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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Nov 11 – 17, 2018

russia

(Adrienne Cobb) #1

Too long, didn’t read summary

Trump has finished his written answers to questions posed by Mueller and his lawyers are expected to submit them early this week. Jerome Corsi said that after two months of talks with Mueller’s team and testifying before the grand jury, Mueller has told his lawyer he will be charged, possibly with perjury. Corsi also said that Mueller questioned him about Nigel Farage and Ted Malloch, perhaps looking into Brexit’s connections with the 2016 election or Trump. Mueller is investigating Roger Stone for witness intimidation. Text messages between Randy Credico and Roger Stone from 2016 show Credico gave Stone regular updates on Wikileaks’ activities. Mueller is examining the “communications and political dealings” of former Cheney adviser John Hannah, suggesting the investigation is expanding to include Saudi, Israeli, and Emirati influence on the 2016 election.

Paul Manafort’s business partner and alleged Russian spy, Konstantin Kilimnik, flew in Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s private jet to meet Manafort in 2016. Lawyers for accused Russian spy Maria Butina are in negotiations for a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Russian government hackers are impersonating U.S. State Department employees in a phishing scam against the U.S. government, government agencies, think tanks, and businesses.

In an accidental filing, U.S. prosecutors revealed Julian Assange has been charged. In an interview, Trump alluded to installing acting AG Matthew Whitaker to put an end to Mueller’s Russia probe. Mitch McConnell blocked a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sens. Flake and Coons, to protect Mueller from being fired. The lawyer for Joseph Mifsud emailed BuzzFeed News that his client wants to testify to the Senate.

 


Mueller Investigation

Written responses. Trump has finished his written answers to questions posed by Mueller and his lawyers are expected to submit them early this week. Trump told the press the questions were “not very difficult” and he “answered them very easily.” The WSJ reported the questions Trump answered focused on collusion with Russia; Trump has refused to answer written questions related to obstruction of justice.

Corsi charges? Jerome Corsi told ABC News that after two months of talks with Mueller’s team and testifying before the grand jury, Mueller has told his lawyer he will be charged. While he says he does not know what they’re going to charge him with, in other interviews he mentioned perjury as the most likely charge. We know Mueller’s primary interest in him centers around when he knew of WikiLeaks obtaining hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

  • Corsi said, “They seem to think you know that I knew in advance what Assange was going to do; I’m not going to go into details at this point, but that was the basis of it. And as far as I can recall, I had no contact with Assange. And that didn’t seem to satisfy them.” Corsi continued, calling the investigation a “perjury trap.”
  • Corsi claims he had no advance knowledge of Wikileaks’ planned email/document drop. As he told NBC News: “he ‘figured out’ that Podesta’s emails would be released in October after reading the initial WikiLeaks dump of Democratic National Committee emails and finding few Podesta messages among them. He said he connected the dots and anticipated they would be published later by Wikileaks.”

Farage a target? Jerome Corsi told the Guardian that Mueller questioned him about Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Brexit, just two weeks ago. He added Mueller also asked about Ted Malloch, a conservative academic with ties to Farage, but would give no more details on the kinds of questions asked. Farage forged close ties with the Trump campaign and White House through his close friendship and association with Steve Bannon.

  • Speaking of Bannon… Emails between Steve Bannon and Brexit-backer Arron Banks were released last week that show Bannon, then Vice President of Cambridge Analytica, was “simultaneously incubating” Trump’s presidential campaign and Brexit in 2015. Leaders of the far-right Leave.EU campaign discussed tasking Cambridge Analytica with helping raise funds through the U.S. – if followed through, this would be a violation of British law. Bannon was included on many of these email chains.

Stone intimidation. According to two people questioned by Mueller, the special counsel’s office is investigating Roger Stone for witness intimidation. Stone sent threatening messages to Randy Credico, his former friend who Stone claimed was his backchannel to Wikileaks. Credico denies the assertion. Additionally, filmmaker David Lugo testified before the grand jury that Stone helped him draft a blog post that was harshly critical of Credico.

  • WSJ: In emails sent to Mr. Credico and reviewed by the Journal, Mr. Stone threatened to “sue the f—” out of him, called him “a loser a liar and a rat” and told him to “prepare to die c— sucker.”
  • Mueller has questioned Bill Samuels, a friend of Credico, about Credico’s reaction to Stone’s messages. According to the WSJ, Samuels said Credico was “intimidated almost to the point of a nervous breakdown.”

Credico’s texts. Randy Credico claims that he never served as a backchannel to Wikileaks. Roger Stone, however, provided NBC News with a copy of text messages he exchanged with Credico in 2016 that suggest otherwise. In the messages, Credico tells Stone that Assange had damaging information on Hillary Clinton and repeatedly hints at “big news.” Credico downplays the messages now, but Stone says they vindicate him, proving he’s been telling the truth all along.

  • The Daily Beast reported that Mueller still has unanswered questions for Credico. The two have already met “a number of times,” but plans to interview again are expected after Thanksgiving.

Opening a new front? Mueller is reportedly examining the “communications and political dealings” of former Cheney adviser John Hannah, who also worked on Trump’s State Dept. transition team. Hannah has been involved with two men that Mueller has previously questioned – George Nader, who arranged meetings between the Trump Team and Middle East officials, and Joel Zamel, a “social media guru” with ties to Israeli intelligence. This suggests Mueller is pursuing potential Saudi, Israeli, and Emirati influence on the 2016 election.

  • The ties and relations between these men and various foreign countries are complex, and not easily summed up here. The Daily Beast article does a great job detailing the web of interactions and should be read for more information.

Cohen update. On Monday, Michael Cohen was seen in Washington DC with his criminal defense lawyer. He would not say why he was there. Cohen has sat for more than 40 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team and federal New York prosecutors. Mueller has reportedly been questioning Cohen on Trump’s ties to Russia and the 2016 election. The meeting with the NY AG and Manhattan DA’s office have been focused on Trump’s business and his families charitable foundation.

Kilimnik’s flight. Paul Manafort’s business partner and alleged Russian spy, Konstantin Kilimnik, flew in Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s private jet to meet Manafort in 2016, just four blocks from Trump Tower. Deripaska has previously denied having any interactions with Manafort in 2016, but if Kilimnik took his jet to meet Manafort, it is conceivable Deripaska expected something in return – perhaps information. It is unclear if Kilimnik took the jet back to Moscow.

  • Vice News: The use of Deripaska’s jet would suggest that one of Putin’s top oligarch allies knew about both the meeting and the substance of Kilimnik’s discussion with Manafort, said Mary McCord, who led the Justice Department’s investigation into foreign meddling in the 2016 election before stepping down in early 2017.

More Kilimnik. While we do not have confirmation that Mueller is investigating Kilimnik’s plane ride in specific, we do know that Mueller has already charged Kilimnik with witness tampering and two cooperators – Rick Gates and Sam Patten – both were business associates of his. In a court filing, Mueller stated Kilimnik “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.” As Mueller increased the scrutiny, Kilimnik “abruptly” left Kiev and moved to Moscow in the same suburb that houses the GRU unit Mueller indicted for hacking the DNC in 2016.

Papadopoulos update. The attorneys that represented George Papadopoulos throughout Mueller’s investigation withdrew from his case on Tuesday, stating that Papadopoulos had hired new lawyers. It was not clear why the change was made until Friday, when the new lawyers filed a motion to postpone Papadopoulos’ sentencing until after a separate case was resolved – a case arguing Mueller’s appointment is illegal, which he hopes will lead to his conviction being overturned.

  • Papadopoulos tweeted on Tuesday that he had a “big announcement coming,” adding “enough of the responsive and passive approach.” He included a link to his Go Fund Me page. Maybe not so strangely, by the end of the week, Papadopoulos had deleted that tweet. You can see the tweet using the Wayback Machine here on the 14th, and then missing on the 17th.

Mueller mystery. You may remember the opinion piece published by Politico speculating that Trump may have already been subpoenaed by Mueller and is currently fighting it behind the scenes. There is no confirmation of this – all we know is there is a “mystery appellant” secretly litigating a subpoena with Mueller. This past week, that person filed a “sealed 6,487-word brief” with the DC appeals court. Experts say this is a longer-than-normal brief, but still doesn’t tell us much.

  • Former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst Daniel S. Goldman: “Mostly, I just don’t believe Trump and Giuliani have the discipline to stay quiet, particularly when they can create whatever (bogus) narrative they want and make it a campaign issue. That’s mostly why I’m skeptical of the analysis.”

More Russian Connections

Butina update. In a court filing on Friday, lawyers for Maria Butina revealed they are in negotiations for a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Butina is charged with conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.

Undermining democracy. In the months preceding the midterms, U.S. intel officers warned Russia would continue to attempt to undermine American democracy. As it turned out, the president did that work for them. By repeatedly claiming fraud and corruption in elections like Florida, Georgia, and Arizona, intel veterans say Trump is “playing into the Russians’ hands.” The Kremlin doesn’t have to add much fuel if Trump is willing to keep the stoking the flames.

New hacking campaign. Two cybersecurity firms have reported Russian government hackers impersonating U.S. State Department employees in a phishing scam against U.S. government, government agencies, think tanks, and businesses. The two firms, CrowdStrike and FireEye, identified APT29 (aka Cozy Bear) as being behind the attacks. Along with the hacker group Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear was involved in hacking the DNC in 2016.

Cybercrime. 50 nations and over 150 tech companies pledged to an initiative pushed by Emmanuel Macron to work together to fight criminal activities online. Notably, the United States, Russia, and China did not sign on to the pledge.

DOJ

Assange charged. Last week it was discovered that U.S. federal prosecutors accidentally filed a motion with the court under the wrong name (or possibly made a copy-and-paste error). When the document was unsealed, its contents were revealed to include a statement from an attorney asking a judge to keep the matter sealed because “no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.. [the charges] need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

  • It is not clear exactly what the charges are, but the Washington Post notes federal prosecutors have been considering pressing charges for Wikileaks’ publication of 2010 diplomatic cables and military documents.
  • For what it’s worth, Russian media reported that there is an extradition plan between Ecuador and the U.S. to hand Julian Assange over to American authorities. This appears to be based on the opinion of Assange’s lawyer, but no other media outlet has corroborated it (to my knowledge).

Whitaker’s purpose. In an interview with the Daily Caller last week, Trump alluded to installing acting AG Matthew Whitaker to put an end to Mueller’s Russia probe. When prompted for his opinion of Whitaker, Trump said: “I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had. It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation.

  • CNN’s excerpts of the interview can be seen here.

Conflict of interest. Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed that acting AG Matthew Whitaker has a friendship with Sam Clovis. As Warner stated, “Clovis is more than just a witness. He was the supervisor of the Trump Foreign Policy Advisory Committee, which included a cast of rogue characters.” Clovis was also a key contact for George Papadopoulos and has been interviewed by Mueller’s team.

Recusal? Acting AG Matthew Whitaker is reportedly consulting with DOJ ethics officials about whether he should recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Lawmakers, lawyers, outside ethics advisers, and citizens have been calling for his recusal due to a history of making antagonistic comments about Mueller’s probe, calling it a “witch hunt” and suggesting it should be ended.

  • In an interview taped Friday for Fox News, Trump stated that Whitaker is “right…there is no collusion. He happened to be right. I mean, he said it. So if he said there is collusion, I’m supposed to be taking somebody that says there is?”

Congress/States

Mueller protection. Mitch McConnell blocked a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sens. Flake and Coons, to protect Mueller from being fired. Flake has said he won’t confirm Trump’s judicial nominees until the Senate allows the Mueller bill a vote.

Mifsud testimony? The lawyer for Joseph Mifsud emailed BuzzFeed News that his client wants to testify to the Senate and added they “are working towards his appearance.” Mifsud is the Maltese professor who told George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, months before the DNC was aware that they had been hacked and their emails were stolen. While Mifsud has not been seen publicly since November 2017, leading some to suggest he may be dead, his lawyer claims he is just in hiding.

  • The lawyer, Stephan Roh, “claims that Mifsud has done nothing wrong and was set up — and denies having ever told Papadopoulos the Russians had dirt on Clinton.”