Last week in one sentence: Mueller's team is investigating connections between Wikileaks, Roger Stone, Peter Smith, and Jerome Corsi; Paul Manafort has been spotted at Mueller's offices at least nine times in the past month; the Russian billionaire behind the Trump Tower meeting created an American shell company anonymously just a month before the meeting took place; 11 days later, Agalarov moved $19.5 million from an offshore investment vehicle using the same name as the shell company to a US bank account; the Department of Justice charged a Russian national with conspiracy to defraud the US; Michael Cohen met with state and federal officials investigating the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation; Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, dubbed Putin's favorite congressman, said in an interview he "knows" Russia did not hack the DNC or other Democrats because Julian Assange "personally" assured him and claimed to have proof Russia wasn't responsible; the Department of Homeland Security is reporting "a growing volume of cyber activity targeting election infrastructure in 2018."
What We Learned in the Russia Probe: Mueller Investigation
Flynn and Wikileaks. Mueller's team is closely investigating connections between Wikileaks and conservative activists and pundits, including Roger Stone, Peter Smith, and Jerome Corsi. In 2016 all three men attempted to find incriminating information on Hillary Clinton. Smith implied to friends before his death that he had knowledge of Podesta's stolen emails before Wikileaks published them. Crucially, if Smith knew, it's likely Michael Flynn knew as well and could have acted as a conduit from Wikileaks to the Trump campaign. Smith and Flynn were allegedly working together to find Clinton's emails.
Roger Stone. The WSJ's reporting is supported by a piece from ABC last week, stating that Mueller has reportedly been asking Paul Manafort for information on Roger Stone. Mueller's questions have been " focused on whether Stone or his associates communicated with Julian Assange or WikiLeaks about the release of damaging emails allegedly hacked from Hillary Clinton's campaign by Russian intelligence officers masquerading as hacker persona Guccifer 2.0."
Agalarov money laundering. Aras Agalarov, the Russian billionaire behind the Trump Tower meeting, created an American shell company anonymously just a month before the meeting took place. Then, 11 days after the meeting, Agalarov moved $19.5 million from an offshore investment vehicle using the same name as the shell company to a US bank account. The transfer was flagged as suspicious by US Treasury officials. Interestingly, on the same day of the transfer, Trump fired Corey Lewandowski from the position of campaign manager, leaving Paul Manafort in charge of the campaign.
Ilya Bykov, the accountant who set up the shell company has given contradicting accounts for its purpose. The Guardian: "Having initially said that Agalarov's Delaware company was formed to handle investments that did not materialise, Bykov later said it was actually set up specifically to receive the $19.5m money transfer, but that the money was ultimately sent to Agalarov's personal US bank account instead."
Bykov also serves as the accountant for Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer from the Trump Tower meeting. He has also managed the finances of several Russian individuals and companies who have been involved in money laundering or other financial misconduct.
Manafort update. Paul Manafort has been spotted at Mueller's offices at least nine times in the past month, staying there with his lawyers for at least six hours each time. Sources have reported "investigators have asked Manafort about his dealings with Russians." Manafort also appeared in court last week, showing up in a wheelchair, to have his sentencing set for February 8, 2019.
- Manafort's attorney claims he is experiencing "significant issues" with his health due to "his confinement." There is some speculation that Manafort may have purposely exaggerated his poor health, as federal judges are allowed to consider his health and age in possibly shortening his sentence. For instance, it's not clear why Manafort also appeared in court wearing only one shoe.
Assange in Russia. Ecuadorian opposition lawmaker released Ecuadorian government documents confirming previous reporting that Ecuador planned to name Julian Assange as a diplomat to Moscow to get him out of the embassy and into Russia, where he'd be safe from prosecution. The plan fell apart when British authorities blocked the required diplomatic documents. A letter dated December 21, 2017, from Britain's Foreign Office said U.K. officials "do not consider Mr. Julian Assange to be an acceptable member of the mission."
Mueller's reports. Two U.S. officials have told Bloomberg Mueller is expected to release findings on the central aspects of his investigations after the midterm elections. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein has apparently been pressuring Mueller to wrap it up as quickly as possible. NOTE: This likely isn't from Mueller himself. There is a lot of speculation out there, and ultimately Mueller is the only one who knows what he plans to do.
Trump and Putin. Putin spoke at a conference last week, where he was asked if he agree that Trump only listened to himself. Putin replied that Trump actually listens to him and wants to improve the US-Russia relationship.
Putin's statement in full: "Maybe he acts like that with someone else, but in that case they are to blame. I have a completely normal and professional dialogue with him and of course he listens. I see that he reacts to his interlocutor's arguments."
Putin also gloated that the US "empire" is declining due to "mistakes." He added: "A country can get the sense from impunity that you can do anything. This is the result of the monopoly from a unipolar world … . Luckily this monopoly is disappearing. It's almost done."
DOJ charges. The Department of Justice charged Russian national Elena Khusyaynova with conspiracy to defraud the US, for managing the finances of a foreign influence operation called "Project Lakhta." The DOJ stated the goal was to "sow discord in the U.S. political system" through posting misinformation online about divisive political issues to interfere in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
WaPo: "The Russians involved, prosecutors said, created fake personas and spread their divisive messages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The group attempted to sow conflict along racial lines and sometimes advocated positions that directly opposed each other, apparently agnostic to whom they supported as long as it turned Americans against one another, prosecutors said."
Project Lakhta operatives were instructed to emphasize voter fraud, which is curious considering Trump loves to also emphasize the practically non-existent issue. Daily Beast: "There is an urgent need to introduce voter IDs for all the states, above all in the blue (liberal and undecided) states," reads an August 2017-era instruction. "State in the end that the Democrats in the coming election will surely attempt to falsify the results." A Russian-created Twitter account, @amconvoice, tweeted in February 2018: "The only way the Democrats can win 101 GOP seats is to cheat like they always do with illegals & dead voters."
When asked about the charges, Trump said: "Had nothing to do with my campaign. You know, all of the hackers and all of the — everybody that you see, nothing to do with my campaign. If the hackers — a lot of them probably like Hillary Clinton better than me. Now they do. Now they do."
Cohen update. Michael Cohen met with state and federal officials investigating the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation last Wednesday. The Vanity Fair separately reported that Cohen has willingly given over 50 hours of interviews to investigators. The article does not state if this was with Mueller, SDNY, or both.
Rohrabacher defends Russia. Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, dubbed Putin's favorite congressman, said in an interview he "knows" Russia did not hack the DNC or other Democrats because Julian Assange "personally" assured him and claimed to have proof Russia wasn't responsible. Back in 2017 Rohrabacher visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after which he proposed Trump pardon Assange in exchange for evidence Russia wasn't responsible.
In a debate against Dem challenger Harley Rouda last week, Rohrabacher proclaimed that Russia is "no longer our major threat." The two are in a close race, tied at 48% according to a poll last month.
In a separate story, Bill Browder said on a Yahoo News podcast that Rohrabacher is compromised: ""So my assessment is that somehow the Russians have either got damaging information on Dana Rohrabacher, which would be some type of blackmail, or that they've found some way of financing him in such a way that they've influenced his behavior."
Ramping up attacks. The Department of Homeland Security is reporting "a growing volume of cyber activity targeting election infrastructure in 2018." They do not know who is behind the attacks, but states "numerous actors" are targeting infrastructure like election databases "likely for different purposes."
Methods include phishing scams and DDoS attacks. In late August, Vermont's online voter registration database was targeted with three different methods. All were unsuccessful.
DHS also reports both Russia and China continue to attempt to influence the political environment in the US. "Russia attempts to spread disinformation with hackers posing as Americans, while China is engaged in more conventional propaganda efforts."
Voter data sold. The voter information of about 35 million US citizens, from 19 states, has been hacked or leaked and was found for sale online. The cybersecurity firm that discovered the voter information online believes "the breach is not necessarily a technical compromise but rather an extensive operation involving cooperation within the election organizations."
- The impacted states are Montana, Louisiana, Iowa, Utah, Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgia, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wyoming, Kentucky, Idaho, Tennessee, South Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Texas. The seller is asked $42,200 for all 19 databases.
Kushner's taxes. The NYT revealed that despite a net worth of nearly $324 million, Jared Kushner has paid "almost no" federal income taxes since at least 2011. Another aspect that should be noted, though, is the large increase in cash in 2015 and 2016 – since his father-in-law announced he was running for president. In 2015, Kushner's tax form shows $4.6M cash and in 2016 $6.2M. This is compared to an average of only $2.7M from 2011 to 2014. Where did this extra money come from?
- Kushner took advantage of special benefits in the tax code exploited by real estate investors. Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of California, told the NYT: "The Trump administration was in a position to clean up the tax code and promised to get rid of some of the complexity that certain taxpayers use to their advantage. Instead, they doubled down on those provisions, particularly the ones they have familiarity with to benefit themselves." More on how Kushner avoided paying taxes can be found here.
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