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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Jan 20 – 26, 2019

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(Adrienne Cobb) #1

Too long, didn’t read summary

Robert Foresman, a banker with ties to Russia attempted to get a position in the Trump administration, using producer Mark Burnett as a connection. Giuliani said Trump had conversations about the Trump Tower Moscow deal “throughout 2016,” and could have continued “until the election.” Giuliani also made mention of “tapes” in relation to Trump directing Cohen to lie, but backtracked when asked about it. Roger Stone was arrested Friday morning after Mueller charged him with 7 counts, including witness tampering & lying to Congress. Jerome Corsi’s stepson testified before Mueller’s grand jury Thursday. Mueller’s office told a judge that Manafort should not get any credit for his cooperation due to his alleged lies. Sam Nunberg told CNN that Mueller asked him about the Trump campaign’s relationship with the NRA.

The Trump administration lifted sanctions on Deripaska’s aluminum companies, despite a new report that Deripaska still stands to benefit greatly from the deal. The Trump administration still has not imposed the second round of sanctions on Russia for poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal last year. Russian pop star and facilitator of the Trump Tower meeting, Emin Agalarov, canceled his four-city US tour after failing to reach a deal with Mueller and Congress “over the contours of his testimony.”

House Republican leadership has delayed naming Republican members to the new House Intelligence Committee, preventing the committee from conducting any official work. Michael Cohen postponed his testimony before the House, citing threats against him and his family by Trump and his associates. The next day, the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Cohen to testify in mid-February (closed-door). The House Oversight Committee announced it has launched an investigation into the White House’s handling of security clearances – career security experts rejected the clearances of at least 30 people (including Kushner) but were overruled by their supervisor in the White House office.


MUELLER INVESTIGATION

Mueller: Trump

Banker meeting. A banker with ties to Russia attempted to get a position in the Trump administration, using producer Mark Burnett as a connection. The banker, Robert Foresman, lived in Moscow for years and led a $3 billion Russian investment fund. He allegedly has connections to Putin’s inner circle. Just nine days after Trump was elected president, Burnet emailed Tom Barrack, chair of Trump’s inaugural fund, to get a meeting for Foresman. While the meeting was ultimately canceled, it would have occurred between a Barrack’s meeting with Kushner and a meeting with Trump. In January, Foresman obtained a meeting with Michael Flynn.

  • In December 2016, Foresman met with the chairman of a state-owned Russian development bank, Sergei Gorkov in New York. Later that month, Gorkov flew again from Moscow to New York to meet with Kushner.
  • In January 2018 Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Foresman stating that the Judiciary Committee “has reason to believe that you sought to engage the Trump campaign in discussions concerning outreach from senior Kremlin officials.” The senator requested documents and testimony (it is unclear if Foresman ever appeared in person). Additionally, in October 2017 Sen. Dianne Feinstein requested records of communications from Cambridge Analytica with a variety of people, one of whom was Robert Foresman.
  • The Trump campaign official Foresman attempted to meet with, Tom Barrack, was a long time friend of Trump. Barrack also knew Paul Manafort for years and reportedly got Manafort hired as Trump’s then-convention manager. After Manafort was fired, Barrack was instrumental in keeping Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates on the transition team and, eventually, the presidential team. According to the Washington Post, “some White House advisors are unhappy with” Barrack for keeping Gates “in the Trump orbit.” Mueller interviewed Barrack in early 2018. Sources said the questions focused on Manafort and Gates, with a few about the inaugural committee which Barrack chaired.

Giuliani interview #1. Last Sunday, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said Trump had conversations about the Trump Tower Moscow deal “throughout 2016,” and could have continued “until the election.” Giuliani also stated that it’s possible Trump talked to Michael Cohen about his congressional testimony (during which he lied) before he appeared before Congress. When pressed, Guiliani said it “would be perfectly normal” and “so what?” He further added “as far as [he] knows” there were “no discussions with [Cohen] in which [Trump] told him or counseled him to lie.”

Giuliani interview #2. The next day, Monday, Giuliani gave another interview to The New Yorker. After being asked how he knew the Buzzfeed story about Trump directing Cohen to lie was fake, Giuliani said he knew it was false because he has “been through all the tapes.” When questioned about the tapes, he backtracked: “I shouldn’t have said tapes… [There were] No tapes. Well, I have listened to tapes, but none of them concern this.”

  • Then, in a rambling stream of consciousness, Giuliani admitted he is “afraid” his gravestone will read: “Rudy Giuliani: he lied for Trump.” He continued, “Somehow, I don’t think that will be it. But, if it is, so what do I care? I’ll be dead. I figure I can explain it to St. Peter.”

Mueller: Stone & Corsi

Stone arrested. Friday morning, Roger Stone was arrested by (unpaid) FBI agents at his Florida home after being indicted by Mueller’s grand jury. The indictment is comprised of seven-counts, including one count of obstruction, one of witness-tampering, and five counts of making false statements for lying to Congress about his communications with Wikileaks and the Trump campaign. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the tampering count and up to five years in prison for each of the other charges. Stone was released on $250,000 bail; outside the courthouse he proclaimed he is innocent and said he “will not testify against the president.” Agents were seen removing hard drives and other evidence from Stone’s NYC apartment and raided his recording studio.

  • The indictment lays out that between June and July of 2016, Stone told “senior Trump campaign officials” about the stolen emails in WikiLeaks’ possession that could be damaging to Clinton. Then, after Wikileaks released the hacked DNC emails on July 22, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. Stone thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.” Organization 1 is Wikileaks and the senior official is believed to be Steve Bannon, leaving the biggest question to be answered: who directed Bannon?
  • It was known by June 2016 that Russia had hacked the DNC. Yet the response of Trump’s campaign was to search out more illegally obtained damaging information on Clinton. WaPo: Days after Mr. Bannon was directed to contact Mr. Stone, on July 27, 2016, Mr. Trump publicly called on Russia to find and release Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails. We now know the Russian hackers attempted to break into Ms. Clinton’s server the same day. On Aug. 2, according to the indictment, Mr. Stone was advised by one of the WikiLeaks intermediaries that the campaign should start suggesting that Ms. Clinton was unwell, because that would be a “focus” of the “next dump.” Mr. Trump gave a speech on Aug. 15 charging that Ms. Clinton “lacks the mental and physical stamina” to fight the Islamic State.
  • The witness tampering charges come from Stone threatening Randy Credico to stick to his cover story: Stone wanted Credico to claim to be his intermediary to Wikileaks. When Credico refused, Stone threatened him, going so far as to say he would “take” his therapy dog away. In one email, Stone said: “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds.”
  • In the documentary “Get Me Roger Stone,” Paul Manafort said during an interview: “Roger’s relationship with Trump has been so interconnected that it’s hard to define what’s Roger and what’s Donald.” There are many scenes of Manafort and Stone conferring, working to get Trump elected.

Arrest responses. The following are notable responses to Stone’s arrest.

  • Trump tweeted after Stone’s arrest: “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better.” The president also suggested someone may have tipped off CNN to record Stone’s arrest, though there were growing signs the day before that Stone could be charged soon.”
  • Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said, “The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else. Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements Mr. Stone made to Congress.”
  • Nancy Pelosi: “The indictment of Roger Stone makes clear that there was a deliberate, coordinated attempt by top Trump campaign officials to influence the 2016 election and subvert the will of the American people… the President’s continued actions to undermine the Special Counsel investigation raise the questions: what does Putin have on the President, politically, personally or financially?
  • Layers for Jerome Corsi, who is mentioned in the indictment for speaking to Stone about Wikileaks, said: “…it would appear that the Special Counsel’s investigation has been thorough and complete and the Stone indictment is accurate with regard to references to Dr. Corsi, consistent with Dr. Corsi’s testimony and interviews… and confirms that Dr. Corsi has not been and is not being accused of any illegality.”

Grand jury testimony. Andrew Stettner, stepson of conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, testified before Mueller’s grand jury Thursday for about an hour. Prosecutors reportedly focused on questions about a computer belonging to Corsi that he “scrubbed” in the weeks leading up to Corsi’s subpoena to testify before the grand jury in late August. Corsi claims it was wiped so his wife could use it for her business and maintains that all files still exist on a backup drive. Two weeks ago, Corsi told ABC News his lawyer was writing to Mueller’s team to offer to give them the backup external hard drive.

Hush money? The Washington Post reported that for the past 6 months, Jerome Corsi has been receiving $15,000 a month from Infowars, where he previously worked as the websites Washington bureau chief. Mueller’s team has apparently been asking questions about the payments, suspecting they may have been made to ensure Corsi tailors his version of events regarding Wikileaks in a way favorable to Roger Stone (Stone is a co-host and frequent commentator on Infowars).

  • Infowars maintains that the payments were the remainder of Corsi’s contract, despite the fact that Corsi was fired in June 2018.
  • However, Corsi said after the Washington Post made inquiries about the payments last week, he learned from Alex Jones’s father, David, that the payments would stop – according to a legal complaint Corsi filed this week against The Post (see below).

Corsi’s suit. Last week, Jerome Corsi amended his complaint against Mueller, the CIA, NSA, and related agencies. He made a number of new claims. First, Corsi stated that the Buzzfeed report that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress actually came from Mueller’s office, and Mueller issued a statement disputing the piece to cover up his own leak. Second, Corsi added Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post, and a WaPo reporter to the lawsuit for publishing an article about the $15,000 a month payments he has been receiving from Infowars. Third, Corsi claimed that Mueller is trying to ruin his book sales by pressuring Bezos’ Amazon not to sell his book (without any evidence of this). Finally, Corsi complained that the government illegally intercepted his text messages.

Mueller: Manafort

Hearing. On Friday, Manafort appeared in court for a hearing on to address charges he lied to the grand jury, the FBI, and prosecutors. Mueller’s office told the judge Manafort should not get any credit for his cooperation due to these lies. His team stated they aren’t planning additional charges for lying, but Mueller’s office reserves the right to pursue other charges in the superseding indictment against Manafort. Manafort’s lawyers argued that he did not intentionally mislead investigators. The judge set a closed-door hearing to argue whether and how much Manafort lied for February 4.

Mueller: Cohen

Tower plans. Buzzfeed reviewed “hundreds of pages of business documents, emails, text messages, and architectural plans” related to Trump Tower Moscow. Contradicting Rudy Giuliani’s statement that: the proposal was in the earliest stage,” and “no plans were ever made. There were no drafts. Nothing in the file.” The plan was for a glass skyscraper taller than any other building in Europe that would “yield profits in excess of $300 million.”

  • Buzzfeed: According to a finalized letter of intent signed by Donald Trump on Oct. 28, 2015, the tower would have “approximately 250 first class, luxury residential condominiums.” It would be located in Moscow City… The building would feature a luxury spa and fitness center [Spa by Ivanka], a commercial component “consistent with the overall luxury level of the Property,” and an office space “consistent with Class A luxury office properties,” as well as “luxury” parking.
  • The penthouse, worth $50 million, was to be given away for free to Putin himself. Cohen even discussed the idea with an aide to Putin’s press secretary. Buzzfeed: The hope was that the lavish gift would help grease the wheels, and in the process entice more Russian elites to move in. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units,” Felix Sater told BuzzFeed News in November. “All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.”

Mueller: Other

Mystery opponent. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court allowed the unknown foreign-owned company challenging a grand jury subpoena to file under seal an application for a stay in the subpoena. The grand jury is believed to be involved in Mueller’s investigation, but the secrecy surrounding the case has masked the participants’ identities. The company’s petition asking SCOTUS to consider its appeal of the subpoena was released, mostly redacted or sealed. A short unsealed portion stated that the subpoena should be lifted “before it upsets foreign relations in a way that an American judicial decision never should.” Additionally, we learned that the company is in fact wholly owned by a foreign government.

NRA. Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg told CNN that Mueller asked him about the Trump campaign’s relationship with the NRA. Mueller asked him how Trump and his associates first started dealing with the NRA and how Trump came to speak at the NRA annual meeting in 2015.

RUSSIA NEWS

Sanction deal. A new report last week contradicted the Trump administration’s claim that it had ensured Oleg Deripaska’s control EN+ Group was severed before lifting sanctions (which were officially eased over the weekend). The Washington Post obtained a copy of the agreement, which revealed Deripaska, his ex-wife, ex-father-in-law, and a foundation Deripaska launched, “will together maintain well over 50 percent of the shares in En+ Group, the most influential of [the] three companies.” Thus, once shares in his companies rebound, Deripaska will benefit. The Russian bank VTB, aka Putin’s piggy bank and financier of proposed Trump Tower Moscow, received shares worth $800 million.

  • WaPo: The agreement also outlines new ownership stakes for Rusal that appear to largely protect the holdings of another sanctioned Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, and his business partner Leonard Blavatnik, who holds U.S. citizenship and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Senate Republicans and a million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
  • Sen. Mark Warner: “My concern all along was that Deripaska would retain control over his companies and benefit personally from this deal. This new report suggests that those concerns were valid and that the situation may even have been worse than we thought.”
  • Note tariffs on Canadian aluminum are still in effect. Yet, sanctions on Russian aluminum producers have been significantly reduced.

Skripal sanctions. The Trump administration still has not imposed the second round of sanctions on Russia for poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal last year. According to chemical weapons laws, Russia missed a deadline three months ago to provide “reasonable assurances” it won’t use chemical weapons again and to agree to inspections by the UN. Failing to do so by the deadline should have triggered a second, harsher round of sanctions. The EU has already initiated these sanctions, but the US Treasury Department insists there “is no deadline” for imposing sanctions.

Tour canceled. Russian pop star and facilitator of the Trump Tower meeting, Emin Agalarov, canceled his four-city US tour after failing to reach a deal with Mueller and Congress “over the contours of his testimony.” Agalarov’s lawyer stated his client wanted to appear voluntarily and wouldn’t agree to be subpoenaed, because it would put him in legal jeopardy if he did not fully respond to requests. His lawyer further stated, “he has nothing to hide.”

Deripaska & the escort. Russian anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny revealed that he knows of recordings of telephone calls involving oligarch Oleg Deripaska discussing the need to lock up Belarusian escort Anastasia Vashukevich, aka “Nastya Rybka.” Vashukevich posted video on social media of herself on a yacht with Deripaska and the Russian deputy prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko, in 2016. It wasn’t until Navalny gathered her posts into an investigative video alleging corruption in February 2018 that she was arrested while in Thailand. The recordings capture Deripaska and his associates suggesting Vashukevich’s group be arrested for illegal business activities, since Thailand doesn’t imprison “sex trainers.” Vashukevich’s group was indeed initially charged with illegal business activity; they were acquitted and charged instead with conducting illegal sex work.

  • Vashukevich pleaded guilty and was meant to be deported to her home country of Belarus. However, she was arrested during a layover in Moscow for prostitution. She pleaded not guilty and proclaimed she was being framed, but she also apologized personally to Deripaska, saying, “Mr. Deripaska, please forgive me. I was just a tool and people used me.”
  • While in a Thai jail, Vashukevich claimed to have evidence that Russia interfered in the US election and asked the US for help in exchange for handing it over. The FBI reportedly attempted to schedule a meeting with her but Thai officials would not allow it.

CONGRESS

Obstruction. House Republican leadership has delayed naming Republican members to the new House Intelligence Committee, preventing the committee from conducting any official work. Because of a congressional rule, both parties need full representation on the committees before business like hearings or votes can begin. After public pressure, GOP Rep. McCarthy stated he will appoint the Republican members “next week.”

  • According to Chairman Adam Schiff, the highest priority when the committee starts its session is to release transcripts of previous testimony to Mueller’s office. This will allow Mueller to press (or refer) charges against any individuals who lied under oath.

Delayed testimony. Michael Cohen postponed his testimony before the House, previously scheduled for February 7. Cohen’s lawyer said “threats against his family” from Trump and Giuliani persuaded Cohen, his wife, and kids it was best to delay his appearance. The attorney, Lanny Davis, continued: “The president has terrorized someone who wanted to tell the truth before Congress.” In contrast, Trump told reporters, “I would say he’s been threatened by the truth.”

  • The Democratic chairmen of the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees called Cohen’s safety concerns “completely legitimate” and stated they still intend on getting Cohen’s testimony at some point. “We will not let the President’s tactics prevent Congress from fulfilling our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities,” they wrote.
  • Bloomberg: Cohen friend Donny Deutsch, an advertising executive, said that Cohen has been increasingly worried that Trump would retaliate against him by further attacking his family if he testified. “He was panicked. He was like ‘he’s going after my father-in-law. Are my children next?’” Deutsch said on MSNBC on Jan. 18. Deutsch said Cohen told him “you have no idea what this man is capable of.”

Senate testimony. A day after Cohen postponed his appearance before the House, the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed Cohen to testify in mid-February. Cohen’s lawyer stated his client will comply with the request. Note that Senate Intel hearings occur behind closed doors, perhaps lessening the concerns regarding Cohen’s and his family’s safety. A date has yet to be set.

Clearances. The House Oversight Committee announced it has launched an investigation into the White House’s handling of security clearances. A day after the announcement, news broke that career security experts rejected the clearances of at least 30 people but were overruled by their supervisor, Carl Kline (appointed by Trump May 2017). One of these individuals whose clearance was originally rejected was Jared Kushner; his FBI background check raised questions “about his family’s business, his foreign contacts, his foreign travel and meetings he had during the campaign.”

  • After Kline gave Kushner top-secret clearance, Kushner sought even higher level access to ‘sensitive compartmented information’ (SCI), which is comprised of the government’s most sensitive secrets. Unlike top secret clearance, the CIA determines who gets SCI level access. Kline recommended Kushner to the CIA for SCI, but the officers “balked.” One CIA officer called the White House security division questioning how Kushner even got a top-secret clearance. As far as we know, Kushner never for permission to review SCI material. However, Trump has the power to override the rules and grant Kushner access.
  • “What you are reporting is what all of us feared,” said Brad Moss, a lawyer who represents persons seeking security clearances. “The normal line adjudicators looked at the FBI report … saw the foreign influence concerns, but were overruled by the quasi-political supervisor.”

Joint probe. The chairs of the House Intelligence and House Financial Services Committees, Reps. Schiff and Waters, are planning a joint investigation into Deutsche Bank. Schiff and Waters believe the bank is the starting point for probing both Trump and Russian money laundering.

Bolton oversight. The House Oversight Committee is also investigating National Security Adviser John Bolton’s relationship with admitted Russian spy Maria Butina. In 2013, Bolton recorded a video for Butina’s Russian gun rights group – reportedly at the request of the NRA. Rep. Elijah Cummings asked the NRA on Wednesday to provide documents related to Bolton’s foreign contacts.