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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of July 29 – Aug 4, 2018

Mueller Investigation

Reporter Murray Waas wrote a piece for The New York Review revealing the existence of evidence in Mueller’s possession that implicates Trump in obstruction of justice. He states, “Several people who have reviewed a portion of this evidence say that, based on what they know, they believe it is now all but inevitable that the special counsel will complete a confidential report presenting evidence that President Trump violated the law.”

  • The evidence consists of a confidential White House memo that “explicitly states” Trump was told by Reince Priebus and Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was under criminal investigation right before Trump pressured Comey to let Flynn “go.” Waas states not only that Mueller has this memo in his possession, but also that Priebus and McGahn testified to Mueller that they personally gave this information to Trump during a meeting on January 26, 2017.
  • Such details contradict Trump’s version of events, as laid out in a letter to Mueller from January 29, 2018. In the letter, “two of Trump’s attorneys say that the President knew only that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. Trump believed the bureau’s investigation was over and that Flynn had been cleared…”

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should immediately end Mueller’s investigation.

  • Trump’s tweet: “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
  • In response to questions of Trump’s intent, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said: “The president’s not obstructing, he’s fighting back.”
  • Congressmen and -women either ignored or downplayed Trump’s Twitter attack on Sessions and Mueller. Most said, “you’ll have to ask the president what he means.” Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) tried to interpret Trump’s meaning, saying, “[Trump] wants to see the investigation closed. He didn’t say anything in the record that I’ve reviewed this morning that said he wants [Mueller] fired. There’s a difference.”

ABC reported that Trump’s tweetstorm was likely sparked by his lawyers briefing him just hours earlier on the latest developments in Mueller’s investigation. In order to obtain an interview with Trump, Mueller has reportedly offered to decrease the number of questions about obstruction of justice and accept some responses in written form. CNN notes, “However, Mueller wants obstruction to be addressed in person, not just in written answers.” The two sides are still negotiating.

Trump’s lawyers are creating a “counter-report” to refute any allegations Mueller’s upcoming report may contain. Rudy Giuliani told USA Today that Mueller’s team is “writing the report as we speak,” but admits he has no firsthand knowledge of Mueller’s plans.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, did another media tour last week.

  • He started off Monday by appearing on CNN, where he tried to make the argument that not only is colluding not a crime, but Trump is innocent because he didn’t personally hack the DNC himself.
    • Giuliani: “…colluding with Russia, which, I don’t even know if that’s a crime, colluding about Russians. You start analyzing the crime—the hacking is the crime. The President didn’t hack.”
  • Next, Giuliani showed up on Fox & Friends, where he said: “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime.” Technically, he is correct, but he is intentionally ignoring that conspiring with foreign nationals to interfere with an election is a felony offense – collusion is often used as shorthand for that crime.
    • Note: Trump repeated this claim on Twitter the following day, writing: “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!”
  • Moments later on Fox & Friends, Giuliani brought up a claim allegedly made by Michael Cohen as if it was public knowledge…but it wasn’t, until Giuliani said it on national television. According to Giuliani, Cohen has stated that at least five Trump aides – including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Richard Gates – plus himself held a planning meeting prior to the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in 2016. Giuliani seemed to confirm the meeting actually took place by clearly stating that Trump Sr. was not at the planning meeting.
  • Later that day, it seemed the implications of Giuliani’s admission had sunk in, and so he called into another Fox News show to try to mitigate the damage. The host asked him why he brought up a second meeting when the question “had not been asked, or even suggested.” Giuliani responded that he was trying to get ahead of a story about the planning meeting that he said was being shopped around. Giuliani then changed his story, denying that the planning meeting (which Trump was not at) never took place.
  • As the Daily Beast sums up nicely: “… the Trump team had long insisted that the actual meeting itself was so innocent and irrelevant as to barely even register in their memories—which likely would not have been the case if they had been planning for it.”

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Trump is worried his son, Don Jr., is a target of Mueller’s probe for his role in the Trump Tower meeting. “ As one adviser described the president’s thinking, he does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal ­jeopardy.”

The next day, Trump responded to the Washington Post report via Twitter, saying: “Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

  • Trump’s tweet is the first time he admitted that the Trump Tower meeting was organized to “get information on an opponent,” and not to discuss adoptions as he first claimed. The adoptions assertion was part of a statement issued by Don Jr. after the meeting became publicly known. The fact that Trump Sr. drafted the statement makes the contradiction in his tweet even more galling.
  • A second noteworthy aspect of Trump’s tweet is the last line – “I did not know about it!” Right after asserting that the meeting was “totally legal,” Trump tries to distance himself from it. As the Washington Post points out, “Trump seems to be arguing against his own point by assuring us that he had nothing to do with this meeting, which — oh, by the way — was totally on the up-and-up.”

Mueller is seeking an interview with Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star who helped arrange the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Agalarov’s lawyer says “conversations are ongoing” and it is “unclear how this will play out.”

On Wednesday, Mueller’s team interviewed Kristin Davis, also known as the Manhattan Madam. Davis is a close friend of Roger Stone. CNN reports, “investigators expressed interest in having Davis testify before a grand jury — the latest indication that prosecutors are still aiming to build a case against Stone.”

Andrew Miller, a former aide to Roger Stone, has been ordered to testify before Mueller’s grand jury. He tried to block Mueller’s subpoena but the judge rejected his challenge on Thursday.

A person impersonating a staff member of the Latvian foreign ministry contacted Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to arrange a phone call between her and the Latvian foreign minister to discuss the sanctions against Russia. Shaheen’s staff contacted the ministry directly and found the person to be an imposter. As the Daily Beast characterizes the incident, the intent of the call was to “get inside information” on the sanctions.

  • “Lawmakers are on high alert for suspicious emails after a number of attempted hack attacks linked to the Russian government. Last week, The Daily Beast reported that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, was the target of an unsuccessful hacking attempt by Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.”

The Manafort trial continues this week. There were a variety of tidbits from the four days of trial so far, but nothing connected to the Russia probe. For a review of Friday’s events, see here.

Michael Cohen

More pay-for-access: The Wall Street Journal revealed another deal Cohen had made to profit off his close relationship with Trump. Franklin Haney, “a major donor” to Trump, was going to pay Cohen $10 million if Cohen secured funding for Haney’s unfinished nuclear-power project. Cohen was not able to obtain the government funding, but may have been paid a monthly retainer for an unknown length of time.

More Russian Connections

A recent report by the Atlantic Council details how the U.S. government, namely the Department of Homeland Security, has been doing Russia’s dirty work for them by prosecuting and extraditing Russian government dissidents in America.

  • Russia’s abuse of Interpol has been well-covered in relation to Bill Browder. They issue Red Notices – an approximation of an International arrest warrant – against Kremlin opponents. Normally, the U.S. “ does not consider a Red Notice alone to be a sufficient basis for the arrest,” but recently Trump’s Homeland Security has been using them to facilitate “backdoor extraditions” at the Kremlin’s request.
  • “…as the abuse of Interpol by Russia and other nations has increased, DHS and DOJ have more and more put themselves in the position of doing Vladimir Putin’s dirty work for him by using his abusive Red Notices as the basis for arresting dissidents and businessmen who fled to the U.S. after they fell foul of Putin’s regime.”

Maria Butina, the gun-rights advocate and accused Russian spy, “socialized in the weeks before the 2016 election” with former Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon. Gordon released a statement on the matter, calling the story “a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members…”

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, intimated that Russia has inside information on military plans of the U.S. and its allies while speaking at a Russian forum.


The Republican-controlled Senate voted against a Democratic amendment to the annual appropriations bill “that would provide $250 million in election security grants to states” to upgrade their voting systems and protect against hacking/cyberattacks. The amendment was put forward by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. It received 50 approval votes but needed 60 to pass.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, refused to bring Donald Trump Jr. back to testify about the Trump Tower meeting in light of the new information revealed by Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani.

  • Cohen claimed that Don Jr. told Trump Sr. about the meeting in advance and that Trump Sr. approved of going forward with it. Giuliani admitted in a televised interview that Cohen claims there was a planning meeting prior to the previously known Trump Tower meeting (see Giuliani section above).
  • Grassley told CNN: “If he misled the committee, he’s lying to Congress. That’s a crime…And that’d be up to the prosecutors, not me.”

Senator Rand Paul is going to Moscow today (Monday, Aug. 6) to meet with Russian lawmakers and “discuss common ground with their leaders and help prevent further, unnecessary escalation of tensions.” It’s hard to believe Paul will actually hold the Russians accountable, though, based on his past statements. For example, “last month on CNN, Paul said it was a ‘waste of time’ to try to hold Vladimir Putin responsible for election interference.”


The Department of Homeland Security has reallocated $750 million meant for a new polar icebreaker for the U.S. fleet to instead be used for Trump’s border wall. The Arctic is rich in natural resources and an invaluable transport route; the nation that is capable of controlling this territory will profit greatly. As the U.S. intentionally ignores the Arctic, Russia is expanding into the area.

  • Russia is currently boosting their spending on icebreakers, with one company in the process of “creating a minimum of fifteen 1,000-foot-long, $320 million tankers to break the ice.” Putin fully backs the company’s objectives, giving a speech at the opening of their facility. “This is perhaps the largest step forward in our developing of the Arctic…Now we can safely say that Russia will expand through the Arctic this and next century. This is where the largest mineral reserves are located.”
  • Russia is also expanding its military power in the Arctic, with “numerous military installations and airbases as well as generous additions to Russia’s Northern Fleet.” Along with commercial vessels, Russia is building military ships capable of patrolling the icy waters while also carrying weapons like cruise missile launchers.
  • Meanwhile, America’s icebreaking fleet only contains one working ship and one disabled one, “each of which have exceeded their 30-year service lives.” Democratic lawmakers and the Coast Guard criticized the move. “‘We need that ship now,’ Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Wednesday during a speech in Washington.”

An online poll of over 2,500 Americans conducted by Yahoo found that of Republicans, 11% “say it’s ‘appropriate’ for Russia to help Republicans keep control of Congress in the upcoming elections.” An additional 29% “say it’s ‘not appropriate, but wouldn’t be a big deal’ for the Russians to help.” Thus, a total 40% of Republicans in this poll were at least okay with Russian interference on their party’s behalf.

  • The same poll also asked Democrats how they would feel if Russians illegally assisted their party in elections. Compared to the 40% of Republicans who said “they’d approve or only mildly object, 14% of Democrats felt the same.”

To note…

Activist Emma Best published over 11,000 of Wikileaks Twitter direct messages, most between Assange and his supporters. While it is a lot to sift through, it seems like there’s nothing too big in the dump. There are various interesting tidbits, like Assange pushing his conspiracy theories (Peace Corps is a front for the CIA), multiple instances of Hillary Clinton being described as a “sadistic sociopath,” and some anti-Semitic sentiments.