there’s a great value to Giuliani’s appearances. They tell us what the president is thinking about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into the Russia scandal — and what he’s afraid of.
.. Four months, they’re not going to be colluding about Russians, which I’m not even [sure] if that’s a crime, colluding about Russians. You start analyzing the crime, the hacking is the crime, the hacking is the crime. Well, the president didn’t hack! He didn’t pay them for hacking!
.. I’ve been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find “collusion” as a crime. Collusion is not a crime.
.. In a very strict sense, Giuliani is right that there isn’t a particular crime called “collusion.” But that’s kind of like saying that if you walked into an Apple Store, stuffed an iPhone in your pants and walked out, you’re innocent because the criminal code makes no specific reference to “stuffing an iPhone in your pants.”
.. Now it’s possible that Trump himself, or someone on the Trump campaign, could have “colluded” with Russia to commit an act that is not illegal and, therefore, they wouldn’t be guilty of any crime. For instance, they could have colluded to find the best taco truck in Manhattan. They could even have discussed some kind of policy initiative that they would cooperatively pursue if Trump became president. But the real problem with the “collusion is not a crime” argument is that if they cooperated to do almost anything that helped Trump in his election campaign, then it would have been illegal.
.. there are multiple crimes under which any cooperation between the Russian government and the Trump campaign could potentially fall. If the campaign sought and/or received damaging information on its opponent from sources connected to the Russian government, it would almost certainly be in violation of this statute, which prohibits “a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution” from a foreign national for the purpose of a political campaign. A contribution could be money, but it could also be any other “thing of value,” and dirt on your opponent would seem to qualify. In addition to the crime of accepting the contribution, they could also be charged with conspiracy to violate election laws, or with aiding and abetting another person’s crime.
.. the Trump defense on Russia has gone through numerous iterations, ranging from outright lies to laughable assertions.
- First they said nobody on the campaign ever talked to any Russians.
- Then they said they may have talked to Russians but didn’t have any planned meetings.
- Then they said that they had a planned meeting with Russians but didn’t collude with Russians.
- And now they’re saying that even if they did collude with Russians, that’s okay because collusion isn’t a crime.
.. let’s remember that two days before the meeting with the Russians, which would be June 7, 2016, is also when Trump told a crowd, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.” After the Russian meeting was a bust, his “major speech” laying out Clinton dirt never took place.
.. It’s possible on one hand that nothing happened at the June 7 meeting or, on the other hand, that the participants all agreed that Trump was being kept up to date about the whole thing. If Rick Gates (Paul Manafort’s deputy) was there, we could find out, because he’s now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
prosecutors charged that his personal fortune was propped up by years of lies to tax authorities and banks.
.. “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told the jury. “Not tax law, not banking law.”
.. The defense, in rebuttal, said that Manafort was a victim of the deceptions of his former partner, now a government witness, and that any failure to pay taxes was inadvertent.
.. Manafort faces 18 charges of financial fraud, as prosecutors say he failed to pay taxes on some of the millions of dollars he made working as a strategist for a political party in Ukraine, and then lied to banks to get loans when those payments stopped.
.. Manafort collected more than $60 million between 2010 and 2014 from his Ukraine work, where President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of the Kremlin
.. When Yanukovych had to flee Ukraine for Russia in 2014, Manafort’s “cash spigot” was shut off, the prosecutor said, and the political strategist set out to generate money by lying to banks on loan applications.
.. Asonye’s efforts to paint Manafort as a free-spending tax cheat were interrupted more than once by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who noted “it isn’t a crime to be profligate in your spending.”
.. The prosecutor said the charges boil down to “one simple issue: Paul Manafort lied.”
.. Manafort’s defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle said the case was about “taxes and trust,” and that the real liar was not Manafort, but his former right-hand man, Rick Gates.
.. “Mr. Manafort placed his trust in the wrong person,” Zehnle said, arguing that his client built “one of the most successful political consulting and government relations shops in Washington,” while also working on “the global stage.”
.. Zehnle said Manafort’s work for Yanukovych was to “bring the country closer to Western democracies after decades of Soviet rule” — toward the European Union and away from Russia. That comment was met with audible sneers from a few members of the gallery. Protests in Ukraine were first triggered in late 2013 by Yanukovych’s decision to not sign an E.U. association agreement, an embrace of the West that Russia opposed.
.. Zehnle said Manafort also never intentionally deceived the IRS about his income and that his client made mistakes, not realizing he needed to file certain forms and make certain declarations.
“This is not a case where someone flew to Switzerland and stashed money in an account,” Zehnle said. The lawyer also said that earlier in the investigation, Manafort willingly sat down with FBI agents investigating the misuse of funds in Ukraine
.. Manafort’s defense strategy appears aimed at the credibility of Gates, the star witness against him, by accusing Manafort’s onetime protege and partner of embezzling millions of dollars.
“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar, and he couldn’t take the risk that his boss might find out,” Zehnle said. He said Gates prevented other people involved in Manafort’s finances — accountants and bookkeepers — from sharing information about the accounts with each other.
.. Manafort had hired great people, he said, and had “substantial resources. . . . I was really impressed by him.”
Devine said Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010 because of the “excellent campaign that Paul ran.” Devine said he produced TV commercials and wrote speeches for Yanukovych, earning $500,000 and a bonus of $100,000 when Manafort’s client won.
.. While working on the campaign, Devine met other Manafort associates who have since come under investigation, including Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen. At the time, Devine said, Kilimnik worked as a translator. Prosecutors have said Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, and they accused him and Manafort of trying to tamper with witnesses earlier this year.
Devine said Manafort was clearly the boss in his relationship with Gates, though they were partners.
“Paul was in charge,” Devine said. “Rick worked for Paul.”
.. there were 82 known “contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives.”
.. the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and Kremlin emissaries promising dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s “support for Mr. Trump.” “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. gushed. When this was revealed last summer, President Trump personally orchestrated an attempted coverup by claiming the meeting was about adoptions.
This was shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey to stop the investigation of “this Russia thing,” as he put it in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” — showing just how much he fears this inquiry.
.. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, was in touch in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with “ties to Russian intelligence.” Campaign chairman
Paul Manafort, who has a long history of representing Russian interests and was running the campaign for no pay, also reportedly met with Kilimnik in 2016.
Manafort was also in contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (whom he owed at least $10 million) , offering him “private briefings” that would no doubt have been instantly conveyed to Putin.
.. Russians first tried to hack into Clinton’s email on July 27, 2016, hours after Trump asked them to do just that (“Russia, if you’re listening”).
.. Both Stone and Donald Trump Jr. were also in contact with WikiLeaks, the Russians’ conduit for releasing stolen emails. Surely it is no mere coincidence that Stone predicted on Aug. 21, 2016 — nearly seven weeks before Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails were released — that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
.. the indictment also reveals that the Russians stole not just emails but also the data analytics Democrats used to run their campaign. This happened in September 2016. A few weeks later, the Trump campaign shifted its “datadriven” strategy to focus on the states that would provide the margin of victory, raising the question of whether it benefited from stolen Democratic data.
.. The application, approved by four Republican judges, notes that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.” It also says that Putin aide Igor Diveykin “had met secretly with Page and that their agenda for the meeting included Diveykin raising
a dossier or ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin possessed on Candidate #2 [Clinton] and the possibility of it being released to Candidate #1’s campaign.”
.. Helsinki, where Trump refused to criticize Putin and insisted on meeting with him alone for two hours. Why doesn’t Trump want his own aides in the room when he talks with Putin? What does he have to hide?
.. Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. , among others, suspects that Putin has “something” on Trump — perhaps evidence of financial wrongdoing. But, by now, any such “kompromat” could well include the help that Russia provided in 2016. Trump certainly gives the impression that he knows how much he owes Russia and how important it is to repay that debt lest Putin release the evidence that might bring him down. And the
Putin Republicans give the impression that they couldn’t care less if the president plotted to win power with help from a hostile foreign state.
The same unit, according to public reports, has been involved in attacks on
- French president Emmanuel Macron,
- the German Parliament,
and other government targets across Europe.
.. Each of Mueller’s indictments, as they have come down, have demonstrated the incredible wealth of knowledge amassed by US intelligence and his team of investigators, and Friday was no exception. The indictment includes the specific allegations that between 4:19 and 4:56 pm on June 15, 2016, the defendants used their Moscow-based server to search for the same English words and phrases that Guccifer 2.0 used in “his” first blog post, where “he” claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker and claimed to be solely responsible for the attacks on Democratic targets.
.. It doesn’t rule out that future indictments might focus on the criminal behavior of Americans corresponding with the GRU or the IRA—nor would Americans necessarily have to know they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers to be guilty of various crimes.
.. the charging documents include intriguing breadcrumbs. The indictment references at one point that Guccifer 2.0 communicated with an unnamed US congressional candidate and, especially intriguingly, that the GRU for the first time began an attack on Hillary Clinton’s personal emails just hours after Trump publicly asked Russia for help in finding them.
.. one of the early tips to the US government that launched the FBI investigation eventually known by the codename CROSSFIRE HURRICANE: Trump aide George Papadopoulos telling an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, weeks before the GRU attacks became public. The charges against the GRU make clear that its effort began at least by March 2016. Papadopoulos, arrested last summer and already cooperating with Mueller’s team, might very have provided more information about where his information came from—and who, in addition to the Australians, he told.
Thus far, Mueller’s probe has focused on five distinct areas of interest:
1. An investigation into money laundering and past business dealings with Russia by people like former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
2. The active information influence operations by Russian trolls and bots on social media, involving the Russian Internet Research Agency
3. The active cyber penetrations and operations against the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton campaign leader John Podesta
4. Contacts with Russian officials by Trump campaign officials during the course of the 2016 election and the transition, like George Papadopoulos and former national security advisor Michael Flynn
5. Obstruction of justice, whether the President or those around him sought to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference
.. What Mueller hasn’t done—yet—is show how these individual pieces come together. What level of coordination was there between the Internet Research Agency and the GRU or FSB? What ties, if any, exist between the business dealings of Manafort, Gates, and the Russian efforts to influence the election?
How coordinated were unexplained oddities, like the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians, and the Russian government efforts by the IRA, GRU, and FSB?
.. He knows far, far more than the public does. There was little sign in Friday’s indictment that any of it came from the cooperation and plea agreements he’s made with figures like Flynn, Gates, and Papadopoulos—meaning that their information, presumably critical enough to Mueller that he was willing to trade it for lighter sentencing, still hasn’t seen the light of day.