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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Aug 12 – 18, 2018

Too long; didn’t read section

Tl;dr Good news: WH Counsel Don McGahn is cooperating with Mueller. Mueller has even more evidence for Manafort’s next trial in DC. Mueller is closing in on Roger Stone, who may be a target of prosecution. Papadopoulos is being sentenced up to 6 months in jail for lying to the FBI. Michael Cohen is under federal investigation for bank and tax fraud. Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy is under federal investigation for attempting to sell influence with the Trump administration.

Tl;dr Bad News: Trump revoked former CIA director Brennan’s security clearance and plans to pull the clearances from other potential witnesses in Mueller’s probe. Sen. Rand Paul is asking Trump to lift sanctions against top Russian officials so they can visit the U.S. later this year. Trump insists he can override Congress and recognize Russia’s claim on Crimea, if he so chooses. FBI agent Peter Strzok was fired for sending anti-Trump text messages. The Treasury Dept. has been stalling the Senate Intel Committee’s investigation of Russian interference and collusion.

Mueller Investigation

McGahn cooperating. White House Counsel Don McGahn has cooperated “extensively” with Mueller’s investigation, sitting for at least three voluntary interviews totaling 30 hours. Sources report McGahn discussed multiple episodes involved in potential obstruction of justice charges, including Trump’s firing of Comey and pressuring of Sessions to revoke his own recusal from Russia probes.

  • McGahn and his lawyer reportedly believed Trump was setting McGahn up to take the fall for any acts of obstruction. To counter this, the pair planned to “do as much as possible to cooperate” with Mueller’s investigation.
  • After the NYT published this story, Trump defensively tweeted that he “allowed” McGahn to cooperate with Mueller for “transparency.” However, the NYT also stated that Trump “wrongly believed that Mr. McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators.”

Revoking clearances. Last week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that Trump is revoking former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance. The original White House statement to do so was dated July 26, three days after Sanders first mentioned Trump was thinking about revoking clearances.

  • It is important to note that Trump is not just pulling the clearances of his critics, he is in fact attacking witnesses in Mueller’s probe. Trump himself admitted the reason he withdrew Brennan’s clearance was the “rigged witch hunt” that Brennan once “led.” He added, “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”
    • By revoking Brennan’s clearance, Trump has prevented Brennan from accessing information he could potentially use to testify against the president and/or his administration. This information could be as simple as Brennan’s own notes, now out of his reach. Maddow had a great segment on this.
  • The other people Sander’s listed as targeted by Trump are also potential witnesses against Trump on an obstruction of justice charge: former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, ex-NSA Director Michael Hayden, former national security advisor Susan Rice, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, ex-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
    • On Friday, Trump said he expects to revoke the clearance of Bruce Ohr “very quickly.” Ohr’s wife worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Christopher Steele, and Ohr himself was in contact with Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS.
  • From the Washington Post: Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, suggested Trump’s revocation of security clearances could be construed as retaliation against witnesses. “It’s a federal crime — §1513 if anyone wants to look it up — to retaliate against someone for providing truthful information to law enforcement,” he said. “So he’s getting closer and closer to really dangerous ground here.”

Manafort trial update. The jury in the trial of Paul Manafort is currently in deliberations, “weighing hundreds of pieces of evidence and an 18-count indictment.” Despite the judge receiving death threats, the jury is not sequestered and went home for the weekend early on Friday.

  • On Friday, Trump told the press that he thinks “think the whole Manafort trial is very sad…it’s a very sad day for our country.” It’s concerning that the jury is not sequestered at this time, when Trump is making comments that could amount to jury tampering. While jurors are instructed to ignore all outside information about the case, we all know that news outlets spread Trump’s words far and wide. It would be hard to avoid.
  • Mueller’s team has three times the amount of evidence to present in Manafort’s next trial, set to begin September 17 in Washington D.C.

Closing in on Stone. Legal experts say Mueller’s actions signal that he is closing in Roger Stone. Numerous associates and friends of Stone have been interviewed or called to testify before the grand jury, but not Stone himself. This is seen “as a sign that Stone is a subject, if not a target, of the investigation.” To illustrate the point, at least eight people close to Stone have been contacted: Sam Nunberg, Ted Malloch, Michael Caputo, Andrew Miller, John Kakanis, Jason Sullivan, Kristin Davis, and Randy Credico. The following are new developments surrounding Stone.

  • Randy Credico, a radio host and political satirist, has been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury on September 7. Stone claims that Credico functioned as an intermediary between Julian Assange and himself in 2016, passing along information about plans to leak hacked emails related to Hillary Clinton. Mueller’s team is also interested in threatening emails Stone sent to Credico earlier this year. In response to an interview in which Credico disputed Stone’s version of events, Stone sent an email saying: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die cock sucker.”
  • Mother Jones reported that Roger Stone’s super-PAC, the Committee to Restore America’s Greatness, paid the mother of ‘Manhattan Madam’ Kristin Davis $5,000 in July 2016. With Mueller looking into both Kristin Davis’s work for Stone and the activities of political committees and groups in 2016, Mother Jones suggests this payment may be significant. Davis testified before the grand jury two weeks ago; she claims the focus was on “whether or not any collusion happened with Russia.”

Papadopoulos sentencing. Mueller recommended a 0-6 month jail sentence for George Papadopoulos, a former Trump adviser, for lying to the FBI, adding that “his lies negatively affected the FBI’s Russia investigation, & prevented the FBI from effectively identifying & confronting witnesses in a timely fashion.”

Michael Cohen

Bank fraud. Building on last week’s piece by the WSJ, on Sunday (the 19th), the New York Times reported that Cohen is under federal investigation for bank and tax fraud. Authorities are looking at over $20 million in loans obtained by taxi business Cohen owns.

  • Also in the NYT article, investigators examining Cohen’s potential violation of campaign finance laws are considering filing charges by the end of August. These violations are related to the hush payments Cohen arranged to hide Trump’s affairs with women, including Stormy Daniels.

Let’s also note how quiet Cohen himself has been lately…

Rudy Giuliani

Meet the Press admissions. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, appeared on Meet the Press Sunday morning and admitted that the Trump Tower meeting “was originally for the purpose of getting information about Clinton.” When Chuck Todd pointed out that “in itself is attempted collusion,” Giuliani retorted that despite the “original intention of the meeting, it turned out to be a meeting about another subject and it was not pursued at all.”

  • Giuliani then attempted to explain why Trump shouldn’t be interviewed by Mueller, saying “Truth isn’t the truth.” He maintained that there are different versions of the truth and Mueller will use his version to charge Trump with perjury.

More Russian connections

Russia’s Rand Paul. While on Fox News, Sen. Rand Paul told Laura Ingraham that he will ask Trump to lift sanctions against top Russian officials so they can visit the U.S. later this year. Paul visited Moscow earlier this month and claims Russian leaders agreed to continue talks in the Washington D.C.

  • Reminder: While in Moscow, Rand Paul met with Sergey Kislyak, a key player in the election interference investigations. Paul said he delivered a letter for Trump to Putin, but the White House contradicted him, claiming that Paul actually asked Trump for a letter of introduction to Putin.

Russia’s Crimea. Last week, Trump signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, but didn’t pass up the opportunity to voice his dissent. In an accompanying 15-page signing statement, Trump outlined numerous provisions he claimed intruded on his powers as commander-in-chief, including four of the eight Russia provisions. One of these is a ban on spending Defense money on “any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea.” Trump essentially asserts he can override Congress and determine himself if Crimea is to be recognized as belonging to Russia.

  • Trump also objected to “a requirement he report to Congress on whether he has raised the topic of the New START Treaty with Moscow,” a “ban on military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia,” and “a mandate he report whether Russia is breaching the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.”

Trump staffer lobbying for Russia. The Daily Beast reported that Daniel Gelbinovich, a “low-level” Trump campaign staffer, has been working to shield high profile Russians from U.S. sanctions since the election. After press inquiries, Gelbinovich admitted working for a private equity firm to conduct outreach on behalf of Roman Abramovich, one of Russia’s wealthiest men and subject to heavy sanctions. However, two days after publication, “Gelbinovich backtracked and said his statement was inaccurate” and should have said Abramovich “was NOT a client.”


Strzok fired. The FBI’s second in command, Deputy Director David Bowdich, fired agent Peter Strzok for sending anti-Trump text messages to fellow agent Lisa Page while working on the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in 2016. Strzok’s lawyer suggesting a political motivation behind the firing, stating that the director of the FBI office that typically handles disciplinary measures decided Strzok should only be demoted and suspended for 60-days. It is unusual that the normal disciplinary process is not followed.

  • Trump seemed to confirm a political motivation in his tweets Monday following the news of Strzok’s firing, asking if Mueller’s “Witch Hunt” would be dropped now that Strzok is gone. Trump added that he isn’t obstructing, saying “I just fight back!” In another tweet, Trump argued that the “Crooked Hillary Clinton sham investigation,” which Strzok worked on, “should be properly redone!”
  • Peter Strzok set up a GoFundMe page after his firing to raise money for his legal expenses. While he initially sought $150,000, the total far surpassed that with over $325,000 donated in one day.


Treasury stalling Russia probe. Buzzfeed obtained inside emails from staff at the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that reveal the Treasury Dept. has been stalling and withholding key documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in its role investigating possible Russian collusion and interference. Additionally, “Treasury rejected the committee’s request for help from one of its experts,” which staff acknowledged in private would be essential to following the complex financial trails.

  • The emails reveal FinCEN personnel in 2017 discussed “whether Treasury was trying to thwart the committee’s investigation” and “questioned whether they had the proper legal authority to share confidential information about US persons with committee staffers.”
  • Interviews with FinCEN staff contradict Chair Richard Burr’s claim that the committee has received every financial document it has requested. Sources report FinCEN personnel were “initially instructed not to hand over financial documents on certain individuals” and they still “insist” some requested records have not been turned over.

Hacking in CA-48. The campaign of Dr. Hans Keirstead, a Democratic opponent of Putin’s favorite congressman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, was hit with repeated hacking attempts over the past year. Some of the methods used to attack Keirstead are similar to those used against Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016.

  • The first attack occurred in August 2017 with a phishing attempt that successfully tricked Keirstead into entering his company password in a fake Microsoft Office website. Luckily, Keirstead quickly realized his error and secured his company’s email system. Then, in December, hackers carried out multiple brute force attempts to access the campaign’s website, trying over 130,000 different username-password combination in a month-long period. Finally, in January, there were multiple attempts to access the campaign’s Twitter account and Keirstead’s company, again.
  • Keirstead ultimately placed 3rd in California’s top-two system. He has endorsed Democrat Harley Rhouda, who finished 2nd place, to face Rohrabacher (1st place) in November.

Nelson vindicated. Democratic Senator of Florida, Bill Nelson, claimed nearly two weeks ago that Russian hackers had successfully penetrated the voting systems in some counties of Florida. His Republican opponent, Rick Scott, and various outlets criticized Nelson, arguing he was wrong. Now, sources tell NBC that “there is a classified basis for Nelson’s assertion.” Unfortunately, no more has been revealed.


Broidy under investigation. The DOJ is investigating whether Elliott Broidy, a prominent Republican fundraiser, attempted to “sell his influence with the Trump administration by offering to deliver U.S. government actions for foreign officials in exchange for tens of millions of dollars.” The foreign countries we know he lobbied on behalf of include China and Malaysia.

  • Mueller has reportedly asked at least one witness about Broidy’s business dealings. Broidy is also connected to Michael Cohen through a $1.6 million hush payment to a Playboy model he allegedly had a sexual affair with. Recently, some have speculated that Broidy was in fact covering for Donald Trump.

Voter suppression in Georgia. The election board of Randolph County, Georgia, is proposing to close seven out of the county’s nine polling locations, including one in a precinct made up of roughly 97% black voters. These polling locations were open for the primaries, but with Secretary of State and Republican Brian Kemp facing a tough campaign for Governor against Stacy Abrams (who is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor), the push to suppress the black vote is in full swing.

  • Slate: “As whites cease to be the majority in more and more counties, Republicans have clung to power by disenfranchising minority voters…the election board revealed that the move had been encouraged by Mike Malone, an associate of Kemp’s. Malone, who attended the meeting, explained that Kemp—who now claims that the poll closures are a bad idea—had asked him to go around the state and “recommend polling place closures” to various counties.”
  • The ACLU has filed a formal protest with the board of elections and “some activists will try to stop the plan by using a state law that forbids the closure of voting sites if 20 percent of the registered voters in the affected precinct object to the change.”

To note…

Resistance fakes. Another popular #resistance Twitter account has been revealed to be a fake. “Mr. Smith,” @GuardianRover, claimed to be a former intelligence operative and Delta Force soldier with inside information about Trump and his collusion with Russia. In reality, “Mr. Smith” is a gamer and Trump supporter in Seattle with no background in national security or intelligence. When the person behind the account, Justin Hendrix (not the same Justin Hendrix as another popular Twitter account, @justinhendrix), found out that his identity was close to being revealed, he deleted the @GuardianRover account.

West Virginia takeover. The elected West Virginia Supreme Court has been eradicated and will be replaced by Republicans, despite previously leaning 3-2 toward Democrats. The justices came under fire last year for spending more than many thought appropriate for renovations. Democrats in the legislation pushed for action at the time, but Republicans “dragged their feet.” Until now. The Republican-controlled legislature voted to impeach all five justices.

  • Why wait so long? Because there is a rule in West Virginia that “if a justice leaves office at least 84 days before the next general election, voters will have the opportunity to replace her in that election. But if a justice leaves office less than 84 days before the next general election, the governor appoints a replacement who will serve for nearly two years—in this case, until May 2020.” August 14, 2018 was exactly 84 days until the November election. The W.V. House passed the articles of impeachment on August 13th minutes before midnight.
  • Republican Gov. Jim Justice can now appoint new justices for the entire court (minus one, because Justice Robin Davis resigned to prevent the GOP from choosing her replacement), with no requirement that they are of the same party as the incumbent. Welcome to the GOP’s West Virginia Supreme Court takeover.