When Special Counsel Robert Mueller pursued his investigation, he asked two key questions: Did President Donald Trump or his campaign conspire or coordinate with the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election? And did Trump, as president, obstruct the investigation?
And with all the coverage of the Mueller report, most of the media seems to be missing the central point at which the two questions overlap: Paul Manafort.
As I explained after Mueller’s report first came out, a key mystery remains about Manafort. Why was he, as Trump’s campaign chair, sending polling data to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, among others, through Konstantin Kilimnik? Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, incidentally, thought Kilimnik was a “spy,” Mueller told us — and the FBI agrees.
One suggestion in the report is just that Manafort thought it would show off his work to someone he had a business relationship with. But this is hardly persuasive, and Mueller doesn’t seem to fully buy it.
And most importantly, the reason we don’t know Manafort’s reason for sending the polling data — a potentially conspiratorial act — is because he lied to Mueller, even after he agreed to cooperate with the investigation. And this ties to the obstruction case. Mueller lays out a strong case that Trump’s dangling of a pardon to Manafort, and his encouragement that Manafort not “flip,” constituted criminal obstruction of justice. Well, Manafort never truly flipped; he just kept misleading investigators. If Manafort really was conspiring with the Russians — with or without Trump’s knowledge — the president may have successfully covered it up.
Of course, this is speculation. But that’s one reason why obstructing justice on its own is and should be a crime. It corrupts the justice system and leaves doubt that the best possible answers were obtained. Manafort lied to investigators and Trump encouraged him to do so, or at least to keep his mouth shut; this suggests they both had something to hide.
This gaping hole in the case should be a major takeaway from the report. But it has attracted relatively little attention, given the fact that it emphasizes why obstruction charges are so important and undermines claims that the report is a decisive demonstration of “no collusion.”
Mainstream coverage, in fact, has misled people. For example, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote that the Mueller report showed, “No collusion, officially.”
But Mueller makes clear in the report that just because he didn’t find something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And in the case of the polling data, Mueller goes a step further and says he doesn’t know why Manafort shared this information — leading wide open the possibility that the motive was criminal in nature.
In another piece, Blake noted that “it’s not clear whether there was any quid pro quo agreement” regarding the Manafort polling data. But he doesn’t mention that one likely reason this isn’t clear is that Trump successfully obstructed justice.
The New York Times, in its list of the “7 key things” it thinks its readers “need to know” about the Mueller report, it didn’t even mention Manafort once.
And the first “thing” it thinks you should know is this: “Trump did try to sabotage the investigation. His staff defied him.”
While this is true, it gives the false impression that all of Trump’s efforts to stop the investigation failed because of his staff. As I have argued, though, it’s quite possible that not only was Trump successful in illegally keeping Manafort quiet but that this act covered up another game-changing crime.
There have been some exceptions to this trend of missing the point. Ben Wittes, writing for Lawfare, noted the significance of Trump’s tampering with Manafort.
“Trump got what he wanted in this case,” wrote Wittes. “Manafort did not end up cooperating to Mueller’s satisfaction. Indeed, Mueller concluded that he breached his plea deal by failing to cooperate and by lying to investigators. So the reality here may well be that the president’s obstructive conduct did, in fact, obstruct the investigation. The president hinted that Manafort should not ‘flip’ and that he would take care of him. And Manafort acted in a fashion consistent with his relying on those assurances.”
However, in the reverse of Blake’s omission, Wittes fails to connect this to the fact that Manafort’s potentially criminal motive for sending the polling data remains unknown.
Charlie Sykes, writing for the Bulwark and citing Wittes, has been the only writer I’ve seen yet make the full connection:
At this point, we don’t know how significant Manafort’s silence was to the outcome of the investigation. We do know that before, during, and after his tenure as Trump campaign chair, he maintained deep and tangled relationships with figures associated with the Kremlin. At one point he passed private campaign polling data to an associate with links to Russian intelligence. Could he have exposed greater cooperation between TrumpWorld and the Russians? We don’t know, although Mueller left behind several tantalizing suggestions about the information that they had been blocked from seeing.
He concluded, aptly: “But, for the time being, it appears that Donald Trump’s attempts to obstruct key parts of the investigation may actually have succeeded.”
Wittes acknowledged Sykes’ point, writing: “I don’t know why this aspect of the report is not getting more attention.”
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29 Months Later Bill Barr’s Super Secret Russia Special Counsel Files His Second Indictment – for Alleged Lying
In April of 2019 then-Attorney General Bill Barr ordered the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut to open and lead an investigation into Russia – not into how Russia has been attacking the United States via cyber warfare, undermining Americans’ trust in American institutions, and using social media to do it, but into whether or not the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been warranted in opening an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including its investigation of Donald Trump.
On Thursday, 29 months after Barr first appointed John Durham (photo, right) to lead that super-secret investigation, 11 months after Barr secretly turned Durham into a special counsel to ensure the investigation would continue past his and Trump’s tenure, and after spending untold millions of taxpayer dollars, the Dept. of Justice has announced Durham has obtained a second indictment.
“A prominent cybersecurity lawyer was indicted on a charge of lying to the F.B.I. five years ago during a meeting about Donald J. Trump and Russia, the Justice Department announced on Thursday,” The New York Times reports.
The lawyer, Michael Sussmann, “of the law firm Perkins Coie, which has deep ties to the Democratic Party — is accused of making a false statement about his client at the meeting.”
Mr. Sussmann’s defense lawyers have denied the accusation, saying that he did not make a false statement, that the evidence he did is weak and that who he was representing was not a material fact in any case. They have vowed to fight any charge in court.
At issue is who was Sussman working for when he “relayed concerns by cybersecurity researchers who believed that unusual internet data might be evidence of a covert communications channel between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and with Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution.”
Apparently not at issue is if the Trump Organization or campaign had a secret communications channel to a Kremlin-linked organization.
Frequent viewers of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow are likely familiar with her reporting on Alfa Bank, including this segment from October 2018:
Durham has not obtained any indictment against anyone in Russia, any Russian operatives, any Trump Organization or campaign official, or anyone who may have been involved in Russia’s attack on the United States.
The only other indictment Durham has obtained from his two-plus year investigation? The Times in 2019 reported on a “low-level” FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, who “altered an email that officials used to prepare to seek court approval to renew the wiretap,” on Carter Page, a Trump campaign advisor.
One expert calls the indictment “weak.”
I don't think Durham is politically motivated, but this seems weak and hardly justifies his long investigation. Also a good reminder about the peril of talking to the FBI.
WaPo: Indictment issued. https://t.co/AYAUSodiMs
— Ross Garber (@rossgarber) September 16, 2021
Newly Unredacted Documents Reveal a Litany of Allegations Against Pompeo, His Wife, and State Dept. Staffers
Newly unredacted records from a whistleblower complaint in the State Department have shed light on more allegations against former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and members of his former staff.
According to documents obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Pompeo and others were accused of misconduct.
The publication reports: “The alleged misconduct included false or misleading statements to the agency’s legal department, misuse of government resources on personal and political activities potentially prohibited by the Hatch Act, verbal abuse of employees by Mike and Susan Pompeo and directives to staff not to communicate in writing in order to evade transparency laws.”
The unredacted documents come two years after the redacted version of the whistleblower complaint was filed with the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG is said to have excluded many of the previous redactions in the version of the documents released to CREW.
“The complaint alleges “[s]everal senior career Foreign Service officials who held positions of responsibility within the Executive Secretariat” turned a blind eye to Pompeo’s “questionable activities” and, in some cases, “facilitat[ed]” them, according to CREW.
Employees in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser “expressed concern that some of these activities may have violated [the] Hatch Act or other regulations,” but the whistleblower was “unaware that any resolution was reached, potentially because senior officials in the Executive Secretariat repeatedly declined to seek clarification or guidance from [the Office of the Legal Adviser] despite requests from subordinates to do so.”
The new documents also detail the aftermath of former Inspector Steve Linick’s removal from his post, which was part of a larger Trump-led effort to oust inspectors. The report also indicated that staff members were “stunned” by the directive.
“[T]his is all so surreal three days later. I’m nervous about the future,” the OIG employee wrote in a May 18, 2020 email. In a later email, the official added, “I just heard Trump say we needed to get rid of the ‘Attorney Generals’ as a whole…Oh dear.”
CREW has also received other documentation as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit aimed at uncovering information about Pompeo’s attempts to hinder the investigation into the allegations of misconduct against him.
‘This Is Crazy’: Dem Blasts GOP for Attacking Milley – a Trump-Ordered Nuclear Strike Would Have Been ‘Illegal’
U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) is going on the offensive against Republicans, conservatives, and media attacks against the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, over reports he assembled top Pentagon officials and made them vow to not launch a nuclear strike without him being part of the “procedure.” Gen. Milley also spoke with his counterpart in China assuring them the U.S. would not launch an attack in the crazed, waning days of the Trump presidency.
Calling it “crazy,” Congressman Lieu, an Air Force Colonel who serves in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) reserves, says it would have been illegal for then-President Donald Trump to launch a “rogue nuclear first strike” without provocation. He’s calling on the press to “slam” Republicans for wrongly saying Trump should have been able to:
I can’t believe I have to say this: a rogue nuclear first strike ordered by the President without provocation would be an ILLEGAL ORDER.
Why is the mainstream press not slamming Republicans for saying Trump should be able to order a rogue nuclear launch? This is crazy. https://t.co/R0x0Pjb4G6
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) September 16, 2021
Congressman Lieu, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was asked why it would be illegal. Lieu had an easy answer:
Killing millions of civilians for no reason would be mass murder.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) September 16, 2021
Earlier in the week, responding to a tweet from Naval War College Professor of National Security Affairs, Tom Nichols, Congressman Lieu made the same point:
I previously served on active duty as a JAG. General Milley was referring to a “rogue” nuclear launch. That would be an illegal order if the former President ordered a rogue nuclear first strike without provocation. General Milley was correct in trying to prevent a rogue launch. https://t.co/OZ3bXKKzzy
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) September 15, 2021
And urged passage of his legislation making it more difficult for a rogue president to launch nuclear weapons:
The fate of the world should not depend on a single general, in this case Mark Milley, trying to stop a President who is unstable. That’s why we need to pass my bill with @SenMarkey that requires POTUS to get congressional authorization before launching a nuclear first strike. https://t.co/qvy7aJdAyq
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) September 14, 2021
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