About thebellyofthebeast

Adjunct professor at Northwestern University's School of Law and its Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, contributing editor to ABA "Litigation" and "The American Lawyer," and author of "The Lawyer Bubble - A Profession in Crisis (2013), "The Partnership - A Novel" (2010), "Crossing Hoffa - A Teamster's Story" (2007) (A "Chicago Tribune" Best Book of the Year), and "Straddling Worlds: The Jewish-American Journey of Professor Richard W. Leopold" (2008). Recently retired after 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Graduated from Harvard Law School (magna cum laude) and Northwestern University (combined B.A./M.A. in economics, with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa).

“THE LAST WORD” and TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH AUG. 14, 2017

On Thursday, August 17, 2017, Bill Moyers and I will appear on Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word.” (MSNBC; 10:00 EDT) We’ll be discussing the Trump/Russia Timeline, Bill Moyers’ recent interview of me, and the Comey firing video.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s Trump/Russia Timeline updates (with additions to the Kushner Timeline, Pence Timeline and Comey Firing Timeline, as appropriate).

1987: Trump’s Early Real Estate Dealings 

Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he visits Moscow with his long-time friend Howard Lorber, an American businessman who, according to Trump, has significant investments in Russia.

There, the two men scout potential locations for a major Trump project. “We are actually looking at something in Moscow right now,” Trump tells The New Yorker a few months later. “And it would be skyscrapers and hotels, not casinos… And we’re working with the local government, the mayor of Moscow and the mayor’s people. So far, they’ve been very responsive.”

The same year as that visit—1996—Trump applies for his trademark in Russia. Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declares, “We will be in Moscow at some point.” [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

June 15, 2013: The Agalarovs Meet with Trump in Las Vegas 

Russian real estate oligarch Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin, meet with Donald Trump in Las Vegas, where the Trump-owned Miss USA pageant is being held. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]

Fall 2015: Plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow Put on Hold

According to a Feb. 19, 2017 article in The New York Times citing Felix Sater, Trump’s bid for the presidency brings work on a Trump Tower in Moscow to a halt.

However, in July 2017, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reports that work with the Agalarovs to build a Trump Tower in Moscow came to a halt because of an economic downturn in Russia that was caused, in part, by sanctions the US and others imposed on Russia in 2014, following its intervention in Ukraine. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

JUNE 9, 2016: Don Jr., Manafort, Kushner Meet With Russian Lawyer

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the “Russian government attorney” referenced in Goldstone’s earlier emails to Donald Trump Jr., meets at Trump Tower with Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner.

Veselnitskaya 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. According to Reuters, from 2005 to 2013, Veselnitskaya represented successfully the Russian FSB’s interests in a legal dispute over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow. The FSB is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB that Vladimir Putin headed before he became Russian president. Veselnitskaya is also one of the principal players in Russia’s ongoing efforts to eliminate US sanctions that the Magnitsky Act imposes.

Another Russian attendee at the June 9 meeting is Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist reported by some to be a former Soviet intelligence officer, though he denies having ties to Russia’s intelligence agency. Akhmetshin also has been pushing repeal of the Magnitsky Act.

A third attendee is a Russian associate of real estate developer Aras Agalarov, Ike Kaveladze — a vice president for Agalarov’s company focusing on real estate and finance. Born in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, he came to the United States in 1991. In 2000, a congressional inquiry led to a Government Accounting Office report that Kaveladze had set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations. According to contemporaneous reporting in The New York Times, “The GAO report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime… In an interview, Mr. Kaveladze said he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He described the GAO investigation as a ‘witch hunt.’” [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

March 10, 2017: Trump Fires US Attorney Breet Bharara and 45 Other US Attorneys 

Trump fires 46 incumbent US attorneys, leaving in place only Rod Rosenstein of Maryland and Dana Boente of Virginia (who is acting deputy attorney general while Rosenstein’s nomination for that position awaits Senate confirmation).

Trump’s action comes as a surprise to Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York. Shortly after the election, according to Bharara, Trump and Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions had personally asked Bharara to remain in his position and Bharara had agreed.

At the time of his firing, Bharara is supervising, among other major New York-based investigations, a case allegedly involving Russian money laundering through high-end Manhattan real estate. Bharara’s civil forfeiture action against the Russian defendants involves money allegedly from the $230 million scheme that Sergei Magnitsky had uncovered. The trial is set to begin in May. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]

May 12, 2017: DOJ Settles Russian Money Laundering Case

Three days before the scheduled start of a major Russian money laundering criminal trial in New York federal court, the Justice Department approves settlement of the case for less than $6 million. Allegedly, the action involved a more than $230 million fraud scheme.

Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer who had met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort on June 9, 2016 — had helped fight the case and reportedly described the settlement as “almost an apology from the government.”

When he announced the filing of the complaint in 2013, then-US Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”

On July 12, 2017, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee request that the Justice Department provide information about the circumstances surrounding the settlement. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

May 14, 2017: Operative Who Searched for Clinton Emails Found Dead

Peter W. Smith is found dead in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room. The GOP operative from Lake Forest, Illinois, dies about 10 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 Labor Day weekend 2016, he began trying 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 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:

[Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

May 26, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee Demands All Russia Documents From Trump Campaign

The Washington Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Trump campaign produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records dating to June 2015, when the campaign was launched. Previously, the committee had asked specific individuals associated with the campaign to produce their documents, and it had asked the campaign itself only to preserve them. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

July 25, 2017: Manafort Meets With Senate Intel Committee 

Paul Manafort meets with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators about his June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and three Russians. Reportedly, Manafort gives investigators notes he’d taken at the meeting. On the same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee issues and then rescinds a subpoena for Manafort’s appearance on July 26. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]

July 25-27, 2017: Browder Testifies on Putin’s Opposition to Magnitsky Act

In prepared remarks released on July 25—prior to his Senate Judiciary Committee appearance set for July 26 (later rescheduled for July 27)—American financier William Browder discusses the case that, he believes, cost his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky his life in 2009. Browder explains that repealing the Magnitsky Act and preventing it from spreading to other countries are among Putin’s top foreign policy priorities. He says that two of the Russians attending the June 9, 2016, meeting with Trump’s top campaign advisers were connected to Russian efforts seeking repeal of the Magnitsky Act: lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet intelligence agent Rinat Akhmetshin. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

July 26, 2017: FBI Raids Manafort’s Home 

At 6:00 am. FBI agents knock on the door of Paul Manafort’s Alexandria, VA home. In a surprise predawn raid, they execute a search warrant. Working with special counsel Robert Mueller, they depart with various records. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

July 26, 2017: Trump Tweets a Distraction

[Added Aug. 14, 2017]

Aug. 2, 2017: Trump Denounces New Russian Sanctions, Signs Bill Anyway 

In February, Congress had begun to consider legislation that would limit Trump’s ability unilaterally to ease Russian sanctions. Despite ongoing White House objections and lobbying, the final bill had passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with veto-proof majorities. Signing the bill, Trump issues a statement calling the legislation “significantly flawed” and saying the administration “particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends or our allies.” In an accompanying press release, Trump says, “Despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.” [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]

Aug. 4, 2017: Mueller Seeks White House Documents on Flynn and Turkey as Flynn Revises Disclosure Statement 

The New York Times reports that investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have asked the White House for documents relating to former national security adviser Mike Flynn and have questioned witnesses about whether he might have secretly received payments from Turkey during the final months of the campaign.

The Times also reports that earlier in the week, Flynn had filed a third version of his required financial disclosure form. The most recent filing added his contract with SCL Group—the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm that worked with the Trump campaign—and increased his reported income from $1.4 million to $1.8 million. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]

Aug. 6, 2017: Conway Calls June 9, 2016 Meeting and Russia Investigation “Nothing” 

On ABC’s This Week, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway calls the June 9, 2016 meeting among Trump’s top advisers Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and the Russians “ridiculous” and “nothing.” She refuses to answer whether Trump will commit to not firing special counsel Robert Mueller. “There’s nothing in this Russia investigation,” she says. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]

TRUMP TEACHES BIG LAW A LESSON

Sometimes, a client isn’t worth the billable hours it brings to the firm. But long ago, Upton Sinclair revealed why some big law firm partners don’t accept that truism: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Except when a court appoints an attorney for a defendant who can’t afford one, lawyers choose their clients. In most firms, partners “eat-what-they-kill.” The resulting culture creates short-term incentives that cause business development efforts to focus on a single question: How much revenue will the prospective client generate?

Sheri Dillon, William Nelson, and their firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, are teaching the profession an important lesson: such myopia is a mistake.

Sliding Down Trump’s Slippery Slope

In 2016, candidate Trump was pushing a flimsy “under audit” excuse for not releasing tax his returns. On March 7, 2016, Dillon and Nelson signed a letter confirming that, in fact, Trump’s tax returns for 2002 through 2008 were no longer under audit. However, the letter explained, his returns for 2009 forward “are continuations of prior, closed examinations.” Needless to say, Americans will never see those returns—at least, not because Trump releases them voluntarily. But Trump used Morgan Lewis to suit his immediate public relations needs.

In a Jan. 11, 2017 press conference, Dillon, Nelson and their firm took a more prominent role in Trump’s circus. They unveiled a plan to deal with Trump’s business conflicts of interest made a mockery of American presidential ethics. Attorneys were quick to condemn it. Subsequent events have demonstrated that the plan remains useless in preserving the integrity of the presidency.

By April, even reliable stalwart Trump defender Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) wanted to know what Trump was doing to implement his attorneys’ earlier public promises. On May 24, The New York Times reported the Trump Organization’s response: a slick brochure explaining why it was impractical to comply “fully and completely” with Sheri Dillon’s earlier assurance that Trump would donate to the US Treasury all profits from Trump hotels and similar businesses derived from foreign governments.

Recently, The Washington Post summarized just one of small slice of the ongoing scandal: “This is nothing Washington has ever seen. For the first time in presidential history, a profit-making venture [the Trump International Hotel in DC] touts the name of a U.S. president in its gold signage. And every cup of coffee served, every fundraiser scheduled, every filet mignon ordered feeds the revenue of the Trump family’s private business.”

“I Put Out a Letter”… (from somebody)

The most recent hit to the reputations of Sheri Dillon, William Nelson, and their firm came during Trump’s now infamous July 19, 2017 interview with The New York Times. Reporters asked him what would happen if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation included Trump and Trump family finances unrelated to Russia. Would that be would a breach of Mueller’s charge?

“I would say yeah,” Trump answered. “I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms.”

Trump’s last remark referred to the March 8, 2017 letter that Dillon and Nelson had signed. But he couldn’t even remember whether Morgan Lewis was a firm of attorneys or accountants.

Substantively, the March 8 letter had actually raised far more questions than it answered. It even seemed to rebut Trump’s prior denials of income from Russia. Dillon and Nelson stated that “with a few exceptions”—totaling about $100 million—Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years “do not reflect” any “income from Russian sources,” “debt owed by you or [The Trump Organization] to Russian lenders,” “equity investments by Russian persons or entities,” or “equity or debt investments by you or [The Trump Organization] in Russian entities.”

Among notable omissions were: the definition of “Russian”; whether Russian funds flowed into Trump projects more than 10 years ago; whether money from other former Soviet-bloc countries made its way into Trump projects; and what, if anything, Morgan Lewis had done to determine whether individuals or entities from Russia, Ukraine, or other former Soviet-bloc countries used shell corporations for transactions involving Trump businesses.

And Then There’s This

Investigative reporters—who aren’t Trump’s lawyers—have discovered that, since the 1990’s, tens of millions of dollars from former Soviet-bloc countries have found their way into Trump projects as investments, construction financing, and condominium purchases. No one outside Trump’s immediate orbit—except, perhaps, Vladimir Putin—knows the full extent to which that money contributed to his current fortune.

But there are clues. In September 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.”

Trump’s Reward

The fact that Trump couldn’t recall whether Sheri Dillon, William Nelson, and their firm practiced law or accounting is the least of their problems now. Trump has elevated the Dillon/Nelson/Morgan Lewis letter to a new status: evidence that the Russia investigation is a hoax. Depending on how special counsel Robert Mueller proceeds, those involved in preparing and signing that letter may need lawyers, too.

Other prominent law firms appear to have learned from the Morgan Lewis experience. In June 2017, Michael Isikoff reported that when Trump sought to bolster his legal team, four of the nation’s leading firms refused:

“The concerns were, ‘The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen,’ said one lawyer close to the White House who is familiar with some of the discussions between the firms and the administration, as well as deliberations within the firms themselves.”

Even if Dillon, Nelson, and Morgan Lewis have hedged the “won’t pay” problem by requiring a big retainer from their famous client, it won’t compensate for the potential impact on their professional reputations. And like all nightmare clients, Trump couldn’t care less about that.

BILL MOYERS’ INTERVIEW AND TIMELINE UPDATE

Bill Moyers interviewed me for the launch of the new interactive Trump/Russia Timeline at BillMoyers.com.

Here are the links:

Moyers Interview

New Interactive Trump/Russia Timeline

Meanwhile, here are this week’s additions to the Timeline:

  • Nov. 16, 2009: Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, 37, dies after physical abuse in prison. Prior to his arrest, he had worked on behalf of American financier William Browder. Magnitsky had found that Russian officials had redirected more than $230 million in taxes that Browder’s companies had paid to the Russian government. After testifying against those officials, Russian authorities arrested and imprisoned him on Nov. 24, 2008. After Magnitsky’s death, Browder makes it his personal mission to get justice for Magnitsky. [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • Dec. 14, 2012: President Obama signs into law the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. With William Browder’s urging, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) had sponsored the legislation, which the House and Senate then voted overwhelmingly to pass. The Magnitsky Act freezes assets and bans visas both for Russians who had killed Magnitsky in 2009 and for other Russians involved in serious human rights abuses. Putin is furious with the sanctions and retaliates by banning US adoptions of Russian children. In subsequent testimony on July 26, 2017 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Magnitsky’s former client Browder testifies that Putin took the Magnitsky Act personally because “since 2012, it’s emerged that Vladimir Putin was a beneficiary of the stolen $230 million that Sergei Magnitsky exposed.” Browder testifies that this worries Putin because “he keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.” According to Browder, the sanctions also create a problem for Putin because it “destroys the promise of impunity he’s given to all of his corrupt officials.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • June 9, 2016: Natalia Veselnitskaya, the “Russian government attorney” referenced in Goldstone’s earlier emails to Donald Trump Jr., meets at Trump Tower with Don 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. She is also one of the principal players in Russia’s ongoing efforts to eliminate US sanctions that the Magnitsky Act imposes.

Another Russian attendee at the June 9 meeting is Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist reported by some to be a former Soviet intelligence officer, though he denies having ties to Russia’s intelligence agency. Akhmetshin also has been pushing repeal of the Magnitsky Act.

A third attendee is a Russian associate of real estate developer Aras Agalarov, Ike Kaveladze—a vice president focusing on real estate and finance for Agalarov’s company. Born in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, he came to the United States in 1991. In 2000, a Congressional inquiry led to a Government Accounting Office report that Kaveladze had set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened the bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations. According to contemporaneous reporting in The New York Times, “The GAO report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime… In an interview, Mr. Kaveladze said he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He described the GAO investigation as a ‘witch hunt.’” [Revised Aug. 7, 2017] 

***

  • Nov. 8, 2016: Sergei Krivov, 63, is unresponsive and declared dead at the scene inside the Russian consulate in New York City an hour after voting opens. Russian-born Krivov was duty commander involved with security affairs, according to Russian news reports. At first, Russian consular officials say Krivov fell from the roof. Then, they say he died of a heart attack. The initial police report filed on the day of the incident says Krivov had “an unknown trauma to the head.” The New York City medical examiner later rules that Krivov died from bleeding in the chest area, likely due to a tumor. [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

***

  • March 21, 2017: Nikolai Gorokhov, 53, is near death with “severe head injuries” and remains in a hospital’s intensive care unit. Reportedly, he fell from the fourth floor of his Moscow apartment. Gorokhov is a private Russian lawyer on an anti-corruption crusade and represents the family of Sergei Magnitsky, and has continued work to uncover the tax fraud first identified by Magnitsky. After regaining consciousness, Gorokhov can’t recall what happened to cause his injuries, but he thinks he may have been targeted. Gorokhov is also set to be a key witness in the related federal money-laundering case trial in May. US attorney Preet Bharaha had alleged that some of the $230 million in stolen proceeds from the fraud scheme that Magnitsky uncovered had been used to purchase “pricey Manhattan real estate.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • July 8, 2017: The New York Times prepares to report the story of the June 9, 2016 meeting that Donald Jr. had arranged with Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. Returning from Europe aboard Air Force One, a small group of Trump’s advisers huddle in a cabin helping to craft a response for Don Jr. to give the Times. According to the Times report, Trump personally signs off on the following statement for his son: “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.” But according to later reporting by The Washington Post, Trump does more than “sign off” on his son’s false statement. He helps to write it. [Revised Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • July 12, 2017: After The New York Times reports that Trump signed off on Don Jr.’s initial (and misleading) statement about the June 9, 2016 meeting among top Trump campaign advisers and the Russians, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow tells Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos, “The president didn’t sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G-20, the statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., and I’m sure in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.” Sekulow goes on to say that the Times report is incorrect. [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • July 16, 2017: Responding to reports that President Trump was personally involved in drafting Don Jr.’s initial and false statement about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, tells NBC’s Chuck Todd: “I do want to be clear—that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr. So that’s what I can tell you because that’s what we know. And Donald Trump Jr. has said the same thing.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • July 25, 2017: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the paper does not release (but becomes public on Aug. 1), editor-in-chief Gerard Baker asks Trump if Robert Mueller’s job is safe. “No,” Trump says, “we’re going to see. I mean, I have no comment yet, because it’s too early. But we’ll see. We’re going to see. Here’s the good news: I was never involved with Russia. There was nobody in the campaign. I’ve got 200 people that will say that they’ve never seen anybody on the campaign… There’s nobody on the campaign that saw anybody from Russia. We had nothing to do with Russia… And if Jeff Sessions didn’t recuse himself, we wouldn’t even be talking about this subject.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • July 26, 2017: American financier William Browder testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the case that, he believes, cost his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky his life in 2009. Browder explains that repealing the Magnitsky Act and preventing it from spreading to other countries are among Putin’s top foreign policy priorities. He says that two of the Russians attending the June 9, 2016 meeting with Trump’s top campaign advisers were connected to Russian efforts seeking repeal of the Magnitsky Act: lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet intelligence agent Rinat Akhmetshin. [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

***

  • July 31, 2017: The Washington Post reports that Trump had personally dictated the misleading statement that his son initially provided to The New York Times about the June 9, 2016 meeting among Trump’s top campaign advisers and the Russians. According to the Post, “The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue—the adoption of Russian children.” Responding to the article, Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow says, “Apart from being of no consequence, the [Post’s] characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

  • Aug. 2, 2017: Signing the sanctions bill that had passed Congress with veto-proof majorities, Trump issues a signing statement calling the legislation “significantly flawed” and saying the administration “particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies.” In an accompanying press release, Trump says, “Despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

  • Also on Aug. 2, 2017: In response to the new US sanctions, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev writes a scathing Facebook post decrying what he describes, according to a translation by NPR, as Trump’s “total weakness” and saying that the package “ends hopes for improving our relations with the new administration.” Medvedev describes the sanctions as a “declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia.” Slamming Trump for signing the act, he says that the “US establishment fully outwitted” him. The fact that Trump signed the bill, Medvedev continues, “changes the power balance in US political circles.” He says the sanctions are “another way to knock Trump down a peg” and predicts: “New steps are to come, and they will ultimately aim to remove him from power.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

  • Aug. 3, 2017: Trump tweets:

[Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

  • Aug. 3, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a Washington grand jury to investigate the Russia probe. [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

  • Aug. 3, 2017: In response to a CNN story that federal investigators are pursuing Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia, Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, says, “The president’s outside counsel has not received any requests for documentation or information about this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment we would object to.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

  • Aug. 3, 2017: At a rally in Huntington, West Virginia, Trump tells the crowd, “Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign; there never were.” [Added Aug. 7, 2017]

 

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH JULY 31, 2017

Another eventful week—and many more to come. 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. 

  • Also on July 8, 2017: The New York Times prepares to report the story of the June 9, 2016 meeting that Donald Jr. had arranged with Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. Returning from Europe aboard Air Force One, a small group of Trump’s advisers huddle in a cabin helping to craft a response for Don Jr. to give the Times. Trump personally signs off on the following statement for his son: “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.” [Revised July 31, 2017]

***

  • July 25, 2017: Trump tweets:

 

and

 

 and

 and

 

 [Added July 31, 2017]

Later in the day, Trump tells The Wall Street Journal, “I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions. When asked about Sessions in the Rose Garden, Trump says, “We will see what happens. Time will tell.” [Added July 31, 2017]

  • July 26, 2017: Trump tweets:

and

[Added July 31, 2017] 

  • July 27, 2017: Two days after the House of Representative had passed—by a margin of 418-3—a sweeping sanctions bill to limit Trump’s power to remove Russian sanctions, the Senate passes the bill by a margin of 98-2 and sends it to Trump’s desk. The bill has a veto-proof majority, and a White House spokesperson said the following day that Trump intends to sign it. [Added July 31, 2017]

 

  • July 28, 2017: Russia retaliates for the recently passed (but not yet signed) US sanctions bill by seizing two US compounds in Russia and ordering the American diplomatic mission in Russia to reduce its staff by several hundred employees before Sept. 1. A Russian legislator and frequent commentator on international affairs tweets, “There is a high probability that this will not be the end of it.” Two days later, Putin confirms that the US will be forced to cut its staff of roughly 1,200 people by 755. It is unclear if this means any Americans would be expelled from the country. [Added July 31, 2017]

 

  • July 29, 2017: Trump tweets:

[Added July 31, 2017]

  • July 30, 2017: On ABC News’ This Week, host Martha Raddatz asks Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov about his Nov. 10, 2016 comment that, during the campaign, the Kremlin had continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage.” Ryabkov replies, “You have to go through all the hearings and all the material which is available by now for the Congress and for the general public. You have all the names… If Ambassador Kislyak was not contacting some people on the other side—so to say—he wouldn’t perform his functions as he should. He was not spying and he was not recruiting. If he did so, I would be now a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi ballet, if you know what it means.” Pressed specifically about the June 9, 2016 meeting in which Russians had led Trump’s senior advisers to believe that they could help the Trump campaign with damaging information on Hillary Clinton, he says, “All the information which we provide to anyone can be easily found in open sources. We are not doing anything to the detriment of the domestic developments or internal affairs of any country, the US included.” [Added July 31, 2017]

THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE: UPDATES THROUGH JULY 24, 2017

A busy week. 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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  • During 2012 and 2013: According to later reporting by The New York Times, financial records filed in December 2015 in the secret tax haven of Cyprus show that Trump’s future campaign manager, Paul Manafort, incurs debts totaling as much as $17 million to pro-Russia interests, including a Russian oligarch who later sues Manafort for $19 million over a failed investment in a Ukrainian television business. [Added July 24, 2017]

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While in Moscow for the pageant, Trump discusses plans for a new Trump project in Russia with the Agalarovs and Alex Sapir (whose family’s company was one of the co-developers of Trump SoHo with Trump and Bayrock/Felix Sater). Publicly, Trump says only, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”

“The Russian market is attracted to me,” Trump tells Real Estate Weekly. “I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”

Also while in Russia, Trump says: “I do have a relationship [with Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today… I do have a relationship with him… He’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.” [Revised July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on April 27, 2016: At the Mayflower Hotel event, Jared Kushener attends a reception where he meets Russian Ambassador Kislyak. More than a year later, Kushner first discloses the meeting in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 24, 2017. He says, “We shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Jan. 30, 2017: Deutsche Bank agrees to pay a $425 million fine to settle New York state charges that from 2011 to 2015, it helped Russian investors launder as much as $10 billion through its branches in Moscow, London and New York. Allegedly, a group of executives arranged stock trades that had no economic purpose, other than disguising what the client was doing. [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • July 17, 2017: Trump tweets about his top campaign advisers’ June 9, 2016 meeting with the Russians:

  • Also on July 17, 2017: In his daily press briefing, Sean Spicer repeats the debunked claim that at their June 9, 2017 meeting, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and the Russians discussed only the adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act. (The 2012 US law imposed sanctions on specifically identified Russians for human rights abuses and prompted Putin to ban such adoptions by Americans.) “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act,” Spicer says. [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • July 18, 2017: CNN and The Washington Post reveal the identity of the eighth person at a secret June 9, 2016 meeting among Trump’s top campaign advisers and several Russians. In addition to the previously reported attendees—Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Emin Agalarov’s publicist Rob Goldstone, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin, and translator Anatoli Samochornov—Aras Agalarov sent one of his associates, Ike Kaveladze, to the meeting. According to Agalarov’s lawyer, Kaveladze is a vice president focusing on real estate and finance for Agalarov’s company, the Crocus Group.

 

Kaveladze has an interesting history. Born in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, he came to the United States in 1991. In 2000, a Congressional inquiry led to a Government Accounting Office report that Kaveladze had set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened the bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations. According to contemporaneous reporting in The New York Times, “The GAO report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime…In an interview, Mr. Kaveladze said he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He described the G.A.O. investigation as a ‘witch hunt.’’” [Added July 24, 2017]

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and

  • July 19, 2017: The Trump administration reveals it has ended the covert American program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad—a move that Russia had long sought. [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 19, 2017: In an expansive interview with reporters for The New York Times, Trump discusses his most recently disclosed second conversation with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. “So the meal was going,” Trump says, “and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump talks about the June 9, 2016 meeting among his top campaign advisers and several Russians: “As I’ve said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, ‘By the way, we have information on your opponent,’” I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], ‘Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?’” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump also talks about the email exchange in which Don Jr. set up the June 9 meeting: “Well, I never saw the email. I never saw the email until, you know——“ When asked if he knew about the meeting at the time, Trump says, “No, I didn’t know anything about the meeting… No, nobody told me. I didn’t know noth—— It’s a very unimportant — sounded like a very unimportant meeting.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump lashes out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” Later, he continues, “What Jeff Sessions did was he recused himself right after, right after he became attorney general. And I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’ I would have — then I said, ‘Who’s your deputy?’ So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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Of the January 6, 2017 meeting, when Comey told Trump about the infamous Steele dossier: “[H]e shared it so that I would think he had it out there” as leverage against Trump.

Of the Feb. 14, 2017 meeting, when Trump hoped Comey could see his way to “letting Flynn go,” Trump said, “He said I said ‘hope’ — ‘I hope you can treat Flynn good’ or something like that. I didn’t say anything. But even if he did — like I said at the news conference on the, you know, Rose Garden — even if I did, that’s not — other people go a step further. I could have ended that whole thing just by saying — they say it can’t be obstruction because you can say: ‘It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’”

“Did you shoo people out of the room when you talked to Comey?” the reporters ask.

“No, no,” Trump answers. “No. That was the other thing. I told people to get out of the room. Why would I do that?”

“Did you actually have a one-on-one with Comey then?” asks the Times reporter.

“Not much,” Trump says. “Not even that I remember. He was sitting, and I don’t remember even talking to him about any of this stuff. He said I asked people to go. Look, you look at his testimony. His testimony is loaded up with lies, O.K.?”

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  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump talks about the Rosenstein memo used to cover-up the reasons he fired Comey: “Then Rosenstein becomes extremely angry because of Comey’s Wednesday press conference, where he said that he would do the same thing he did a year ago with Hillary Clinton, and Rosenstein became extremely angry at that because, as a prosecutor, he knows that Comey did the wrong thing. Totally wrong thing. And he gives me a letter, O.K., he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, O.K. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, O.K. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case. Well, that’s a conflict of interest.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 19, 2017: In the Times interview, Trump discusses special counsel Mueller, whom Trump had interviewed for the FBI director job. “The day before! Of course, he was up here, and he wanted the job,” Trump says, “So, now what happens is, he leaves the office. [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein leaves the office. The next day, he is appointed special counsel. I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts? But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

Asked if Mueller’s investigation into his and his family’s finances unrelated to Russia would be a breach of Mueller’s charge, Trump answers, “I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years…” Asked what would happen if Mueller went “outside certain parameters” of his charge, Trump says, “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • July 20, 2017: The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg report that Mueller is looking at possible money laundering by Paul Manafort. Bloomberg adds that the special counsel is also investigating a “broad range of range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates.” They include “Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008.” One of Trump’s lawyers responds that such transactions are, in his view, “well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 20, 2017: The Senate Judiciary Committee reveals that it has pre-approved subpoenas for Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort. According to chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), if Don Jr. and Manafort do not accept the committee’s invitation to appear the following week, the subpoenas will issue “almost immediately.” Meanwhile, Jared Kushner is also scheduled to appear for a staff interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee the following week. [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 20, 2017: The New York Times and The Washington Post report that Trump’s lawyers are investigating possible ways to limit or block Mueller’s investigation, including possible conflicts of interest involving members of Mueller’s legal team, as well as the president’s power to pardon associates, family members, and himself. One of Trump’s attorneys responds that the story is “nonsense.” [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • July 21, 2017: Reuters reports that from 2005 to 2013, Natalia Veselnitskaya—the Russian lawyer in attendance at the June 9, 2016 meeting that included Kushner, Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr.—represented successfully the Russian FSB’s interests in a legal dispute over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow. The FSB is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB that Vladimir Putin headed before he became Russian president. [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • Also on July 21, 2017: The Washington Post breaks the story that US intelligence intercepts of Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s reports to Moscow of his conversations with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in April and July 2016 are at odds with Sessions’ repeated denials about the content of those discussions. The intercepts purportedly reveal that Sessions and Kislyak “had ‘substantive’ discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.” A Justice Department spokesperson responds that Sessions “never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.” She does not deny that Mr. Sessions discussed campaign or policy issues more generally with Mr. Kislyak. [Added July 24, 2017]

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  • July 22, 2017: Trump tweets:

and

and

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  • Also on July 23, 2017: Trump tweets:

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  • July 24, 2017: Trump tweets:

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  • July 24, 2017: Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session, Kushner describes his three previously disclosed contacts with Russian officials prior to the inauguration, as well as a fourth previously undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak on April 27, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel. Kushner says that he doesn’t recall either of the two calls with Kislyak between April and November 2016 that Reuters had previously reported, and he is “highly skeptical those calls took place.” He says he attended the June 9, 2016 meeting with Don Jr., Manafort, and several Russians only “10 minutes or so,” and when he got there, “they were talking about the issue of a ban on US adoptions of Russian children.” Kushner acknowledges his post-election meeting with Mike Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak at Trump Tower at which Kushner says he asked if Kislyak had “an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they could be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.” But Kushner denies that he was suggesting a “secret back-channel.” Finally, Kushner acknowledges a Dec. 13, 2016 meeting with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov who, Kushner believed at the time, had “a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner says that his ongoing revisions to his security clearance form SF-86 were the result of a “prematurely submitted” original application.

Kushner’s prepared remarks conclude: “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.” [Added July 24, 2017]