Last week in one sentence: Giuliani contradicted Trump's claim that he answered Mueller's questions "very easily," saying "answering those questions was a nightmare; Trump potentially committed witness tampering and/or obstruction of justice when he tweeted praise for Roger Stone for refusing to speak to Mueller's team; separately, Mueller's team filed a memo in Manafort's case stating that Manafort lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Trump administration officials and his interactions with a Russian linked to Moscow's intelligence services (Konstantin Kilimnik); in a sentencing memo for former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Mueller recommended Flynn be given no jail time due to the "substantial assistance" Flynn provided to Mueller's team, which included 19 interviews; Mueller also filed a memo in Michael Cohen's case, saying he provided substantial assistance;federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York filed their own sentencing memo for Michael Cohen's case, recommending 51-63 months in prison and a $500,000 forfeiture of Cohen's assets; the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. served subpoenas on the Trump International Hotel, the Trump Organization itself, and the trust that holds Trump's business assets, as part of the emoluments lawsuit against the president; the NRA and Trump's campaign illegally coordinated to buy ads during the 2016 election; and Trump's 2020 campaign federal financial filings reveal he has transferred $1.1 million from donors to his own personal bank accounts, essentially.
THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION
Trump's test. In an interview with the Atlantic, Rudy Giuliani contradicted Trump's claim that he answered Mueller's questions "very easily." Giuliani said, "Answering those questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days." The Atlantic states the counter-report has been slow-going, despite Trump's claim that it was almost done.
- Giuliani next seemed to call Trump stupid, saying about Trump: "The more controlled a person is, the more intelligent they are, the more they can make the decision. But he's just like every other client. He's not more … you know, controlled than any other client. In fact, he's a little less."
Discussions. For possibly the first time since Trump submitted his answers to Mueller's questions, lawyers for Trump and the office of Mueller have "resumed discussions." We don't know anything about the nature of the discussions, but a former federal prosecutor said that typically the next step would be to ask follow up questions for clarification or additional information. Next, prosecutors would likely "reopen the conversation about whether the president will submit to an in-person-interview."
Witness tampering. On Monday, Trump tweeted praise for Roger Stone for refusing to speak to Mueller's team. The tweet could represent witness tampering according to numerous legal experts.
Memo. Mueller's team filed a memo in Manafort's case on Friday, stating that Manafort lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Trump administration officials and his interactions with a Russian linked to Moscow's intelligence services (Konstantin Kilimnik). Almost all of the information that is un-redacted was already known to the public.
- Manafort also lied about his contact with Trump administration officials, when in fact, Manafort had kept in touch with a senior official through February 2018. Then, in May 2018, he authorized someone else to speak with a Trump appointee on his behalf.
Ecuador. The New York Times reported new details on Manafort's meeting with Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno in May 2017. Manafort took the trip to try to broker a deal for China to invest in Ecuador's power system, which would've included a much-needed commission for Manafort. However, the topic of discussion also included a potential deal wherein Manafort would arrange to have Julian Assange released from Ecuador's embassy into the care of the U.S. Manafort allegedly suggested he could negotiate a deal with the Trump administration, but there is no evidence (yet) that Trump was aware of the offer.
Sentencing. Mueller filed the sentencing memo for former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on Tuesday. In it, he recommends Flynn be given no jail time due to the "substantial assistance" Flynn provided to Mueller's team, which included 19 interviews. Of note, Flynn also met with DOJ attorneys in a previously unknown criminal investigation. Most of the memo is redacted, leaving us to wonder at the details.
- Excerpt: "The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials."
- Some believe the following part of the memo spells bad news for Trump and co.: "senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards. The defendant's extensive government service should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false information to the government, as well as the rules governing work performed on behalf of a foreign government."
- Flynn is to be sentenced December 18th.
Memo. On Friday, Mueller filed a memo in Cohen's case, saying he has made "useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to" Mueller's investigation that he "obtained by virtue of his regular contact with [Trump Organization] executives during the" 2016 presidential campaign. Mueller did not take a position on what sentence Cohen should receive for lying to congress.
- The New Yorker: In September, 2015, Trump approved Cohen's plan to reach out to the Russian government. That November, Cohen "spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a 'trusted person' in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign 'political synergy' and 'synergy on a government level.' " Cohen's contact "repeatedly proposed" a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that it would have a "phenomenal" effect on Trump's efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which Mueller's filing calls the "Moscow Project."
- The memo also states that while Cohen lied about his work for Trump, he did so while in regular contact with unspecified people in the White House.
Kelly interviewed. CNN reported that in "recent months" Mueller interviewed Chief of Staff John Kelly, asking "a narrow set of questions" related to obstruction of justice: mainly about Kelly's recollection of events surrounding Trump attempting to fire Mueller in June 2017. Former counsel Don McGahn refused to fire Mueller and threatened to quit instead, which caused Trump to back down.
- Opinion: This interview could have been the last straw in the relationship between Trump and Kelly.
Malloch update. The Guardian reported that Mueller is looking into Trump campaign adviser Ted Malloch's appearances on Russia's state tv station, RT. Malloch allegedly told Jerome Corsi what he was questioned about, and Corsi told the media: "They thought maybe he was coordinating with Russia – and RT is Russia." Malloch denied coordination.
- RT has a "close relationship" with Julian Assange, having visited and interviewed him in the Ecuadorian embassy on August 2, 2016. That's the same day that Roger Stone told Corsi he was given information on Wikileaks' plans to leak damaging info on Clinton. Working backwards, a few days previously Stone had emailed Corsi to say that Malloch "should see Assange."
- This brings up an intriguing possibility: Stone told Corsi to tell Malloch to visit Assange. Malloch visits Assange with the RT crew, where he gets information on upcoming leaks. Malloch tells Stone this and Stone emails Corsi with the news.
Kushner pressure. A CNN contributor noted that while most of the implications of Flynn's sentencing memo look bad for Trump, the situation for Jared Kushner isn't much better. Douglas Brinkley, Rice University professor, said this is because "Flynn and Kushner were kind of a dog and pony team international," looking to "cut their own deals" (video). The line of the memo that hints at Kushner's peril alludes to Flynn telling Mueller about the pair's efforts to stop an anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. Security Council.
- In December 2016, Kushner instructed Flynn to contact every foreign minister and ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to convince them to delay or vote against the resolution condemning Israeli settlements. One of the people Flynn talked with was Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. However, Flynn lied to federal investigators when asked about this.
- Dianne Feinstein said: "This shows a Trump associate negotiating with the Russians against U.S. policy and interests before Donald Trump took office and after it was announced that Russia had interfered in our election. That's a stunning revelation and could be a violation of the Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with a foreign power."
MORE RUSSIA NEWS
Target: Erickson. Federal investigators sent a letter to Paul Erickson, GOP operative and 'boyfriend' of Maria Butina, informing him he is a target and may be facing charges of acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy. The letter was sent in September, but has just been revealed to the press. Investigators have interviewed numerous associates of Erickson, asking about his business dealings and reputation in political circles.
- In May 2016, Erickson sent an email to the Trump campaign offering to arrange a back-channel meeting between Trump and Putin. The NYT: Russia, he wrote, was "quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S." and would attempt to use the N.R.A.'s annual convention in Louisville, Ky., to make "first contact." Erickson continued, "Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump."
- Maria Butina assisted Alexander Torshin in contacting Rick Clay, an advocate for conservative Christian causes, and having him propose a similar meeting between Trump and Putin. The email from Clay was ultimately forwarded to Jared Kushner, who sources say rebuffed the proposal.
- Clay hosted Erickson in 2014 at the Moscow office of a Russian gun-rights group. Erickson returned to Russia at the end of 2014 as part of an NRA delegation including the president of the group and David Clarke Jr. (former sheriff). Alexander Torshin was also present.
Butina's lawyer. Maria Butina was given a public defender on Thursday, which is odd because she already had a private attorney: Robert Driscoll. The reason for the new lawyer's appointment was not clear and Driscoll maintains he is not withdrawing. Butina is in the midst of negotiations with prosecutors to secure a plea deal.
- Opinion: We do not know who is paying Robert Driscoll. If whoever is paying him has interests that do not align with Butina's (which is getting a plea deal), she might desire additional counsel. Perhaps Russia is paying Driscoll? Or the GOP? Think about this: Driscoll has worked for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in the past. He has also appeared on Fox News "taking the president's line and batting back accusations that Russia ever had any designs on interfering in the United States — and calling on Mueller, as recently as June, to get his investigation 'wrapped up.' "
Rusal sanctions. For the fifth time, the Treasury Department has delayedimposing sanctions against Rusal, the Russian aluminum producer controlled by oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The Treasury hopes to reach a deal with Deripaska for him to relinquish control of the company, thereby lifting sanctions on it.
- VOA: Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to the Treasury Department that it would face strong opposition in Congress if it waives sanctions against Deripaska and the companies. "How the Treasury Department manages this delisting exercise will shape our perceptions about the administration's seriousness in implementing the Russian sanctions regime," Menendez wrote.
- Reminder: Deripaska once employed Paul Manafort and the two have extensive financial links, including a $10 million loan the oligarch gave to Manafort.
Assange free? On Thursday, Ecuador's president announced that conditions have been met for Julian Assange to leave the embassy in London. President Moreno said Britain had guaranteed not to extradite Assange to any country where his life would be in danger. However, Assange rejected the deal because it did not protect him from being extradited to the U.S, even if his life would be guaranteed.
Net neutrality. In a statement filed last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai admitted there was Russian interference in the Net Neutrality debate. He also acknowledged that roughly 500,000 comments were connected to Russian email addresses. The FCC is fighting a lawsuit over their denial of FOIA requests submitted by the New York Times and Buzzfeed.
- Jessica Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the FCC, disagreed with Pai's decision to withhold FCC records: "As many as nine and a half million people had their identities stolen and used to file fake comments, which is a crime under both federal and state laws," she wrote. "Nearly eight million comments were filed from e-mail domains associated with FakeMailGenerator.com. On top of this, roughly half a million comments were filed from Russian e-mail addresses. Something here is rotten—and it's time for the FCC to come clean."
Putin's media. Russian media went on a diatribe against Trump for canceling the G20 meeting with Putin just hours after saying "now is a good time to meet." Julia Davis summarized the various roasts for the Daily Beast. Some highlights:
- Russia "should spit on Trump and the United States."
- "This is just foolishness, he [Trump] seems to be an unbalanced person."
- Donald Trump is so incoherent that he had to have "45" embroidered on his cuffs, just so he wouldn't forget he is President number 45.
- …the American President is so unpopular that "blimps of Trump in diapers are popping up in every city and country he visits."
Interference. Just after the White House confirmed Trump had dinner with Putin, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Putin tried "again to muck around in our elections just last month, and we are seeing a continued effort along those lines…It's continued efforts to try to subvert democratic processes that must be defended." This is the first Trump official to mention Russian operations to interfere in the 2018 midterms.
- Rex Tillerson spoke out at a fundraiser Thursday, saying "there's no question" Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. He continued, "What Russia wants to do is undermine our confidence and undermine the world's confidence in us."
2020. Experts and senators believe the 2020 election will be worse than the 2016 election, expecting Russia or other hostile actors to use "deep fakes" to create chaos in the U.S. Deep fakes are essentially fake video of individuals saying or doing things they never actually did – but high tech enough that it's difficult to tell the difference between reality and the deep fake.
- Two law professors say what they expect next: "We can expect to see deep fakes used in other abusive, individually targeted ways, such as undermining a rival's relationship with fake evidence of an affair or an enemy's career with fake evidence of a racist comment."
Oops. Simona Mangiante, wife of George Papadopoulos, appears to have forgotten to switch Twitter accounts before responding to her own tweet with an over-the-top compliment. She quote-tweeted a different tweet that was praising her, then she meant to switch to a different account and reply to her quote-tweet. Instead, she responded from her personal account sayingthat George "doesn't deserve a beauty" like herself and that she "can do better" than him. Although she quickly deleted that tweet, some people caught it and posted screenshots. Simona then deleted her entire twitter account. It's likely she is going to claim her account was hacked.
Comey. On Friday, former FBI Director James Comey testified in a closed session before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. The 235-page transcript was released on Saturday, revealing the questions were mainly focused on the investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server. Nevertheless, some of the questions related to Trump and Russia; highlights are as follows:
- Comey said in 2016, the FBI was investigating four Americans connected to Trump for potentially helping Russia meddle in the election.
- Comey was concerned about leaks coming out of the FBI's New York field office about the probe into Hillary's emails. He specifically named Rudy Giuliani as a potential recipient of the leaked information: "Mr. Giuliani was making statements that appeared to be based on his knowledge of workings inside the FBI New York." Unfortunately, Comey was fired before he could complete an investigation into the leaks.
- Comey said: "Anybody that thinks we were on team Clinton trying to cut her a break is smoking something."
Hacked. The email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were hacked in early 2018. The intruder surveilled the accounts for several months, until the breach was ultimately discovered in April. Senior GOP leadership, including Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and Steven Scalise, were not notified of the hack until Politico contacted them for comments. Party officials would not say when the hack began or who was behind it, although they privately believe it was a foreign agent because of the nature of the attack.
Prince subpoena? Incoming Democrat leaders of the House intelligence committee are considering forcing Erik Prince to return to Capitol Hill to face outstanding questions not answered during his November 2017 appearance. Rep. Mike Quigley stated his "priority is to bring back anyone before HPSCI who refused to answer our questions, and that includes Erik Prince."
- Rep. Jackie Speier agreed: "The first thing to do is subpoena all their emails, DMs, etc., and then I expect most of the witnesses in the Trump orbit will be asked to come back. Many of their stories have been discredited. That includes Erik Prince, but obviously many others as well."
Nunberg update. Former Trump aide Sam Nunberg is scheduled to testifybefore the Senate Intelligence Committee in January in its continuing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nunberg has already testified before the Senate once and before Mueller's grand jury in March.
- Why is Nunberg being interviewed? He "was a fixture in Trump's circle ahead of the start of his campaign, guiding Trump's message and serving as an adviser as Trump built relationships within the GOP, working at times with Cohen at Trump Tower… Nunberg also considered himself to be a protege of Stone — a veteran GOP strategist — and kept in touch with him throughout 2016, even after both men left the campaign."
SDNY memo. On Friday, the federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York filed their own sentencing memo for Michael Cohen's case, recommending 51-63 months in prison and a $500,000 forfeiture of Cohen's assets. Cohen's crimes in this case include breaking election finance laws by facilitating the hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The reason SDNY is recommending such a long sentence is due to Cohen deciding "not to pursue full cooperation" with their office.
- The New Yorker: In describing how Cohen bought the silence of two women with whom Trump had affairs in order to help Trump win the Presidency, it makes clear that Cohen "acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1." Three months ago, Cohen said in his guilty plea that this was true and that the President was implicated in a criminal scheme to sway the election. Now, though, federal prosecutors working under Robert Khuzami, the acting U.S. Attorney, feel confident enough in this assertion that they have tied themselves to it.
- In case you missed it, that's the SDNY stating Donald Trump, the President of the United States, committed a felony.
- "After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen's decision to plead guilty — rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes — does not make him a hero," prosecutors wrote.
Emoluments. The attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. served subpoenason the Trump International Hotel, the Trump Organization itself, and the trust that holds Trump's business assets, as part of the emoluments lawsuit against the president. The subpoenas request tax documents, profit, loss, and revenue statements, budget plans, and "the anticipated and actual impact of the 2016 Presidential election on finances and projections." The suit alleges that Trump's hotel "put other nearby hotels and entertainment properties at a competitive disadvantage" due to his role as president, and that his hotel got special tax concessions.
- An example of Trump profiting off his role as president: lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved numerous rooms at Trump's hotel a month after his election, paying for 500 nights in just 3 months. The total came to over $270,000. What makes it more obvious: the lobbyists (unwitting veterans, by the way) were put up in Northern Virginia at first, but were moved to Trump's hotel after he won the election.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
New AG. Trump confirmed last week that he is nominating former attorney general William Burr to be his new attorney general. As the person in charge of overseeing Mueller's investigation, the main concern is Burr would interfere. In fact, he has hinted at such a proclivity in the past, saying there was more basis to investigate Hillary Clinton for the Uranium One deal than there is to investigate Trump for potential collusion with Russia. Additionally, Barr wrote in an op-ed that Trump made the right call in firing James Comey and has criticized the political contributions of the prosecutors on Mueller's team.
- Trump has "repeatedly asked" if Barr would recuse himself from overseeing Mueller's investigation. The New York Times characterized Trump's sentiment as wanting "a loyalist managing the inquiry."
Obstruction. After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Rod Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe, among other top FBI officials, discussed options to "rein in" Trump. McCabe ultimately opened an obstruction of justice investigation even before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed. CNN has a full look at the "frantic scramble" to respond not only to Comey's firing, but also Trump's comments to Comey such as asking him to let Flynn off the hook.
Recusal. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who was previously a lawyer for the Russian Alfa Bank, has been "screened off" from Mueller's investigation. This was revealed in FOIA requests filed by the watchdog group American Oversight, seeking documents related to Whitaker's appointment. They still have not received any information regarding Whitaker's oversight of the Russia investigation.
Coordination. Mother Jones uncovered documents that indicate the NRA and Trump's campaign illegally coordinated to buy ads during the 2016 election. Both bought ads at the same time on the same station, which might seem coincidental until you realize that the NRA and Trump's ad buys were authorized by the same person in a third firm: Jon Ferrell, chief financial officer of a major conservative media-consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement.
- A former chair of the FEC reviewed the records and stated: "I don't think I've ever seen a situation where illegal coordination seems more obvious. It is so blatant that it doesn't even seem sloppy. Everyone involved probably just thinks there aren't going to be any consequences."
Paying himself. Trump's 2020 campaign federal financial filings reveal he has transferred $1.1 million from donors to his own personal bank accounts, essentially. Over 50,000 people have donated to Trump's re-election campaign, but Trump himself has not spent a penny of his own money. Instead, his businesses are charging his own campaign for hotels, food, rent and legal consulting. This could potentially be illegal, but more information would be required to make such a determination.
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