Readers of this blog will know that I've long advocated for the absolute centrality of the famous Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. That was the meeting between the Trump campaign (represented by Don Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort) and a gaggle of Russians, including the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The meeting was supposed to be about "dirt on HIllary" but turned out to be Veselnitskaya advocating for a relaxation or elimination of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the Magnitsky Act.
As is now well known, Veselnitskaya was only present in the US courtesy of the Obama Administration--she had been excluded from entry but DHS decided, “in concurrence with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Southern District of New York,” then headed by Preet Bharara, to allow her in just that one time. Also well known is the fact that Veselnitskaya had dinner with Clinton oppo research supremo Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS both before and after the Trump Tower meeting. Further, other Clinton activists were in close communication with both Simpson and Russian participants in the meeting.
DC Whispers has a fascinating big picture view of the entire Russia Hoax, based off an original at Big League Politics. What I particularly like about his presentation is its emphasis on the centrality of the Trump Tower meeting. That centrality is borne out by the reports that have noted that this was a topic virtually always touched upon by Team Mueller's inquisitors, as well as by the fact that Congressional Dems have carped on it for the last two years.
My oft repeated view has been that the whole purpose of the meeting was to try to create at least an appearance of a corrupt quid pro quo between Trump and Russia: on Trump's side, a promise of relaxation of sanctions in return for (on the Russian side) help against Hillary. That would, IMO, almost certainly violate the federal bribery statute (and possibly other laws), which applies to those who are prospective members of the government, not just current members.
DC Whispers quotes an "FBI insider" who describes what the Trump Tower meeting was originally all about--and I find it persuasive:
“Mueller’s team of partisans has a problem. They want to get Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner so they are working hard to prove that Jr and Kushner lied about the June 9th 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The Special Counsel has their version (Fusion GPS’ version) of what happened in the meeting but Veselnitskaya and Manafort’s versions don’t support their version. They tried to squeeze Manafort into reciting their version but in the end he resisted. So they claimed to the Judge that Manafort lied in his proffer to them. Veselnitskaya already met with Senate investigators and gave testimony about the meeting. This testimony doesn’t fall in line with the Special Counsel’s version so they have to discredit her and keep her from coming to the U.S. for any future hearings hence the strange indictment today by holdovers of Preet Bharara.
The Trump Tower meeting, facilitated by Fusion GPS and debriefed by Fusion GPS, was an original attempt to get candidate Trump to make commitments to Russia regarding the subversion of the Magnitsky Act. This was the original purpose of the entrapment but candidate Trump didn’t fall for it. So they didn’t want a good set-up to go to waste.
Veselnitskaya only mentioned dirt on Hillary as a ruse to get the Trump campaign to meet with her regarding the Magnitsky scheme. Fusion GPS, Brennan and Comey were trying to set Trump up to commit a serious crime related to Russia but they were unsuccessful. After Trump was elected they dug through all of their attempts to find something useful and realized they could spin several setup meetings with Trump Campaign officials as somehow being related to hacked emails. This is proven by the fact that all the meetings were conducted by people associated with the CIA (Halper and Mifsud) and the FBI (Fusion GPS and Henry Greenburg). It is also proven by the fact that the FISA warrants obtained by the FBI never had any mention of Hacked emails.”
To see how this Trump Tower meeting remained central to Dem thinking--almost certainly reflecting Team Mueller strategy dating back to the very inception of the Special Counsel inquisition--and how Dem leaders connected the Trump Tower meeting to Wikileaks and the DNC "hack," I present below three paragraphs from pp. 4-5 of Adam Schiff's March 13, 2018, Status of the Russia Investigation memo. Schiff's memo was intended as a rebuttal to Devin Nunes' own FISA Abuses memo. The paragraphs I've selected are from the "Key Lines of Inquiry" section that outlines Schiff's claim that Nunes and the majority had supposedly left key lines of investigation unaddressed. In other words, the usual meme: Republicans were covering up for Trump's treason.
Note in the selection from Schiff's memo how central the Trump Tower meeting is and compare it to the DC Whispers article's account. You can see the clear quid pro quo arrangement: emails released through Wikileaks in return for easing Magnitsky Act sanctions. That was one close call for the Trump campaign! You can see also see how closely Schiff tracks the Trump Tower meeting with the attempts to entrap George Papadopoulos in London--which could lead to a major FISA problem for the FBI. So, Schiff:
Campaign knowledge of email hack. As the Special Counsel has revealed, weeks before the world learned that Russian actors hacked into the DNC and the Clinton campaign, the Russians, through intermediaries [i.e., Joseph Mifsud], informed one of candidate Trump’s five named foreign policy advisors, George Papadopoulos, in April 2016 that the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” In evidenc [sic] evidence before the FISA Court, the DOJ also revealed that the Russians previewed the release of this information to Mr. Papadopoulos at that time. The early date of this contact is significant: even the Clinton campaign was not yet aware that Russia possessed their stolen emails.
Several weeks later, in a direct approach by Russia in early June 2016 to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, the Kremlin offered dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of what was described as the Russian government’s “support for Mr. Trump.” The campaign response to the offer was two-fold: that they would “love” the help, particularly as the general election neared, and that they were disappointed with what the Russians provided at the meeting. At this point, several weeks after Russian agents informed Mr. Papadopoulos of their valuable cache, the campaign was on notice that Russia had far more helpful dirt to offer in the form of stolen emails. Days after the Trump Tower meeting, WikiLeaks would announce it had received stolen emails, documents we now know they received from the Russians.
Several outstanding questions remain: What more did the Russians relay to Mr. Papadopoulos and possibly others; how did they relay it; and with whom on the campaign did Mr. Papadopoulos—who was in frequent contact with numerous high-level Trump associates—share this valuable information? Were others on or tied to the campaign made aware of Russia’s plan to hack and anonymously release the stolen emails?
I find Schiff's narrative interesting for what it tells us about the persistence with which the central premise of the Russia Hoax was played out. It seems clear to me that the initial hope that Veselnitskaya would be able to receive some preliminary commitment from the Trump campaign, along these lines: We get what you're saying about the Magnitsky Act. Now tell us how you can help us. Instead, Veselnitskaya and her gaggle of Russians got bounced from Trump Tower. But, rather than let a good setup go to waste, Team Mueller and the Schiff led Dems have attempted to recycle the meeting into the whole "hack" narrative.
Of coure, we now know that all of this is fiction (Trump Tower Narrative Laid To Rest?). The FBI's assets who approached Papadopoulos in London were Joseph Mifsud (a shadowy "professor"), Alexander Downer (an Australian diplomat and long time intel operative), and Stephan Halper, another long time US/UK operative. Downer and Halper have denied ever having discussed emails to Papadopoulos, accounts which Papadopoulos confirms. That leaves Mifsud, and Papadopoulos does forthrightly say that Mifsud told him, unasked, that "the Russians" had HIllary Clinton emails. Unfortunately for the scheme, Papadopoulos failed to take the bait and didn't share this "information" with anyone in the Trump campaign. So much for collusion!
But here's the problem for the FBI. While most of Schiff's account is pure fiction, it seems safe to assume that he is relating reliable information when he flatly states that DoJ (and the FBI) represented to the FISA Court (FISC) that "the Russians previewed the release of this information to Mr. Papadopoulos at that time." I think we can assume that there is a FISA application that, in unredacted form, would reveal just such a representation. Problem: That representation is false. Mifsud was not a "Russian intermediary". He was an FBI intermediary or, if you will, a Five Eyes intermediary, and he was not presenting factual information to Papadopoulos. That representation in the FISA application is therefore a fraud on the FISC.
Now, Mifsud was interviewed by the FBI in Washington, DC, in February 2017. At that time he stated: “I reaffirm that the content of our conversations was always on wide geo-strategic issues.” So, not on Hillary emails and Wikileaks and Russian hacking. Awkward. But there's always a solution. Rather than allow Mifsud to do something totally crazy--like testify before the House--the FBI put out word that if Mifsud should return to the US they might like to arrest him to see if he'd been telling them the truth (there's irony in that!). And anyway, by that time Mifsud had apparently received a new identity from some friendly intelligence service and "gone to ground"--persona non grata in the US, at least as far as the US Intelligence "Community" was concerned.
You might think it would be interesting to get Veselnitskaya's take on that meeting, and I would definitely agree. However, as we have seen, like Mifsud, Veselnitskaya has been made to feel persona non grata by US authorities who have no interest in what she might have to say--because her version as related to Senate investigators doesn't work for their preferred narrative. This time those US authorities represent the extreme Dem friendly Southern District of New York, who have indicted Veselnitskaya for obstruction in a money laundering case, which they seem to think is more important than a coup against a sitting POTUS.
Lastly, it's useful to consider how all this plays directly into the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel. For the past two years there has been a lot of loose talk about Counterintelligence investigations aren't criminal in nature. That's complete nonsense, no matter what John Dowd or anyone else says. Rod Rosenstein explicitly authorized Mueller to continue the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which we know contains a criminal predicate because Crossfire Hurricane was used as the vehicle for a FISA application--and FISA requires a criminal predicate. I've suggested the federal bribery statute as one possible criminal predicate, but there are other possibilities.
There has also been loose talk that Team Mueller never seriously pursued "Russian collusion," that their inquisition was always all about obstruction. Now, it's true (strange but true!) that disgraced FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe did open an obstruction investigation on Trump, based on Trump's firing of James Comey. However, that was just McCabe being way over the top. Rosenstein did not open an obstruction investigation. How could he? He himself had recommended Comey's firing for cause. Anyway, as Rosenstein knew, Trump firing Comey was not, of itself, obstruction. Further, if Trump were ever to be charged with obstruction there would have to be an underlying crime--as Barr has made clear in his summary of the Mueller report.
Therefore, Rosenstein only authorized continuation of the "collusion" investigation--for which Trump was not a subject. Now, the Special Counsel regulations allow for investigation of obstruction during that investigation, but there has to be an underlying crime. And that's another reason for the centrality of the Trump Tower meeting in Team Mueller's inquisition. Mueller quickly realized that the original Crossfire Hurricane investigation was a complete dud, because it was predicated on the farcical and discredited Steele "dossier". If there was ever going to be an underlying crime to support the obstruction narrative it was only going to come from the Trump Tower meeting. And that's why DC Whispers' "FBI insider" points out how hard Team Mueller was working the Trump Tower angle to jam up Don Jr. and Jared Kushner--only by claiming to find some sort of collusion plus a connection to The Donald himself (the mystery phone calls that turned out not so mysterious) would they ever a case: collusion or obstruction.
So now we're waiting for IG Michael Horowitz' report on FISA abuse, and you can bet that he has long been onto what we internet sleuths are only now picking up on. Unless I'm much mistaken, there are some former FBI and DoJ employees who are dreading the release of that report.