Last Week In One Sentence: Mueller is investigating millions of dollars in suspicious transactions between planners and participants of the Trump Tower meeting; Michael Cohen spent hours providing interviews to Mueller's team across multiple sessions; Jerome Corsi, an associate of Roger Stone, testified before Mueller's grand jury; Trump directed the FBI and DOJ to declassify and release sensitive documents related to the Russia probe only to walk back his directive later in the week; Russian diplomats hatched a plan to assist Julian Assange in fleeing the U.K. and taking refuge in Russia, where he would be safe from extradition; Russian officials have been visiting Maria Butina and Yevgeniy Nikulin, two Russian nationals held in U.S. jails; Nikki Haley, called an emergency meeting of the security council to accuse Russia of "cheating" on sanctions against North Korea; Google confirmed the Gmail accounts of an unspecified number of senators and staff have been targeted by hacking attempts by a foreign government; and another website of a Democratic campaign in California was attacked.
Money moving. Expanding upon an earlier piece, the Daily Beast revealed new details about suspicious financial transactions that took place around the Trump Tower meeting between the men who planned it. Mueller's team is now investigating the matter.
- The broad stroke of the story is Aras Agalarov and Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, an employee of Agalarov who was once investigated for money laundering, moved $3.3 million between their various accounts starting on June 3rd, 2016 - the same day Don Jr. accepted the meeting to take place six days later. An additional $20 million was flagged as suspicious, as well. I recommend everyone read the whole article for the details.
Declassification. On Monday, Trump directed the FBI and DOJ to declassify and release sensitive documents related to the Russia probe, including parts of the FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page, all reports of interviews with Bruce Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigations, and all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.
- The fact that Trump ordered select parts of the FISA application to be released unredacted, specifically pages 10-12 and 17-34, hints that those pages contain information that he can use to try to discredit the investigation. Trump told The Hill TV he was motivated to direct the release by "so many people that I respect: the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful, great Jeanine Pirro."
- Despite Trump ordering the "immediate declassification" of these materials, the DOJ, FBI, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated they are first going through a methodical declassification review in which certain information will still be redacted to keep information secret - for example, to protect sources.
- On Friday, Trump softened his directive, "saying Justice Department officials and others had persuaded him not to" declassify the information "for the time being." He sent two tweets stating he had asked the DOJ's Inspector General to review the documents and determine what, if anything, can be released.
- Trump revealed in an interview with Sean Hannity that "key allies are alarmed that the release of the document could reveal highly sensitive information implicating their own intelligence networks, particularly those concerning Russia." The NYT reported the British were one of nations that objected to the declassification.
Cohen update. ABC News reported Michael Cohen has spent hours providing interviews to Mueller's team across multiple sessions. They covered topics including Trump's connections with Russia, both financial and business, and any conversations about pardoning Cohen. ABC notes he has also spoken with Manhattan federal prosecutors and is cooperating in New York state investigations of the Trump Foundation and Trump Organization.
Assange's escape. The Guardian revealed Russian diplomats hatched a plan to assist Julian Assange in fleeing the U.K. and taking refuge in Russia, where he would be safe from extradition to the U.S. The plan involved "giving Assange diplomatic documents so that Ecuador would be able to claim he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. As part of the operation, Assange was to be collected from the embassy in a diplomatic vehicle."
- Earlier in the week, the AP reported on a collection of leaked Wikileaks emails, chat logs, records, and other documents. A November 30, 2010 letter shows Assange tried to obtain a visa from Russia, the day after Wikileaks released the first batch of U.S. State Department files.
Legal fees. Former Trump lawyer John Dowd tried to pay the legal fees of Paul Manafort and Rich Gates, in what could appear to be an attempt to tamper with witnesses and obstruct justice. Dowd at first wanted to "divert money from the White House legal defense fund" but was dissuaded by aides. He later solicited donors for money and pledged $25,000 of his own.
Grand jury. Jerome Corsi, bureau chief of Infowars and associate of Roger Stone, testified before Mueller's grand jury in DC Friday. Corsi is involved in Mueller's probe in part because he appeared to have advance knowledge of Wikileaks' hacked information.
Stone. Roger Stone appeared at a pro-Trump event in West Palm Beach where he proclaimed, " I will never roll on Donald Trump. Michael Cohen I am not." He added, he'll never turn on Trump even if Mueller tries to "frame me for some extraneous crime."
- At least ten associates of Roger Stone have been contacted by Mueller's team. Stone said, "The FBI tried to question my cleaning lady and FBI agents have been seen sifting through my garbage. Here's what I can tell you: they will find no evidence of Russian collusion…They will find no evidence of Wikileaks collaboration."
More Russian Connections
Trump whisperer. Journalist Greg Miller's new Trump book, The Apprentice, contains a worrying, but not surprising, tidbit: Putin would tell Trump in phone conversations that the deep state was keeping them apart and trying to ruin their relationship. The following is an excerpt:
In phone conversations with Trump, Putin would whisper conspiratorially, telling the U.S. president that it wasn't their fault that they could not consummate the relationship that each had sought. Instead, Putin sought to reinforce Trump's belief that he was being undermined by a secret government cabal, a bureaucratic "deep state."
"It's not us. We get it," Putin would tell Trump, according to White House aides. "It's the subordinates fighting against our friendship."
Jail visitors. Russian officials have been visiting Maria Butina and Yevgeniy Nikulin, two Russian nationals held in U.S. jails, "raising questions about whether the Kremlin is trying to interfere in the high-profile cases of alleged cyber and political meddling." Butina is accused of being a Russian spy and Nikulin is a Russian hacker extradited from the Czech Republic.
- Butina has been visited six times in the past 2 months and Nikulin has been visited "multiple times" by Russian officials.
- McClatchy: "They are clearly worried and want to make sure that the people are not talking, and put pressure to release them," said John Sipher, who spent 28 years in the CIA serving in Moscow and running the agency's Russia operations.
N.K. sanctions. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called an emergency meeting of the security council to accuse Russia of "cheating" on sanctions against North Korea by helping the country acquire oil and coal. She further accused Russia of threatening "to block an independent report on the status of North Korean sanctions unless a list of Russian violations was excised." Russia denies both charges.
Bungled sanctions. The Daily Beast reported that the Trump administration did not initially intend to sanction Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum company Rusal. The sanctions reportedly came from a mistaken statement by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin while under oath before Congress. Mnuchin stated his department would be applying sanctions, when there was no plan to do so. "Mnuchin's slip-up forced Treasury officials to scramble to come up with a plan that would match the secretary's under-oath statement."
- Daily Beast: "Treasury broke protocol and did not coordinate closely with other departments to properly scrutinize Deripaska and evaluate the impact of the sanctions—which roiled global markets and caused aluminum prices to skyrocket, mainly affecting U.S. partners in Europe."
- This new information may explain why Mnuchin is now considering lifting the sanctions on Rusal.
FCC interference. The New York Times sued the FCC because the agency has refused to release records that may reveal Russian interference in the net neutrality repeal proceeding. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote an op-ed that said the commission received half a million comments from Russian email addresses.
Russia-NRA. The Russian intelligence operation the Internet Research Agency often followed the NRA's messaging on social media so closely, it copied the content word for word. Sometimes the NRA copied the Russian's messages. Examples in the story here.
The National Rifle Association, on at least 90 occasions, promoted Twitter content similar to that of the Internet Research Agency, in some cases after that group had gone first.
On at least 62 occasions, the Internet Research Agency shared the same content as the National Rifle Association after an original NRA post.
Senate hacking. Google confirmed Sen. Ron Wyden's letter that the Gmail accounts of an unspecified number of senators and staff have been targeted by hacking attempts by a foreign government. According to CNN, a Senate aide said both Republicans and Democrats have been targeted.
Dem cyberattack. Another website of a Democratic campaign in California was attacked, perhaps causing the candidate to lose the primary election. Bryan Caforio, running in California's 25th district, had his website taken down four separate times, the final time during a critical debate. The cause of the crashes was repeated distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. It's not known who was attacking his site. Ultimately, Caforio finished third, losing by only a few thousand votes.
Georgia cybersecurity. A federal judge ruled Georgia does not need to switch to paper ballots for this year's midterm elections, in a case brought against the state by citizen activists trying to protect their elections. Georgia is one of five states without a paper trail to audit votes. The judge called the state officials' efforts so far "inadequate" and advised them not to delay further in fixing the system.
Florida ballots. A new study by the ACLU of Florida found that mail ballots were 10 times more likely to be rejected than votes cast in person. Additionally, the mail ballots of young voters and racial and ethnic minority voters were much more likely to be rejected than those cast by older, white voters.
- While Florida is supposed to allow voters to fix problems with their mail ballots, the younger, black and Hispanic voters were less likely to cure those problems and get their ballot counted. It is important to note that young people and people of color are more likely to vote Democratic than the older, white population of voters. Direct link to study.
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