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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of March 4 – 10, 2018

Mueller’s investigation

Christopher Steele is believed to have discussed a memo he wrote in late 2016, after the termination of his contract with Fusion GPS, with Mueller’s team. In the memo, a senior Russian official reportedly described how the Kremlin intervened to block Trump’s original choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. Instead, Russia wanted Trump to appoint someone who would be willing to lift sanctions against them and cooperate on international matters.

  • Russian trolls also pursued this agenda online, mounting a social media campaign to bash Romney and keep him from getting the Secretary of State position. Aside from online attacks, the operatives also encouraged supporters to rally outside Trump Tower to protest against Romney and circulated a petition.

George Nader, an adviser to the UAE with ties to Trump aides, is cooperating with Mueller and testified before the grand jury last week.

  • Reportedly, he’s testifying that a January 2017 meeting in Seychelles between himself, Trump donor Erik Prince, and Russian fund manager Kirill Dmitriev involved an attempt to set up a backchannel for Trump’s team to communicate directly with Putin. The meeting occurred just weeks after Jared Kushner discussed setting up a backchannel with Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Kislyak.
  • It’s worth noting that Prince lives in the UAE and has known Nader for years – he didn’t have to fly to the Seychelles in order to meet with him. There must have been another reason. Also note that the Crown Prince of UAE who helped set up that meeting also met with Flynn, Bannon and Kushner in NYC in December 2016. In an unusual breach of protocol, the crown prince’s visit was not reported to the Obama Administration.
  • Prince appears to have lied in his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017. He told the Committee that the meeting with the Russian fund manager was unplanned, and he never mentioned Nader’s presence. Nader, on the hand, has said that he planned and organized the meeting beforehand, thus providing Mueller with testimony that Prince lied under oath.
  • “Coincidentally,” Prince is hosting a fundraiser this month for Russia-friendly congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

Mueller has been focusing on Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen. We know of two incidents that are of particular interest to Mueller’s team: Cohen’s role in negotiating the failed Trump Tower Moscow deal and in crafting a Russia-friendly Ukrainian peace proposal.

  • While trying to facilitate the development of a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2015, Cohen reached out to Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, to ask for help in making the deal. Cohen does not remember getting a response from Peskov and the deal was shelved.

Mueller found out that Trump has approached key witnesses in the Russia probe and questioned them about what they discussed with the Special Counsel.

  • Trump told an aide that he wanted White House Counsel Don McGahn to issue a statement refuting an NYT article – the article stated that Trump had pressured McGahn to fire Sessions. Instead of issuing the statement, McGahn reportedly reminded Trump that he did indeed ask him to fire Sessions and refused to say otherwise. Trump claimed to remember the conversation differently.
  • Trump asked Reince Priebus how his interviews with Mueller’s team had gone and if “they had been ‘nice’.”
  • The experts interviewed by the NYT in this story said that Trump’s actions likely do not rise to the level of criminal witness tampering.

Someone has turned over to Mueller a personal letter Trump wrote to Putin inviting him to attend the 2013 Moscow Miss Universe pageant. Trump reportedly added a postscript that said “he looked forward to seeing “beautiful” women during his trip.”

Mother Jones has found video of then-candidate Donald Trump telling a Russian activist (and friend of Putin/NRA ally Alexander Torshin) that if elected he’d do away with Russian sanctions.

Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg had a meltdown on TV this week after receiving a subpoena to appear before Mueller’s grand jury in D.C. Despite proclaiming he would not cooperate and daring Mueller to arrest him, on Friday Nunberg showed up at the courthouse and testified to the jury.

  • After testifying for 5.5 hours, Nunberg stated that Mueller’s investigation is “warranted” and said that “there is a lot there.” However, he added that he doesn’t believe it leads to Trump himself. He worries Roger Stone is in trouble as he’s at the “very least” a “subject of the investigation.”
  • We don’t know much about the subject matter of his testimony, but we do know that it partly involved the Trump aides mentioned in the subpoena last week (then reported anonymously): Hicks, Cohen, Page, Carter, Lewandowski, Bannon, Gates, Manafort, and Schiller (former bodyguard). A source says Nunberg is scheduled to testify five more times.
  • Nunberg made a great deal of crazy-sounding statements in his ‘meltdown’ on Monday, but I’ll just cover the ones that are pertinent to the Russia investigation. He said that he thinks Mueller may have something on Trump; that Trump “may very well have done something during the election with the Russians.” Regarding the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer to get dirt on Clinton, Nunberg said that Trump knew about it a week beforehand – contradicting Trump’s version of events. He also said that bodyguard Keith Schiller told him that Emin Agalarov, son of Russian oligarch, offered to send women to Trump’s hotel room during Moscow Miss Universe. However, as a protege of Roger Stone, we should keep in mind the possibility that part or none of this was true.

Manafort made his first appearance in Virginia court to plead not guilty to the latest set of charges against him. The judge allowed him to be released on house arrest, but now has to wear two GPS tracking bracelets – one from the DC courts and one from the Virginia courts.

Russian interference

The State Department has not yet spent any of the $120 million it was given in later 2016 to counter Russian interference, cyber attacks, and disinformation campaigns.

  • The department in charge of countering the Kremlin’s efforts – the Global Engagement Center – only has 23 analysts, none of which speak Russian. Additionally, a hiring freeze is preventing the department from recruiting new talent. What has the department been focusing on instead? Combating jihadist propaganda, its original goal when first created in early 2016, despite Obama era intentions to include efforts to counter Moscow’s influence.

Russian operatives have been interfering in the Italian elections, pushing an anti-immigrant rhetoric and promoting radical right candidates.

  • An analysis of their tactics show commonalities with past Russian operations: “questionable sources, biased experts and sensationalist headlines that were shared by tens of thousands of accounts with the goal of making the content viral and amplifying the perceived problem.”
  • Steve Bannon went to Italy the weekend of their election (3/4) to promote the far right and anti-establishment parties – the Lega party and the Five Star Movement (M5S), respectively. MS5 won an “unprecedented” 33% of the vote and the Lega party, part of a center-right coalition, won 37%.

The Russian operatives at the Internet Research Agency created fake social media accounts to ‘trick’ Americans into turning over personal information about themselves. For example, in one operation they funded a self-defense class in exchange for the teacher collecting and turning over names, email addresses, addresses, and even videos of attendees.

Russian operatives also released an anti-Clinton video game called “Hilltendo” weeks before the 2016 election. More than simple propaganda, the website had Facebook and Google tracking software embedded on it, which would have allowed the creators to identify any visitors to the site, track them, and target them with ads later.

In response to Obama’s chief of staff’s accusations that Mitch McConnell did not respond to Russian interference in 2016 properly, McConnell stated, “I’m perfectly comfortable with the steps that were taken back then.” However, Joe Biden also maintains that McConnell watered down the government’s response in 2016, stating that McConnell “wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment that we would say, essentially, ‘Russia’s doing this, stop.'”

In an interview with Megyn Kelly, Putin said he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens tried to interfere in US elections. He added that “maybe they are not even Russians but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews but with Russian citizenship.”


Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, received confidential information from inside the House Russia probe, indicating someone working on the investigation is trying to assist Trump by leaking info to his allies.

  • The specific information that was leaked: Confidential details of former McCain staffer David Kramer’s testimony to the House. Kramer played a role in turning the Steele dossier over to the FBI, which is what his testimony focused on.
  • Cohen’s lawyer called Kramer’s lawyer because someone from the House told him that Kramer had information about the Steele dossier that could help Cohen. Kramer’s lawyer declined to help; Cohen’s lawyer asked for their conversation to remain secret. Kramer’s lawyer did not keep it secret and wrote a letter to the House complaining about the leaks.
  • This is not the only accusation of leaks from members of the House Intelligence Committee. The majority center around improper and unethical conduct of Devin Nunes. Most recently, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee met with Paul Ryan to discuss their concerns that members of the House leaked text messages that Senator Mark Warner sent.

Hope Hicks reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee in her testimony two weeks ago that two of her email accounts were hacked – one was used as a campaign account and the other was a personal account. However, she was not questioned further so it is unclear how true this assertion is.


With the attack on a former-Russian spy and his daughter in the UK, it is becoming more and more clear that Russia is assassinating its enemies in the UK and the US. There have been numerous murders and suspicious deaths of Russians in the West over the past few years.

  • The Telegraph reported that a security consultant who worked for Christopher Steele on the Steele dossier was close with Skripal, the Russian spy attacked with a nerve agent. This opens the possibility that he was targeted now because he might have given information to Steele, but at this point it remains speculation.

To Note

Stormy Daniels. This story, while not related to the Russia probe, should be kept track of because it speaks to key issues raised in the Steele dossier. Mainly, that Trump…

  1. can be blackmailed (though Stormy did not blackmail him, he was willing to pay to keep her quiet, raising the question of what lengths will he go to in order to keep an unflattering or harmful story secret)
  2. has had affairs during his marriage to Melania.
  3. has *paid* for sex. Numbers 2 and 3 make it more plausible that the ‘pee pee tape’ story in the dossier is true.

The $130,000 payment Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, sent to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence was flagged as suspicious by the bank and reported to the Treasury Department. After Trump won the election, Cohen reportedly complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed by Trump for the payment.