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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Aug 26 – Sept 1, 2018

Too long; didn’t read section

Sam Patten, a former associate of Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to failing to register in the U.S. as a foreign agent – he funneled money from Russia/Ukraine to Trump’s inaugural committee. Feds are investigating suspicious transactions made from the Russian embassy to Russia diplomats days after Trump’s election & inauguration. George Papadopoulos sentencing document states Trump and Sessions were supportive of a Trump-Putin summit during the campaign, contradicting Sessions’ sworn testimony. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will reportedly not commit to recuse himself from Trump or Mueller-related matters.

The DOJ and the FBI worked together between 2014-2016 to try to turn Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska into an informant. Christopher Steele told Bruce Ohr that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump ‘over a barrel’ and that Carter Page had met with higher-level Russian officials than previously acknowledged. A State Department unit created two years ago to fight Russian disinformation campaigns still has not received the funding dedicated by Congress in 2016. A new poll revealed 60% of Americans disapprove of Trump, while 63% of Americans support Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller Investigation

Another foreign agent. Sam Patten, a former associate of Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty to failing to register in the U.S. as a foreign agent while lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. One of the charges Patten admitted to was funneling foreign money to Trump’s inaugural committee.

  • Patten’s Ukrainian oligarch client wished to attend Trump’s inauguration, but could not buy tickets with foreign money. To get around the restriction, Patten used a “straw” buyer to purchase the tickets.
  • The case was referred to the U.S. attorney’s office in DC by Mueller’s office. As part of the plea deal, Patten agreed to cooperate as a witness in Mueller’s investigation.
  • Patten previously worked on microtargeting voters for Cambridge Analytica during the 2014 midterm elections. Patten also has close connections with Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s longtime fixer in Ukraine suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence.

Suspicious transactions. Buzzfeed obtained more details on two of “dozens” of suspicious financial transactions by Russian diplomats made in 2016-2017. The first was a $120,000 payment to then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak 10 days after the 2016 election. The second was an attempt to withdraw $150,000 in cash just five days after Trump’s inauguration, which was ultimately blocked.

  • The first transaction of $120,000 was marked “payroll” from the Russian embassy to Kislyak. He deposited the check into his Citibank account 10 days after the election and wired the money to his Russian account. While the check was described as Kislyak’s 2016 salary in a lump sum, alarms were raised because it was in fact “more than twice as large as any the embassy had given Kislyak in the past two years.” His 2014 and 2015 salary was around $50,000.
  • The Russian embassy asked to withdraw $150,000 cash on January 25th, 2017, days after Trump’s inauguration. Typically, the embassy only took out $30,000 in cash each month. The Citibank manager was suspicious that they were asking for such a large amount. When asked, embassy officials said it “was going to be used to pay the salaries of employees who had been transferred out of America in December 2016.” Obama had recently expelled 35 Russian spies. The Citibank officer asked for names of the individuals who would be receiving the money and questioned why people in Russia needed cash taken out in America. Embassy officials never responded and the matter was eventually dropped.
  • Buzzfeed’s previous reporting on the subject detailed other suspicious transactions involving the Russian embassy, “including a $29,000 wire transfer to the embassy’s US bank account to “finance election campaign of 2016”; $325,000 in payments to the Russian Cultural Centre in Washington; and $2.4 million paid to small home-improvement companies controlled by a Russian immigrant living in Virginia.”
  • Kislyak is all over the Trump-Russia investigations. “After failing to disclose during his confirmation hearings a meeting with Kislyak, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, discussed with Kislyak setting up a line of communication at the Russian Embassy. And Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about multiple calls to Kislyak during the transition.” Kislyak was also in the Oval Office with Trump and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov the day after Trump fired James Comey. Trump revealed classified Israeli intelligence and bragged about firing Comey, whom he called “crazy” and “a real nutjob.”

Papadopoulos update. Former policy adviser George Papadopoulos decided to stick to his plea deal with Mueller after weeks of his wife casting doubt on the agreement. In his sentencing document, released later Friday, Papadopoulos admitted to lying to the FBI and asked for leniency. Additionally, his lawyers laid out significant accusations against Trump and Sessions: when George told campaign officials he could arrange a summit between Trump and Putin, “ Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.”

  • Papadopoulos’ statement contradicts Sessions’ sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, where the AG said that he “pushed back” on the prospect of a summit.
  • Prosecutors are asking the judge to sentence Papadopoulos to up to six months in jail. Papadopoulos is requesting a year of probation, which he has already served – thus, he would be free. His sentencing is scheduled for September 7.

Manafort trial. Paul Manafort filed a motion to change the venue of his upcoming second trial from Washington D.C. to Roanoke, Virginia. The reason? His lawyers say he won’t get a fair trial due to the “heightened pretrial publicity” and the political preferences of D.C. residents.

  • As evidence, they cite the result of the 2016 election: In D.C., 90.9% of voters chose Clinton over Trump, whereas in Roanoke City 56.1% chose Clinton over Trump. When compared to the wider Roanoke County area, Trump’s lead widened to 61.5 points to Clinton’s 33.5.
  • Manafort previously tried to move his first trial to Roanoke and was denied. The presiding judge in his second trial, Amy Berman Jackson, “said that the District Court in D.C. has heard cases that sparked national interest before, potentially implying that she may follow Ellis’ lead and deny the request.”

Manafort plea? The Wall Street Journal reported that Manafort had attempted to reach a plea deal on charges against him in his upcoming second trial, but negotiations broke down. The talks occurred when the jury in his first trial was deliberating. It is unclear exactly what issues led to the termination of discussions.

Giuliani’s admission. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, admitted his true goal is and has been to undermine Mueller’s investigation. In a profile by the New York Times, Giuliani stated “with evident satisfaction” that “Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is a little ahead of the game…So I think we’ve done really well.”

  • As Aaron Blake of WaPo sums up nicely: “Giuliani isn’t just saying that the investigation is illegitimate…He’s admitting that job No. 1 is to undermine the man in charge of it. It’s the end that justifies all the unholy means. It’s the thing that makes him a good lawyer for his client..”

Kavanaugh recusal. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will reportedly not commit to recuse himself from Trump or Mueller-related matters, “including a possible constitutional fight over a subpoena of the president.” His confirmation hearing is set to begin Tuesday, September 4.

  • Furthermore, documents from Kavanaugh’s time as a lawyer in the Bush administration show he believes there are “constitutional problems” with limits on campaign contributions to political candidates.

McGahn exit. Trump tweeted that White House Counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position this fall, “shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.” While the prospect of his exit has been discussed previously in the media, McGahn was reportedly unaware that Trump planned to tweet about it and “was surprised.”

  • The announcement comes after Trump’s legal team was surprised to learn that McGahn had spent 30 hours providing interviews for Mueller’s investigation. Trump and McGahn have often come to odds; McGahn opposed Trump pardoning Paul Manafort and threatened to resign when Trump asked him to fire Mueller last year.
  • McGahn himself has stated he hopes Emmett Flood will succeed him, but the Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump is interviewing Pat Cipollone as a replacement. Cipollone is a former Justice Department attorney who practices commercial litigation in D.C.
  • Surprisingly, the NYT reported that last year Trump “asked Rob Porter, then the staff secretary, several times last year if he would be willing to take over for Mr. McGahn.” Porter did not take the job and was eventually ousted over accusations of spousal abuse.

Confession? Thursday morning, Trump (accidentally?) admitted to trying to fire both Mueller and Jeff Sessions by tweeting: “I am very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Don McGahn as White House Counsel! I liked Don, but he was NOT responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions. So much Fake Reporting and Fake News!” Trump has previously denied trying the fire Mueller, but there has been no reporting that McGahn, specifically, stopped Trump from firing Sessions, so it is not clear what report he is referring to there.

Holt accusation. Also Thursday morning, Trump tweeted an unfounded accusation against NBC’s Lester Holt, saying, “When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!” This refers to the interview where Trump admitted to firing Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump provided no evidence to support his accusation.

  • The Holt tape may likely be key to Mueller’s obstruction of justice probe. Trump said in the Holt interview, “regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”


Flipping Russians. The New York Times reported that the Justice Department and the FBI worked together between 2014-2016 to try to turn Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska into an informant. At first, they only hoped to get information on Russian organized crime. After Trump announced his candidacy and warning signs began to appear, the agents and lawyers wanted Deripaska to shed some light of possible Russian aid to Trump’s campaign.

  • Involved in this effort were two men that have been the target of vicious attacks by Trump: Bruce Ohr and Christopher Steele. The two first met to discuss flipping Deripaska seven months before Trump announced his presidency, undermining any accusation that the two were conspiring against Trump. However, the two men knew each other since the mid-2000s, when Steele was in MI6.
  • While Ohr was one of many representing the U.S. government, Steele was involved as an independent actor, “[serving] as an intermediary between the Americans and the Russian oligarchs they were seeking to cultivate.” Steele had built up a large amount of information and significant contacts after retiring and opening a business intelligence firm.
  • FBI agents turned up announced at Deripaska’s New York home in September 2016 to question him about the Kremlin’s connections to Paul Manafort, who previously worked with Deripaska. Reportedly, Deripaska denied Manafort had links to high-level Russian officials. Efforts to turn him into an informant were ultimately unsuccessful.
  • Ohr and Steele met for breakfast in the summer of 2016, where Steele told Ohr about his work on the Trump-Russia dossier. Reminder: The investigation into Russian collusion was started by George Papadopoulos drunkenly chatting up an Australian diplomat, not by the dossier. Additionally, the FBI did not first receive the dossier from Ohr.

Bruce Ohr’s testimony. The AP reported during that breakfast between Steele and Ohr (see above) Steele told Ohr that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump ‘over a barrel’. People familiar with the conversation also told the AP that Ohr learned Carter Page had met with higher-level Russian officials than Page previously acknowledged.

  • Ohr testified before lawmakers in a closed-door interview this past week, where he detailed these events. Ohr stated that his communications with Steele were approved by former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but he did not inform his direct supervisor at the time, Sally Yates. Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein re-assigned him to a different position, but the DOJ would not comment on the situation.
  • Bruce Ohr has “made a career of supporting and facilitating important cases that targeted Russian organized crime,” and is well-liked in the DOJ and FBI. Earlier last week, the NYT published a piece about his work that is worth a read.

Sessions update. Tuesday, we learned that Trump has privately rekindled discussions of firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions again with aides and lawyers. While the latter feel that Trump will hold off on firing Sessions for now, many are resigned to Sessions being fired following midterm – including congressional Republicans, who have long portrayed Sessions’ firing as a red line not to be crossed.

  • At a rally Thursday, Trump promised to “get involved” if the Justice Department and FBI don’t start “doing their job and doing it right.” Based on previous statements, doing their job “right” would seem to entail ending the Russia investigation that he refers to as a “rigged witch hunt.”

More Russian connections

Disinformation fight. The Global Engagement Center, a State Department unit created two years ago to fight Russian disinformation campaigns, still has not received the funding dedicated by Congress in 2016. The Huffington Post explains, “even if some money comes through for the Global Engagement Center before the end of the fiscal year, it will now be just one-sixth of the amount originally directed to the center…Foreign policy experts suggest that the funding delay is a combination of previous disinterest at the State Department and current foot-dragging at the Defense Department.”

McCain. Russian lawmakers and media reacted to Sen. John McCain’s death, some with joy due to the late Senator’s hardline stance on Russia. The following are some quotes:

  • Oleg Morozov, member of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee: “The enemy is dead… May the Lord accept his dark soul and determine its future.”
  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov: “He stood out among American politicians for his inexplicable and incomprehensible resentment of Russia.”
  • Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee: “His only ideology was to ‘defend your own and attack others,’ where the only criterion was loyalty to America and American interests, and not the criteria of peace, good and justice.”

Must read: The Daily Beast published a great article providing insight into Russia’s strategy when it comes to the U.S. It is too complex to adequately sum up here, so I encourage everyone to read it: The Real Reason Russia Is Rooting for Republicans in the Midterms. Here are a few choice quotes:

  • “With respect to the sanctions, Russian experts see them as Trump’s “pre-election trump cards,” a set of measures designed to make him look “tough on Russia” in the run-up to midterms. Kremlin experts believe that most of these measures are being proposed just for show and will never materialize. Indeed, the Russians don’t perceive the Republicans as a viable threat.”
  • “The Kremlin is interested in having the U.S. withdraw from the world stage, giving up its role as the dominant superpower, retreating to domestic affairs and global commerce, including a radical 180-degree shift from sanctions to business dealings with Russia. ‘With Americans, it’s all very clear,’ said Russian state TV host Evgeny Popov. ‘In Iowa or someplace in Montana, they’re more concerned with the price of corn or beef than Crimea’.”
  • “Pro-Kremlin experts and propagandists have no doubt that the Republicans will fall in line with Trump’s agenda, unless they’re “suicidal” in terms of their political prospects. “


Voting problems. During Arizona’s primary on Tuesday, polling sites were plagued by computer issues that delayed openings in 95 precincts, affecting up to 270,000 voters. Arizona Central reports “voters at these locations were turned away or had to wait, in some cases, more than three hours to cast ballots.”

  • Voters reported various issues including many computers at the polling sites not being set up, computers unable to print ballots, and machine readers unable to read printed ballots. The county recorder’s office blamed the problems on a contractor, but the contractor disputed the claim.
  • Compounding the problem, the Maricopa County officials refused to extend hours at polling locations to make up for the hours-long delay in opening so many polling locations.

More Georgia shenanigans. Buzzfeed obtained an internal email sent June 16 indicating that Georgia is blocking all foreign traffic to its online voter registration site. As experts explain, the move that is meant to prevent foreign hackers from accessing the site actually does the opposite: “Georgians abroad who don’t know how to reroute their internet traffic with tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) or Tor will be prevented from registering to vote.”

  • The president of the US Vote Foundation explains: “This won’t really do anything to dissuade a hacker. It will only turn away real voters…A hacker, or even a determined voter, will just get onto a VPN and to a US IP address, and guess what? They’re in.”
  • More: “Georgia’s election setup is one of the most criticized in the country. It’s one of the few states that both produces no paper trail in any county and conducts no statistically significant audits, a situation that the Department of Homeland Security has described as a national threat. Earlier this year, despite receiving some federal assistance money, the state legislature rejected a plan to replace its voting machines with ones that could be audited.”


New poll. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week revealed 60% of Americans disapprove of Trump, while 49% think Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against him. 63% of Americans support Mueller’s investigation and 53% believe Trump “tried to interfere with Mueller’s investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice.”

Secret Russia expert. Fox News has been interviewing former Justice Department Official Robert Driscoll on matters related to Trump, Mueller, and the various investigations, without revealing a key piece of information: Their “Russia expert” Driscoll is representing accused Russian spy Maria Butina.

  • Withholding this information from viewers is okay because, according to Driscoll, Butina is being prosecuted by a D.C. federal attorney, not Mueller. “Fox News’ top programming executive tells NPR the network is now reminding producers of its aim to make all relevant disclosures.”

Giuliani lobby. Giuliani was paid by a global consulting firm to lobby the Romanian president. Last week, Giuliani sent a letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis criticizing the government’s crackdown on high-level corruption. While the letter does not claim to be endorsed by Trump, it contradicts the official position of the U.S. government, which has been supportive of Romania’s fight against corruption.