They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Safely ensconced in Moscow, the Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties who met with three top Trump campaign figures at Trump Tower last summer is now offering her own version of what went down at the private meeting that has become a central focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In an interview with Bloomberg published Monday, attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya claims that Donald Trump Jr. suggested that a law imposing sanctions on high-profile Russians could be reviewed if his father was elected and also requested written evidence for her allegations about Hillary Clinton’s campaign receiving illicit funds.

Veselnitskaya told Bloomberg she is prepared to provide this account to the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as to special counsel Robert Mueller. She said that she would only testify before Congress if her answers were made public—a condition that the committee has not yet agreed to.

This is the first time Veselnitskaya has offered details of her version of the June 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower. Her willingness to testify highlights the precarious position of Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who were all in attendance at the meeting, which didn’t become public until after Trump took office. The eldest Trump son eagerly accepted an invitation to the meeting, which was billed as an opportunity to receive Russian government “dirt” on Clinton.

Though both Veselnitskaya and the Trump campaign have said the encounter was a bust and that she possessed no valuable information about the Democratic candidate, Mueller is investigating their exchange as part of his probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s attorney, told Bloomberg that his client had no comment on the interview.

As Veselnitskaya recalled, Trump Jr. offered to review the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on a group of Russian officials implicated in the murder of a Russian accountant who exposed widespread government tax fraud. The law is a particular irritant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who retaliated against its passage by barring Americans from adopting Russian children.

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Veselnitskaya told Bloomberg, allegedly quoting Trump Jr.

She told the publication that Trump’s son also asked for financial documents that would support her claims that Clinton’s campaign may have received money from wealthy donors who allegedly evaded U.S. taxes, which she could not provide.

Read More →

Almost as striking as the details Special Counsel Robert Mueller lays out about a Trump campaign adviser’s Russia-related communications is the conspicuous gap in the timeline offered in the recently unsealed court documents.

For more than three months, starting in March 2016, George Papadopoulos communicated regularly — on occasion, multiple times a week — with three figures who presented themselves as connected to the Russian government, according to the court filings.

But the timeline laid out in the filings by prosecutors comes to an abrupt halt on July 22, 2016.

That is the day Wikileaks began publishing the hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

Read More →

Attorneys for ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Saturday proposed putting up three of his real estate properties as part of a bond package as a condition of his release from home confinement.

The proposal, to which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has not yet agreed, would let Manafort travel to Florida, New York, Virginia and Washington, D.C., but not internationally.

Read More →

After blowing a deadline to file a motion asking for Paul Manafort to be released from home confinement, the former Trump campaign chairman’s lawyers on Friday asked federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson for more time so they could put together a bail package that would secure his release from house arrest.

The filing comes in the case Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against Manafort as part of its larger probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Manafort is charged with tax evasion, money laundering and failing to disclose foreign lobbying. According to Manafort’s attorneys, they have been in “continuing” discussions with the government to come up with a bail agreement that can also pass muster with the judge, who strongly suggested in open court Thursday that she would require a secured bond.

Read More →

Democrats on Capitol Hill want answers from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

This week’s deluge of fresh information from congressional and federal investigators revealed two previously undisclosed instances in which Sessions was allegedly directly informed about contacts between Russia and Trump campaign staffers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

Though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cautioned that perjury allegations were based on a “very careful standard,” he and other top Democrats claim Sessions appears to have failed to disclose the extent of what he knew about these contacts in his testimony to Congress.

That testimony has varied in its specificity. In June, Sessions gave a flat “no” to the Senate Intelligence Committee when asked if he was “aware of any communications” between Trump campaign officials “about Russia or Russian interests in the United States” prior to Trump’s inauguration. He offered a narrower response before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, saying only that he had seen nothing “that would indicate collusion with Russians to impact the campaign” when asked if he’d ever overheard conversations with campaign staffers “who talked about meeting with the Russians.”

However Sessions chooses to interpret lawmakers’ questions, we now know of at least three instances in which he was allegedly told about or personally participated in communications with Russian officials or institutions during the 2016 campaign.

Those Two Times Sessions Met With The Russian Ambassador

Sessions incidentally kicked off a chain of events that led to the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Russia probe when he said during his confirmation hearing that he was “not aware” of any communications between the Trump campaign and Russian government, nor had he himself had any.

As it turned out, Sessions had twice met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Furor over this discrepancy ended up prompting his recusal from the Russia investigation, clearing the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein eventually to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Russia investigation

Sessions’ defense that he’d had those meetings in his capacity as a senator was belied by his role as a prominent surrogate of the Trump campaign and by intelligence intercepts that showed Kislyak boasting to his superiors in Moscow of speaking to the Alabama Republican about campaign-related matters.

When Papadopoulos Offered To Hook Trump Up With Putin

At a March 2016 meeting with the campaign’s hastily-assembled foreign policy team attended by Sessions, then-aide George Papadopoulos allegedly offered to use his “connections” to orchestrate a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump insists his memory of this meeting, which came out in court documents unsealed Monday, is hazy. But a source told NBC News that Sessions immediately “shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia,” pivoting the conversation to other topics.

That same source later modified those remarks, saying it was unclear that Sessions remembered putting the kibosh on this Trump-Putin meeting, but that he definitely did so.

When Page Told Sessions He Was Traveling To Moscow

In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee and an interview with CNN this week, former campaign adviser Carter Page divulged for the first time that he allegedly told Sessions he planned to travel to Moscow in July 2016.

Page said he mentioned the trip, which he said was “completely unrelated” to his campaign role, “in passing” during a brief encounter with Sessions.

A source familiar with the conversation told CNN that the run-in happened at a June 2016 dinner at the Capitol Hill Club attended by members of Trump’s national security team, and that Sessions “didn’t respond” when Page informed him of his upcoming visit.

Page has previously said that he met no Russian government officials during that trip to deliver a speech at the New Economic School.

As these new alleged details about his attorney general trickle out, Trump has other matters on his mind. He sent off a flurry of tweets Friday urging the Justice Department to look into how the Democrats “rigged” the 2016 primary and told reporters he was “disappointed” in the department for failing to take those steps.

Read More →

Caitlin MacNeal contributed reporting.

WASHINGTON—The federal judge presiding over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s case against ex-Trump campaign aide Paul Manafort signaled her reluctance to release Manafort from home confinement without GPS monitoring or a more substantial bond arrangement.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said at a hearing in the D.C. federal courthouse Thursday that she was confused by the court documents filed by Manafort’s attorney earlier that day.

“[The government’s] position is contingent on your position,” Jackson told Manafort attorney Kevin Downing. “Your position has changed two times since you stood up.”

Earlier this week, Mueller’s office filed a memo raising concerns about the potential that Manafort and Rick Gates, his longtime business partner, would be a flight risk. Manafort’s lawyers filed a response that hinted they would like to see him released from home confinement, but Jackson said the request was not made clearly enough for her to consider Thursday.

She asked Downing to file a formal motion Thursday evening, and for the government to file its response Friday for her to review for a hearing she scheduled for Monday morning. In the meantime, Manafort would remain under house arrest.

Jackson suggested, however, that she did not think releasing Manafort from home confinement would be sufficient without GPS monitoring or a bond package beyond the $10 million unsecured appearance bond set earlier this week.

Gates’ newly retained private attorney, Shanlon Wu, had filed a formal motion for his release just before Thursday’s hearing, but Jackson said she had not had time to review it. She did give Gates permission to leave house arrest to attend one of his children’s sporting events this weekend, as long as he gives proper notice to the pretrial services monitoring his home confinement.

Gates and Manafort have been under house arrest since Monday, after turning themselves in for charges made in an indictment filed last week. They face charges of money laundering, tax evasion and failing to disclose lobbying activities for foreign entities. On Monday, the two former Trump aides pleaded not guilty.

At Thursday’s hearing Jackson indicated that she would have little patience for public grandstanding by the attorneys involved in the case.

Attorneys should do their talking in the courtroom and in their pleadings, she said, “and not on the courthouse steps.”

After Manafort and Gates’ initial appearance in front of a magistrate judge Monday, Downing told reporters that Mueller’s case against his client was “ridiculous” and based on “a very novel theory.” Thurday, perhaps due to Jackson’s warning, he left the courthouse without weighing in on the proceedings. Manafort and his attorneys walked through the first floor surrounded by a gaggle of reporters. As he had on his arrival, Manafort again ignored questions and stared straight ahead.

Gates exited the courthouse about ten minutes later. Asked to comment on the hearing, he smiled and declined.

It was also revealed by Greg Andres, the government’s attorney, during Thursay’s hearing that Gates had not turned in all of his passport and travel documents on Monday as originally thought. Wu, Gates’ attorney, clarified that he had a pending passport application and a passport card, and that they would be turning those into the federal government.

At next Monday’s 9:30 a.m. ET hearing the parties will be discussing a trial date, Jackson said, but it appears likely that it will be set for sometime in April.

Read More →

Lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort called him “one of the most recognizable people on the planet” in a court filing Thursday pushing back on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that he is a flight risk.

Manafort, indicted on federal charges of tax evasion, money laundering, and failure to disclose foreign lobbying as part of Mueller’s Russia probe, is scheduled to appear court Thursday afternoon. Among the issues for the judge are the conditions of Manafort’s release from the home confinement he has been in since turning himself in on Monday.

Read More →

The Justice Department is considering charging six Russian government officials allegedly involved in hacking and obtaining sensitive information from the Democratic National Committee’s computers during the 2016 campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

People familiar with the investigation told the newspaper that discussions about whether to bring a case are in early stages but that it could happen as soon as next year.

As the report points out, the U.S. would be more likely to publicly identify those individuals and impose significant restrictions on their travel than actually attempt to arrest and jail them.

The case could shed light on how exactly the DNC’s computers were infiltrated. The U.S. intelligence community’s January assessment that the Kremlin “ordered an influence campaign” aimed at disrupting the 2016 race offered little detail on how intelligence agencies reached that determination and did not identify any specific actors involved.

The DNC case is a joint investigation by federal prosecutors and FBI agents based in Washington, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Philadelphia, and is being conducted separately from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, according to the Journal.

The Russian government has denied interfering in the U.S. election, and President Donald Trump has cast doubt on the conclusion that the Kremlin was behind it, positing that other countries could also have conducted cyberattacks against Democratic operatives and organizations.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Russian hackers’ 2016 targets extended far beyond the U.S. presidential race, targeting Russian opposition figures and U.S. defense contractors.

Read More →

Sam Clovis on Thursday withdrew his nomination to serve as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s chief scientist.

Clovis withdrew his nomination days after unsealed court documents revealed that his communications with other members of President Donald Trump’s campaign put him in proximity to the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter to Trump dated Wednesday, Clovis claimed, “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive a balanced and fair consideration for this position.”

Clovis said he did not want to “be a distraction or negative influence.”

“I worked hard during the campaign and take some pride in the accomplishment of having you elevated to the Presidency,” Clovis wrote.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Ironically, it was precisely the “hard” work Clovis claimed he did on Trump’s behalf during his 2016 campaign that put Clovis’ nomination in question to begin with.

Clovis served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on Trump’s campaign. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.

According to court documents unsealed on Monday, Papadopoulos kept other members of Trump’s campaign updated on those communications. In several messages, Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting, and Clovis said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to set one up “off the record.”

NBC News reported Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Clovis, and that Clovis testified before the investigating grand jury in the Russia probe.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday said she was “not aware of any change that would be necessary” with regard to Clovis’ nomination.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday said that Clovis’ scheduled testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee, scheduled for next Thursday, could be pushed back. Grassley said it was “too early” to say whether he thought Clovis would face legal consequences, but said he is nevertheless still backing Clovis’ nomination.

CNN first reported on Thursday morning, citing an unnamed White House source, that Clovis’ nomination could be yanked.

Clovis, Trump’s pick to oversee the Department of Agriculture’s research section, is a non-scientist and open climate skeptic.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in August cited Clovis’ “backwards” views in a statement calling on Trump to withdraw Clovis’ nomination.

“He is a proud ‘skeptic’ of climate change and wildly unqualified for the position of USDA Chief Scientist,” the senators said.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing a letter from Clovis to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, that Clovis repeatedly responded to questions about what science credentials he has as “None.”

Clovis instead cited his teaching career (focused on homeland security, foreign policy and political science) and his experience running for office as proof that he is qualified to be the department’s top scientist.

This post has been updated.

Read More →

Being under federal investigation hasn’t stopped former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos from trying to advance his career.

Four months ago, shortly before he was arrested for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian nationals during the campaign, he asked his followers on LinkedIn for their “thoughts” on him pursuing a congressional run. In October, around the time he pleaded guilty to those allegations, he expressed interest “in meeting with prominent publisher” and queried his LinkedIn connections for recommendations. And just a week ago, before his case was unsealed, Papadopoulos put out a call for “speaker bureau recommendations.”

This might seem like a remarkable degree of hubris for someone facing felony charges. But it represents a pattern for the 30-year-old Chicago native, who leveraged an inflated resume and the chaos of the crowded 2016 Republican primary into advisory roles on two major presidential campaigns.

On LinkedIn, a platform designed for self-promotion, Papadopoulos’ penchant for self-inflation stands out, dating back to his years at DePaul University, where he graduated in 2009 with a degree in political science.

Dick Farkas, Papadopoulos’ former professor and a Russia expert at the university, remembered him as a “nondescript” and not “particularly noteworthy” student who displayed no “particular interest” in Russian affairs.

Noting that Papadopoulos describes himself as concentrating on “international political economy,” Farkas told TPM that the school offers political science students no option for a concentration or specific regional focus and called it a “classic case of George embellishing his credentials.”

The listed phone number was disconnected at the Lincoln Square residence where the Chicago Tribune reported Papadopoulos currently lives with his mother and brother. A message left for his father, Antonios Papadopoulos, at his nephrology office in the suburb of Addison was not returned.

After receiving a masters degree from the University College London in 2010, Papadopoulos settled in Washington, D.C., where he claims on his LinkedIn to have spent some four and a half years as a “research associate” at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. The institute told the Washington Post he was actually an unpaid intern who served as a contracted researcher to several fellows working on a book.

With just this thin resume and a few appearances at energy conferences abroad under his belt, Papadopoulos reached out to to Ben Carson’s campaign manager, Barry Bennett, through a LinkedIn message asking for a job, as Bennett recalled to the Post. Eager to beef up the campaign’s foreign policy team, Bennett told the Post he simply asked a friend at the Hudson Institute if Papadopoulos was an “okay guy” and brought him on board.

After a six-week stint with the Carson campaign, Papadopoulos was cut loose in January 2016 as part of what Bennett told the Post was an effort to reduce staffing costs.

How exactly Papadopoulos landed on Trump’s foreign policy team a few months later remains unclear. What’s known is that Sam Clovis, then the campaign co-chairman, was tasked with quickly pulling together a foreign policy advisory team, and that Papadopoulos’ name ended up on a list of five individuals that Trump announced were advising him on national security issues at a March 21 meeting with the Washington Post’s editorial board.

Court documents say that Clovis told Papadopoulos on March 6, shortly before he officially joined the campaign, that improved U.S.-Russia relations were a “principal foreign policy focus.” The young volunteer adviser seemed to take this advice and run with it, leveraging his new campaign title to communications with individuals he “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials,” according to his statement of offense.

One was Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor of diplomacy, who Papadopoulos told senior Trump officials could connect the campaign with high-ranking officials in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Papadopoulos told the Trump team that another one of his connections was Vladimir Putin’s niece, though the FBI said the “Female Russian national” he met with actually had no relation to the Russian president.

Farkas, Papadopoulos’ former professor, told TPM he was skeptical his one-time student was actually making these kinds of high-level connections.

“I’ve traveled enough and I’ve studied enough about things Russian to know that he did not have the access he was claiming to,” he said.

In an interview this year, Papadopoulos told the Wall Street Journal he stayed on the campaign through the transition. His first interview with the FBI came on Jan. 27, just seven days after Trump was sworn in.

Though his recent LinkedIn queries suggest he’s continued to pursue a range of professional options while assisting the Mueller investigation, he currently appears to have no formal affiliation and is listed only as an independent “oil, gas and policy consultant.” In October, he tweeted a photograph of himself holding a briefcase on a London street with the hashtag #business.

The only current affiliation listed on his page is membership in the Cyprus-based International Presidential Business Advisory Council.

Contacted about this listing in August, the head of the organization, John Georgoulas, told TPM that “Papadopoulos is NOT a member of IPBAC, never was and we have never worked together.”

His claim to membership, Georgoulas added, was “weird and not true!”

Read More →