[NOTE: On Mar. 12, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Judge T.S. Ellis III thought he faced a dilemma. A jury in his Virginia courtroom had found Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud; a single holdout prevented conviction on the remaining 10 counts. After his conviction, Manafort refused to accept responsibility and showed no remorse for his crimes. And the federal sentencing guidelines called for 19.5 to 24 years of incarceration.

The problem, according to Ellis, was that Manafort “has led an otherwise blameless life.” So he reduced Manafort’s sentence to 47 months — nine of which he has already served because Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked his bail for witness tampering in the DC case pending against him.

Om March 13, Manafort faces Judge Jackson for sentencing. From the Trump-Russia Timeline, here are a few highlights of the confessed convict’s life that she sees:

APRIL 11, 2016: Manafort owes millions to Vladimir Putin’s ally, oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Manafort’s liaison to Deripaska is Russian-Ukrainian Konstantin Kilimnik who, according to the FBI, has ties to Russian intelligence. Referring to his new status at the top of the Trump campaign, Manafort sends Kilimnik a message: “How do we use to get whole?”

JULY 7, 2016: Through Kilimnik, Manafort offers private briefings on the US presidential campaign to Deripaska.

AUG. 2, 2016: Manafort meets with Kilimnik in Manhattan where they discuss a proposed Ukrainian “peace plan” that would lift US sanctions against Russia. Manafort also provides Kilimnik with private polling data relating to the US presidential campaign.

JUNE 15, 2018: Judge Jackson revokes Manafort’s bail after he engages in witness tampering.

SEPT. 14, 2018: Manafort pleads guilty to criminal conspiracy against the US and obstruction of justice, and he agrees to cooperate with prosecutors. Then he lies to them. Judge Jackson rules that Manafort’s false statements “center around the defendant’s relationship or communications… a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into… any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.’”

As for Manafort’s life prior to the Trump campaign, The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer recites that Manafort:

— “Helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.”

— “Worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist ‘freedom fighter,’ Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.”

— “Spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine… This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power — thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.”

— “Produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.”

— “Stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan [demonstrations in Kiev].”

A year after those killings, one of Manafort’s daughters sent a text message to her sister, saying that their father “had no moral or legal compass.”

“Don’t fool yourself,” Andrea wrote in March 2015. “That money we have is blood money. You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly. As a tactic to outrage the world and get focus on Ukraine. Remember when there were all those deaths taking place. A while back. About a year ago. Revolts and what not. Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that, to send those people out and get them slaughtered.”

As observer might reasonably ask what a blame-filled life looks like to Judge Ellis.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

NOV. 22, 2017: Sessions Pursues House Members’ Request to Consider Second Special Counsel to Investigate Clinton

NOV. 30, 2017: Prince Testifies Before House Intelligence Committee; Later Statements Raise Questions About His Truthfulness (revision of previous entry)

MAR. 4, 2019: Stone Pressed on Potential Violation of Court’s Gag Order

MAR. 4, 2019: Nadler Issues Document Requests 

MAR. 4, 2019: Trump Attacks: Democrats, Nadler, Schiff, and Clinton, claiming ‘No Collusion’, ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’, and McCarthyism

MAR. 5, 2019: Trump Attacks Nadler, Schiff, Clinton, ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’

MAR. 5, 2019: Coordinated Resistance to Nadler’s Requests Begins

MAR. 5, 2019: Mueller Rebuts Manafort’s Sentencing Memo

MAR. 5, 2019:  Judge Blasts Stone

MAR. 6, 2019: Trump Tweets Attack Democratic Investigators

MAR. 6, 2019: US Treasury Extends Deadline for Sanctions Against Another Deripaska Company

MAR. 7, 2019: Trump Tweets: Denies Campaign Finance Violations, Attacks Cohen

MAR. 7, 2019: Manafort Sentenced in Virginia; Attorney Says ‘No Collusion With Any Government Official or Russia’

MAR. 8, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’, Manafort Judge Said ‘No Collusion’, Attacks Cohen; Retweets Supporter Attacking Clinton, ‘Russia colluision hoax’, Steele, Nadler, Cohen, Sessions, Ohr

MAR. 9, 2018: Trump Attacks Schiff; ‘Witch Hunt Continues’

MAR. 10, 2019: Trump Attacks Ohr, Steele, Simpson, Fusion, Schiff, Cohen, Clinton, Democrats, ‘Witch Hunt’ 


[NOTE: On Mar. 5, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

The Russians call it “kompromat” — “compromising information collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone, typically for political purposes.” In the Trump-Russia scandal, kompromat boils down to a question of Vladimir Putin’s leverage over Donald Trump:

What does Putin know about Trump that the American people don’t?

Eventually, the counterintelligence prong of Mueller’s investigation should answer that question, but a partial answer is already apparent. Regardless of whether criminal charges or articles of impeachment result, the national security implications are profound. Michael Cohen’s testimony last week is a reminder that, well into Trump’s presidency, Putin held at least two sources of kompromat.

Kompromat: Trump Tower-Moscow

Throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond, Trump claimed repeatedly that he had “nothing to do with Russia.” But according to Cohen, Trump knew that Trump Tower-Moscow discussions continued into June 2016. So did Putin. And for two years, Putin knew that Trump was lying to the American people about it. Here are a few highlights from the Timeline:

May 2017: Michael Cohen meets with Trump and Trump’s lawyer in the Oval Office to discuss Cohen’s upcoming congressional appearances, according to Cohen’s Feb. 27, 2019 testimony.

Aug. 28-30, 2017:The Washington Post breaks the story that Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations continued during the 2016 campaign. But someone feeds the Post false information that the discussions ended in January 2016. In false statements to congressional investigators and the public, Cohen says that negotiations ended in January — after he’d sent an email to Dmitry Peskov (Putin’s personal spokesperson) and never received a response. Peskov corroborates Cohen’s account.

Sept. 19, 2017: Cohen issues another false statement to Congress and the public, saying that the Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations ended in January 2016.

Oct. 25, 2017: Cohen repeats the Trump Tower-Moscow lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Nov. 29, 2018: Pleading guilty to previous false statements, Cohen admits that efforts to develop Trump Tower-Moscow continued into June 2016.

Because the American people didn’t know the truth, Putin had kompromat relating to Trump Tower-Moscow for the first two years of Trump’s presidency.

Kompromat: Russian Contacts and Election Assistance

Throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond, Trump denied that his campaign had any contacts with Russia and resisted suggestions that Putin wanted him to win. Again, Cohen’s recent testimony, together with a few highlights from the Timeline, reveals what Putin knew and the American people didn’t:

June 9, 2016: Three Russians (including at least one with Kremlin connections) meet secretly with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower. They’re together because Russia has promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and wants to use it as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

June 14, 2016: The Washington Post breaks the story that Russian government hackers have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. US intelligence agencies later determine that Russian military intelligence feeds the material to WikiLeaks. 

July 18 or 19, 2016: Cohen is in Trump’s office when Roger Stone calls, according to Cohen’s Feb. 27, 2019 testimony. Over the speakerphone, Stone tells Trump that he just got off the phone with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who says that within a couple of days there will be “a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Trump’s response: “Wouldn’t that be great.”

July 22, 2016: As the Democratic National Convention begins, WikiLeaks releases its first tranche of stolen DNC emails. According to Mueller’s later indictment of Roger Stone, someone on Trump’s team directs a “senior Trump campaign official” to contact Stone about additional WikiLeaks releases.

July 27, 2016: At a press conference, Trump seeks Putin’s assistance in procuring Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Later that day, Russian hackers make their first attempt to break into servers that Clinton’s personal office uses.

July 8, 2017: The New York Times breaks the story that on June 9, 2016, Trump’s most senior campaign advisers met “with a lawyer linked to Kremlin.”

For a year, the American people didn’t know the truth. That gave Putin kompromat on Trump relating to his campaign’s contacts with Russia and its knowledge that Putin wanted to help Trump win.

Does Putin possess other Trump secrets? We don’t know what we don’t know.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

NOVEMBER 2015 – JUNE 2016: Cohen Keeps Trump Informed of Trump Tower-Moscow Developments; Sater and Cohen Consider a Free $50 Million Penthouse for Putin (revision of previous entry)

JULY 18 or 19, 2016: Stone Tells Trump About Upcoming Wikileaks Release

JAN. 20, 2017: Kilimnik Attends Inaugural

MAY 2017: Cohen Meets With Trump and Trump’s Lawyer to Discuss Cohen’s Upcoming Congressional Testimony

SEPT. 15, 2017: Kushner Security Clearance Revised to ‘Interim’

SEPT. 19, 2017: Michael Cohen Issues False Statement on Trump Tower-Moscow (revision of previous entry)

OCT. 20, 2017: Cohen Senate Appearance Postponed (this previous entry is has been deleted)

OCT. 24, 2017: Cohen Appears Before House Intelligence Committee

OCT. 25, 2017: Cohen Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee

FEB. 23, 2018: Kushner Security Clearance Downgraded

SHORTLY PRIOR TO MAY 23, 2018: Trump Orders Kelly to Grant Kushner’s Security Clearance

NOV. 6, 2018: Election Day: US Blocks Russian Troll Farm; Rohrabacher Loses; Democrats Win House; Republicans Keep Senate (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 25, 2019: Manafort’s Attorneys File Sentencing Memo in DC Case

FEB. 26, 2019: Court Affirms Mueller’s Authority

FEB. 26-27, 2019: Gaetz Threatens Cohen

FEB. 26-27, 2019: Cohen Links Trump and Stone to Wikileaks

FEB. 27-28, 2019: Trump Tweets: Cohen ‘Is Lying to Reduce His Prison Time’

MAR. 1, 2019: Trump Attacks Cohen, ‘Witch Hunt’

MAR. 1, 2019: Manafort Seeks Leniency in VA Case

MAR. 2, 2019: Trump Continues Attack on Cohen

MAR 3, 2019: Trump Attacks Cohen, ‘Presidential Harrassment’, ‘Witch Hunt’, Democrats’ ‘Abuse of Power’


[NOTE: On Feb 27, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are operating together in plain sight. Their actions raise questions at the heart of the Trump-Russia scandal: What is the source of Putin’s leverage over Trump? And what is Trump receiving — or hoping to receive — as a reward?

The answers could explain why a brief new entry in the Trump-Russia Timeline may turn out to be among its most momentous, historically. It illustrates the ongoing global repercussions of Putin’s successful bet on Trump. And it focuses on Ukraine.


US policy with respect to Ukraine was one reason that Russia supported Trump’s election. Obtaining relief from economic sanctions— including those imposed after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 — has been among Putin’s highest priorities. Apart from their impact on Russia’s international standing and domestic economy, Putin has taken them personally because they affect his own wealth and that of his oligarchs. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Trump offered— in plain sight — to lift them.

At a town hall session on July 7, 2015, an audience member made her way to a microphone and asked Trump about US-Russia relations. Trump said that if he became president, “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.” The audience member was Maria Butina, who was later convicted of being a Russian agent seeking to influence senior Republican leaders via the NRA.

For Trump, removing Russian sanctions is still a work in progress. He has done what he can to resist and minimize the newer penalties imposed on Russia for interference in the 2016 presidential election. But he’s also helping Putin win more significant prizes: Ukraine itself and the destruction of the Western alliance.

Undoing “Geopolitical Catastrophe”

In 2005, Putin called the breakup of the Soviet Union (which had included Ukraine), the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20thcentury. Now he’s trying to rebuild that empire. Trump has spent his first two years in office attacking the Western alliance that has been a bulwark against those Russian ambitions.

In January 2017, Trump blasted NATO as obsolete, saying, “We should trust Putin.” Heading into his first NATO summit in July 2018, Trump lashed out at Germany. Days later in Helsinki, he sided with Putin, who acknowledged in their joint press conference that he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election. In Ukraine, the world is seeing why.

Ukraine in Peril

As Trump weakened NATO, Putin became bolder. On Nov. 25, 2018, Russians again violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, this time by illegally blocking the Kerch Strait, the waterway between Russia and Crimea. Russians seized three Ukrainian vessels and detained 24 Ukrainian seamen. On Jan. 15, 2019, a Russian court ordered eight of those sailors to remain in custody until late April.

Meanwhile, beginning on Dec. 17, 2018, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, repeatedly pushed the unsubstantiated Kremlin line that Ukraine is planning acts of aggression. In response to that concocted threat, Putin has been moving ground forces and weaponry to Crimea. On Dec. 22, he added fighter jets to the mix. Also in the picture — literally, from satellite photos— are short-range nuclear-capable missiles within striking distance of war-torn eastern Ukraine.

And now add the latest Trump-Russia Timeline entry relating to Putin’s assault:

Feb. 21, 2019: “Russia Says It Won’t Let Ukraine Stage New Provocations.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his spokesperson say, again without evidence, that Ukraine is preparing another provocation in the Kerch Strait.

Russian rhetoric continues to look like a pretext for worse things to come. As Putin destabilizes the world order, Trump is helping him. The mortal peril facing Ukraine is becoming a vivid illustration of the consequences. And it’s all happening in plain sight.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

EARLY DECEMBER 2016: Russians Arrest Intelligence Officers and Cybersecurity Experts for Treason (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 14, 2017: Trump Considers Public Explanations for Flynn Resignation, Tells Christie ‘Russia Thing Is All Over’

FEB. 14, 2017: Spicer Denies Any Contacts Between Trump Campaign and Russia, Makes Numerous Misstatements at Press Briefing; White House Does Not Correct Record (revision of previous entry)

MAY 6-7, 2017: Trump Decides to Fire FBI Director Comey (revision of previous entry)

SHORTLY AFTER MAY 11, 2017: McCabe Opens Counterintelligence Investigation Into Trump, Briefs Congressional Leaders

MAY 17, 2017: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel, Assumes Control of Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump

OVER THE JULY 4, 2017 WEEKEND: Trump Calls Lewandowski About Sessions

JUL. 9, 2017: Trump Tweets About Forming Cyber Unit With Russia, Then Walks It Back 

JULY 27, 2017: House Republicans: ‘Time to Go Play Offense’; Demand Second Special Counsel

AUG. 15, 2017: Russian Claims He Hacked DNC for Russian Intelligence Agency

REVISED: JUL. 16, 2018: In Helsinki, Putin Pushes Cooperation on Cybersecurity; Trump Sides with Putin (revision of previous entry)

REVISED: DEC. 12, 2018: Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison (revision of previous entry)

LATE 2018: NYT: Trump Asks Whitaker to Have US Attorney in NY ‘Put in Charge of Cohen Case

FEB. 14, 2019: Senate Confirms Barr as AG

FEB. 18, 2019: Trump Quotes Supporter: ‘Illegal Coup on the President’; Tweets About Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions, McCabe, Rosenstein, ‘Treason!’, ‘Leakin’ James Comey’ (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 18, 2019: Stone Posts Photo of Judge in Crosshairs

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Witch Hunt’

FEB. 19, 2019: Judge Orders Stone to Explain His Instagram Post

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Tweets About Andrew and Jill McCabe

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Rosenstein’s Replacement

FEB. 20, 2019: Trump Retweets and Quotes Supporters Attacking McCabe; Attacks NYT

FEB. 20, 2019: Cohen to Testify Publicly Before House

FEB. 21, 2019: Rosenstein: ‘My Time as a Law Enforcement Official is Coming to an End’

FEB. 21, 2019: Russian Foreign Ministry: ‘Russia Won’t Let Ukraine Stage New Provocations’

FEB. 21, 2019: Judge Imposes Broad Gag Order on Stone

FEB. 22, 2019: Trump Tweets Burr’s Earlier Statement, ‘Witch Hunt’; Retweets Supporter ‘Desperate Farce’

FEB. 22, 2019: NY Prosecutors Preparing State Charges Against Manafort

FEB. 22, 2019: Russian Prosecutors Seek 20-Year Sentences For Former Cybersecurity Officer and Private-Sector Expert Charged With Treason

FEB. 22, 2019: Mueller Memo in DC Case: Federal Guidelines Equal 17 to 22 Years in Prison for Manafort

FEB. 23, 2019: Trump Quotes Supporter: ‘No Evidence’ That Trump Has Done Anything Wrong; Retweets Another Supporter: ‘Lawsuit to Expose Coup Against Trump’

FEB. 24, 2019: Trump Tweets That Clinton and DNC Colluded With Russia; Attacks Lisa Page and Strzok


[NOTE: On Feb 21, 2019, my post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Roger Stone’s attorneys put him on the witness today to explain his Feb. 18 Instagram photo of the presiding judge in his case. It included crosshairs near her head.

Marked as Exhibit 1 of the hearing, the accompanying text accused “Deep State hitman Robert Mueller” of using “legal trickery” to guarantee that his “upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime.” But by the end of that day, the image was removed and, through his attorneys, Stone had filed an apology with the court:

“Please inform the Court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted. I had no intention of disrespecting the Court and humbly apologize to the Court for the transgression.”

The following morning, Judge Jackson ordered today’s hearing at which Stone was required show cause why the court’s previous media contact order in the case and/or the conditions of release should not be modified or revoked.

Putting any criminal defendant on the witness stand is risky, in part because it waives the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. But with respect to the gag order, Stone’s signed apology (transmitted through his lawyers’ unusual “Notice of Apology”) probably waived that right anyway. Another risk is that, after taking the stand, the defendant might lie and create new, independent criminal exposure to perjury charges. In any event, Stone’s Instagram post had placed him in danger of pre-trial incarceration, leaving him and his attorneys few options.

So after swearing to tell the truth, Stone reiterated his apology, using phrases that included: “I am kicking myself over my own stupidity… I offer no excuse for it… This is just a stupid lapse in judgment…[I]t was an egregious mistake.” Stone claimed that he was under stress and having trouble putting food on his table and paying his rent.

In response to the judge’s questions, Stone admitted that he posted the offending image. But he said that he has five or six volunteers, and couldn’t say who chose it, who sent him the image, or whether it was sent via text or email. In response to questions about his social media operation, Stone suggested that someone else may have used his phone to find the photo: “I do not exclusively use my own phone, that’s what I’m saying.” Stone also named four of his volunteers, saying that he couldn’t recall the names of all volunteers working for him a few days ago.

An attorney in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office asked, “You can’t remember the people who worked for you four days ago?”

Stone responded,  “No.”

Judge Jackson observed that Stone has insisted that his name be in the media every day since his arrest. Even after apologizing, he continued talking every single day. She asked Stone’s attorney, “Why won’t this happen in the future?”

“Sometimes a person learns a lesson, especially when a person is unrestrained in his speaking,” the lawyer answered. “It’s indefensible.”

“I agree with you there,” the judge said.

The government’s attorney argued for a stricter gag order, saying that Stone’s testimony was not credible. “That he committed a lapse in judgment is belied by the fact that even after he realized the post was a mistake, he continued to make statements to the media that amplified that message.”

After a recess, the judge returned with her ruling. She said that Stone has decided to pursue a strategy of attacking others. The Instagram post had a “more sinister message” from Stone, who “fully understands the power of words and symbols.”

“Thank you,” the judge said, “but the apology rings quite hollow.” Finding his testimony not credible (“couldn’t keep his story straight on the stand”) and that his release under the current media contact order would pose a risk to the public, she ruled, “No, Mr. Stone, I’m not giving you another chance.”

The court could have concluded that Stone’s incitement to violence aimed at a federal judge was at least as dangerous to the judicial system as the witness tampering that caused her to jail Paul Manafort pending trial. In that respect, Judge Amy Jackson Berman gave Stone a break. She ordered that Roger Stone can no longer speak publicly about the case or any participants in it.

But the judge warned that next time would be worse:

“Today I gave you a second chance. This is not baseball, you don’t get a third chance.”


[NOTE: On Feb 19, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

On Sept. 14, 2018, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, pled guilty to conspiracy and witness tampering. In exchange for a reduced prison sentence on those charges, as well as on tax and bank fraud convictions in a separate case, he agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He promised to tell the truth.

Then he lied. As a result, last week Judge Amy Berman Jackson voided Manafort’s plea agreement. Federal guidelines call for a 19- to 24-year prison term. Unless Trump pardons him, Manafort — who turns 70 on April Fools’ Day — will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

Paul Manafort is the latest in the series of former Trump campaign advisers to incur criminal penalties for lying to federal investigators. The names change, but the subject of their lies remains the same: Trump’s connections to Russia. Using the name filter for the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals that, like Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen lied in an effort to hide information about three key Russia-related issues — and they suffered legal consequences for it.

#1: Lies About Russians Helping Trump Win the Election 

Papadopoulos. Throughout the campaign, George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, communicated with individuals claiming to have Russian connections. They told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton consisting of “thousands of emails” that would help Trump win. When the FBI quizzed Papadopoulos in January 2017 concerning those contacts, he lied about them. On Oct. 5, 2017, he pled guilty to making the false statements.

Manafort. During 2016, Paul Manafort shared 2016 presidential polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a liaison to Russian oligarch and Putin confidant Oleg Deripaska. Last week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Manafort’s “relationship or communications” with Kilimnik is “a topic at the undisputed core” of Mueller’s investigation, and that Manafort had lied about it.

#2: Lies About Trump Softening Sanctions Against Russia

Flynn. Trump’s national security adviser Mike Flynn had numerous contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. Flynn was seeking to soften Russia’s response to new sanctions that President Obama was imposing for Russia’s interference with the 2016 US presidential election. When the FBI later asked Flynn about those communications, he lied. On Dec. 1, 2017, he pled guilty to making the false statements.

Manafort. During his conversations with federal investigators, Manafort apparently also lied about his discussions with Konstantin Kilimnik concerning a Ukrainian “peace plan” — which has become a euphemism for efforts aimed at lifting US sanctions against Russia.

#3: Lies About Trump Tower-Moscow

Cohen. Through at least June 2016, Michael Cohen and Felix Sater communicated about Sater’s efforts to involve senior Russian government officials and bankers in developing Trump Tower-Moscow. Cohen himself contacted Vladimir Putin’s personal press spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, and briefed Trump Organization family members about the project. Cohen and Sater even discussed plans for a possible Trump trip to Moscow. When congressional investigators later asked Cohen to describe the status of the project during the campaign, he lied about it. On Nov. 29, 2018, Cohen pled guilty to making the false statements.

People lie for different reasons. But when so many people lie to federal investigators about the same thing, they open a window into the truth.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

OCT. 7, 2016: Burr Joins Trump Campaign

MAY 26, 2018: Manafort Authorizes Representative to Speak with Trump Administration Official on His Behalf [previous entry deleted)

NOV. 26, 2018: Mueller Says Manafort Lied After Plea Agreement; Shared 2016 Campaign Polling Data With Kilimnik (revision of previous entry)

JAN. 24, 2019: Trump Tweets About Cohen, Clinton; Senate Subpoenas Cohen (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 12, 2019: Burr and Warner Disagree on Senate Investigation

FEB. 13, 2019: Trump Tweets About Burr’s Comment: ‘NO EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION’ 

FEB. 13, 2019: Judge Finds Manafort Intentionally Lied To Feds After Signing Plea Agreement

FEB. 13, 2019: Nadler Invites Whitaker to ‘Clarify’ Testimony

FEB. 13, 2019: The Daily Beast: Election Security Task Forces Downsized; DHS Says Election Preparations Underway

FEB. 14-15, 2019: McCabe Launches Book Tour; Rosenstein Responds; Trump Attacks

FEB. 15, 2019: Judge Enters Limited Gag Order in Stone Case

FEB. 15, 2019: Mueller Files Manafort Sentencing Memo in Virginia Case

FEB. 16, 2019: Trump Retweets About Strzok, Page, Mueller

FEB. 17, 2019: Trump Quotes Limbuagh: ‘Mueller is a Cover-up’; Tweets ‘Witch Hunt’; Retweets Attacks on McCabe 

FEB. 18, 2019: Trump Tweets About Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions, McCabe, Rosenstein; Quotes Supporter: ‘Illegal Coup on the President’


The Trump era presents attorneys with opportunities for great distinction — and great shame. My article, “All the President’s Lawyers,” appears in the current issue of the ABA’s Litigation Journal. Here’s the link: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/publications/litigation_journal/2018-19/fall/all-presidents-lawyers/


[NOTE: On Feb 13, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

When the president dangles a pardon under the nose of a cooperating witness in a federal probe, incentives change: Lying yields potential rewards rather than draconian penalties. Truth becomes elusive. Justice is obstructed and the rule of law loses.

That principle could have framed last week’s lead Trump-Russia story. Instead, another Trump era made-for-TV spectacle flooded the airwaves. But buried in acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was an item about pardons. A related development in the case against Paul Manafort illustrates the problem.

The Whitaker Nugget

During Whitaker’s four hours of actual questioning, he avoided substantive answers on most topics. His demeanor became the story. But at the two-hour and forty-eight-minute mark, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) asked him about discussions of pardons for Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen. Whitaker responded broadly:

“Congressman, as I have been acting attorney general, I have not been involved in any discussions of any pardons even and including the ones you’re discussing.”

Ninety minutes later, the day’s final questioner, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) asked:

Q: Did you ever create, direct the creation, see, or become aware of the existence of any documents relating to pardons of any individual?

Whitaker paused before answering: “I’m aware of documents relating to pardoning of individuals, yes.”

An inadvertent cliffhanger that few in the media noticed: Whitaker said he’d had no discussions with anyone about pardons, but he’s aware of documents relating to them. Alas, time expired. No follow-up questions. Hearing over.

The Manafort Connection

As the Whitaker show played out, another pardon story emerged in the case against Paul Manafort, who stands accused of lying to special counsel Robert Mueller after signing his plea agreement. On Aug. 22, 2018, Trump told a Fox News reporter that he would consider pardoning Manafort. As recently as Nov. 28, he said that a pardon for Manafort was not “off the table.”

During a Feb. 4 hearing, Andrew Weissmann, an attorney on Mueller’s team, outlined Manafort’s two motives for lying. The transcript redacts the first one entirely. As for the second, Weissmann said that Manafort could have been trying “to at least augment his chances for a pardon.”

One of Manafort’s alleged lies relates to his Aug. 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen whom the FBI assesses as having ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik was Manafort’s liaison to sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a Putin confidant. (On Jan. 16, 2019, Senate Republicans failed to stop Trump from lifting sanctions on Deripaska’s companies.)

Weismann emphasized that the Aug. 2 meeting “goes very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel’s office is investigating.” The Trump-Russia Timeline offers hints as to why. Here’s a sample of relevant entries:

July 11, 2015: A month after Trump announces his candidacy, he appears at a Las Vegas town hall and answers question from the audience. Russian national Maria Butina gets to a microphone and asks about his policy toward Russia.

“I don’t think you’d need the sanctions,” Trump answers, referring to crippling economic sanctions that the US, the European Union, and a host of other countries and international organizations imposed against Russia after its 2014 intervention in Ukraine.

It turns out that Butina is a Russian agent.  In 2018, she pleads guilty to conspiring with a Russian government official to establish “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over US politics… for the benefit of the Russian Federation.” Among other vehicles, she uses the NRA to reach Republican Party leaders.

Mar. 29, 2016: Although Manafort is broke and deeply in debt, he goes to work on the Trump campaign for no pay. 

Apr. 11, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik how they can use Manafort’s new position on the campaign “to get whole.” During his tenure, Manafort discusses with Kilimnik a “peace plan” for Ukraine, and he transfers US polling data to Kilimnik.

June 9, 2016: Manafort attends the Trump Tower meeting with Russians connected to Putin’s government. They claim to have “dirt” on Clinton.

July 7, 2016:In an email to Kilimnik, Manafort offers to give Deripaska “private briefings” on the Trump campaign.

July 14, 2016: The Trump campaign successfully resists a proposed GOP platform plank that would strengthen US support of Ukraine against Russia.

July 22, 2016: On the eve of the Democratic convention, WikiLeaks releases nearly 20,000 emails that the Russians had stolen from the Democratic National Committee months earlier.

July 24, 2016: On national television, Manafort denies any link between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Which takes us to Aug. 2, 2016:Manafort meets with Kilimnik at the Grand Havana Club in Manhattan. What happened there? According to Mueller, Manafort is lying about it, perhaps to augment his chances for a pardon. That’s not how America’s justice system is supposed to work.

UPDATE: Feb. 13, 2019: The judge agreed with Mueller: Manafort “intentionally made multiple false statements to the FBI, the OSC, and the grand jury concerning matters that were materials to the investigation: his interactions and communications with [Konstantin] Kilimnik.”

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

1995: Trump in Moscow Seeking Development Opportunities

FEBRUARY 2006: Trump’s Children Visit Moscow; Discuss Possible Trump Tower Deal (revision of previous entry)

SEPT. 25, 2015: Cohen Sends Trump Tower-Moscow Drawings to Sater

SEPT. 29, 2015: Trump Tower-Moscow Talks Proceed

OCT. 5, 2015: Cohen Sends Draft Letter of Intent Re: Trump Tower-Moscow

OCT. 9, 2015: Sater Sends Cohen Potential Trump Tower-Moscow Site Info

NOV. 3, 2015: Sater and Cohen Pursue Trump Tower-Moscow and Getting Trump Elected President (revision of previous entry)

DEC. 1, 2015: Sater Asks Cohen for Copy of Passport for Russian Visa

DEC. 17, 2015: Putin Praises Trump; Cohen to Sater: ‘Now is the Time’

DEC. 19, 2015: Sater and Cohen Discuss Trip to Russia for Trump Tower-Moscow Financing Discussion

DEC. 21, 2015: Cohen Wants Copy of Trump Passport

DEC. 29-31, 2015: Cohen and Sater Argue Over Delay in Solidifying Trump Tower-Moscow Deal

JAN. 25, 2016: Russian Bank Invites Cohen to Moscow

JUNE 13, 2016: Sater Sends Cohen Visa Application to Attend Russian Economic Forum

JAN. 28, 2019: Cohen to Testify Privately Before House (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 4, 2019: Manafort’s Alleged Lies Go ‘To The Heart’ of Mueller’s Investigation; Judge Postpones Sentencing Date

FEB. 4, 2019: Prosecutors Subpoena Trump Inauguration Committee

FEB. 5, 2019: DHS and DOJ: Foreign Governments and Agents Had ‘No Material Impact’ on Midterm Election

FEB. 5, 2019: Erickson Indicted for Fraud

FEB. 6, 2019: House Releases Witness Transcripts to DOJ, Including Mueller

FEB. 7, 2019: Trump Tweets About Schiff, ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’ 

FEB. 7, 2019: Corsi Sues Stone for Defamation

FEB. 8, 2019: Trump Tweets ‘No Collusion’, Attacks Schiff, ‘GIANT AND ILLEGAL HOAX’ 

FEB. 8, 2019: Whitaker Testifies Before Congress

FEB. 9, 2019: Trump Tweets About House Judiciary Committee; Retweets Hannity and Others on Schiff, Simpson, Senate Investigation, Clinton, Russia Investigation 

FEB. 10, 2019: Trump Tweets That Burr Concluded ‘NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA