(Back from the break!) From Russia With Love…

Collusion new

Hoo-boy, it’s been a while! We last saw each other in August, and I *think* a bit has happened since then.

Well, no excuse for the length of the time-out, but I did take advantage of the break to do some streamlining. The sections on our major dramatis personae (Cohen, Flynn, Kushner, Manafort/Gates, Page, Sessions, Stone, & Trump Jr.) have been changed to have a general intro for each, a timeline summary of their major Russia-investigation links, and a more narrative summary of what’s happened with them. I think this will significantly boost navigability and comprehensibility. I plan to do the same with the other sections next, and then eventually to turn this into a proper site devoted just to this, with separate pages and links between them.

Until then, our partially renovated blog has many developments to mention, some of them major:

  • Cohen cooperated, was sentenced, and has publicly revealed that Trump’s business talks with Russia went later, and there were even earlier Russian coordination attempts with the campaign than previously known.
  • Flynn is moving on to sentencing, and, per a heavily redacted sentencing memo, seems to have provided valuable assistance on several matters .
  • Manafort was found guilty, cooperated to avoid a second trial, and then turns out to have been lying and helping Trump’s team while cooperating.
  • Marria Butina has plead guilty of acting as a Russian agent and working to influence the NRA and the Republican party, and is now a cooperating witness.
  • Stone continues to be surrounded by a swirl of subpoenaed associates, and eventual indictment of some sort involving his communications with Russian hackers and Wikileaks seems inevitable.
  • A fellow named Trump has handed in written answers on collusion to Mueller, and along the way fired his lead attorney over anger about how much he cooperated with Mueller, and Attorney General for allowing the investigation at all.
  • Oh yes, and Democrats gained 40 House seats in the 2018 midterms, and are likely to launch or restart multiple investigations when they gain the committee chairs in the now-flipped House in 2019.

All of this testifies to the scope of what we still haven’t seen publicly, and how big the revelations of the next phase of the investigation may be. There’s more on all of this below, but before we get further in to the latest, an overview of where we are so far:

Established

  1. Russian interests used social media and hacking to systematically interfere in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election beginning as far back as 2014. By spring 2016, the major thrust of this interference was to boost Trump, and harm Clinton.
  2. This interference involved senior intelligence officials and business leaders close to Putin, and was approved of and directed by him.
  3. Russians working to interfere in the election hacked and illegally distributed information from the DNC and Clinton campaign, worked to build connections with top Republicans through the NRA, and, posing as U.S. actors, had extensive ongoing contact with up to 100 unwitting state and local Trump campaign workers and Republican activists.
  4. The specific targeting of some of this manipulation indicates access to sophisticated election data analytics.
  5. There is an unusual density of business & personal contacts with Russian interests among key people in Trump’s campaign and/or administration. There isn’t a similar density of contacts with other nations equally (or more) important to the U.S..
  6. The actions of several Trump campaign figures and confidants in connection with Russia involve things that are illegal, either in initial commission or subsequent denial. Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Richard Gates have already plead guilty and are cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, Paul Manafort was found guilty in one trial and then became a cooperating witness to avoid a second, and Jared Kushner, Carter Page, Erik Prince, Felix Sater, Jeff Sessions, Roger Stone, and Donald Trump Jr. all have taken known actions that could leave them legally liable.
  7. Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of history of praising Putin and seeking contact with him.
  8. Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of extensive involvement with Russian businesses and financiers, many of whom are part of Putin’s inner circle, and some of whom have ties to Russian organized crime.
  9. The Russian interests working to interfere in the election actively cultivated and sought to make use of contacts with Trump-connected individuals and organizations.
  10. Despite prior denials and disavowals, people involved with the Trump campaign were aware of Russian interest in helping the campaign at least as early as December 2015, and multiple senior campaign officials were aware that the Russian government was seeking to harm Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump’s at least as early as March, 2016.
  11. In at least three cases, the ongoing correspondence of George Papadopoulos with Russian representatives and Trump campaign officials from March 2016 forward, Michael Caputo arranging Roger Stone’s May 2016 meeting with a Russian party offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and the arrangement of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager with Russian representatives, some Trump campaign officials reacted positively to the potential offer of information from Russian sources.
  12. Trump administration officials, including the President himself, have taken multiple actions to discourage the progress of the investigation.

Open Questions

  1. How much did Trump confidants come to know about Russian election interference after first becoming aware of it in March 2016?
  2. Were any of them aware of it before that date?
  3. Were any of Trump’s confidants active, knowing participants in this interference?
  4. Did Trump share his senior campaign officials’ awareness of Russian election interference, either during the campaign or afterwards, and is thus liable for not exposing it?
  5. Or, even worse, was Trump himself an active, knowing participant in these efforts?
  6. Do the actions that the President and his administration have taken to discourage the investigation amount to an actionable case of obstruction of justice?
  7. Given that the Russian election manipulation seems to have been based at least in part on sophisticated data analytics, how (and from whom) did they get this information?
  8. What else may come out as a result of this investigation now that a special counsel is investigating the finances of Trump and his associates? Recall that Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal was an outgrowth of, but not in any way directly connected to, the Whitewater investigation.

It’s also instructive to read the indictments and Court Filings from Robert Mueller’s investigation, as they are the most concrete and detailed (and surprisingly readable!) source of information of verified criminal charges that have come out of the investigation:

In addition to Mueller’s filings, these Other Primary Source Documents provide a wealth of information:

Much of what I post here is more topical coverage of the latest news, but mixed in among those stories are occasional Long-form Stories (2,000 words+) that take a deeper dive into specific subjects. So that these don’t get lost in the shuffle, and because they’re an excellent place to get a wider and deeper understanding of the overall story, I’m collecting them here:

And who doesn’t like a good graphical presentation? I know I do! The following Timelines and interactive graphics are a fun way to sort out who’s who and when they did what:

Now, on to the latest news. I’ve highlighted which sections have new material in the list below, so you know what to check out, and moved the data tags for the sections to the end of each section. When you click on the list, you’re taken right to the end of that section, and all you have to do is scroll up to see the latest news:

  1. Congressional Hearings (other than specific people/topics below)
  2. FBI Investigation/Special Counsel (other than specific people/topics below)
  3. Russian Campaign Interference
  4. Trump-Russia Ties (pre-inauguration)
  5. Trump-Russia Ties (post-inauguration)
  6. Michael Cohen
  7. Michael Flynn
  8. Jared Kushner
  9. Paul Manafort/Richard Gates
  10. Carter Page
  11. Jeff Sessions
  12. Roger Stone
  13. Donald Trump Jr. (including Trump Tower meeting)
  14. The Steele Dossier
  15. Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)

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Congressional Hearings

  • Meanwhile, the House is not so interested in doing investigations on Russian election interference, or on Michael Flynn’s Russian contacts. However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on 2/15/17 that urged the Office of Government Ethics to investigate who leaked information about Flynn to the media.
  • While not willing to step down, Nunes was willing on 3/29/17 to cancel a hearing on Russia where former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was to testify. This followed the Trump administration voicing objections to him about her planned testimony. Yates briefly led the Justice Department while Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation was pending, but was fired by Trump after she refused to defend in court his initial travel ban executive order. After she was fired, it was revealed that Yates had notified the White House that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had not properly explained his contact with the Russian ambassador. The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department told Yates that her testimony would have to be seriously limited because of executive privilege, which she disputed.
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee began its hearings 3/31/17. Among the highlights from the first two days of testimony:
    • Marco Rubio’s campaign was also targeted by hackers with Russian IP addresses during the 2016 election.
    • Former FBI agent and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts further revealed that all the major Republican candidates were targeted.
    • Such cyber-targeting continued even after the election, including attacks against Rubio on the first day of hearings, and coordinated social media attacks against Paul Ryan over recent weeks.
    • National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and FireEye chief executive Kevin Mandia, a pair of cybersecurity experts, described how Russian agents and upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia pushed “fake news” during the election.
    • Senate Committee members of both parties also took pains to differentiate themselves from the increasingly politicized House hearings, promising an unbiased and bipartisan approach.
  • The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held hearings on Russia the week of 5/8/17. Key witnesses were former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Among the highlights:
    • Former Obama-administration national security advisor Susan Rice declined an invitation to testify to the Subcommittee on Russian hacking. Rice had initially accepted the invitation from committee chair Lindsey Graham, but then subsequently declined after being informed by Committee ranking Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse that the invitation was not issued with his knowledge, and was the only request for testimony the committee issued that was not bipartisan. Rice had earlier become the subject of allegations, which do not appear to be substantiated, that she had improperly unmasked and revealed information about surveillance of Trump-related personnel’s contacts with Russia.
    • Yates detailed how she had informed Trump administration officials that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail from Russia 18 days before he was fired.
    • She also testified that she warned White House counsel Don McGahn in late January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials and that as a result, public statements by White House officials were inaccurate.
    • Clapper clarified earlier his remarks, oft-repeated by the Trump administration, that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He sought to make clear this statement reflects the fact that he had not seen the FBI evidence, and not an authoritative opinion that the evidence itself was lacking.
    • Clapper stated that the Russians had also collected information on certain Republican Party affiliated targets but did not release any Republican related data, and only leaked information involving the Democratic Party.
    • In relation to allegations involving Rice, Clapper explained that the request from intelligence officials for unmasking of a US citizen is “legitimate” and essential to determine motives of the foreign agent being monitored, and does not constitute “improper” leaking
    • Yates and Clapper both told members of the Subcommittee that they had never leaked classified information to the news media, nor authorized anyone else to do so.
    • Following questions to Clapper about information on Trump business dealings with Russia, Sen. Graham indicated that he wants to look into President Trump’s potential business ties to Russia as part of the Senate investigation.
  • On 6/7/17 Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. There had been reporting that Trump had asked Coats and Rogers to influence the FBI to shut down its investigation. In response to repeated questioning along these lines, both men refused to answer, invoking confidentiality and security, indicating they could not answer further in open hearings but might be able to be more forthcoming in closed hearings. They indicated that even then they might need to consult with White House counsel first. This was widely understood to indicate that the allegations could not be clearly refuted, and that legal concerns are now front and center as figures involved in the investigation seek to make sure they do not commit perjury in public statements.
  • ABC news reported on 8/11/17 that Congressional investigators want to meet with Rhona Graff, a senior vice president at the Trump Organization who has worked at Trump Tower for nearly 30 years. Graff is widely considered to be a gatekeeper to Trump who has often been central to coordinating between business associates, politicians, and journalists who have sought access. Graff is one of the parties copied in the e-mail chain involved in setting up the June 2016 meeting in which representatives of Russian interests met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager Paul Manfort while offering material damaging to Clinton in what was described as part of the Russian government’s support of the Trump campaign.
  • The New York Times ran a story on 10/22/17 about the slowing momentum and internal party divisions of the the Congressional investigations into Russian interference. Per the Times’ story: “All three committees looking into Russian interference — one in the House, two in the Senate — have run into problems, from insufficient staffing to fights over when the committees should wrap up their investigations. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry has barely started, delayed in part by negotiations over the scope of the investigation. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while maintaining bipartisan comity, have sought to tamp down expectations about what they might find. Nine months into the Trump administration, any notion that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy appears to be dwindling.”
  • On 10/24/17 Congressional Republicans announced that they were launching two investigations related to Hillary Clinton. The Republican leaders of the Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight and Government Reform committees will jointly investigate the approval of Uranium sales to a Russian-backed firm while Clinton was secretary of state, and donations to the Clinton Foundation made by someone who had formerly been associated with the firm. The Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees annoucned they will also jointly investigate the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, called the investigations, “…a partisan effort to distract. It’s a partisan effort aligned with what the White House has been urging, and Fox and Breitbart.” Schiff further noted that Republican leadershipmade the decision without consulting with any Democratic committee members.
  • Politico reported on 10/27/17 that the Congressional Intelligence committees are moving toward a timeline to conclude their probes. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has suggested his panel’s investigation will end early in 2018, emphasizing that he wants to wrap up by February, ahead of the first 2018 primary elections. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who’s leading the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, told POLITICO that he hopes to finish before the Senate. Conaway said he intends to seek a meeting with Burr, as well as the House and Senate committees’ top Democrats — Rep. Adam Schiff of California and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia — to sketch out their panels’ conclusions and attempt to generally align their reports. Wildly divergent conclusions, he said, could “embarrass the institution” and could send mixed messages about the urgency of the Russian threat.
  • An 11/23/17 article in The Hill discussed the status of the three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling and the possible role of Trump associates. The Senate intelligence panel, which has been the most bipartisan in its approach, has interviewed more than 100 people. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina has said that he wants to wrap up the probe by early spring, when congressional primaries begin. While there are many areas of bipartisan agreement on the meddling, it’s unclear whether all members will agree to the final report. It’s also unclear if the report will make a strong statement on whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way with Russia. In the House, Democrats hope the intelligence committee can remain focused on the Russia probe as the panel’s GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and other Republicans have launched new, separate investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton and a uranium deal during President Barack Obama’s administration. The committee has intervieiwed dozens of witnesses involved with the Trump campaign, the top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, told AP the committee has multiple interviews before the New Year. He said the Republican investigations into Clinton and Obama could be “an enormous time drain,” but they have not yet fully organized. He says the committee must be thorough and he doesn’t believe the Russia investigation should end soon. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also divided along partisan lines as Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, haven’t agreed on some interviews and subpoenas. Nevertheless, the panel is showing recent signs that it is aggressively pursuing the investigation. Grassley has been focused on a law that requires foreign agents to register and the firing of James Comey as FBI director. It’s not known if the panel will issue a final report, or if its probe will conclude before next year’s elections.
  • The vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-VA) spoke on the status of his committee’s investigation on 12/22/17. Warner stated that based on witness testimony and documents that he has seen behind closed doors, the Russia probe is “the most important thing I will ever work on.” He further stated that Facebook still hasn’t been fully candid, and the committee plans to require more information about what happened in 2016, and more transparency on future political ads. They also intend to call back Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and other “principals involved in some of these activities” for more questioning.
  • On 2/25/18, the response to the House Intelligence Committee’s memo from the Democratic members of the committee was released. Although heavily redacted to respond to security concerns expressed by the Trump administration, the Democratic memo makes a through and well-cited case that, contrary to the assertions of the earlier memo from the Republican committee members, the Justice Department did nothing improper in applying for FISA surveillance of former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page, that multiple lines of evidence in addition to the Steele Dossier were used to justify the application, and that issues with that dossier’s political funding were known to the FISA court at the time it made its decision.
  • White House communications director Hope Hicks appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on 2/28/18 for a closed-door interview. Hicks met with the committee for more than nine hours, initially refused to answer any questions from investigators about the presidential transition or her time in the White House, with her lawyer telling the panel she was doing so under instructions from the White House. It was only after Democrats tried to subpoena Hicks for her testimony on the spot, and it became clear that Hicks had discussed the transition in a recent interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee, that she and her legal team conferred with the White House and then answered “most” of the committee’s questions about the transition according to sources familiar with the testimony. One area she was unwilling to discuss was the crafting of Donald Trump Jr.’s initial misleading statement about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting as she flew aboard Air Force One with President Trump. When Hicks was pressed about whether she had ever lied for President Donald Trump, she acknowledged she has had to tell what amounted to “white lies”. This admission possibly displeased the President, as Hicks resigned within 48 hours.
  • A 3/15/18 story by Politico highlighted frustrations by House Republicans with the rollout of the House Intelligence Committee’s announcement that it was concluding its investigation.  The headline the GOP wanted from the rollout was that the Committee found no evidence that President Donald Trump or his associates aided Moscow’s scheme to interfere in the 2016 election. Instead, much of the focus has been on lawmakers’ startling conclusion that the nation’s intelligence agencies botched their analysis when they determined Russia wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton, which pitted the committee’s Republicans against the leaders of the intelligence community. Speaker Paul Ryan’s office felt compelled to intervene, and convened a meeting with members of the Intelligence Committee’s communications staff  to make sure that the Committee stayed focused on the broader point that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and must be stopped from doing it again.
  • On 4/27/18 the House Intelligence Committee released the final report on its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The report found “no evidence” of ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia. “While the Committee found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government, the investigation did find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns,” it said. The report did document extensively that Russia did carry out a “multi-faceted” active measures campaign against the U.S. in an effort to “sow fear and division in American society.” The committee voted along party lines to release the report, wrapping up a yearlong investigation that was filled with contentious panel infighting. President Trump responded by declaring that the report proved there was no conclusion and that the “witch hunt” of an investigation, “MUST END NOW!”
  • Ranking Democrat on the committee Adam Schiff countered the release of the report by accusing his GOP colleagues of ignoring evidence of collusion. “Throughout the investigation, Committee Republicans chose not to seriously investigate — or even see, when in plain sight — evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, instead adopting the role of defense counsel for key investigation witnesses.” Committee Democrats released their own report, which they indicated was a preliminary report intended to counter misrepresentations in the House Republicans version, to hopefully be followed by a complete report after further investigation. The report documents evidence suggestive of collusion, avenues of investigation not followed by the committee Republicans and other actions of the Republicans on the committee that impeded the investigation, and produces an extensive list of further witnesses and topics that the Democrats on the committee believe need review.

<End “Congressional Hearings” Section>

FBI Investigation/Special Counsel

  • A good case can be made that Trump’s firing of Comey constitutes a case of obstruction of justice. This would be true of Session’s behavior as well, and could additionally result in him losing his license to practice law, as it would seem to violate his previous recusal of himself from anything Russia-related. Making the case would require establishing (1) “Corrupt” intent, (2) Interference with a pending judicial proceeding, (3) A material impact on that proceeding, and (4) Knowledge of that proceeding. #2 & #4 are easily demonstrable, so it would depend on #1 and #3. Obstruction of Justice was one of the impeachment charges brought against Nixon in Watergate.
  • It was announced on 7/15/17 that Washington Lawyer Ty Cobb was joining Trump’s legal defense team. Indications are that Cobb, whose legal expertise lies in white-collar crime and congressional investigations, will be coordinating all legal defense and media issues related to Russia. He will coordinating with Trump’s personal defense lawyer Marc Kasowitz, and his appointment has led some to wonder if this is part of a process of sidelining Kasowitz. Also, since the question must arise, Cobb is indeed related to baseball legend Ty Cobb.
  • On 7/27/17 Senator Lindsey Graham unveiled plans for legislation that would make it much harder for any special counsel to be fired. He specifically stated that the intention of the legislation was to make it impossible for President Trump to file Special Counsel Mueller without a separate judicial review to okay it. The constitutionality of such a measure is unclear. Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate took measures to adjourn for the Summer without formally going into recess so that the President could not fire Attorney General Sessions during the recess and replace him with an interim appointee (who might be willing to fire Mueller) without need for Senate confirmation.
  • On 9/6/17, in a series of private e-mail exchanges, Trump legal team head Ty Cobb indicated he may not be in his position long. The exchanges were with Washington noodle shop owner Jeff Jetton, who has been contacting people involved with the Russia investigation whose e-mail addresses he can figure out, and in this case was quite aggressive. The conversation eventually got to a more civil place, but along the way Cobb made a statement that he might not be in his position for long, and indicated that he was one of the few “adults in the room” in the White House.
  • On 9/16/17 Ty Cobb, the head of President Trump’s legal defense team, was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing disputes within the legal defense team during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The crux of the dispute seems to be a disagreement between whether to turn over everything to try and end the inquiry as quickly as possible (which Cobb favors) or whether to assert privilege over some information in order to protect the President’s institutional authority (which McGahn favors).
  • A New York Times piece on 9/18/17 reveals that Mueller’s team is looking into thirteen separate categories of documents as part of its investigation. The story also reveals that Mueller’s team has shown a measure of deference to White House officials, sparing them grand jury subpoenas and allowing them to appear for voluntary interviews. Trump legal team head, Ty Cobb, has instructed White House officials to be cooperative in order to avoid any subpoenas. Mueller’s office is putting more pressure on figures currently outside the White House, such as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, and it seems increasingly likely that there will be indictments involving these individuals.
  • CNN reported on 9/26/17 that the IRS is formally sharing information with Robert Mueller’s investigation, after the two entities clashed this summer over both the scope of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and a raid on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home. Part of the concern centered on the far-reaching and broad requests from Mueller’s team. In the case of Manafort, Mueller’s investigators are reaching back 11 years as they investigate possible tax and financial crimes, according to search warrant documents. Mueller is bound by a written order issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May which allows the special counsel to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” After several months of being at odds, the IRS Criminal Investigation division is now sharing information about campaign associates, including Manafort and former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
  • On 10/24/17, NBC reported that Mueller’s team is also investigating Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta for his work in the Ukraine. The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of Paul Manafort. Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West. NBC’s sources say the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA. Podesta announced on 10/30/17 that he was stepping down from his consulting company.
  • On 10/28/17 the Wall Street Journal editorial board issued an opinion piece calling on Robert Mueller to resign due to conflicts of interest. The editorial makes the case that Comey may have acted improperly with regard to the Steele Dossier, and that the Dossier itself is discredited by having been funded by the Democratic party. “Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?” For his part, the editorial contends, Mueller’s history with the FBI and freindship with Comey prevents him from being able to conduct an impartial investigation.
  • While Trump administration officials responded by portraying Papadopoulos as a junior volunteer who almost nobody knew and who was acting on his own, subsequent reporting shows that he engaged in extensive domestic and foreign travel in which he met with various people and appeared before groups as a representative of the campaign. Records also seem to indicate that, while the campaign didn’t follow up on many of his requests, it also did not discourage him or ask him to stop. His efforts actually met with encouraging remarks from a  campaign supervisor subsequently identifed as Sam Clovis (after these revelations, Clovis withdrew his already controversial nomination for a top post in the Agriculture Department). It is also notable that, through Papadopoulos, multiple campaign officials were made aware of Russian claims to have Clinton-related e-mails well before the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and contradict repeated statements from Trump and others throughout the 2016 campaign that nobody in the campaign had any knoweldge of the DNC hack.
  • An 11/1/17 story from Vanity Fair described the reaction inside the White House to Robert Mueller’s first round of indictments. According to the article, Trump is blaming Jared Kusner for bad advice on firing Comey that led to Mueller’s investigation, aides are openly discussing the threat of impeachment, and Trump is in frequent communication with Steve Bannon, who is urging measures to discredit Mueller and shake up Trump’s legal defense team.
  • On 11/3/17 three House Republicans introduced a measure to remove Robert Mueller as special counsel. Separately, measures that were introduced months earlier to prevent Trump from removing Mueller are also on the floor, but are not advancing. For now, the majority of Congressional Republicans seem satisifed to let him continue through the conclusion of his investigation.
  • The Daily Beast provided more background on Polonska in an 11/10/17 article. According to Polonskaya’s brother, Sergei Vinogradov (her maiden name is Vinogradov) she has never worked for the Russian government, and was introduced to Papadopoulos while discussing an internship with Mifsud. She didn’t speak English well enough to fully follow the conversation between Papadopoulos and Mifsud, he added. Federal prosecutors, though, allege that Papadopoulos hoped that Putin’s “niece” would introduce him to the Russian ambassador in London.  After he first met the “niece,” Papadopoulos emailed the Trump campaign to report that he had talked with her about arranging “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump.” Mifsud meanwhile has told an Italian newspaper, “she was just a student, a very good-looking one” and that Papadopoulos’ “interest in her (was) very different from an academic one.”
  • An 11/19/17 article in the Washington Post described divisions in the White House and among those close to Trump on that status of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. According to the report, some in the West Wing avoid the mere mention of Russia or the investigation whenever possible in order to keep the President focused on governing. Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. Still others regard these hopes as naive as the investigation increasingly focuses on current and former White House staffers and campaign officials, and are also concerned about President Trump’s reported belief that the investigation is nearly concluded compared to their expectation that it is still in early stages.
  • Reporting emerged on 11/16/17 that Mueller’s team is preparing to interview White House communication director Hope Hicks. Hicks has been a key Trump confidant throughout the campaign and through the first year of the administration, and some legal experts believe the decision to interview her indicates Mueller has reached a critical point in the overall investigation. “Anytime you can get someone who is the right-hand person or who’s been around the primary target of an investigation, under oath, answering detailed questions, means you’ve progressed very far along in the investigation,” said Adam Goldberg, a former Clinton White House lawyer.
  • In the “can’t blame them for trying” category, on 11/27/17 Conservative watchdog Freedom Watch filed a lawsuit to have Mueller removed as Speical Counsel. The lawsuit was filed by Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray and the heads of the Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and Inspector General in their official capacities, and seeks to have Mueller removed for “gross prosecutorial misconduct” over the leaks of grand jury information. “Robert Mueller is not a ‘man of integrity’ as the Washington, D.C., Democrat and Republican political establishment like to spin. He is just another pol who is representing his establishment benefactors in both political parties who want to see the presidency of Donald Trump destroyed,” Klayman said in a statement on the lawsuit.
  • The day after former National Security Advisor Flynn’s 12/1/17 guilty plea to the Special Counsel, President Trump tweeted, “”I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump wrote. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” This led several parties to note that this seemingly implied he already knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before firing Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and before pressuring FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation. On 12/3/17, President Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, took responsibility for writing the tweet under the President’s name, which he says he gave to social media director Dan Scavino. Dowd also maintained that the tweet did not admit obstruction, and in any case, as the chief law enforcement officer, the President inherently cannot obstruct justice when giving a view on a legal case. Most legal experts were skeptical of this argument.
  • A column in FiveThirtyEight on 12/4/17 compared the progress of Mueller’s investigation to previous special counsels over the last few decades. The comparison noted that it has resulted in indictments sooner than many other investigations, and that it is common for such investigations to last years.
  • It was incorrectly reported on 12/5/17 that a U.S. federal investigator probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election asked Deutsche Bank for data on accounts held by President Donald Trump and his family. After Trump’s lawyer denied any such subpoena had been issued, subsequent reporting clarified that the records had been provided by Deutsche Bank in response to a subpoena from several weeks earlier, and involved people affiliate with trump, and the not his family itself.
  • Reports on 1/31/18 indicated that special counsel Robert Mueller is planning on interviewing Mark Corallo, a former spokesperson for Trump’s legal team. Corallo is reported to be planning to discuss a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. Mr. Corallo plans to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting, in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians, “will never get out.” That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice.
  • On 3/1/18 Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against President Donald Trump after the President chastised Sessions over an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses, calling his approach “disgraceful.” “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc,” Trump wrote. “Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Responding to Trump’s tweet, the attorney general said in a statement that the Justice Department “initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary. As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
  • On 3/16/18 Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director (and former Acting Director) Andrew McCabe less than 48 hours before his planned retirement, which would have qualified him for a pension after 21 years of government service. Sessions justified the removal on the basis of an internal review following questions about McCabe’s “lack of candor” in answers to Congress about his contacts with media outlets. President Trump, who had previously publicly criticized McCabe and called for his firing stated on Twitter, “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!” For his part, McCabe issued a statement denying any wrongdoing on his part, or on the part of Justice Department investigators: “I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey…This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally,’ McCabe’s statement continued. “It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.” it was also revealed in the following days that McCabe had written memos following several phone and in-person interactions with Trump, and the Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is in possession of those memos.
  • CNN reported on 4/4/18 that Robert mueller’s team has directly investigated several Russian oligarchs. It took the unusual step of questioning one Russian oligarch and searching his electronic devices when his private jet landed at a New York area airport, according to multiple sources familiar with the inquiry. A second Russian oligarch was stopped during a recent trip to the US, although it is not clear if he was searched. Mueller’s team has also made an informal voluntary document and interview request to a third Russian oligarch who has not traveled to the US recently.
  • On 4/13/18 Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz released the finding of his investigation into fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Horowitz found McCabe “lacked candor” on four occasions when discussing the disclosure of information for a Wall Street Journal article about the FBI’s Clinton Foundation investigation. In addition, the inspector general determined that McCabe was not authorized to disclose the existence of the investigation because it was not within the department’s “public interest” exception for disclosing ongoing investigations. The inspector general said that the disclosure to the Journal was made “in a manner designed to advance his personal interests at the expense of department leadership.” Proving that his administration’s firing of McCabe had nothing to do with his general beef with the FBI and desire to impede the Russia investigation, President Trump tweeted: “DOJ just issued the McCabe report – which is a total disaster. He LIED! LIED! LIED! McCabe was totally controlled by Comey – McCabe is Comey!! No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!”
  • For all the attempts on the Right to allege that Mueller has some kind of anti-Trump bias that results in a conflict of interest, news emerged on 5/14/18 involving a much more bona-fide seeming conflict of interest on Mueller’s part relating to a Russian involved with the probe. In 2009, when Mueller ran the FBI, the bureau asked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to spend millions of his own dollars funding an ultimately-unsuccessful FBI-supervised operation to rescue a retired FBI agent, Robert Levinson, captured in Iran while working for the CIA in 2007. Although Deripaska is involved in business-dealings with Paul Manafort, he has not been named in any of the Manafort indictments. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz believes Mueller has a conflict of interest because his FBI previously accepted financial help from a Russian that is, at the very least, a witness in the current probe. “The real question becomes whether it was proper to leave [Deripaska] out of the Manafort indictment, and whether that omission was to avoid the kind of transparency that is really required by the law.” Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department lawyer and longtime ethics watchdog, also questioned whether the earlier FBI operation was even legal: “It’s possible the bureau’s arrangement with Mr. Deripaska violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government from accepting voluntary services.”
  • On 5/31/18 President Trump contradicted what he said in a 2017 televised interview, denying that he fired former FBI Director James Comey. “Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!” Trump said Thursday on Twitter. In a 2017 interview with NBC Nightly News’s Lester Holt last year, Trump stated, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”’
  • On 6/2/18 the New York Times published a January 2018 confidential 20-page letter Trump’s attorneys reportedly sent to Mueller’s team. Among other things, the letter contends that Trump could not possibly be charged with obstruction of justice for firing former FBI Director James Comey, as the Constitution grants the president absolute authority over federal investigations. The Constitution allows the president, “if he wished, [to] terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.” The Times has an annotated version of the letter, which also claims : By the time Trump intervened in the Michael Flynn investigation, the investigation was all but over therefore there could not have been obstruction, Trump has turned over so many documents to the Special Counsel that there is no need for an interview, the whole investigation is illegitimate as it is likely a byproduct of “corruption within the FBI and Department of Justice, the potentially incriminating things that Donald Trump said in his interview with Lester Holt may have been misunderstood, and the memos written by former FBI Director James Comey may not be reliable, because Comey may have misunderstood the President. Minutes before the story was published, President Trump issued a tweet claiming it was leaked by Mueller’s team.
  • On 6/14/18 the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released it’s report on actions of the FBI during the 2016 election. The report found issues with FBI Director James Comey’s behavior, but no evidence that he had behaved criminally. President Trump responded the next day by saying that Comey had behaved criminally, and called the Justice Department’s IG report “wrong”. Key findings of the 500-page report included:
    • Former FBI Director James Comey was “insubordinate” in handling the probe into Hillary Clinton, and made improper use of private e-mail, but nothing he did is illegal, and there is no evidence of anti-Trump political bias.
    • Some FBI officials made anti-Trump statements during the campaign that were unprofessional in that they could affect the FBI’s reputation for impartiality. There is no evidence that any of these officials did anything illegal, or procedurally improper in their investigations themselves.
    • The report opined that Comey was wrong to go public in the ways he did during the Clinton investigation, but did not opine on the negative effects his statements may have had on Clinton in the election. It did support the original FBI finding that Clinton should not be charged with any crime.
  • On 7/13/18 former FBI lawyer Lisa Page testified before the House Judiciary Committee, facing House Republicans keen to uncover any discrepancies between her testimony and Peter Strzok’s, the counterintelligence agent who testified in public for 10 hours the day before. Multiple Republican lawmakers described Page as cooperative and credible — in marked contrast to their vituperative characterizations of Strzok — and said she answered some questions that Strzok would not. Page also defended herself against charges of bias, according to GOP lawmakers in the room, providing context to the texts, as Strzok had, albeit more vociferouly, the day before. One Democratic congressional source said that, while Page appeared less assertive and confident in her answers than Strzok had been, she did not appear to have contradicted his testimony in any way.
  • On 8/13/18, the FBI fired Peter Strzok, an agent who was removed from the Russia probe last year for sending text messages disparaging President Donald Trump. Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s attorney, said that the deputy director’s decision comes after the head of the office that normally handles disciplinary actions decided Strzok should instead face a demotion and 60-day suspension.
  • On 8/13/18 President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that if the President sits down for questioning by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump will say he never discussed easing up on a probe of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn with former FBI Director James Comey. 
  • On 8/16/18 President Trump made statements that drew a connection between his decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance with his involvement in the investigation into Russian election interference. The comments, published in an interview in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday night, are in contrast to the White House’s claim earlier in the day that the decision was not politically motivated but based on a view that Brennan, a harsh Trump critic, posed a security risk. “I call it the rigged witch hunt, (it) is a sham. And these people led it!” Trump said in the interview, a full transcript of which was not immediately published by the newspaper. “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”
  • The New York Times ran a lengthy disclosure on 8/18/18 of how extensively White House Counsel Don McGahn had cooperated with the Mueller investigation. In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the course of nine months, McGahn provided the investigators examining whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer during the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey, clashes with Attorney general Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself, and attempts to fire Special Counsel Mueller. McGahn’s cooperation began in part because McGahn and his lawyer, William A. Burck, could not understand why Trump was so willing to allow McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel and feared  Trump was setting up McGahn to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, according to people close to him. He and Mr. Burck devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn did nothing wrong. The disclosure prompted concern among Trump’s advisers and, reportedly, the President himself, that McGahn’s statements could help serve as a key component for a damning report on possible obstruction of justice charges. On 8/29/18 the President announced that McGahn would leave his job in the fall, and the actual departure occured 10/17/18.
  • President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani announced on 8/30/18 that Trump’s legal team is preparing a “voluminous” report aimed at discrediting special counsel Robert Mueller. Giuliani told the Daily Beast the team aims to have a “preliminary draft” of the report ready by early September. He also indicated that most of the information in the counterreport is publicly available information that can be found on Google. “The first half of it is 58 pages, and second half isn’t done yet … It needs an executive summary if it goes over a hundred,” Giuliani said. Giuliani also told the Daily Beast that Trump knows the report is part of the team’s legal strategy “and he’s happy with it.” Giuliani also opined on 9/3/18 that the President’s legal team may invoke executive privilege to stop Mueller’s final report on the Russia investigation from being released to the public. Giuliani told The New Yorker that it’s likely the Trump administration would object to the memo being made public information.  On 9/6/18 Giuliani stated that President Trump would not answer federal investigators’ questions, in writing or in person, about whether he tried to block the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Giuliani also offered on 12/16/18 that President Trump would only sit for an interview with mueller’s team over “my dead body”.
  • On 9/14/18 CNN reported on Congressional lawmakers receiving five months’ worth of recovered messages between former FBI special agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.  North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows released specific extracts, indicating in a letter to the Justice Department that they “suggest a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration.”
    That issue is part of an ongoing inquiry currently being reviewed by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, as witnesses continue to be interviewed by the inspector general’s office about how FBI officials conducted the Russia investigation. CNN’s review of the texts shows Strzok and Page were keenly aware of the news articles about the FBI’s investigation and its offshoots, regularly notifying each other when articles published. Some texts raise questions about their level of involvement in shaping stories about ongoing investigations and whether it was authorized, but frequent coordination and communication with the former head of the FBI’s press office, Michael Kortan, is a consistent theme throughout their interactions.
  • On 9/17/18 President Trump ordered the declassification of a series of highly sensitive documents related to the Russia investigation. Under the order, classified parts of a surveillance application that allowed the FBI to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page will become public in addition to “all text messages relating to the Russia investigation” from former FBI Director James Comey and several other top federal officials. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the decision was made “at the request of a number of committees of Congress and for reasons of transparency.” The prompted concerns from several Trump allies about potentially releasing sensitive intelligence information, and the administration backed off of the plan a few days later.
  • In what some observers consider to be a sign that his investigation is preparing to wind down (at least in certain areas) it was reported on 10/2/18 that Mueller’s staff is downsizing. Brandon Van Grack and Kyle Freeny — government lawyers with key roles in bringing the case against the former Trump campaign chairman over tax evasion, bank fraud and failure to register as a foreign agent for his lobbying work in Ukraine — are going back to their prior posts at the Justice Department, according to Mueller spokesman Peter Carr. Several stories came out in October stating that Mueller’s investigation was preparing to wrap up key elements after the midterms. ABC News also reported on 11/16/18 that an unusual number of sealed indictments have been added to the federal court docket in Washington, D.C. since the start of 2018. Fourteen were added to the docket since late August alone, just as the midterm elections were drawing near and longstanding Justice Department policy precluded prosecutors from taking any public action that could appear to be aimed at influencing political outcomes. There are thus strong signs that the indictments signal a major forthcoming push of activity from Mueller.
  • On 10/3/18 Congressional Republicans emerged from a four-hour interview with former FBI general counsel James Baker saying it had “fundamentally changed” their understanding of the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, confirming and furthering their previous convictions that federal law enforcement agencies were biased in their scrutiny of President Trump’s campaign. Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both leaders in the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the closed-door meeting the “most informative” interview they have had in the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees’ nearly year-long probe into the FBI’s investigations of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The meeting was lightly attended, as it was held when Congress is not is session. House Democrats declined to comment. 
  • On 10/2/18 Federal law enforcement officials confirmed that they have referred a 2-year-old email hacking investigation to special counsel Robert Mueller, according to the Republican operative who was the target of the hack. Jacobus alleges the hacking of her personal email account was part of a broader campaign of harassment and intimidation that followed critical comments she made about Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries. Jacobus, a political PR specialist, served as a source for a 2015 Washington Post investigation that forced a pro-Trump super PAC to shut down. She later sued Trump for defamation. Jacobus told POLITICO that FBI agents in the bureau’s cyber division informed her in September that they had forwarded their investigation to Mueller because the matter came to exceed the bounds of computer intrusion, the crime that had been the initial focus of the investigation. It is not clear what led the FBI to conclude that Mueller has jurisdiction over the matter.
  • On 10/15/18 former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI about his communication with journalists. Wolfe earlier this year was indicted on three counts of making false statements to the federal agents when they questioned him about his contacts with journalists, according to a release from the Department of Justice. The move against Wolfe has been characterized as part of the Justice Department’s crackdown on Russia-investigation leakers.
  • In a totally different kind of Mueller story, The Atlantic reported on 10/30/18 that a company that appears to be run by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist offered to pay women to make false claims against Mueller in the days leading up to the midterm elections. The special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to weigh in. Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said, “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.” Carr confirmed that the allegations were brought to the office’s attention by several journalists, who were contacted by a woman who identified herself as Lorraine Parsons. Another woman, Jennifer Taub, contacted Mueller’s office earlier this month with similar information. The woman identifying herself as Parsons told journalists in an email, a copy of which I obtained, that she had been offered roughly $20,000 by a man claiming to work for a firm called Surefire Intelligence—which had been hired by a GOP activist named Jack Burkman—“to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.”
  • The Mueller investigation faced challenges of a different sort on 11/7/18 when Jeff Sessions resigned (in a setting that many took to be a de facto firing by Trump) and was replaced by newly-appointed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Whitaker had previously served as Session’s Chief of Staff and is a former U.S. Attorney. More worringly, Whitaker has made multiple statements critical of Mueller’s investigation, and discussed ways it could be slowed down. Trump did nothing to dissuade the fear that he was brought in to do just that by immediately transferring oversight of the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who was overseeing it since Sessions recused himself) to Whitaker, and making his own public statements linking the appointment to concerns about Mueller‘s “illegal investigation”.
  • Concern about President Trump using Whitaker to fire or muzzle Mueller led to both nationwide protests and Republican Senator Jeff Flake introducing a bill to protect the Special Counsel’s appointment. Other prominent Republicans like Lindsey Graham supported the move. Democrats in the newly elected House majority also discussed ways they could shore up Mueller’s position, both through holding hearings to make evidence available to him, and by having him testify on his findings if they were otherwise blocked from release. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, however, has refused to bring the bill to a vote, even in the face of Falke refusing to move forward any juducial nominee votes until it is voted on.
  • On 11/21/18, President Trump delivered to Robert Mueller’s investigation written answers about pre-election dimensions of the Russia probe but did not answer questions about his behavior as president, including allegations of obstruction of justice.  His lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Axios that it was possible that Mueller would subpoena Trump regarding his activities as president. But Giuliani said he has reason to suspect he won’t: “I think that he would not win a legal battle if he did that, and I think it would consume months.” There was little reporting available on the content of the ansers, but CNN did report that Trump said that he was not told about a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of his campaign and a Russian lawyer, nor was he told about WikiLeaks duirng the campaign, and specifically Roger Stone did not speak with him about WikiLeaks, which published a trove of hacked emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign leading up to the 2016 election. CNN reported that Trump noted that his responses were to the best of his recollection, a common practice during legal proceedings.
  • House Republicans had asked former FBI Director James Comey to appear for testimony before the year-end recess. Comey initially said he had no plans to appear and challenged their subponea in court, then relented but said he wouldn’t appear unless it was a public session. He ultimately agreed to appear in private hearings on the condition that a full transcript be released the enxt day so that house members couldn’t misrepresent his testimony. After completing the 12/7/18 testimony to the Judiciary and House Oversight Committees, Comey reported exasperation: “After a full day of questioning, two things are clear to me: One, we could have done this in (an) open setting. And two: When you read the transcript, you will see that we are talking again about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sakes. So I’m not sure we need to do this at all, but I’m trying to respect the institution and to answer questions in a respectful way.” The transcript does indeed show that questions about the Clinton ivnestigation, and possible bias in the FBI’s treatment of trump were major preoccupations of the committee members. In terms of the Russia investigation, Comey revealed that four individuals connected to Trump were under suspicion in 2016 because of their Russian contacts, reiterated that the investigation began due to concern over statements by Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and not the Steele dossier, and said that while he respected Robert Mueller and they had a good working relationship, they were not friends in any social sense.
  • President Trump responded to Comey’s testimony by immediately tweeting: “It is being reported that Leakin’ James Comey was told by Department of Justice attorneys not to answer the most important questions. “Total bias and corruption at the highest levels of previous Administration. Force him to answer the questions under oath!” Lawmakers in the room with Comey said the former FBI director declined to answer some questions on the advice of FBI counsel, a move left some Republicans frustrated. Comey told reporters after the interview that he did not believe that he shut down specific lines of questioning, but, “The FBI, for understandable reasons, doesn’t want me talking about the details of the investigation that is still ongoing, it began when I was FBI director. So it makes sense that they don’t want me to go into those details.”
  • On 12/7/18 President Trump said that his lawyers are preparing a “major Counter Report” in response to expected findings from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. Trump confirmed the plan in a spate of angry morning tweets in which he also took fresh aim at Mueller and his legal team, accusing them of conflicts of interest and overzealous prosecutions that have “wrongly destroyed people’s lives.” The president’s confirmation of the plan appears to have been spurred by reports that his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others were doing little to prepare to rebut Mueller, who is also looking at whether Trump has obstructed justice. Trump said 87 pages had already been written, adding, “obviously cannot complete until we the see the final Witch Hunt report.” Trump followed this up with a 12/11/18 statement that he was not worried about impeachment, and that “the people would revolt if that happened”. However, confidants indicate that he has privately expressed worry.
  • On 12/7/18, amidst news of John Kelly’s departure as White House Chief of Staff at the end of the year, it was reported that Mueller’s team interviewed Kelly regarding potential obstruction of justice, according to CNN. Kelly responded to a narrow list of questions from Mueller over the summer, sources told the network. White House lawyers reportedly rejected Mueller’s request for a full interview. 
  • On 12/14/18 court officials of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit went to extreme measures to ensure it was as difficult as possible to figure out what Mueller’s team was doing as the court held a secret and mysterious argument about a grand jury subpoena challenge. An entire floor of the courthouse was closed to the public and press for more than an hour. During that time, attorneys secretly entered the courthouse to argue before three federal appellate judges over a grand jury subpoena. The proceedings included participation on Mueller’s team of someone specializing in brigning arguments to the Supreme Court, and an expert in terrorism charges. This adds to recent speculation that Mueller may be seeking to bring the President before a grand jury. (See item in the “unconfirmed” section below.)

<End “FBI Investigation/Special Counsel” Section>

Russian Campaign Interference

  • Russian media also announced that three senior officials of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and a cyber-security contractor working with the FSB had been arrested and charged with treason on 1/28/17. Analysts believe that, given the timing, and the kinds of people involved, that this move likely has something to do with the U.S. intelligence finding on high-level Russian official participation in manipulating the U.S. election.
  • A report that was issued on 4/20/17 (by Reuters) revealed that a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to three current and four former U.S. officials, a document prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in June recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia. A second institute document, drafted in October, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.
  • The New York Times traces the development of false online profiles in a 9/7/17 article. The article describes how social media profiles using false names and pictures borrowed from other users began to proliferate in June 2016. The first generation of these accounts pointed to the website DCLeaks, which was a clearinghouse for the relase of hacked e-mails from Democratic officials. There were eventually hundreds of thousands of these kinds of accounts on Facebook and Twitter, with strong signs of Russian origin.
  • On 10/4/17 CNN reported that a number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the situation. Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages. While one source said that a large number of ads appeared in areas of the country that were not heavily contested in the elections, some clearly were geared at swaying opinion in the most heavily contested battlegrounds. Michigan saw the closest presidential contest in the country — Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 10,700 votes out of nearly 4.8 million ballots cast. Wisconsin was also one of the tightest states, and Trump won there by only about 22,700 votes. Both states were key to Trump’s victory in the Electoral College.
  • Acoording to 10/6/17 CNN reports, a Russia-supported group sold merchandise through “Blacktivist”-branded Facebook and Twitter accounts, which “have been suspended and are among those handed over to Congress as part of its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.” The Blacktivist Facebook page sold various T-shirts and sweatshirts with messages including “melanin and muscles,” “our sons matter,” and others that mirror slogans for the Black Lives Matter movement. Jonathon Morgan, founder and CEO of New Knowledge, a company that identifies online propaganda, told CNN that the page’s activity “fits a pattern of Russian propagandists’ attempts at appearing as authentic Americans participating in politics,” by selling merchandise and promoting events.
  • The AP released an anlaysis on 10/12/17 of the Facebook page “Being Patriotic”, one of several hundred pages active in the 2016 election now believed to have been Russia-backed. The analysis showed that some of the most common words and phrases on the page were “illegal,” ″country”, “American” and phrases like “illegal alien,” ″Sharia law” and “Welfare state.” “Being Patriotic” was among 470 pages and accounts that Facebook shut down in recent weeks in response to a congressional probe into Russian meddling in last year’s election.
  • Twitter announced on 10/26/17 that it was removing all advertisement from Russian-backed US media companies Russia Today and Sputnik. “Early this year, the U.S. intelligence community named RT and Sputnik as implementing state-sponsored Russian efforts to interfere with and disrupt the 2016 Presidential election, which is not something we want on Twitter,” Twitter said in a blog post on the matter. “This decision is restricted to these two entities based our internal investigation of their behavior as well as their inclusion in the January 2017 DNI report. This decision does not apply to any other advertisers. RT and Sputnik may remain organic users on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”
  • In preparation for upcoming Congressional testimony, the major social media companies made new revelations on 10/30/17 on the extent of Russian activity during the 2016 election. Facebook identified 80,000 Russia-linked posts on its platform that sought to interfere in the 2016 election and were viewed by up to 126 million people, Twitter found 36,746 automated accounts with possible links to Russia that generated about 1.4 million election-related tweets that were viewed about 288 million times, and Google found two accounts associated with the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency that spent $4,700 on search and display ads during the 2016 election cycle and 18 YouTube channels likely also associated with the Russian entity that published videos in English with “content that appeared to be political.”
  • Representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter met with the House Intelligence Committee on 11/1/17. Highlights of their testimony include:
    • The committee publicly released examples of dozens of Facebook adds purchased by Russian accounts that targeted issues ranging from Black Lives Matter to illegal immigration.
    • The ads targeted both Republicans and Democrats and were paid for in rubles. As an example, one “Black Matters” ad targeted adults in Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Virginia and received more than 200,000 impressions and more than 12,000 clicks. It cost 53,425 rubles ($915).
    • Committee members expressed frustration that the CEOs of the companies did not attend the hearings.
    • They also revealed limited understanding of some technical terms. One lawmaker asked Twitter’s general counsel to explain the difference between a bot and a troll. Several inquired about the definition of “impressions.”
    • The companies stressed they are investing in trying to solve the election interference issue. Facebook is doubling the people working on safety and security issues to 20,000 by the end of 2018, for example.
    • The same day, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) revealed that Russian actors had organized competing anti-Islam and pro-Islam protests in the same location at the same time on May 21, 2016, using separate Facebook pages operated from a troll farm in St. Petersburg. A Facebook page named Heart of Texas organized a rally at noon on May 21 at the Islamic Da’wah Center in Houston to “Stop Islamization of Texas.” Another Russia-linked account, United Muslims of America, organized a counterprotest — a “Save Islamic Knowledge” rally for the same place, date, and time.
  • 11/2/17 reporting by the Associated Press portrayed the global reach of Russian hacking efforts. In addition to targeting related to the 2016 election, the hackers targeted the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin. The article describes targets in 116 countries in efforts that go back years, and involved over 4,700 Gmail users, from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. “It’s a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, one of five outside experts who reviewed the AP’s findings.
  • The New York Times reported on 11/22/17 that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is so highly regarded by the Kremlin as an intelligence source that he has his own code name from the Russian government. The FBI reportedly warned the Republican lawmaker about this as early as 2012, but he has downplayed suggestions that he was a source to the Russians and said that he does not recall being briefed on the matter. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has investigated a meeting between Rohrabacher and President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, the congressman met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to discuss the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and Rohrabacher also met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya two months before she took part in a meeting with members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower in 2016. The FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee are looking to interview Rohrabacher about the meeting.
  •  The Associated Press reported on 11/25/17 that the FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts. AP reported that nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting. FBI policy calls for notifying victims, whether individuals or groups, to help thwart both ongoing and future hacking attempts. The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts. A senior FBI official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, declined to comment on when it received the target list, but said that the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks.
  • A 12/15/17 story in the Dallas Morning News focused on political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia. To quote the lead from the article: “Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.”
  • The AP released further reporting on 12/22/17 on the hacking activities of the Russian hacking group “Fancy Bear”. There were at least 200 journalists, publishers and bloggers targeted by the group as early as mid-2014 and as recently as 2017. The AP identified journalists as the third-largest group on a hacking hit list obtained from cybersecurity firm Secureworks, after diplomatic personnel and U.S. Democrats. About 50 of the journalists worked at The New York Times. Another 50 were either foreign correspondents based in Moscow or Russian reporters like Lobkov who worked for independent news outlets. Others were prominent media figures in Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics or Washington. Previous AP reporting revealed Fancy Bear used phishing emails to try to compromise Russian opposition leaders, Ukrainian politicians and U.S. intelligence figures, along with Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and more than 130 other Democrats.
  • Twitter announced on 1/18/18 that that the company is trying to “identify and inform individually the users who have been exposed to [Russian troll farm] accounts during the election.” Twitter released information on 1/20/18 making the extent of the activity more clear: They had identified 3,814 accounts that are likely under the control of the Kremlin-linked troll farm called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). These accounts produced a staggering 176,000 tweets in the 10 weeks preceding the election, which were then retweeted by another 50,258 automated accounts tied to the Russian government. At least 700,000 users interacted with the troll tweets.
  • Wired reported on 2/15/18 that, in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Tracking from the Alliance for Securing Democracy and RoBhat Labs, show that shooting-related terms dominated Russian-linked Twitter site’s trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida, guncontrol, and Nikolas Cruz, the name of the alleged shooter. Popular trending topics among the bot networks include shooter, NRA, shooting, Nikolas, Florida, and teacher. Some of the Russian bots have even pushed pro-gun control views, which matches a now-familiar pattern of promoting both sides of controversial issues in U.S. politics to maximize discord.
  • On 2/16/18 Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation issued an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian corporations outlining details of a massive electoral interference operation. Some key details include:
    • The individuals and companies were connected to the Internet Research Agency, previously known to be behind many of the Russian social media efforts in the 2016 election.
    • The operation began in 2014, and shifted into a high level of activity in 2016, at its height employing several hundred people in St. Petersburg with a monthly budget of over $1 million.
    • Its explicit purpose was to boost the candidacy of Donald Trump, while harming that of Hillary Clinton. To that end, it also boosted Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, attacked other Republican candidates, and sought to increase tensions between political groups.
    • This involved extensive use of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Paypal, and Twitter, and up to 80 individuals making trips to the United States and organizing rallies and campaign events as well.
    • Using false identities, these individuals posed as U.S. nationals and were in ongoing contact with up to one hundred state and local Trump campaign officials and party activists,  using them to help arrange events, spread social media, and gaining information from them to sharpen their messaging and targeting.
    • The U.S. individuals cooperating with this Russian effort believed they were in contact with U.S. nationals.
  • Reaction to the indictments was varied. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said, “As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain, whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute for a couple of reasons.” President Trump engaged in a Friday-Sunday tweetstorm in which he claimed vindication in the campaign not knowingly engaging in collusion, noted the efforts started before he ran, called out McMaster for not noting that the indictments didn’t say the effort affected the election, blamed the FBI, blamed Obama, cited anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, and falsely denied he had ever claimed that the Russians weren’t involved. Facebook Vice President Rob Goldman issued a series of tweets touting Facebook’s cooperation with the investigation, but disputing that the aim of the Russian operation was to help Trump, as opposed to causing general division and chaos. Goldman later walked back his comments, saying it was his personal opinion and only applied to specific Facebook ads he had seen. Spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said the indictments provided “no substantial evidence” of Russian meddling, and that there were “no indications that the Russian state could have been involved.” Analysts meanwhile noted that the indictment established a conspiracy but didn’t charge anyone with criminal conspiracy, didn’t address the DNC hacking or demonstrate Russian government involvement, and didn’t deal with previous indications of Trump campaign communications with Russians, suggesting that all these cases are still being developed. Meanwhile, several commentators noted that what was established was a detailed case of Russian interference, massive (though unwitting) participation by people in the U.S., and validation of the work of the FBI and the Justice Department, which makes it more difficult for the President to fire Mueller, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or FBI director Christopher Wray.
  • On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Devin Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, sent a tweet on 2/21/18 in which he sarcastically called on Russian bots to help an article he had linked to go viral. “Catch up on mainstream media Russian conspiracy theories in this piece by @FDRLST PS-If you are a Russian Bot please make this go viral PSS-If you’re not a Russian Bot you will become one if you retweet.” The article in The Federalist ridiculed alleged conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation, particularly the contention by site Hamilton 68 that the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo was pushed by Russia-linked Russian bots. The article though casts doubt on Hamilton 68’s methodology, and points to the fact that the site does not disclose which specific accounts it is tracking.
  • NPR reported on 3/1/18 on Russian politician Alexander Torshin’s ties to the NRA.
    Torshin has methodically cultivated ties with leaders of the National Rifle Association and documented efforts over six years to leverage those connections and gain deeper access into American politics, and even claimed that his ties to the NRA provided him access to Donald Trump, and the opportunity to serve as a foreign election observer in the United States during the 2012 election. Torshin is a prolific Twitter user, and has written numerous times about his connections with the NRA, of which he is a known paid lifetime member. NPR translated a selection of those posts that document Torshin’s relationship to the group. These revelations come amid earlier news that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016.
  • The New York Times reported on 3/4/18 that the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million allocated to it in order to address foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. elections. Because of the lack of spending, the Global Engagement Center, which is responsible for addressing Russia’s disinformation efforts, does not have a single Russian-speaking analyst. In the final days of the Obama administration, Congress told the Pentagon to give $60 million to the State Department so it could coordinate efforts to fight Russian and Chinese “anti-democratic propaganda,” the Times reported. (Now former) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took seven months to decide whether to spend the money but, because the fiscal year was just a few days from ending, the Pentagon said the State Department could no longer get it. The State Department had another $60 million available for the next fiscal year but, after deliberating for five months, finally said last Monday that it would take $40 million.
  • On 3/5/18 Reddit stated that they had removed “a few hundred accounts” linked to Russian propaganda. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, writing under the username spez, said the site removed accounts that they “suspect are of Russian origin or content linking directly to known propaganda domains.” Huffman further wrote, “We  have found and removed a few hundred accounts, and of course, every account we find expands our search a little more. The vast majority of suspicious accounts we have found in the past months were banned back in 2015–2016 through our enhanced efforts to prevent abuse of the site generally.” Huffman also said the site hasn’t seen many ads from Russia “either before or after the 2016 election” and that ads from Russia are currently banned from the site, but did concede that propaganda was shared indirectly using the platform. His statements came a few days after The Daily Beast reported that it had obtained leaked files from a prominent Russian “troll farm” about its efforts on Reddit.
  • NPR ran a 3/15/18 profile on Russian Internet activist Lyudmila Savchuk, who spent two months working undercover at the Internet Research Agency’s troll factory in 2015, creating fake social media accounts and writing blog posts meant to sow divisions in the U.S. and turn Russians against Americans. “The factory worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There was a day shift, a night shift, and even shifts over the holidays. The factory worked every single second,” Savchuk says. According to Savchuk, there were a few hundred people in the building at any given time, divided into groups. Those with the best English skills posed as Americans and created accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They’d use those troll accounts to stir up trouble on subjects such as U.S. elections or race relations. Each troll was given a list of topics to focus on by a supervisor. She says there were usually about 10 topics on the list. “It is laughable when Putin says that we do not know about trolls or trolls do not exist,” she says, “because when anyone looks through the Kremlin-controlled newspapers or state TV, they can see that the propaganda in that media is the exact same stuff that the trolls are posting.” Savchuk eventually leaked documents, videos and her story to the independent Russian news outlet Moy Rayon in 2015.
  • Government agencies announced on 3/15/18 that Russian hackers are conducting a broad assault on the U.S. electric grid, water processing plants, air transportation facilities. According to the alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, “Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors” have targeted “government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors,” including those of energy, nuclear, water and aviation. The announcement was the first official confirmation that Russian hackers have taken aim at such facilities. Bloomberg News had reported in July 2017 that Russian hackers had breached more than a dozen power plants in seven states, an aggressive campaign that has since expanded to dozens of states, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
  • The Daily Beast reported on 3/22/18 that U.S. investigators have discovered that “Guccifer 2.0,” the hacker who claimed credit for a breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the 2016 presidential race, revealed himself as a Russian intelligence operative. U.S. investigators identified the hacker as a Moscow-based Russian intelligence operative after the hacker failed to activate a virtual private networking (VPN) service meant to obscure the operative’s location before logging on. The result was the operative’s Moscow IP address showing links to the Russian Military Intelligence Service’s servers being caught in the logs of a U.S. social media company, allowing U.S. investigators to track the individual.
  • On 4/10/18 and 4/11/18 Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress for public testimony. Questions chiefly delved into Facebook’s privacy policies and the business uses it makes of users’ personal information. Regarding Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg stated that the company should have banned them when it first learned of the misuse of personal data in 2015. “When we heard back from Cambridge Analytica that they had told us that they weren’t using the data and deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake. We shouldn’t have taken their word for it. We’ve updated our policy to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.” He also stated that Facebook has been cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation, and that he regrets not doing more to combat Russian manipulation efforts in 2016, stating that the company is now focused on it, but that, “This is an ongoing arms race. As long as there are people sitting in Russia whose job is it to try to interfere in elections around the world, this is going to be an ongoing conflict.”
  • Reddit announced on 4/10/18 that it has found nearly 1,000 accounts suspected to be linked to a Russian troll farm. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman wrote that the platform had identified 944 accounts suspected to be created by the Russian Internet Research Agency, “few of which had a visible impact on the site.” Huffman wrote that of the accounts that had gained “karma,” or the site’s metric for activity, more than half had already been banned ahead of the site’s investigation into Russian accounts. He said that seven accounts with a significant amount of activity “made it past our defenses.”
  • On  4/20/18 the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit against the Russian Federation, Wikileaks, and the Trump Presidential campaign for conspiring to damage the DNC and its candidate during the 2016 Presidential election. In the complaint filed in federal district court in Manhattan, the DNC claims that the “illegal conspiracy inflicted profound damage” on their organization, impacting their campaign work, scaring away donors, causing over a million dollars in damages and inspiring personal attacks against their employees. While it is an unusual move, there is precedent in the DNC having eventually won damages from a similar lawsuit stemming from the Watergate investigation.
  • On 5/10/18, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee published more than 3,500 Facebook and Instagram ads linked to the Russian propaganda group Internet Research Agency. The ads ran on those platforms between Spring 2015 and Summer 2017. USA Today conducted an analysis of the ads and found that relatively few mentioned Clinton or Trump directly, while the majority seemed generally intended to exacerbate racial tensions. More than half explicitly mentioned race, and 25% involved crime or policing with racial connotations. The ads ranged for 44 a month in 2015, rising to 400 a month between September and November 2016, and collectively were served around 50 million times. The New York Times also launched an interactive feature where users can provide their demographic information to see which ads may have been served to them.
  • On 7/13/18 the Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian nationals as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, accusing them of engaging in a “sustained effort” to hack Democrats’ emails and computer networks. All 12 defendants are members of the GRU, a Russian federation intelligence agency within the main intelligence directorate of the Russian military, who were acting in “their official capacities.” The indictment provides a great deal of detail on which individuals took what actions at what points as part of the hack and subsequent distribution of DNC and Clinton campaign e-mails. In addition to these technical details, the indictments reveal:
  • On 7/13/18 former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka urged the U.S. to impose targeted sanctions on Russian figures. “General sanctions aren’t really that efficacious, unless you’ve got decades, and we don’t have decades to wait. This is an anti-status quo actor, and it destabilizes the region and is a bad actor globally,” Gorka told Hill.TV’s Buck Sexton on “Rising.” “The most effective thing I want to see more of is the targeted sanctions. When you target individual members of the government or the oligarchy … That changes behavior. What it’s about is behavior modification, so putting more modification, so putting more pressure on individual bad actors that are powerful in Russia.” The administration in April inflicted sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs and their businesses. The sanctions were added under a law passed through Congress last year in response to the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
  • On 7/16/18 Axios ran a piece on why the popular Right-Wing talking point on the right about the DNC refusing to hand over the server that experienced the hack to the FBI is misinformed. Axios describes how, rather than turn its server over to the FBI, the DNC hired a private security firm, Crowdstrike, to investigate the hacking.

    It is increasingly common for those private firm investigators to handle the low-level forensic work in place of the FBI. Leo Taddeo, former special agent in charge of the cyber division of the FBI’s New York office, told The Hill: “In nine out of 10 cases, we don’t need access, we don’t ask for access, we don’t get access…We usually ask for the logs and images, and 99 out of a hundred times, that’s sufficient.” This approach saves time and money, prevents an organization from losing critical IT infrastructure, and immunizes the FBI against liability if it should damage the server or the data it contains. It is also clear form the 7/13/18 indictment that the FBI had sufficient sources of evidence from it’s investigation to identify what the hackers did in great detail even without the server.

  • The Guardian reported on 7/14/18 that ByteGrid, a company that provides key services for Maryland elections, has been bought by a parent company with links to a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. Maryland Senate president Thomas V Mike Miller and House speaker Michael Busch made the announcement, based on news the received from an FBI briefing, at a news conference in the Maryland State House in Annapolis, a gathering that included staff members of Governor Larry Hogan.Miller said the announcement of the 7/13/18 indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller convinced Maryland officials to disclose their own FBI briefing. “The FBI conveyed to us that there is no criminal activity that they’ve seen. They believe that the system that we have has not been breached.” The vendor used by Maryland, ByteGrid, was purchased by a Russian investor in 2015 without knowledge of Maryland state officials, officials said. In a statement released late on Friday the company said: “ByteGrid’s investors have no involvement or control in company operations.” ByteGrid encouraged people to read the company’s Maryland elections contract, which is a public record.
  • On 7/31/18 FiveThirtyEight published a preliminary analysis of nearly 3 million tweets from accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency. The tweets themselves were uploaded to GitHub. The data set is the work of two professors at Clemson University: Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren. Using advanced social media tracking software, they pulled the tweets from thousands of accounts that Twitter has acknowledged as being associated with the IRA. The professors shared their data with FiveThirtyEight in the hope that other researchers, and the broader public, will explore it and share what they find. The data set includes 2,973,371 tweets from 2,848 Twitter handles. It includes every tweet’s author, text and date; the author’s follower count and the number of accounts the author followed; and an indication of whether the tweet was a retweet. The entire corpus of tweets dates from February 2012 to May 2018, with the vast majority from 2015 to 2017. The analysis found that the trolls came in several varieties. Right Trolls behave like “bread-and-butter MAGA Americans, only all they do is talk about politics all day long,” Linvill said. Left Trolls often adopt the personae of Black Lives Matter activists, typically expressing support for Bernie Sanders and derision for Hillary Clinton, along with “clearly trying to divide the Democratic Party and lower voter turnout.” News Feeds are a bit of a mystery: They present themselves as local news aggregators, with names such as @OnlineMemphis and @TodayPittsburgh, and the news they link to is typically legitimate. Hashtag Gamers specialize in playing hashtag games (e.g., #LessInterestingBooks might give rise to the tweet “Waldo’s Right Here”); many of their tweets are harmless wordplay in the spirit of the games, but some are socially divisive, in the style of Right Trolls or Left Trolls. And Fearmongers, relatively rare in the data set, spread news about a fake crisis, such as salmonella-contaminated turkeys around Thanksgiving, or the toxic chemical fumes described at the beginning of the New York Times Magazine article about the Internet Research Agency.

<End “Russian Campaign Interference” Section>

Trump-Russia Ties (pre-inauguration)

  • One open question is what, if anything, the legal ramifications of various Trump associates’ Russia ties might be. Unseemly contact with an unsavory regime, after all, is not a crime as such. Vox has published an article that lays out the three broad categories of activity that might involve actual legal infractions: violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, failing to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and making false statements to federal investigators. All of them are felonies and carry the potential penalty of prison time. While everyone Left and Right likes to use “treason” to describe the activities of their opponent de jour (see: Clinton, Hillary, Benghazi, for all of the Right for all of 2016), the Vox piece notes that being guilty of treason would mean that someone from Trump’s team would have to have been aiding a country or group that was legally at war with the US. Russia isn’t. Per Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California Davis, “Formally, we’re at peace with Russia, so even the most outrageous assistance to Russia or benefit to Russia wouldn’t count as treason.”
  • McClatchy DC reported on 9/21/17 that Trump’s former bodyguard had extensive knowledge of Trump associate Felix Sater’s connections to Russian criminal figures. Trump has played down his relationship with Sater, despite growing evidence of links between the two, including recently published emails detailing how Sater worked with a top Trump Organization lawyer on a planned Moscow property deal as late as 2016, during the presidential campaign. Before he became Trump’s bodyguard in 2015, Gary Uher was an FBI agent involved in a complex deal to bring Sater back from Russia in the late 1990s. The resulting plea deal allowed Sater to avoid prison time in a Wall Street probe by serving as a government informant until his sentencing in 2009. During much of the time that he was a secret informant, Sater was a Trump Organization business associate, working on projects in New York, Florida and Arizona.
  • A Bloomberg article on 11/22/17 described issues related to the Trump SoHo Hotel project. The Trump Organization has recently sold its interest in the propeorty, which opened in 2010. It had been a financially troubled investment, but beyond that, it had also attrcated many Russian-linked investors who are involved in investigations into potential money-laundering. The relationship between the Trump Organization and these Russian financial interests is believed to be one of the focuses of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
  • The House Intelligence Committee met with Blackwater founder Erik Prince on 11/30/17 for a closed-door interview. The interview is designated as an “open hearing in a closed space,” which means it will be conducted privately but the committee will later release a public transcript, likely with some redaction.
    While Prince never formally worked for President Donald Trump during or after the 2016 campaign, he has maintained close ties to the Trump orbit and has acted as an informal adviser on foreign policy. His role in the Russia investigation centers on a secret meeting in the Seychelles, a remote island chain in the Indian Ocean, with a Russian businessman tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prince has previously insisted that the meeting had nothing to do with Trump.
  • A 12/15/17 story in the Dallas Morning News focused on political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia. To quote the lead from the article: “Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.”
  • On 3/8/18, excerpts were published from veteran political reporter Michael Isikoff’s forthcoming book “Russian Roulette: the Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump”. These first excerpts covered Trump’s November 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant, during which many of the connections that are currently being examined between trump and Russia-linked parties were first formed.
  • On 3/23/18 Bloomberg News reported that an influential Trump fundraiser offered to help a Moscow-based lawyer get U.S. sanctions lifted on some Russian companies. Elliott Broidy, the deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, sent a proposal to Andrei Baev, a lawyer at Chadbourne & Parke LLP, shortly before Trump’s inauguration outlining a plan to influence U.S. officials.Both men acknowledged the offer in statements to Bloomberg, but insisted that the plan never came to fruition. “From the beginning I made it clear that while I would consider trying to help the firm build a team and to put them in touch with some experts, I am not a lobbyist and didn’t plan on becoming one. I also made clear from the beginning that any arrangement we reached would need to be in full compliance with U.S. law. We never made any agreement, and the project never went anywhere. I never contacted any U.S. officials on behalf of Chadbourne or its clients and never had any contact with Chadbourne’s clients,” Broidy told Bloomberg in a statement.
  • ABC reported on 6/25/18 that Special counsel Robert Mueller has acquired the computer and phones of Erik Prince, who founded Blackwater and is the brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Representatives of Prince confirmed the story while noting, “All we will add is that much of the reporting and speculation about Mr. Prince in the media is inaccurate, and we are confident that when the investigators have finished their work, we will be able to put these distractions to the side. ” Mueller is reportedly probing several 2017 meetings that occurred in Seychelles during the time period Prince met with a Russian banker there. Prince also reportedly organized a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that included Donald Trump Jr. and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader during which Nader reportedly said the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the White House. Mueller’s team is known to have spoken with Nader as part of its probe.

<End “Trump-Russia Ties (Pre-Inauguration)” Section>

Trump-Russia Ties (post-inauguration)

  • A Trump associate with definite ties to Russia is now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was instrumental in negotiating billions of dollars worth of business with Rosneft. He was even been awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, one of the highest honors Russia gives to private citizens. Tillerson has also frequently spoken out in the past against the sanctions placed on Russia after its intervention in the Ukraine, perhaps not coincidentally because lifting those sanctions and pipeline access to the Ukraine, would make Exxon’s deal with Rosneft vastly more profitable.
  • In a pre-Superbowl interview with Bill O’Reilly on 2/5/17, President Trump responded to O’Reilly’s questioning his support for the Putin regime given that Putin is a “killer” by saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” This echoes statements he made in response to similar questions from Joe Scarborough in December 2015: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity.” Many, including some Republicans, questioned this latest assertion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov demanded an apology from Fox.
  • Shifts in Russian media coverage of Trump following Flynn’s resignation have led some to wonder if Russia is souring on Trump. Such media coverage is thought to usually takes its cues from Putin. This comes as Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson, and Vice President Mike pence have all made statements criticizing Russia and/or re-affirming support for NATO and Ukrainian independence.
  • One open question is what, if anything, the legal ramifications of various Trump associates’ Russia ties might be. Unseemly contact with an unsavory regime, after all, is not a crime as such. Vox has published an article that lays out the three broad categories of activity that might involve actual legal infractions: violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, failing to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and making false statements to federal investigators. All of them are felonies and carry the potential penalty of prison time. While everyone Left and Right likes to use “treason” to describe the activities of their opponent de jour (see: Clinton, Hillary, Benghazi, for all of the Right for all of 2016), the Vox piece notes that being guilty of treason would mean that someone from Trump’s team would have to have been aiding a country or group that was legally at war with the US. Russia isn’t. Per Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California Davis, “Formally, we’re at peace with Russia, so even the most outrageous assistance to Russia or benefit to Russia wouldn’t count as treason.”
  • On the eve of his 7/7/17 first official meeting with Russian President Putin at the July 2017 G20 summit, President Trump made remarks that once again seemed to cast doubt on his acceptance of Russia’s role in influencing the 2016 election: “I think it was Russia. And I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered. I’ve said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia but I think it could very well have been other countries, and I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. I think it has been happening for a long time. It has been happening for many, many years.” He also took advantage of the opportunity to again attack fake news, and blame Obama for not taking stronger action against electoral influence.
  • After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the course of APEC meetings during his Asia trip, President Trump stated on 11/11/17 that Putin again denied having any role in election meddling, and that Trump believes him. Trump’s statements to reporter’s questions included the following: “He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times…I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election, he did not do what they are saying he did…Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says I didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
  • The Trump administration and its defenders used three reporting mistakes in early December to bolster its argument that the Russia investigation is “fake news”. Although all three reporting errors- early reports that candidate Trump had directed Flynn to contact the Russians, that Mueller had subpoenaed Trump family records from DeutsceBank, and that WikiLeaks had sent a link to documents to Donald Trump Jr. before they were publicly available- were corrected the same day to less directly implicating but still relevant versions of each incident, the sloppy reporting lent itself to efforts to discredit the entire subject.
  • Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on 12/18/17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be handling President Trump like “an asset.” “I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president,” Clapper said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” clarifying that he means this “figuratively.” Clapper took aim at the news that Putin called Trump to thank him and the CIA for sharing information that helped prevent a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, describing the move as a “rather theatric gesture.”

    He said the U.S. and Russia have shared such intelligence “for a long time” and it seemed over the top for Putin to call Trump “for something that goes on below the radar and is not all that visible.

  • 1/29/18 was the date set by legislation passed by overwhelming majorities of both houses and signed by the President in 2017 on which the government was required to list individuals and businesses who had ties with the Putin regime, and authorizing the President to impose sanctions on them. The administration formally declined to do so, citing the fact that the threat of sanctions was already having a detrimental effect on Russia’s activities and weapons sales to the country, so there was no need to enforce them.
  • In an added twist, a section of the law aimed at carefully targeting the Russian elite seems to have been undermined by the administration. The law called on the Treasury Department, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the State Department, to submit a detailed report identifying “the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs” in Russia, “as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth” and an “assessment of the relationship between individuals” and “President Vladimir Putin or other members of the Russian ruling elite” and an “identification of any indices of corruption with respect to those individuals.” The agencies did prepare this list, which was due at midnight on 1/29/18, but at the last minute an unknown party threw out the experts’ work and instead wrote down the names of the top officials in the Russian presidential administration and government plus the 96 Russian billionaires on the Forbes annual billionaires list. This defeats the measure’s intention to split the Russian elite and offer prominent Russians who are not tied to Putin or corruption the option to do business with and live in the West.
  • As President Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast on 2/8/18, a record-breaking Russian presence was in attendance as well. As many as 60 representatives from Russia’s religious and political elite were expected to attend, more than three times last year’s number. One Russian official, Aleksandr Zharkov, told the Russian business newspaper RBC, “It’s a very unique situation, because despite all these difficulties we have (in relations with the US), the quota for Russians is very high this year. It is a sin not to use any platform possible for negotiations between different layers of society.” Two Russian officials said a “Russia house”, a space to hold informal meetings, would be organized at the event.
  • Exxon Mobil Corp. announced on 3/1/18 that it is exiting some of its joint ventures with Russia’s state-owned oil company, citing sanctions first imposed in 2014. Exxon had originally tried to fight the sanctions, which were imposed in retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. The company reached the deals with Rosneft starting in 2012 under the leadership of former Exxon chief Rex Tillerson, who is now secretary of State. Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev told Reuters that Exxon “will suffer serious losses as a result of this.” Rosneft plans to continue with the affected projects by itself.

  • On 3/15/18 the Treasury Department announced that the U.S. will impose new economic sanctions on two-dozen Russian individuals and entities for cyberattacks in the U.S. and meddling in the 2016 election. Sanctions will target five entities and 19 individuals from Russia for actions ranging from the “destabilizing efforts” in the 2016 presidential election to the “NotPetya” malware attack, the costliest and most disruptive in history. Some of those entities and individuals — including the “Internet Research Agency,” which allegedly used fake social media accounts to sow division in the U.S. — have already been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. The new sanctions also target two Russian military intelligence firms and a half-dozen people associated with them, and come as the U.S. has joined the UK and EU on condemning the Russia government for the recent nerve gas poisioning of a former Russian intelligence official and his daughter in the UK.
  • On 5/2/18 Ukraine’s chief prosecutor froze four pending investigations into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as the U.S. finalized a weapons sale to the Eastern European country. One Ukrainian lawmaker, Volodymyr Ariev, stated that the cases were put into the “long-term box,”  so as to avoid upsetting President Trump. “In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,” Ariev told the New York Times. The decision to halt the investigations came shortly after the U.S. approved the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 35 launching units to the Ukrainian government.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin told an Austrian news outlet on 6/5/18 that he and President Trump regularly talk. Putin told Austrian news outlet ORF TV, “Indeed, Donald Trump and I have, firstly, met more than once at various international venues and secondly, we regularly talk over the phone.” He noted that he has not had a one-on-one summit with Trump as he did with former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, but said that the two leaders talk regularly. Putin noted the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election while saying, “the president of the United States is coming under attack over various matters,” Putin said. He added that the political situation was the main reason the two leaders have not had a bilateral summit. According to official White House statements, the two presidents have spoken on the phone eight times since Trump took office in January 2017.  The last time they spoke was March 20 when Trump reportedly ignored the advice of White House officials and congratulated Putin on his reelection.
  • Many observers of U.S.-Russian relations, mindful of the particular questions about this administration’s relationship with Russia, were bemused when it was announced in June that a summit meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin would be held in Helsinki just after Trump attended a NATO conference. The decision to have it be a private meeting with only interpreters, and to dispense with all the usual extensive protocol that goes in to setting something like this up also raised eyebrows. The President even declined to have a note-taker present for the meeting, due to reported concern that details would be leaked. Any benefit of the doubt that remained, though, was severely rattled by the press conference that followed the 7/16/18 meeting. Trump, publicly declined to endorse the US government’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying he doesn’t “see any reason why” Russia would be responsible. Standing beside Putin, Trump touted Putin’s vigorous denial and pivoted to complaining about the Democratic National Committee’s server and missing emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal account. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Trump also touted Russia’s agreement to cooperate with the investigation in return for being able to interrogate people it suspected of foul play, including the former U.S. Ambassador.

<End “Trump-Russia Ties (Post-Inauguration)” Section>

Michael Cohen

Attorney Michael Cohen worked for the Trump Organization from 2007 until 2018 in various guises, eventually becoming a vice-president of the organization and special counsel to Donald Trump. Along the way, he gained a reputation for being extremely loyal to Trump, acting as a “fixer” who would work behind the scenes to make problems go away. His points of contact with the Russian investigation are manifold:

All of the speculation about Cohen’s role came to a head when the FBI raided his home, office, and hotel room on 4/9/18. Seized in the raid were emails, tax documents and records related to his payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels. Other seized documents include business records and communications between Cohen and Trump, a certain number of shredded documents , recordings Cohen has made of various meetings, more than a dozen phones, 731 pages of messages sent on encrypted platforms, including WhatsApp and Signal, and records of calls including to the White House. The raid was authorized by a New York-based Federal Court, and was approved by Assistant Attorney General Rosenstein based on information forwarded by Robert Mueller’s investigation, but is not directly a part of Mueller’s investigation. It was also reported that long-time Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg is mentioned in the recordings, and is confirmed to have been subpoenaed as part of the investigation.

While attempting to assert that attorney-client privilege covered much of the material seized by investigators, Cohen had several incentives to cooperate- a 4/20/18 article by the New York Times highlights Trump’s poor past treatment of him. According to multiple sources, Trump treated Cohen poorly, with gratuitous insults, dismissive statements and, at least twice, threats of being fired. Roger Stone noted that, “Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage.” Cohen also faced charges due to significant unpaid taxes and underwater loans related to his taxi medallion investments. The tax debt alone may have exceeded $280,000. His partner in the business, Evgeny Freidman, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors on 5/23/18, and pleaded guilty to evading taxes and agreeing to pay restitution and judgments to New York State. On 6/13/18 Michael Cohen split with his legal team, a move that often is a prelude to becoming a cooperating witness, and on 7/2/18 in an interview with ABC stated that, “My wife, my daughter, and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.” ABC further reported that Cohen was ending his joint defense agreement with Trump, which is what Michael Flynn did before flipping. On 7/5/18 Cohen dropped the reference “personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump” from his Twitter and LinkedIn biographies, and hired Larry Davis as his new attorney. Davis has previously served as a special counsel to former President Bill Clinton, and is an outspoken Trump critic. On 7/10/18 Davis told journalists that Cohen was making a “Declaration of Independence” from Trump.

The denoument of the legal case came after Cohen’s legal team announced that, after reviewing more than 4 million files seized in the raid, they believe that 12,000 contain privileged information. This was later further narrowed to a little over 4,000 documents. On 7/20/18 special master Barbara Jones determined that 1,452 of the 4,085 documents designated as privileged by Cohen’s legal team did not actually fit that designation, but agreed that the other 2,633 were either fully or partially privileged. With only 2,600 of around 4 million documents excluded, on 8/7/18 reports revealed that the tax fraud case against him was going forward. Plea… To the extent that the investigation into Cohen seems to involve things like payments to Stormy Daniels, communications that Trump had with Cohen regarding the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, arranging hush money for the Deputy RNC Chair’s affair with a Playboy model, burying an Us Weekly story about affairs involving Trump and Donald Trump Jr., influence peddling with foreign governments, and representing Fox’s Sean Hannity for as yet unnamed matters (which Hannity denies), there is no apparent direct relation to the Russian investigation, and I therefore don’t focus on these parts of the story here.

What could matter more to the investigation are the corporate payments Cohen seems to have facilitated. Reporting on 5/8/18 indicated that a holding company of Cohen’s had received payments totaling several million dollars from several major corporations, and from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Mueller’s investigation has apparently been aware of some of this, meeting with one of the companies, Novartis, in 2017, and asking for documents from Ford Motor Company, which declined offers of services from Cohen in January 2017. Cohen arranged a Trump Tower meeting with Vekselberg 11 days before Trump’s inauguration. Soon after Cohen’s meeting with Vekselberg, Intrater hired Cohen on a $1 million consulting contract with the hopes that he could help connect wealthy GOP donors to Columbus Nova, but ended the contract after seven months. On 7/13/18 the Senate Finance Committee Democrats released a report documenting that Cohen also pitched Novartis on an opportunity that would benefit Columbus Nova. Cohen also received a secret payment of at least $400,000 to fix June 2017 talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home from the meeting, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

There is also the matter of Cohen’s alleged role as outlined in the Steele Dossier. On 4/13/18 McClatchy reported that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has evidence that Cohen secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to retired British spy Christopher Steele’s report in his dossier that Cohen strategized there with Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, about lifting sanctions related to Russian meddling in the Ukraine, and arrnaging payments for Russian hackers who provided information to the Trump campaign. If true, this would be a significant “smoking gun”, but it’s not clear how it could square with the fact that Cohen has produced his passport and demonstrated he made no trips to the Czech Republic or immediately neighboring countries in this time frame (although he was in Italy). On 5/13/18 Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against Cohen, posted photos showing a Qatari diplomat Ahmed al-Rumaihi on his way to a 12/12/16 meeting in Trump Tower with Cohen just five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian oil giant Rosneft to Qatar Investments. Trump and associates benefiting from the Rosneft sale as a quid-pro-quo for helping ease sanctions is one of the principle allegations of the Steele Dossier. It is worth noting that Cohen’s plea deal (see below) included mention of a handwritten request for reimbursement from the Trump Organization of $50,000 for “tech services,” that Cohen had solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign. The Steele dossier discusses Cohen allegedly playing a role in figuring out how to get deniable cash payments to hackers working in Europe under direction of the Kremlin.

Shortly after August 2018 reports that Federal prosecutors were preparing criminal charges against him by the end of the month, on 8/22/18 Cohen admitted eight counts, including tax and bank fraud, in a plea deal with prosecutors which may see his prison sentence reduced from 65 years to five years. The plea deal also involved campaign finance violations. Following this, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that they wanted Cohen to appear before their Russian investigation, marking the first new witness in their inquiry in months. One thing they might want to ask him about is his lawyer’s contention that Cohen was present at a meeting where Trump Jr. informed Trump about the upcoming Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives. However, the Senate intelligence Committee also got back in touch with Cohen’s team on his earlier denial of knowing about the meeting in advance, and was told that he stood by that denial. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis also announced on 8/22/18 that he would not accept a pardon from President Trump, and that he had information that would be of interest to Mueller‘s investigation. Subsequent reporting in September indicated that Cohen had participated in ten hours of interviews with investigators from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller over several sessions.

The results of these interviews began to become apparent on 11/29/18 when a cooperation agreement between Cohen and Mueller’s investigation became public, followed by a guilty plea in court and a signed filing of charges. The key takeaway from the filings was Cohen admitting that he lied to Congress about the extent of the Trump Organization’s negotiations with Russia for a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow. Cohen told Congress that negotiations for the Moscow project stopped in January of 2016 as the campaign began in earnest, that Trump had not been involved in them, and that Cohen had not spoken to anyone in the Russian government about them. In the new filings, Cohen admitted the talks extended into June 2016, that he was in talks with the Russian government for approvals, and that he kept Trump informed and even was in talks about the possibility that both he and Trump could travel to Russia after the convention. These plans only seeme to have been abandoned when news of Russian hacking against the DNC first went public in June 2016. Cohen also stated that he lied about all this in order to stay consistent with the public story of the Trump campaign. This was followed by reporting from reporting from Buzzfeed News that the Trump Organization planned to give a $50 million penthouse in the planned Trump Tower Moscow to President Vladimir Putin while the company was in negotiations in 2016 to build the development, according to four people familiar with the matter.

On 12/7/18 the Southern District of New York filed its sentencing memo for Cohen, arguing for “substantial jail time” due to his history of deceit during questioning, and choice to only selectively cooperate on certain matters. Mueller’s investigation submitted its own filing on the same day, saying that Cohen had given “relevant and useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to” Mueller’s investigation, including information about a previously undisclosed attempt by a Russian nationals to reach Trump’s presidential campaign in November 2015. The filing stopped short of making a sentencing recommendation based on his cooperation. On 12/12/18 Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison. At his sentencing hearing, Cohen expressed regret for having covered up Trump’s “dirty deeds” and said,  “The irony is today is the day I get my freedom back. I have been leading a personal and mental incarceration ever since the fateful day that I accepted the offer to work for a famous real estate mogul whose business acumen I greatly admired.” His lawyer subsequently stated that Cohen was willing to “tell all” once Mueller’s investigation concluded, and implied that Trump was aware of Cohen’s plans to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project.   

<End “Michael Cohen” Section>

Michael Flynn

A retired Army Lieutenant General, Michael Flynn joined the Trump campaign as a national security advisor in February 2016, and formally served as the Administration’s U.S. National Security Advisor for approximately one month until resigning in February 2017 for making fraudulent statements to the FBI. Flynn is the proximate cause of the existence of the Special Counsel’s investigation itself, as it was the circumstances around his departure from the Trump White House that intensified the FBI’s investigation, which in turn spurred President Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey, kicking off the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Both before and after becoming involved with the Trump campaign, Flynn had multiple points of connection to the Russian investigation including:

Clearly in trouble at this point, Flynn offered to testify to the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee in exchange for immunity. The Intelligence Committee declined the offer on 3/31/17. Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) did indicate that Flynn would be a potential witness before the committee. The FBI also did not seem to be interested. The House Oversight Committee, had its request for documents related to ex-NSF head Michael Flynn’s business ties with Turkey and Russia denied by the White House on 4/25/17. Based on documents the committee was able to obtain, chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), indicated that they believe that Flynn broke the law by declining to disclose the payments from both Russia and Turkey in his application to renew his security clearance. Among these are documents showing that Flynn was warned by the Pentagon against accepting foreign payments following his retirement in 2014. And then in May 2017, just hours before FBI Director James Comey was fired, Federal prosecutors delivered the first subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. These subpoenas were issued by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria to associates of Flynn. On 9/13/17 Flynn refused a new request to appear as a witness before the Senate intelligence committee. Flynn first declined to comply with a Senate subpoena in May, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights.

By this time, Flynn must have know he was on Mueller’s priority list, and the incentives to cooperate grew from there. Reports emerged on 9/13/17 that even during his brief time in office as National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn continued to work on private consulting projects. Among these was a plan to build nuclear reactors throughout the Middle East, with possible Russian financial backing. NBC also reported on 9/13/17 that Flynn’s son was a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling. The inquiry into Flynn junior was focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group. On 11/5/17 NBC reported that Federal investigators had gathered enough evidence to bring charges against Flynn and his son as part of the probe into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election. Sources indicated the investigators were speaking to multiple witnesses to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts. One area related to Flynn that Mueller was known to be focusing on was Flynn’s role in producing a documentary about an exiled Turkish cleric at the height of the 2016 presidential race. Flynn failed to register as a foreign agent when his firm began lobbying on behalf of a businessman with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 in August 2016 by the businessman, Ekim Alptekin. Flynn Intel Group was tasked with fomenting dissent inside Turkey and with lobbying the US government to extradite the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania and whom Erdogan believes is responsible for planning an attempted coup in 2016. Flynn also had financial incentives to cooperate, per Bloomberg reporting on 7/17/17 that he planed to set up a fund to raise money to pay his legal bills stemming from the multiple investigations.

It therefore came as no surprise when the New York Times and Washington post reported on 11/23/17 that former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s legal team had informed President Trump’s legal team that they could no longer discuss matters relating to Special Cousel Robert Mueller’s investigation. On 12/1/17 former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn was charged on 12/1/17 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in federal court in Washington DC with one count of making a false statement to the FBI about his Russian contacts. The court documents suggest that the charge was part of a plea agreement between Flynn and Mueller. This is bolstered by the fact that the plea was to a very limited and minor charge, ignoring multiple more serious potential charges, which indicates the likelihood that Flynn made a deal, as does the plea agreement itself, which promises full cooperation with the investigation and even willingness to participate in “covert law enforcement activities”. Initial coverage by ABC inaccurately reported that Flynn would testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians. Subsequent filings revealed that Flynn spoke with a “senior official” in President Trump’s transition team to discuss what he should communicate to the Russian ambassador in December 2016 phone calls, and debriefed with the same official afterward. Reporting by several parties based upon court filings and senior sources indicated that the official in question is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

In confirmation of his status as a cooperating witness, we have subsequently heard nothing publicly from Flynn, and next to nothing about him from Mueller’s investigation. Most recently, came a 6/29/18 filing in which Mueller requested a delay in Flynn’s sentencing on his December 2017 guilty plea for a third time, a strong sign that Mueller’s team believes that they are still receiving valuable cooperation from Flynn. For its part, the initial White House response emphasized that Flynn was fired for lying to administration officials, and had only been with the administration for a short time. The Kremlin got in on the commentary too, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov stating on 12/4/17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to not retaliate against the U.S. after Washington levied a new round of sanctions last year was not influenced by any official conversations with Michael Flynn. 12/4/17 reporting on December 2016 on e-mails from K.T. McFarland, President Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, appears to undermine her testimony before Congress in which she denied knowing anything about Michael Flynn’s contacts with top Kremlin officials. McFarland told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2017 that she did not discuss or have any knowledge of Flynn’s contact with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, but the December 2016 e-mails clearly mention those contacts. The Washington Post reported on 12/27/17 that President Trump’s lawyers are preparing to attack the credibility of former national security adviser Michael Flynn if he claims Trump committed wrongdoing. “He’s said it himself: He’s a liar,” one person working on Trump’s legal strategy told the Post.

After a fourth request for delay in sentencing in August 2018, on 9/21/18 lawyers working for Mueller asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to move forward with Flynn’s sentencing. “The matter is now ready to be scheduled for sentencing,” Mueller’s prosecutors wrote in a joint filing with Flynn’s defense attorneys, and requested late November or early December date for sentncing.  The sentencing memo was filed on 12/4/18, recommending that Flynn serve little or no jail time due to his exemplary cooperation and substantial contributions to the investigation. It was accompanied by a six page supporting memorandum describing his contributions, but the public version of it was hevaily redacted. Several observers noted that the memo indicates Flynn has cooperated with two as yet-unidentified investigations (one of which may not even be Mueller’s) in addition to the probe of Trump-Russia ties, has given testimony regarding other senior officials, and that Mueller clearly has substantial further areas of investigation open. Flynn filed his own sentencing memo requesting no jail time on 12/11/18 discussing the extent of his cooperation (including more than 60 hours of interviews, thousands of documents, and “facilitation of electronic devices”), and including more than 100 pages of testimonials and citations of his military record. Flynn’s memo also stated that the informality of the FBI interview at which Flynn lied should be considered a mitigating factor, a notion that Mueller’s investigation strongly criticized in a follow-up filing, though ultimately upholding the recommendarion for sentencing leniency. The judge also did not appear to be amused by Flynn’s memo, and subsequently released a redacted version of the FBI’s initial interview memo, making clear Flynn had received seevral warnings, and also been led toward truthful answers, which he balked at giving.

<End “Michael Flynn” Section>

Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner is an investor, real estate developer, and publisher who was a central figure in the Trump campaign (running its digital media operation) and who currently serves as senior White House advisor.  His connection to Trump, of course, is ultimately much more personal than that. Since 2009 Kushner has been married to Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and unquestionably one of his most trusted confidants. Along the way, Kushner has become involved in several aspects of the Russian investigation:

Because of these connections, Kushner has naturally been of interest to the various Russia investigations. Reports emerged on 6/15/17 that Robert Mueller’s team was focused on investigating Kushner’s business dealings and finances, and Kushner hired Abbe Lowell to represent him in the FBI investigation on 6/26/17. On 7/14/17, Lowell formally took over all Russian-related activity from Kushner’s main attorney, Jamie Gorelick. This could be a recognition of escalating legal action, but is also consistent with Gorelick wanting to avoid any conflict of interest, as she had been in the same firm as Robert Mueller before he left to accept the Special Counsel position.

There have been indications that Mueller’s team may be investigating Kushner for matters beyond the Russian investigation, including conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles. NBC reported on 3/2/18 that Mueller’s team is scrutinizing whether any of Jared Kushner’s business discussions with foreigners during the presidential transition later shaped White House policies, focusing specifically on his discussions during the transition with individuals from Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates. And, as mentioned above, Kushner’s close friend Richard Gerson, a New York-based hedge-fund manager, has drawn the eye of Mueller’s investigators due to his proximity to meetings that top members of the Trump campaign had with United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials including Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Seychelles during the same time that Trump adviser and brother to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Erik Prince, was in the country to secretly meet with al-Nahyan and other UAE officials, and a few weeks earlier when Trump officials, including Kushner himself, met with al-Nahyan at the New York Four Seasons hotel. Mueller is looking into whether the Seychelles meeting between Prince and UAE officials served to set up a back channel between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Kushner also attracted attention from the Congressional investigators. On 7/24/17, ahead of private appearances before the House Intelligence and Senate Intelligence Committees, Trump son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner released an 11-page statement. Among the highlights (it should be noted that Kushner’s testimony was not issued under oath):

  • Kushner strongly denied any collusion, or improper financial relations, with Russia-connected interests.
  • He reiterated earlier statements that he had not read the full e-mail string on the June 2016 meeting with Russian representatives, Donald Trump Jr., and then-Trump campaign director Paul Manafort before attending.
  • He stated that he deemed the meeting so unimportant that he e-mailed an assistant to call him so he had an excuse to leave. Kushner further stated that he never met with, or heard from, the Russian lawyer again after that point.
  • He described briefly meeting Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, but disputed press reports that he had any further meetings or calls with Kislyak after that time, except for a brief meeting requested by the ambassador and Michael Flynn in December 2016 to discuss policy matters (chiefly Syria) related to the coming transition.
  • Regarding his December 2016 meeting with Russian Banker Sergey Gorkov, Kushner said he took the meeting at Kislyak’s request after being told that Gorkov was “someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner stated that no business ties or deals were discussed at the meeting.
  • Kushner blamed serial revision of his disclosure forms after they had initially omitted the above meetings on the forms being prematurely filed by an assistant before they were ready.

While Kushner may not have been under oath, the Senate Judiciary Committee was still not pleased when some of the revelations mentioned above made it seem he had not been honest in his testimony.  On 11/16/17 the Committee sent a letter to Kushner’s attorney requesting further disclosure of documents that did not appear to have been released following previous requests. Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” in May 2016 and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

For their part, the President Trump’s outside legal team is reported to have sought to wall off Jared Kushner from discussing the Russia investigation with his father-in-law. CNN also reported assertions (and White House denials) that some of President Donald Trump’s legal team had advised that his son-in-law Jared Kushner step down from his role as White House adviser. Sources familiar with the matter told CNN the White House legal team discussed during the spring whether Kushner ought to step aside in order to protect the President from legal scrutiny over his associates’ interactions with Russians. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in response that there was “certainly no presentation” on the issue, or any conversations that she was aware of. Kushner, meanwhile,  reportedly pressed White House aides to more vigorously defend the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Kremlin-linked lawyer. Most recently, in December 2017, Kushner’s Senior Counsel, Abbe Lowell, reportedly looked into hiring a crisis public relations firm for Kushner. Lowell reached out to at least two firms, according to the Washington Post.

<End “Jared Kushner” Section>

Paul Manafort/Richard Gates

Paul Manafort is a lobbyist and political consultant who first became active with the Trump campaign in February 2016, initially playing a key role in getting ready for the Republican Convention, and eventually becoming chairman of the campaign from June through August 2016. Although not personally close to Trump before the campaign, Manafort has known longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone since 1980, founding the consulting firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly with him and working with him at BMSK from 1980-1996. At BMSK, Manafort often found himself consulting and lobbying for foreign leaders with despotic tendencies. After leaving and starting a new firm, Manafort began to get involved specifically with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians around 2003-2004. Manafort’s ties to Russia before, during, and after the Trump campaign include:

With things like the above being widely publicly reported by Spring 2017, it was inevitable that Manafort would attract the interest of the various Russia investigations. He was formally scheduled to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committees the week of 7/25/17. Manafort had initially declined to hold the meetings, but then after being subpoenaed, agreed to a non-public hearing that would not be under oath. This was apparently replaced by a brief appearance before the Senate Intelligence Panel, and Manafort’s agreement to turn over to the committees notes he took during the June 2016 meeting between himself, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and various Russian-government-connected individuals. He also agreed to appear before the Judiciary Committee at a later time.

Further Congressional meetings were not to be, however, as news broke on 8/9/17 that the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort’s Virginia home on 7/26/17. The raid occured without warning the day Manafort was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a day after he met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff members. The search warrant requested documents related to tax, banking and other matters, and agents  left with an extensive amount of material. It was subsequently reported that investigators had met with Manafort’s son-in-law and sometimes business partner Jeffrey Yohai earlier in the summer. On 8/10/17 Manafort replaced his existing legal team, WilmerHale, with Miller and Chevalier, a boutique firm that specializes in defense regarding financial crimes. And indeed, reporting by McClatchy on 8/22/17 indicated that financial crimes involving Manafort had become a particular focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller’s team soon followed with 8/29/17 subpoenas to an attorney with the Akin Gump law firm who had previously represented Manafort, and Manafort’s spokesman. On 8/30/17 it was further reported that Mueller was partnering with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in his investigation into Manafort. Reporting eventually revelaed that Mueller’s investigators collected 400,000 documents including financial records, corporate records and emails involving Manafort, and also had information from 36 laptops, phones, thumb drives and other electronic devices that were seized during the raid of Manafort’s house. Fueled by all this information, on 10/30/17 the first indictments in Robert Mueller’s investigation were handed down against Manafort and his business partner Robert Gates. The 31-page  indictment accused Manafort of earning over $12 million from improperly-disclosed lobbying and public relations work for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, and then (with help from Gates) divvying it up over a number of shell companies, and making over 200 wire transfers to various businesses in order to hide the origin of the money and avoid paying income taxes on it. Manafort and Gates turned themselves in, plead “not guilty”, and reached a bail agreement that involved home arrest during legal proceedings.

It’s worth saying a few words about Manafort’s longtime business partner Richard Gates, as he is heavily involved in most of the charges against Manafort. Politico ran a 3/28/18 profile on Gates which noted that while Paul Manafort is a higher-profile target for Mueller’s investigation, Gates is one with potentially much more information on the Trump campaign and White House, as he stayed with the Trump team after Manafort was removed as campaign director in August 2016, and played an active and high-level role during the transition and early months of the administration. Gates was part of a four-person task force working to advance the Presdient’s agenda, and was working in the White House at least through March 2017. He also lacks the personal loyalty to Trump through family ties or decades of association that many other figures in the investigation have.

Gates played a key role in the developing the legal case against Manafort as well. Reports in Janaury 2018 began to suggest Gates was shifting to cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. On 2/1/18 three attorneys representing Gates told a federal court they were immediately withdrawing as counsel and on 2/14/18, multiple sources reported that Gates was preparing to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. On 2/21/18 new charges were filed against Manafort and Gates. The next day the detailed 37-page indictment was unsealed, revealing 32 new charges of bank and tax fraud adding to the 12 charges already filed in October 2017. On 2/23/18 Gates entered a guilty plea to several tax and foreign agent reporting charges, and on the same date a new indictment of Manafort was unsealed. The latest indictment provided additional details on earlier charges, and also accused Manafort, with Gates’s help, of secretly retaining a group of former senior European politicians to take positions that were favorable to Ukraine as part of their lobbying work for Kiev’s government. Manafort allegedly wired more than $2 million from his offshore accounts to pay these former politicians.

On 2/27/18, Mueller’s team moved to drop 20 of the charges against Gates in return for his cooperation. CNN reported in March 2018 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team made clear in 2017 that it wanted former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates’ help with its central mission, investigating the Trump campaign’s contact with the Russians, rather than providing further information against Gates’ business partner Paul Manafort. This fits with the 3/28/18 court filing alledging that Gates was in contact with a colleague of Manafort’s who worked for a Russian intelligence agency, and that Gates knew of these ties while he worked on the Trump campaign. Gates would have to talk about these contacts if prosecutors wanted, according to his plea deal. 4/5/18 court filings further indicated that Mueller’s investigation may be actively building a collusion case against Manafort or other Trump campaign officials, and potentially basing it on the testimony of Gates. The filing was a response to a motion from Manafort’s attorneys to see additional details of search warrants related to Manafort. Mueller’s team generally turned over these kinds of details, but as it pertained to a warrant obtained for phone numbers linked to Gates, the special counsel’s office insisted that the warrant be redacted because they are “relating to ongoing investigations that are not the subject of either of the current prosecutions involving Manafort.” On 4/19/18 prosecutors working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team further told a Washington DC court that their interest in Paul Manafort stemmed in part from his suspected role as a “back channel” between the campaign and Russians intent on meddling in the election.

Gates was not the only Manafort associate who cooperated with Mueller. In addition to the additional charges against Manafort and guilty plea from Gates in February 2018, a sealed filing from 2/16/18 was released on 2/20/18 with a guilty plea from lawyer Alex van der Zwaan for lying to the FBI about work his law firm performed for Gates and Manafort in 2012 related to Ukraine. The charging documents say van der Zwaan made false statements about communications with Gates and another unnamed person, only identified as “Person A”, and deleted or failed to produce emails that were being sought. Zwaan is the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan. Information in van der Zwaan’s 3/28/18 sentencing memo revealed that the FBI believed that the unnamed business associate of Manafort and Gates had ties to Russian intelligence. The documents alleged that Gates was aware that the unidentified associate “was a former Russian Intelligence Officer” and that Gates and the individual continued to communicate in the months before the 2016 presidential election. Subsequent reporting established that “Person A” was Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Russian employee of Manafort’s. The Daily Beast reported that Kilimnik had also founded the consulting firm Begemot Ventures in Washington D.C. in February 2015. Begemont shared an office building with the offices of Sam Patten, a Republican lobbyist and foreign policy consultant with ties to Roger Stone who had previously worked on Cambridge Analytica’s targeting during the 2014 midterms. Patten is also listed as Kilimnik’s partner in the venture. On 4/3/18 van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in jail and $20,000 in fines for lying to the FBI, becoming the first person found guilty as a result of Mueller’s investigation, and was deported to the Netherlands on 6/5/18 after serving his sentence.

Against this background of cooperating witnesses, two seperate trial dates were scheduled for Manafort. On 2/28/18, a September trial in Washington D.C. was set for the foreign agent registration charges against Manafort. On 3/8/18, a second trial date for tax and bank fraud charges was set for July in Virginia. This set off several months of legal wrangling. On 3/13/18 U.S. Virginia District Judge Thomas Ellis III imposed house arrest on Manafort because of the strength of the case against him and the fact that he had the means and motive to flee the country. This resulted in him wearing two ankle bracelets because an earlier judge had kept him under house arrest after Mueller asked the judge to deny Manafort’s request to release him, pointing to a draft of an op-ed the former Trump campaign manager ghostwrote with an associate tied to Russian intelligence. A 6/4/18 filing by Mueller’s team then asked Judge Ellis to revoke his house arrest, alledging that there was probable cause that Manafort had engaged in felony witness tampering. This was followed by a 6/8/18 indictment saying that between February and April 2018 Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik reached out to the two former associates to urge them to tell the special counsel’s team that the Hapsburg Group’s efforts consisted only of outreach in Europe and not in the United States. The question of the geographic target of the Hapsburg Group’s activities is significant because any lobbying or public relations in the United States on behalf of foreign politicians, governments or companies would require disclosure with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Based on the evidence of witness tampering, on 6/15/18, the judge in his September Washington D.C. trial ordered that Manafort be held in jail until trial.

Manafort’s team meanwhile engaged in multiple rearguard actions to slow the progress of the cases. On 4/7/18 lawyers for Manafort made filings arguing that what could be key evidence against him should be kept out of court because the FBI violated his Constitutional rights by illegally entering a storage locker belonging to Manafort’s firm. U.S. Washinton D.C. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson declined this request by Manafort to suppress evidence on 6/21/18. On 6/22/18, Berman Jackson further rejected Manafort’s attempt to toss out a money laundering charge stemming from his use of offshore bank accounts funded by a lobbying campaign he masterminded on behalf of political interests in Ukraine. Seperately, on 4/3/18 Berman rejected Manafort’s argument that Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller in May 2017 was illegal, as Mueller had exceeded the investigative authority that Rosenstein provided. On 5/16/18 Berman Jackson also dismissed a second motion from Manfort’s defense arguing that Mueller had exceeded the scope of his authority in the case.  On 5/4/18, the presiding judge in the Virginia case, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, himself had strongly questioned the basis on which Mueller’s team was pursuing the case.  “I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said. “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” On 5/17/18, Special Counsel Robert Mueller provided Judge Ellis with an unredacted version of the Justice Department memo laying out the scope of his investigation . On 6/26/18 Ellis dismissed Manafort’s bid to have the case thrown out on the grounds that Mueller’s mandate did not cover what he is being charged with, ruling that the trial should continue.

On the prosecution side, Mueller’s team made public new evidence on 6/12/18 that Manafort directed an organized but unregistered lobbying campaign in the U.S. on behalf of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In a public court filing, Mueller’s team released two memos from 2013 detailing Manafort’s involvement in efforts to influence debate in Congress and in the U.S. press about the imprisonment of Yanukovych’s main political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko. On 6/13/18 Special Counsel Robert Mueller requested 150 blank subpoenas for the pending Virginia trial, and on 7/11/18 requested another 100. In a 7/6/18 filing, Mueller also put forth evidence that a banking executive allegedly helped Manafort obtain loans of approximately $16 million while the banker sought a role in the Trump campaign, which would be a campaign connection admissible to discuss during the trial. On 7/18/18, Mueller’s team filed a list of over 500 pieces of evidence it planned to submit in the trial. The items range from immunity agreements to texts between Manafort and Ukraine’s former president and a fellow U.S. political consultant, and included photographs and documents of expensive purchases prosecutors say Manafort made with money he attempted to hide from U.S. authorities. On 7/23/18 Judge Ellis approved Mueller’s request for immunity for five witnesses connected with Manafort’s financial dealings.

On 7/31/18 Manafort’s team withdrew a civil suit against Mueller aimed at blocking the case from going forward, and the Virginia trial for Paul Manafort officially commenced. Mueller’s  team kicked off by describing how Manafort did not pay taxes on a large portion of the $60 million he earned working for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, hid the income in a web of 30 overseas bank accounts, and lied to U.S. banks to borrow millions of dollars against his real estate holdings once the money from Ukraine dried up. Manafort’s attorney painted a drastically different portrait of Manafort, calling him a successful political consultant who left the day-to-day operations of his company to his former associate Rick Gates, who betrayed him. On the fourth day Manafort’s accountant Cindy Laporta, under immunity, testified that she believes she committed crimes for Manafort and Gates, had misgivings about their finances, and believed they were not being truthful. The government also made further arguments to back up the portion of the case dealing with bank fraud. The next day, Manafort’s business partner, and cooperating government witness, Rick Gates took the stand. Gates testified in great detail that he and Manafort knowingly worked to subvert tax law, and committed numerous acts of bank fraud to do so. Upon cross-examination by defense on the sixth day, Gates freely admitted to embezzeling from Manafort himself and to having had an affair, two items the defense lasid out to discredit him, but stuck to his story about Manafort’s actions. The prosecution meanwhile questioned an IRS revenue auditor and FBI forensic accountant who laid out in detail the path that Manafort’s money followed, from income from the Ukraine to offshore accounts to $15 million worth of luxury purchases.

A flurry of recesses initiated by Judge Ellis on the next day of the trail caused some observers to wonder whether the case might be headed to mistrial. However, the prosecution then closed a day later, and the defense closed on 8/14/18 without calling any witnesses. Closing arguments occured on 8/15/18 with prosecutors urging jurors to focus on financial records and Manafort’s “lies”, and Manafort’s lawyers arguing that the case was a mishmash of “selective” evidence that didn’t amount to any crime at all. During deliberations, questions from the jury seemed to indicate questions on some of the charges, and indeed, the jury came back with a guilty plea on 8 charges, but was deadlocked on another 10, apparently due to one juror holding out. Even these charges still held out the prospect of an effective life-sentence for Manafort and, amidst preparations for the second trial in Washington DC in Septmeber, speculation on whether Trump might pardon him (including revelations that he had repeatedly talked with his lawyers about doing so), Manafort’s team initiated a series of on-again off-again plea deal talks with Mueller. A plea deal was reached on 9/14/18, leading to the filing of admission to reduced charges related to the upcoming DC trial, but also introducing 38 pages of evidence related to them into the public record.

Following Manafort’s plea deal, his former associate Sam Patten pleaded guilty in federal court to acting as a foreign agent and agreed to cooperate with government prosecutors. As laid out in the filing documents, and various journalistic reports, Patten worked with Manafort on campaigns in Ukraine. Patten also reportedly once worked for Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that came under scrutiny following its work for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, and worked with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian who Mueller indicted earlier this year along with Manafort for conspiring to obstruct justice and obstructing justice. Kilimnik is widely believed to have ties to Russian intelligence, and to be the Russian national identified as Foreigner A in the criminal information filed as part of the plea deal. The statement of the offense filed by the U.S. attorney’s office also says that Patten worked to conceal a $50,000 payment from the Ukrainian oligarch for tickets to President Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

Alas, things were not as rosy for Manfort and Mueller as they seemed. On 11/26/18 Mueller made a court filing staing that Manafort had repeatedly lied to investigators, and as a result the cooperation deal was nullified and the government wanted to move immediately to sentencing. Among this issues at hand, subsequent reporting revealed that Manfort’s team had repeatedly contacted Trump’s legal team even after Mananfort became a cooperating witness. Separate stories came out that same week from the Guardian claiming that Manafort had held secret talks with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange while working with the campaign (both Manfort and WikiLeaks issued statements categorically denying this), and also that the Mueller probe was questioning him about a November 2017 meeting with the Ecuadorian President, and whether Assange was discussed during that meeting. Mueller’s team followed up with a sentencing memo on 12/7/18 laying out how, after becoming a cooperating witness, Manafort had lied about communications with Konstantin Kilimnik (a longtime business associate whom Mueller has claimed is tied to Russian intelligence), falsely denied that he conspired with Kilimnik to try and witness tamper, lied about a certain payment of $125,000 in 2017, lied regarding another (redacted) Justice Department investigation, and claimed not to have been in contact with Trump administration officials in 2018, when he in fact was. Many details were redacted in the memo, but Mueller’s team stated they were prepared to provide the judge with a detailed accounting in a non-public document. Vox separately published a 12/14/18 in-depth recounting of ways Manafort advised Trump administration officials in the spring and summer of 2017 on how to politically undermine the FBI and Mueller investigation.

<End “Paul Manafort/Richard Gates” Section>

Carter Page

Carter Page is a Navy veteran, energy consultant, and founder/managing partner of Global Energy Capital, a one-man investment fund and consulting firm specializing in the Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business. Page seems to have first become involved with the Russian energy sector while working as a London-based investment banker with Merril Lynch in 2000 on deals involving the Russian state energy company Gazprom. Prior to that, he had been with the strategy consulting firm Eurasia Group, whose president felt that he was not a good fit due to strong pro-Russian views and sympathy for Vladimir Putin. Page joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as a foreign policy advisor, but resigned in September after his links to Russia began to receive press attention. These links as they relate to the Russian investigation include:

His background with Russia and repeated habit of denying contacts until they were revealed by subsequent reporting made Page an obvious person of interest to the  various Russian investigations. On 6/26/17, Page confirmed a Washington Post story that he had been interviewed five times by the FBI as part of its investigation into Russia, for a total of 10 hours of questioning. Page was also subpoenead by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but on 10/10/17 informed them that he would not be cooperating with any requests to appear before the panel and also stated that he and would plead the Fifth. He did, however, appear in a private session before the House Intelligence Committee on 11/3/17. In a highly unusual move, Page did not bring an attorney to his interview (a transcript of which was subsequently publicly released), which was described by some lawmakers as meandering, at times confusing, and contradictory.

Other than these appearances, news about Page’s role itself has been fairly limited. He was active in a lawsuit involving Yahoo news, but on 3/21/18 a federal judge dismissed fPage’s legal claims over the September 2016 Yahoo news article that revealed he was under U.S. government scrutiny over his ties to Russia. U.S. District Court Judge Lorna Schofield rejected a portion of a lawsuit Page filed without an attorney seeking damages against Yahoo’s parent company Oath over the 2016 story by veteran investigative reporter Michael Isikoff. Schofield’s ruling said the article could not be considered a violation of a federal law known as the Anti-Terrorism Act, despite Page’s claim that the story headlined “U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin” resulted in death threats against him. Schofield noted that Page never really argued that the Yahoo story was false.

Allegations of impropriety in the decision to pursue FISA surveillance against Page have also become a cause celebre of Rightwing media (see “FBI investigation” section above for more). In response, on 7/23/18 the FBI released a redacted version of its previously classified surveillance warrant application after news organizations and advocacy groups like Judicial Watch sued for its disclosure. The release of the 400-page document itself is significant as it marks the first public disclosure of a highly sensitive FISA request. Although heavily redacted, and despite a 7/24/18 Twitter meltdown by President Trump to the contrary, nothing in the warrant appears to support the claims of political bias or impropriety that have been made by House Republicans and Right-leaning media.

In an interview with the New York Post on 5/26/18, Carter Page said that the FBI investigation of him cost him business, income and even his girlfriend. Page told The Post that during the media barrage he faced in late 2016, he visited his girlfriend at her London flat, where she was “freaking out with the fake news about me,” and subsequently ended their relationship. Page went on to say that he believes that FBI infromant professor Stefan Halper was secretly spying on him as part of a “politically motivated” investigation of Team Trump, using fake sympathy to gain his trust — all while fishing for dirt on Page’s ties to Russia, where he’d worked as an energy consultant. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be a trap,” Page said. On 8/31/18 Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr reportedly told lawmakers when he testified before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees that former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele told him that Page had met with higher-ranking Russian officials than he has previously stated. Page responded by pointing to a tweet he wrote about the report, in which he slammed the DOJ as “corrupt” and charged it with being a co-conspirator with the Democratic National Committee and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that funded the dossier compiled by Steele.

<End “Carter Page” Section>

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions was the Attorney General of the United States under Trump from 2017-2018. Prior to that, he was a U.S. Attorney, the Attorney General of Alabama, and served for twenty years as a Republican Senator from Alabama. Sessions was one of the earliest prominent elected officials to endorse Donald Trump’s campaign, and served as a senior policy advisor for the campaign, and prominent member of Trump’s transition team prior to being appointed Attorney General. He is also the proximate reason for the ongoing existence of the Special Counsel, as revelations of his multiple contacts with Russian officials after previous denials about the subject led to Sessions recusing himself from oversight of the investigation. The contacts in question include:

For reasons you might have gathered from the above, investigators have been interested in talking further with Sessions. He is known to have been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Sessions hired Chuck Cooper to represent him in matters relating to the Russian investigation on 6/20/17. He also appeared several times before the various Congressional committees investigating Russian election interference. Highlights of his first appearance, before the Senate Intelligence Committee on 6/13/17, include:

  • He denied that he had deliberately withheld disclosures on his prior Russian contacts.
  • Sessions indicated that his recusal from the case was because of his campaign work for Trump, not because of any sense of impropriety about his Russian contacts.
  • He also denied that he had any undisclosed further meetings with Russian parties, though he allowed after further questioning that there may have been “an encounter” with Ambassador Kisylak in April 2016.
  • Sessions used some version of the line “I can’t recall” 21 times.
  • In an interesting aside, Sessions indicated that he had not closely followed the news on Russian campaign interference, and could not recall it being a subject of focus or concern at any point during the transition.

On 10/18/17 he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Highlights of Sessions testimony there include:

  • Sessions at first denied he had been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, then hedged and said he might have to clear his answer with Mueller.
  • Asked by Senator Leahy whether he’d discussed e-mails with any Russian officials since the start of the 2016 campaign, Sessions replied, “I don’t recall.”
  • In response to the same question on discussing Russian interference in the 2016 election: “No”.
  • The Magnitsky Act: “I don’t believe I’ve ever had any discussion at any time about the Magnitsky Act.”
  • And general discussions on Trump’s positions: “I think that’s a possibility.”

Following Carter Page’s 11/3/17 testimony, members of the House Judiciary committee indicated they would like Attorney General Jeff Sessions to return for further testimony. Both Page’s statements and details from former Trump campaign worker George Papadopoulos’ indictment seemed to contradict statements that Sessions had previously made under oath that he had no knowledge of anyone related to the campaign having contact with Russian sources. Sessions returned for testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on 11/14/17. Highlights included:

  • His opening statement said that the “chaos” of Trump’s 2016 campaign caused him to forget meetings in which Trump campaign aides told him that they were reaching out to members of the Russian government.
  • Regarding Papadopoulos: “I do now recall that the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting. But I did not recall this event which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago. And I would gladly have reported it had I remembered it, because I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper.”
  • In all, Sessions used some version of “I can’t recall” 85 times during his testimony.
  • Sessions vehemently denied any intention to mislead. Separately, Wired has released a list of 43 specific points about Russian contact and the subsequent investigation that Sessions has been unable to recall in the 11/14 and previous Congressional testimonies.

The House Intelligence Committee also got in some time to talk with Sessions. On 11/30/17 the Committee had closed-door testimony with the Attorney General. Details were not released, but committee co-chair Democrat Adam Schiff indicated concern that, in his testimony, Sessions declined to answer whether President Trump ever asked him to obstruct the ongoing investigation into Russian inference in the 2016 presidential election. Schiff rejected Sessions claim of being unable to discuss the matter because of executive privilege. Schiff also criticized the “unilateral” decision of the committee’s Republican majority to not release the testimony, which Schiff said “extensively” covered the interactions Sessions had with former Trump campaign officials like Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

The other main interaction Sessions has had with the investigation is ongoing indications that his decision to recuse himself from overseeing it led to significant friction with Presdient Trump. Early June 2017 reporting indicated that Sessions and Trump had one or more heated arguments in which Trump seems to have blamed Sessions’ recusal for the subsequent appointment of a Special Counsel. Following these, Sessions offered to resign, but was turned down by Trump. The New York Times further reported on 9/14/17 that, according to multiple sources, shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said he should resign. Accusing Mr. Sessions of “disloyalty,” Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general. Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, which the Presdient subsequently did not accept. Mr. Sessions later told associates that the way he was treated was his most humiliating experience in decades of public life.

It was further reported in December 2017 that President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Both the AP and the Times cited two sources familiar with the details of the conversation between McGahn and Sessions. It was revealed on 1/31/18 that the Justice Department has turned over a trove of internal documents to Mueller’s team, including correspondence related to the planned resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. On 5/30/18, President Trump made another of his repeated series of statements expressing regret in choosing Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The next day, Axios reported that Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reclaim control of the Russia investigation on at least four separate occasions, three times in person and once over the phone. These attempts continued into late 2017. As of late August 2018, Trump was actively lobbying Republican senators to support removing Sessions. The day after the 2018 midterms, Sessions resigned (in a setting that many took to be a de facto firing by Trump) and was replaced by newly-appointed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

<End “Jeff Sessions” Section>

Roger Stone

Roger Stone is a consultant and lobbyist known for specializing in opposition reasearch, chiefly for Republican candidates. Along the way he has developed a reputation as a trickster, and self decribes as a “master of the political dark arts”. He began this work during the Nixon administration, and has often played a part in Republican presidential campaigns since then. Stone is also a long-time associate of Donald Trump, who he first worked with in the 80s, and of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who he founded and ran a consulting firm with from 1980-1996. His formal role with Trump’s Presidential campaign ended in August 2015 (with some dispute about whether he was fired or quit), but he remained an informal adviser throughout the campaign. Stone has attracted particular attention for possible links with the hacker of the DNC and with WikiLeaks, which subsequently released the hacked materials. These links include:

  • Stone associate Sam Nunberg has alledged that Stone had phone conversations with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the spring of 2016, Stone has, so far, denied ever having spoken with Assange.
  • In May 2016 Stone met with a Russian who offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton in exchange for $2 million. In June 2018 letters to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, lawyers for Trump foreign policy adviser Roger Caputo and Stone say Caputo arranged a meeting between Stone and the Russian man who called himself Henry Greenberg. The two political operatives assert that they were transparent in their testimony before the committee, despite not disclosing the meeting. Caputo later told CNN he communicated with Greenberg by phone, and while he recognized that Greenberg had an accent, Caputo “assumed he was a US citizen.” “It was May 2016. Nobody was talking about Russia, collusion, etc.” Caputo said he now believes the Russian who met with Stone was an FBI informant because “the OSC (Office of Special Counsel) knew more about it than I did.” Stone’s lawyer described the encounter as a “one-time, 20-minute interaction” and stated that Greenberg offered Stone “non-specific, damaging Clinton information” in exchange for a $2 million payment from Trump, but that Stone declined. Stone told CNN he never discussed the meeting with the Trump campaign, nor anyone else, adding that it was “so ludicrous that I forgot about it.”
  • Stone is known to have had August 2016 Twitter interactions with Guccifer 2.0, the hacker responsible for stealing material from the DNC and Clinton campaigns, who has subsequently been confirmed to have been a Russian intelligence operative. When these contacts were first reported in March 2017, Stone claimed that they were casual communications praising Gucciger 2.0 after the fact for the hacks, and that Stone had no indication that the cyberattacks were arranged by Russian security forces. However, Stone’s tweets in the days after raised questions about whether he knew in advance  that emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, would be imminently published by WikiLeaks. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary,” Stone tweeted on August 21. And it has subsequently emerged that, despite at first saying it was only a handful of August tweets Stone in fact was in contact with Guciffer 16 times during the campaign season.
  • Stone is also alledged by former associate Sam Nunberg to have been in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign. The Wall Street Journal reported that, in an 8/4/16 email to Nunberg, Stone wrote: “I dined with Julian Assange last night.” The next day, Stone tweeted, “Hillary lies about Russian Involvement in DNC hack – Julian Assange is a hero.” In an interview with the paper, Stone stated, “I never dined with Assange, there was no such meeting. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. This was said in jest.” Stone also appeared on Infowars on August 4th and indicated that Assange would soon reveal damaging information about the Clinton Foundation. In an e-mail to CNN following disclosure of the messages, Stone stated, “Airline and credit card records establish that I flew on Jet Blue from NY to LA on August 1 and returned from LA to Miami on August 3. Credit card records show I stayed at the London hotel in West Hollywood on August 1st and 2nd. My passport shows I never left the country in 2016- never mind traveling to London. Even I have not perfected the ability to be two places at once.”
  • September 2016 e-mails from Stone reportedly show that he wanted WikiLeakers founder Julian Assange to give him damaging information on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. According to the Wall Street Journal story, the E-mails show Stone requesting Randy Credico, a New York radio host who had recently interviewed Assange, to ask Assange for emails about Clinton’s alleged role in interfering with a possible peace deal in Libya in 2011, when she was secretary of State. “Please ask Assange for any State or HRC e-mail from August 10 to August 30 — particularly on August 20, 2011.” Credico told the Journal that he never passed Stone’s request onto Assange despite telling Stone otherwise, saying he “got tired” of Stone “bothering” him. Stone told the Journal that Credico “provided nothing” to him and that WikiLeaks never provided him with any emails.
  • Stone also apparently had October 2016 contact with Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon about WikiLeaks. The day before a scheduled Assange press conference, Matthew Boyle, the Washington editor of Breitbart News, emailed Stone, who stated that Assange’s information would be good and complained that Bannon often failed to call him back. Boyle then emailed Bannon, who co-founded Breitbart, to get in touch with Stone, suggesting he “clearly he knows what Assange has.” The next day, after Assange’s press conference, Bannon emailed Stone. Stone said Assange feared for his safety, but that he would be releasing “a load” of documents every week going forward. In final emails with Bannon, Stone stated that he didn’t know if the Clintons cut a deal with Assange, and asked Bannon to have billionaire Republican donor Rebekah Mercer send money to his 501(c)(4).
  • As recently as January 2018, Stone sent a text message to his associate Randy Credico stating that he was actively seeking a presidential pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon,” Stone wrote, in a January 6 exchange of text messages obtained by Mother Jones. “It’s very real and very possible. Don’t fuck it up.”

Given the above, Stone has understandably been a focus of interest for investigators. As early as February 2017 he was publicly named as one of the Trump associates that the FBI was looking at for possible ties to Russian operatives, and in March 2017 the  Senate Intelligence Committee ordered him to retain all Russia-related documents. Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee on 9/26/17. The testimony itself was not public, but in a statement issued beforehand, he made the following points:

  • He believes that the investigation is an irresponsible political proceeding.
  • He denied having any ties to Russia or to pro-Russian Ukranian politicians.
  • He indicated doubt that Russian interests generally, or the hacker Guccifer 2.0 specifically had anything to do with the DNC hack, which he believes evidence indicates was not a hack at all, but a download of data from someone on the inside.
  • He cast doubt on the Intelligence community’s assessment of Russian campaign interference, noting many times that intelligence analysts have been wrong.
  • He characterized his 8/21/16 tweet that “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel” as having nothing to do with the hacked DNC materials that was released shortly afterward, and was instead prompted by his feeling that his friend Paul Manafort was being treated unfairly for his Russian connections, and that Podesta had improper connections that should also come to light.
  • He denied ever having had direct contact with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and indicated that his Twitter communications with Guccifer 2.0 between 8/14/16 and 9/9/16 were entirely public, and benign.
  • He closed by urging Congress to investigate evidence that the Clinton campaign was working with Russian and Ukranian interests to influence the election.

Stone also appears to have attracted strong interest from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. On 3/4/18 Axios reported on a subpoena that an unnamed witness had shared with them after receiving it from Mueller‘s team. The subpoena asked for all communications between the person and multiple key Trump campaign-related parties from November 2015 to the present. On 3/5/18 the witness was identified as former Trump campaign advisor and longtime Stone associate Sam Nunberg, who announced that he was not going to cooperate, and then embarked on a frenzied round of television appearances. By week’s end, Nunberg did show up for questioning, and also announced that he was seeking treatment for alcohol abuse after several television hosts noted he had seemed inebriated during earlier appearances. Nunberg relationship with Stone, who he refers to as a mentor, lead to suspicions that the pressure on him was aimed at getting information on Stone. Reporting soon emerged that Nunberg had confirmed that Stone had phone conversations with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016, and knew that WikiLeaks had obtained emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign ahead of any public knowledge about the leaks. Stone denied the reports.

Nunberg appears to have been the first Stone associate questioned by Mueller, but many others followed. On 3/30/18, Ted Malloch, a regular contributor to the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars (where Stone is alos a regular contributor), was questioned about Stone, Assange and Wikileaks by the FBI at Logan Airport after flying to Boston from London. Malloch was also issued a subpoena to testify before special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury on April 13. On 5/16/18 Mueller subpoenaed Jason Sullivan, a social media specialist who previously worked for Stone. A lawyer for Sullivan told Reuters that two subpoenas were delivered, which Reuters reported seemed to indicate a focus on Stone and his communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. On 5/18/18 Mueller  subpoenaed John Kakanis, who has worked as a driver, accountant and operative for Roger Stone. According to sources familiar with matter, Kakanis was briefly questioned by the FBI on the topics of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the WikiLeaks website, its founder Julian Assange, and the hacker or hackers who call themselves Guccifer 2.0. On 5/19/18 Stone indicated that he expected to be indicted, saying, “I am prepared should that be the case, but I think it just demonstrates, again, this was supposed to be about Russian collusion, and it appears to be an effort to silence or punish the president’s supporters and his advocates.”

No indictment was forthcoming at that time, but on 6/28/18 the investigation subpoenaed Andrew Miller, a long-time associate of Stone who also previously served as the campaign manager to a woman who claimed to be a madam used by former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to obtain prostitutes. On 7/20/18 it was reported that Mueller’s team had subpoenaed Kristin Davis, a former aide of Roger Stone and the “Manhattan Madam” connected to the infamous Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal. An interview with Davis took place on 8/1/18, and sources said investigators expressed interest in having Davis testify before a grand jury. meanwhile, on 8/4/18 Federal Judge Beryl Howell issued a 92 page decision rejecting Miller’s attempt to quash his subpoena to testify on the grounds that Mueller was overstepping his mandate, and on 8/10/18 Miller was held in contempt of court. Axios also reported that Mueller had interviewed Steve Bannon about October 2016 communications he had with Stone about Wikileaks.

On 8/10/18 Randy Credico, who has been identified by Stone as his back-channel Assange, was subponead by Mueller’s investigation. Reporting further emerged on 8/14/18 that Stone sent Credico a string of threatening emails when he spoke out disputing Stone’s account of his contacts with Assange. One read: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die cock sucker.” Stone says that particular email was not a threat, but a message of support when he heard that Credico had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. Credico says he has never had prostate cancer. On 9/7/18, Credico sat for two hours of questioning with Mueller’s grand jury. It was reported on 9/5/18 that Mueller’s office had subpoenaed Jerome Corsi, an InfoWars contributor and consipracy theorist with longstanding links to Stone. Subsequent reporting indicated that questions about Corsi centered on communications suggesting he provided Stone advance knowledge that the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman had been stolen and handed to WikiLeaks.

In a suprise development, on 11/26/18 Corsi announced that he had decided to withdraw from a plea deal agreement with Mueller’s investigation, and even relased the draft agreement. The week before, Corsi had acknowledged he was in plea negotiations with Mueller’s office, and earlier this month, he said he expected to be indicted for “giving false information to the special counsel or to one of the other grand jury.” On 11/26 Corsi said he was refusing the deal because he believed he would by lying by signing the plea agreement because he says he did not willfully mislead anyone. According to the draft document, Corsi tipped off Stone that WikiLeaks would release a tranche of emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The tip came in August, weeks before the October release. This was after Stone (identified as “Person 1”) wrote to Corsi in late July 2016 telling him to get to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has been holed up for years, and obtain the Clinton emails that WikiLeaks had. The document says that Corsi forwarded the note to an individual identified as Ted Malloch, a Trump ally who has also been interviewed by the special counsel’s team. While Mueller’s office has not commented, one thing that is clear from the draft is that his investigation is privy to extensive electronic communication between Stone and Corsi. Incoming House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, meanwhile, said that Stone’s testimony before the panel in 2017 “needs to be provided to the special counsel for consideration of whether perjury charges are warranted.” Schiff also said that Stone’s email correspondence with his associate Jerome Corsi, which Stone released publicly, was “inconsistent with his testimony before our committee.” The Senate Judiciary Committee also requested new testimony and documents from Stone, which he invoked the 5th amendement to refuse on 12/4/18.

With some form of indictment looking likely, it is worth noting that Stone has repeatedly, and as recently as August 2018, said that he would not testify against Trump under any circumstances, a fact which Trump publicly praised him for as recently as 12/3/18.

Muellers investigation is not the only legal examination Stone is involved with, though he did get a spot of good news on 7/3/18 when U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle dismissed a lawsuit alleging that Stone and President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and WikiLeaks to publish hacked Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential race. Huvelle said in her ruling that the suit’s efforts to tie the Trump campaign and Stone’s alleged actions to the nation’s capital were too flimsy for the case to proceed in a Washington, D.C., court. “Campaign meetings, canvassing voters, and other regular business activities of a political campaign do not constitute activities related to the conspiracies alleged in the complaint.” Huvelle made clear that her decision was a technical one based on issues of legal jurisdiction and was not a definitive ruling on allegations that the Trump campaign struck an illicit deal with the Russians during the presidential contest. The lawsuit was subsequently re-filed with the Trump Campaign as the defendant in Virginia, and is now being appealed by the Trump Campaign.

<End “Roger Stone” Section>

Donald Trump Jr. (including Trump Tower Meeting)

Donald Trump Jr. is a senior trustee of the Trump Organization. He is also, of course, the eldest son of the President. As such, he was involved with the Trump campaign from its earliest days. The particular area that generates the most interest in Trump Jr. regarding the Russian investigation is his role in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with representatives of Russia purporting to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. There have also been questions about his involvement with Russian connections with the NRA, and communications with WikiLeaks around the time that it released hacked information from the Clinton campaign. The specifics of his potential activities include:

The revelation of the Trump Tower meeting, and Trump Jr.’s role in it, made him one of the primary focuses of the various investigations. On 7/21/17 Special Counsel Mueller’s team requested that White House staff save all documents connected to the Trump Tower meeting. Mueller sent a document preservation request to the White House asking staff to preserve an array of communications pertaining to the meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr., such as text messages, notes and voicemails. The AP reported on 8/31/17 that a grand jury used by Mueller heard secret testimony from a Russian-American lobbyist who attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s eldest son. A person familiar with the matter confirmed that Rinat Akhmetshin had appeared before Mueller’s grand jury in recent weeks.

Trump Jr. had been scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee the week of 7/25/17. He manged to reschedule, and change the appearance from an under-oath public hearing to a transcribed private hearing that did not take place under oath. In the meantime, the committee met on 7/27/17 with Bill Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management. Browder stated that he had no doubt that the lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. was acting as an agent of the Russian government in the meeting. Browder has been battling the Russian government for over a decade following allegations that Russian law enforcement stole $230 million his company had paid in taxes. His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in Russian custody after investigating the affair, ultimately leading Browder to work with Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which levied targeted sanctions against powerful players in Russia.

Trump Jr. finally appeared before staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 9/7/17. Trump Jr. claimed in the testimony that he took the meeting, despite qualms about it, because he thought it was important to evaluate the fitness of Clinton for the Presidency. “To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out…Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.” He also insisted that he did not collude with Russia, and that his e-mail saying “I love it” when promised Russian-provided information about Clinton was a colloquial way of expressing his appreciation for the meeting organizer, and not approving of the source or contents. This testimony is the fourth version of why he took the meeting that Trump Jr. has offered.

Beyond speaking with Trump Jr. directly, Congressional investigators also questioned several of the other participants in the meeting. The Associated Press reported on 11/18/17 that investigators sought more information on a June 2017 Moscow meeting between lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer and former Trump business partner. Investigators questioned both men about why they met and whether there was some effort to get their stories straight about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background. Scott Balber, a lawyer for Kaveladze, confirmed that his client and Akhmetshin met over coffee and that the Trump Tower meeting a year earlier was “obviously discussed”, but Balber denied his client had been contacted by Trump associates. Documents released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on 5/16/18, however, reveal that attorneys for Donald Trump Jr. did seek to coordinate public statements from some attendees the meeting. After the meeting became public, Trump Jr.’s attorney Alan Futerfas contacted three participants in the meeting, publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian singer Emin Agalarov, and Russian executive Ike Kaveladze to discuss their memories of the day and sign on to a joint statement about what happened.

House and Senate Intelligence got in on the act as well. On 11/28/17 the House Intelligence Committee interviewed the translator who attended a controversial meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at the height of the presidential campaign. And the Associated Press reported on 4/22/18 that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian government-connected lawyer who was one of the principal participants of the June 2016 meeting, had been interviewed by representatives of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Committee approached Veselnitskaya earlier in 2018, but she refused to go the United States, saying she feared for her safety. The lawyer and the committee’s investigators instead met in a Berlin hotel in March 2018, and talked for three hours. “That was essentially a monologue. They were not interrupting me,” Veselnitskaya said. “They listened very carefully…Their questions were very sharp, pin-pointed.” Veselnitskaya also indicated that she has not been contacted by Robert Mueller’s investigation.

On 5/16/18 the Senate Judiciary Committee released 2,500 pages of documents relating to its investigation of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. The documents include transcripts of hearings, related exhibits, and written correspondence with witnesses that took place between August 2017 and March 2018, involving the U.S. and foreign attendees of the meeting, arranger of the meeting Robert Goldstone, and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. The documents generally follow what is publicly known, although they do confirm that Natalia Veselnitskaya made charges that investors Dirk and Robert Ziff may have funneled money out of Russia to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya did not provide documentation of this, and Trump Jr. seems to have not followed up on the claim. As part of the  material, ranking Committee Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein released a memo critical of shortcomings in the Committee’s approach, noting that it had not interviewed key witnesses, and citing unanswered questions about whether Trump Jr. was in advance contact with then-candidate Donald Trump about the meeting, and who in the White House was involved in crafting false statements about the content of the meeting when it became public in 2017.

Outside the realm of what all this means to the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, a story from Politico examines what criminal charges could conceivably result from the Trump Tower meeting. The story makes the point that “collusion” is not an meaningful legal term, and seeking opposition research is not itself illegal.  Actual charges could include conspiring to violate the election laws of the United States, which prohibit foreign nationals from contributing any “thing of value” to an electoral campaign. To the extent that the Trump campaign aided, abetted or advised the Russians (or any other hackers) about what would be most useful to steal from the Democrats or how best to enhance the impact of their release, they may well have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And lying to the federal government in your registration forms or your security application is a false statement. Using the wires to perpetrate a crime is often wire fraud.

A final aspect of the the story involves Donald Trump Senior’s possible prior knoweldge of the meeting, and subsequent role in spreading false information about it. News began to emerge on 7/31/17 that President Trump played an active role in drafting the initial statement Trump Jr. released after revelations of the meeting. According to multiple sources, the President took part in drafting the response on the way back from the G20 summit on 7/8/17, and actively overruled advisors, including Jared Kushner, who wanted full disclosure, instead pushing the cover story that the meeting had been about adoption policy. This inevitably raised questions about how much Trump knew about the meeting, and when he knew it. The Trump campaign began paying Alan Futerfas, the attorney currently representing Donald Trump Jr. for Russia-related matters, several weeks before his hire was announced. The formal announcement came shortly after news broke of Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which suggests the imminent emergence of the matter was known internally several weeks before it publicly emerged. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has approached the White House about interviewing staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the initial misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower was crafted.

Michael Cohen uped the ante on 6/27/18 with a claim that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting. Cohen reportedly alleged that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr., and approved going ahead. President Trump immediately denied the charge via Twitter. His senior lawyer Rudy Giuliani, however, on 7/30/18 offered the rather damaging admission that there was a meeting a few days before the Trump Tower meeting to plan the upcoming meeting, and that Cohen, Richard Gates, Kushner, Manafort, and Trump Jr. were all present. In Giuliani’s take, Trump not being present at the meeting proves that he didn’t know about it. On 7/31/18 longtime Trump organization executive Barbara Res, who was Trump’s right-hand person for decades, offered her opinion that it was virtually impossible that Trump didn’t know about the meeting beforehand. On 8/5/18 President Trump, reacting to a story that he was worried about Trump Jr.’s possible exposure by tweeting: “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!” This marked the first time the President has publicly aknoweldged that the Russian offer of information was in fact the reason for the meeting, contradicting numerous previous official and unofficial public statements by himself and his son. Knowingly sliciting or accepting foreign campaign contributions, whether monetary or in form of information, is in fact a crime, and the White House seeming to realize that the admission was significant, cancelled the Presdient’s travel and public appearances the next day.

<End “Donald Trump Jr.” Section>

The Steele Dossier

  • Christopher Steele, a former MI6 official posted in Russia in the 90s, produced a 35-page dossier detailing allegations of improper contacts between Trump and Russian officials. The research behind the memo originally began in September 2015 as part of opposition research by Republican opponents of Trump. Steele was hired by the firm doing the research, Fusion GPS , in June 2016 after Russian interference allegations surfaced. It was subsequently continued in the Fall with Democratic clients paying Fusion GPS for the research. The dossier is composed of multiple several page memos written between June and December 2016. Pieces of it had circulated among several news organizations, intelligence agencies, and senior officials including John McCain. An intelligence briefing on the memo was shared with President-elect Trump and President Obama in early January 2017.  Multiple sources in British intelligence describe Steele as an experienced and professional asset, whose work was usually of very high quality.
  • It is important to note that some details in the memos have been proven incorrect, most prominently a meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian official in Prague. The news organizations that were in possession of the memos pre-election had not gone public with them because they could not confirm enough details to feel comfortable releasing them.
  • The Steele Dossier has been published in full by Buzzfeed. As you’ll see above, some parts of it have been shown to be incorrect. And as you’ll also see above and below, other parts of it have been verified. You can find a link to the full document and a description of some of the controversy around it in the story here. As a still-uncorroborated source, I don’t plan to get into the gory details in this venue, but the gist of the document’s allegations are as follows:
    • Russia has been cultivating ties with Trump for years.
    • Part of this cultivation involves financial incentives promised to him should he become President and lift sanctions.
    • Russian intelligence agencies also have compromising material on Trump that leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.
    • There were extensive ties and cooperation between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.
  • In December 2016, the Russian government sold a 19.5% share of the state oil company, Rosneft. The sale was facilitated by finance companies in Qatar and Singapore, involves a Cayman Island holding-company, and the ultimate identity of the purchaser cannot be verified from public documents. The potential significance of this is that one of the allegations of the Steele memos is that Putin offered Trump associate Carter Page the brokerage fee on the sale of a 19% share of Rosneft if Trump was elected and agreed to lift sanctions on Russia.
  • Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB official and key aide to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian State Oil company Rosneft and prominent figure in the Steele memos, was found dead in Moscow on 12/26/16. Steele’s documents indicate one of his primary sources was a figure close to Sechin, and there is speculation that Erovinkin was that source. The death appears to be due to foul play.
  • Axios ran a story on 10/29/17 covering the beginning of the Fusion GPS research that eventually led to the Steele Dossier. In Fall 2015, Fusion GPS began working on a deep dive into Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The Washington Free Beacon, funded by hedge fund manager Paul Singer a Republican backer of Trump rival Sen. Marco Rubio, was the client. Fusion is led by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, former Wall Street Journal reports who had specialized in international coverage. Fusion’s researchers noted that Trump’s business empire seemed inordinately weighted to Russia, and so they turned much effort to untangling that part of his business story. When it became clear that Trump was going to become the nominee, Singer ceased paying for the research and funding was taken over by representatives of the DNC and the Clinton campaign. GPS brought on Christopher Steele, a former premier Russia expert for British intelligence, since so much of what it had uncovered involved Russian connections. Fusion GPS briefed major news organizations on it’s findings in September 2016, but the allegations did not enter the public sphere until Buzzfeed broke the story in January 2017.
  • On 11/3/17 Keith Schiller, Trump’s former bodyguard and one of his most trusted aides, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session. Schiller’s testimony was focused on Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow as part of the Miss Universe pageant that his company owned. The Steele Dossier alleges that Russian intelligence obtained compromising video of Trump and prostitutes during the visit. Schiller confirmed that a Russian participant in pageant planning meetings offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room, but that he took it as a joke. He later told Trump about it who also laughed. Schiller testified that nobody came to the hotel room when Trump went to bed, or as he was stationed outside the door for a period of time afterward. He could not testify to what happened after he left, but does not believe that anything happened, and told investigators that both he and Trump were aware that Moscow hotel rooms were likely to be bugged.
  • The New York Times published a 1/8/18 profile of Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, the political research firm that produced the Steele Dossier. The peice noted that Mr. Simpson himself has appeared before three congressional committees for some 20 hours of questions and answers, making him among the most significant players in the Trump-Russia affair, based on testimony. It also highlighted that Fusion GPS has done work for domestic and international clients, and both parties, specializing in opposition research. This has included work for pro- and anti-Putin forces, including working for June 2016 Trump Tower attendees Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia V. Veselnitskayaon to find information on Putin opponent William Browder as part of their effort to overturn the Magnitsky Act. “We collect facts,” Fusion said in a statement, describing itself as a research company. “Occasionally, the facts turn out to be helpful to people we deplore, like Vladimir Putin, or undermine people for whom we have considerable sympathy, like Mr. Browder.”
  • As the Congressional and Right-leaning media whispering campaign against Fusion GPS escalated, the comapny’s senior partners urged Congress to release the full transcript of their testimony, which they felt addressed many of the allegations being made against their work. Congressional Democrats were all for it, but the committee chair balked. Then, on 1/9/18, California Senator Dianne Feinsten took matters into her own hands, and publicly released the transcripts. The full document runs over 300 pages. Some highlights noted by various readers include:
    • Fusion GPS has extensive background in investigating issues related to Russia, so its work in the area is well-informed.
    • The firm has many Democratic and Republican clients, and first began the investigation while under the employ of a Republican client.
    • Christopher Steele did not know who the clients were while he was investigating.
    • The investigation started as a fact-finding mission, and wasn’t looking to build any particular narrative, but early, they realized financial ties to Russia and organized crime were a major part of the story.
    • When Steele went to Russia, he found that ties between Trump and the Kremlin were a fairly open secret.
    • When in Russia, Steele also found indications that hacking and digital espionage was being engaged in. Steele investigated and found the allegations credible.
    • Based on this, Fusion GPS informed the FBI of the nature of some of their findings, believing that there were potential law enforcement and national security concerns involved.
    • The FBI took this information seriously because it matched with concerns they were already developing about the Trump campaign, prompted in part by a source on the inside.
    • After the election, concerned that the election had been compromised, and seeing news reports that the FBI was not convinced of Russian interference, Fusion GPS brought their material to John McCain hoping that he would share it with senior FBI officials.
    • They were especially concerned because one of their sources had already been murdered under suspicious circumstances.
  • It was reported on 2/12/18 that Buzzfeed has hired a former FBI investigator to confirm as much of the contents of the Steele dossier as possible. This company hired Anthony Ferrante, a former top FBI investigator who now works for FTI Consulting, to investigate the dossier’s claims. Ferrante and a team of experts spent the last six months tracking down leads, according to Foreign Policy. BuzzFeed’s interest in verifying the document is not editorial, rather it is in response to a libel suit against the company by 37-year-old Russian tech executive Aleksej Gubarev. Gubarev, who lives in Cyprus and heads a Luxembourg-based tech company.

<End “Steele Dossier” Section>

Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)

  • The blogger behind Patribotics has put forth a speculative, but at least well-cited theory based on allegations that Alfa Bank and Dimitry Firtash, a Russian agent of influence, own Cambridge Analytica, the data targeting company used by Trump’s campaign, and its parent, self-described “global election management agency” SCL. The theory further alleges that Cambridge Analytica and SCL used Facebook data illegally stolen by a Russian spy working at Cambridge to build a target database of propaganda. In the closing days of the election, the Russian state hacked into the voter rolls of the United States. Russian intelligence did this in order that they could provide this information to Alfa Bank in order to use Cambridge Analytica’s targeting to precisely target voters and tip them to Trump. Paul Manafort, who has financial ties to Alfa Bank and Firtash, was involved in this effort.
  • The alleged but not confirmed to be from real-White House staff RoguePOTUS Twitter account alleged that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ryan-ally White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had insisted that Vice President Mike Pence sit in on Trump’s 1/28/17 informal first call with Vladimir Putin, despite Trump’s reluctance, over concerns that the Russian leader does indeed have compromising material on the President. Trump’s behavior during the call was said to increase those concerns.
  • I am extremely leery of “death lists” such as mysterious deaths associated with the JFK assassination, the Clinton “death list” etc. They tend to lump together genuine puzzlers with things that really aren’t that suspicious, have only a tangential relationship, and ignore the many not dead people also involved. But I will pass on this list of eight figures associated with the Steele dossier who have died. Some of these are not easy to directly relate to anything in particular, but others, like the deaths of Erovinkin & Oronov which are discussed in the above sections, are extremely interesting in terms of details and timing. I report, you decide.
  • WhoWhatWhy, an online news magazine founded by former Village Voice reporters and editors, has issued a 6,500 word expose alleging that the FBI cannot reveal the details of Trump’s contacts with Russia because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting organized crime figures tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to Trump.
  • The indefatigable Patribotics blogger published research on 4/23/17 linking Hostkey.com, a hacking and spamming company owned by hacker Peter Chayanov with Russian-based servers provided to Wikileaks shortly before the DNC e-mail leak. The blog provides further evidence that Ocean Way Capital, a Florida-based shell company that hosts Hostkey.com and all its servers, is linked to Russian-Ukranian money laundering to Trump-connected shell companies.
  • It was reported on 6/28/17 that the FBI had interviewed multiple U.S.-based employees of the Russian cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab.  No specific link to the Russian election interference investigation has been established, but senior intelligence official’s concerns about Kapersky were discussed in several Russian investigation congressional committee hearings. Kaspersky Lab paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn $11,250 in 2015 for cyber-security consulting, according to public documents, but that was not a focus of the FBI questioning, multiple sources said.
  • It was revealed on 7/13/17 that Peter Smith’s April 2017 death was from suicide. Smith was a political operative who had been recruiting hackers (including Russian) to recover missing e-mails from Hillary Clinton in October 2016 on behalf of the firm KLS Research, which he claimed Michael Flynn was affiliated with. I hesitate to include this here, as there is no indication of foul play- Smith was in his 80s, experiencing health problems, and had a large life insurance policy which was about to expire, a pretty common suicide set-up. But I’d hate to be accused of withholding information!
  • John Sipher and Steve Hall, two former CIA officials with expertise in Russia, penned an 8/2/17 New York Times editorial making the case that Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is plausible. They base this on examining the sequence of events from the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian representatives, subsequent activity by Wikileaks, and coordinated events between the Trump team and the Russian influence campaign, in light of their own professional experience of how Russian counterintelligence operations work.
  • One amusing tea leaf to watch regarding Trump’s intentions is the National Enquirer. Throught the 2016 campaign, and since the inauguration, the Enquirer, which is run by a long-time Trump supporter, has consistently run stories praising Trump and highlighting often lurid charges against his adversaries. If so, Trump does not seem likely to be supporting Paul Manafort as the FBI targets him, given 8/9/17 Enquirer headline “Trump Advisor Sex Scandal—Paul Manafort’s Sick Affair: Target in FBI-Russia probe also cheated with a woman half his age!”.
  • On 9/5/17 a Russian politician threatened to “hit Donald Trump with our Kompromat” on state TV. Nikita Isaev, leader of the far-right New Russia Movement, said the compromising material should be released in retaliation over the closure of several Russian diplomatic compounds across the US. When asked whether Russia has such material, Mr Isaev, who is also director of the Russian Institute of Contemporary Economics, replied: “Of course we have it!”. Isaev is an extremist politician known for over the top pronouncements, so you may want to take the statement with all appropriate grains of salt.
  • A 9/18/17 piece by former Federal Prosecurtor Renato Mariotti speculates on the case Robert Mueller’s team is building. Mariotti sees evidence that the team is preparing for indictments against Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. And such indictments may be standalone, and not relate to the rest of the main body of the investigation, which includes a focus on possible Trump administration obstruction of justice, the details of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with representatives of Russian interests promising information damaging to Clinton as part of official Rusisan support for Trump, the mechanics of the Russian social media influence campaign, and some form of money laundering or financial impropriety. Mariotti expects the investigation will not conclude before the end of the year, and  that the charges Mueller brings will likely be narrower and more targeted than many observers expect.
  • On 1/4/18 advance word from journalist Michael Wolff’s insider expose of the Trump administration Fire and Fury began to leak. While the administration dismissed the book as rumor-filled and inaccurate, Wolff has the visitor logs to indicate White House access, claims to have hundreds of hours of recordings, and the contents of several specific conversations quoted have been corroborated by participants. Prominently featured in the book were several comments from interviews with former chief strategist Steve Bannon concerning the Russia investigation:
    • Regarding the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting- “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
    • Further on the meeting– “The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero.”
    • Bannon also reportedly stated that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is centered on money laundering, saying that the White House is “sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five” hurricane.
    • Further on Mueller’s investigation- “Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner. They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

    • And Jared Kushner- “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy.”
  • The Associated Press carried a story on 1/17/18 reviewing Trump’s performance during previous legal questioning as it relates to what kind of witness he might be when interviewed by the Special Counsel. Per the story: “The transcripts reveal a witness who is by turns voluble, giving expansive answers far beyond the questions asked; boastful, using unrelated queries to expound on his wealth or popularity; unapologetic, swift to defend incendiary comments or criticized actions; and occasionally combative, once deriding a lawyer for “very stupid” questions. The garrulous style belies the “just the facts, ma’am” approach many defense lawyers advocate.”
  • The Guardian reported on 1/30/18 that the FBI is reviewing a second dossier alleging collusion between President Trump and Russia. The dossier was written by former journalist and political activist Cody Shearer, and despite being viewed skeptically by media organizations he shared it with prior to the election, the bureau is still investigating its veracity. The memo was given to the FBI in 2016 by former British spy Christopher Steele, after the bureau asked him to “provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation.” Steele reportedly told the bureau he couldn’t vouch for the credibility of Shearer’s memo, “but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.”
  • Hopefully it’s clear why this story would be in this section, but let it be noted that Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belarusian woman jailed in Thailand for offering sex lessons without a work permit, says she has a story to tell involving the Kremlin, Russian billionaires and the president of the United States. Vashukevich told The Associated Press that she fears for her life, and wants to exchange information on alleged Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign for her own personal safety. While it is not clear what evidence, if any, she actually has, in February Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s top foes, published an investigation drawing on Vashukevich’s social media posts suggesting corrupt links between billionaire Oleg Deripaska and a top Kremlin official, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko. The report featured video from Deripaska’s yacht in 2016, when Vashukevich claims she was having an affair with him. Vashukevich  is now claiming that she can link the Kremlin to Trump and Manafort, who worked for Deripaska a decade before Trump hired him.
  • The extradition of an alleged Russian hacker could signal a break in the investigation of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. Yevgeniy Nikulin made a 3/30/18  appearance in a San Francisco federal courtroom after an 18-month legal tug-of-war with the Russian government, which made a competing claim to extradite Nikulin from the Czech Republic. Nikulin, 30, was arrested in a Prague restaurant on Oct. 5, 2016 . On Oct. 20, Nikulin was indicted on federal charges of hacking the private user databases of three U.S. internet giants, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring, and mail accounts tied to Google. Nikulin’s extradition is expected to lead to intense pressure from U.S. prosecutors for him to agree to a plea deal so that investigators can learn what he knows about the Kremlin’s cyber operations. Still to be learned is whether Nikulin has information that could assist Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded in Russia’s cyber attacks during the election.
  • In a 6/4/18 Fox interview, George Papadopoulos’ wife Simona Mangiante advocated for a pardon for Papadopoulos and argued that he had been set up through an FBI conspiracy. Asked about earlier comparisons she made between Papadopoulos and Nixon staffer/Watergate witness John Dean, she maintained that she had never meant John Dean in the sense that President Trump had done anything wrong, reiterating there was a conspiracy to frame him. This struck some observers as very odd, since Papdopoulos is a cooperating witness with the Mueller investigation, and has been for some time. These observers noted that the change in her public messaging coincides exactly with Trump associates beginning to push the “SpyGate” story. Curious…
  • Following the June 2018 announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement some commentators began speculating about whether Trump family ties with Kennedy were used as part of a push to get him to retire. Kennedy’s son Justin knows Donald Trump Jr. from real estate circles, and Kennedy’s other son Gregory went to law school with Trump’s Silicon Valley advisor Peter Thiel. Of particular relevance to the Russian investigation, Justin Kennedy worked for Deutsche Bank for more than a decade and was the global head of real estate capital markets, where he became one of Trump’s “most important lenders” and handed Trump over $1 billion in loans for him to renovate and build skyscrapers in Chicago and New York. During this time, Deutsche Bank was one of few banks willing to do business with the then financially shaky Trump, and allegations that this involved Deutsche Bank helping to funnel Russian funds to Trump investments are an ongoing subject of investigation.
  • In a provacative July 2018 article in New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait puts forth a case that Trump may have been a Russian intelligence asset since 1987, and that Putin is in effect his “handler”. While this certainly should be seen as a radical theory, Chait marshalls much evidence from the last 18 months of reporting to support it. It certainly shouldn’t be considered anymore fringe than the Trump/Rightwing Media/Freedom Caucus article of faith that the entire story is completely made up and being perpetrated by a cabal of journalists, intelligence agency employees and FBI leaders who want to damage trump as payback for defeating Clinton…
  • Journalist Garrett Graff made a case in a 7/19/18 column in Politico that Russia might try to help Democrats in the 2018 midterms. His reasoning is that Russia’s goal was never helping the Republican Party in and of itself, but rather the goal was generally weakening and causing disarray in the U.S. In 2016 that cause was helped by supporting Trump, but in 2018 it might best be served by creating an antagonistic divided government by flipping Congress to the Democrats. Perhaps in response, President Trump tweeted on 7/24/18 that he is concerned that the Russians will help the Democrats in 2018, although his stated reason was that, “no President has been tougher on Russia than me”.
  • The New Yorker published a 10/15/18 article outlining the results of research by a group of computer scientists into the link between a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest banks. The researchers found that the pattern of communication strongly suggests that the link between Alfa Bank and the otherwise relatively minor Trump Organization server was used as a commmunication channel whose activity correlates strongly to key moments in the campaign.
  • On 10/4/18 a Russian deputy attorney general, who is thought to have directed Russian attorney (and trump tower meeting attendee) Natalia Veselnitskaya in her efforts abroad on behalf of Russia’s government, reportedly died in a helicopter crash. The Daily Beast reported that Saak Albertovich Karapetyan was aboard an unauthorized helicopter flight, which crashed near the village of Vonyshevo, outside of Moscow. Karapetyan was reportedly behind Veselnitskaya’s global efforts to lobby lawmakers to overturn anti-corruption acts such as the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which passed in 2012. The U.S. legislation is similar to others around the world which commemorate Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died while trying to expose a $230 million fraud scheme in Russia. The acts have reportedly incensed Russian President Vladimir Putin. There’s no particular indication of foul play, but expect it to get added to somebody’s Russia death list…
  • In more “maybe it mean something, maybe it doesn’t” news, on 10/9/18 the office of a Russian internet troll farm linked to election interference efforts by Russia’s government during the 2016 presidential election was set on fire in an arson attack early Tuesday morning, according to reports. The Moscow Times reports that the office of the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency was set ablaze around 3 a.m. Tuesday local time by an unknown suspect who used a Molotov cocktail to start the fire.
  • On 10/11/18 Salon published an interview with investigative journalist Craig Unger about his new book “House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia“. In the book, Unger presents a detailed account of his allegations that Trump has for decades laundered billions of dollars for Russian organized crime figures and other oligarchs. Unger believes that, ultimately, Trump’s involvement with Russia’s criminal underworld may have created an opening for Putin and his agents to manipulate and control him.
  • Nelson W. Cunningham, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, general counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee under then-chair Joseph R. Biden, and general counsel of the White House Office of Administration under Bill Clinton wrote a 10/31/18 article in Politico on evidence that he thinks suggests Mueller’s investigation is preparing a grand jury subponea of President Trump. He further believes that a series of sealed filings and hurried hearings indicates that the President’s team is fighting back.
  • New York Magazine reported on 11/7/18 on rumors that Donald Trump Jr. might shortly be indicted. Trump Jr. testified that he never informed his father of a meeting with Russian officials promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, but there are indications that Mueller has obtained proof that it is not in fact true. Gabriel Sherman reported in Vanity Fair that White House officials are concerned about Donald Jr. “I’m very worried about Don Jr.,” a former West Wing official told Sherman, who fears Mueller will be able to prove perjury, and Politico reported that Trump Jr. “has told friends in recent weeks that he believes he could be indicted.”
  • It is unknown at this time if the move has any connection to Trump, but on 11/29/18 Federal agents raided the offices of Chicago city alderman Edward Burke, even papering over doors and windows. In addition to serving as an alderman, Burke is also an attorney and partner in the firm Klafter & Burke, specializing in property tax assessments. Burke’s law firm represented President Trump for years, helping him challenge his property tax assessments for Trump Tower. However, Burke stopped representing Mr. Trump earlier this year, citing “irreconcilable differences”.
  • In a 12/13/18 article in the New York Times, reporter Devlin Barrett argues that  Mueller’s pattern of proceeding to sentencing of several key witnesses without first making them testify at trial suggests he may be nearing the end of his work, and that the aim of this work is producing a written report rather than going to trial. In the cases of Cohen, former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller has proceeded to the sentencing of each without first making him testify at trial against others. “That’s at odds with the common practice of prosecutors — which is to hold the stick of a tougher prison sentence over defendants until they have completed all of their cooperation, particularly any public testimony. While the recent legal action has led to speculation that prosecutors are narrowing in on the president in anticipation of more criminal charges, Mueller’s sentencing timeline suggests a different outcome to some legal experts — that the accounts of those cooperating witnesses will appear in a written report, not in court.”

<End “Unconfirmed” Section>

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1 thought on “(Back from the break!) From Russia With Love…

  1. Pingback: From Russia With Love… (Anniversary Edition!) | Chris LaMay-West

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