tl;dr Trump claimed in a tweet on Saturday that Mueller's team "deleted approximately 19,000 Text messages" between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. However, the Inspector General of Trump's own Justice Department determined the messages were originally missing due to a technological glitch in the FBI's data collection tool and were subsequently recovered in full. Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani flip-flopped twice on whether Trump will provide more answers to Mueller – a few hours after saying he was open to more questions, Giuliani said they "did enough" and won't be answering any more.
In the summer of 2016, Michael Cohen's cell phone "briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area." During the same period, "an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague." During Trump's campaign, former Russian spy Victor Boyarkin pressured Manafort to repay millions of dollars in loans from Oleg Deripaska. The government (thought to be Mueller) responded to Chief Justice Roberts' temporary pause on an order of contempt against an unnamed, foreign government-owned company – like the rest of the case, it is under seal. A hearing will be held in DC this Thursday at 3pm Eastern in Jerome Corsi's lawsuit against Mueller, the DOJ, and FBI (among others).
On Friday, House Republicans announced the end of their investigation into how the FBI and DOJ handled events during the 2016 election. According to a New Jersey attorney, the state's prosecutors, the FBI, and Mueller are involved in investigating Trump's Bedminster golf club for various immigration-related crimes – the club's management obtained and gave fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers to undocumented immigrant employees. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker lied on his resume and government documents, stating that he was named an Academic All-American while at the University of Iowa.
The LA Times reported that a cyberattack appearing "to have originated from outside the" US caused major printing disruptions on Saturday. The daughters of podiatrist Dr. Larry Braunstein, who passed in 2007, said their father often told the story of providing Trump with a bone spurs diagnosis to get out of military service. Braunstein did this as "a favor" to Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, because he was renting an office in the elder Trump's building.
Missing texts? Trump claimed in a tweet on Saturday that Mueller's team "deleted approximately 19,000 Text messages" between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. However, the Inspector General of Trump's own Justice Department determined the messages were originally missing due to a technological glitch in the FBI's data collection tool and were subsequently recovered in full. Trump has repeated this claim at least three times, relying on right-wing propaganda outlets like The Federalist.
Giuliani's merry-go-round. Last week, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani flip-flopped twice on whether Trump will provide more answers to Mueller. On December 16th, Giuliani told Fox News Trump would answer more questions "over my dead body, but, you know, I could be dead." Two days later, Giuliani changed his mind, telling Axios he "might agree" to answer more of Mueller's questions. Then, last Thursday, he told the Daily Beast that negotiations with Mueller were "still open." However, just a few hours later, Giuliani switched again, telling The Hill that Trump would never give Mueller's team more answers to questions – "We did enough."
Prague. Last week, McClatchy reported that in the summer of 2016, Michael Cohen's cell phone "briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area." During the same period, late August – early September, "an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague." If true, this report supports part of the Steele dossier, which states Cohen met with Kremlin officials in or around Prague to scheme ways to hide the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.
People familiar with the matter told McClatchy the electronic intercepts were shared with Mueller.
In response, Cohen took to Twitter to say: "I hear #Prague #Czech Republic is beautiful in the summertime. I wouldn't know as I have never been. #Mueller knows everything!" Just to note, in 2017 Cohen told the Wall Street Journal he had been to Prague, but not since 2001.
A former Watergate prosecutor said Cohen's denials about a Prague trip can't be taken too seriously because it would be "standard for Mueller to tell Cohen and his lawyers not to discuss publicly the details" of the investigation.
Under pressure. A report by TIME was published on Saturday, the result of months of research on former Russian spy, Victor Boyarkin. Boyarkin is under US sanctions for his work on behalf of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, but he is of interest in Mueller's case because he was in charge of getting Paul Manafort to pay back millions owed to Deripaska.
Boyarkin said of Manafort, "He owed us a lot of money. And he was offering ways to pay it back." One of these ways involved giving private briefings on the Trump campaign and the 2016 election to Deripaska, a key ally of Putin. As TIME states, these connections "would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump's campaign chairman."
TIME: In a series of emails sent that spring and summer, Manafort tried to offer "private briefings" about the presidential race to Deripaska, apparently, as one of the emails puts it, to "get whole." Reports in The Atlantic and the Washington Post revealed those emails in the fall of 2017. Among the questions that remained unanswered was the identity of Manafort's contact in Moscow, the one referred to in one of the emails as "our friend V."
Mystery opponent. On Friday, the government (thought to be Mueller) responded to Chief Justice Roberts' temporary pause on an order of contempt against an unnamed, foreign government-owned company that is resisted a grand jury subpoena. The response was filed under seal, so we don't know what it said. The Supreme Court is expected to decide early this week if they want to intervene in the court ruling ordering the company to comply with the subpoena.
CNN: It would take votes from five justices to keep in place the pause of the contempt citation if the Supreme Court decides to take up a full review of the lower court rulings.
CNN: There's a vast range of possibilities on the identity of the company. The company could be anything from a sovereign-owned bank to a state-backed technology or information company. Those types of corporate entities have been frequent recipients of requests for information in Mueller's investigation.
IRA case. As part of his case against the Russian troll factory, called the Internet Research Agency (IRA), Mueller collected over 3 million pages of material from the email and social media accounts of Russian trolls. The only defendant to respond in US court in the case has been Concord Management and Consulting, run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, aka "Putin's Chef." The lawyer in the case has not been allowed to send the discovery materials to his Russian clients for fear of exposing FBI methods and sources. Yet, in court last week we found out their lawyer is still fighting to share discovery, including "nude selfies" found in the Russian trolls' accounts.
- Mueller reportedly finds it suspicious that Concord is the only defendant to come forward. According to the Daily Beast, Mueller "has accused Prigozhin of using his company as a "stalking horse" to obtain the government's evidence without leaving the safety of Russia."
Upcoming. A hearing will be held in DC this Thursday at 3pm Eastern in Jerome Corsi's lawsuit against Mueller, the DOJ, and FBI (among others). When Corsi found out Mueller planned to charge him with lying to investigators, he filed the suit accusing various federal agencies of illegally searching his phone records and attempting to persuade him to state (falsely, he claims) that he was an intermediary between Roger Stone and Julian Assange.
During the hearing, Corsi's lawyer is expected to explain various claims in his court filings, including that the government has been illegally conducting itself in regards to Cosri for "nearly over half a decade now."
Corsi is now demanding $100 million in "general and compensatory damages" and $250 million in "punitive damages" from Mueller and the other agencies.
Page's lawsuit. Carter Page is suing the DNC, claiming the organization has injured him through "extreme civil rights abuses," and by engaging in "domestic terrorism" against him. Page insists the Steele Dossier is a "racketeering enterprise" created to defame him. In case it's not clear, Page has no legal counsel in this case; he is representing himself. As Law & Crime notes: "References to legal standards are occasionally clumsy, rendered fancifully and off-base–or, as noted above, simply missing altogether–and Page repeats the same typo some 80-plus times."
Holiday greetings. The Kremlin's troll game has been strong over the holidays. On Monday, Russia Today released a video depicting their version of Trump opening Christmas gifts in the Oval Office. It was titled, "Russian Spies in the White House?" The gifts included: from North Korea, a gold bust of Kim Jong Un and Trump together; a MAGA hat with a "Made in China" label; and finally, a t-shirt from RT with Russian lettering on the front. Trump asks Melania what it says. She replies it says "Make America Great Again," but the viewer is shown that it actually reads "Do you work for the GRU? [Russian military intelligence]."
- Yesterday (Sunday), Putin sent a 'New Year's' letter to Trump in which he reportedly said Moscow is ready for dialogue with the US. The Kremlin said that Putin "stressed that Russia-U.S. relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security."
Russia ran Trump. The Israeli publication Haaretz reported last Monday that ex-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo believes the Kremlin identified Trump as the most likely to help Putin achieve his goals, "ran him for president," and used bots and fake information to get him elected. Pardo rebuffed the idea that Putin favored Trump because he is a great friend of Russia, saying instead the Russians chose to support the candidate that would be the most politically advantageous for them.
Red Sparrow. Russian state-TV aired a program about Maria Butina, portraying her as a self-styled spy and seductress, but not a state-sponsored one. The show included interviews with her family and friends, as well as pictures of Butina from many years ago. Her appearance was strikingly different, leading some to suggest her grooming to be a spy included a drastic makeover.
End of probes. On Friday, House Republicans announced the end of their investigation into how the FBI and DOJ handled events during the 2016 election. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, stated their results proved bias against Republican candidates and resulted in the firing/resignation of Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, "and others." Goodlatte went on to say that Hillary Clinton was treated more favorably than Trump, who was treated "unfairly."
- Incoming Judiciary chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), reportedly has no plans to continue the investigation, which Goodlatte called "unfortunate." However, Sen. Lindsey Graham is set to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee and plans to continue investigating where the House GOP left off.
Trump's golf club. According to a New Jersey attorney, the state's prosecutors, the FBI, and Mueller are involved in investigating Trump's Bedminster golf club for various immigration-related crimes. The attorney, Anibal Romero, represents multiple undocumented immigrants who used to work at the golf club. He claims to have turned over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that the club's management obtained and gave to his clients.
Romero reached out to Mueller's office first because he was unsure how Jeff Sessions' DOJ would respond to his claims. Mueller referred the matter to an FBI agent in New Jersey, who took up the case.
While Romero's clients could be charged with immigration fraud for knowingly using fake documents, so too could the supervisor who procured the fakes, as well as anyone else involved in the process. Romero said, "My clients felt like they were trapped and they felt like the fake documents could be used against them."
Trump Org. Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner told NBC news that the high degree of overlap between the Trump Foundation and the Trump Organization puts the latter at high risk of being investigated by New York state authorities as well. Another former federal prosecutor said that "because some of the same people alleged by the state attorney general of persistent illegal activity in running the charity are also involved with the president's business, there is reasonable justification in broadening the investigation."
- NBC: "There seems to be entanglements in terms of people and probably in terms of money, that's where businesses, frankly, do really start to get in trouble in terms of violating tax laws and regular criminal laws," said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
False resume. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker lied on his resumeand government documents, stating that he was named an Academic All-American while at the University of Iowa. This distinction indicates an individual had at least a 3.3 cumulative GPA, was a starter or important reserve on his or her athletic team, and was beat out others in a national vote for the "coveted" status. Instead, Whitaker was actually given a lower-level honor called the All-District honor. A DOJ spokesperson said Whitaker did not get the information from the official registry of honorees; he reportedly relied on a University of Iowa "media guide" from 1993.
Shutdown delays? With the government shutdown continuing, some court cases are facing delays, while some judges are forcing others to move forward. In a lawsuit against Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the constitution, the DOJ lawyers argued the shutdown is preventing them from doing their work. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and temporarily froze the case. Other judges have allowed cases to continue, like a Census challenge in California and Jerome Corsi's suit against Mueller, the FBI, DOJ, and others.
Newspaper attack. The LA Times reported that a cyberattack appearing "to have originated from outside the" US caused major printing disruptions on Saturday. The attack affected multiple newspapers, including The LA Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the west coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. A source told the outlet, "We believe the intention of the attack was to disable infrastructure, more specifically servers, as opposed to looking to steal information." While a foreign entity is believed to be behind the cyberattack, no culprit was mentioned.
Bone spurs. I'm including this because it speaks to Trump's history of dishonesty and scamming. On Wednesday, the New York Times published an interview with the daughters of Donald Trump's podiatrist during the Vietnam War. The daughters of Dr. Larry Braunstein, who passed in 2007, said their father often told the story of providing Trump with a bone spurs diagnosis to get out of military service. Braunstein did this as "a favor" to Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, because he was renting an office in the elder Trump's building.
CNN: In 1968, after receiving four deferments due to education, Donald Trump was diagnosed with bone spurs in his heels at the age of 22, seven years before the Vietnam War ended. In a 2016 interview with The Times, Trump claimed that a doctor "gave me a letter — a very strong letter — on the heels" to provide to draft officials. In the interview, Trump couldn't recall the name of the doctor.
However, in 2014 Trump told a biographer that no one pulled strings to get him out of the war: "I didn't have power in those days. I had no power. My father was a Brooklyn developer, so it wasn't like today."
Facebook bias? Facebook was reportedly working on a project called "Common Ground," that would encourage healthier political discourse among users. However, policy chief Joel Kaplan influenced execs like Zuckerberg to end the project because he thought it would spark accusations of anti-conservative bias. Kaplan pushed got the Daily Caller to be included in Facebook's fact-checking initiative and appeared behind Kavanaugh at his hearings before the Senate.
- Business Insider: The "Common Ground" initiative is said to have consisted of many parts, including boosting news stories and status updates posted by people on the opposite end of the political spectrum from users, while also demoting "toxic" comments that start "negative discussion." …Ultimately, Kaplan is said to have believed that these efforts to curb political polarization would have opened the platform up to criticism from conservatives — something that the social network has sought to avoid in recent years, as conservative lawmakers and public figures have accused it of left-wing bias.
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