Too long, didn’t read summary (as short as possible)
Rudy Giuliani has told a friend that he expects the report to be “horrific” and he’s been publicly claiming that the White House should be allowed to review and edit Mueller’s report before it is released to Congress. The FBI opened an investigation into the possibility that Trump is a Russian agent after he fired Comey. Trump has concealed the details of his conversations with Putin, “including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter” and ordering him/her not to discuss the details with his own administration’s officials. When asked if he was working as a Russian agent by Fox News, Trump avoided answering.
Mueller’s team has been investigating Ukrainians, many with pro-Russian alliances, that attended Trump’s inauguration and its associated parties; federal prosecutors have opened similar investigations. Paul Manafort’s lawyers accidentally revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the 2016 campaign with former Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. Mueller met with pollster Tony Fabrizio in February 2018. The Supreme Court declined to interfere in the contempt order and its associated fines against an unknown foreign-owned company that is fighting a grand jury subpoena. A law firm called Alston & Bird is involved in the foreign company’s subpoena challenge.
The Daily Beast reviewed a US intelligence report that indicated the Kremlin actively supported Russia’s involvement in the NRA, blessing the actions of Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina. Two Russians indicted by Mueller were involved in the murder of three Russian journalists in Africa: Evgeny Prigozhin and Mikhail Burchik.
Democratic House members are evaluating their legal options to discover what Trump was hiding in his meetings with Putin, including possibly subpoenaing the interpreter. The Senate Intel Cmte. questioned Sam Nunberg about a range of issues including Trump’s trip to Moscow and his campaign’s connections to Russia. Michael Cohen has agreed to publicly testify before the House on February 7. William Barr, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Tuesday. FCC records indicate the NRA “illegally coordinated its political advertising with Republican candidates” in at least three Senate races.
The Russian lawyer from the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with obstruction of justice in a money laundering case in New York. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has told the White House that he plans to resign “around the time” William Barr would take office if confirmed by the Senate.
The report. Carl Bernstein appeared on CNN and stated that he’s been told that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report will address whether President Donald Trump helped Russia “destabilize the United States.” Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has told a friend that he expects the report to be “horrific” and he’s been publicly claiming that the White House should be allowed to review and edit Mueller’s report before it is released to Congress.
Russian agent? Friday night, the NYT reported that the FBI was so concerned that Trump was an agent of Russia and a threat to national security, that after Comey’s firing the agency opened an investigation into Trump’s motives and allegiances. Agents and officials first became suspicious of Trump during the 2016 campaign, sparked in part by Trump’s call for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email and his refusal to criticize Putin. The final straw came when Trump tied Comey’s dismissal to the Russia investigation (e.g. the Lester Holt interview). When Mueller was appointed, he took over the FBI investigation.
- Related: A report by the Center for American Progress found that Trump’s campaign and transition team has over 100 contacts with Russian-linked officials.
Secret meetings. While we don’t know if Mueller has already looked into this, it would definitely fall under his purview. The Washington Post reported that Trump has concealed the details of his conversations with Putin, “including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter” and ordering him/her not to discuss the details with his own administration’s officials. As a result of Trump’s secrecy, “there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years.” It is especially striking, in my opinion, that there are no reports of Trump demanding this level of secrecy with any other heads of state. (See “Congress” section for more)
- The next day, Trump called into Fox News to give an interview to Jeanine Pirro. When asked by Pirro if he was working as a Russian agent, Trump would not give a straight answer. Instead, Trump called it “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.” Pirro also asked about Trump concealing the content of his meetings with Putin; Trump denied doing anything wrong and said he’s “not keeping anything under wraps.”
Mueller: Russian cases
Agalarov tour. The Russian who helped set up the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, singer Emin Agalarov, is touring America late January into early February. Former federal prosecutors have gone on record stating that if he hasn’t already made arrangements with Mueller, or if he lied, Agalarov should expect to be subpoenaed or arrested “the minute” he gets off the plane. Agalarov’s lawyer would not comment on the issue, but in August he told NBC that “conversations are ongoing” about a potential interview and had been for a year.
- Mueller has previously intercepted people of interest at airports: Viktor Vekselberg at a New York-area airport, George Papadapolous at Washington Dulles International Airport, and George Nader also at Washington Dulles.
Ukrainians. Mueller’s team has been investigating Ukrainians, many with pro-Russian alliances, that attended Trump’s inauguration and its associated parties. The NYT reports at least a dozen Ukrainian political and business figures who were in DC for the Liberty Ball also attended meetings with influential Republicans and allies of Trump. Mueller’s investigation into the matter “has spawned a number of related inquiries by federal prosecutors.” The various inquiries have reportedly found indications that some of the Ukrainians were promoting grand bargains that would result in the lifting of sanctions on Russia.
Polling data. In a court filing unsealed Tuesday, Paul Manafort’s lawyers responded to charges that he had lied to Mueller’s prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate. While most of it was meant to be redacted, his lawyers did not format it correctly, allowing the public to view the blacked-out text. We learned that Manafort shared polling data related to the 2016 campaign with former Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik and discussed Russian-Ukrainian relations, likely including relief from US sanctions. This is the clearest evidence yet that the Trump campaign tried to coordinate with Russians during the presidential race, as polling data could have helped Russia hone social media messages and target audiences to boost Trump in the election.
- Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, assisted Manafort in the operation. Manafort asked Gates to tell Kilimnik to pass the data to two Russia-friendly Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov. At the same time, Manafort was offering Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “private briefings” on the presidential race. CNN reported that Manafort emailed his accountant months after passing the polling data along that he expected a $2.4 million payment for his Ukraine work, but Manafort’s spokesman says it was unrelated to the data.
- Kilimnik “appears to be one of the most important” to Mueller’s investigation. He has already been charged with tampering with witnesses who had information on Manafort. In August 2016 Manafort met with Kilimnik to “discuss a plan that seemed to further Russia’s interests,” and they met at least once in Madrid in early 2017.
- As for why Manafort lied to Mueller’s team, his lawyers claim it was not intentional, but apparently don’t plan to legally challenge it. Later this month, there will be a hearing and then his sentencing is scheduled for March.
- Trump claimed he “didn’t know anything about” Manafort sharing polling data.
- Former federal prosecutor Elie Honig said this definitely qualifies as “collusion,” but: “More technically and legally, this could go to the crime of soliciting foreign election contributions or assistance. The argument would be that Manafort shared this info to enable Russians to hone and target their dissemination of hacked emails and their social media trolling efforts – clearly a benefit (technically a contribution) to Trump’s campaign.”
Pollster. Last year, Mueller went directly to the source to seek information about the Trump campaign’s polling data: in February 2018, Mueller met with pollster Tony Fabrizio. Crucially, Fabrizio worked with Manafort on Ukrainian elections as well. Though CNN reports a source said Mueller’s questions focused on the Ukrainian work rather than the Trump campaign polling, they also state “it’s not clear what other topics were broached.”
- Side note: Fabrizio’s “relationship with Trump soured late in the election as the Trump campaign disputed a bill of roughly $767,000 to Fabrizio’s polling firm. Fabrizio’s firm was eventually compensated.”
Mueller: Mystery opponent
Denied. A few weeks ago, in the case of an unknown foreign company fighting a subpoena from what’s believed to be Mueller’s grand jury, the defendants submitted a request to the Supreme Court to put a contempt order against them on hold. SCOTUS granted a stay of the contempt order and its associated fines until the government could respond. Finally, Tuesday the justices denied the stay request, allowing the $50,000 a day fine to accrue once more.
- Furthermore, it was revealed the unknown company had filed a motion seeking to file a petition under seal that would be asking the justices to review the original DC Circuit court’s ruling itself on its merits. What this means is rather than reviewing the contempt order (which SCOTUS denied to do), the company is asking SCOTUS to weigh in on the subpoena itself – under seal. It is very rare for the high court to hear cases that are under seal. Plus, the court’s decision to allow the order of contempt to stand means “that at least a majority of the court did not believe the company had shown that it has a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its challenge to the subpoena.”
- We learned a new little nugget of information in these filings: the company has an American office where the subpoena was served and that prosecutors contend the company conducts “considerable business” in the U.S.Also, the Washington Post reported the company is a foreign financial institution.
Mystery opponent’s lawyer. CNN reported a law firm called Alston & Bird is involved in the foreign company’s subpoena challenge. Alston & Bird has represented Russian interests in the past: in the 2000s, the firm represented Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (during the same time frame Deripaska loaned Manafort $10 million) in multiple matters; the firm also provided advisory services for a global public relations firm working for the Russian Federation. The global PR firm, Ketchum, Inc., “helped the Kremlin and state entities like Gazprom with public relations campaigns intended to influence US public opinion and policy.”
- CNN states “it’s likely the firm’s representation of the company and foreign state fall in line with past clients, so as not to pose ethical or business conflicts.” But Alston & Bird’s international relations and clients also include: Beijing and Brussels, where it’s only international offices are located, and its lobbying clients Kosovo and Taiwan.
- Interestingly, a lawyer at Alston & Bird also represented the RNC regarding public records litigation.
Guessing game. With this new information – that the company is a foreign financial institution and in some way involved with Alston & Bird – one suspect has moved up the list: VTB bank. In order to try to get sanctions lifted from the Russian aluminium company Rusal, it’s major shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, has had to relinquish ownership. VTB has stepped up to take ownership of a block of Deripaska’s shares. Also, keep in mind that VTB financed a large share of the Rosneft sale.
- However, there is one issue that may eliminate VTB bank from consideration: VTB no longer has any direct presence in the U.S. They *did* at the time of the subpoena was served, though. They sold and closed their US businesses due to the smothering of US sanctions (for their role in the Crimean annexation) at the end of August. We know the subpoena was served at least as far back as mid-August. What I don’t know, though, is if the company can be compelled to respond in US courts once they no longer have business here. The mystery continues…
- Another possibility is VEB, a Russian state-owned development bank. Mueller was looking into “whether Deutsche Bank may have sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB.” In December 2016, Jared Kushner met VEB’s Chairman in New York. VEB also helped fund construction of Trump’s Toronto hotel. I am unsure, though, if VEB has any business or offices in the U.S.</span>
NRA support. The Daily Beast reviewed a US intelligence report that indicated the Kremlin actively supported Russia’s involvement in the NRA, blessing the actions of Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina. This is in contrast to the Russian governments assertions that they had nothing to do with the operations.
- Daily Beast: According to the report, Torshin suggested that Russian officials use the NRA to reach out to politically active Americans. Torshin, then a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank, noted the gun rights group’s influence in U.S. politics. He told the Kremlin about his contacts in the NRA, including conversations and meetings in the United States, and suggested that Kremlin officials scrutinize how some people affiliated with the group viewed relations between the U.S. and Russia.
Murdered journalists. Two Russians indicted by Mueller were involved in the murder of three Russian journalists in Africa, according to their former employer who presented data at a briefing in London. The journalists were in the Central African Republic filming a piece about the Russian mercenaries known as the Wagner Group. One of the men accused of orchestrating their murders, Evgeny Prigozhin, owns the Wagner Group. Prigozhin’s nickname is “Putin’s chef,” and he was indicted by Mueller for his role in funding and directing the Russian troll farm. Mikhail Burchik is believed to have assisted in covering up the murders; he was indicted by Mueller for spreading propaganda under false identities on social media as part of the troll farm’s operation.
Interpreter subpoena? After the Washington Post reported the unusual lengths Trump took to hide the details of his meetings with Putin, Democratic House members began analyzing how to get the information from the interpreter(s) who took part in the leaders’ conversations. Lawyers for the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees will meet today (Monday) to evaluate their legal options. Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted: “Last year, we sought to obtain the interpreter’s notes or testimony, from the private meeting between Trump and Putin. The Republicans on our committee voted us down. Will they join us now? Shouldn’t we find out whether our president is really putting “America first?”
Sanctions. On Thursday, House Democrats summoned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to explain why he decided to lift sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including aluminum producer Rusal and EN+ Group. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the briefing “a waste of time” and “one of the worst classified briefings” she’d received during the Trump administration. She said Mnuchin “barely testified at all,” mostly reading from an unclassified document and letting other officials do most of the talking. For his part, Mnuchin said he was “somewhat shocked” by Pelosi’s comments and would consider extending the 30-day review period on lifting of the Russia sanctions.
Nunberg. The Senate Intelligence Committee has resumed its probe into Trump’s Russia connections. On Friday, former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg was questioned about Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow, the Trump Organization’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow, and “specific relationships” between campaign members and Russian agents. Nunberg told NBC, “they are doing an exhaustive investigation.” He said the Senators went down a checklist of topics including Trump’s relationships with Russian banks, Trump’s position on Syria, the campaign’s connections with the NRA and Maria Butina, and any Trump associate’s relations with Julian Assange.
Cohen. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has agreed to publicly testify before the House on February 7. When Trump appeared on Fox News Saturday, he took shots at Cohen, attacking his father-in-law. The chairmen of the Oversight, Intelligence, and Judiciary committees issued a joint statement warning Trump against intimidating or obstructing any witness from providing testimony to Congress.
- Cohen is not expected to talk about any matters related to Russia in open session. Therefore, most of the events Cohen will discuss revolve around the campaign finance violations he alleges Trump directed.
Barr update. Trump’s pick for Attorney General, William Barr, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Tuesday to start confirmation hearings. The process is expected to be contentious due to the power over Mueller’s investigation he’ll inherit and his past opposition to the special counsel. Last week, Democrats complained that Barr was meeting privately with Republican senators but not with Democrats. After publicly denouncing Barr’s absence, the DOJ suddenly reversed course and set meetings with Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
Whitaker delay. After claiming that he cannot appear on Capitol Hill during the shutdown, House Democrats have demanded that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testify before the House Judiciary Committee by Jan. 29, saying the shutdown is no excuse to delay. As CNN explained, if Whitaker holds out until his replacement, William Burr, takes the job, “Democrats would lose a valuable opportunity to question Whitaker while he serves as acting attorney general overseeing the special counsel’s investigation.”
Committees. Democratic control of the House is bad news for allies of Trump who previously testified before the friendlier Republican-controlled House. The committees plan on releasing the transcripts of the 73 witnesses to Mueller, which could result in perjury charges for anyone who misled congress. Additionally, the witnesses could be recalled to face tough questions. Rep. Jackie Speier, of the House Intelligence Committee, was asked which person would be served the first subpoena by the panel when it reopens the investigation into Trump’s Russia connections. She responded, “Donald Trump, Jr.”
- Vice News: Former prosecutors following the case have said Don Jr. and Kushner, who both testified before the committee, may have reason to be concerned — pointing to, for example, the changing public narrative about their meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in June of 2016… “We know they must have been asked about the Trump Tower meeting, and we know that the public story about that meeting has evolved over time,” said Mimi Rocah, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. “The fact that the story evolved makes this something they’re likely to have lied about.”
Army of lawyers. The White House has hired 17 lawyers to protect Trump and his staff from Congressional investigators. They are reportedly concerned about hiding Trump’s confidential discussions with top advisors from House Democrats. For their part, Democrats are anticipating a legal showdown should Trump claim executive privilege to keep Mueller’s reports secret.
NRA. Mother Jones examined Federal Communications Commission records and found evidence that the NRA “illegally coordinated its political advertising with Republican candidates” in at least three Senate races. The group allegedly coordinated with Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Montana’s Matt Rosendale in 2018, as well as North Carolina’s Richard Burr in 2016. A similar pattern of coordination was found between the NRA and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
- “All evidence points to coordination,” said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the FEC from 1987 to 2000, in response to a detailed description of the documents. “It’s hard to understand how you’d have the same person authorizing placements for the NRA and the candidate and it not be coordination.” Noble also said: “What this reflects is the FEC’s lack of enforcement and the lack of respect that the NRA and the vendor are showing toward the FEC and the law. You do this if you think no one is going to investigate.”
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Veselnitskaya. The Russian lawyer from the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was charged by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with obstruction of justice in a money laundering case in New York. Veselnitskaya was representing the Cyprus-based investment firm Prevezon Holdings and its Russian owner, Denis P. Katsyv. Manhattan prosecutors alleged Prevezon used real estate in New York to launder a portion of a $230 million Russian tax scheme (uncovered by Sergei L. Magnitsky). Veselnitskaya is accused of submitting “false and deceptive declarations” to a federal judge in New York City, “in secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor.”
- Crucially, the government documents assert that Veselnitskaya was working as an agent of the Russia government. This has implications for her involvement in the Trump Tower meeting as well: prosecutors can now argue that she was also acting as a Russian agent in her meeting with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner. A source familiar with Veselnitskaya told the New Yorker that the documents she brought to the meeting were virtually identical to the arguments she used defending Prevezon.
Rosenstein. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has told the White House that he plans to resign “around the time” William Barr would take office if confirmed by the Senate. Another report indicated Rosenstein will stay in his position until Mueller finishes his investigative and prosecutorial work. The source told NBC this means Rosenstein would remain until early March, but others said there is no firm timeline and Rosenstein’s departure date is fluid. This is important because Rosenstein has been overseeing the Mueller probe and is the most trusted member of the DOJ brass to do so in good faith.
Recusal. Senate Democrats sent a letter to the DOJ’s inspector general calling for an ethics probe into acting AG Matthew Whitaker for his refusal to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation. The senators wrote in part that “Whitaker’s decision to disregard the advice of career DOJ ethics officials to recuse himself from oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicates that DOJ’s internal ethics procedures have failed.”
Cambridge update. The parent company of Cambridge Analytica, SCL Elections, has been found guilty of breaking UK data protection laws and ordered to pay a fine of over $19,000. The charge stems from the company’s refusal to turn over data and information regarding American professor David Carroll. Even though the company admitted not complying with the law, they still have failed to give the requested data to Carroll.
- The administrators, who are now in control of SCL, have given its server passwords to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). This is an important development because it means the ICO “may eventually be able to work out what data was gathered on Carroll and millions of fellow American voters, and how it was used—by a company that boasted of its dirty tricks—to help Trump win in 2016.”