Tag Archives: trump

Four more years? (2 months to go edition!)

Well here we are, with 60 days to go! That frightening image above, by the way, is the “Red Mirage”. We’ll get back to that later. But first, as a reminder, at three months to go, we concluded that things had tightened a little since four months out, but that Biden remained in a very solid position. How do things look now that we’re two months out?

The last thirty days have seen a lot of news:

  • Biden’s VP pick of Kamala Harris
  • Both party’s conventions
  • Trump taking action on a series of executive orders meant to address the economic fallout from the pandemic
  • New national unrest, including murder of protesters, over the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Trump responding by a full-court press to run a “law and order” campaign

In response to all this activity, national polling over the past month has seen…on net, just about nothing. Biden is up 0.2% over a month ago, and Trump is up 0.4%, leading to a net of Biden +7.2% now vs. Biden +7.4% a month ago:

Yes, but the polls in 2016 were wr- Stop! Stop? Stop. It is, however, useful to compare Biden’s year-to-date position in the RCP average to Clinton’s 2016 average for the same period:

One will note that Biden has been above 50% several times. Clinton only ever was for a single day. Biden has almost never been below 48%. Clinton was rarely above 48%. Biden has never had a lead of less than 4%. Clinton was less than 2% multiple times, and Trump was even ahead of her twice. On this same day in 2016, 11% of voters were undecided between Trump and Clinton. Only 8% of voters are between Biden and Trump. Everything about the comparative perspective says that Biden is and consistently has been in a much stronger position than Clinton.

It is worthwhile to note that RCP’s polling average is “naive” in the sense that it just averages all major polls within a certain time period (the last eight days, at the moment). 538’s polling average is a bit more sophisticated as it weights pollsters according to their historical track record of accuracy, and makes adjustments for pollsters that show consistent partisan lean in one direction or the other. Using this methodology, 538 currently has Biden at +7.3% vs. +8.2% a month ago:

In 2016, Clinton won the popular vote by +2.1%. Taking the smaller of the two averages above, Biden at +7.2%, and adding that difference of 5.1% to Clinton’s 2016 state by state margins results in the following electoral map:

That gives us a ballpark of how things might be different this time, but of course state by state dynamics are not necessarily going to be the same as last time. If you look at RCP’s averages of the likely swing states, Biden currently leads in all of them:

This has narrowed within the last 30 days, which is certainly worth keeping an eye on:

However, it should be noted again that Biden maintains a fairly strong and consistent lead in these states. Using its more robust methodology, 538 is currently showing:

  • Wisconsin Biden +7.1%
  • North Carolina Biden +1.8%
  • Florida Biden +4.1%
  • Pennsylvania Biden +3.4%
  • Michigan Biden +6.4%
  • Arizona Biden +4.6%

If we took only those states where Biden has more than a 5% lead according to the 538 averages, we would have this map:

Under this map, if Biden wins any one of Florida, North Carolina, or Pennsylvania, even by a few hundred votes, he’s President. Trump would have to win all three to prevail. If Biden just won Arizona, we’d be at 269-269 and the election would got to the House. May Al’lah forefend against such an outcome.

For their part, RCP’s current “no toss-ups” map shows the following:

There are some other electoral data points worth considering as well. RCP’s “no toss-ups” Senate map currently has Democrats picking up five Senate seats (and losing Alabama) for a net gain of +4, which would flip the Senate:

And the Generic House Preference polling has Democrats up by 7.3%, not far off of the 8.7% that catapulted them to a net gain of 41 seats in the 2018 midterms.

Finally, there are Presidential approval numbers to consider. Trump is currently underwater by nearly 9%:

While that’s actually an improvement from nearly -14% a month ago, on the face of it you might still think this isn’t a good place for an incumbent to be two months out from an election. And you would be right! The only two first term Presidents of the last 50+ years who have been in a similar position were Carter and Bush I, who were both headed for defeat:

What this all boils down to is that national polls, state-by-state electoral college totals, the outlook for House and Senate races, and Presidential approval ratings are all telling us the same thing: Biden remains in a very strong position with two months to go.

Now, a word about our opening graphic. This is what’s being called the “Red Mirage“. Indications are that a large percentage of Biden-leaning voters are planning on voting absentee. A similarly large percentage of Trump-leaning voters are mail voting-averse, and are planning on voting in person. Meanwhile, the individual states have widely varying rules about when absentee ballots must be received by, and the deadlines for starting and finishing counting them.

Because of all this, Election Night returns may show a big lead for Trump, and Biden’s true numbers won’t be apparent until several days, maybe even more than a week, later. There is nothing improper or weird about this, and it doesn’t affect the final outcome at all. But the two dangers it presents are:

  • If you don’t know it’s happening, Election Night could be pretty scary!
  • It presents Trump with a week or more to agitate his followers about the “illegitimacy” of the outcome, something that could be enormously disruptive for the country.

So I would recommend fortifying yourself against the first possibility, and all of us being prepared to take appropriate action against the second. Meanwhile, we’ll reconvene in a month to see how things are looking with a month to go!

Four more years? (3 months to go edition!)

countdown

Is it just me, or was that a fast month? When last we gathered with four months to go, Biden’s position was looking very solid, and even better than it had at five months or six months. How are things different at this point?

To start with, the polling numbers have tightened up a little, but not a lot:

BvT

It hasn’t so much been Biden falling out of his usual range as Trump having bounced back a little from a dismal bottom beneath his usual range. Overall, Biden’s position remains very strong. One thing to keep in mind about the RCP average, is that it’s just that- an average. But not all polls are created equal.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, they address this by weighting pollsters according to their history of accuracy (more accurate ones being given more weighting than less accurate ones) and historical partisan skew (adjustments being made to pollsters that are regularly more +D or +R). This more nuanced approach has Biden up by a little more:

538poll

Another useful way to think about the RCP polls is to compare Biden’s YTD numbers with Clinton’s for the same time period in 2016:

This side by side comparison makes immediately apparent that Biden’s 2020 position is much stronger than Clinton’s 2016 position:

  • Biden has never been less than 4 points ahead, compared to Clinton, who was frequently within 2 points, and twice was briefly behind Trump.
  • Biden has been above 48% 2/3 of the time or more, Clinton was above 48% only 1/3 of the time or less.
  • Biden has had several runs above 50%, whereas Clinton was only above 50% for a single day.

Of course, we in America are blessed with that cute little Constitutional anachronism known as the Electoral College, so national polls can only tell one so much. We do have a pretty good idea from 2016 and trends since then what some of the key states will be, and Biden currently leads in all of them. Not only does he lead, he’s well outside the margin of error in every state here except Arizona:

battlegrounds

If we look at RCP’s current “No Toss-Ups” map, Biden is in very strong shape:

NoToss

Even if one just looks at the states where Biden leads by 5 points or more, the map looks like this:

5plus

“But the polls were wrong in 2016!” First of all, no. Polls can be wrong, but they are rarely 5% wrong. Also, in some of the 2016 states, a major problem was that, because they weren’t widely believed to be competitive, the were under-polled. We may be looking at the wrong states now, but for the ones that were surprises last time, they are very well polled this go-around.

Take Michigan as an example. The current RCP average there is based on four major polls that all have data from the last two weeks:

MI

A final useful check-in is on Trump’s net approval numbers in comparative perspective:

NetPop

One can clearly see that, except for a few days right at the beginning of his term, Trump has never had positive net approval numbers, and has consistently lagged every President of the last 50+ years. The only two his current numbers really compare to are Carter and Bush I, first term Presidents who were going to electoral defeat.

So, while the polling numbers have tightened up a  little, by every concrete measure we have, Biden remains in a very strong position. Let’s tune in again in a month (and after the pseudo-conventions and Biden’s VP pick to boot!) to see what things look like two months out!

 

Four more years? (4 months to go edition!)

US-POLITICS-TRUMP-INAUGURATION-SWEARING IN

Look, I get it! Of course I do. To be of a Leftward persuasion, and to have closely followed Presidential politics for years is to know heartbreak. The Supreme Court halting the counting in 2000 and selecting Bush as President. Seeing John Kerry haplessly roll over and play dead, losing a winnable election in 2004. “Losing” 2016 while finishing 3 million votes ahead. Michael Dukakis being up 17 points in late July 1988, and going on to lose by 8 points!

So I get why instinctive panic, and a mistrust of any numbers, creeps in. Instinctive panic, however, is both irrational and tactically unhelpful, and data can be clarifying. When we took our “five months to go” look in June, Biden actually seemed to be in pretty good shape. Friday last week was four months to go. Does that still seem to be the case?

Let’s start by looking at the latest polling averages:

JoeB

Biden has a more than 8-point lead. But that’s not all. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it instructive to look at Hillary Clinton’s averages for the same YTD time period:

HC

A few things immediately stand out from this comparison:

  • Biden has been above 50% for about half the time YTD. Clinton was only above 50% for a single day.
  • Clinton was rarely above 48%. Biden has rarely not been above 48%.
  • Biden has never had less that a 4 point lead over Trump. Clinton was down to less than 2% several times, and Trump even briefly had a lead over her.

To me, the conclusion that the Biden campaign is in much better shape than the Clinton campaign was at the same point is unmistakable.

Of course, as we all too sadly know from 2000 and 2016, winning the popular vote doesn’t win you the election, winning the electoral college does. However, being more than 8% up almost certainly wins you the electoral college. If we add the 6.6% higher Biden’s current numbers are compared to Clinton’s final 2016 margin (2.1%) to her state-by-state totals, we get this electoral map:

plus67

2020, of course, isn’t 2016, and dynamics in the individual states may be quit different this time. So what happens if we look at current polling in the potential swing states? As it happens, Biden is currently leading in all of them:

AZFLMINCPAWI

In addition to this, Iowa, Ohio, and even Texas are all close enough to be in play. Polling inherently has a margin of error, even when using polling averages, but just keeping the states where Biden’s lead exceeds 5% results in this map:

moe

One more statistical check-in is helpful here. This is the President*’s net popularity vs. other Presidents of the past 50+ years at this same point in their terms:

net

Lest we forget, Trump is, and has been the whole time, historically unpopular. The only two Presidents his current net (un)popularity looks comparable to are Carter and Bush I, who were both headed to first term defeat.

One last sanity check is to think about these numbers in the larger electoral context. In latest figures, Biden and the DNC are out-raising Trump and the RNC. The Generic Congressional preference numbers are about as positive for the Democrats as they were in 2018, when they gained around 40 seats. Democratic candidates are polling strongly in the swing Senate races. All of this fits together into a consistent picture.

Up above, I asked if Biden’s four-month outlook still looks as strong as it did at five months. The answer, given the above, is a clear yes. If anything, it looks a little better. Take nothing for granted about this- donate, phonebank, textbank, write letters, organize on social media. But be encouraged in doing so, and know that bed-wetting for other than recreational purposes is not called for.

Onward!

 

Four more years? (5 months to go edition!)

mappie

About 6 weeks ago, I did my latest update on the election outlook. At the time, I concluded that Biden seemed to have a pretty strong chance based on prevailing indications, and there were plenty of signs that Trump was in trouble. Today marks five months out. Is there anything to add to our previous examination? I think so!

Let’s start with the basics. Yes, Biden is still the all-but-certain nominee. Not only have all rivals dropped out, all endorsed him including chief rival Bernie Sanders, the prior nominee endorsed him, and the last Democratic President endorsed him, as of last night’s Super Tuesday, he is sitting less than 100 delegates off of making it official:

StX

Basics number two- an average of recent polls gives Biden a healthy lead:

rcp

More than that, year-to-date Biden has always had a healthy lead. It’s instructive in this regard to compare his numbers to Clinton’s 2016 numbers for the same time period. A key thing to note is that she was rarely above 48% (where she ultimately finished) and spent only a single day above 50%:

clinton 16

In contrast, Biden has mostly been above 48%, and has spent significant time over 50%:

bidenover50

Of course, as 2016 painfully demonstrated, the popular vote isn’t what ultimately matters. The election is determined by that cute little antiquated Constitutional mechanism, the Electoral College. To do an initial “face value” analysis of that, Clinton “lost” in 2016 by being at +2% nationally, and Biden’s average is currently +8%. If you add 6% to Clinton’s state-by-state 2016 margins, you get this map:

Clintonplus six

An interesting ballpark, but I’ll grant you, things are not that straightforward. 2016 really came down to a handful of swing states, and the dynamics of those swing states will be different in 2020 than they were in 2016. What do current polling averages of these states currently show?

swing

That’s a Biden lead in 5 out of 6, and Trump’s lead in the 6th is razor-thin. If we just take only the states where Biden’s lead is outside of a 3 -point margin of error, we get the following map:

MOEplus3

If we took the “no toss-ups” approach for all current state polling averages, the map looks like this:

notoss

The other way to look at this is to consider the President’s approval rating according to an average of recent polls. It’s currently more than ten percent net negative, which is where it’s been for much of his Presidency:

approval

More than that, except for literally the first few days of his term, he’s never had a net-positive rating. Comparing his net approval to other recent administrations reveals the stark difference. The only recent Presidents who his net numbers are similar to at the moment are Carter and Bush I, who of course were both first term Presidents who were about to be defeated:

net

My final appeal is to common sense. Consider the following:

  • The Libertarian and Green parties had well-known candidates who had previously run nationally in 2016. This time they have comparatively unknown newcomers.
  • The 2016 nominee had been the target of decades of character attacks. Literal generations of Conservatives hated her. This campaign will get very nasty, but there just isn’t that kind of base of animosity to activate in regards to Biden.
  • Clinton was the subject of active investigations which continued to dog her as late as 10 days before the election. The attempts of the Administration to stir up something similar for Biden have fizzled out, and their most concrete result so far was to get Trump impeached.
  • A national crisis has killed 100,000 of us and counting in just a few months, and the  widespread perception is that the current administration has badly mishandled it.
  • The economy is in recession, and unemployment is higher than it’s been at any time since the Great Depression. That’s never good for an incumbent.
  • The country is, actually, on fire. It’s true that “law and order” issues often rebound to the Republican candidate’s favor, but more than that, they almost always come to the detriment of the party in power.

So, has the outlook changed since our last check in? Yes, in that it’s gotten better for Biden and worse for Trump. It could be that the current crisis reverses this trend, but my instinct is that it won’t. More than anything, the thing that most stands out is how durable the dynamics of the race have been year-to-date no matter what external events have been in play.

I’m not saying take it as a sure thing. Not even remotely. I am saying be very encouraged as you go out to do the work that needs to be done over the next five months to make it so.  Tune in some time in early July to see if it’s looking different with four months to go!

 

Four more years? (6.5 months to go edition!)

2020 election

Well, here we are. Over the past few weeks, I had some personal priorities to attend to, as well as, you know, the disruption of a global pandemic. My plan had been to update my election series on the Democratic nomination after Ohio, but due to these two things, and also Ohio and almost every other primary being delayed until June (or later!) I never got there.

And now, whereas we previously knew:

there-can-be-only-one

We also now know who the one is!

biden smiling

I have come neither to praise Biden nor bury him, my goal was always to provide a data-driven outlook on who the likely nominee was. Now there’s no “likely” to it. All the other candidates have dropped out and endorsed him. There could still be some shocking outside event, but, barring that, Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee.

So now it’s time for my analysis to pivot to our next electoral outlook, be it still more than six months out:

ev

Actually, I’ve dabbled a bit in this already, here and here. Both times, I came down on the side of Trump’s re-election being very very far from a  sure thing, so much so that we on the Left should stop bed-wetting ourselves into surrender. That was based on general outlook, things are a little less abstract now that we have actual names on both sides of the ledger. So how do things look currently?

The first stop is to observe that Biden actually has a pretty healthy and persistent lead in year-to-date polling averages:

YTD average

I can hear a chorus of “so did Clinton” coming, but I think that’s actually a pretty useful comparison to make in some ways. What immediately strikes me in comparing Clinton’s numbers for the same period is that she spent a lot of time under 48% (where she actually ended up finishing) and almost no time above 50%. Biden, by contrast, has been above 48% almost the whole time, and not infrequently above 50%. His “floor” is higher.

Clinton

Yes, but Chris, the polls were wrong! Before continuing, I urge you to read this from the lead analyst at Real Clear Politics, and this from the same at FiveThirtyEight. If you’re now convinced that national opinion polls were actually in range, and the real problem was polling in particular states, and pundits generally understanding probability, then we can continue. If you’re not, well, data-driven analysis probably isn’t for you.

Nationally, if Biden did turn out to have around a 5.8 point lead, the quickest and crudest way to look at that would be adding 3.7% to Clinton’s 2016 closest state margins (since she won nationally by 2.1%):

margins

That would get you the following map:

EVapril

Admittedly, that’s a crude way of estimating. It would be better to look at actual surveys of some of these states tagged as possible flips from last time (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) to see if that outlook matches the national outlook. So let’s do that!

states

At first blush, it certainly looks plausible to think that Biden, currently, is competitive in a lot of this territory.

The other major way to look at this is to examine the incumbent’s popularity. He had a brief “rally around the flag” moment around his handling of the COVID pandemic, but that seems to have almost entirely reverted now. Overall, since inauguration, his popularity has been underwater, and he’s never consistently had a run above 44%, two percent less than what he drew in 2016:

unpop

We’ve kind of gotten used to this in some ways, so it can be helpful to look at it compared to other recent Presidents’ net approval rating at the same point. Trump never had the kind of early term approval bump that the others had. He’s almost never been above the trend line of any of them. The two his ratings at this point look most similar to are Carter and Bush1, both of whom were headed to first term defeat amid economic turmoil.

comppres

To me, all of this says that the data is saying the same thing that makes immediate intuitive sense: Any President hobbled by economic turmoil and botched reaction to a crisis is probably facing a difficult reelection. And Clinton had so many unique headwinds against her- decades of slurs aimed at her character, a last-minute FBI intervention, an at the time underappreciated massive foreign intelligence operation against her, and still only “lost” because of around 77,000 votes in three states. Any halfway decent Democrat was likely to be competitive.

And, indeed, there is every reason to think at this point that Biden has a very solid shot at winning the election. There are miles of twists and turns to come. So many that I’m not even going to bother to do an update until June 3rd, which puts us five months out. But nothing we’re seeing now dissuades from the idea that Trump is in serious trouble, and Biden’s chances are good.

 

 

There can be only one… (“Swell Tuesday” Preview edition)

super-tuesday-2020-results-promo-1583316015941-superJumbo-v2

Well that was really something!

A lot has happened since last we tuned in, one short week ago. It was inevitable that Super Tuesday was going to knock a few things loose in the race. Indeed, even before it happened, as I was hitting “publish” last Monday, Buttigieg and Klobuchar both dropped out, endorsing Biden to boot. Following Tuesday’s results, Elizabeth (this world does not deserve you) Warren and Mike (we’re glad your money is still around) Bloomberg both dropped out as well.

This leaves us with only three candidates remaining: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Tulsi “she still exists” Gabbard. From 28 that we have had at one point or another to three, bringing us ever closer to the point at which…

there-can-be-only-one

In this regard, Tuesday’s results certainly may give us a clue which way the wind is blowing. As predicted here, Biden had a very good day. Following wins in 10 out of 14 contests last Tuesday, he is now sitting on leads in both the popular vote and total delegates:

results2

It’s also immediately clear what effect Tuesday’s wins, and the endorsements (Bloomberg also endorsed him after dropping out, and former candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have now done the same) have had on Biden’s national polling numbers:

polling

For those not well versed in math, that’s a thirty point gain in one week! Both the establishment, and voters, seem to be quickly coalescing around Biden.

“Ah-ah!” you say. “Not so fast! It’s the vote still to come that matters.”

Indeed it is, and that vote will matter very rapidly. For better or for worse, we’ll have an almost definitive read on how things are looking by Wednesday of next week.  As of now, around 38% of total delegates have been chosen. By the end of the day tomorrow, this will be at around 47% (which is nearly half in most parts of the world). And then after Tuesday next week, it will be almost 62%:

totes

But first up, tomorrow. It’s not a “Super” Tuesday, but it’s pretty good. 365 delegates are at stake, including the electorally key state of Michigan. I’m calling it “Swell Tuesday”.

Sanders’ surprise narrow win in Michigan in 2016 was a major turning point for him, and what should have been an indicator that the state could be a problem in the Fall. With due humility for how far off the polls there were last time, they are pointing in an easy-to-spot direction at the moment:

Michigan

Sanders also did very well in Washington in 2016, but with the key difference that it was a caucus then, and is a primary this time. Allowing for the likelihood that many of Warren’s voters will swing toward Sanders, he looks to be on a path to a win there, but not an overwhelming one like he had in the 2016 caucus:

Wa

Another sizable state up tomorrow is Missouri. It was a virtual tie last time, with Sanders finishing less than 600 votes behind Clinton. One would not bet on it being that close this time:

Mo

Based on his Southern results so far, Biden can be expected to crush it in the remaining large state up tomorrow, Mississippi. He’s also currently favored in both Idaho and North Dakota. What this all adds up to is a likely narrow Sanders win in a state he won big in last time (Washington), a loss in the surprise win state that garnered so much attention for him in 2016 (Michigan), and Biden going four for four on the other states up tomorrow.

If so, and given a March 17th that looks like very fertile territory for Biden, Sanders could run out of room very quickly. Are surprises possible? Certainly. But the fundamental problem I see is this. If you take the grossly simplified view that the candidates can be grouped together into two blocks, this is the popular vote so far:

math

For reference, the 2016 total came out as Clinton 55.2%, Sanders 43.1%. Unless Sanders draws in a significantly larger share than the Progressive candidates in total have so far this cycle, and than he did last cycle, it could be very difficult for him to overtake the “Moderate” block that has coalesced around Biden.

Tune in next week to see if this outlook has changed after tomorrow!

There can be only one… (“Have yourself a Super little Tuesday…” edition)

<Breaking News! Mere moments after I pressed “publish” the news came through that Amy Klobuchar is dropping out, and endorsing Biden. To adjust for this, take everything I say below, and make it more so.>

<And still more breaking news! Buttigieg has come out saying he plans to endorse Biden in a joint appearance. Take what I say below, and make it even more so more so.>

St2

As promised in last week’s pre-South Carolina check-in, now that we have South Carolina results, we’re back for a quick check-in today, before tomorrow’s nation-wide electoral hoe-down.

First to note: In the wake of South Carolina, Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg have dropped out of the race. From 28 total and as many as 25 at once, we’re now down to just six candidates! We see you, Biden, Bloomberg, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren. You’re a plucky bunch, but, sooner or later…

there-can-be-only-one

Do we have more of a sense who that one will be? One thing we can observe in South Carolina is that Biden won big, even bigger than many expected:

SC3

One consequence of this final member of the first four elections weighing in is that, literally overnight, Biden has shot to the lead in the popular vote, and a close second to Sanders in total delegates:

state of states

Of course, this is based on a very narrow slice of the overall electorate so far. Tomorrow, in a shot, will take us to more than a  third of the total delegates having been chosen. So what’s the outlook? As recently as two weeks ago, it seemed quite possible that Super Tuesday would be an extinction level event for Biden, and Sanders would sweep the field that day.

But then, as we discussed last week, Biden caught a couple of good breaks going in to South Carolina- a Nevada performance that was less dismal than his first two outings, his main rival Bloomberg being gutted by Warren in his first debate, and strong support in South Carolina itself. You can see the results both in national polling and polls of a few of the major Super Tuesday states, all of which show Biden’s numbers spiking:

polssss

Keep in mind that these are polling averages, and have limited effect so far from his South Carolina win, or possible benefit from Buttigieg dropping out.

Considering where his trendlines were already going, how many southern states with similar electorates to South Carolina are voting tomorrow, and the general momentum from his recent win and a “moderate” rival dropping out, it’s not unreasonable to expect Biden to do much better tomorrow than it seemed just a few weeks ago. Indeed, the number-crunchy folks at 538 now give him odds on winning Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia tomorrow, and a roughly even shot at carrying Texas.

St3

If you put all this together, I’m smelling a very good day for Biden tomorrow. Sanders probably comes out of this with a plurality of the popular vote and delegates, but Biden will also likely be racking up enough votes and delegates to be nipping right at his heels. Time shall tell, but not much of it, so we won’t have to wait long to see!

Four more Years? One Year out edition!

2020

As of yesterday, we were officially one year out to the 2020 election. You may have been following my series on the Democratic candidates, if not you can find the latest edition here. And a few months back I did a first look at Trump’s chances for re-election. At that time, I concluded that, while he can quite possible win and we have to act with all due seriousness, the paralyzing fear that it’s already over and done for is- BALDERDASH!

I also said we’d revisit the issue in November, with one year left to go. So, here we are. How do things look now?

One quick way to get a ballpark on it is to look at the President’s popularity numbers. They currently aren’t great:

popularity

In fact, they’ve never even been what might be termed “good”. When you compare his position to other post-war Presidents at this same point in their first term, this quickly becomes apparent:

comp

Obama and Clinton were widely thought to be in potential trouble at this point in their first terms. Trump is below either of their positions. He’s actually below every post-war President at this point in their first term except Carter. And you may recall how the 1980 election went for Carter.

Another way to think about it is to look at polling versus potential opponents, now that the probable Democratic field is clearer. The three leading contenders all have a more than five-point lead at this time. Even the Mayor of South Bend Indiana has a lead, for Pete’s Sake:

leads

It’s worth noting that at this same point, Clinton’s lead was 3.2%, not far off at all from where it actually ended up being. Another quick note on percentages. President Trump’s popularity rating is currently 5% below the level he “won” with in 2016. If you subtract 5% from his state-by-state 2016 margins, this is the electoral map you get (with Georgia a fraction of a percent away from flipping too):

evnov2019

Do not get me wrong. I’m not saying at all it’s a sure thing. A friend of mine posted this yesterday, and I could not agree more with both sides of what she’s saying:

“Trump can win–I will never again doubt that. And there are a ton of unknowns and things outside our control. But I also have to believe that if we step up, if we reach out and talk to our neighbors and listen to our fellow citizens, if enough of us demand a government based on our fundamental values–decency, honesty, fairness, equity, accountability–we can achieve it”

Looking at things a year out, there is every sign that we can do this. So let’s get going!

Four More Years?

I recently kicked-off my absurdly early coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary, necessitated by the absurdly large field. (It reached 22 candidates as of yesterday!) Since today is officially 18 months until 11/3/20, it seemed absurdly early/fair to give the other side its share. Don’t worry, this will be quick!

What I primarily want to touch base on is the perception/paralyzing fear that Trump will be reelected. I hear this among Left/Progressive friends even from people I consider to be very politically savvy. This puzzles me. Because, while we definitely shouldn’t lull ourselves into a false sense that beating him will be easy, or a sure thing, the alternate idea that he’s an inevitable victor is BAL-DER-DASH!!!!!!

Exhibit one, Trump’s approval rating compared to other recent Presidents at the same point in their first term (courtesy of 538):

pop

He’s below Obama and Clinton, who were popularly thought to be in potential trouble at this point. He’s much more like Carter and Ford, who were in fact going on to lose. He’s the ONLY President in 70 years who’s NEVER been above 50% approval. About his only glimmer of hope above is Reagan, but Reagan was mired in a recession at the time, and rebounded sharply when the economy improved. Trump has these numbers in a (however shallowly spread the gains are) expansion.

Somewhere right now someone is starting in with the “Oh yeah, the polls were so accurate in 2016, weren’t they?” Stop. Because they actually were, as much as one could expect them to be. RCP’s final average was Clinton +3, actual was Clinton +2:

polls2016

They polls, en-mass were nowhere near off enough to make one think that two years-plus of multiple polling firms consistently showing Trump having the worst approval ratings of any postwar President is wrong. It isn’t. He does.

Also consider that the real problem in 2016 was not that polls everywhere were off. It was polls in the Midwest being off. And even there, we see this:

difference

The entire difference was 77,744 votes in three states. Put another way, if 38,873 voters out of 13.9 million total in those states (also know as 0.56%) had changed their minds, it would have gone differently. Now consider. Everything was this close with:

  • A massive, and largely unknown, counterintelligence operation by a hostile foreign power.
  • A Democratic candidate who had historically unprecedented net unfavorability numbers. Yes, largely as a result of decades of bullshit targeting by the Right, but still.
  • A massive news story 11 days before the election that reactivated all the worst narratives/concerns about the Democratic candidate. (That James Comey. What a rascal!)

It’s not too hard to imagine that, being on the lookout for the election interference this time, and if the Democratic nominee is someone who hasn’t had literal decades of Right Wing negative messaging directed against them, and isn’t in the midst of a current FBI investigation, Trump’s extremely narrow 2016 margin is in trouble. Especially considering his approval has never been above 43%, 3% lower than the 46% he “won” 2016 with.

If you assume just a 1.5% difference in 2020 through whatever combination of means (a few more disgruntled Republicans sit it out, a few more energized Democrats show up, a few more now thoroughly disgusted Independents break the other way) the map looks like this:

map2020

So, for those who imagine an easy victory for Democrats in 2020, I scream, “No! Did you learn nothing from last time? Start organizing now! Organize like your lives are on the line!” But to those who are convinced we’re doomed before we start, I again say:

BALDERDASH!

From Russia With Love… (Mueller Report Edition)

report

This will be a little different from our typical update. There are some new items in various categories since last week’s post, and I’ve noted those below as usual. But what I mostly want to do here is lay out my take-aways from the Mueller Report now that it’s had a week to settle. The issues related to obstruction of justice are definitely important, but as the main focus of this blog has been the collusion investigation, that’s mostly what I’ll be discussing.

One question I had from Barr’s initial summary was whether Mueller had constrained his evaluation of possible collusion charges strictly to cooperation with the Internet Research Agency and the GRU’s hacking efforts. Having now read the report, it’s clear that he did not! “Russian Government Links To And Contact With The Trump Campaign” is a third area of evaluation in parallel with the other two, and it receives around 100 pages of detailed consideration in the report.

As a side note, both the collusion and obstruction sections are full of stories that were first revealed in public reporting over the past two years. The report confirms the press accounts, sometimes adding to them in more detail, but almost never contradicting them. The press had these stories, and had them right. So there’s your “fake news”!

A second question Barr’s summary left open was what level of specificity and burden of proof was established in the collusion finding. Now that we can read the report, we know that Mueller’s team looked quite specifically at particular federal statutes involving conspiracy, foreign agent registration, campaign finance violation, and impeding an investigation. If an action did not met the requirements of charging under those statutes, they did not charge it, regardless of the questionable judgment or ethics of the action.

They also did not pursue charges on anything that was not overwhelmingly likely to result in conviction. I.e. the key determinant was not that there was no evidence, but that there was not enough evidence to guarantee conviction. (And several issues preventing the investigation from reaching this evidentiary level, including evidence being inadmissible for technical reasons, subjects lying, and evidence destruction were cited.)

So “did not establish” collusion has to be understood in the context of these specific constraints. What we can say is that the investigation found no reported evidence of “hard collusion”. That was its job, so it stopped there. My personal observation is that multiple examples of “soft collusion” are still very much in view. The report establishes:

  • Candidate Trump repeatedly lied about having any business interests involving Russia when in fact such interests had been ongoing from the earliest stages of the campaign through the convention.
  • Multiple Trump-connected parties knew that Russia wanted to help the campaign and, in that context, continued to pursue various connections with Russia throughout the campaign and transition.
  • As part of this, information and viewpoints frequently passed back and forth between Trump-connected parties and multiple Russia government-connected parties throughout the campaign.
  • Several times people connected with the campaign were promised “dirt” on Clinton by Russian parties. They often pursued these offers, and nobody ever informed the FBI or national security agencies.
  • On an ongoing basis, Paul Manafort shared polling data and campaign strategy with an associate with probable Russian intelligence ties.
  • Albeit unwittingly of it’s being produced by a foreign intelligence agency, Trump surrogates frequently passed on materials from the internet Research Agency’s online campaign.
  • While there is no evidence of anyone connected with Trump actively and knowingly aiding the GRU in its hacking efforts, the campaign eagerly made use of the fruits of those efforts. Even after it was publicly reported that Russia was behind the hacking, the campaign continued with this, and candidate Trump even publicly encouraged Russia to further hack Clinton’s e-mails (which the GRU then attempted hours later).

Having poured over the report in detail I have a few outstanding questions:

  1. The report mentions that the party that offered compromising information on Clinton to Roger Stone and Michael Caputo, Henry Oknyansky, could not be located. Where is he now? What more might we learn from talking to him?
  2. Joseph Mifsud, who told George Papadopoulos in March 2016 that there was “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails, has also vanished. The report establishes possible contacts he had with both the GRU and the Internet Research Agency. Where is he? What more might we learn from talking to him?
  3. The report makes clear that there were four different tracks of people (Cohen, Foresman, Page, and Papadopoulos) trying to get Trump to travel to Russia in the March-May 2016 timeframe. Was this purely coincidence, or were Russian parties actively working to get Trump there?
  4. Mentions of intrusion attempts by the GRU into U.S. election systems are made, with a note that the investigation did not follow up on them because other state and federal parties were following up. Who? What have they found?
  5. What was Carter Page doing in his July 2016 trip to Russia? The report notes that his explanations to both the Trump campaign and federal investigators were contradictory and didn’t make sense.
  6. The report lists 14 referrals from Mueller to other venues that are ongoing. 12 are entirely redacted. What are they, and what are they looking in to?
  7. We know that Mueller’s investigation looked at the role of Cambridge Analytica, but its name is not mentioned anywhere visible in the report. Is it part of an ongoing investigation?
  8. Mueller’s team was loaded with money laundering experts, and is known to have looked at issues relating to Trump’s finances with Deutsche Bank, and the financing of the inauguration. Neither of these are mentioned in the report at all. What role do they play in ongoing investigations?
  9. The Steele Dossier is mentioned in passing, but no mention of investigating its allegations, or findings thereon, is made. Is there still some kind of ongoing investigation involving it?
  10. What about that darn Trump Organization server that had such mysterious traffic patterns with a Moscow-based Alfa Bank server? The data is well established in several press reports, but there is no apparent mention of it in the report.

One final note. A quick glance shows that the redactions are much more heavily concentrated in the first half of the report (the “collusion” section):

thumbnail.png

We also know that around 70% of the redactions by number of lines involved touch on an “ongoing matter”:

redact

As each of the 14 referred cases that the report mentions conclude, many of these blanks will be filled in, and new information probably added to them. Perhaps between this, and the ongoing Congressional investigations, we may actually get some further answers to my questions above!

In the meantime, as mentioned, there are some other updates. You’ll find the associated sections highlighted further down. But before we get there, with the report now released, here is 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. As part of this interference, Russians 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. At least two possible sources of these analytics were through hacking of DNC databases, and then- Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort repeatedly sharing detailed internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business associate with ties to Russian intelligence, from April through August 2016.
  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, Richard Gates, and George Papadopoulos have already plead guilty and cooperated with Mueller’s investigation, Paul Manafort was found guilty in one trial and then became a cooperating witness to avoid a second before lying during cooperation and being sentenced to eight years in prison, Roger Stone has been indicted, and Jared Kushner, Carter Page, Erik Prince, Felix Sater, Jeff Sessions, and Donald Trump Jr. all took known actions that led the Special Counsel to consider charges against them.
  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. While the Special Counsel’s report states that Mueller’s investigation “did not establish” collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference efforts based on burden of proof as regards specific federal statutes, it is known that Russia actively cultivated and sought to make use of contacts with Trump-connected individuals and organizations. More than 100 separate points of contact between Russian-linked parties and Trump-linked people during the campaign and transition have been documented.
  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 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. The Special Counsel’s investigation found evidence that argues both for and against formal obstruction of justice charges, but stops short of indicting the President. Attorney General William Barr likewise reviewed and decided not to pursue charges, but the report stresses that Congress can take action in this case.

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. Did Trump share his senior campaign officials’ awareness of Russian election interference, either during the campaign or afterwards, and is thus responsible for not exposing it?
  4. Given that the Russian election manipulation seems to have been based at least in part on sophisticated data analytics, were there means in addition to the DNC hack and Manafort-Kilimnik link by which they could have gotten this information?
  5. Since Obstruction of Justice charges were ultimately left to Congress, what further action, if any, will Congress take in this matter
  6. What else may come out as a result of this investigation? Referrals from the Special Counsel’s have led to 14 active cases involving Trump and Trump-related parties (12 of which remain unidentified), and House and Senate committees have several ongoing investigations. Recall that Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal was an outgrowth of, but not in any way directly connected to, the Whitewater investigation.

To understand more, it’s very 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 (new content in bold italics):

In addition to Mueller’s filings, these Other Primary Source Documents provide a wealth of information (new content in bold italics):

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 (new content in bold italics):

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 (new content in bold italics):

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)

********************************************************************************

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.

<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.
  • In 2/15/19 promotional appearances for his forthcoming book, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raised high-level discussions at the Justice Department about recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office in the aftermath of former FBI Director James Comey’s firing. The discussions also included speculation about which Cabinet members could be on board with the idea, McCabe said in an interview with CBS’s Scott Pelley. Rosenstein, through a Justice Department spokesperson, has repeatedly disputed McCabe’s characterization of his remarks, though he has not denied the topic was discussed at some point. McCabe also told CBS he ordered an investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice as a way to preserve ongoing inquiries into Russian election meddling in case there was an effort to terminate them.
  • On 2/28/19 the D.C. District court released a heavily redacted tranche of documents related to subject hearings involving action by Mueller’s investigation against an unidentified company owned by a foreign country. The company had been refusing to cooperate with the investigation on grounds of sovereign immunity, but The Washington D.C. circuit court had earlier ruled that it was not exempt, and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling. On 3/25/19 the Supreme Court further further refused to hear an appeal from the company.
  • On 3/4/19, the Justice Department announced that Attorney General Bill Barr will not step aside from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Following General Barr’s confirmation, senior career ethics officials advised that General Barr should not recuse himself from the Special Counsel’s investigation,” Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “Consistent with that advice, General Barr has decided not to recuse.” Prior to his Senate confirmation last month, Democrats had raised concerns about a 19-page memo Barr authored in June 2018 as a private citizen, detailing why he believed President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey a year earlier should not constitute obstruction of justice. He also previously offered mixed opinions about the Russia investigation.
  • Mueller’s work meanwhile received an endorsement on 3/5/19 from the former head of Trump’s legal team, Ty Cobb. “I don’t feel the investigation is a witch hunt,” Cobb said, adding he wished the investigation “had happened on a quicker time frame,” while acknowledging the pace was not Mueller’s fault. Cobb called Mueller a friend who is “an American hero” with a “backbone of steel.” The former White House lawyer said he has known Mueller for three decades. “I think the world of Bob Mueller,” he said, adding that he believed Mueller to be a “very justice-oriented person.”
  • As another top deputy departing continued indications that Mueller was close to wrapping up, he House voted 420-0 on 3/14/19 in favor of having the Mueller report released in full. Full disclosure of the report gained a prominent champion on 3/20/19, when President Trump said that it should be released to the public once finished. As seen below, his enthusiasm was somewhat short lived.
  • On 3/22/19, the much-rumored imminent event became an actual happening, as the Justice Department announced that Mueller’s investigation was concluding. In a one-page letter sent to congressional leaders, Attorney general Barr said he may be able to advise lawmakers of Mueller’s “principal conclusions” as soon as the weekend, and expected to release the conslusions to the public as well. Barr also noted that he would determine “what other information from the report can be released to Congress and the public consistent with the law.” In a legally required disclosure, Barr’s letter did note that Mueller was never blocked from pursuing a requested inquiry. Multiple outlets also reported that Mueller has no more previously undisclosed indictments waiting under seal, and will not recommend any further indictments. While this lets some often rumored potential indictees off the hook (such as Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.), it was not clear if this categorically precluded other venues besides Mueller’s investigation from further indictment of  theses figures. It also may not include an apparently accidentally leaked prepared indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
  • In a publicly released letter to the senior members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on 3/24/18, Barr provided a four page summary of Mueller’s findings. Regarding collusion, Barr’s summary states that “the Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.” The actual sentence fragment from Mueller’s report that Barr provides is somewhat more equivocal: “…the investigation did not establish (italics mine) that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” According to Barr, on the question of obstruction of justice, Mueller’s investigation, “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction” and instead left that determination to the Justice Department. Barr wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence for obstruction charges. Here too the actual sentence fragment directly from Mueller is somewhat less positive for Trump: “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” While we won’t know until the final report is released, the consensus of legal experts is that the obstruction investigation uncovered potentially damaging evidence.
  • The reaction of the administration and its supporters presented the result as a complete exoneration for President Trump. Vice President Pence stated, “Today is a great day for America, President Trump and our entire administration. After two years of investigation, and reckless accusations by many Democrats and members of the media, the Special Counsel has confirmed what President Trump said along; there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.” Rudy Giuliani said, “That is a complete exoneration by the attorney general and Rod Rosenstein,” and encouraged full release of the report. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared, “After two years, two congressional investigations, and now the closure of a Special Counsel investigation with unfettered authority to investigate ‘any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Campaign of President Donald Trump’ it is abundantly clear, without a shadow of a doubt, there was no collusion. Furthermore, the nearly unlimited scope, resources, and subpoena power of the Special Counsel has allowed his team to fully pursue any matters that arose or may arise or may arise directly from the investigation. This case is closed.” Even Russian President Vladimir Putin got in on the action, making statements on 4/9/19 that “a mountain gave birth to a mouse” and, “It was clear for us from the start that it would end like this. We have been saying from the start that this notorious commission led by Mr. Mueller won’t find anything, because no one knows better than us: Russia has not meddled in any U.S. election.”
  • Several Trump supporters added in calls for retribution to their celebration. Thus, Donald Trump Jr., “It’s my hope that honest journalists within the media have the courage to hold these now fully debunked truthers accountable and treat them with the scorn and ridicule that they so deserve.” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to resign over his past comments that there was “plenty of evidence” of collusion. “Adam Schiff should resign. This was followed by Trump directly calling on him to resign, and the Republican members of the House Intelligence committee issuing a letter saying they had lost confidence in him. He has no right as somebody who has been peddling a lie day after day after day unchallenged. Unchallenged and not under oath. Somebody should have put him under oath and said you have evidence, where is it?” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders issued the following gem: “They literally accused the President of the United States of being an agent for a foreign government. That’s equivalent to treason. Thats punishable by death in this country.”
  • There was a more skeptical chorus as well. Former FBI Director James Comey tweeted an image of himself in a forest with the caption “so many questions”. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a joint statement that: “Attorney General [William] Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said, “In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called for special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress. On 3/25/19 Diane Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent Barr a letter on giving him a week to hand over the full report. Congressional Democrats are also seeking the release of the supporting material gathered by Mueller for their review. On 4/3/19 the House Judiciary Committee formally passed a resolution authorizing the subpoena of the full unredacted report and its supporting materials. Both the Democratic head of the House Judiciary Committee and the top Republican on the Committee joined in on calls to have Mueller testify.
  • House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff stood up to Republicans and Conservative media calling for his resignation in a 3/28/19 speech before the Intelligence Committee in which he defended and defined exactly what he meant be saying there were signs of collusion that merit further investigation. To quote a sample: “My colleagues might think it’s OK that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. My colleagues might think it’s OK that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help — no, instead that son said he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians. You might think it was ok that he took that meeting. You might think it’s ok that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s ok that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s ok that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s ok that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think it’s OK. I don’t.”
  • Congressional Republicans meanwhile renewed calls for one of their old favorties, investigating the investigators. In a 3/25/19 letter to Presdeint Trump, eight House conservatives argued that the declassification of some related documents is necessary to find out “how Congress, the courts, and the American people were misled by Department of Justice leadership into a two-year investigation that failed to discover any evidence of Russian collusion.” House Intelligence Committee minority lead Devin Nunes joined in on 4/7/19 saying he was submitting eight names to Barr for investigation for making false statements to Congress. On 4/10/19 Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn) called for the transcript of Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony to be provided to the DOJ for legal action regarding possible perjury.
  • It is also worth noting that, while Mueller’s investigation has concluded and further indictments will not be coming from his team, live investigations remain ongoing in several other venues. One of Mueller’s grand juries remains enpanneled and may be working on a case involving an undientified foreign company, Roger Stone’s trial is still pending, SD NY has ongoing investigations into hush money payments during the campaign, SD NY and several other venues are investigating issues involving the inaugural committee, ED VA is known to be continuing to work ona  case involving Michael Flynn and Turkey, and several New York state venues are investigating Trump’s finances. These may all lead to further revelations and/or indcitments relevant to the Russia investigation. In one indication of ongoing activity, it was reported on 4/10/19 Gregory Craig, a prominent corporate lawyer and former adviser to Democratic presidents, was expected to be indicted on charges arising from his work for the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine. Craig’s former firm, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, paid a fine in January and agreed to register as a lobbyist for a foreign government after admitting that it should have done so earlier for work it did with Paul Manafort to benefit Ukraine. In another move related to ongoing investigations, on 4/12/19 political consultant Sam Patten, who helped steer foreign money to President Trump’s inauguration, was sentenced to probation without jail time in a criminal case that grew out of Mueller’s investigation. Patten is known to have cooperated extensively with the investigations, probably contributing to lighter sentencing.
  • Reporting emerged in early April indicating that the report itself may be more damaging than indicated in the initial summary. The New York Times and Washington Post both released stories saying that investigators who worked on the report have been privately venting their frustrations with the summary released by Barr on March 24 that claimed there was not enough evidence to prove Trump obstructed justice. “It was much more acute than Barr suggested,” one source told the Post about the evidence they gathered about obstruction, while declining to say exactly what the evidence was. The Times’ sources say the report could be problematic for the president as it examines Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. Perhaps in support of this notion, Trump himself began to shift from immediately saying the report completely exonerated him and should be released to being much more lukewarm on 4/3/19. By 4/15/19 he was fully back on the attack, dismissing the report as the work of  “18 Angry Democrats who also happen to be Trump Haters” and “should have focused on the people who SPIED on my 2016 Campaign.”
  • Regarding release of the report itself, on 3/25/19 Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell killed a Senate vote on releasing the full report, citing “national security concerns” and saying Barr should be given time to determine what to do next. Barr provided initial indications that the White House would get a first draft of the report before release in case they wanted to assert executive privillege against certain contents. On 3/28/19 it was reported that the report was over 300 pages, further fueling speculation on what may be contained beyond the summary released by Barr. Barr himself confirmed on 3/29/18 that the report was nearly 400 pages long excluding appendicies, stated that he had never intended his summary to be the final word, and the DOJ would aim to have a redacted version available for release by mid-April. Barr indicated redactions would be based on grand jury material that cannot be made public, material the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising, material that could affect other ongoing cases, and information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputation of peripheral third parties. On 4/9/19 Barr announced the report would be released within a week, and a few days later the Department of Justice committed to a release on the mornign of Thursday 4/18/19.
  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a Freedom of Information Request for the release of the grand jury materials used in the report. The press group is seeking a court order that would authorize public release of any grand jury material “cited, quoted or referenced” in the report.
  • On 4/19/19 the redacted version of Mueller’s final report was released to the public. The officially released pdf is not searchable, but searchable versions of it can be found here and here. At a high level, the main conclusions of the report can be summarized as follows
    • The report confirms that Russia wanted to help Trump be elected President, and pursued this aim through a massive information warfare campaign and the hacking and distribution of materials from the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
    • Multiple Trump campaign connections to Russia were verified, but enough evidence could not be established to bring specific charges related to them.
    • Nevertheless, the Trump campaign was often eager to receive Russian help, and make use of the hacked materials.
    • The administration, and Trump personally, took multiple actions to impede the investigation.
    • The description of these actions was very detailed and, often, quite embarrassing to the President. They also included several incidents where the President ordered staff to do things that might have been illegal, but never came about be cause staff decided not to carry out his orders.
    • There is evidence of this administration’s actions amounting to a chargeable case of obstruction of justice, but also circumstances that makes this determination uncertain.
    • While the investigation did not indict the President for obstruction of justice, it pointedly did not clear him of the charge either. Final action is left to Congress.
    • There are fourteen ongoing cases based on referrals from Mueller, 12 of which were redacted.
  • The report itself was release following a morning press conference by Attorney General William Barr. No member of Mueller’s team attended the conference, and Barr’s performance during it was widely regarded as an attempt at spin at providing cover for Trump. Ahead of the conference, the report was shared with the White House, and a preview of it’s contents might be found in tweets from the President the morning of the release deriding, “The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats”. In following days, Trump tweeted that some of the things attributed to him in the report were “complete bullshit” and asserted that nobody disobeys his orders. This was followed by a Twitter firestorm in which Trump issued 52 tweets in 24 hours, many of them attacks on the Mueller investigation. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani helpfully (and legally incorrectly) offered that there is nothing wrong in accepting election help from Russia.
  • Elizabeth Warren became the first major Presidential candidate to come out in favor of impeachment. Impeachment remains a controversial issue in the House, with a split between those who think it is now necessary, and those who think it’s politically risky. House Democrats are known to be meeting to decide strategy. Congressional Republicans have been somewhat cautious, although reaction has tended to center on along the lines of this quote from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio): “Bob Mueller chose not to indict. That’s the bottom line.” For good measure the Kremlin weighed in to say that there is “no evidence substantiated by any facts” that Russia meddled.
  • In terms of follow-up to the report itself, on 4/19/19 the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for the complete unredacted report. On 4/21/19 House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler announced the first person his committee would call to testify on the report: former White House counsel Don McGahn. On 4/23/19 the President said Tuesday that he does not want his current or former aides to testify before various Democratic-controlled congressional committees. Trump argued in an interview with The Washington Post that having his current or former aides talk to Democrats in Congress is unnecessary after the release of the Mueller Report. “There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress, where it’s very partisan — obviously very partisan,” Trump told the paper. In response, Nadler is reported to be considering charging and fining officials who refuse to cooperate.
  • In one of the ongoing investigations, on 4/24/19 Deutsche Bank began the process of providing financial records to New York state’s attorney general in response to a subpoena for documents related to loans made to President Trump and his business. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James issued subpoenas for records tied to funding for several Trump Organization projects after Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress in a public hearing that Trump had inflated his assets. Cohen at that time presented copies of financial statements he said had been provided to Deutsche Bank.

<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)

As allegations about Russian election interference began to appear in the summer of 2016, coverage also started to hone in on possible ties between then-candidate Trump, and people in his orbit, with Russia. His surrogates throughly dismissed the topic. So, for example, asked in a July 2016 interview, “Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?” then campaign manager Paul Manafort replied, “No, there are not. That’s absurd. And, you know, there’s no basis to it.”

Trump himself weighed in on the matter repeatedly, both pre and post-election:

  • July 26, 2016- “I mean, I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia,” Trump tells CBS4.
  • July 26, 2016- “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” Trump tweets.
  • Oct. 6, 2016- During the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton says Russia is trying to help elect Trump, “maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow.” Trump calls this assessment “so ridiculous,” adding, “I know nothing about Russia … I don’t deal there.
  • Oct. 24, 2016- “I have nothing to do with Russia folks, I’ll give you a written statement,” Trump says at a campaign rally.
  • Jan. 11, 2017- Trump tells reporters that he has “no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away,” adding that he could “make deals in Russia very easily” but “I just don’t want to because I think that would be a conflict.”
  • Jan. 11, 2017- “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!,” Trump tweets.
  • Feb. 7, 2017- Trump tweets, “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy.”

His surrogates continued their denials after the election as well. Two days after, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” In March 2017 then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer, when asked about the topic, said, “I’ve said it from the day that I got here, there is no connection. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection.”

We now know that these denials were false. Russian contacts involving key specific Trump-connected parties (Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr.) are covered in sections below. In addition to these, year’s worth of pre-inauguration contacts with Trump himself, the Trump Organization, and the Trump campaign have been documented. These include:

Pre-campaign

During the Campaign

Post-election

One open question is what, if anything, the legal ramifications of Trump and 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. It is also possible that election laws were violated, as they forbid receiving any donations from a foreign entity, including in-kind donations of things like information. 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.”

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

Trump-Russia Ties (post-inauguration)

Knowing that Russia actively intervened in the election in an attempt to aid Trump, a natural question presents itself: What did Russia hope to gain from this? One place to look for the answer is in the shape of U.S.-Russian relations after the inauguration. Likewise, Trump and Trump administration connections with Russia after the election may provide information on the possibility of Trump’s collusion with Russian interests, be it implicit or explicit. So what do we see when we look at post-inauguration Trump-Russia ties?

An aspect that immediately stands out is the presence in the administration of people with strong Russian connections:

Ties are one thing, but policy is where push really comes to shove. Here too there are many indications of a friendly attitude toward Russia:

In more personal terms, Trump’s words and deeds as President regarding Putin and Russia often indicate a great deal of deference:

Russian media coverage and government statements regarding Trump and U.S. relations also provides further, sometimes contradictory, indications:

It can be easily seen in the above that, while there are contradictory indications in all categories, what most stands out is a decided tilt by the U.S. to being more solicitous toward Russia and its interests under the Trump administration. The deference with which the President personally treats Russian Presdient Vladimir Putin is especially striking.

<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). However, McClatchy DC reported on 12/27/18 that cell phone signal records indicated Cohen was in the vicinity of Prague at the time of the alleged meeting, and that intelligence intercepts also indicated that Russian parties were discussing an imminent meeting with him at that time.

On another Dossier-related front, 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 12/19/18 it was confirmed that, despite denials from his legal team as recently as the day before, Trump had in fact signed a letter of intent for the Moscow project during the campaign.

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.

This seemed to be confirmed by a 1/17/19 article in Buzzfeed staing that Mueller’s investigation had multiple streams of firm evidence showing that Trump had instructed Cohen to lie to Congress. While the fact that the reporters involved have done previous high-quality reporting on the Moscow Trump Tower project would tend to lend credence to the story, on 1/18/19 a spokesman from Mueller’s office took the unprecedented step of issuing a public statement that the report was not accurate. Buzzfeed’s editor countered by re-affirming his faith in the sources and reporting team, and asking Mueller’s office to be specific about what details it was disputing. Security blogger Marcy Wheeler has speculated that the evidence in question may have come from the SDNY case against Cohen and not Mueller, and may also involve Cohen having been indirectly encouraged to lie rather than directly ordered, hence the refuattion from Mueller’s office. For his part, investigative reporter Ronan Farrow offered that he had passed on reporting the same story due to, “a source central to the story repeatedly disputing the idea that Trump directly issued orders of that kind.”  Subsequent reporting also made clear that Buzzfeed had given Mueller’s office advanced warning that the story was coming out, but not that they were attribuitng the evidence to the Special Counsel’s office.

Rudy Giuliani clarified absolutely nothing on 1/20/19 by offering that Trump may have been talking to Cohen about the deal up until the election (and then saying he was just “speculating” the next day, despite the day before saying that Trump had told him talks on Trump Tower Moscow were, “going on from the day I announced to the day I won”), but that Trump had not told Cohen to lie about it. Meanwhile, on 1/23/19, Cohen announced that he was putting planned Congressional testimony on hold due to repeated threats from Trump and Giuliani implying further legal action against him and his family members. For good measure, on 1/24/19 Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis called for opening a Federal investigation against Giuliani for witness tampering. Meanwhile, on the same date the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a formal subpoena for Cohen to testify. On 2/6/19 the House Intelligence Committee postponed Cohen’s closed-door testimony until later in the month. “In the interests of the investigation, Michael Cohen’s testimony has been postponed until February 28th,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a brief statement Wednesday morning. Cohen also delayed his Senate Intelligence Committee testimony, claiming recovery from surgery. After he was subsequently seen socializing with friends and his wife, an angry Chairman Richard said Stone would be required to appear before entering prison.

Cohen finally obliged with testimony before Congress the last week of February. His Tuesday testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee (which reportedly included an apology to the Committee for lying to them in previous testimony) and Thursday testimony before the House Intelligence Committee were private, so the main event was Wednesday public testimony before the House Oversight Committee. Even before it began Republic House member made news by (subsequently deleted) Twitter posts mentioning Cohen’s wife and alleged girlfriends that seem to have been intended to intimidate him before his testimony. Cohen, for his part publicly released an opening statement with several items relevant to the Russia investigation, which were expanded upon in his testimony. Highlights included:

  • Cohen overheard discusions between Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Sr. indicating Trump Sr. knew about the Trump Tower meeting in advance.
  • Cohen was present for a call in which Roger Stone informed Trump that he had communicated with Julian Assange about the e-mails the Russians hacked well before they were publicly revealed.
  • Although Trump did not directly order Cohen to lie to Congress, he used coded language that made clear to Cohen this is what he expected.
  • His statement to Congress in which he lied to them was edited by Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow.
  • Trump never expected to win, and so pursued the potential payday of the Trump Tower Moscow project throughout the campaign.
  • Despite their statements denying it, Cohen frequently updated Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on the status of the Moscow negotiations.
  • Despite Trump’s denials about ever really knowing Russian mob-connected Felix Sater, Cohen said that Trump knew him very well and Sater had a rent-free office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, directly next to Trump’s own office.
  • Under questioning, Cohen stuck to his story that he had never been to Prague, and had not participated in ameeting there with Russian parties, as alleged by the Steele Dossier.

Following the conclusion of his testimony, Congressional Republicans Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) responded by… issuing a letter asking the DOJ to investigate Cohen for making false statements (a call that Trump-lawyer Rudy Giuliani echoed on 3/1/19). House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that the panel will seek to interview several of the people that Cohen mentioned during his testimony, including President Trump’s children Don Jr. and Ivanka, as well as Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. And following his Thursday testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Cohen reported that he would return for further testimony before the Committee the following week.

One subject that the committees are interested in probing further is whether Cohen had discussions about a possible pardon from Trump. Subsequent reporting indicated that this might indeed be the case. President Trump’s response to the hearings included a sweaty two-hour speech at CPAC including rants against the investigation , and statements like “I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted & corrupt people in a Witch Hunt that is illegal.” Cohen apparently also has strong feelings about Trump, as on 3/7/19 he sued the Trump Organization for $1.9 million in legal fees incurred after the Organization stopped covering his fees when he began to cooperate with Mueller. For his part, Sekulow denied Cohen’s allegations that he altered Cohen’s prepared comments before Congress in 2017. In response, Cohen provided Congress with further documents to back up his allegation.

Speaking of documents, on 3/19/19 redacted documents related to the search warrants carried out during the April 2018 raid on Cohen were released by order of a federal judge. The documents show that active financial investigations involving Cohen appear to be ongoing, and that the FBI sought and obtained a warrant for his email in July 2017, far earlier than publicly known. Independent journalist Marcy Wheeler notes that part of the basis for the warrants relates to Cohen’s failure to register under the lobbying law FARA, a violation that could be related to Cohen’s consulting work for foreign companies seeking to gain access to the Trump administration. Wheeler also notes that a second foreign agent crime listed in the warrants — 18 USC §§ 951 — may not be related to his consulting work. As Lawfare outlines, 951 is a “non-political” foreign agents statute that requires the person to “act as an agent of a government, not of some other entity.” it is unknown if this involves the Russian investigation, but it is the same statute under which suspected Russian spy Maria Butina was charged.

Cohen also made one more stab at getting legal leniency. In a 4/4/19 statement in response to letters sent by members of the House Oversight and Intelligence Committees, Michael Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis indicated that Cohen “has recently obtained a hard drive with 14 million files from his computers and phones over the past 10 years” and that he should have his entence delayed to allow further tetstimony. His team also provided new documents to Congress. They mostly followed the lines of the documents provided with his earlier testimony, but stated more strongly that Trump “encouraged Cohen to lie and say all Moscow Tower project contacts ended as of January 31, 2016 using ‘code’ language — telling Cohen during various conversations that there was ‘no collusion, no Russian contacts, nothing about Russia’ after the start of the campaign.’”

<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 several warnings, and also been led toward truthful answers, which he balked at giving. The sentencing judge also made clear to Flynn that his crimes were serious, and his lies deliberate, and indicated he was likely to receive time in jail unless he cooperated further. Based on this, Flynn requested a delay in sentencing on 12/18/18.

On 3/12/19 Mueller’s team said in the required three-month follow-up that Flynn’s cooperation was complete. In the same joint status report, Flynn’s lawyers asked for a 90-day delay in their client’s sentencing so he could continue to cooperate with the government in his former business partner’s upcoming trial in Alexandria, Va. Flynn expects to testify in the mid-July trial against Bijan Rafiekian, who faces charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign government agent for Turkey.

<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 note