Recall, President Trump has maintained that he knew nothing about the meeting, and his haters have insisted that he must have. Proof, in their eyes, that Trump had been caught in a lie lay in the fact that Don Jr. had made three calls to blocked phone numbers in the days surrounding the meeting. Team Mueller has also consistently focused on the Trump Tower meeting in its interviews of Trump associates. Don Jr., however, has maintained that he couldn't remember who the calls were to, but that they weren't to his father. CNN has the details released today by the Senate Intel Committee: Exclusive: Trump Jr.'s mysterious calls weren't with his father:
Senate investigators have obtained new information showing Donald Trump Jr.'s mysterious phone calls ahead of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were not with his father, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
Records provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee show the calls were between Trump Jr. and two of his business associates, the sources said, and appear to contradict Democrats' long-held suspicions that the blocked number was from then-candidate Donald Trump.
Trump Jr.'s phone records included calls with two blocked phone numbers the same day he exchanged calls with Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, the son of a Russian oligarch who spearheaded the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The calls came three days before the Trump Tower meeting, and an additional call with a private number occurred several hours after the meeting.
UPDATE: sundance has the news that the people that Don Jr. called were "two family friends — NASCAR CEO Brian France and real estate developer Howard Lorber, according to the sources."
While this puts to rest claims of perjury--or at least of lying--against Trump and Don Jr., many questions remain concerning the Trump Tower from my point of view. Readers of this blog will be aware that I've long considered the Trump Tower meeting to be central to the entire Russia Hoax, as I wrote in Crossfire Hurricane: The Theory Of The Case:
I've always maintained that the famous Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, was an early attempt to ensnare the Trump campaign in a quid pro quo deal with Russians in which the Russians would supposedly provide "dirt" in exchange for sanction relief--i.e., a clear exchange of "a thing of value" for action on official policy. A bribe. Recall, this meeting took place before Carter Page's ill timed trip to Moscow. It involved the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (who was allowed into the US only on the direct intervention, ultimately, of AG Loretta Lynch) and top Trump aides Jared Kushner, Don Jr., and Paul Manafort--who was supposed to be directing the outreach to the Russian leadership. Veselnitskaya had claimed she could provide "dirt" on Hillary, but then inexplicably--or maybe not--began yammering about something called the Magnitsky Act.
Well, it so happens that the Magnitsky Act is actually all about sanctions on Russia. My take is that she raised the topic of the Magnistsky Act hoping to elicit some inquiry from the Trump aides that would show their willingness to discuss a quid pro quo--a willingness to engage in bribery, a criminal violation. This would unquestionably be sufficient to start up a Full Investigation on the Trump campaign and even on Trump personally. Fortunately for Trump, Don Jr. cut the whole thing short.
End of story? Actually, no. One thing we keep hearing about with regard to people who are interrogated by Team Mueller is that they are repeatedly asked whether Trump himself knew about the meeting with Veselnitskaya. Did he know, do they think he knew. There are two ways for Mueller to use this, neither of which add up to a criminal violation but either of which, if included in Mueller's final report (if it ever gets written) could be framed to cause serious damage to the Trump presidency.
The first would be that, if Trump can be claimed to have known about the meeting, then the Steele dossier narrative about Carter Page's trip to Moscow and his "secret" meetings suddenly looks like a mission to sound out the Russians on what Veselnitskaya was talking about--sanctions, and is there a deal that we, the Trump team, could make on that?
The second, leaving Page and the dossier out of it, would be if Mueller can somehow persuade someone, anyone, (think: Manafort sitting in solitary confinement, durance vile in Virginia) to say they even think that Trump was told about the meeting. In combination with Trump's earlier public denial (as opposed to the lawyerly written response "to the best of my recollection") that could be used to create the impression that Trump denied it because of guilty knowledge--he denied it because he really did seriously consider the bribery scheme, even though he may have rejected it. Of course that's why Trump can't just simply say, Yeah, Don Jr. told me, but so what? He'd soon find out so what, because toying with a bribery scheme is a lot different than toying with a Moscow real estate deal.
And so that brings us to the whole declassification controversy. Like everyone else, I want full declassification sooner rather than later. On the other hand, as Mark Penn has so trenchantly argued, Mueller's strategy seems to be to play this out in the court of public opinion. Viewed from that standpoint, I'd say that Trump deserves the best possible defense--including in the court of public opinion. Therefore, I'm willing to trust his judgment on the proper timing for declassification, knowing that it's his life on the line and knowing that this could well be the key to an effective counter to the planned smear.
Now, look back at what I'm suggesting about what appears to be a clear attempt at a setup to entrap Trump or, failing that, to entrap high levels of his campaign staff in a criminal scheme. To me, this scheme suggests experienced legal minds were behind it--experienced prosecutorial minds. For example, the fact that Veselnitskaya didn't simply bring up the possibility of a deal in a crass way, but instead, as it were, dangled the prospect by talking about what she wanted. To me this suggests the possibility of prosecutorial advice, a concern that too sudden an approach might seem like entrapment or might give Don Jr., Manafort, or Jared Kushner cold feet, suspicions of a setup. Instead, the technique suggests an attempt to induce the Trump team to raise the possibility themselves, thus demonstrating their openness or predisposition to a criminal scheme--they weren't entrapped or tricked into it, they even raised the possibility themselves.
Here's how I summarized this in It's About Sanctions Relief For ... What?
While this theory of a sanctions relief for DNC emails deal is featured early on in the Steele "dossier" reports, I have always believed that the famous Trump Tower meeting was an early attempt to involve the Trump campaign in just such a corrupt quid pro quo deal. I described it in this way:
Thus, the Trump Tower meeting comes across as a straightforward attempt to involve the Trump campaign in a corrupt quid pro quo arrangement: bribery. The Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, promises "dirt," then shows up talking about the Magnitsky Act (i.e., sanctions). She clearly seems to be dangling her half of the quid pro quo, sanctions relief, in the apparent hope that the Trump team will enter into the "spirit of the deal." Notably, this Trump Tower attempt at eliciting an offer of a quid (sanctions relief) for the Hillary dirt quo came before the first Dossier reports. The fact that receiving such information from Russians is not unlawful (Mirengoff quotes conservative stalwarts John Yoo and David Marston to this effect) is, of course, beside the point of what I assume is Mueller's theory: if the receipt of the information is simply one half of the corrupt quid pro quo then the presence of a second half, sanctions relief, does make this arrangement a crime.
In presenting my case for the centrality of the Trump Tower meeting to this theory of a sanctions relief for election campaign help deal I referenced recent reports that Team Mueller was continuing to Press Hard on the Trump Tower Meeting. In my view there can be only one reason for the continuing interest in the Trump Tower meeting: it was an early attempt to set the Trump campaign up in just such a corrupt and illegal deal.
Now, today, comes reporting from the Daily Beast that sanctions are, indeed, central to the Mueller probe: Mueller Ready to Pounce on Trumpworld Concessions to Moscow. The reporting itself is even more confused than most reporting on the topic, but it does confirm the centrality of sanctions to Team Mueller, and the only point of sanctions relief for Team Mueller is if sanctions relief were part of a quid pro quo before Trump became president. After the election such a quid pro quo becomes diplomacy, but before the election it's bribery if the quo is intended to help Trump become president.
If my theory is true, there are two big questions still to be answered:
* First, who was/were the prosecutorial mind(s) who helped to shape the Trump Tower setup?
* And second, was the FBI aware of this meeting--were they perhaps involved in the meeting?
After all, by the time of the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, the FBI had been targeting Trump's foreign policy advisers (plus Manafort) for nearly two months. The connection seems plausible to me if we consider that two top attorneys at DoJ--Andrew Weissman (now Mueller's deputy) and Bruce Ohr--had close connections to both Fusion GPS and to the FBI. Here's how I summarized that aspect in Why Andrew Weissmann?
Weissmann is best known as a hard charging prosecutor, but one with a reputation for being willing to take ethical shortcuts to make the big case. This led, in 2005, to the US Supreme Court unanimously overturning the conviction in his biggest case: the Enron Case. The criticism of Weissmann's "intimidating" "scorched earth" tactics that arose from the Enron Case made Weissmann a hot potato in the legal world, but fortunately for him he landed on his feet--as Special Counsel to a friend and former colleague, FBI Director Robert Mueller.
This was Weissmann's first gig at the FBI, and lasted probably less than a full year while he looked for a more lucrative position--by the end of 2005 Weissmann went into private practice at Jenner and Block in New York. But in 2011 Weissmann returned to the FBI and his mentor Mueller, serving as General Counsel under Mueller until the end of Mueller's term in September, 2013. He continued at the FBI under James Comey until January, 2015, when he returned to DoJ as head of the Criminal Fraud Section. His final career move, to date, was his reunion with Mueller, joining Mueller's Special Counsel team in June, 2017.
What was Weissmann doing as General Counsel at the FBI? According to DoJ,
"The General Counsel of the FBI is ultimately responsible for all of the legal affairs of the FBI. ... The General Counsel interacts regularly with all of the elements of the FBI, the Justice Department, the U.S. Intelligence Community, a range of other government agencies, foreign partners, ..."
You get the drift. During his four years as General Counsel at the FBI Weissmann would have been interacting on a daily basis with FBI management at the very highest levels, certainly including the Director (Mueller, then Comey) and Deputy Director--with additional contact with the highest levels in all important Divisions. Beyond that, however, he would have been developing contacts throughout the Intelligence Community and with "foreign partners"--prominently including the British intelligence agencies. The appeal of having Weissmann "in the loop" of the Russia hoax is obvious--he would be a trusted contact with the top levels of the FBI and would have a wide range of other useful contacts.
But Weissmann's connections to the FBI would not have been the end of his usefulness. Weissmann was well known to be a Hillary Clinton partisan, and even attended the Clinton election night celebration--which turned into a wake. Just how extensive were Weissmann's contacts with the Clinton campaign? Here the waters are murky. Nevertheless, Weissmann is known to have had contacts with Mary Jacoby, the wife of Glenn Simpson, as well as with Simpson himself. Further, others in the Clinton circle also had contacts. Aaron Klein has detailed remarkable new information involving contacts of Edward Lieberman with the Russians involved in the famous Trump Tower meeting on the days surrounding that meeting--including the very day of the meeting. Edward Lieberman is a lawyer and an associate of Madeline Albright whose expertise involves “multi-billion dollar privatizations of oil and gas assets in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Russia.” He was also the husband of the late Evelyn Lieberman, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House.
Was Bruce Ohr "in the loop" regarding the Trump Tower meeting--which I regard as a clear attempt to set up Donald Trump Jr. and/or Jared Kushner in a quid pro quo arrangement for supposed "dirt" on Hillary Clinton? If Ohr knew of this attempted setup of the Trump campaign, there would seem to be little to no doubt that Weissmann also knew. Further, since both would have known of the connection of Fusion GPS to the Clinton campaign, was there possibly a more direct connection to the Clinton campaign, through Weissman?
Finally, when it came time to select a Special Counsel, would not Weissmann have been a logical person to sound out Mueller on returning to government--or should we say Deep State--work? It's telling that Weissmann jumped on board the Mueller train as soon as the Special Counsel was established. Had there been preliminary discussions?
We now know that Weissman was a more integral part of the Russia Hoax/conspiracy than previously suspected--probably from the very beginning. The question is, just how extensive was his involvement? Did it extend to contact with the Clinton campaign itself? Did it extend beyond the election to strategizing with FBI efforts to ensnare and use George Papadopoulos? Did it extend to reaching out to his mentor Mueller during the early months of the Trump administration, planning for a Special Counsel?
The answers to these questions should be of pressing concern to Congressional investigators.
UPDATE: In a letter to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, dated 9/10/18, Rep. Mark Meadows detailed FBI and DoJ collusion to release leaks to the press to harm the Trump Administration. Specifically, Meadows noted
For example, while Strzok and Page texted about media leaks on April 10-12, 2017 — during the same timeframe as FBI and DOJ officials were having conversations with reporters — the Washington Post broke a story on the Carter Page FISA application on April 11, 2017, setting off a flurry of articles suggesting connections between President Trump and Russia. Other documents indicate DOJ officials, specifically Andrew Weissmann, participated in unauthorized conversations with the media during this same period. Evidence suggests senior officials at the FBI and DOJ communicated with other news outlets beyond the Washington Post, as well.
"During this same period" means Weissmann was illegally colluding in anti-Trump leaks two months before joining the Mueller Russia Hoax team.
Paul Mirengoff at Powerline, The FBI’s anti-Trump “leak strategy”, further notes:
Weissmann is now a key member of Robert Mueller’s team of anti-Trump partisans. Before Mueller was appointed, Weissmann, then a high ranking DOJ official, met met with reporters from the Associated Press in April 2017, just one day before their explosive story on Paul Manafort’s dealings with Ukraine officials.
This meeting of Weissmann with AP reporters has long been public knowledge--as is the fact that it has been the subject of investigation by IG Horowitz. That means that SC Mueller has long been aware of it.
Mirengoff points out that the apparent result of the AP reporters' meeting with Weissmann was an "explosive story on Paul Manafort's dealings with Ukraine officials." The subject of Paul Manafort has been a special focus of Glenn Simpson for years--it's not too much to say that Simpson is one of the world's great experts on Paul Manafort. Given Weissmann's background at the FBI as outlined above, it would not be unusual for him to be aware of Manafort, but the possibility that Simpson provided Weissmann with more detailed information to feed to the AP reporters should not be discounted. This would be one more connection between Weissmann and Simpson's Fusion GPS.