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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of April 1 – 7, 2018

Mueller Investigation

Mueller has informed Trump’s attorneys that the president is still under investigation, describing Trump as a subject – but not yet a target – of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

  • “Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.”
  • Experts believe this could be a strategy to make Trump feel comfortable enough to sit for an interview with Mueller. Indeed, Trump has reportedly expressed relief that he is not a “target” of the investigation, seemingly not understanding how he could easily still become one.
  • Trump has even “begun the initial steps of preparing for a possible interview with the special counsel.”

Mueller also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, which will be separate from the report on Russia’s activities. Mueller is aiming for an early summer release of the report.

Mueller’s team is stopping Russian oligarchs as they travel in the U.S. and questioning them about their financial involvement in the 2016 election.

  • Specifically, Mueller has been asking if wealthy Russians funnelled money directly or indirectly into the Trump campaign. Foreign nationals are prohibited under campaign finance laws from donating to US political campaigns.
  • Mueller is also looking at two other angles: (1) Did Russians invest in companies or think tanks that have political action committees that donated to the campaign? (2) Did Russians use “straw donors” (Americans with citizenship) “as a vessel through which they could pump money into the campaign and inauguration fund?”
  • We are seeing a pattern of Mueller’s team using search warrants to access electronic devices while taking subjects by surprise. Aside from the Russian oligarchs, we know Mueller has used this tactic on George Nader and Trump associate/infowars contributor Ted Malloch.

Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the house of an associate of the Trump Organization who was involved in overseas deals with Trump’s company recently.

  • They had subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, reportedly questioning the associate extensively about Michael Cohen – Cohen has been involved in Trump Org deals in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Mueller has evidence that Erik Prince lied during his testimony on Seychelles meeting. Nader has reportedly testified that Prince knew he was meeting a Russian ally of Putin, while Prince claimed it was a chance encounter when he was interviewed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

While at a Chicago nightclub, Papadopoulos allegedly told an acquaintance that Sessions encouraged him to find out anything he could about the hacked Hillary Clinton emails. He first learned of these emails from Joseph Mifsud, a professor with high-level Russian contacts. Sessions has previously said that he doesn’t have a clear memory of the event or what Papadopoulos said.

  • Papadopoulos was at the nightclub with his wife, Simona Mangiante, who “insisted that he would not have discussed his interactions with Sessions because he is not allowed to discuss the details of the case. Asked to clarify whether it was Wilson’s account that was untrue or the underlying story about Sessions, Mangiante said the only thing she wanted to say on the record was ‘no comment’.”

Alex van der Zwaan, the Dutch lawyer who lied to Mueller’s team, has been sentenced to 30 days in prison and hit with a $20,000 fine.

  • Van der Zwaan is also the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan. He admitted to misleading the FBI about his discussions with Rick Gates and “Person A,” believed to be Russian military intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. He claims to have lied to protect his job.

Mueller has been asking questions about a private consulting firm based in D.C. that has worked closely with the UAE and George Nader.

  • The firm is called Wikistrat. Questions also involve two of its co-founders, Joel Zamel and Daniel Green. We know that Zamel has “informally met” with Mueller’s team already and was asked about his relationship with George Nader. He reportedly has built a “close relationship” with top UAE national security officials.
  • “Wikistrat was contracted by the U.A.E. beginning in 2015 to conduct war game scenarios on Islamist political movements in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. both entered the Yemeni civil war in early 2015.” The UAE has been aggressively courting the Trump administration to gain support for the war and further isolate Qatar, also a U.S. ally.

Mueller has reportedly asked about Roger Stone’s links with Julian Assange during testimony given before the grand jury. In an August 4th, 2016 email to Sam Nunberg, Stone claimed to have “dined with Julian Assange” the previous evening.

  • In the days following the email, Stone repeatedly asserted he had contact with Wikileaks. For example, on August 8th he recorded a video in which he stated, “I actually have communicated with Assange.” Less than a week later, Stone sent his infamous John Podesta tweet – “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary”
  • In March 2017, Stone tweeted that he had a “back channel” to WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign. However, he deleted it 40 minutes later.

Court documents filed on Thursday revealed that Mueller has served Paul Manafort with seven new search warrants in March, against various properties, a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices. Additionally it states that the search involves information related to “ongoing investigations that are not the subject of either of the current prosecutions involving Manafort.”

Also in the court documents was a classified August 2, 2017 memo from Rod Rosenstein to Mueller, in which the DOJ authorized Mueller to investigate Manafort’s collusion with the Russian government and Manafort’s payments from Ukrainian politicians. This is important because Manafort was arguing that the charges against him should be thrown out due to Mueller overstepping his authority.

Russian interference

During a March 20th phone call, Trump invited Putin to the White House for a meeting in “the not-too-distant future.” We learned of the offer from a Putin aide; Press Secretary Sarah Sanders subsequently confirmed the report. It was during the same call that Trump congratulated Putin on his reelection and failed to condemn the attack on Sergei Skripal and daughter.

New sanctions were announced that freeze the U.S. assets of seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials. It is expected that – if enforced properly – these sanctions will have a stronger effect than previous iterations. Included in the sanctions are:

  • Oleg Deripaska, billionaire aluminum tycoon and close ally of Putin. Just weeks before Trump accepted the 2016 presidential nomination, Manafort offered in an email to provide Deripaska with private briefings on the campaign. In 2017, Deripaska offered to cooperate with congressional investigators looking into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, but only on the condition that he be given full immunity from prosecution. Congress refused.
  • Kirill Shamalov, an oil and gas exploration tycoon who got rich after marrying Putin’s daughter. He reportedly lost 50% of his wealth as a ‘punishment’ for separating with her in January 2018.
  • Suleyman Kerimov, a Russian businessman who was arrested in Nice, France last year and is under investigation there for tax evasion. He allegedly brought millions of euros into France in suitcases and purchased several luxury residences on the French Riviera via shell companies, triggering the investigation.
  • The 17 senior Russian officials whose assets will be frozen include Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Federation Security Council; Vladimir Kolokoltsev, minister of internal affairs and general police of the Russian Federation; and Evgeniy Shkolov, an aide to Putin.

Buzzfeed News obtained private Twitter direct messages between journalist Emma Best and the Wikileaks official account, known to be used by Assange. In the messages, Wikileaks seeks to obtain the hacked Democratic emails directly from Guccifer 2.0, now known to be a Russian intelligence operative.

  • This contradicts Assange’s claim that Seth Rich was the true source of the hacked emails.
  • One message is particularly interesting in hindsight: “[T]hese other media groups are very likely to take a stupid initial angle,” WikiLeaks said in one message sent Aug. 12 at 9:14 p.m., adding that other news outlets would focus less on the content of the leaks than how they came to be. “‘We don’t know if its true. Possibly russians who knows blah blah blah.’”


Felix Sater was interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee for 7 hours on Wednesday, behind closed doors.

  • Felix Sater is a former business associate of Donald Trump’s. He was involved in a proposed plan to build a “Trump Tower Moscow” during the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Sater also claims that for the past two decades he has served as a high-level intelligence asset for the DIA, CIA and the FBI – mainly helping arrest mafia members, but also assisting in the pursuit of top terrorists. It’s important to note these alleged actions were not completely altruistic; he took on his role as an informant to get himself out of extended time in jail and he admittedly found it to be in his advantage to have friends in law enforcement.

This week Mark Zuckerberg publicly testifies before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on April 10th and the House Energy and Commerce Committees on April 11th.


A watchdog group is suing the Trump administration over its refusal to disclose information that would reveal the extent of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s influence over Jared Kushner.

  • This stems from reports the prince has told allies that Kushner is “in [his] pocket.” The prince further stated that Kushner revealed to him Saudi leaders who were disloyal, resulting in their arrest and perhaps torture.
  • Why is this related to the Russia probe? Russia has been forging close ties to Saudi Arabia in the past two years. At least part of this is known to involve the Trump administration – Flynn reportedly backed a joint U.S.-Russian plan to build nuclear reactors across the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia.

U.S.prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into a Florida factory that makes shotguns modeled after the iconic AK-47 assault rifle (Kalashnikov) and is run by executives with ties to top allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is unclear which business practices are under investigation.

This is one man’s claim, and not under oath, so I don’t want to give it too much credit. A Russian lawyer who represents intelligence officers arrested for the publishing of the Steele dossier says Putin has “a lot” of dirt on Trump, particularly from Trump’s visit to Moscow.

The Belorussian/Russian sex coaches in a Thai jail are still in the detention center. They claim to have evidence that Russia influenced the 2016 election in Trump’s favor and are willing to trade it to the U.S. in exchange for their safety.

  • The FBI attempted to talk with them, but the Thai authorities would not allow it. No further contact is known.
  • They have apparently given copies of tapes, presumably with their stories recorded, to associates with instructions to release in the event that they are killed or go missing.

To note…

On Monday, Trump tweeted a defense of Sinclair Broadcasting Group – a conservative company that owns almost 200 local news stations across the country.

  • A study out of Emory University [PDF] found that “when Sinclair buys a local station, its local news program begin to cover more national and less local politics, the coverage becomes more conservative, and viewership actually falls.”
  • Sinclair forces their anchors to read scripts warning viewers of fake news (the kind Trump warns of) and mandates running pre-taped segments by conservative figures like Boris Epshteyn. During Epshteyn’s segment, he condemned cable news anchors for their use of “curse words” when reporting on President Trump’s description of Haiti and much of Africa as “shithole” countries.
  • Trump’s tweet is seen as ‘green lighting’ the merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media, which would result in Sinclair reaching 72% of U.S. households (the congressionally imposed nationwide audience cap is 39%). FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has already revived a loophole to allow Sinclair to grow larger than it should be allowed to.
  • In 2016, Jared Kushner told business associates that Trump’s campaign struck a deal with Sinclair for more favorable coverage in exchange for access to Trump and his campaign.

I just want to include this because of how galling it is. Trump tweeted at 3:52 pm (PST) that the fire was out and “very confined.” He bragged that Trump Tower is a “well built building”. Here’s the problem: The NYFD at 3:56 pm (PST) raised the fire to a 4 alarm fire because it was still burning so fiercely. The fire was finally considered under control at 5 pm (PST), over an hour after Trump’s tweet. Also, consider that the high residential units (such as floor 50) have no sprinklers and a 67 year old man was dying while Trump was bragging about the building. In fact, years ago Trump fought against a law that would require developers such as himself to install sprinklers in older high rises (like Trump Tower). Our president, ladies and gentlemen.