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
[NOTE: On Feb 5,, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
Walk into a room full of people and turn off the lights. It will get their attention. If hackers shut off electricity to parts of the United States, perhaps the personal impact of Russia’s threat to the nation’s security will become apparent. Maybe it will also generate a closer look at Donald Trump’s responses to that threat. According to the US intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” we’re approaching that moment.
Last week, America’s intelligence leaders informed Congress that Russia “is now staging cyber attack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage US civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis….” Russia has the ability to disrupt an American electrical distribution network “for at least a few hours” and is “mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage.”
Restoring a power grid is challenging. When the lights go out on democracy, restoring power to the people is a more daunting task. Here’s the report’s opening line about Russia:
“We assess that Russia poses a cyber espionage, influence, and attack threat to the United States and our allies.” (Emphasis in original)
Testifying before Congress, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned: “[T]he Kremlin is stepping up its campaign to divide Western political and security institutions and undermine the post-WWII international order. We expect Russia will continue to wage its information war against democracies and to use social media to attempt to divide our societies.”
The next day, Trump moved the spotlight away from the report’s discussion of Russia by contradicting his intelligence leaders on Iran and North Korea — and chiding them in a tweet: “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school.”
It’s a familiar pattern, as the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals:
#1: AUG. 17, 2016
Trump receives his first national security briefing from senior FBI officials who warn that foreign adversaries, including Russia, will probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign.
Trump’s response: At the “Commander-in-Chief” forum on NBC, he praises Putin. (SEPT. 7)As the Trump campaign racks up more than 80 contacts with Russia before the election, Trump and his advisers deny repeatedly that there are any.
#2: OCT. 7, 2016
The intelligence community publishes its statement that Russia is interfering with the election.
Trump’s response: At the third presidential debate, he says, “[Hillary Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China, or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” (OCT. 19)
#3: DEC. 9, 2016
The Washington Post reports the CIA’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win.
Trump’s response: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” (DEC. 9) “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea.” (DEC. 11)
#4: JAN. 6, 2017
The US intelligence community issues the public version of its report that Putin ordered the influence campaign promoting Trump’s candidacy.
Trump’s response: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” (JAN. 11) Days after the inauguration, the Trump administration considers an executive order unilaterally lifting Russian sanctions.
#5: JAN. 10, 2018
A Senate report details Putin’s ongoing worldwide attacks on democracy and emphasizes the need to counter Russia’s threat.
Trump’s response: He tells The Wall Street Journal that the Russia investigation is a hoax. (JAN. 11)
#6: MAR. 15, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security issues an alert: Russia has hacked into US utilities’ control rooms.
Trump’s response: He congratulates Vladimir Putin on winning re-election, ignoring the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” warning from his national security advisers. (MAR. 20)
#7: JUL. 13, 2018
DNI Coats says Russian cyberattack warning lights are “blinking red.”
Trump’s response: When asked if Russia is still targeting the US, he says, “No.” (JULY 18)
#7: AUG. 2, 2018
At the White House daily press conference, DNI Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray warn about ongoing Russian election interference in the midterms.
#8: DEC. 17, 2018
A report for the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that Russia is still using social media to help Trump by targeting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Trump’s response:Tweets about the “Russian Witch Hunt” and “Hoax.” (DEC. 18)
Last week, Mueller said that non-public government discovery produced in the case against a Russian troll farm and 13 Russian nationals reappeared in a social media disinformation campaign against his investigation. As Putin’s global attacks continue, waiting for the lights to go out is an increasingly perilous path.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
EARLY 2016–MARCH 2016: Trump Seeks Loan From Deutsch Bank; Bank Refuses
JUNE 6-7, 2016: Don Jr.’s Phone Calls With Emin Agalarov (revision of previous entry)
SEPT. 5, 2018: Twitter Removes 3,483 Russian Troll Accounts
OCT. 30, 2018: Stolen Documents Used to Attack Mueller’s Case Against IRA and Prigozhin
PRIOR TO NOV. 6, 2018: Twitter Removes More Russian Troll Accounts
NOV. 29-30, 2018: Trump Cancels G-20 Meeting with Putin; Kremlin Pushes Back; Trump Meets with Putin After All (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 28, 2019: Sens. Blumenthal and Grassley Introduce Bill Requiring Public Report From Mueller
JAN. 28, 2019: Cohen To Testify Privately Before House
JAN. 28, 2019: Sanders Refuses to Rule Out Pardon For Stone
JAN. 29-30, 2019: US Intelligence Community Heads Warn: Russian Efforts Include Cyber Attacks, Crippling Infrastructure, Dividing Americans, and Interfering With US Elections; Trump Changes Subject
JAN. 30, 2019: Mueller: Disinformation Campaign Targeted Russia Investigation; Additional Uncharged Individuals Engaging in Unlawful Activities
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump Tweets About Ohr, ‘Witch Hunt’
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump to NYT: ‘I Like Roger’ Who Has Been Treated ‘Very Badly’; ‘We’ll Do Something on it at the Right Time’; Says He Had No Conversations With Stone About WikiLeaks
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump to NYT: Business in Russia During Campaign
JAN. 31, 2019: Trump to NYT: Rosenstein Says He’s Not a Mueller Target, Doesn’t Know About SDNY’s Case Against Cohen, Denies Witness Tampering
FEB. 1, 2019: Belarusan Model Says She Gave 2016 Election Material to Deripaska
[NOTE: On Jan. 29, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
Roger Stone’s indictment— followed by his non-stop media appearances — smothered every other Trump-Russia news story last week. Lying to federal investigators is bad; it reveals what prosecutors call “consciousness of guilt.” Stone’s alleged obstruction of proceedings and false statements carry potential sentences of five years for each offense.
But trying to get others to lie for you is worse — and even more telling. The most serious charge against Stone is witness tampering. Conviction could result in his incarceration for 20 years.
According to the indictment, Stone texted Randy Credico (identified as “Person 2”): “And if you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool.”
Later that day, Credico texted Stone: “You need to amend your testimony before I testify on the 15th.”
Stone responded: “If you testify you’re a fool. Because of tromp [sic] I could never get away with a certain [sic] my Fifth Amendment rights but you can. I guarantee you you [sic] are the one who gets indicted for perjury if you’re stupid enough to testify.”
In an Apr. 9, 2018 email, Stone called Credico “a rat” and “a stoolie.” He even threatened to take away his dog.
Culture of Witness Tampering
Stone’s indictment and arrest obscured what otherwise would have been the week’s blockbuster Trump-Russia story: Michael Cohen backed away from a voluntary appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7. His attorney offered reasons that suggested witness tampering — by Trump.
On JAN. 23, 2019, Cohen’s lawyer issued a statement saying: “Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date… This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first.”
For Cohen, it was the culmination of a journey that began after the FBI executed search warrants against him on APR. 9, 2018. Go to the Timeline, click on Cohen’s name, and consider the context that subsequent entries provide, including these:
APR. 13, 2018: One of Trump’s former attorneys warns him that Cohen will flip. The same day, Trump calls Cohen to “check in” and pardons “Scooter” Libby, even though Libby didn’t have a pardon application pending. In 2007, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald had prosecuted Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff for lying to the FBI.
APR. 21, 2018: Trump tweets that he “doesn’t see” Michael flipping on him.
But on JULY 20, 2018,The New York Times reports that Cohen secretly recorded conversations with Trump, and federal investigators have the tapes.
JUL. 25, 2018: Trump tweets: “What kind of lawyer would tape a client?”
Then on AUG. 21, 2018, Cohen pleads guilty to campaign finance violations and implicates Trump in his crimes. Throughout SEPTEMBER, Cohen has multiple interview sessions lasting several hours with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators.
OCT. 23, 2018: Trump tells The Wall Street Journal that Cohen “has tremendous legal liability” for taping him.
NOV. 29, 2018: Trump says Cohen is “lying to get a reduced sentence.”
DEC. 3, 2018: Trump adds Cohen’s wife and father-in-law to his twitter attacks.
DEC. 16, 2018: Trump calls Cohen a “rat.”
JAN. 18, 2019: Trump tweets about Cohen, adding, “Watch father-in-law!”
Other Trump Targets
Using the Trump-Russia Timeline name filter reveals other examples of Trump’s carrot-and-stick behavior toward potential witnesses in the Russia investigation.
APR. 25, 2017: As investigators circle Flynn, Trump reportedly sends a message to him: “Stay strong.” Flynn doesn’t.
AUG. 22, 2018: Trump says he would consider pardoning Manafort.
NOV. 28, 2018: Trump says that a Manafort pardon is “on the table.”
MAY 31, 2018: Stone says that Trump’s pardons “send a message” to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort. Stone receives it too, telling ABC News, “I will never betray this president.”
AUG. 13, 2018: Stone reiterates that there is “no circumstance under which I would testify against the president.”
DEC. 2-3, 2018: Stone again says there is “no circumstance” under which he would testify against Trump. The next day, Trump quotes Stone in a tweet praising his “guts.” Later that day, Stone invokes the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
JAN. 25, 2019: Immediately after his bond hearing, Stone appears before reporters and protesters, saying, “There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself.”
Trump can’t solve every potential witness problem by dangling presidential pardons — carrots. For someone who doesn’t face the threat of federal prosecution, they’re worthless. The Timeline name filter reveals that Trump not only dangles such carrots, but also uses sticks — relentless personal attacks. As with Cohen, those attacks are happening in plain sight too. Just ask James Comey.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
JUNE 16, 2015: Trump Announces His Candidacy; Secret Trump Tower-Moscow Discussions Continue (revision of previous entry)
AUG. 6, 2015: Stone Formally Leaves Campaign, Maintains Contact Through Election (revision of previous entry)
JUNE 12-14, 2016: WikiLeaks Has Clinton Emails; DNC Tries to Get Ahead of Hacking Story (revision of previous entry)
JUNE – JULY 2016: Stone Speaks to Senior Campaign Officials About WikiLeaks
ON OR SHORTLY AFTER JULY 22, 2016: Someone Directs ‘Senior Trump Campaign Official’ to Contact Stone About Additional WikiLeaks Releases
JUL. 25, 2016: Stone Tells Corsi to Get WikiLeaks’ Hacked Emails (revision of previous entry)
JUL. 31, 2016: Stone to Corsi: ‘Malloch Should See Assange’ (revision of previous entry)
AUG. 2-11, 2016: Corsi Informs Stone of WikiLeaks’ Plans, Suggests Attacking Clinton’s Health; Stone Talks to Trump; Hannity Helps (revision of previous entry)
AUG. 8, 2016: Stone Says He’s Communicated With WikiLeaks Founder (revision of previous entry)
AUG. 19-21, 2016: Credico to Stone: Assange to Appear on Credico’s Radio Show
AUG. 23, 2016: Stone Appears on Credico’s Radio Show
AUG. 25-26, 2016: Assange Appears on Credico’s Show, Talks About Stone
AUG. 27, 2016: Credico to Stone: Assange Has ‘Kryptonite on Hillary’
SEPT. 18-30, 2016: Stone Asks Credico to Pass Along Request to Assange; Credico Sends Photo (revision of previous entry)
SEPT. 21, 2016: Stone Says He’s Spoken With Trump
OCT. 1-2, 2016: Stone to Credico: ‘Hillary’s Campaign Will Die This Week’
OCT. 3-4, 2016: Stone Assures Trump Supporters: ‘The Payload is Coming’; Discusses WikiLeaks and Raising $$$ With Bannon (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 6-7, 2016: Intelligence Community Publishes Statement on Russian Interference; Stone to Corsi: ‘Tell Assange to Start Dumping’; Access Hollywood Tapes Released (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 2, 2016: Stone Says He Speaks With Trump Weekly
NOV. 10, 2016: Stone Speaks With Trump
MAY 8, 2017:Trump Posts Angry Tweets on the Day of Yates’ Testimony (revision of previous entry)
SEPT. 25-26, 2017: Stone Decries Congressional Hearings (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 19, 2017: Stone Tells Credico to Confirm Stone’s Lie
NOV. 19 – DEC 12, 2017: Stone Tells Credico to Resist Investigation: ‘Stonewall it’, ‘If You Testify, You’re a Fool’
DEC. 24, 2017: Credico and Stone Discuss Russian Investigation
APR. 9, 2018: Stone Threatens Credico
MAY 21, 2018: Credico To Stone: ‘You’ve Opened Yourself up to Perjury Charges’
AUG. 8, 2018 to JAN. 24, 2019: Trump Drags Feet on New Russian Sanctions, Again (revision of previous entry)
AUG. 13, 2018: Stone: ‘Will Not Testify Against the President’
AUG. 22, 2018: Trump ‘Would Consider’ Pardoning Manafort (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 2, 2018: Stone: ‘No Circumstance’ Under Which He Would Testify Against Trump
JAN. 15-22, 2019: ‘Sex Training Expert’ Claiming Deripaska Connection is Deported to Russia, Arrested, Apologizes (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 18, 2019: Trump Tweets About Cohen: ‘Watch Father-in-Law!’
JAN. 21, 2019: Emin Agalarov Cancels US/Canada Tour
JAN. 22, 2019: Trump Tweets About Steele Dossier, ‘Illegal’ Russia Investigation, ‘Unconstitutional Hoax’
JAN. 23, 2019: Cohen Cites Threats in Postponing House Testimony; Cummings and Schiff Want to Move Forward
JAN. 24, 2019: Trump Tweets About Cohen, Clinton; Senate Subpoenas Cohen
JAN. 24-25, 2019: Roger Stone Indicted, Arrested; Trump Tweets; Stone Remains Defiant
JAN. 25, 2019: Sanders/Sekulow Respond to Stone Indictment
JAN. 26, 2019: Trump Tweets About Stone, Comey, Brennan, Clapper, Strzok, Lisa Page, Hillary…‘WITCH HUNT!’
JAN. 27, 2019: Treasury Confirms Lifting Sanctions on Deripaska’s Companies
[NOTE: On Jan. 21, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
As last week ended, all eyes focused on BuzzFeed’s report that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Then special counsel Robert Mueller’s unprecedented press release stated that various aspects of the story were “not accurate.” Time will tell where the facts lead, but for now, the BuzzFeed story has become a counterproductive distraction from key developments relating to two issues: Oleg Deripaska’s unambiguous successes and Vladimir Putin’s unimpeded escalation toward war with Ukraine.
A Dark Deripaska Chapter
This week’s revision to the Trump-Russia Timeline entry for MAR. 5, 2018 — “Model/Prostitute Claims to Have Audio Recordings” — adds a prescient remark from Anastasia Vashukevich (a/k/a Nastya Rybka), a jailed “sex training expert” claiming to have audio recordings of Deripaska and others that prove Russia’s involvement in 2016 US election interference: “If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know,” she says from a prison in Thailand. “I am afraid to go back to Russia. Some strange things can happen.”
The new JAN. 15-19, 2019 entry — “‘Sex Training Expert’ Claiming Deripaska Connection is Deported to Russia and Arrested” — describes the strange things now happening to Vashukevich in Moscow. After nine months in a Thai prison, she and seven others pleaded guilty to prostitution charges. The court sentenced them to time served and ordered immediate deportation to their home countries. Vashukevich’s destination was Belarus, but she didn’t get there.
As she walked through a transit zone while changing planes in Moscow on Jan. 17, a group of men dragged her into Russian territory. Vashukevich’s lawyer posted a video on Instagram that, he says, shows her arrest. She now faces prostitution charges that could land her in prison for years. On Jan. 19, she appeared in a Moscow court, apologized publicly to Deripaska, and promised continued silence about whatever she knows about him.
Deripaska Winning on Sanctions
Back in April 2018, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against Deripaska’s aluminum production companies for their role in the Kremlin’s worldwide pattern of “malign activity,” including “attempting to subvert Western democracies.” But those sanctions have never been implemented. On Dec. 19, 2018, Trump put the companies on track to avoid them forever. Last week, the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes required to stop him. Even with many Republicans in Congress breaking ranks (11 in the Senate, 136 in the House), Putin, Deripaska, and Trump prevailed.
Putin Winning in Ukraine
Meanwhile, a Russian court is detaining eight of the Ukrainian seamen captured during Russia’s illegal confiscation of three vessels in the Black Sea on Nov. 25, 2018. And international satellite images now show that Putin has deployed batteries of short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles near the Russian-Ukrainian border.
For context, couple those two new Timeline entries with a few others from last month, starting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s unsubstantiated claim that looks increasingly like an ominous pretext:
DEC. 17, 2018: “Lavrov Says Ukraine Planning More Provocations”
DEC. 22, 2018: “Russia Moves Fighter Jets to Crimea”
DEC. 24, 2018: “Russia Repeats Unsubstantiated Claim of Ukrainian ‘Provocation’”
Trump seems content to let Putin and his favorite oligarch have their way — on anything and everything they seek. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and most of his Republican colleagues seem unperturbed.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
JUNE 16, 2015: Trump Announces His Candidacy; Secret Trump Tower-Moscow Discussions Continue (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 10, 2016: Russian Officials Admit Trump Campaign Had Contact With Kremlin Intermediaries (revision of previous entry)
JULY 8, 2017: White House Scrambles to Deal with Forthcoming NYT Story; Trump Defends Russia to NYT, Supervises Media Response (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 30, 2018: Trump Says Manafort Won’t ‘Flip’ and Sell Him Out; Talks About Prosecuting Mueller (revision of previous entry)
MAR. 5, 2018: Model/Escort Claims to Have Audio Recordings (revision of previous entry)
JAN 14, 2019: Trump: ‘I Never Worked For Russia,’ FBI Officials ‘Known Scoundrels,’ Comey Was a ‘Bad Cop… a Dirty Cop’, McCabe is a ‘Proven Liar’; Says He Doesn’t Know What Happened to Interpreters’ Notes
JAN. 14, 2019: NYT: Trump Said He Wanted to Withdraw from NATO
JAN. 14-15, 2019: Barr at Confirmation Hearing: Mueller Not Engaged in ‘Witch Hunt’
JAN. 15, 2019: Parties Seek More Time Before Gates Sentencing
JAN. 15, 2019: Russia Holds Ukrainian Seamen
JAN. 15-17, 2019: Senate Fails to Halt Trump’s Deripaska Sanctions Relief; 136 House Republicans Rebuke Trump
JAN. 15-19, 2019: ‘Sex Training Expert’ Claiming Deripaska Connection is Deported to Russia, Arrested, Apologizes
JAN. 17, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller ‘Witch Hunt,’ ‘Fake’ Steele Dossier
JAN. 18, 2019: Russia Has Deployed Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missiles Near Ukraine Border
[NOTE: On Jan. 14, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
Last week’s two biggest Trump-Russia stories are related to each other. They’re also related to two other stories that attracted far less media attention.
The Big Ones
On January 11, The New York Times reported that in May 2017, the FBI launched a counterintelligence inquiry into whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia. Two days later, The Washington Post revealed that Trump has concealed — even from his own senior officials — his private conversations with Vladimir Putin.
That’s shocking stuff. But it’s consistent with Trump’s open, notorious, and intensifying hostility toward America’s law enforcement institutions, his affinity for Putin, and the emerging facts that explain his solicitous behavior toward Russia’s dictator. Likewise, his secrecy in dealing with Putin is consistent with Trump’s foreign policy, which has enhanced Russia’s global position at the expense of US interests. All of that raises suspicions, to say the least.
Two developments in the saga of how Putin wound up with such a valuable asset in the White House received less media attention. They relate to Natalie Veselnitskaya and Paul Manafort.
Veselnitskaya’s Friends In The Kremlin
On Jan. 8, 2019, the court unsealed an indictment against Natalia Veselnitskaya for obstructing justice in a federal case involving her client, Prevezon. The case involved alleged Russian money laundering through “pricey New York real estate.” On the Trump-Russia Timeline name filter, clicking on “Natalia Veselnitskaya” and “Prevezon” reveals that she’s an insider at the highest levels of Putin’s government.
Why does it matter? Context:
JUNE 3, 2016: Don Jr. receives an offer purportedly originating from the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” to provide “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.” Don Jr. responds, “I love it especially later in the summer.” He invites Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner to attend a meeting where they expect to receive the helpful material from a Russian emissary.
JUNE 9, 2016: When Veselnitskaya arrives at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, Manafort, Kushner, and Don Jr. assume that they will be meeting with an agent of the Russian government. Based on the government’s subsequent criminal charges against Veselnitskaya, that assumption is correct.
The implications of Veselnitskaya’s status will become clearer as the overall Trump-Russia story unfolds in the weeks ahead.
Also on Jan. 8, 2019, Paul Manafort’s attorneys revealed that, according to special counsel Robert Mueller, during the 2016 campaign, Manafort supplied internal polling information to his long-time Russian-Ukrainian business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. Federal investigators assert that Kilimnik — a former Soviet military officer — had and continues to have ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik also served as an intermediary between Manafort and Oleg Deripaska (referred to as “Putin’s oligarch” — which speaks for itself).
What would Kilimnik want with internal Trump campaign polling data? The Trump-Russia Timeline provides context that might offer clues. Clicking on the name filters for “Paul Manafort,” “Konstantin Kilimnik,” “Facebook/Twitter,” “Julian Assange,” and “George Papadopoulos” results in dozens of entries worth reviewing. Here’s just a small sample from the highlights reel:
APRIL 2014: Russia begins its “Translator project” — using social media to exploit divisions among US voters.
MARCH 29, 2016: Manafort is broke, but agrees to work for the Trump campaign for nothing.
APRIL 26, 2016: George Papadopoulos, a Trump national security adviser, learns that the Russian government has “dirt” on Clinton — “thousands of emails” — and that it wants to help disseminate those stolen emails.
Then comes the Manafort revelation:
MAY 3-4, 2016: As Trump vanquishes his GOP rivals for the nomination, Manafort has been sending Trump’s private polling data to Kilimnik.
JUNE 2016: Kushner assumes control of Trump’s digital campaign. According to later reporting from McClatchy, by July 2017, “Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states — areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.”
JUNE 3, 2016: Don Jr. receives a message communicating Russia’s offer to provide “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
JUNE 7, 2016: With the Trump Tower meeting now set for June 9, Trump addresses a New Jersey primary election crowd. During his victory speech, he promises to reveal “things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
JUNE 9, 2016: On the day of the infamous Trump Tower meeting that includes Veselnitskaya as Russia’s point person, Trump starts tweeting about Clinton’s deleted emails. Those emails become a recurring Trump campaign theme.
JUNE TO NOVEMBER 2016: By now, Russia’s “Translator project” is in full swing, targeting “hot-button” issues in battleground states.
JULY 7, 2016: Manafort offers “private briefings” about the campaign to Deripaska.
LATE JULY/EARLY AUGUST 2016: High-level counterintelligence officials warn Trump and Clinton that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would likely try to spy on and infiltrate their campaigns. The officials tell the candidates to alert the FBI about any suspicious foreign overtures to their campaigns. Trump doesn’t. Two weeks later, Manafort resigns from the Trump campaign; however, well past the election, he boasts that insiders keep him “aware of what’s going on.”
Throughout the summer until Election Day, WikiLeaks disseminates the emails that Russian hackers had stolen from Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Russia’s social media campaign — “Translator project—continues in earnest, targeting voters in battleground states.
The rest, as they say, is history. Fewer than 80,000 voters in three states swing the Electoral College result to Trump, who loses the popular contest by almost 3 million votes.
In the end, Trump was Putin’s candidate. His campaign embraced Russia’s help, and he won. And since the election, his behavior toward Putin and Russia has been startling — and not in a good way. In its totality, the Trump-Russia Timeline — along with likely additional evidence that Mueller has and the public doesn’t — makes one thing clear: The notion that the FBI opened a counterintelligence inquiry into Trump is surprising, but the failure to open one would have been frightening.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
SEPT. 10, 2013: US Attorney Bharara Files Case Against Veselnitskaya’s Client (revision of previous entry)
MAY 3-4, 2016: Gates and Manafort Have Been Sending Polling Data to Kilimnik; Trump Stands Atop the Republican Field (revision of previous entry)
JUNE TO NOVEMBER 2016: ‘Translator Project’ in Full Swing, Targets ‘Hot-Button’ Issues in Battleground States (revision of previous entry)
JULY 29-31, 2016: Kilimnik to Manafort: ‘Black Caviar’ Guy Has Messages
AUG. 2, 2016: Kilimnik Meets with Manafort, Discusses Ukraine Plan (revision of previous entry)
MAY 17, 2017: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel, Assumes Control of Counterintelligence Investigation Into Trump (revision of previous entry)
JULY 7, 2017: Trump Meets Putin, Confiscates Interpreter’s Notes Afterwards (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 26, 2018: Mueller Says Manafort Lied After Plea Agreement; Shared 2016 Campaign Polling Data With Kilimnik (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 20, 2018: Feds Charge Veselnitskaya With Obstruction
JAN. 8, 2019: Manafort’s Attorneys Reveal Too Much: Manafort Shared Polling Data With Kilimnik; Then What?
JAN. 10, 2019: Trump: ‘No Collusion’; Denies Knowing Manafort Shared Polling Data With Kilimnik
JAN. 10, 2019: Cohen Agrees to Testify Before House; Trump Says He’s ‘Not Worried at All”
JAN. 11-12, 2019: NYT Reveals FBI Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump; Trump Blasts ‘Sleaze’ and ‘Crooked Cop’ Comey, FBI, McCabe, Strzok, Lisa Page, ‘Rigged and Botched Crooked Hillary Investigation,’ ‘Mueller & the 13 Angry Democrats’, ‘Witch Hunt’, Says He’s Been ‘Far Tougher on Russia’ but ‘Getting Along With Russia is a Good Thing’
Vladimir Putin spent the holiday season collecting gifts from the 45th president of the United States. The latest developments in a scandal that the Trump-Russia Timeline chronicles now look like a game of “RISK” — with Putin moving effortlessly as the dominant player on the board. And to cap it off, on Jan. 2, Trump echoed Russian propaganda seeking to rewrite the history of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
America’s President Panders to a Thug With Nuclear Weapons
Give Putin credit. Without nuclear weapons, Russia would be a bit-player on the world stage. Its economy ranks 11th in the world — about one-tenth of that of the United States. If California and Texas were separate nations, both would surpass Russia in GDP. Yet in contrast to Trump’s willingness to antagonize other leaders of nuclear nations, including China and America’s staunchest allies, he panders to Putin as if Russia’s dictator had a gun to his head.
Even worse, the most recent turn of international events could be the beginning of a new and darker phase of the Trump era. The latest additions to the Trump-Russia Timeline depict a war in which Trump is leading a US retreat from every battlefield and Putin is emerging victorious.
Putin’s Green Light to Continue Election Interference
DEC. 17, 2018: The Senate Intelligence Committee releases two new bipartisan reports that Russia interfered with the 2016 election through social media, not only to help Trump win, but also to aid him thereafter — including attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump’s Response: Silence.
Bottom Line: Russia’s war on truth and the vote — two foundations of American democracy — continues.
Putin Reconstructs the Soviet Empire
DEC. 17, 2018: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pushes an unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine is “planning more provocations” at the Russian border. In the wake of Russia’s unlawful actions on Nov. 25 in the Kerch strait, the statement looks like a pretext for Russia’s next aggressive move against the former Soviet state.
DEC. 22: Russia moves more than a dozen fighter jets to the illegally annexed Crimean region in Ukraine.
DEC. 24: A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry repeats Lavrov’s unsubstantiated claims about Ukraine’s “provocations.” The Ministry even suggests that, in addition to ground operations, Ukraine may be plotting chemical warfare.
Trump’s Response: Silence.
Bottom Line: In 2005, Putin called the disintegration of the Soviet empire the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. Now Trump is aiding and abetting Putin’s reconstruction of that empire.
Putin On His Way to Winning More Relief From US Sanctions
DEC. 19, 2018: The Treasury Department announces that, absent congressional action that won’t happen from Trump’s GOP, sanctions announced against Oleg Deripaska’s company in April — but then postponed for months — will disappear altogether in 30 days.
Deripaska is so close to Putin that he has been called “Putin’s oligarch.” For years, he was also Paul Manafort’s business associate. While serving without pay as Trump’s campaign manager in July 2016, Manafort offered Deripaska “private briefings” on the campaign. (For context and more details, go to the Trump-Russia Timeline and click on Deripaska’s name. Remarkably, a Jan. 4, 2019 article in The New York Times refers to Deripaska as a “bit player” in the Mueller investigation. Read the Timeline entries for him and decide for yourself.)
Bottom Line: Removing all economic sanctions against Russia is one of Putin’s highest priorities. Trump is helping him achieve that goal.
Putin Winning in the Mideast
DEC. 19, 2018: Trump makes a surprise announcement that the US is withdrawing all of its troops from Syria. The next day, Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns in protest over the decision. A boon to Russia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey, Trump’s action deals a crushing blow to the Kurds — America’s principal ally against ISIS in the region. Controlling the oil-rich northeastern area of Syria, the Kurds are also resisting Syria’s president, Putin-backed Bashar al-Assad, as well as Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Putin’s Response: “Donald is right. I agree with him.”
Turkey’s Response: Turkey masses troops near a town that US-backed Kurdish rebels hold.
Trump’s Follow-up: Trump tweets lies about Russia, Syria, Iran, “and many others” being unhappy about his action. They’re not. Trump also asserts falsely that Mattis “retired,” but Mattis’ two-page resignation letter proves otherwise and, in the process, also repudiates Trump’s foreign policy:
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues … Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Bottom Line: James Mattis, one of America’s most respected public servants, resigns in protest because he believes Trump is undermining US and global security; Putin, the leader of America’s principal foreign adversary, praises Trump’s actions that produced Mattis’ resignation.
In Plain Sight
JAN. 2, 2019: During a public Cabinet meeting, Trump turns spontaneously to the subject of Afghanistan, where he has previously announced a US troop reduction from 14,000 to 7,000. Trump says that the Soviet Union was “right to be there” in 1979, when it invaded the country with 30,000 troops in an attempt to prop up a pro-communist puppet regime. Trump is echoing a recent Putin talking point based on a false, revisionist history of that internationally condemned invasion.
Some of Trump’s most egregious behavior happens where everyone can see it. But he enthralls the media with an endless stream of shiny objects that obscure a simple question:
Whose side is Trump on? His actions heading into 2019 continue to reveal that the answer hasn’t changed since the 2016 campaign.
APRIL 2014: The “Translator Project” Begins; Supports Trump; Exploits Divisions Among US Voters (revision of previous entry)
MAR. 10-11, 2016: Butina Works With Erickson; Thanks O’Neill for Helping US-Russia Relations (revision of previous entry)
APRIL 11, 2016: Manafort to Russian Business Associate: ‘How Do We Use to Get Whole?’ (revision of previous entry)
JUNE 8, 2016: Parscale Meets With Trump
NOV. 29, 2018: Cohen Pleads Guilty in Mueller Probe; Coordinated False Congressional Statements with Trump Legal Team; Trump Expresses Displeasure to Whitaker (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 1, 2018: Russia Moves Military Forces to Ukrainian Border
REVISED: DEC. 7, 2018: Mueller and SDNY File Briefs on Cohen; SDNY Implicates Trump; Trump Angry at Whitaker (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 12, 2018: Flynn’s Business Partner Indicted
DEC. 14, 2018: Trump Talks to Erdoğan About Syria: ‘It’s Yours; I’m Leaving’
DEC. 17, 2018: Comey Testifies, Then Blasts GOP, Fox News, Trump
DEC. 17, 2018: Lavrov Says Ukraine Planning More Provocations
DEC. 17, 2018: Senate Intelligence Committee: Russia Targeted African-Americans in 2016 Campaign, Still Using Social Media to Help Trump and Hurt Mueller
DEC. 18, 2018: Trump Tweets: Strzok and Lisa Page Texts ‘Would Have Explained Whole Hoax’, Defends Flynn, Attacks Steele Dossier
DEC. 18, 2018: Judge Tells Flynn: ‘Arguably, You Sold Your Country Out’; Sentencing Postponed at Flynn’s Request
DEC. 19, 2018: Treasury Department Moves to Lift Sanctions on Deripaska’s Company
DEC. 19-20, 2018: Trump Announces Withdrawal from Syria; Putin Says ‘Donald is Right’
DEC. 20, 2018: Mattis Resigns
DEC. 20, 2018: House Intelligence Committee Votes to Send Stone’s Transcript to Mueller
DEC. 20, 2018: Whitaker Refuses to Recuse Himself From Trump-Russia Probe
DEC. 22, 2018: Russia Moves Fighter Jets to Crimea
DEC. 23, 2018: Turkey Massing Troops Near Syrian Border
DEC. 24, 2018: Russia Repeats Unsubstantiated Claim of Ukrainian ‘Provocation’
DEC. 25, 2018: Trump Attacks Comey, ‘No Collusion’ (Except by the Democrats)
DEC. 28, 2018: GOP Leaders Quietly End House Investigations, Call for Second Special Counsel
DEC. 29, 2018: Trump Tweets Lies About Mueller and Strzok/Lisa Page Text Messages; ‘Hoax’; FBI/DOJ ‘Rigged’ Investigations
JAN. 2, 2019: Trump Parrots Putin Revisionism on Afghanistan
JAN. 4, 2019: Trump Tweets About Impeachment, ‘No Collusion’
JAN. 4, 2019: Schiff Will Provide Transcripts to Mueller
JAN. 4, 2019: Mueller Grand Jury Extended
JAN. 5, 2019: Trump Tweets About His Campaign Finance Law Violations