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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of June 24 – 30, 2018

Mueller investigation

Erik Prince is cooperating with Mueller and has turned over his computer and phone to Mueller’s team for review, suggesting Mueller may try to find inconsistencies in his sworn testimony that could be used to turn him into a witness against others.

  • Prince went to the Seychelles in 2017 for what’s been called a secret backchannel meeting with Putin ally Kirill Dmitriev. Prince testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that it was a chance encounter “over a beer.” However, it has been reported that George Nader gave Mueller evidence that he had in fact set up the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev, and Prince knew he was meeting the Russian.

Andrew Miller, a former aide to Roger Stone, has been subpoenaed to appear before Mueller’s grand jury. His lawyer, who is being paid by a conservative nonprofit, is planning to resist the subpoena and question Mueller’s appointment. However, two federal judges have already rejected the argument that Mueller’s appointment is unconstitutional.

Mueller is investigating numerous powerful Russians who were granted unusual access to Trump inauguration parties: “Several billionaires with deep ties to Russia attended exclusive, invitation-only receptions” typically reserved for top donors and close political allies during Trump’s inauguration festivities.

  • Several of the Russians donated at least $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, enough to receive tickets to a special “Candlelight Dinner.” Fewer attended the more exclusive black-tie “Chairman’s Global Dinner.”
  • ABC has obtained a guest list from the event. Victor Vekselberg, who has been questioned by Mueller, was at the dinner seated next to Michael Cohen. You might remember Vekselberg and Andrew Intrater (who was also at the dinner) paid Cohen a $1 million consulting contract. Leonard Blavatnik donated $1 million to the inaugural committee and was present at both the Candlelight Dinner and the Chairman’s events. Alexander Shustorovich also donated $1 million and attended the Chairman’s Dinner. Alexander Mashkevitch was on the guest list for the Candlelight Dinner. Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak was on the Chairman’s dinner list.
  • Other guests include Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, Steve Bannon, Thomas Barrack Jr., Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort.

Partially redacted search warrants reveal Paul Manafort is deeply in debt. Manafort & his wife acknowledged a $10 million loan from Russian oligarch Deripaska on his 2010 tax return. The loan went the same LLC that Manafort used to buy his Trump Tower apartment.

  • Related article from a year ago that’s worth a read: Ex-Trump Aide Manafort Bought New York Homes With Cash. Manafort’s New York City transactions follow a pattern: Using shell companies, he purchased the homes in all-cash deals, then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and then took out hefty mortgages against them, according to property records. Some experts say these patterns appear in money laundering cases.

Sentencing for George Papadopoulos is set for September 7th. He pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents and could face up to 5 years in prison. However, due to his cooperation and lack of criminal record, “it is possible the former Trump adviser could not be sentenced to jail at all.”

Interestingly, Mueller says Flynn is still cooperating with prosecutors and is thus not ready for sentencing yet.

Michael Cohen

Edit: New Monday morning – Michael Cohen sat for an interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired this morning. Cohen stated that Trump is not his first loyalty, saying “my wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will.”

  • It’s important to note, however, that Cohen has been sending out signals to Trump these past two weeks, vacillating between standing with Trump and hinting he might flip. Some believe Cohen is trying to get Trump to pay his legal bills with this strategy, reminding him what is on the line.
  • There is one detail of the interview that brings pause, though. Cohen is apparently planning to end a joint defense agreement he had with other defendants in his cases, such as Trump. This is what Michael Flynn did before cooperating with the Feds. Again, keep in mind this could all be signals to Trump.

SDNY District Judge Kimba Wood ordered 4 million files seized from Michael Cohen to be turned over to prosecutors, the Special Master in the case having already completed her review of the material. Of all the files seized, Cohen’s lawyers only claimed privilege for 12,000 files – less than 0.3% of the total. The Trump organization has until July 5th to finish reviewing an additional 22,000 documents to determine if they fall under attorney-privilege.

Other Russian connections

On Wednesday, the Kremlin announced that it had reached an agreement with the White House for a Trump-Putin summit to take place in July. Of course, the Kremlin was informing the U.S. of this rather than our own government. On Thursday the White House and the Kremlin released coordinated statements that the meeting will occur in Helsinki, Finland on July 16.

The same day, Trump took to Twitter to again defend Putin, arguing that “Russia continues to say they had nothing with Meddling [sic] in our Election [sic]!”

Nat Sec Adviser John Bolton met with Russian officials (including Putin) this week to set up the Trump-Putin meeting, completely reversing his opinion on Russia during that time. Before joining the Trump Administration, Bolton called Russia’s election interference “an act of war” against the US, adding the US can’t trust Russia. After meeting with Russian officials, Bolton stated, “We are most appreciative of your courtesy and graciousness.”

  • Bolton later said “we’ll see” if recognizing Russian annexation of Crimea is on the table, dangling the possibility of Trump accepting Russia’s illegal land grab.

A group of GOP Senators are traveling to Russia shortly to celebrate Independence Day in Moscow. Ahead of the trip, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama excused Russia’s attacks on our elections, saying “we’ve done a lot of things, too.” He later clarified his comments were not meant to be an excuse; he was “just stating the reality of it.” Shelby will be joined by John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana and North Dakota’s John Hoeven on the Moscow trip. [Opinion: It’s hard to see how this isn’t accepting future interference by Russia.]

Dozens of experts are warning that Russia will be throwing everything they’ve got at the 2018 midterms, using it to cement division and as a testing ground for 2020. Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton interviewed these experts and sums up the possibilities in this great article. “Over the past two years, Trump has been trying to make the public believe that everything about our democracy is corrupt…What more could the Russians ask for?”

Russian-backed Syrian forces have pushed a military offensive into the “de-escalation zone” in Southwest Syria, breaking a year-old agreement between the U.S., Russia, and Jordan. The Trump administration is now walking back warnings of American retaliation for violating the agreement.

On top of trying to destabilize the European Union, Trump has been hinting at following through on previous threats of leaving NATO and the WTO. What more could Putin ask for?

  • Washington Post reported that in a private meeting with France’s Macron, Trump asked Macron, “Why don’t you leave the E.U.?” and said that if France exited the union, Trump would offer it a bilateral trade deal with better terms than the E.U. as a whole gets from the United States.
  • At G7, Trump told the other leaders that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA,” and suggested to the Swedish prime minister that America should leave the NATO alliance. As Jonathan Swan of Axios states, “NATO member states are worried about Russian aggression and they want an unambiguous sign that America has their back.”
  • Axios got ahold of a Trump administration draft bill, ordered by Trump himself, that essentially withdraws the U.S. from the WTO agreement. It would allow Trump to raise U.S. tariffs at will, without congressional consent and negotiate one-on-one with any country. “It would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal,” said a source familiar with the bill.

In another example of Putin and his oligarchs benefiting from U.S. policy, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is confident that Russia along with Saudi Arabia will be able to increase their crude oil output to compensate for the supply losses caused by sanctions on Iran.


FBI agent Peter Strzok testified before the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees on Wednesday for over 11 hours. He addressed the anti-Trump text messages he exchanged with FBI agent Page, saying they were part of an “intimate” conversation and did not contain any intent to act. Mueller removed Strzok from his team promptly upon learning of the texts. As has been the trend lately, the Freedom Caucus members came away from the meeting not believing Strzok and seeing bias where the Inspector General found none.

Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray attended a hearing before the House in which Republicans clashed with both men, but especially Rosenstein, over various issues ranging from Mueller’s probe to Peter Strzok to Hillary Clinton’s probe. Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan was particularly abrasive.

Mark Warner hosted a dinner for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s annual retreat last Friday (22nd) night. Referencing Mueller’s investigation, Warner said, “If you think you’ve seen wild stuff so far, buckle up. It’s going to be a wild couple of months.”


Elliott Broidy, top GOP fundraiser, is going to stop paying a former Playboy playmate hush money over an affair the two allegedly had. This is the affair that some believe was actually between Trump & the playmate, but Broidy took the fall.

To note…

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued Trump and his adult children for “persistently illegal conduct” related to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The allegations of misuse of funds are wide-ranging, including breaking campaign finance laws by supporting Trump’s 2016 campaign. Here is a sampling:

  • $5,000 was used to advertise Trump Hotels;
  • $10,000 was spent on a portrait of the president, later found on display at the sports bar at Trump’s Doral golf resort;
  • $100,000 was allegedly used to settle a legal dispute with the city of Palm Beach, which Trump resolved by contributing the amount to the Fisher House Foundation;
  • $258,000 was allegedly used to settle lawsuits against Trump and his businesses, including $158,000 paid to a man named Martin Greenberg, who sued the Trump National Golf Club after it failed to pay him a promised $1 million for scoring a hole-in-one at a charity golf tournament.

The lawsuit against the Trumps for the charity misuse is set to be heard before the midterm elections. So far, the judge has not appeared to be sympathetic to the Trumps.

Ivanka Trump gave a personal $50,000 donation to Pastor Jack Graham of the Prestonwood Baptist Church, a strongly anti-LGBT megachurch that apparently plans to hold an event for migrants.

On the same day (June 7) as Trump agreed to lift sanctions against ZTE, a Chinese telecom company, Ivanka Trump was granted approval from China to register three more trademarks. Ivanka applied for these trademarks in July of 2016, presenting an appearance of impropriety (at the very least) due to the ‘coincidence’ of the approval taking so long and happening on the very same day as President Trump’s agreement. Additionally, Ivanka’s business received “registration” approval from the Chinese government for five trademark applications the same week President Trump first announced that he wanted to pursue the ZTE deal.

Since Trump declared his candidacy for president in late 2015, at least $16,100,000 has poured into Trump Organization-managed and branded hotels, golf courses and restaurants from his campaign, Republican organizations, and government agencies.