Summary: Rudy Giuliani said that according to Trump's written response to Mueller's questions, Michael Cohen could have been working on the Trump Tower Moscow deal up to November 2016. Trump was briefed and warned by the FBI in August 2016 that Russians would try to infiltrate his campaign and influence the election. Yet, Trump still pursued the Moscow deal, aware (according to Cohen) that Russian government officials had been contacted by his team to make the deal happen.

Manafort advised Trump administration officials in spring and summer of 2017 on how to undermine the FBI and the Mueller investigation, and how to discredit potential witnesses against both himself and Trump. Two associates of Michael Flynn told Mother Jones that Flynn has said he spoke with Russian ambassador Kislyak before the 2016 election about "how Trump could work productively with Russia if he won the presidency." Flynn filed a memo with the court asking for no jail time and at most one year probation with 200 hours of community service – his sentencing date is Tuesday, December 18th. Mueller's team is set to reveal a different side of his investigation: one focused on Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics.

Russian spy Maria Butina reached a plea agreement with prosecutors on Monday, in which she admitted to working for Russia (specifically, "under the direction" or Alexander Torshin) before and after the 2016 election to infiltrate Republican politics and influence US-Russian relations. Congressional committees plan to continue their investigation into links between the NRA and Russia operatives – especially the financial aspect. Rep. Adam Schiff, soon to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, plans to subpoena information of Trump's transactions with Deutsche Bank.

Manhattan federal prosecutors are investigating Trump's inaugural committee for possible financial and corruption crimes. Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for executing payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during Trump's campaign, as well as tax fraud and making false statements to a bank. The parent company of National Enquirer, AMI, reached an agreement with prosecutors to avoid charges. AMI admitted to making the $150k payment "in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign."


MUELLER INVESTIGATIONS

Mueller: Trump

Trump Tower Moscow. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said that according to Trump's written response to Mueller's questions, Michael Cohen could have been working on the Trump Tower Moscow deal up to November 2016. This is significant because Trump was briefed and warned by the FBI in August 2016 that Russians would try to infiltrate his campaign and influence the election. Yet, Trump still pursued the Moscow deal, aware (according to Cohen) that Russian government officials had been contacted by his team to make the deal happen.

  • Trump's team (as well as Hillary's) was urged to alert the FBI to any suspicious overtures to their campaigns.This may be an outdated count, but according to the original story published last year, by the time of the warning, "at least seven Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russians or people linked to Russia."

Mueller: Manafort

Advising WH. Manafort advised Trump administration officials in spring and summer of 2017 on how to undermine the FBI and the Mueller investigation. He also advised them on how to discredit potential witnesses against both himself and Trump. Officials, including Trump, appear to have acted on his advice in most instances. There is direct evidence that when Press Secretary Sarah Sanders encouraged reporters to investigate how "the Democrat National Committee coordinated opposition research directly with the Ukrainian Embassy," she was acting on Manafort's advice.

  • In addition to claiming (without evidence) that the DNC colluded with the pro-Western Ukrainian government, Manafort also advised officials to aggressively and directly attack the FBI, including for using FISA warrants to surveil Manafort and Carter Page, and to attack Clinton and the Steele dossier. According to Vox, it was Manafort who "provided the White House specific information on how Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign had sponsored research into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia."
  • At the time Manafort was assisting Trump and co. delegitimize the FBI and Mueller's investigation, he was under criminal investigation, "a fact then known to the White House."

Mueller: Flynn

Flynn's Kremlin plan. Two associates of Michael Flynn told Mother Jonesthat Flynn has said he spoke with Russian ambassador Kislyak before the 2016 election about "how Trump could work productively with Russia if he won the presidency." One of these people said Flynn discussed a "grand bargain" with Kislyak, wherein Moscow would assist in resolving the Syrian conflict and Trump would "end or ease up on sanctions" against Russia.

  • Mother Jones: Had Flynn privately met or communicated with Kislyak during the summer or fall, it would mean Trump's chief national security aide was secretly interacting with the representative of a foreign power as that government was mounting information and cyber warfare against the United States. Such an interaction could signal to the Vladimir Putin regime that Trump didn't mind the Kremlin's interference in the election and would be willing to work with Moscow despite its efforts to subvert the US election. And if Flynn held such conversations with the Russian ambassador, this could have bolstered the Kremlin's preference for Trump over Hillary Clinton and provided Moscow with further incentive for intervening in the 2016 campaign to assist Trump.
  • Note that Jeff Sessions, then a Republican senator and strong Trump-supporter, met with Kislyak twice in 2016. Once in September in his Senate office.

Lyin' memo. On Tuesday, Michael Flynn filed a memo with the court asking for no jail time and at most one year probation with 200 hours of community service. This is congruous with Mueller's sentencing recommendation of little to no jail time for his "substantial assistance" in their investigation. However, Flynn's filing implied the FBI conducted itself improperly and hadn't warned Flynn that lying the FBI was a crime before interviewing him about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. On Friday, Mueller's team hit back, saying Flynn's lies were premeditated and, as his extensive government service would indicate, "he should know not to lie to federal agents."

  • Flynn's lawyers further wrote that his lying to the FBI was just an "uncharacteristic error in judgment." Yet prosecutors said they had given him numerous opportunities in the interview to tell the truth, even repeating portions of Flynn's account to jog his memory. "But the defendant never corrected his false statements."
  • In contrast to the claims in the memo, when Flynn originally entered a guilty plea to charges of lying to the FBI, he said, "I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong."
  • Additionally, prosecutors state Flynn made false statements about his lobbying work on behalf of Turkey – during an interview where he was given an explicit warning about lying to federal investigators.
  • Flynn's memo states he provided over 62 hours of interviews, provided thousands of documents, and facilitated the "production of electronic devices."

Mueller: Other

New phase. Sources have told the Daily Beast that Mueller's team is set to reveal a different side of his investigation: one focused on Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics. Mueller has been questioning witnesses about the following countries: UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The topics included their use of social media to help install Trump in the White House and using Trump to overthrow the regime in Iran.

  • We already have a hint of what Mueller has been looking into. For instance, George Nader acted as an intermediary between the Trump team and representatives from Gulf state governments, and at least one Israeli (Joel Zamel of Psy Group). Nader has been cooperating with Mueller since March.

Mueller sued. Jerome Corsi filed a lawsuit against Mueller, the FBI, and the DOJ accusing Mueller of blackmailing him to testify that he served as an intermediary between Julian Assange and Roger Stone. He also accuses the FBI, CIA, and NSA, of illegally surveilling Corsi "at the direction of Mueller and his partisan Democrat, leftist, and ethically and legally conflicted prosecutorial staff."

MORE RUSSIAN NEWS

Butina plea. Russian spy Maria Butina reached a plea agreement with prosecutors on Monday, in which she admitted to working for Russia (specifically, "under the direction" or Alexander Torshin) before and after the 2016 election to infiltrate Republican politics and influence US-Russian relations. As part of this operation, she admitted to focusing on cozying up to the NRA because she believed it "had influence over" the GOP. Her estimated sentence is up to 6 months in jail, but she has already been imprisoned for five.

  • On Friday, prosecutors accidentally filed a travel request with a federal judge that was meant to be under deal, but accidentally appeared on the public docket. In the document, prosecutors requested permission to move Butina to and from jail through January 17th for ongoing interviews and "possible transportation to a grand jury."

CONGRESS

NRA-Russia. Congressional committees plan to continue their investigation into links between the NRA and Russia operatives. Mother Jones reported the Senate Intelligence Committee is "highly skeptical" of the NRA's claim that Russian national – and Butina's handler – Alexander Torshin only donated less than $1,000 and was "not a member of any major donor program." The House Intelligence Committee plans to examine whether Torshin and Butina were attempting to establish a backchannel to the Kremlin, and whether Russian money was funneled through the NRA to support Trump's election.

  • One of the reasons to doubt the NRA's claim is the pile of evidence that they gave Torshin the same VIP treatment as given to big donors. For example, pictures uncovered by Mother Jones show Torshin at a variety of high profile NRA events, including a ceremony in which donors had to give at least $1 million to attend. Guests at the ceremony received custom gold jackets. While at the NRA's 2013 conference, Torshin was given a rifle as a gift.
  • Torshin is also pictured with high-profile individuals within the NRA, such as the former president (and current board member), incoming president, and former operations director. In a tweet, Torshin said he and his friends were treated as "guests of the highest level."
  • You may remember that John Bolton (now national security adviser) recorded a video address that was used by Butina's Russian gun-rights group. The House Oversight Committee plans to investigate Bolton's security clearance, including whether Bolton disclosed his role in the video and any other contacts he had with foreign nationals.
  • Rolling Stone reported on the NRA's Russian connections earlier this year. Torshin bragged on Twitter in 2012 that he was able to observe the election because of his NRA contacts. Torshin even inspected electronic voting machines and election queues: "Torshin, I think, snapped pictures and sent them to Moscow immediately," an American lawyer and friend of Torshin said.

Deutsche bank. Rep. Adam Schiff, soon to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, plans to subpoena information of Trump's transactions with Deutsche Bank. He believes answers to whether Trump was involved in money laundering with Russia lie in records held by the bank, which Trump used extensively in the 1990s. Schiff asked, "Is that why Trump is so pro-Russian? Is his financial interest guiding his foreign policy?"

STATES

Inauguration. Manhattan federal prosecutors are investigating Trump's inaugural committee for possible financial and corruption crimes. One of the questions is whether top donors "gave money to gain access to the incoming Trump administration to influence policy positions," aka pay to play. Prosecutors are also looking into if any of $107 million raised through donations was misspent. One of the items seized during the raid of Michael Cohen's office was a recorded conversation between Cohen and Melania's lawyer in which the latter expressed concerns about how money was being spent.

DOJ

Cohen sentencing. Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for executing payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during Trump's campaign, as well as tax fraud and making false statements to a bank. Cohen stated he took full responsibility for his actions, but explained "blind loyalty" to Trump led him "to choose a path of darkness over light."

  • Cohen continued: "Recently, the President tweeted a statement calling me 'weak,' and he was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass."
  • Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said that after Mueller's investigation is complete, Cohen will "state publicly all he knows about Mr. Trump." He added that he will assist Cohen in testifying before Congress as well.
  • Why what Cohen, and Trump, did was illegal: First, Cohen "caused" the National Enquirer's parent company to pay $150,000 to Karen McDougal, which violated the law because it was essentially a campaign contribution for Trump in excess of the legal limit. Cohen and prosecutors stated Trump was well aware of this payment. The payment to Stormy Daniels, on the other hand, is illegal because Cohen made an excessive campaign contribution himself. This, too, was effectively a campaign contribution for Trump above what Cohen was permitted to give. Cohen and prosecutors said Trump directed this payment too.

AMI deal. The parent company of National Enquirer, AMI, reached an agreement with prosecutors to avoid charges. AMI admitted to making the $150k payment "in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign" (i.e. Trump's campaign) to keep McDougal from publicizing her allegations against Trump before the election. AMI further admitted "its principal purpose in making the payment" was to prevent the woman's story "from influencing the election."

  • Crucially, Trump was in the room with Cohen and David Pecker (National Enquirer publisher) when they arranged paying off McDougal. Former assistant US attorney: "…if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker, you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud."
  • Until this week, it was largely Mr. Cohen's word against the president's denials. That is why the admission by A.M.I. is "highly significant, because it goes to corroborate" Mr. Cohen's testimony.

Giuliani's defense? Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, downplayed the payments to McDougal and Daniels, saying: "Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed… This was not a big crime… I think in two weeks they'll start with parking tickets that haven't been paid."

  • Note, the article that reports Giuliani's comments is mainly about Jared Kushner's relationship with David Pecker and is worth a read.

Nat'l Enquirer. I'm going to include this here because it is related to the AMI deal, which suggests that the company is working with prosecutors on issues other than the payment to McDougal. The Atlantic detailed additional forms of assistance the National Enquirer provided to Trump's campaign, including consistent negative stories about Hillary Clinton. For instance, tabloids owned by AMI ran 35 covers with anti-Clinton stories.

  • Media scholar Kathleen Jamieson: "Even as we look at extreme content and say, 'That's ridiculous, I dismiss that,' it changes our sense of where the middle of the distribution of the content is," she says. "It pushes open our acceptance of extreme content."
  • Atlantic: Beyond that, many of the stories in the National Enquirer echoed, or inspired, conspiracy theories that circulated online, creating even more familiarity and exposure.

OTHER

Broidy update. Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy was up to lots of swampy behavior, selling his influence with Trump to foreign governments. Mueller has been investigating his involvement in such schemes in the Middle East (with Rick Gates and George Nader), but now we know of yet another deal: Broidy hooked up top Angolan government officials with members of Congress and the Trump administration in the hopes of securing a deal to control "billions of dollars" in oil, gas, and mining assets in Angola. This is separate from his attempts to profit off Trump in Asia.