We've got a lot to cover, ranging into the "absolute crapton" of information on the Mueller investigation front today, it was a busy day indeed. First, fomer Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos reported to prison this week to serve out his two-week prison sentence, but as The Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand and Scott Stedman report, his troubles are far from over
George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his interactions with a Russia-linked professor in 2016, went to jail on Monday after fighting, and failing, to delay the start of his two-week prison sentence. But a letter now being investigated by the House Intelligence Committee and the FBI indicates that Papadopoulos is still in the crosshairs of investigators probing a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The letter, obtained last week by The Atlantic, was sent to Democratic Representative Adam Schiff’s office on November 19 by an individual who claims to have been close to Papadopoulos in late 2016 and early 2017. The letter was brought to the attention of Schiff and House Intelligence Committee staff, according to an aide who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The letter was also obtained by federal authorities, who are taking its claims “very seriously,” said two U.S. officials who also requested anonymity due to the sensitivities of the probe.
The statement makes a series of explosive but uncorroborated claims about Papadopoulos’s alleged coordination with Russians in the weeks following Trump’s election in November 2016, including that Papadopoulos said he was “doing a business deal with Russians which would result in large financial gains for himself and Mr. Trump.” The confidant said they were willing to take a polygraph test “to prove that I am being truthful” and had come forward now after seeing Papadopoulos “become increasingly hostile towards those who are investigating him and his associates.” A lawyer for Papadopoulos declined to comment.
If corroborated, the claims in the letter would add to an emerging portrait of Trump and his associates’ eagerness to strike backdoor deals with Russia even after the intelligence community concluded that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election. (Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, tried to set up a “backchannel” to Russia in the weeks after the election and met with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank during the transition period. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, meanwhile, negotiated with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions before Trump was inaugurated.)
Again, if the FBI and Schiff are looking into this, then there must be some evidence backing this up. But again, we know that the Russians like to plant fake stories in order to get journalists to bite, and it's very possible that this is one of them, along with yesterday's Manafort/WikiLeaks story
Luke Harding and Dan Collyns, the reporters behind the Guardian story, do not name their sources, although they claim to have multiple, and they write that they have seen an internal document from Ecuador’s intelligence service listing “Paul Manaford [sic]” as a visitor to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Manafort, for his part, has called the Guardian’s report “totally false and deliberately libelous.” And White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Certainly I remain confident in the White House’s assertion that the president was involved in no wrongdoing, was not involved in any collusion.”
While the immediate reaction to the story was a collective “Wow!”, it is fair to take a step back and remain wary. Rather than being the bombshell smoking gun that directly connects the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, perhaps the report is something else entirely: a disinformation campaign. Is it possible someone planted this story as a means to discredit the journalists?
A number of parties in the Trump-Russia circus have an interest in discrediting the media. Russia President Vladimir Putin has solidified his power in Russia by systematically quashing the free press and controlling the message through friendly media outlets, including the likes of RT and Sputnik. Trump, too, has consistently shouted “Fake News!” at any story he doesn’t like and has made it a theme of late to refer to the media as “the enemy of the people,” a term that has been used by dictators throughout time, including to devastating effect by Joseph Stalin.
Harding is likely a major target for anyone wrapped up in Russia’s intelligence operation against the West’s democratic institutions. He has written a book about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia—literally titled Collusion, as well as numerous articles related to the case, including about the Steele Dossier, Russia’s plans to help rescue Assange from London and spirit him away to Moscow, Russia’s novichok poisoning operation against Sergei Skripal, and a slew of other “Russia-is-up-to-no-good” stories.
If this latest story about Manafort and Assange is false, that is, if, for example, the sources lied to Harding and Collyns (or if the sources themselves were lied to and thus thought they were being truthful in their statements to the journalists), or if the Ecuadorian intelligence document is a fake, the most logical explanation is that it is an attempt to make Harding look bad. This, in turn, would put into question any of Harding’s past reporting and could be raised any time someone mentions his reporting as evidence of wrongdoing. Any mention of Harding going forward would include the caveat, “according to a reporter who was once duped.” The underlying question would always be: How can anything he writes be trusted?
Still, if this is true, then that's only the beginning of Trump's troubles this week. Not that anybody doubted it, but now we know for sure that Paul Manafort was feeding information about his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller directly to Trump's lawyers in an attempt to serve as a mole for Trump and to undermine the investigation
Of course as I mentioned yesterday
A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the president’s onetime campaign chairman, repeatedly briefed President Trump’s lawyers on his client’s discussions with federal investigators after Mr. Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, according to one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers and two other people familiar with the conversations.
The arrangement was highly unusual and inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began cooperating two months ago, the people said. Some legal experts speculated that it was a bid by Mr. Manafort for a presidential pardon even as he worked with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in hopes of a lighter sentence.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, acknowledged the arrangement on Tuesday and defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed. Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office.
For example, Mr. Giuliani said, Mr. Manafort’s lawyer Kevin M. Downing told him that prosecutors hammered away at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The president has long denied knowing about the meeting in advance. “He wants Manafort to incriminate Trump,” Mr. Giuliani declared of Mr. Mueller.
While Mr. Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, who accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant, according to the people. That conflict spilled into public view on Monday when the prosecutors took the rare step of declaring that Mr. Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying to them about a variety of subjects.
Mr. Manafort’s lawyers insisted that their client had been truthful but acknowledged that the two sides were at an impasse. Mr. Manafort will now face sentencing on two conspiracy charges and eight counts of financial fraud — crimes that could put him behind bars for at least 10 years.
, the reality is that now Donald Trump knows the end is near as Mueller knew all along that Manafort was feeding Trump information from the probe, and he knew Manafort was lying to him straight up
Paul Manafort’s alleged misstatements to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators include comments about his personal business dealings and about his contacts with a former associate in Ukraine, say people familiar with the matter.
Those statements—among those described by Mr. Mueller as “lies” and Mr. Manafort as “truthful information” in a court filing Monday—are what led the special counsel this week to take the unusual step of ending the former Trump campaign chairman’s plea agreement 2½ months after it was reached, the people said.
The content of those statements don’t appear to be central to the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election that Mr. Mueller is investigating. It is unclear if prosecutors plan to accuse Mr. Manafort of additional lies.
But Mr. Mueller’s move to end the cooperation deal reflects more broadly a combative relationship that has developed between Mr. Manafort and Mr. Mueller’s investigators, as well as the special counsel’s conclusion that Mr. Manafort fell short of his cooperation agreement, court filings show.
In interviews with Mr. Mueller’s team, Mr. Manafort allegedly made inaccurate statements about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, said the people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Kilimnik, who Mr. Mueller charged earlier this year along with Mr. Manafort with trying to influence the testimony of two witnesses against Mr. Manafort, had worked for Mr. Manafort’s lobbying firm in Ukraine. Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik communicated earlier this year about contacting others who worked with them in an alleged effort to coordinate their stories, according to an indictment Mr. Mueller filed against them.
Mr. Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence, according to a filing by the special counsel’s office, isn’t in custody and hasn’t responded to the charges in court.
SO it's a pretty safe bet that if Manafort was lying all along, the information Mueller's people gave to Manafort was a test that both Manafort and Trump failed and that Trump almost certainly lied on his questionnaire to Mueller
President Donald Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
One source described the President's answers without providing any direct quotes and said the President made clear he was answering to the best of his recollection.
This is the first insight into how the President responded to the Mueller team's written questions -- a key unknown as Mueller aims to wrap up his investigation and prepare his final report.
These two points -- WikiLeaks and the Trump Tower meeting -- are critical to Mueller's central mission: investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
The President's lawyers previously told CNN the answers would match his public statements. Still, these written answers could be subject to criminal charges if false.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment. CNN did not get a full readout of all of the President's answers to Mueller's questions.
Again, if Mueller has evidence to prove these answers wrong, then that's lying to federal investigators, and that's not going to be good for Trump. He's toast, he knows it, and he's doing everything to rally his cult for war
President Donald Trump appeared to accuse his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, of treason on Wednesday, posting a meme to his twitter feed that shows an image of Rosenstein and a slew of Trump critics behind bars.
The image also included special counsel Robert Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey, former national intelligence director James Clapper, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Their picture was overlaid with the words, “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?”
Trump retweeted the image after separately ripping Mueller, whose investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election appears to be closing in on several Trump associates, including longtime ally Roger Stone and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.
Trump has ramped up his attacks on Mueller in recent days, after a quiet few weeks ahead of the November midterm elections.
It's far from the first time Trump has tweeted nonsense from one of his follower accounts, and as Steve M. tells us, Trump has been preparing his base for war against reality for two years now
. Tens of millions of Trump fans will go to their graves thinking Trump never did anything wrong. But when the person in the Oval Office tweets about putting his critics and his Deputy AG behind bars for treason, well, that's a whole new level of authoritarianism.
Trump is committing obstruction of justice out in the open now, he's priming his base to take to the streets to defend him, and he's preparing to pardon Paul Manafort to start with
President Donald Trump declined in a new interview to rule out the possibility that he could pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.
"It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" Trump told the New York Post.
The President's comments come following special counsel Robert Mueller's accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement and lied to Mueller's team after being found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes in August.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said there had been no conversations about a potential presidential pardon for Manafort.
Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN on Tuesday that he and Trump had discussed a Manafort pardon in the spring and decided it was not a proper move at this time, he added.
"The last time we talked pardon was April or May, when I first came on," Giuliani said. "We decided it should be off the boards -- not exercised now and no one should make a decision based on any expectation."
It's clearly not "off the boards" there Rudy. Trump clearly wants to pardon Manafort and start putting his enemies in jail. It's only a matter of time before he calls for mass arrests of his enemies. The only question is whether he'll actually start doing it as Mueller closes in
Donald Trump's behavior isn't doing much to bolster White House assurances that he's got nothing to worry about from Robert Mueller's probe, after a series of potentially ominous turns in the Russia investigation.
The President's recent barrage of tweets and comments and testimony from sources close to him -- coinciding with thickening intrigue around the special counsel -- hint instead at deep concern on Trump's part.
"While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!" Trump tweeted Wednesday, a day after blasting the special counsel as a "conflicted prosecutor gone rogue."
Despite this outburst of fury, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders painted a portrait of a President who was serenely awaiting Mueller's findings.
"I don't think the President has any concerns about the report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion," Sanders told reporters at her first daily briefing in a month.
The explanation for Trump's angst over his predicament seems to lie in a flurry of startling and potentially significant developments and reports swirling around his jailed ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other associates.
Trump, the most powerful man in the world who crafted a self-flattering image as the ultimate strongman boss, is in a deeply vulnerable spot and appears to feel cornered and in increasing peril.
He has no choice but to watch as Mueller, an adversary whose discrete public profile makes him an elusive target, grinds away, apparently getting ever closer to Trump's inner circle and perhaps even to the President himself.
We're deep into "Nixon in the bunker" mode now. What Trump's response will be remains to be seen, but if you think he's going to go quietly, that's never going to happen.
When he starts giving orders to have people arrested or worse -- and he will -- there will be some willing to follow those orders.