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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of July 1 – 7, 2018

Mueller Investigation

Mueller announced he intends to present evidence at Manafort’s trial that in exchange for a position advising the Trump campaign, a banker helped Manafort obtain loans of approximately $16 million. Manafort has been asking the judge to keep details about his ties to Trump out of the trial because they weren’t relevant, but it now seems the campaign will be part of the trial.

  • Manafort is spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, according to his lawyer, Kevin Downing, in order to “guarantee his safety.” Downing is arguing in court that Manafort does not have the opportunity to prepare adequately for trial while in jail. They are appealing the judge’s decision to lock Manafort up.

Trump’s legal team has refused to allow Mueller to interview Trump without first proving the Special Counsel has evidence of Trump committing a crime and that Trump’s testimony is needed to end the probe. Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lead attorney Emmet Flood had pushed backed against Mueller’s request to interview John Kelly, seeking to limit the scope of the questioning.

Konstantin Kilimnik, previously known simply as Paul Manafort’s “fixer” who was charged with witness tampering, is now taking a more central position in Mueller’s investigation. According to the AP, Kilimnik was “far more involved in formulating pro-Russia political strategy with Manafort than previously known.” Several back channels between Kilimnick and Oleg Deripaska “remained open” through the 2016 presidential campaign.

Scott Pruitt, former Director of the EPA (who resigned last week), reportedly told Trump that he was willing to temporarily replace Jeff Sessions in order to fire Mueller and his staff, or at the very least derail his investigation.

  • Pruitt could have (before he resigned) became the Attorney General through the Vacancies Act. Any senate-confirmed person in the Trump administration can be made Attorney General if Sessions is fired. It is important to know this because Trump could try this tactic with another Senate-confirmed official.
  • Insight into Trump’s state of mind. About Trump and Pruitt, the NYT reported weeks ago: “The two speak frequently, and the president enjoys discussing his negative view of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, with the embattled E.P.A. leader.”

Someone has been paying online writers in India and Indonesia to write articles that distance Trump from Felix Sater, designed to influence Google search results. One of the authors of the articles said he was contacted “via a random email” to publish the article and he doesn’t know the identity of the client. He said, “Most of the times we don’t even know why [we are] writing about [our clients] or who asked us to do that.”

Michael Cohen

Cohen has hired former Bill Clinton lawyer and frequent Trump critic Lanny Davis. Davis is the author of “The Unmaking of the President 2016,” in which he questions the legitimacy of Trump’s election and raises the possibility of removing Trump from office for “mental impairment.”

Buzzfeed obtained the reconstructed documents the FBI collected from Michael Cohen’s shredder. Included is an invitation to a reception in Miami to meet with business representatives from Qatar & wire transfer of $62,500 from Elliott Broidy, which has already been reported.

More Russian connections

As reported last week, Trump is meeting with Putin one-on-one in Helsinki on July 16th. There will apparently be no one else in the room, not even translators. However, Trump will be accompanied to the location by his current advisers like Kelly, Miller, and Bolton, as well as his new Comms Director Bill Shine.

In early 2016, the British equivalent to the NSA, GCHQ, warned their American counterparts that Russian hackers were targeting the DNC. Robert Hannigan, director of GCHQ, told the Daily Beast about what his agency was seeing and what they did about it.

  • In April of 2016, Hannigan’s team found metadata indicating Russia’s intelligence agency, the GRU, had broken into the DNC’s server. At the time, the goal was unclear. The British could tell there “was an intrusion, and something had been taken out of the committee. But had no way of knowing what.” Hannigan flagged the intercepts for the NSA immediately, but the Americans apparently never acted on the knowledge. Hannigan was told the NSA appreciated the head’s up.
  • In addition to the DNC intercepts, GCHQ also collected evidence that “Putin was causing a ‘disproportionate amount of mayhem in cyberspace.’”

A British pair, Dawn Sturgess and Charles Rowley, have apparently been poisoned by Novichok, the same nerve agent that poisoned former Russian spy Skripal and his daughter. It is unclear how the two came in contact with Novichok, but officials have stated it is possible there was a site that didn’t get cleaned up originally. Sturgess and Rowley fell ill in Amesbury, a few miles away from the location of the original attack. UPDATE: Dawn Sturgess has died in the hospital.

Trump held a rally in Montana on Thursday in which he said a lot of newsworthy things. He mocked the criticism of his meeting with Putin, saying that while some people say “President Putin is KGB…you know what? Putin’s fine.”

It was reported over the weekend that Trump “treats Putin like a confidant” and the two commiserate together over the “deep state” and “fake news,” who Putin says are “fighting against our friendship.” It seems H.R. McMaster might have tried to dissuade Trump from trusting Putin, to no avail.


The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that backs up the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in our election and had a clear preference for Donald Trump winning.

The confirmation hearing for Brian Benczkowski, Trump’s nominee to lead the DOJ’s Criminal Division, is this Tuesday. Benczkowski not only has no prosecutorial experience, he also represented Alfa Bank – a Russian bank with ties to Putin.

  • You might also remember Alfa Bank’s server had unusual connections with a Trump Organization server, though the FBI investigated and found nothing nefarious in the communication.
  • According to Sen. Durbin, Benczkowski won’t commit to recuse himself from matters relating to Russia if he was to be confirmed. Another point of concern: if confirmed, Benczkowski will oversee cases like the criminal investigation of Michael Cohen.

A group of GOP senators spent the 4th of July in Moscow with Russian officials.

  • On Tuesday, the group met with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov
  • Senator John Kennedy called the meetings with Russian officials as “damn frank, very, very, very frank, no holds barred,” but then described politely asking Russia to behave. “I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year,” Kennedy said. “I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”
  • Russian state media was jubilant that US officials visited Moscow. Reportedly, “Russian officials also boasted that the Americans had come all the way to Moscow to meet them while they offered few concessions.”
  • Also on Russian state TV, Defense advisor Igor Korotchenko said about the GOP senators: “We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did.”
  • Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov said the meeting “was one of the easiest ones in my life.” He further stated that the question of Russia’s election interference was resolved quickly, implying the senators did not push the issue and accepted their word that Russia did not interfere.
  • Quote from the WaPo: Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the president’s visit, especially on matters of election interference. But they struck a conciliatory tone once there: The point of their visit, Shelby stressed to the Duma leader, was to “strive for a better relationship” with Moscow, not “accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.”
  • List: Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Kennedy of Louisiana, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Steve Daines of Montana, John Thune of South Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.

Devin Nunes is calling for a ‘task force’ to investigate officials and activists who exposed Russian election meddling, including Obama administration officials, FBI agents, Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS (behind the Steele Dossier), and Robby Mook (Clinton’s campaign manager).


Trump gave out his personal cell phone number to foreign leaders after taking office, without his advisers’ knowledge. White House officials were reportedly “shocked” to learn of this. Trump’s behavior and inability to follow protocols is concerning because there is evidence of cellphone surveillance devices in use around the White House and other “sensitive facilities.”

Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer who goes on TV frequently to defend Donald Trump, says that he’s being shunned by people at Martha’s Vineyard for his views. He believes that “conservatives are being shunned” unjustly and has gone on various TV shows to complain about it.

To note…

I feel like it might be helpful to include a summary of some of Putin’s goals at the end of this. Keep in mind these are simplified and the list is, of course, incomplete. Some background I’d recommend is the Foundations of Geopolitics, written by Aleksandr Dugin in 1997.

  1. Undermine NATO.
  2. Force West to accept Crimea annexation.
  3. Undermine western democracies thru election interference.
  4. Ensure survival of Assad regime & Russia bases in Syria.