Hill of the original WSJ reporting – plus a couple other observations. Shoutout to @dragonfly9! :smile:

Finally! Rachel Maddow has been hammering on this for two years. I’m sure she’ll have something to say about it on her show tonight.

Personally, I’m most interested in finding out what happened to the $26 million that the committee paid to Melania’s “party planner” friend.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking into whether President Trump’s inaugural committee misspent funds or accepted donations in exchange for access to the administration, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The Journal reported that many of the president’s biggest campaign supporters were contributors to his inaugural fund. Donating in exchange for political favors or using funds for purposes other than the inauguration could violate federal laws.

The news outlet, citing people familiar with the matter, reported that the investigation is in its early stages, and stemmed from materials obtained during an FBI raid earlier this year of longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Investigators in those raids reportedly obtained a recorded conversation between Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump who worked on the inauguration.

Wolkoff is heard expressing concern about how the committee was spending money, the Journal reported, but the news outlet could not determine when the conversation took place.

A couple things not mentioned in the article:

  • Elliott Broidy served on the Inaugural Committee. Yes, that Elliott Broidy – briber, hush money payer, money launderer, etc., etc. See his criminal time-line here.

  • Sam Patten, a prominent D.C. lobbyist, pled guilty to laundering $50,000 into the Inaugural Committee from a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch. Read about this, and Patten’s other shenanigans here.


Great job filling in more details…and posing questions on Broidy (already under investigation and more) and Patten (who has been indicted) @Keaton_James

Yes, that Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Melania’s friend who was paid $26 MILLION. (UPDATE: SEE MATT’S RECAP TODAY ON THIS WTF recap 12/13/18 - see Inaugural funds #4)

The Inaugural Fund was a separate fund… see Coal Mining interests *

I am wondering who is letting slip these kinds of details…sounds like the Federal Prosecution in New York - SDNY?! They have taken off the gloves…and giving some information up on what is being investigated currently.

More to come…:fire:


More from Vox - wow!

It says that Mueller is looking into and then we are assuming Federal Prosecutors in NY.

Read on what was raised…who was involved, and how much did Rick Gates give up.


So he’d need money — a lot of money. It’s not unusual for presidents to raise money for this purpose. Most recently, Obama raised about $53 million for his first inauguration and $43 million for his second. Trump decided to follow suit. Rather than fund the inauguration himself, the wealthiest president-elect ever decided to follow his predecessors’ lead and raise the cash from billionaires, wealthy financiers, and corporations.

So a week after the election, Trump named a murderers’ row of uberrich Republicans as “finance vice chairs” for the event. They included casino billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn (the latter of whom was later accused of sexually abusing employees), defense contractor Elliott Broidy (later involved in hush money payments to a Playboy model), and Anthony Scaramucci (later White House communications director for 10 days before resigning over an obscene interview with the New Yorker).

The man in charge of it all, as chair of the inaugural committee, was Tom Barrack. He’s a billionaire real estate investor who’s been a close friend of Trump’s for decades, and his business interests have recently been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. (The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish and the New York Times’s David Kirkpatrick have both written excellent profiles of him.) His goal, he said, was for the inauguration to have a “soft sensuality” and a “poetic cadence.”

To help with the planning and fundraising, Barrack turned to a Trump campaign aide: Rick Gates, the longtime right-hand man to Paul Manafort. (Barrack had known Manafort since the 1970s and helped convince Trump to bring him on to the campaign.)

Even at the time, the choice raised eyebrows since Manafort had been ousted from the campaign after scandal-laden stories about his work for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine. But according to a November 2016 report by Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News, Gates became instrumental in fundraising and planning. Isikoff quoted a source calling Gates the “shadow” chair of the inauguration and Barrack’s “chief deputy.”

(Manafort and Gates have both since agreed to plea deals with special counsel Robert Mueller. Both men agreed to cooperate with government investigators, but Mueller’s team concluded that Manafort breached that agreement by lying to them.)
Trump’s inauguration raised an incredible amount of money

In the end, the inauguration crowd wasn’t exactly the largest in history — but the inaugural fundraising certainly was. Barrack, Gates, and the team raked in more than $106 million, an astonishing sum that doubled the previous record (set by Obama in 2009).

The more you gave, the more exclusive events you got access to. Among other perks, it took $1 million to get you into the “Leadership Luncheon” at Trump’s hotel, $500,000 for a dinner with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and $250,000 for a candlelight dinner at Union Station with the Trumps and Pences, according to a document obtained by the Center for Public Integrity’s Carrie Levine.

You can read through the full donor list at, but among those willing to fork over such sums were:

Finance industry big shots: Robert Mercer (whom the New Yorker later dubbed “the reclusive hedge-fund tycoon behind the Trump presidency”), Paul Singer (another hedge fund billionaire who funds the Washington Free Beacon website, which, oddly enough, had paid the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump during the primaries), and Steve Cohen (whose hedge fund group was closed down due to insider trading allegations) all donated $1 million each.
Corporate America: The inaugural committee raised $2 million from AT&T; $1 million each from Bank of America, Boeing, Dow Chemical, Pfizer, and Qualcomm; and at least $500,000 each from JPMorgan Chase, FedEx, Chevron, Exxon, Fidelity, Intel, Citgo, and BP America.
Secretive conservative groups: The American Action Network, a dark-money nonprofit that’s spent tens of millions on elections since 2010, gave $1 million. Another million came in from a mysterious shell company called “BH Group, LLC,” and its true source remained mysterious for more than a year. Only this year did journalist Robert Maguire trace that contribution to a group tied to the conservative legal movement and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo, who’s found a prominent role advising Trump on judicial nominations.

And then there were those donors with major ties to Russia and other foreign countries, who reportedly caught Mueller’s interest.

ABC News reported that Mueller was questioning witnesses “about millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee” — specifically about “donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.”
The Associated Press reported that Mueller’s investigators interviewed inauguration chair Tom Barrack. The AP’s sources, however, gave conflicting accounts on what Barrack was asked about. One said he was asked only about Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Another claimed the questioning included “financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.”
In June, another ABC News report stated that Mueller’s investigators wanted to know why several billionaires with “deep ties to Russia” got access to “exclusive, invitation-only receptions” during the inauguration.

What happened to the money?

Beyond the many questions about money collected by the inaugural committee, there have long been many questions about money going out of it.

In Marritz’s great piece on this topic for WNYC and ProPublica, several people involved in previous inaugurations were quoted expressing puzzlement over how Trump’s team could have possibly spent more than $100 million for what they got.

Unlike a campaign, the inaugural committee isn’t legally required to disclose very much about its spending. In its nonprofit tax form, the committee is required to break down its expenses in broad categories and to list its five biggest vendors. But it is not required to explain every line item.

In any case, according to the tax form, about half the money — more than $50 million — went to just two vendors. $25.8 million went to WIS Media Partners, an event production firm started by a now-former adviser to Melania Trump. Another $25 million went to Hargrove Inc. for “event production.” What these firms did with those massive sums of cash is unknown.

That leaves about $50 million remaining. From that, about $10 million in total went to another three vendors, $4.6 million was paid out as salaries, and $5 million was left over and given out as grants. But where tens of millions more went remains a mystery, beyond the broadest of categories given on the disclosure forms.

For now, whether this was sloppy financial mismanagement or something shadier is unclear. But if there is anyone who might know where much of the money went, it’s Rick Gates. And whatever he knows, federal prosecutors now know too.



Another part of Don Jr’s testimony may be called into question now with Butina’s cooperation?

On the left: @SenBlumenthal’s tweet raises the question quite directly about Don Jr.

On the right: A part of Don Jr’s testimony about his meeting with Butina’s boss Torshin.

Read the two attactments…one from Sen Blumenthal regarding Junior’s testimony and his cotact with Torshin at a NRA conference. The second is Junior’s actual testimony…

Ooops and someone has been wiretapped and Butina has flipped.

Spanish police give FBI wiretaps of Putin ally Alexander Torshin, who met with Trump Jr. - Business Insider


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