Drawn from various sources and updated frequently by our editorial team, RussiaGate Latest tracks daily developments in the coverage of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, how much of it the Trump campaign knew, and ongoing federal investigations of the matter.
December 18, 2018
Flynn Asks to Postpone Sentencing
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, after pleading guilty to lying to FBI investigators, asked federal Judge Emmet Sullivan to postpone his sentencing so he can continue to cooperate with the investigation. Special counsel prosecutors recommended little to no jail time for Flynn, citing information obtained during his recent cooperation with federal investigators, but Sullivan spoke to the severity of Flynn’s crimes. In a press briefing after the hearing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders accused the FBI of entrapment “in the way that they encouraged [Flynn] not to have White House counsel’s office present” when interviewed. Sullivan stated that accusations of FBI entrapment suggest that Flynn has not yet accepted responsibility for lying to federal investigators about his contact with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and could be charged with treason. During the hearing, Flynn responded, “No,” when Sullivan asked if he thought that he was entrapped by the FBI when investigators interviewed him without a defense attorney present. Flynn’s sentencing date has not yet been rescheduled.
Mueller Releases Memo on Flynn FBI Interview
Special counsel Robert Mueller released a memo detailing the information Flynn gave to investigators in his January 2017 interview with then-FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok. Flynn lied to FBI investigators about his repeated contact with Kislyak, and denied that he tried to influence Russia’s vote on a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution to end construction of Israeli settlements on land Palestinians want for an independent state. Flynn later admitted that he asked Russia to delay the vote. Mueller’s memo describes how Flynn called “a litany of countries to include Israel, the UK, Senegal, Egypt, maybe France” regarding the UN resolution.
Senate Report on Russian Operatives
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a pair of reports which provide the most extensive review of Russian social media operations meant to spread propaganda in the US yet. The reports detail the tactics of the Russian social media manipulation firm Internet Research Agency (IRA) as they conducted Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram influence campaigns. The first report, written by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika, states that IRA engagement increased after the firm was caught interfering in the 2016 US presidential election. The second, by social media research firm New Knowledge, identified significant attempts by the IRA to erode support for Mueller while extolling WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr (R-NC) said the reports show “how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology.”
Manafort Violated Plea Agreement, Mueller Claims
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has violated his plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a court document Mueller’s office filed on Monday. The special counsel states that Manafort withheld information during interviews with prosecutors, which invalidated the plea deal. Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea under the terms of the agreement and will likely face harsher sentencing. Legal experts say Manafort could spend the rest of his life in prison, and faces at least a decade-long sentence for 10 felony counts. Last year, Trump lawyers discussed the possibility of a pardon with Manafort’s lawyers, who maintained that their client has remained truthful throughout the process.
Manafort Met with Assange Leading Up to US Presidential Elections
Manafort held multiple meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, The Guardian reports. Manafort last met with Assange in March 2016, as then-candidate Trump’s campaign convention manager. Internal documents for Ecuador’s intelligence agency reportedly show that Manafort was one of “several known guests” who was not formally registered by security guards as a visitor. Manafort denies all involvement in the WikiLeaks publication of illegally obtained emails.
Trump Responds to Manafort Filing in Twitter Tirade
Trump posted a series of tweets calling Mueller a “conflicted prosecutor gone rogue,” and accused investigators of “ruining lives” of people “refusing to lie.” The tweets appeared the day after news broke that prosecutors accused Manafort of violating his plea deal. Trump does not mention Manafort by name, but tweets that Mueller is “only looking at one side” in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump also claimed that “millions of people” voted illegally in the elections, and questioned the legitimacy of the election he won. When asked if Trump would offer Manafort a pardon, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani kept the option open.
Corsi Rejects Plea Deal
Jerome Corsi, author and associate of Trump campaign aide Roger Stone, said Mueller offered him a plea deal on one count of perjury if he pleads guilty to lying to special counsel prosecutors about his communication with Stone regarding WikiLeaks. Corsi told NBC News, “They want me to say I willfully lied.” He claimed that he did not intentionally mislead investigators but forgot about the emails he sent to Stone regarding WikiLeaks’ possession of the private emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Corsi refused the plea deal.
Schiff: House Will Investigate Trump Jr.’s Phone Records
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is set to lead the House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, told USA Today that in 2019 the committee will tackle leads previously blocked by Republicans. Schiff identifies a blocked number on Donald Trump Jr.’s phone records, logged while Trump Jr. was arranging the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyers, as the “clearest example” of obstruction. Schiff states that House Republicans led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) refused to look into Trump Jr.’s phone records.
Blumenthal Calls for Investigation into Whitaker’s Conflicts of Interest
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called for a hearing on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, based on “troubling revelations” that could indicate a conflict of interest in his role overseeing the special counsel investigation. Blumenthal requested the hearing to determine whether Whitaker violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from accepting political contributions. Earlier this year while serving as chief of staff at the Department of Justice, Whitaker accepted four contributions totaling $8,800 to his unsuccessful 2014 Senate campaign. Special counsel investigators are investigating Whitaker’s potential Hatch Act violations as well.
Security Firm Reports Russian Hacking Campaign Began Months Earlier Than Mueller Indictment Claims
Unpublished data from security firm Secureworks showed that Russian hackers conducted a spear phishing campaign in March 2016 that targeted “over 300 individuals” with ties to Democrat Hillary Clinton. The attack was launched less than 16 hours after WikiLeaks hinted that it had obtained Clinton’s “Goldman Sachs speech.” Weeks later, Russian hacker group Fancy Bear obtained private emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Mueller’s indictment alleges that WikiLeaks communicated with the Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0 and offered a reward for the stolen emails in August 2016. But the activity discovered by Secureworks suggests that hackers responded to Wikileak’s offer and began their campaign in March — months earlier than the indictment alleges.
November 24, 2018
Behind-the-Scenes Battle Over Trump Answers
With President Donald Trump’s written answers submitted, more details are emerging about the year-long battle within the White House over whether to answer special counsel Robert Mueller’s questions at all. At one point, a date of January 27th, 2018 at Camp David was set for the interview, with Chief of Staff John Kelly even going as far as to begin figuring out the logistics of such a meeting. However, the meeting was squashed after Mueller’s team revealed everything they wanted to question the president about.
Trump has been eager to talk to Mueller since the beginning, believing he can convince him that he is completely innocent. His legal team doubted this however, and attempted to prevent a meeting at any cost. This plan of delaying the investigation, coupled with a public smear campaign, was conceived and implemented with the introduction of Rudy Giuliani in April.
With Giuliani recently stating that Mueller can get all he needs from Trump’s Twitter account and the continuing fears of the newly appointed acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker shutting down the probe, it’s unclear if Mueller will return with more questions or if the White House will be willing to answer them.
Trump-Appointed Judge Rules Collusion Is a Crime
Despite being appointed by the president, federal Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that collusion is in fact a crime, removing a pillar of Trump’s and Giuliani’s defence against Mueller’s probe. In his decision on Mueller’s case against Russian company Concord Management and Consulting — which is accused of bankrolling a team of Russian trolls to influence the 2016 election — Friedrich stated that collaborating with a foreign entity in a “conspiracy to defraud the United States” violates federal law. Even if neither party’s actions themselves are crimes, the act of colluding to defraud the US is illegal.
This goes against Giuliani’s previous conclusion that after “looking in the federal code” for any evidence, “collusion is not a crime.” This was echoed by a Trump tweet from July: “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!”
Stone Associate Expects Indictment
An associate of Trump political advisor Roger Stone, who reportedly was aware that Wikileaks had obtained the private emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, told NBC News that he expects to be indicted by the special counsel. Stone’s associate, Infowars correspondent Jerome Corsi, told reporters, “I’m 72 years [old] and I’m afraid they’re going to lock me up and put me in solitary confinement,” adding the potential indictment would be a “perjury trap.” Corsi’s hour-long public statement, in which he suggested that the Justice Department is run by “criminals,” followed his approximately 40 hours of meetings with special counsel prosecutors. Corsi also claims that special counsel investigators asked him about far-right British politician Nigel Farage. Special counsel Robert Mueller can be expected to issue new indictments as soon as Tuesday, reports CBS News.
Democrats Call for Whitaker’s Recusal
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s “immediate recusal” in a Washington Post op-ed titled “Matthew Whitaker, we’re watching you.” If Whitaker fails to recuse himself from the investigation, Schiff writes that he “would be in a position not just to funnel information to Trump and his legal defense team but also to abuse his authority to cripple or end the investigation.” Schiff warns that the new Democratic majority will protect the special counsel and the Justice Department.
On Monday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said Whitaker is “completely unfit” to oversee the investigation and “so clearly a partisan.” Nadler predicts that Whitaker won’t recuse himself, explaining, “The president is not going to appoint someone that he thought would recuse himself.” On Sunday, Nadler said that the House Judiciary Committee will subpoena Whitaker if he does not voluntarily testify before the committee. Whitaker is reportedly consulting with “senior ethics officials” regarding his potential recusal.
Trump “Central” to Hush Payments
A report released Friday by the Wall Street Journal has shown President Donald Trump was “central“ to the hush payments made to two woman — former adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — during the 2016 campaign. The report, which was compiled based on interviews with “three dozen people with direct knowledge of the events,” directly contradicts Trump’s denials and leaves him open to him to charges of violating election laws.
The report alleges that David Pecker — a close friend of Trump and chief executive of American Media which owns the National Enquirer — offered to use the newspaper to buy the silence of any woman who attempted to publicize affairs with Trump. American Media later paid McDougal $150,000 for her story and then buried it. After refusing to do this for Daniels, Trump reportedly told Pecker to “get it done.” She was paid $130,000, which was reimbursed by Trump through a Michael Cohen-owned shell company.
These incidents lead to Cohen being convicted earlier this year, with him saying at the time the payments were at Trump’s direction. The report goes one step further, alleging that Trump was involved in or kept up to date with “nearly every detail” of the payments.
Trump Denies Knowing New Acting Attorney General Despite Multiple Meetings
Despite his presence at dozens of meetings, him personally counselling Trump on how to investigate Clinton, and saying “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I know Matt Whitaker,” Trump is denying all knowledge of ever meeting the new acting Attorney General. Trump is insisting Whitaker was selected due to his role as Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff, as well as his glowing reputation within the department. He is also arguing that Whitaker doesn’t need to be approved through the Senate as Mueller wasn’t approved when appointed to lead the special counsel investigation.
Following Sessions’ resignation, the appointment of a Mueller-hating Trump loyalist has been met with a fierce outcry by the president’s opponents and some Republicans. With Mueller’s probe barreling towards a conclusion, Whitakers ability to affect budget and influence the distribution of the report had lead many to worry about the implication of his appointment.
Russian Oligarch Under Investigation by Mueller Detained for Corruption
Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev has been detained in Monaco on corruption and influence-peddling charges. Last July, Bloomberg reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating Rybolovlev’s purchase of a $95 million Florida mansion from Donald Trump in 2008. Trump has criticized the special counsel for investigating his business dealings, stating last July that an investigation into his finances crosses a “red line.”
Trump Advisors Prepare for Special Counsel Conclusions
Trump’s advisors are expecting Mueller to deliver the results of his investigation this month, and are prepared for his findings as early as Wednesday, reports Vanity Fair. Trump’s reportedly bracing for revelations about his political advisor Roger Stone and son Donald Trump Jr. A White House official said he is “very worried about” Trump Jr., who may be charged with perjury if investigators can prove that he knew Trump was aware of his 2016 meeting with Russian lawyers at Trump Towers. (Trump Jr. told investigators that his father did not know about the meeting beforehand.) Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has taken a break from his regular cable news appearances to reportedly meet with lawyers to prepare a legal response to Mueller’s findings.
Russian Interference in the US Midterm Elections
“The Russians are definitely not sitting this one out,” said Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. According to court filings on the indictment of an accountant for the Russian “troll farm” Internet Research Agency, the company budgeted $10 million for the first half of 2018 on asocial media campaign to influence US elections. Foreign influence campaigns are producing less original content, such as fake news stories, which are easier for platforms and individuals to detect. Instead, evidence suggests that Russian accounts are moving toward tactics that amplify divisive content, and spread stories and memes originating in the US. On Monday, Facebook announced that it had taken down 30 Facebook and 85 Instagram accounts suspected of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” after law enforcement officials alerted the platform that the accounts may be linked to foreign entities.
Russia Plan “Long and Thorough Meeting” With Trump at G20 Next Week
With the G20 in Argentina only a week away, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said he expects a “long and thorough meeting” between Putin and US President Donald Trump. There is plenty to discuss, too, as the Russians want clarification on Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. He is pulling out after accusing Russia of violating it’s terms.
It will be the fourth time the two presidents have met, following the G20 in Hamburg last year and the Helsinki summit this summer. The White House also formally invited Putin to the White House next spring.
Has Mueller Subpoenaed Trump Already?
A Politico opinion column by former federal prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham suggests that special counsel Robert Mueller’s “quiet period” — the Justice Department guideline directing prosecutors to avoid any election interference action — may not have been quiet behind the scenes. Analyzing a Politico piece on a “mystery grand jury witness,” Cunningham thinks that Trump may have been subpoenaed.
The Trump White House denied the president has been subpoenaed. Oral arguments are set for December 14th.
Mueller Faces False Sexual Assault Accusations
The special counsel’s office has referred to the FBI a scheme by pro-Trump firm Surefire Intelligence to pay women to falsely accuse Robert Mueller of sexual assault. Surefire Intelligence reportedly sent unsolicited emails to multiple women in Washington, DC, offering payment for false sexual assault charges against Mueller. In an email to journalists, a woman who identified herself as Parsons said a Surefire Intelligence employee offered to pay off her credit card debt and roughly $20,000 “to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.” On Tuesday morning, pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl claimed that a “scandalous” Mueller story was coming. Wohl’s email is listed on Surefire’s domain records. Spokesman Peter Carr stated that the special counsel’s office referred the matter to the FBI when they learned of the accusations last week.
Trump Calls Mueller Investigation Illegal, Says He Will Probably Testify
President Donald Trump called the special counsel investigation “illegal” but told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham that he will “probably” answer investigators when asked if he would respond to written questions from the special counsel. Trump also called the investigation “ridiculous” and continued to proclaim his innocence, stating, “we didn’t do anything.” Trump has stated that an in-person interview is “off the table.”
Mueller Investigates Stone’s Connection to WikiLeaks
The special counsel is investigating comments made by Trump’s political advisor Roger Stone in which he claimed that WikiLeaks would release information that would affect the 2016 US presidential election. On August 4, 2016, Stone said during a conference call, “In the background of this entire race going forward is the fact that Julian Assange … is going to continue to drop information on the American voters that is going to roil this race.” Also of interest to the special counsel is conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who reportedly took credit alongside Stone for the release of the DNC’s hacked emails. Stone claims that he only passed along information already in the public domain, and never received anything from “Guccifer 2.0, the Russians, WikiLeaks, [Julian] Assange or anyone else.” On Monday, Reuters reported that Ecuador is seeking to end Julian Assange’s asylum and turn him over to the US.
Pence Says Mueller Hasn’t Interviewed Him
Vice President Mike Pence told NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard in an interview on Saturday that he has not been interviewed as part of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Pence previously stated that he would be “more than willing” to speak to special counsel investigators.
October 27, 2018
Trump Using Personal Cell Phone and the Chinese Are Listening
The Chinese and Russian governments are listening to President Donald Trump on trade, but not in the way the White House wants. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Trump refuses to give up his personal iPhone or use his secured White House line. Amid growing tension between the countries, China is believed to have hacked his personal calls — an easy task for any espionage team — and is listening to find out how the president thinks, who he trusts, and how to influence him. Evidence shows the Chinese are already putting this to use, with Trump’s close friend Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group chief executive, and former Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn two of the main targets. Both are deeply connected to China — Schwarzman was endowed with a master’s program at Tsinghua University in 2013 and Wynn used to own property in Macau — giving the Chinese an opening. Their hope is to not only find out Trump’s position on issues, but use these two confidantes to shape Trump’s views. It’s a tactic the Chinese have used for decades, although Trump’s use of an insecure cell phone has made it much easier.
China has denied tapping Trump’s phone, although it did recommend that the president use banned Chinese electronic giant Huawei to beef up his security.
Papadopoulos Threatens to Pull Out of Mueller Plea Deal
Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who has already briefed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators and been sentenced for making false statements to the FBI, is threatening to pull out of his plea agreement with Mueller. However, it’s not immediately sure what this means due to how far through the process the former advisor is.
Papadopoulos claims he was “set up” by the government and that poor counsel at the time — not guilt — lead to his original plea agreement: “I believe there was tremendous misconduct on the government’s behalf regarding my case.” Referencing new information he couldn’t reveal, he called the Mueller investigation a “a complete, total sham.”
This appears to be another attempt by a Trump supporter to further undermine the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation. Papadopoulos testified before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees on Thursday and requested Senate immunity before testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
White House Officially Invites Putin To Washington
During an official visit to calm fears over the US’s nuclear intentions last week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton officially invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington. It’s unclear if it was accepted, but Bolton indicated it could happen as early as spring 2019. Bolton was in Tbilisi, Georgia, to meet with the Russian president and other top ranking officials after the US’s decision to pull out of a nuclear arms treaty that is largely credited for keeping nuclear missiles out of Europe.
The two presidents will meet in France next month for an Armistice Day memorial service, but it will be brief and the US are looking for “a full day of consultation” with the Russian despot. The sequel to the pair’s summit in Helsinki would be controversial — particularly if it happens on US soil — with Trump’s deferential attitude and undercutting of his own intelligence service not being well received by the US population.
US Cyber Operation Targets Russian Individuals Suspected of Election Meddling
Following the Justice Department’s criminal complaint detailing Russia’s information warfare campaign against the US, the New York Times reports that the United States Cyber Command is carrying out a cyber operation by targeting Russian operatives believed to be conducting a campaign to spread misinformation to affect the outcome of the US 2018 midterm elections. Under the Department of Defense, the Cyber Command has aimed its efforts at oligarch-funded hacking groups and Russian intelligence operatives. US intelligence officials do not anticipate Russia to manipulate voting results by hacking voting machines, but instead have concluded that efforts to influence public opinion by spreading false information have become more refined. US officials have disclosed that some of the targets were involved in prior efforts to spread misinformation during the 2016 US presidential elections.
Former Trump Lawyer Calls Mueller a Hero, Investigation is Not a Witch Hunt
Former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb said that he doesn’t think that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt during a political conference hosted by CNN. Cobb continued to break with the rhetoric pushed by his former boss, President Donald Trump, by calling special counsel Robert Mueller “an American hero.” Cobb left the White House in May after working on the administration’s response to the special counsel probe. Cobb was joined on a panel with Jack Quinn, former White House lawyer for President Bill Clinton. After Quinn described Clinton as “the best client he ever had,” and called speculation around Clinton’s quick temper a “myth,” Cobb reportedly responded in laughter stating that he had a “slightly different experience.”
October 19, 2018
Prepare for Disappointment With Mueller Report, Experts Warn
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation seems to be drawing to a close. Experts have a message that President Donald Trump’s critics do not want to hear: prepare for disappointment. A report from Politico — which talked to defense lawyers working on the Russia probe, as well as 15 former government officials with investigation experience spanning Watergate to the 2016 election case — left little reason to be optimistic about Mueller’s report.
The article also mentions the possibility that the report itself will never be made public. After a post-Watergate law, which required investigators to submit findings to Congress if they found anything impeachable, expired, Mueller will instead submit his report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It will then be up to the Department of Justice to decide how much of the report to release, and how much of the released portions to redact.
The White House has already vowed to prevent the report’s release. On top of all of this, Congress will also get a say, making the 2018 midterms even more important.
The timing of the report’s release is still unknown as the investigation is still ongoing. However, there are signs that Mueller wants to wrap it up sooner rather than later. Currently it’s just a waiting game, but those involved aren’t optimistic about the end result anymore.
Charges Brought Against Russian National For Meddling In Elections
Charges have been brought against a Russian national for attempting to interfere in the 2016 election and the 2018 midterms. Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, was the chief accountant for Project Lakhta, an operation funded by Russian oligarch Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin and his two companies, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering. Prigozhin and his two companies were indicted by Mueller’s in February.
With a budget of $35 million — and a monthly budget that has frequently approached $2 million a month over the last three years — Khusyaynova was able to buy social media analytic services, secure server space, plant online advertisements and arrange political rallies throughout the US. The official complaint accused Khusyaynova of attempting to “inflame passions” over issues such as immigration, the Second Amendment, race relations, LGBTQ issues and the NFL national anthem debate, among other topics. Its social media effort particularly focused on the Charleston church shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, and the Charlottetown’s “Unite the Right” rally.
Cummings Would Become Chief Investigator If Democrats Win House in November
Top Democrat on the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Elijah Cummings (MD) is in line to take on the role of chief investigator as chairman of the committee if Democrats win control of the House in the November midterm elections. Cummings has filed 64 subpoena requests related to the current administration, and all 64 have been denied by committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) Cummings said that if he were to become chairman, he would revisit his 64 subpoena requests and explore new areas, and said in response to questions about whether he would force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns that he would “go wherever the evidence leads [him.]” Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics Larry Sabato said that if the Democrats win control of the House “there will be loads of investigations about a long list of outrages and controversies in Trump’s first two years, plus follow-up to the Mueller report whenever it is released.”
Page Files Defamation Suit Against DNC
Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page has filed a defamation lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and its law firm, Perkins Coie. Page claims that a dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele contains misinformation and “lies” relating to Page’s communication with Russian nationals during the 2016 US presidential election. Although the Steele dossier was originally funded by Republicans to investigate then-candidate Trump, it was picked up by then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC.
IRS Filing Reveals Legal Defense Fund for Trump Associates Has Paid Law Firms
The Patriot Legal Expense Fund Trust has paid out more than $120,000 to two law firms representing Trump campaign and administration officials, according to an IRS filing. The fund was set up to pay legal bills incurred in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, but has declined to identify who specifically is benefitting from the payments. Schertler & Onorato LLP, one of the firms listed on the IRS filing, represents Sam Patten, who was convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign lobbyist for the Ukraine. The other, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, represents multiple witnesses in the special counsel investigation. The fund is supported by major GOP donors, such as recycling mogul Anthony Lomangino who gave $150,000 in the last financial quarter.
Investigation into Russian Interference Uncovers Records on Russian Real Estate Firm’s Money Laundering
In 2012, nine months before US prosecutors accused Russian real estate firm Prevezon of money laundering, TD Bank approved the firm’s request for a $3 million loan against the value of a piece of real estate in Manhattan. Prosecutors called Prevezon a “Russian criminal enterprise” that made billions off of New York real estate, but in 2017 the lawsuit was settled with the government for $5.9 million before it went to trial. The special counsel and congressional investigations into the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya have uncovered records related to this transaction. Veselnitskaya worked as an attorney consultant for Prevezon and attended congressional hearings related to the firm on the same day as the meeting at Trump Towers.
October 12, 2018
Trump to Answer Mueller’s Questions in Writing
Special counsel Robert Mueller has finally got his wish to question President Donald Trump, but not the way he wanted: Trump — and his lawyers — will be providing written responses. Terrified of the perpetually lying president perjuring himself, this is the preferred avenue for the White House’s lawyers, despite Trump being more than willing to meet Mueller face-to-face. The special counsel will now submit 15 questions to Trump, with his replies coming shortly thereafter.
The matter of follow-up questions is still unknown, as Mueller has previously insisted on them. Trump hinted on Fox & Friends on Thursday that he may follow up the written answers with an in-person meeting, although it’s unlikely his lawyers will allow that. It appears for the time being Mueller is waiting to receive the first set of written answers before plotting his next move.
The special counsel has been trying to get Trump to talk to investigators for over a year, although the breakthrough only came last month when Mueller said he’d allow written answers.
Clinton Responds to Trump After Russia Collusion Accusations
Showing a fire that was missing on the 2016 campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has struck back at Trump after he accused her of colluding with the Russians during the presidential campaign. During a rally in Pennsylvania Wednesday night, Trump told the “lock-her-up” chanting crowd that it was in fact Clinton, not Trump, who had colluded with Russia in 2016: “There was a lot of collusion with them and Russia and lots of other people.” He offered no evidence to support this.
Clinton responded on Twitter, posting “Seriously, you asked Russia to hack me on national television.” This was a reference to Trump’s statement at a 2016 rally where he stated “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has made this reference, after a Washington Post columnist made the same accusation in April, although this was proven to be false by fact checkers. Never one to be halted by the truth however, Trump has stepped up this line of attack in recent weeks.
Mueller Investigates Psy-Group for Proposed Online Manipulation Campaign
Israeli social-media management company Psy-Group pitched a proposal to Trump campaign aide Rick Gates to persuade delegates to back Donald Trump at the Republican convention in 2016, the New York Times reports. Psy-Group reportedly claimed that “veteran intelligence officers” could run an influence campaign targeting undecided delegates by sending them “authentic looking” tailored messages meant to encourage them to support then-candidate Trump. Gates reportedly did not hire Psy-Group, but the firm and its owner Joel Zamel have been a target of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election for the past year. Zamel and Gates reportedly met with former head of Blackwater and Trump ally Erik Prince in Seychelles after the election, and Nader paid Zamel $2 million for unknown reasons.
GOP Operative Sought Russian Hackers to Obtain Clinton’s Emails
GOP operative Peter W. Smith raised at least $100,000 and contributed $50,000 of his own money in an attempt to obtain then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from Russian hackers who he thought were “probably around the Russian government,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Smith circulated recruitment documents which claimed that top GOP officials, including chief executive of the Trump campaign Steve Bannon, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, and campaign advisor Michael Flynn, were involved in his efforts. Smith admitted to seeking out Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers 10 days before he was found dead. Local authorities ruled his death a suicide. John Szobocsan, a business associate of Smith who was involved in his efforts, has been the focus of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. He has been interviewed three times this year, and appeared before a grand jury in August.
Former FBI Official Investigating Alfa Bank and Trump Organization Ties
Former FBI investigator and Democratic Senate staffer Dan Jones assembled two teams of computer scientists to investigate the data pertaining to online communication between Moscow-based Alfa bank and the Trump Organization, the New Yorker reports. Reports of an alleged server meant to act as a secretive channel between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization surfaced in October 2016, but were met with skepticism. At the time, the FBI concluded that the events were “innocuous,” but in March 2017 the agency was reportedly still investigating the case. The New Yorker reports that 87 percent of the domain’s connections came from two Alfa Bank servers. The only other entity regularly reaching out to the Trump Organization’s domain is Spectrum Health, led by Richard DeVos Jr., husband of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and brother to former head of Blackwater Erik Prince. The Trump Organization, Alfa Bank, and Spectrum Health have repeatedly denied any contact.
Manafort Agrees to Forfeit Property, Bank Accounts as Part of Guilty Plea
President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has agreed to forfeit multiple properties as part of his guilty plea. Should Judge Amy Jackson agree with the order, filed Friday in the US District Court in Washington, the Justice Department will take hold of the $3 million Trump Tower apartment — just floors below the suite where Trump launched his campaign — as well as a $7.3 million home in the Hamptons, two properties in Brooklyn, and one in Manhattan. They are also gaining control of four bank accounts; two at The Federal Savings Bank, one at Capital One and a Northwestern Mutual Universal Life Insurance policy.
All of these are being confiscated as they are deemed to have been “derived from proceeds traceable to” the crimes he admitted to after being convicted by a jury in a US District Court in Virginia.
Former FBI General Counsel Gives “Explosive” Testimony on FBI
Republican lawmakers on the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees heard testimony last Wednesday from former FBI general counsel James Baker and said what they heard was “explosive” and “fundamentally changed” their understanding of the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) — two of Trump’s biggest and most devout defenders since the beginning — briefed the press following the testimony.
Talking for over four hours, Baker told the committee about a “completely new” source who was “directly” providing the FBI with information while the Bureau was putting together the application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. No details were given to the media about this source. The two congressmen claimed that Baker’s testimony reinforced their belief that the Russia probe was handled in an “abnormal fashion” and a biased manner.
The committee has been conducting a year-long probe of the FBI’s investigations of Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, as well as it’s investigation of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. It has been heavily criticised by Democrats as being an attempt undermine the FBI, Justice Department, and the Mueller’s Russia probe. They have also complained about the committee’s decision to conduct it’s interviews in private.
Two of Mueller’s Prosecutors Leave Investigation
Two special counsel prosecutors are leaving the Russia investigation and returning to their roles in the Justice Department (DOJ), according to special counsel spokesman Peter Carr. Prosecutor Brandon Van Grack has already returned to his position in the DOJ’s National Security Division, while prosecutor Kyle Freeny will return to the DOJ’s Criminal Division later this month. Van Grack and Freeny worked on former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s criminal cases, and their departures indicate that Manafort’s cooperation has allowed special counsel Robert Mueller to shift the focus of the investigation to other areas. Carr made clear that neither prosecutor’s departure is related to disciplinary matters. There are 13 remaining special counsel prosecutors.
FBI Refers Hacking Case to Special Counsel
The FBI referred the investigation into Republican operative and Trump critic Cheri Jacobus’s hacked emails to special counsel prosecutors, Jacobus told Politico. The FBI opened the investigation in August 2016 after Jacobus filed a claim that her personal email account had been hacked and some content had been deleted. Jacobus also reported specific suspicious incidents, including an encounter with con man Steven Wessel masquerading as an English barrister and potential donor to an anti-Trump PAC. At the time, Jacobus was pursuing a defamation lawsuit against then-candidate Donald Trump. Jacobus told Politico that the FBI informed her that they had forwarded the investigation to the Mueller because “the matter came to exceed the bounds of computer intrusion.”
Reports Confirm Trump Paid Off Stormy Daniels, President Still Denies
In February, Trump directed his then-lawyer Michael Cohen to seek a restraining order against former adult film actress Stormy Daniels after learning that Daniels intended to speak publicly about their alleged affair, the Wall Street Journal reports. Trump then told Cohen to coordinate their legal response with his son Eric Trump through a confidential arbitration process. Trump has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of Daniels or the $130,000 Cohen paid Daniels in exchange for her silence during the 2016 US presidential election. During his plea hearing in federal court, Cohen confirmed that Trump arranged a hush payment with Daniels “for the principal purpose of influencing the [2016 US presidential] election.” When asked on Tuesday about whether he directed Cohen and his son to pay off Daniels, Trump responded, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Russian Foreign Minister Criticizes US, Trump, During UN General Assembly Speech
Russia’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, heavily criticized the US and President Donald Trump in a speech on Friday before the United Nations General Assembly. The annual international gathering demonstrated divisions between the US and Russia despite the friendly atmosphere at the Helsinki Summit earlier this year. The two powers have clashed over everything from how to rebuild Syria to the Iranian nuclear deal to the constant argument over the 2016 election meddling accusations.
During his speech Lavrov condemned what he called “an onslaught of belligerent revisionism” within the US, stating that it threatened the international order. He went on to accuse the US of using “political blackmail, economic pressure and brute force” to support its “self-serving unilateral approach.” He went on to point out that Trump still hadn’t accused the Russians of meddling: “This time he blamed China only for interference, he did not mention Russia — well he didn’t mention us before.”
Lavrov’s rare public outburst against Trump came with an announcement that Russia would start delivering S-300 air-defence systems to Syria despite US protestation. This decision was made following the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane last week.
Mueller Cooperator to Be Sentenced Next Month
A California man who unwittingly helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election is being sentenced this week — becoming the third person to be sentenced as a result of the special counsel probe. Richard Pinedo admitted to identity theft back in February and has cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. In the lead-up to the election Pinedo sold bank account numbers to Russian trolls who then used them to buy web ads aimed at aiding Trump’s campaign.
His sentencing is scheduled for October 10th. He could face a maximum of 15 years although this is unlikely with prosecutors saying sentencing guidelines call for a 12 to 18-month sentence. Pinedo’s defence lawyer is arguing for no prison time citing his constant fear of retribution from Russia, as well as his cooperation with Mueller’s probe
House Panel Releases Russia Probe Transcripts
The House Intelligence Committee voted to publicly release transcripts of 53 interviews it conducted as part of a now-concluded inquiry into Russia’s 2016 election interference. Included in the trove are testimonies from Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son; Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; Hope Hicks, his former communications director; and Roger Stone, his longtime associate.
Democrats opposed the move, arguing that some of the most importants transcripts — including the interviews with the pro-Russia Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former head of the Democratic National Committee Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) — have not been released. The panel has also not provided the documents to Mueller.
Top Trump Donor Requested Meeting With Russian Official
Simon Kukes — an oil executive who contributed a quarter million dollars to Trump’s bid for presidency — corresponded with a Russian official in the lead-up to the 2016 election, according to newly released emails. In the summer of 2016 Kukes told Vyacheslav Pavlovsky, vice president of the state-owned Russian Railways, that he was involved with the Trump campaign’s “strategy development,” and sent a photograph of him posing with Rudy Giuliani, now the president’s personal attorney.
Former CIA officer Lindsay Moran considers the donation part of a pattern of Russia-linked businessmen influencing US elections and politics.
Mueller Rejects Russian Firm’s Selective Prosecution Claim
Russian company Concord Management claimed “selective prosecution” in a court document alleging that special counsel Robert Mueller targeted their company while allowing other foreign entities, including British former spy Christopher Steele, more leniency in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In response, Mueller stated that Steele, who acted as an anonymous source for media articles, does not “remotely compare” to the Russian firm that conducted “information warfare” against the US. Mueller alleges that Concord Management financially supported the “systematic, deceptive effort” of the Russian “troll farm,” the Internet Research Agency.
Rosenstein and Trump Will Meet Thursday in Wake of Recording Reports
President Trump has said that he will meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, September 27. Last week the New York Times reported that Rosenstein had been secretly taping the president to invoke the 25th amendment — the right to remove an unfit president. Rosenstein denied recording Trump and called the New York Times report “absolutely false.” On Monday, Rosenstein arrived at the White House with Chief of Staff John Kelly, reportedly ready to resign. Rosenstein’s potential removal fed heightened speculation until White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that Trump is unavailable to meet with Rosenstein until he returns to Washington, DC, from the United Nations General Assembly. Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, and if he is removed from his position, his successor is unclear. The next appointee in line is Trump-appointed Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, but his former law firm Jones Day represents the Trump campaign in the special counsel investigation, presenting a conflict of interest. House conservatives are pushing for Rosenstein to appear for a public hearing to address the allegations, and have stated that they will force a vote to impeach Rosenstein if he does not testify.
Stone Offered to Pay Legal Fees for Wikileaks Intermediary
Randy Credico — political activist, comedian, and Roger Stone’s alleged intermediary with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — told Mother Jones that Stone had offered to pay the legal fees associated with the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Credico appeared before a grand jury earlier this month to testify on his relationship with Stone and Wikileaks, and stated that he did not accept Stone’s offer to pay his legal fees. Credico told Mother Jones that Stone wanted to prevent him from talking to the press out of fear that he might contradict Stone’s narrative. Stone claimed that he offered Credico financial assistance because he knew Credico would lose his job as a radio host after offering his name to the House Intelligence Committee.
Rosenstein Discussed Recording Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed last year secretly taping President Donald Trump and enlisting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment, the mechanism for removing an unfit president — according to memos written by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The allegations, reported first by the New York Times, show the chaos within the Justice Department after Trump axed FBI Director James Comey last May. In his announcement of the firing, Trump drew from a memo Rosenstein had provided him: It criticized Comey’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Rosenstein, who received widespread condemnation from Democrats for enabling the president, became upset with Trump and worried that he may have had ulterior motives for firing Comey.
Rosenstein disputed the Times’s account, saying, “Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”
Cohen Working With Mueller Without Cooperation Deal
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and longtime confidant, has done several hours of interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller over the past month. The questioning has focused on the president’s financial dealings with the Kremlin, alleged collusion between his campaign and Russians to influence the 2016 election, and whether he discussed with Cohen the possibility of a pardon. Cohen never struck a cooperation deal with prosecutors, according to his attorney Lanny Davis.
Trump Halts Declassification of Russia Probe Documents
Trump backtracked on his Monday order to release sensitive materials related to the FBI’s investigation into Russian electoral interference. Citing concerns from “key allies,” the president announced Friday that he would defer to Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review the documents and conclude whether FBI investigators were guilty of anti-Trump bias.
Trump had ordered the Justice Department to “publicly release … without redaction” portions of the FBI’s June 2017 surveillance warrant application for his former campaign advisor Carter Page, as well as the text messages of several senior law enforcement officials, including Comey, McCabe, and FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
Trump Orders Immediate Declassification of Intelligence Materials
President Donald Trump has ordered the declassification of portions of the June 2017 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, and the public release of text messages “related to the Russia investigation” sent by FBI and Justice Department (DOJ) officials.
In July, the FBI released a heavily redacted version of Page’s FISA application. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that Trump directed the DOJ and the director of national intelligence to immediately declassify “all FBI reports of interviews” related to Page’s application. Trump also demanded the release of unredacted text messages from former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and DOJ official Bruce Ohr.
Trump defended his decision by stating that he wants “transparency.” Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) spoke to the consequences of the president’s decision, stating that, “With respect to some of these materials, I have been previously informed by the FBI and Justice Department that they would consider their release a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods.”
Prosecutors Ready for Flynn Sentence
Special counsel Robert Mueller asked a federal judge to schedule sentencing for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. In a joint filing with federal prosecutors and Flynn’s lawyers, the special counsel requested that Flynn be sentenced between November 28 and December 7, after the midterm elections. Prosecutors and Flynn’s lawyers also asked that the judge allow them to file all sentencing memos less than two weeks before the sentencing, which would allow the special counsel to wait until after the midterm elections to make public the ways in which Flynn assisted the investigation.
Flynn pleaded guilty last December to lying to the FBI about his contact with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but prosecutors have since delayed his sentencing. Three days before this filing, Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort struck a plea deal with investigators. Flynn is the highest-ranking official charged to date in the special counsel investigation.
Trump Legal Team Unafraid of Manafort’s Cooperation With Investigators
Trump’s lead lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that Manafort’s legal team assured him that Manafort, despite his cooperation with federal investigators, has not disclosed incriminating information on the president. Manafort and Trump have had a long-standing joint-defense agreement, but last week Manafort made a plea deal after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the US and obstruction of justice by witness tampering. Manafort’s legal team told Giuliani that Manafort has told investigators “nothing that is adverse to the president, the Trump family, the Trump campaign.”
However, legal ethics experts have refuted Giuliani’s claim, explaining that Manafort’s lawyers could not make a credible assertion about the consequences of Manafort’s cooperation with investigators. The Washington Post reports New York University Law Professor Stephen Gillers explanation, “No one can know whether what Manafort knows could be harmful.”