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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of May 27 – June 2, 2018

Mueller Investigation

The NYT reported that last March Trump asked Session to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, explaining that he needed a loyalist to oversee the inquiry. Sessions refused. Leading up the request, Trump had been ignoring Session’s attempts at communication, even about important policy issues.

  • Mueller is looking into Trump’s attempts to pressure Sessions. Of the ~50 questions Jay Sekulow drafted from his conversations with Mueller’s team, eight related to Sessions, including: What efforts did you make to try to get him to reverse his recusal?
  • Axios reports that Trump’s efforts to pressure Sessions persisted late into last year. Trump told Sessions he’d be a “hero” to conservatives if he did the “right thing” and took back control over the Russia investigation. Trump also reportedly said Sessions would be a hero if he investigated Hillary Clinton.
  • On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he wished he had picked another lawyer to be his attorney general. Privately, Trump has expressed the desire to fire Sessions, but reportedly has not due to the Senate Republicans indicating they would not confirm a new AG.

Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe wrote a confidential memo last year documenting a conversation he had with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, in which Rosenstein reported Trump asked him to reference the Russia investigation in his letter recommending Comey’s firing.

  • McCabe worried Trump got a cover story from Rosenstein (the handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton), and the real reason for firing Comey was the Russia investigation. McCabe has given Mueller his memo. Along with Trump’s draft letter firing Comey and Trump’s admission on national television, there is now plenty of evidence that Trump fired Comey in an effort to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Jared Kushner’s close friend, Rick Gerson, is being investigated by Mueller. Gerson met with a UAE royal in the Seychelles and communicated with George Nader around the time of a secret meeting there between Erik Prince and Russian and Emirati officials. Gerson met Nader a few weeks earlier in NYC with Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, and UAE’s ambassador.

Mueller’s Washington D.C. grand jury questioned Roger Stone’s former social media adviser, Jason Sullivan, for three hours this week. Sullivan worked for Stone’s political action committee in 2016. He’s received two subpoenas: one to testify and one requesting documents and other electronic information.

Mueller’s team has questioned Ted Malloch, a conservative author, about his ties to Stone and Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange. Some media reports have suggested that Malloch was an intermediary between Stone and Assange, which both Stone and Malloch deny. Malloch is the author of a new book alleging Trump has been the target of a “deep state” plot.

Through the end of March, the price tag for Mueller’s efforts has been about $16.7 million. Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago alone have cost more than Mueller’s investigation has so far. In fact, Trump will outspend 8 years of Obama in 3-4 years. All told, eight years of Obama family travel cost taxpayers $97 million, according to the conservative Judicial Watch. Following his first months in office, it looked as if Trump could cost America $100-200 million more in four years.

The NYT obtained a 20-page letter John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyers at the time, wrote to Mueller’s team in January this year. The letter argues that it would be impossible for Trump to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation because of the power granted to him by the Constitution. Trump’s lawyers argue that he can shut down an investigation or fire subordinates, regardless of his motivation.

  • Trump’s lawyers also acknowledged that Trump himself dictated a misleading statement his son released about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer in 2016. The statement claimed the meeting was about adoption of Russian children, hiding the true intent which was to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton. Sekulow and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders previously denied Trump’s role in writing the statement.
  • Note: Trump discussed adoption policy with Putin one day before ‘dictating’ son’s statement about ‘adoptions’.

Trey Gowdy backed up Democrat’s statements that the FBI did nothing wrong in using an informant to investigate Russian activities in the 2016 election. He said, “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.” About Trump sitting for an interview with Mueller, Gowdy said: “If he were my client, and I’d say if you’ve done nothing wrong, you need to sit down and tell Mueller what you know.”

Trump granted conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza a full presidential pardon and mentioned the possibility of pardoning other celebrity felons like Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich.

  • Why? Look at their crimes. Already pardoned Joe Arpaio: contempt for disobeying a court order. Scooter Libby: perjury and obstruction of justice. Dinesh D’Souza: campaign finance violation. Rod Blagojevich: 18 felony corruption charges for trying to sell a Senate seat. Martha Stewart: conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to investigators. These people are either allies of Trump or have committed similar crimes to those his associates are being investigated for.
  • Robert Grant, a top former F.B.I. agent, said: “What I think he is doing though, is undermining public corruption investigations by basically saying that if you are a corrupt public official you are going to get a pass from me,” Grant continued. “He is signaling to people who might be witnesses against him, his family or his business interests—‘hold the line, don’t give up anything, don’t roll over for the prosecutors because even if you get prosecuted, I am going to give you a free pass.’”

The White House is in the process of setting up a formal meeting between Trump and Putin. The planning is reportedly still in the early stages. This would be the third in-person meeting between the two leaders.

Starting well before the 2016 election, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have invested millions of dollars in people connected to the Trump administration. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are rivals of Qatar; this rivalry was the main motivator behind most of the lobbying/bribes.

  • Qatar: Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a senior Qatari diplomat & head of Qatar Investments, met with Michael Cohen in Trump Tower during the presidential transition. Brookfield, a large real estate company with significant Qatar business ties, tried to purchase a Manhattan skyscraper owned by Jared Kushner’s family real estate company (which is struggling to pay off debt on the property). Rudy Giuliani’s company provided security advice to a Qatari state-run oil company. Corey Lewandowski was hired by Qatar last year as one of seven lobbyists in Washington to help influence the White House. A close friend of Trump, Tom Barrack, has had several business deals over the years involving the Qatar Investment Authority. Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard, a major Trump fundraiser, signed up Qatar as a client as well (and is making $175,000 a month from that one deal, just for knowing Trump!).
  • UAE: A security contracting company owned by Elliott Broidy, former RNC finance chairman, signed a $200 million contract with the UAE government for defense contracting services. Broidy also worked with George Nader, who represented the UAE in various deals including the January 2017 Seychelles meeting with Erik Prince and Russian oligarch Kirill Dmitriev. USE also hired lobbyist Geoff Verhoff, a major Trump donor who also worked with Broidy on the RNC’s finance team.
  • Saudi Arabia: Trump campaign donor Richard Hohlt was hired by Saudi Arabia to act as a consultant on legislative matters and public affairs strategies. For four months work, Hohlt was paid $431,254. And let’s not forget the extravagant ceremonies the royals held for Trump himself when he visited the country.
  • “What seems to be happening here is people are using very specific relationships to effect very discreet things on a very large scale, and making money,” Alterman said. “And the system is designed to be a system that can’t be bent for any individual and what we’re increasingly seeing is it’s being bent for a small number of individuals.”

Michael Cohen

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors (SDNY) were given 1 million items seized from three of Michael Cohen’s phones. These items were reviewed by the special master in the case, Barbara Jones, and deemed not covered by attorney-client privilege.

In the same case, prosecutors revealed in court that they were in the process of piecing together the contents of Cohen’s document shredder.

  • Cohen’s lawyers asked the judge for more time to review seized materials and decide which ones they wanted to claim as privileged, arguing for a mid-July deadline. The judge however agreed with prosecutors that the delay was unnecessary and set a June 15th deadline.
  • So far Cohen’s teamed has reviewed more than 1.3 million documents, designating slightly more than 250 as protected by attorney-client privilege and unable to be used in a potential prosecution of Cohen. Still, the team has nearly 2.5 million documents left to examine.

Russian interference

A Russian journalist who fled the country to Ukraine in fear for his life worked with Ukrainian authorities to fake his own murder and catch hitmen paid by Russian forces. So far, a Ukrainian paid by Russian security forces to find a hitman has been arrested and a hit list of 47 individuals has been found. These are people whom Russia planned to kill abroad.


The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested documents from Roger Stone & expressed a desire to interview him in the near future, after receiving the requested documents. Stone reportedly told the Daily Beast that he wants the interview to be public.


The Dept. of Homeland Security has found evidence that surveillance devices (IMSI catchers) for intercepting cellphone calls and texts have been operating near the White House and other sensitive locations (e.g. Pentagon, FBI headquarters, the Senate, Russian embassy) last year. The operators of the devices have not been revealed publicly, if known.

  • More details: The devices work by simulating cell towers to trick nearby phones into connecting, allowing the IMSI catchers to collect calls, texts and data streams. Unlike some other forms of cellphone interception, IMSI catchers must be near targeted devices to work. When they are in range, IMSI catchers also can deliver malicious software to targeted devices for the purpose of stealing information stored on them or conducting longer-term monitoring of communications.
  • This is especially concerning because Trump has resisted efforts to secure his personal cellphones, calling it “too inconvenient.” Trump has reportedly gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. In contrast, Obama handed over his White House phones every 30 days to be examined by telecommunications staffers. Additionally, Trump’s call-capable cellphone (different from his twitter phone) has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama. Don’t forget, current Chief of Staff John Kelly’s own phone was apparently compromised for months during the Trump transition.
  • Sen. Tom Carper on Thursday asked the Department of Defense for information on measures to secure President Donald Trump’s phone, saying, “This is all the more concerning in light of reports indicating that President Trump has urged world leaders to contact him directly through his smartphone…”

Daily Beast published a piece on TMZ’s Harvey Levin’s close relationship with Trump. Levin routinely buried negative stories about Trump and published stories that backed up Trump’s claims, behavior that intensified during the election. A former TMZ journalist said, “It felt like it was a propaganda machine especially a month or two before the election.”

  • A former employee stated that TMZ received a tip about the existence of a ‘bombshell tape’ of Trump in an elevator in Trump Tower similar to the Access Hollywood tape. Having never met the lawyer representing a client with a tape, Levin got a large amount of money approved from Warner Bros. exec to buy the tape, cutting all other TMZ staff out of the loop. Ultimately, Levin said the source withdrew the offer to sell the tape, but TMZ employees now wonder if Levin killed the story. Levin also reportedly called Trump’s camp and alerted them to the existence of the tape and the offer being shopped around.

To note…

Ivanka Trump co-hosted a conference call for the press, but suddenly dropped off the line when a reporter asked her about receiving five more trademark approvals in China, just days before Trump announced he would intervene to save Chinese company ZTE.

Just one day after Trump said he’d help ZTE get back in business, the company hired Bryan Lanza, a Trump campaign veteran.Two weeks later, Trump announced a deal to save ZTE.

Jill Stein’s campaign raised over $7 million for a vote recount in swing-states – yet we don’t know how much of that money has been spent. The last FEC filing, from September of 2017, stated there was almost a million left. The FEC warned Stein campaign treasurer Steven Welzer that he was violating federal law by not accounting for half a year of spending.

  • People have criticized the campaign for not following through on their promise to allow the donors vote on how any left over money was spent. It doesn’t help that a large chunk of the money has been spent after efforts to get a recount ceased. For example, of the more than $509,000 spent on staff, more than $300,000 has been spent since February 20, 2017, fueling accusations that Stein is using the money to prepare for future elections, perhaps her own.

Trump bragged about a classified battle in Syria during a fundraiser.

  • “The details of the battle remain classified, but speaking to donors in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday, Trump said he was amazed by the performance of American F-18 pilots. He suggested that the strikes may have been as brief as “10 minutes” and taken out 100 to 300 Russians, according to a person briefed on the president’s remarks, which have not previously been reported.”