THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH JULY 17, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline, Comey Firing Timeline, and Kushner Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries. 

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Sater has an interesting history. Allegedly, Sater’s father, Mikhael Sheferovsky (aka Michael Sater) was a lieutenant for Russia’s most powerful mobster, Semion Mogilevich. After a 1991 barroom fight in which Felix Sater stabbed a man in the face with the broken stem of a large margarita glass, he received a prison sentence. In 1993, Sater then became part of a stock scheme that allegedly relied on four New York Mafia crime families for protection. He pled guilty and, in return for a reduced sentence, entered into a 1998 cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors pursuing members of organized crime. Reportedly, he also helped the CIA track down and purchase stinger missiles on the black market in Central Asia, thereby keeping them out of terrorists’ hands. In April 2002, Felix Sater is still cooperating with the Justice Department when the US attorney for the eastern district of New York requests a postponement of Sater’s sentencing to September. [Revised July 17, 2017] 

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  • During the week of June 19, 2017: According to a July 13, 2017 report by  Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News, Trump lawyers Marc Kasowitz and Alan Garten inform Trump that Donald Trump Jr. had sent and received emails confirming a June 9, 2016 meeting among Don Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. [Added July 17, 2017]

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  • Also on July 11, 2017: Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reports that earlier plans with the Agalarovs to build a Trump Tower in Moscow continued into 2014 and collapsed because the US imposed sanctions on Russia. [Added July 17, 2017]

 

  • July 12, 2017: Trump tells Reuters that he had learned only recently about the June 9, 2016 meeting among Don Jr., Kushner, Manafort, and a Russian lawyer. “No,” he said, “that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this.” Trump repeats that assertion while speaking with reporters that night on Air Force One en route to Paris. “I only heard about it two or three days ago,” he says. But then he adds, “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point,” but when asked if he had been told that the meeting was about Hillary Clinton and “dirt” against her he says no. [Added July 17, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 12, 2017: In a Fox News interview, Vice President Mike Pence’s spokesperson refuses to answer directly whether Pence ever met with any Russians during the presidential campaign. [Added July 17, 2017]

 

 

  • July 13, 2017: The Chicago Tribune reports that on May 14, 2017, Peter W. Smith was found dead in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room. The GOP operative from Lake Forest, Illinois had died about ten days after an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he claimed during the campaign to have connections to Trump adviser Mike Flynn. Smith had told the Journal that, over the Labor Day weekend 2016, he tried to recruit a team of experts to find any emails that were stolen from the private email server that Hillary Clinton used while she was secretary of state. Smith’s Minnesota state death record says that he committed suicide by asphyxiation. The police had recovered a note that included these lines; “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” – “RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017” and timing related “TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.” The Wall Street Journal reporter who had interviewed Smith in May tweets:

[Added July 17, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 13, 2017: Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reports that President Trump’s legal team had been informed more than three weeks earlier about the email chain arranging a June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. [Added July 17, 2017]

 

  • July 14, 2017: NBC News reports, “The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist—a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.” The lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, confirms to the Associated Press that he attended the meeting. He tells AP that he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence, but was never formally trained as a spy. Akhmetshin also says that the Russian lawyer at the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, presented the Trump associates with details of what she believed were illicit funds that had been funneled to the Democratic National Committee. And she suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign. “This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalls her saying. He says the attorney brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents, but was unaware of the content of the documents or whether they were provided by the Russian government, and it was unclear whether she left the materials with the Trump associates. [Added July 17, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 14, 2017: CNN reports that the June 9, 2016 meeting included more than just the six previously reported participants: Kushner, Manafort, Don Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin, and a translator. According to CNN, at least two others—including a representative of the Agalarov family—also attended. [Added July 17, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 14, 2017: Jared Kushner’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, announces that she is no longer representing Kushner on Russia-related inquiries. [Added July 17, 2017]

HOW DONALD TRUMP JR. DESTROYED KELLYANNE’S FAVORITE TALKING POINT

[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on July 12, 2017]

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway (JD, George Washington, ’92) has a new assignment. She has to explain away a smoking gun that Donald Trump Jr. has aimed at the 2016 election. For months, she and everyone else in the White House vehemently denied that the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russians about the election. With a tweet on July 11, 2017, Don Jr. destroyed that talking point forever.

Call the Question

On December 18, 2016, CBS News’ John Dickerson had asked Conway directly: “Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?”

“Absolutely not,” she replied. “And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous. And—and it does undermine our democracy.”

Conway was resolute, indignant, and wrong. Those conversations did happen. People are saying it’s a fact because it is. From June 3-8, 2016, Don Jr. received and wrote emails that prove it. But when Conway talks about undermining democracy, she knows whereof she speaks.

Dodging Bullets

Don Jr.’s Russia troubles began on Saturday, July 8, 2017, when The New York Times told him it was going run a story about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower involving him, Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties. He responded with the first of his conflicting statements about that meeting. The participants discussed a program about the “adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago,” Don Jr. asserted. (Putin had suspended the program in retaliation for a 2012 American law punishing Russians thought to be responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax attorney who had uncovered a $230 million fraud scheme involving Putin allies.) “It was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” he wrote of the June 9 session.

That was iteration number one. On Sunday, July 9, the Times informed Don Jr. that five White House advisers contradicted his statement. In truth, the Russian lawyer with whom three of Trump’s top officials met on June 9 had promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The Times story prompted Don Jr. to issue a new statement: “After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

Then came Tuesday, July 11. The Times told Don Jr. that it now had the content of his June 3-8 email exchanges with Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who first contacted Don Jr. to request the meeting on behalf of his client—the son of a wealthy real estate developer and Putin ally sometimes referred to as the “Trump of Russia.” The emails said that Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort met with a “Russian government attorney” based on the promise of “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful” to Trump. The Trump group thought it would receive “very high level and sensitive information [that] is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

To get ahead of the imminent Times story, Don Jr. released his email exchange with Goldstone, along with his third statement on the June 9 meeting. With a newfound desire to be “totally transparent,” he said that he thought the Russian lawyer was going to give him “Political Opposition Research” on Clinton, as if accepting any election assistance from a foreign government is somehow legal, much less acceptable.

“Don’t Facts Matter?”

Cue Kellyanne Conway. Even before her infamous post-inauguration one-liner about “alternative facts,” Conway was a leading promoter of Trump’s disinformation program. Representing a super PAC supporting Ted Cruz (R-TX), Conway on February 9, 2016 criticized Trump for insulting people, saying: “[D]o I want somebody who hurls personal insults or who goes and talks about philosophical differences?” But only six weeks after joining Trump’s campaign, she proclaimed, “He doesn’t hurl insults.”

On Aug. 24, 2016, just three days after Conway and former Fox News chief Roger Ailes attended Trump’s debate prep session, she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Ailes was “not a formal or informal adviser to the Trump campaign… He has no formal or informal role.”

On Sept. 16, 2016, when Trump retreated from his five-year lie about President Obama’s birthplace and floated a new falsehood—that Hillary Clinton had started the “birther” controversy—Conway backed him up on Sunday morning talk shows. “This started with Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” she said. “No question.” Of course, PolitiFact—along with FactCheck.org and The Washington Post Fact-Checker—reported that it had “debunked this zombie claim multiple times.”

On Nov. 6, 2016, CNN’s Anderson Cooper finally asked Conway: “Don’t facts matter?”

The answer was no.

On January 5, 2017, leaders of the U.S. intelligence community testified unanimously before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia had used hacking and leaks to influence the presidential election. John McCain called the cyberattack an “act of war.” But the next morning, Conway appeared on CNN, asserting that “conclusive evidence” of Russian election interference still didn’t exist. “The Russians didn’t want him elected,” she declared.

On February 2, 2017, Conway said Trump’s travel ban would prevent more events like the “Bowling Green Massacre”—which never happened.

On May 9, 2017—shortly after Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey—she led the charge in pushing the absurd White House cover-up that Comey’s pre-election statements about the Clinton email investigation led to his firing. Then Trump himself contradicted Conway’s story.

After that, she remained quiet for a few weeks. That is, until she returned to twist words for the newest and, perhaps, greatest scandal in American political history.

Conway’s Conundrum

Now that Don Jr. has revealed the falsity of Conway’s December 18, 2016 assurances that no one involved in the Trump campaign had any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election, how will she respond? The new revelations about the June 9 meeting should be a breaking point. It doesn’t require Conway’s legal degree to realize that accepting help from an enemy state to win an American election undermines democracy.

But so far, the Russian assault on our republic hasn’t seemed to faze her. On Monday morning, July 10, she hit the airwaves to defend her boss’s son. After ABC’s George Stephanopoulos replayed Conway’s December 16 denial of any contacts between Trump campaign members and Russian election meddlers, he asked, “Who misled you, and why did Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort allow those public denials to stand for so many months?”

Conway ducked the first question and responded to the second with a non-answer: Some disclosure forms had been amended to include certain meetings. And everyone should believe her when she says, “No information was received that was meaningful or helpful and no action was taken.” Similarly, in a longer session with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, she displayed mastery of her subtle approach to attacking democracy’s central core, which is an informed electorate.

Long ago, Conway left the world in which facts, truth, and clarity matter. The future of the republic now depends on the answer to this question: How much of the country has she taken with her?

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH JULY 11, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline, Comey Firing Timeline, and Kushner Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries.

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  • June 3, 2016: Rob Goldstone, a music publicist, sends Donald Trump Jr. an email stating that one of his clients, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, had “something very interesting” he wanted to pass along to Donald Jr.: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.” (Aras Agalarov—a Putin ally and wealthy real estate developer sometimes referred to as the “Trump of Russia”—had helped sponsor the Trump-owned 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. In a later interview with Forbes in March 2017, Emin Agalarov says that he and his father had previously signed a letter of intent with their Trump counterparts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. “He ran for president, so we dropped the idea,” Agalarov said of Trump and the project. “But if he hadn’t run we would probably be in the construction phase today.”) [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on June 3, 3016: Responding to Goldstone’s email, Donald Jr. says, “[I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Donald Jr. suggests they talk early during the week of June 6, when he’s back from the road. [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • June 7, 2016: Rob Goldstone sends Donald Jr. a follow-up email: “Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow this Thursday. I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you? I assume it would be at your office.” Confirming the date and time, Donald Jr. says that then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner will also attend. The following day, they move the meeting to 4pm because the “Russian attorney is in court until 3….” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on June 7, 2016: After winning the New Jersey primary as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president, Trump includes this line in his victory speech: “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week [June 13] and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • June 9, 2016: Natalia Veselnitskaya, the “Russian government attorney” referenced in Goldstone’s earlier emails to Donald Jr., meets at Trump Tower with Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. The lawyer was formerly married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region. Her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company is under investigation in the United States at the time. [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on June 9, 2016: Trump tweets:

 

[Added July 11, 2017]

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  • July 6, 2017: En route to the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany where he will meet privately with Vladimir Putin, Trump stops in Poland to deliver a speech. At a news conference NBC News’ Hallie Jackson asks: “Mr. President, can you once and for all, yes or no, definitively say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election?” Trump answers, “Well, I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people in other countries.” He then excoriates President Obama for doing “nothing” in the face of the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russian meddling was underway. “The reason is, he thought Hillary was going to win,” Trump continues. Pressed again on whether he agrees with the “definitive” conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the election, Trump says, “I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries…. Nobody really knows for sure. I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what—that led to one big mess. They were wrong.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 6, 2017: The Financial Times reports that Felix Sater has agreed to cooperate in an international investigation of a Kazakh family’s real estate dealings. The head of the family—Viktor Khrapunov, a former Kazakh minister now exiled in Switzerland—is reportedly under investigation for allegations that he embezzled government funds and hid the cash in other countries throughout the world, including the US. Deeds and banking records obtained by the Financial Times show that in April 2013, members of the Khrapunov family purchased three apartments in Trump SoHo for a grand total price of $3.1 million from a holding company in which Trump held a stake. [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • July 7, 2017: For the first time since the 2016 election, Trump meets Vladimir Putin. The only other attendees to their private, two-and-a-half hour session are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and two interpreters. [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 7, 2017: In an off-camera interview with the press after the Trump/Putin meeting, Tillerson says that Trump opened the session by “raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election…. The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” Responding to a later question about whether Trump “was unequivocal in his view that Russia did interfere with the election,” Tillerson says, “The Russians have asked for proof and evidence. I’ll leave that to the intelligence community to address the answer to that question. And again, I think the President, at this point, he pressed him and then felt like at this point let’s talk about how do we go forward.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 7, 2017: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov offers a different version of the Trump/Putin meeting, saying, “President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements. That’s all.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • July 8, 2012: At a press conference concluding the G-20 summit, Putin responds to questions about whether Russian meddling in the 2016 election was a subject of their private meeting. “[Trump] was really interested in some details. I, as far as I could, answered all this in detail,” Putin says through a translator at the press conference, which a Russian state-owned news channel broadcasted. “He asked me, I answered. He asked clarifying questions, I explained. He appeared to me satisfied with these answers.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 8, 2017: The New York Times first reports the story of the June 9, 2016 meeting that Donald Jr. had arranged with Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. In response, Donald Jr. issues this statement: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up… I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • July 9, 2017: As The New York Times prepares to report that the Russian lawyer with whom Donald Jr., Kushner, and Manafort met on June 9, 2016 was supposedly going to be offering them damaging information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. issues a new statement changing his story from less than 24 hours earlier: “I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office. The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.” [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • July 10, 2017: Donald Trump Jr. tweets:

 

[Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 10, 2017: Donald Trump Jr. confirms that he has hired a criminal defense attorney to represent him in connection with the Trump/Russia probe. [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • Also on July 10, 2017: The New York Times reports on the email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Jr. preceding the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower among Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties. [Added July 11, 2017]

 

  • July 11, 2017: Donald Jr. posts his June 3-8, 2016 email exchanges with Rob Goldstone that culminate in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the person Goldstone described as a “Russian government attorney.” In his accompanying statement, Donald Jr. says that he knew Emin from the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. “Emin and his father have a very highly respected company in Moscow,” he continues. “The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research…To put this in context, this was before the current Russian fever was in vogue.” [Added July 11, 2017]

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH JULY 3, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline, Comey Firing Timeline, and Kushner Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries. 

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  • Dec. 19-20, 2007: Two days after a December 17, 2007 article in The New York Times about Felix Sater’s criminal past, a lawyer deposing Trump in his libel suit against journalist Timothy O’Brien — author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald — asks, “[W]hat kind of interaction did you have with Mr. Sater prior to the article appearing?” Trump answers, “Not that much, not very much….I would say that my interaction with Felix Sater was, you know, not—was very little.” (p. 411) Discussing Bayrock’s unsuccessful development efforts for Trump in Russia, Trump says, “This was going to be a hotel in Moscow. And I really can say the same things for all of the sites…a hotel in Moscow, a hotel in Kiev, a hotel in Poland, et cetera,…. Bayrock knew the people, knew the investors, and in some cases I believe they were friends of Mr. Arif. And this was going to be Trump International Hotel and Tower in Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, et cetera, Poland, Warsaw.” (p. 586) Trump is referring to the Bayrock Principal, Tevfik Arif. And a few minutes later, Trump says Arif “did bring people up from Russia…And I believe he brought the people from Moscow up to meet me.” (pp. 589-590) [Added July 3, 2017]

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  • Nov. 16, 2011: Answering deposition questions in a case involving a Fort Lauderdale project, Trump says he has only “limited involvement” with Bayrock Group, which was a Trump tenant “for a period of time.” (pp. 10-11) Trump testifies that he spoke with Felix Sater “for a period of time” when he was an executive with Bayrock. (p. 18) [Added July 3, 2017]

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  • July 2016: According to POLITCO, Felix Sater visits Trump Tower on business that he described as “confidential.” Sater declines to answer whether he’s had recent contact with the Trump Organization or Trump’s children. “I don’t see the relevance of that,” Sater says. When POLITICO asks the Trump campaign about Sater, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks says, “We are not aware of a contribution or visit to Trump Tower.” Trump Organization General Counsel Alan Garten says that he has no knowledge of Sater’s visit to Trump Tower, that Sater was not advising the Trump Organization, and that the Trump Organization was not seeking business in Russia. [Added July 3, 2017]

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  • Labor Day weekend 2016: According to a June 29, 2017 article in The Wall Street Journal and a July 1, 2017 follow-up piece, wealthy GOP operative Peter W. Smith sets out to get his hands on any emails that were stolen from the private email server that Hillary Clinton used while she was secretary of state. Smith assembles a team of technology experts, lawyers, and a Russian-speaking investigator in Europe to help him find the emails. They identify five groups of hackers, two of which are Russian. In recruiting experts, Smith claims to be in contact with Trump adviser Mike Flynn and Flynn’s son. With one potential collaborator, he shares a packet of opposition research articles with a cover sheet listing Trump campaign officials Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Sam Clovis. Responding to the 2017 articles in The Wall Street Journal about Smith’s effort, a Trump campaign official says that Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and if Flynn coordinated with Smith, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual. Bannon says that he’s never heard of Smith. Conway says she knew Smith from Republican politics, but never met with him during the campaign. About 10 days after his May 2017 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Smith dies at the age of 81. (Added July 3, 2017)

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  • June 26, 2017: Jared Kushner’s lawyers confirm that he has added a prominent criminal defense trial lawyer, Abbe Lowell, to his legal team. [Added July 3, 2017]
  • June 27, 2017: Paul Manafort registers retroactively as a foreign agent. Between 2012 and 2014 he received more than $17 million from the pro-Russia political party (“Party of Regions”) that dominated Ukraine before its leader, then-President Viktor F. Yanukovych, fled to Moscow amid a popular uprising in 2014. As part of the filing, Manafort discloses that he met in 2013 with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken California Republican known for advocating closer ties between the U.S. and the Kremlin. [Added July 3, 2017]

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE — UPDATES THROUGH JUNE 26, 2017

These are my latest additions to the Bill Moyers & Company overall Timeline relating to Trump and Russia. You can read the entire Timeline here. The Pence Timeline, Comey Firing Timeline, and Kushner Timeline have also been updated to include relevant entries. 

  • Early August 2016: According to a subsequent report in The Washington Post, the CIA informs President Obama that based on intelligence sources within the Russian government, Putin had given Russian officials specific objectives for the ongoing cyberattack on the US election: defeat or at least damage Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump. Upon receiving the news, Obama directs the entire intelligence community to provide him with as much information as soon as possible. CIA Director John Brennan convenes a secret task force composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, NSA and FBI. [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • Also on Aug. 15, 2016: Concerned about additional intelligence reports about Russia’s cyberattack efforts, the Obama administration seeks bipartisan support from the states to designate election systems as “critical infrastructure” that would entitle them to priority in shoring up defenses against such attacks. The reaction from the states ranges “from neutral to negative,” according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • Early September 2016: Stung by unsuccessful efforts to enlist the states’ bipartisan support for shoring up the nation’s election system, senior members of the Obama administration meet with 12 key congressional leaders to seek their help. The response devolves into partisan wrangling, with Democrats wanting to alert the public about Russia’s efforts and Republicans dissenting. According to a later report in The Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voices skepticism about whether the underlying intelligence truly supports the White House’s claims about Russian interference. [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • October 2016: Jared Kushner’s real estate company finalizes a $285 million loan with Deutsche Bank as part of a refinancing package for its property near Times Square. In total, the refinancing deal reportedly results in Kushner’s company receiving $74 million more than it had paid for the property in 2015, when Kushner had negotiated the purchase with Lev Leviev. According to a 2007 New York Times report, Leviev—a Uzbek-born Israeli citizen who is one of the world’s wealthiest men—kept a framed photo of Vladimir Putin on his office shelf and described Putin as a “true friend,” who has helped him work with an influential Jewish organization in Russia. At the time of the October 2016 refinancing with Kushner’s company, Deutsche Bank was negotiating to settle New York state regulators’ charges that it had aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. Eventually, the state cases were settled in December and January. [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • Also on March 10, 2017: Senior Democratic members of the House Committee on Financial Services write to the Committee’s chairman requesting “a formal assessment of the Justice Department’s investigation into Deutsche Bank’s Russian money-laundering scheme,” including a review of Attorney General Session’s role in conducting the investigation.” The letter cites the bank’s recent payment of more than $600 million to settle claims that its inadequate controls “failed to prevent a group of corrupt traders from improperly and secretly transferring more than $10 billion out of Russia.” The letter also expresses concern that Deutsche Bank “is one of the Trump’s top creditors with an estimated $360 million in outstanding loans to his companies.” [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • Also on May 23, 2017: Senior Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee ask Deutsche Bank to provide information about the bank’s internal reviews relating to: 1) alleged Russian money laundering, and 2) personal accounts of Trump and his family. Citing US privacy laws, the bank refuses. [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • Also on June 9, 2017: The House Intelligence Committee sends two letters relating to its investigation. One requests that the FBI produce any notes or memoranda of Comey’s conversations with Trump. The second asks White House counsel Don McGahn to inform the Committee whether any White House recordings or memoranda of Comey’s conversations with Trump have ever existed and, to the extent they still exist, produce them by June 23. [Added June 26, 2017]

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  • June 20, 2017: White House press secretary Sean Spicer says he doesn’t know if Trump believes that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • June 21, 2017: Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division says that individuals connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states. A week earlier, Bloomberg had reported that Russian hackers had tried to penetrate voting systems in 39 states. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also on June 21, 2017: The New York Times reports that the White House has been lobbying the House of Representatives to weaken the Senate bill that would limit Trump’s power to curtail Russian sanctions. The bipartisan legislation had passed the Senate a week earlier, and would allow Congress to thwart any effort by the White House to curtail those sanctions without congressional approval. On June 20, the Treasury Department issued sanctions directed against more than three dozen Russian individuals and organizations that had participated in the country’s incursion into Ukraine. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • June 22, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

[Added June 26, 2017]

  • June 23, 2017: In an interview on Fox & Friends, Trump says that special counsel Robert Mueller is “very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome… Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey.” Asked about Mueller’s legal team, Trump says, “I can say that the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters. Some of them worked for Hillary Clinton. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous if you want to know the truth.” [Added June 22, 2017]
  • Also on June 23, 2017: In a two-sentence response to the House Intelligence Committee’s prior request for any and all records memorializing conversations between Trump and James Comey, the White House refers to and quotes from Trump’s June 22, 2017 tweets (above) and provides no other information. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also June 23, 2017: The New York Times reports that federal investigators and the New York state attorney general are looking into Paul Manafort’s real estate dealings in recent years. [Added June 26, 2017]
  • Also on June 23, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

 

  • June 24, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

[Added June 26, 2017]

  • June 25, 2017: Interviewing Kellyanne Conway, ABC News’ This Week, George Stephanopoulos says, “The president said he did not tape James Comey, but I am confused by the top part of that (tweet). Does the president have any evidence at all that his personal conversations were somehow taped? And has he asked the intelligence agencies for that evidence?” When Conway doesn’t answer those questions directly, Stephanopoulos persists, “Has the president asked the intelligence agencies if they have any tapes of his conversations? Does he know if they have that? Does he have any evidence to back up that suggestion that he put out in the tweet?” Conway answers, “I’m not going to comment on his conversations with his intelligence community… I mean, what are we talking about here with this never ending Russian discussion?” [Added June 26, 2017]
  • June 26, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

and

[Added June 26, 2017]

MUELLER v. TRUMP: The Ultimate Lawsuit

[This post first appeared on Bill Moyers & Company on June 22, 2017]

Eventually, Trump is likely to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s repeated statements about the Russia “hoax” — along with his apparent attempts to influence the FBI’s investigation — warrant a close look at the process by which he could do so. Equally important are the limited ways to stop him. Whether by design, inadvertence or a combination of both, Trump and his minions — including Newt Gingrich and Trump’s lawyers — have been laying the groundwork for what could become America’s defining moment.

The Rules and the Players

To stop the investigation, Trump’s cleanest path requires that one of his loyalists occupy a Senate-confirmed position in the Justice Department’s chain of command. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, the power to end the inquiry has now landed in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s lap. But Sessions’ recusal also gave Rosenstein the authority to appoint a special counsel. When he tapped Robert Mueller for the job, it was a game-changer.

Under the Justice Department’s special counsel regulations, Trump can’t fire Mueller directly. Only the attorney general can pull the trigger for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or for other good cause, including violation of departmental policies.” For now, that determination rests with Rosenstein. If he drops out, next in line are Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand and US Attorney Dana Boente. After that, things get murky, because the Senate has not confirmed any other Justice Department official. That’s important because without Senate confirmation, even temporary advancement to departmental leadership is problematic.

Step 1: Clearing the Board

As the FBI’s Russia investigation intensified, so would have Trump’s desire for DOJ loyalists whom he could direct to end it. That might explain Trump’s curious about-face involving Manhattan’s US Attorney Preet Bharara. In November, Trump had personally asked Bharara to remain on the job during his administration. But on March 10 — a week after Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation — Trump made a stunning reversal: He fired Bharara, along with every remaining US attorney in the country, except for Rod Rosenstein and Dana Boente. Overnight, the Justice Department was without any Senate-confirmed officials, except for the three who now remain: Sessions, Rosenstein and Boente.

Step 2: Removing Rosenstein

After Trump cleared the board, Rosenstein became a problem for the president, starting with his appointment of special counsel Mueller. Then Rosenstein testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 13 that he would not fire Mueller without the necessary “good cause” — and that he hadn’t seen any yet. After that performance, Trump couldn’t count on Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and the process for moving Rosenstein out began swiftly. Once reports surfaced that Mueller was investigating the possibility that Trump had obstructed justice by firing FBI Director Comey, it took only a tweet to put Rosenstein in the hot seat:

 

Then Trump’s personal attorney followed up on the Sunday morning talk show circuit — Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, Meet the Press — reviving the false story that Rosenstein’s May 9 memo led Trump to fire Comey. Bottom line: If Mueller’s investigation includes the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing, Rosenstein will likely become a witness and may feel compelled to recuse himself from supervising Mueller.

Step 3: But Trump Can’t Count on Brand or Bent

If Rosenstein drops out, Rachel Brand takes the stage. The Senate confirmed her as associate attorney general on May 18. A longtime Republican, she worked on Elizabeth Dole’s presidential campaign and in the office of legal policy for President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. But Brand’s solid Republican credentials are irrelevant to her personal and professional integrity. Benjamin Wittes, a friend in whom then-FBI Director James Comey confided some of his concerns about Trump, tweeted on June 16:

If Wittes’ assessment is correct, Brand would balk at executing an unlawful Trump order. At a minimum, Trump’s advisers gaming out the “fire Mueller” scenario have to assume that she would not fall in line.

Next up, Dana Boente, would be no sure thing for Trump, either. Regarded as tough but evenhanded, he’s a career prosecutor who has spent 33 years in the Justice Department.

Step 4: Find Allies

For three months after he fired every incumbent US attorney, Trump didn’t nominate any replacements. But on June 12 — the same day Trump’s longtime friend and chief executive of Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy, visited the White House and then said on the PBS NewsHour that Trump was “considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel” — Trump announced his first wave of nominees:

  • Alabama (Southern District): Richard W. Moore
  • Alabama (Northern District): Jay E. Town
  • Alabama (Middle District): Louis V. Franklin Sr.
  • District of Columbia: Jessie K. Liu
  • Ohio (Northern District): Justin E. Herdman
  • Oklahoma (Eastern District): Brian J. Kuester
  • Tennessee (Western District): Michael Dunavant
  • Utah: John W. Huber

Once confirmed, each of these US attorneys becomes eligible for the Justice Department’s line of succession. The next step would be for Trump to issue another executive order. (It would be his third one resetting the departmental lineup.) He could list new US attorneys based on their fealty to him. When the time came to fire Mueller without satisfying the “cause” requirements of the governing regulations, Trump could proceed down that list until he got compliance.

Step 5: Move ‘Em Through the Senate

Regardless of Trump’s underlying motivations, the prior sequence of events raises the stakes in the otherwise routine task of confirming a president’s selections for US attorney. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but three nominees hail from Jeff Sessions’ home state of Alabama. And Trump’s Ohio pick comes from White House counsel Don McGahn’s former law firm, Jones Day — which has supplied a dozen lawyers to the Trump administration. All eight nominees merit close scrutiny.

What Can Stop Trump?

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) could halt the confirmation hearing on Trump’s Ohio nominee by using the Senate’s traditional “blue slip” process to express disapproval. But except for the District of Columbia, which has only “shadow senators” who can’t vote, all other Trump nominees are from states with two Republican senators (Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah). Unless they break ranks, there’s no “blue slip” obstacle to Senate hearings on those nominees.

In the upcoming confirmation hearings, senators should ask each candidate a critical question that transcends party politics: Will you defy a presidential order to fire Robert Mueller?

The answer will reveal everything the country needs to know about the nominee’s respect for democracy and the rule of law. To assist concerned citizens who want to prod members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to do the right thing, here’s a list with links to individual contact information:

Republicans

Democrats

It’s possible that Trump won’t fire Mueller and precipitate a constitutional crisis. But that would require unprecedented Trump behavior: placing the country ahead of his personal self-interest.

Firing Mueller will mark a new low in Trump’s scorched-earth attack on established norms and the rule of law. When Mueller files suit to keep his job, it will become the most important litigation in American history. Every patriot should pray that he wins.