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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of June 3 – 9, 2018

Mueller Investigation

On Monday, Mueller filed documents accusing Manafort of attempted witness tampering in the D.C. case against him. Manafort allegedly contacted two people who helped him set up a secret lobbying group on Ukraine’s behalf in 2012-2013, trying to persuade them to lie so they had the same story. Charges were officially filed on Friday.

  • Prosecutors argue that the secret lobbying campaign occurred in the U.S., while Manafort is arguing that the lobbying only look place in the E.U., “a key point in his defense.” Manafort’s main message to the witnesses was to corroborate his argument.
  • Manafort reached out to the witnesses between February to April this year, while he was under house arrest. To one witness, Manafort used WhatsApp to tell him/her “We should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe.” When this witness avoided his messages, Manafort worked through an unidentified intermediary, who passed on the following message through WhatsApp: “Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the U.S., and the purpose of the program was E.U.” To the second witness, the same intermediary sent a message saying: “My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that.”
  • The witnesses turned this evidence over to the FBI. Prosecutors have asked the judge to either rescind Manafort’s bail and send him to jail until trial or revise the terms of his release. Manafort responded to the accusations by arguing that he couldn’t have tampered with witnesses when he didn’t know they were witnesses.
  • For more information on the secret lobbying group, called the Hapsburg Group, see this Feb 2018 piece from the NYT.

In addition to Manafort’s charges on Friday, Mueller also charged his “fixer” and former Russian spy, Konstantin Kilimnik, with helping Manafort obstruct justice. “This is the first indictment we have where an American and a Russian are charged together,” said former prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

Mueller’s team and congressional investigators have been looking into a connection Ivanka Trump made between Michael Cohen and Russian weightlifter Dmitry Klokov during her father’s campaign.

  • Donald Trump was pursuing a lucrative deal to build a 100-story skyscraper in Russia during his presidential campaign. It is unclear how Ivanka knew Klokov, but he allegedly offered to introduce Donald Trump to Putin in order to facilitate the deal. Ivanka told Cohen of this and suggested he call the weightlifter. Cohen and Klokov spoke on the phone at least once and exchanged numerous emails, ending in Cohen refusing Klokov’s offer “and saying that the Trump Organization already had an agreement in place.” This frustrated Ivanka, who questioned Cohen’s commitment.
  • If the tower would have been built, Ivanka Trump was going to brand the spa and fitness facilities as “The Spa by Ivanka Trump” and have full control over the design of the facilities.

Mueller is asking witnesses to turn over their phones to the FBI to inspect private conversations on encrypted messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, Confide, Signal, and Dust. So far, all have reportedly complied.

  • After news of this broke, Sean Hannity went on his Fox News show and advised any witnesses to “delete all your emails…then take your phones and bash them with a hammer into little itsy-bitsy pieces,” to “follow Hillary’s lead.”

Alex van der Zwaan, the only person to serve jail time in Mueller’s probe so far, did 30 days in a low-security federal prison, paid a $20,000 fine, and was deported to the Netherlands on Tuesday. He pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.

Arron Banks, a millionaire businessman who funded Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign, met with Russian officials multiple times before the Brexit vote.

  • Banks admitted that he “handed over telephone numbers for members of Trump’s transition team to Russian officials.” Additionally, Banks, his business partner Andy Wigmore, and Farage traveled to the US to campaign for Trump during the 2016 election.
  • Also note: The Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, “met Wigmore and Banks on 19 August, the day Steve Bannon became Trump’s campaign manager. It was days before they travelled to Mississippi with Nigel Farage for a rally on 25 August at which Donald Trump introduced him to the crowds as ‘Mr Brexit’. He said a Trump presidency would be ‘Brexit plus’.”
  • Ambassador Yakovenko is mentioned in Mueller’s indictment of George Papadopoulos – the pair discussed setting up a meeting between Trump’s team and Russian leadership.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser under Obama, states in a new book that Obama’s White House learned of Michael Flynn’s contact with Russian ambassador Kislyak from the Trump transition team itself – there was no unmasking necessary.

  • Rhodes has been the target of Trump and right wing accusations of unlawfully unmasking and leaking Flynn’s identity as an interlocutor in the conversation with Kislyak. Indeed, Trump went as far as hiring Black Cube, an Israeli private intelligence agency, to dig up dirt on Rhodes, including rumors that Rhodes was responsible for the unmasking.

To illustrate his argument that the presidential power protects Trump against any and all subpoenas and indictments, Giuliani stated that Trump could have “shot James Comey” and not be prosecuted. He continued that Congress would have to impeach Trump first, despite many legal scholars saying otherwise.

George Papadopoulos’s wife, Simona Mangiante, appeared on multiple networks to ask Trump to pardon her husband, who pleaded guilty to lying about his Russian contacts. She told CNN Papadopoulos “just confused the date” while telling investigators about his conversations with a Russia-linked professor, and was a “victim.”

  • Mrs. Mangiante also revealed that Mueller accused Papadopoulos of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Israel before joining the Trump campaign.

Brittany Kaiser, a director for Cambridge Analytica, met with Julian Assange in February 2017 to “discuss what happened during the US election.” She also reportedly “channelled cryptocurrency payments and donations to WikiLeaks.”

Michael Cohen

Stormy Daniels has filed a new lawsuit accusing her former lawyer, Keith Davidson, of betraying her and acting as a puppet for Trump and Michael Cohen.

  • She alleges that Davidson followed a plan thought up by Cohen to get her to appear on Hannity and falsely deny her affair with Trump. “Cohen even referred to Davidson as “pal” in one text message attached to the complaint.”

Russian interference

At G7 this week, Putin managed to interfere without even physically being present. He didn’t have to be – Trump was there to advocate for him and create chaos in his stead.

  • Before even arriving at the summit, Trump stated that he has “been Russia’s worst nightmare,” but “Russia should be in this meeting,” all within the same sentence. He continued, “Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? … They threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in, should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
  • The next day, Trump doubled down on this position, calling Russia “an asset” and arguing it would be better for all countries involved for Russia to be readmitted. It is important to remember why Russia was suspended from the group in the first place: due to its 2014 annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine.
  • Trump then blamed Obama for Russia’s suspension, stating “He allowed Russia to take Crimea,” and suggesting had he been president at the time, he “may have had a much different attitude.”
  • Trudeau, Merkel, Macron, and a senior UK official all opposed Russia rejoining G7 without significant change with regards to Ukraine, where Russia is still occupying Crimea and supporting rebel troops.
  • A great read: Trump Is Fulfilling Russia’s Dream of Splitting the Western Alliance

Putin asked Austria’s chancellor to contact Trump with an offer to meet him in July during Trump’s planned Europe trip. The chancellor expressed his willingness to host the meeting in his country to the White House, which is reportedly seriously considering the offer. Both Russian and American officials and diplomats say Trump and Putin are “eager” to meet in person this summer.


The Democratic members of the ‘Gang of Eight’ (Sen. Schumer, Sen. Warner, Rep. Pelosi, and Rep, Schiff) sent a letter to the DOJ asking the agency to confirm they did not disclose any confidential or classified information on the Russia investigation to Trump’s team. The letter was prompted by Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, demanding information on the FBI’s use of an informant who interacted with members of Trump’s campaign.

  • Also in the letter, Democrats request the Justice Department stop briefing Republican lawmakers on the Russia investigation. At first, the classified meeting last month was meant only for Republicans.

Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to the Treasury Department in May requesting information regarding Michael Cohen and the payments he received from various companies in exchange for access to Trump. Senator Wyden is now accusing the Treasury Dept. of stonewalling and refusing to even respond to his request.

  • Remember, there are also at least two Suspicious Activity Reports on Cohen that are missing from the FinCen database, according to a whistleblower. The reports are most likely being withheld internally.

James Wolfe, a former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, was arrested and indicted on charges of lying to investigators during a probe into leaking classified information.

  • Wolfe is accused of giving numerous reporters classified information using encrypted messaging applications. In at least one case, the information was related to the Russia probe. Ali Watkins, at the time working for Buzzfeed, broke the story that Carter Page met with and passed information to a Russian intelligence agent in 2013. This information was previously not public and was revealed to the Senate Committee by law enforcement in classified documents.
  • Now working for New York Times, Watkins’ was alerted by the DOJ in February that her phone and electronic communications were seized by the FBI. Wolfe and Watkins were reportedly in a three-year relationship.
  • This story is important for two main reasons. 1, the fact that some of the leaked information was related to the Russia investigation gives Trump and his allies ammunition to further undermine the Senate panel’s probe, not to mention the New York Times. 2, seizing a reporter’s personal communications to reveal a source continues a dangerous policy that endangers the integrity of freedom of the press. As the NYT states, “Obtaining a journalist’s data without permission is considered by First Amendment advocates to be a highly aggressive form of government intrusion.”


On Tuesday, Trump tweeted a claim that the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign began in December 2015, not July 2016 (as Comey testified). He cited as “evidence” text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that purportedly discuss a counter-intelligence operation. The tweet concludes, “SPYGATE is in full force! Is the Mainstream Media interested yet? Big stuff!”

  • The origin of Trump’s tweet actually lies in reddit, specifically /r/conspiracy (see here, though it probably was on related subreddits as well). A twitter user apparently took screenshots of the text messages, which have been available for four months now, which then got posted to reddit. From reddit, the Gateway Pundit wrote a story, which Trump or someone close to Trump read.
  • The text messages in question begin with Strzok asking Page, “You get all our oconus lures approved? ;)” To which Page responded, “No, it’s just implicated a much bigger policy issue. I’ll explain later. Might even be able to use it as a pretext for a call… :)” The shorthand “oconus” refers to “outside the continental United States.” The term “lures” has been interpreted by the alt-right to mean “spies,” though it actually means baiting a criminal defendant to leave a foreign country and come to the U.S., where they can be arrested.
  • Aside from the problem that no investigation into Trump or Russia is mentioned in text messages from that time, there also is the little problem that none of the main players in the probe had even joined Trump’s campaign yet.

Aaron Rich, Seth Rich’s brother, is suing various people/entities for defamation related to promoting and spreading conspiracy theories about his brother’s death. Last week, we found out that subpoenas were sent to various Twitter accounts requesting copies of their communications. These accounts include Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Kim DotCom, Cassandra Fairbanks, Roger Stone, Matt Couch and The Gateway Pundit.

To note…

Adding to the pile of conflicts of interest, China has approved 38 new trademarks for Trump business ventures, including “new hotels, spas, escort and concierge services, massage parlors, personal security services and insurance.” Applications for the trademarks were submitted in April last year, which makes the timing of their approval questionable; Trump officially approved a controversial deal to revive Chinese company ZTE on Thursday.

PHH Corporation, a New Jersey mortgage lender fined $109 million in 2015 for violating the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act’s ban on kickbacks for referrals, has been let off the hook by the Trump administration. Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney decided last week that the company did not in fact violate the Real Estate Settlement Act and released them from having to pay any fine. At all.

  • On Wednesday, “Mulvaney fired the bureau’s 25 member advisory board…after remarks from some of its members that criticized his leadership.”