Last Week In One Sentence: Paul Manafort tried to negotiate a plea deal and avoid a second trial; George Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in jail for lying to the FBI; Papadopoulos stated Trump's team was "fully aware" he was actively attempting to set up a Trump-Putin meeting when Trump was a candidate; DNC lawyers revealed that Joseph Mifsud, the London-based professor who told Papadopoulos of Russian "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, may be dead; Senator Chuck Grassley tried to bypass a judge to obtain Christopher Steele's deposition and discovery items from the Russian tech executive suing him in a civil case for defamation; the judge declined to release the information; a group of Republicans called on Trump to declassify sensitive documents related to Mueller's probe and make other documents public related to Bruce Ohr; New York federal prosecutors are looking into whether executives and officials in the Trump Organization violated campaign finance laws.


Mueller Investigation

Manafort update. Paul Manafort has reportedly been in talks about a plea deal to avoid a second criminal trial. A source told Bloomberg negotiations hinge on what charges Manafort would admit and the sentence length prosecutors would recommend. "It's not clear whether Manafort might cooperate in Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election."

Papadopoulos update. George Papadopoulos was sentenced to the following for lying to the FBI: 14 days in jail, 1 year of supervised release, and $9,500 in fines. While in court, his lawyer stated, "the president of the United States hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could."

  • Papadopoulos told ABC that Trump's team was "fully aware" he was attempting to set up a Trump-Putin meeting when Trump was a candidate. He named members of the campaign: "I actively sought to leverage my contacts with the professor to host this meeting. The campaign was fully aware of what I was doing, including Corey Lewandowski and Sam Clovis." Papadopoulos further stated, "it was no secret" that Trump wanted to improve relations with Russia and he lied to the FBI because he was trying to protect the president.

Mifsud dead? In new court filings, DNC lawyers revealed that Joseph Mifsud, the London-based professor who told George Papadopoulos of Russian "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, may be dead. The committee hired an investigator to attempt to track down Mifsud, who disappeared "shortly after his name emerged as a key figure in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election." Mifsud allegedly had high-level contacts in Russian government.

  • The court filings are related to a lawsuit the DNC has filed against Trump's campaign, Russia, Wikileaks, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner, " accusing them of an intricate conspiracy to undercut Democrats in the 2016 election by stealing tens of thousands of emails and documents." A hearing is scheduled for Thursday, September 13.

Grand jury update. Randy Credico appeared before Mueller's grand jury on Friday, where he testified about his relationship with Roger Stone. Credico described it as "like sitting on an electric chair for a couple of hours." A reporter asked him how much of the questioning was about Assange, to which Credico said, "very little," before his lawyer cut him off. Credico is believed to have been an intermediary between Assange and Stone, a claim he denies.

  • Mueller had also subpoenaed Jerome Corsi, "a conspiracy theorist with links to both ex-Trump aide Roger Stone and Infowars host Alex Jones," to appear Friday but he did not show up. Corsi's attorney stated earlier in the week he was attempting to negotiate a voluntary interview instead of a grand jury appearance. Corsi expected the questions to revolve around Stone. Washington Post: Corsi shared research with Stone around the same time that Stone claimed publicly that he had been in contact with Assange and had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' releases of the hacked emails.

Interview with the president. According to White House sources, Mueller has informed them via letter that he will accept written answers from Trump "on questions about whether his campaign conspired with Russia's election interference." However, the letter reportedly does not mention any such limits on obstruction of justice questions. Keep in mind, this does not come directly from Mueller's office.

Fear in the White House. Bob Woodward's book about Trump's White House includes insights into how his lawyers are dealing with Mueller's probe.

  • White House lawyer John Dowd reportedly put Trump through a practice interview to prepare Trump for one he might have with Mueller. Dowd deemed that Trump failed the test, but Trump seemed surprised - "You think I was struggling?" Trump asked.
  • As CNN recounts: Then, in an even more remarkable move, Dowd and Trump's current personal attorney Jay Sekulow went to Mueller's office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn't possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth. "He just made something up. That's his nature," Dowd said to Mueller.
  • The Washington Post adds more: Dowd then explained to Mueller and Quarles why he was trying to keep the president from testifying: "I'm not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, 'I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?' " Mueller allegedly replied, "John I understand."
  • Despite his lawyer's efforts, Trump insisted he could testify. Dowd responded, "Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit." CNN: What he couldn't say to Trump, according to Woodward, was what Dowd believed to be true: 'You're a fucking liar.'

Trump's thoughts. Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the Russia probe is "really, really unfair for the midterms." He continued, "It's really bad for the country…This thing should have been over with a long time ago."

Kamala's hint? At the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Kamala Harris asked Kavanaugh some intriguing questions about Mueller. Harris pressed him about whether he had discussed Mueller's investigation with anyone at the law firm founded by Trump's personal attorney Mark Kasowitz. Kavanaugh danced around the question, explaining that he can't respond because he doesn't know all the people who work at the law firm. On the second day, Kavanaugh more firmly asserted that he hasn't "had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone."

  • We have yet to get closure on the back-and-forth. CNN reported a Democratic aide said, "we have reason to believe that a conversation happened and are continuing to pursue it."

More Russian connections

Perry's Russia trip. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to visit Moscow September 11-13, apparently to meet his Russian counterpart and discuss oil markets and sanctions. His trip comes after a group of GOP lawmakers visited Moscow in July and Sen. Rand Paul went last month.

Pro-Russia think tank. On April 27, 2016, Trump gave a big, pro-Russian, foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel. The event has since become noteworthy for at-first undisclosed meetings between Trump aides like Sessions and Kushner and high-level Russian officials, including Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Last week it was reported that Trump's foreign policy speech was at least seen, and likely edited by, a conservative think tank with connections to accused Russian spy Maria Butina and other Russian officials.

  • House Intelligence Committee Democrats tried to investigate the think tank's president, Dimitri Simes, and his relationship to Trump's campaign, but Chairman Devin Nunes "blocked their efforts." Democrats wrote: "…the Committee has reason to believe that Mr. Simes played a central role in drafting portions of the speech related to Russia." Simes was born in Moscow and has "working relationships with Kremlin officials," including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
  • The Daily Beast obtained pictures of the version of the speech that was on Simes's desk. Comparison with the speech Trump ultimately delivered revealed "the removal of lines condemning bigotry, praising legal immigration, and disparaging Russia." The anti-Russia line that was removed read: "Russia is a declining but proud country with a nuclear arsenal that could obliterate our country."
  • You may remember the story from two weeks ago that accused Russian spy Maria Butina had close links to Simes. Under his leadership, the think tank published her pro-GOP writing. Emails and Twitter DMs between Simes and Butina show "Simes looked to use his connections with Butina and her associate, Russian Central Bank official Alexander Torshin, to advance the business interests of one of the Center's most generous donors."

From Trump to RT. A former CNN pro-Trump contributor, Scottie Nell Hughes, has landed a job at the Kremlin-friendly propaganda outlet RT, aka Russia Today. Hughes had first unsuccessfully sought a job in Trump's White House. Yet again, we see a pattern between Trump promoters and Kremlin sympathies.

Congress

Targeting Steele. Senator Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, tried to obtain Christopher Steele's deposition from the Russian tech executive suing him in a civil case for defamation. Grassley wrote to the lead counsel requesting Steele's videotaped deposition and all other discovery materials, bypassing the judge in the case. However, a protective order protects the deposition and the judge in the case declined to require its release to the Senate and House committees (the latter of which Devin Nunes chairs).

  • Grassley has assisted Trump in targeting Steele for over a year now. In March last year, he "accused Fusion of failing to register as a foreign agent," a "complaint ultimately went nowhere." More recently, Grassley and Lindsey Graham sent a criminal referral to the DOJ "for possible criminal prosecution over potential false statements made to federal authorities."

Grassley undermining. Senator Chuck Grassley has been holding up the confirmation of a nominee for a top counterintelligence position in order to force the DOJ to turn over sensitive information on Mueller's probe of Trump's campaign. The nominee, William Evanina, has served as acting head of the counterintelligence center since 2014, was nominated by Trump in February, but is considering leaving the position due to Grassley's actions. The information Grassley is demanding includes the names of informants and sources whose safety will be compromised if released.

  • Key excerpt: "While House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has gained notice for his efforts to protect Trump from Mueller's investigation, Grassley, who relies on a staff known for being aggressive ideologues, has arguably served as Nunes' quieter but less inept partner, bombarding the Justice Department and other agencies with letters and document requests for information concerning conservative media hobbyhorses, such as the Strzok texts, the Uranium One deal, and opposition research work of Fusion GPS."

GOP interference. A group of Republicans, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, and Lee Zeldin, held a news conference Thursday to call on Trump to declassify sensitive documents related to Mueller's probe and make public others related to Bruce Ohr.

  • They are specifically imploring Trump to "declassify and release more of the FBI's foreign surveillance warrant application it sought regarding former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, release summaries of the FBI's interviews with Bruce Ohr, and what they said were additional "exculpatory" classified materials previously provided to top congressional leaders on Page and other Trump officials."
  • Gaetz looked into the cameras and argued: "They have to be declassified, Mr. President, so we can lay out for the Congress and the American people the rotten basis for the investigations that continue solely to de-legitimize the duly elected president of the United States."

Accountability for one party. A deal between Republicans and Democrats not to use hacked or stolen materials in their campaigns this fall fell apart, leading Democrats to make the pledge absent the other party. The Democrats publicly pledged they would "never use known stolen hacked information, or promote or disseminate stolen hacked materials to the press, regardless of the source." Republicans will not match that commitment.

States

Campaign finance probe. New York federal prosecutors are looking into whether executives and officials in the Trump Organization violated campaign finance laws. In the indictment of Michael Cohen, prosecutors stated "that two Trump executives approved the improper payments to Cohen in violation of campaign-finance laws." One of those people is believed to be Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg.

NC gerrymandered. North Carolina is going to be using the electoral map ruled to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans for the 2018 midterms. A federal judge ruled there is "insufficient time" to redraw the map.

  • Crucially, a fair map could have helped Democrats to take control of the House, as a fair map would change the Republican's 10/13 domination to 5-8 out of 13 seats. Another way to look at it: The current map gives the Republicans a 23% advantage - one point away from the maximum "GOP gerrymander" possible to draw. More here.

GA paper showdown. The election security case in Georgia, trying to force the state to use paper ballots, is set to be heard in court Wednesday, September 12. Citizens sued Secy. of State Brian Kemp, arguing electronic voting machines without a paper trail are "hopelessly compromised." Kemp and other local politicians state it is too late to switch to paper ballots, predicting "chaos" if the judge orders such a move.

  • A key part of the picture: Kemp is running for governor against Stacey Abrams in November. It is concerning that he seems to be slowing the switch to paper ballots until after his race concludes. Other states have made the switch to paper in a similar amount of time. For example, in 2015 Virginia voting machines were found to be vulnerable to attack and were decertified. The state switched to paper ballots within 60 days of an election. Yet, Kemp argues it cannot be done in Georgia.
  • Activists began pushing for paper ballots after security flaws in Georgia's antiquated system were publicized. "In 2017, Politico reported that a cybersecurity professional named Logan Lamb had been able to gain access to Georgia's elections servers months before the 2016 election and download personal data of about 6.7 million voters from a statewide voter registration database."

Other

Missing Wikileaks associate. In a strange case, a cybersecurity expert with "ties" to Wikileaks disappeared from a Norwegian town last month and hasn't been seen since. Arjen Kamphuis was Dutch, but in Norway for vacation according to friends. Wikileaks described him as an "associate" of Julian Assange, but the NYT states his "precise relationship with Wikileaks is unclear."

  • Police from multiple countries are involved in the search. Kamphuis had booked a train ticket and an airplane ticket to return to the Netherlands. Neither were used. Interestingly, 10 days after disappearing, someone tried to use his cell phone 650 miles south of his last known location, trying to activate a German SIM card.
  • Kamphuis' background has led some to speculate that a foreign power may have wanted him out of the picture. A TEDx video description states he "has seen firsthand how government funded spying, hacking and security programs fall into the wrong hands and cause more harm than good."