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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Aug 5 – 11, 2018

Mueller Investigation

Interview negotiations continue. Trump’s lawyers responded to Mueller’s terms for an interview with Trump, sending him a counteroffer at the end of last week. In the latest terms, Mueller’s team held firm on the need to question trump about coordination with Russia and obstruction of justice, but agreed to accept some written answers. Trump’s counteroffer did not reject an interview, but essentially stated that Trump will not be asked questions about obstruction of justice. Trump’s lawyers fear that obstruction of justice questions, in particular, are a perjury trap set for Trump.

  • Rudy Giuliani told Axios that in order for Trump to be interviewed by Mueller, the following topics would have to be ruled out: (1) Why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, and (2) What Trump said to Comey about the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. As Jonathan Swan astutely notes, “Giuliani is publicly setting up Mueller with expectations he must know Mueller can’t meet.”
  • Bizarrely, Giuliani tried to claim on Hannity that if Mueller’s probe is not complete by September, it would be a “very, very serious violation of Justice Department rules.” In fact, there is no law or rule that states investigations cannot be conducted within 60-days of an election. There is a custom that a prosecutor is not supposed to take overt public action with the purpose of affecting a candidate in an election. Not only is this not a firm rule, but it also says nothing about terminating an investigation because an election is upcoming.

Trump joins Manafort trial. The Paul Manafort trial continued in Virginia. The week started with Trump being referenced by name for the first time and ended with a mysterious delay that may or may not be significant.

  • Most of the discussion about Trump related to Manafort’s attempts to benefit from their relationship. Rick Gates, who is cooperating with investigators, described Manafort’s work for Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition, including the selection of people to fill various posts. Prosecutors laid out a quid pro quo scheme in which Manafort received $16 million in loans from Federal Savings Bank in exchange for installing the CEO in an important Trump campaign position.
    • Manafort first told Gates to push for the CEO, Stephen Calk, to be Secretary of the Army. When that was unsuccessful, Manafort and Gates got the Trump campaign to accept Calk on the economic advisory board.
    • Prosecutors also released an email in which Calk asked Manafort for 11 tickets to Trump’s inauguration. Manafort added the names to a “lengthy list” which was forwarded to Gates. Evidence such as this shows that Manafort still had significant pull in Trump’s team, even after he formally resigned from the chairman position.
  • Trump has tried to downplay Manafort’s role and their relationship, tweeting, “He worked for me for a very short time.” However, prosecutors introduced a document showing that “Manafort planned to share his New York Yankee season tickets” with Trump in 2013, something one would not expect from a stranger.

Manafort: Mueller discussed. Thursday, the judge in Manafort’s case, T.S. Ellis, sealed a portion of conversation that occurred during a sidebar between himself and lawyers from the prosecution and defense. The sidebar was called after prosecutors objected to the defense’s cross-examination of Rick Gates in which they asked him about the nature of Mueller’s interviews. Normally, sidebar discussions are transcribed and released to the public. However, the prosecutors asked the judge to seal the content of this sidebar because “substantive evidence pertaining to an ongoing investigation was revealed.”

Manafort: Unexplained delay. Friday began with Judge Ellis calling a brief bench conference with lawyers from both sides, before the jury had arrived. After, Manafort and his lawyers huddled in an animated, yet hushed, group. Manafort was described as smiling. Judge Ellis then summoned the lawyers to his bench for a second conference, this time all of Manafort’s lawyers attended, leaving their client sitting alone. Fueling more speculation, the judge asked the court security officer to join the discussion. The security officer oversees any logistical issues that involve the jury.

  • When the conference broke, Judge Ellis left the room to “consider an issue” for what he estimated would take 15 minutes. As Politico noted, “Oddly, he exited the courtroom through a door opposite his own chambers and in the direction of the jury room. The court’s stenographer followed.” Nearly 45 minutes had passed by the time he returned, at which point he announced an early lunch break.
  • After lunch, attorneys from both sides again met with Judge Ellis, this time in his chambers for about 45 minutes. Court reconvened with no explanation for the day’s delays. However, at the end of the day, “Ellis delivered another unusually emphatic warning to the jury not to discuss the case with others or to do internet research about the case”
  • The events described have triggered many avenues of speculation, from an incoming plea deal to juror replacement. While most experts seem to agree that it seems like a juror may have broken the rules by discussing the case with someone, the fact of the matter is that we just don’t know.

Trump worried about his son. From the AP: “Trump has seethed to confidants that he views the Manafort charges as “a warning shot” from Mueller. He has told those close to him that as he watches the courtroom proceedings, he fears that Donald Trump Jr. could at some point be the one on trial, according to two people familiar with his thinking but not authorized to discuss private conversations.”

Grand Jury. There have been numerous developments in Mueller’s grand jury proceedings.

  • A federal judge has held Andrew Miller, an associate of Roger Stone, in contempt for refusing to testify before Mueller’s grand jury.
  • Randy Credico, another associate of Roger Stone, revealed that he had also received a subpoena but did not plan on challenging it. He is scheduled to testify before the grand jury on September 7h. Credico is alleged to have been a go-between for Stone and Wikileaks.
  • Roger Stone’s close friend, Kristin Davis, also known as the ‘Manhattan Madam,’ testified before the grand jury on Friday.

New information on Peter Smith. Buzzfeed has reviewed documents that reveal GOP operative Peter Smith made thousands of dollars in suspicious transactions during the time frame he was in contact with at least two sets of what he believed to be Russian hackers. A person close to Smith “stated that he was prepared to pay hackers ‘many thousands of dollars’ for Clinton’s emails — and ultimately did so.”

  • It’s been over a year since the story of Peter Smith first broke, so here’s a quick summary to refresh your memory. Smith began looking for Clinton’s emails in the summer of 2016, telling Matt Tait, a former information security specialist in Britain’s spy agency GCHQ, that he believed Russian hackers stole Clinton’s emails from her private server. Smith reached out to numerous people and assembled a team to find the emails. He claimed to be working with Michael Flynn in this quest. Unfortunately, Smith died May 14, 2017, only 10 days after being interviewed by the WSJ. According to Buzzfeed, three law enforcement officials say Smith “remains an important figure in the government’s investigation. FBI and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators are trying to follow the money to learn whether Smith paid anyone connected with the Russian government.”

Michael Cohen

Cohen’s tax fraud? The Wall Street Journal reported that Michael Cohen is now also being investigated for tax fraud. Sources say Cohen may have underreported income from his taxi medallion business – “income which included hundreds of thousands of dollars received in cash and other payments over the last five years.”

  • Investigators are also reportedly probing if Cohen inflated the value of his assets in order to obtain loans, and whether any banks “improperly allowed Mr. Cohen to obtain loans for which he didn’t provide adequate documentation.” Of particular interest is Sterling National Bank, which financed Cohen’s taxi-medallion business.
  • Federal prosecutors subpoenaed Cohen’s former accountant, who prepared many financial statements submitted to banks on behalf of Cohen. The same accountant also worked for Cohen’s taxi-medallion business partner Evgeny “Gene” Freidman. Sources say that Freidman is cooperating with investigators.

Special Master. In the investigation by the SDNY of Michael Cohen, the special master has completed her review of items seized from Cohen in an FBI raid. While Cohen and Trump claimed 4,080 items as privileged or highly personal, Jones agreed that “just 2,260 of those should be kept from prosecutors: 1,972 of those items are privileged, 285 are highly personal, and three are partially privileged.” This means that prosecutors have been given all the items they’re allowed to review and can now decide whether to prosecute Cohen.

More Russian connections

Rand Paul in Moscow. Senator Rand Paul traveled to Russia on a “diplomatic mission” this past week. He announced on Twitter that he delivered a letter from Trump to Putin’s administration, emphasizing “the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.” However, hours later, the White House contradicted Paul’s statement, saying the letter was in fact requested by Paul to introduce himself to Putin.

Leaked sanctions draft. The Russian newspaper Kommersant published a leaked draft of proposed U.S. sanctions against Russia, called the ‘Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act’. The goal of the draft bill is to impose “crushing sanctions,” including banning Russia’s state banks from U.S. operation and penalizing investments in Russian energy projects. While no media outlet has touched on how the newspaper got the draft bill, the timing of Rand Paul’s visit and this leak is suspicious to me.

Leaked Helsinki document. Politico obtained a Russian document that allegedly lists topics for negotiation that Putin proposed to Trump during the Helsinki summit. Most of the list relates to traditional cooperation between Russia and the U.S., which Politico says “points to a surprising normalcy in the priorities of Putin.”

  • Opinion: There is reason to be suspicious of this document and its authenticity. The person who gave it to Politico “obtained it from Russian officials who described it as what Putin had conveyed to Trump in Helsinki.” The main reason for the Kremlin to leak such a document is because it furthers their agenda. The “surprising normalcy” Politico notes could be the picture both Putin and Trump wish to convey about Helsinki. Nothing untoward happened, just two leaders discussing normal priorities. The reality is that only Putin and Trump know what was discussed, and unfortunately both have huge credibility problems. [Technically, the translator also knows what transpired, but the GOP has refused to call her to testify.]
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed “the America side” for leaking the document. If true, I think the same thinking above applies.

Russians in Charlottesville. Monday, August 12, is the one-year anniversary of the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ Charlottesville rally. Republican Rep. Tom Garrett stated on CNN that FBI Director Wray told him that Russian hackers contributed to “fomenting the flames” of the Charlottesville events. Garrett continued, “[Russia uses] events like this divisive racial fight … and this is the sort of thing they do.”

  • Perhaps an important fact to note: One of the organizers of last year’s Unite the Right rally and white nationalist, Richard Spencer, is married to a Russian woman who was described by Business Insider in 2016 as a “self-proclaimed ‘Kremlin troll leader’”. Nina Kouprianova has expressed support for her husband’s neo-Nazi views and penned a letter to a local newspaper calling the criticism surrounding Spencer a “witch hunt.”
  • As many of you may know, a book written by Alexander Dugin called Foundations of Geopolitics is required reading for every person of Russia’s General Staff Academy. In it, Dugin lays out what he sees as Russia’s path to power in part through weakening the West. Some of this involves cutting the UK off from Europe, annexing Ukraine, and “supporting all dissident movements” within the US to destabilize internal political processes. Spencer’s wife, who goes by the pen name Nina Byzantina, has translated pieces of Dugin’s work on her blog and has tweeted specific passages.
  • Richard Spencer himself has extolled Putin for being a protector of the white race, telling the Nation, “I think we should be pro-Russia because Russia is the great white power that exists in the world.”

Unite the Right: Discord subpoena. Due to the likely Russian connections, I think it’s appropriate to include other news related to Charlottesville. Counterprotesters who were injured last year at the rally have sued the organizers of Unite the Right. However, the identity of many of the organizers is unknown because they participated through anonymous, invite-only threads on a chat service called Discord. Lawyers for the counterprotesters filed a subpoena to obtain the Unite the Right’s Discord messages and account information.

  • One anonymous woman countersued, arguing that revealing her identity would infringe on her First Amendment rights to engage in “anonymous speech” and put her in fear of her own safety. A U.S. magistrate disagreed with her, allowing account information to be obtained but kept under seal. While he quashed the part of the subpoena that requested the content of the messages, an online media collective published hundreds of their leaked messages, which are now included in the lawsuits. The messages reveal organizers encouraging participants bring homemade weapons, like rocks in a sock, and sharing racist and Nazi-themed memes and images.

Russian trolls support Stein. A collection of 3 million tweets from accounts run by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in 2016 reveal an organized push to support Jill Stein’s candidacy, while also attempting to decrease support for Hillary Clinton.

  • Two professors from Clemson University published the 3 million tweets with 538 at the end of last month. The data gives the fullest picture so far of the strategies the of the IRA. They impersonated both left- and right-wing trolls, as well as localized news aggregators. Side note: This is a pattern we see on Reddit too, with suspicious accounts infiltrating certain local subreddits to antagonize and inflame divisions (however, as far as I’m aware, there’s been no proof these are of Russian origin, yet).
  • The article has many examples of the type of tweets the Russian accounts made in support of Stein. For example, they made extensive use of hashtags like: #GoGreen #GreenParty #Democrats #DemExit #Republicans #GOPexit #ItsInOurHands.
  • Other examples:
      • @Aiden7757: Why waste your vote on lying, corrupt, racist oligarchs? #InvestYourVote in DrJillStein \#ElectionFinalThoughts
      • @Muslims_in_USA: Anti-republican and anti-Hillary, Vote green!! Jill Stein 2016 #JillStein #JillStein2016
      • @CassIsHere: Susan B. Anthony wouldn’t have voted for Clinton, she would have opted for someone like @DrJillStein, but go ahead and pretend otherwise.
  • Significantly, after the election, the Russian accounts turned critical of her attempt for a recount. Example: Mich voters rejected @DrJillStein’s candidacy and her refusal to accept verified results poses an expensive & a risky threat to MI taxpayers.


Nunes secret recording. Rep. Devin Nunes was secretly recorded speaking to donors about his plans for Deputy AG Rosenstein’s impeachment, which the House recently seemed to give up on. Nunes told donors that in fact, they only delayed the impeachment proceedings in order to clear the way for the anticipated confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Additionally, Nunes explained that it is crucial for the GOP to hold their seats in order to protect Trump from Mueller.

  • On the audio Nunes can be heard saying, “if Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the President, we’re the only ones. Which is really the danger…I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.”

Assange interview. According to Wikileaks’ Twitter account, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Assange in London requesting an interview as part of its Russia investigation.

Florida compromised. Senator Bill Nelson claims that Russian operatives have “penetrated” the voter registration systems of certain counties in Florida “and they now have free rein to move about.” The Florida Department of State says it has received no information that confirms Nelson’s statements. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official in which he did not confirm nor deny Nelson’s claims.

  • At the 26th annual DEFCON meeting this past weekend, hackers attempted to break into voting machines. Notably, “In a room set aside for kid hackers, an 11-year-old girl hacked a replica of the Florida secretary of state’s website within 10 minutes — and changed the results.”

Georgia’s voting mess. Election security activists have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia for failing to accurately maintain and secure their electoral system. The court filings reveal a litany of problems that call into question the results of both past and future elections.

  • For example, according to the Secretary of State’s website, one precinct recorded a turnout of 243% in May’s primary elections. The 276 registered voters of Habersham County’s Mud Creek precinct somehow managed to cast 670 ballots. Nothing was done about this discrepancy until this past Tuesday, when at 10 a.m. the secretary of state’s website changed the number of registered voters to 3,704.
  • The lawsuit also includes sworn statements of voters who experienced problems when they attempted to vote, including being turned away from their polling station, encountering frozen voting machines (which happen to be 16 years old), and finding their ballots to be incorrect.
  • Georgia is one of four states that use voting machines without a paper record. Last year, during the same federal lawsuit, Georgia officials wiped the voting servers that contained key evidence, even degaussing two backups.
  • Georgian’s voter information was found to be “open to the public” and vulnerable to manipulation by bad actors way back in August of 2016. Despite being immediately notified of the problem, it was not resolved until March 2017.

Low drug prices for Russia. The pharmaceutical executive and GOP candidate running for New Jersey Senate, Bob Hugin, raised the prices of a critical cancer drug 20% in America while reducing them by 45% in Russia last year.

  • In the U.S., a 21 day supply of Revlimid costs $14,529. In Russia, the same dosage cost $4,175. The Russian agency that oversees drug prices claims that Celgene agreed to “voluntarily reduce the inflated prices” last year.
  • The pharmaceutical company, Celgene, “spent a record amount of money to help defeat legislation that would have made it easier for generic companies to get drug samples” under Hugin’s leadership.
  • Hugin is running against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez in New Jersey this November.