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What was happening while Wikileaks was trying to get Donald Trump Jr. to help with the press rollout of Democratic officials’ hacked emails?

Amid the questions of what Donald Jr.’s messages to Wikileaks “prove,” it’s worth looking at when exactly they fall in the summer 2016 sequence of theft and distribution of Clinton campaign and Democratic party emails.

As always, it’s hard to tell what constitutes small talk and what should be construed as cooperation. But after Julia Ioffe’s revelation of Donald Trump, Jr.’s direct-message back-and-forth with the Wikileaks account, it’s clear from both the Donalds Trump and public interviews by Roger Stone that the campaign was excited about the possibility that Wikileaks might have something genuinely incriminating about Hillary Clinton to release to the general public—following the senior Trump’s public request in July that Russia release exactly that sort of thing and “be rewarded mightily by our press.”

In all of this, consider the way the press handled the various leaks of Democratic politicians’ emails: When those emails were posted on the DCLeaks blog or sent to reporters by Guccifer 2.0—two distributors that were painfully obviously cutouts for Russian intelligence—the press understandably treated the distributions as an information security story. And indeed, Guccifer in particular was recently found to have altered the stolen information before passing it along to journalists, as the same Russian intelligence unit has done in other cases.

But, probably because of its role in the Edward Snowden revelations, Wikileaks commanded much more serious treatment (it also doesn’t appear to have changed the contents of the emails it received and distributed).

July: Wikileaks Drops The DNC Emails

On July 22, Wikileaks published almost 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee. The understanding that the Russian government was behind the initial hack was by that point widespread, both in the government and the news media.

The DNC and the Clinton campaign, who had been warned by the FBI months earlier that DNC systems had been compromised by Russian state actors, finally agreed to go public with those accusations on the 25th. They had hired an independent cybsecurity firm, CrowdStrike, rather than turn their servers over to the FBI, which was still investigating whether Clinton had mishandled classified information.

August: Trump Associates Size Up Wikileaks

Roger Stone repeatedly communicated with multiple people who had the emails stolen by the Russian government. On the 14th, he had “innocuous” direct-message conversations with Guccifer 2.0 on Twitter, according to the Washington Times. On August 16, Roger Stone told popular conspiracist blogger and YouTube personality Alex Jones he was in contact with Wikileaks, and that Julian Assange had “political dynamite” on Clinton. He repeated the claim on C-Span—Wikileaks denied it. On August 21, Stone tweeted that it would soon be John Podesta’s “time in the barrel.”

But the idea of cooperating with Wikileaks held appeal for the rest of the campaign, too: Some time that same month, major Trump donor Rebekah Mercer reportedly asked Cambridge Analytica whether it could more effectively organize the DNC email dump, which Wikileaks was apparently having trouble handling due to its huge size and timely nature.

September: Wikileaks Starts Communicating With Donald Trump, Jr. Directly

Late on Sept. 20, the Wikileaks Twitter account sent Donald Trump, Jr. a message providing the password to a new Mother Jones project called putintrump.org (the password was putintrump).

Donald Jr. emailed senior campaign officials about the exchange, Mother Jones reports—and then the project was flooded with suspicious traffic and spam, and the people working on it saw their personal information spread online. Donald Jr. thanked Wikileaks—probably Assange—and the conversation went dark …

October: Wikileaks Begins Helping The Trump Campaign In Earnest

…until October 3, when Wikileaks asked the younger Trump to promote a story about Clinton joking about killing Assange in a drone strike. Donald Jr. had already tweeted the story, but wanted more information on “The Wednesday leak”—yet another thing Roger Stone had tweeted about that day (a Sunday).

It didn’t come Wednesday, but Friday: The Washington Post published a story including excerpts from a recording of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” into a hot mic. An hour later, Wikileaks began dumping John Podesta’s emails including excerpts from Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches. Assange had hated Clinton for years—now, it seemed, he was taking revenge.

A few days later, Wikileaks asked Donald Jr for help promoting the story, which dominated headlines that week. The Wikileaks message praised “you and your dad talking about our publications,” and suggested Donald Jr tweet a more obscure link that would help curious users search its huge database of Democratic emails. He did, two days later; 15 minutes after the pleased message, Donald Sr. tweeted about “very little pickup by the dishonest media” of the Wikileaks dumps, something that, while in no way true, probably helped to drive the story further.

Wikileaks also offered to do damage control for Trump through Donald, Jr. by getting out ahead of embarrassing revelations—Wikileaks requested a Trump tax return on October 21—though they don’t appear to have gotten one.

November and beyond: “Wow.”

That was Wikileaks’ one-word reaction to Trump’s election. Weeks later, in December, Wikileaks asked Donald Jr. to put in a good word for him in an especially novel way: Ask Australia to make him ambassador to the US.

Trump should say “‘That’s ‘a real smart tough guy and the most famous australian [sic] you have!’ or something similar,” the Wikileaks account operator wrote. “They won’t do it but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons.”

Trump did not get to that request in his first formal conversation with the Australian government in Janaury, which went about as badly as possible.

“I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day,” Trump told Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“Putin was a pleasant call.”

 

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Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced Thursday how he will approach blue slips — a procedure that in the theory encourages the White House to collaborate with the Senate on choosing judicial nominees.

In a prepared version of remarks Grassley will make on the floor Thursday, he laid out how his approach fits in with how past leaders of the committee viewed blue slips, even as it was a shift from the approach of his predecessor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Nonetheless, Democrats are being deprived a tool that Republicans used with abandon to block judicial nominees under President Obama, often for the same reasons that Grassley said he will not tolerate for President Trump’s nominees.

The blue slip is a slip of paper the two senators from the home state of a judicial nominee each turn in ahead of his or her confirmation hearing. Under Leahy and under Grassley during the Obama administration, the nominees would not move forward to a hearing until their home state senators’ blue slips were returned. Eighteen Obama nominees were stalled because Republicans withheld their blue slips, in some cases for nominees that that the home state Republicans had previously recommended.

Many of the vacancies Trump can now fill is due to this pattern of obstruction.

The issue is now coming to a head because Sen. Al Franken (D-MI) has withheld a blue slip for Judge David Stras, nominee to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grassley said Thursday he will not “allow senators to prevent a Committee hearing for political or ideological reasons.”

He added that if a White House did not “adequately” consult with a senator about a nominee that would be a “be a legitimate reason for withholding a blue slip.”

In Franken’s case, Grassley said that he reviewed the “the records of consultation” and found that the White House had “reached out to” Franken “several times” between January and May about the nomination, and ultimately considered the two alternatives to Stras whom Franken put forward in May.

“I am satisfied that the White House adequately tried to consult with both home-state senators. Therefore, I will not deny Justice Stras a hearing,” Grassley said.

Grassley also announced Thursday he would be moving forward with a hearing for Fifth Circuit nominee Kyle Duncan, for whom Republican Sen. John Kennedy (LA) did not return a positive blue slip but also did not oppose granting a hearing to.

“This is the correct distinction a senator should make when deciding whether to return a blue slip,” he said. “The blue slip is not meant to signify the senator’s ultimate support or opposition to the nominee. It only expresses the senator’s view about whether the nominee should get a hearing.”

He added that he was still more likely to respect withheld blue slips for district court nominees, as opposed to nominees for an appeals court.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the decision “couldn’t be more troubling.”

“There’s only one reason to eliminate the blue slip, and that’s to allow President Trump to completely cut Democrats out of the process of selecting judicial nominees and continue the pattern of selecting nominees far outside the mainstream,” she said.

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The internal legal battle roiling President Trump’s voter fraud commission escalated Thursday, with the Justice Department rebuffing a Democratic commissioner’s request for certain internal communications. The commissioner in turn asked a federal court to order the commission to turn the documents over.

According to court documents filed by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D), his attorney was informed by DOJ lawyers representing the commission that internal communications documented in a separate lawsuit were not “part of the substantive or collective work of the Commission,” and thus not subject to disclosure under federal transparency laws. (A copy of the letter the DOJ sent Dunlap is included in the filings).

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The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a bipartisan letter to Jared Kushner’s attorney Thursday alleging that the production of documents the committee has requested Kushner turn over as part of its Russia probe was “incomplete.”

According to committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kushner did not turn over a Wikileaks-related email forwarded to him; a document Kushner forwarded about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite”; and communications with Russian-American Chamber of Commerce President Sergei Millian on which Kushner was copied.

These are among “several documents that are known to exist but were not included in your production,” the senators said.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the letter said. “In addition, you asked for clarification on the scope of the request. Therefore, we write today to clarify the scope and reiterate our requests for documents.”

The senators added that Kushner has not turned over his phone records that the senators “presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications regarding several requests.”

They are also seeking transcripts from Kushner’s interviews with the other congressional committees investigating Russia’s election interference, as well as documents related to his security clearance applications (which Kushner had to amend several times due to omissions of certain foreign contacts).

A whole section of the letter is devoted to documents requested related to Kushner’s communications with former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Separately, the senators addressed a concern Kushner apparently raised that turning over some of the documents they’d requested would “implicate the President’s Executive Privilege.”

“We ask that you work with White House counsel to resolve any questions of privilege so that you can produce the documents that have been requested or provide a privilege log that describes the documents over which the President is asserting executive privilege,” they said.

Read the full letter below:

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One of Donald Trump’s former real estate partners has agreed to be interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Felix Sater, who tried to broker a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 election, told TPM that he will cooperate.

“I intend on cooperating fully with any and all government agencies and investigations,” Sater said in a text to TPM. “And if I am called I hope you make the trip to witness it in person because I don’t think it’s going to go the way of everyone’s favorite narrative.”

The request, from California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, asks for a number of specific documents that could shine a light on how Trump’s business interests in Russia intersect with his policymaking, and what role those interests might have played in the 2016 campaign.

“Mr. Sater intends to be fully cooperative with any and all government investigations in this matter,” Sater’s attorney Robert Wolf told TPM in an emailed statement. McClatchy first reported Sater’s cooperation Wednesday night.

Sater told TPM this summer that he has regularly worked for US intelligence since his arrest for fraud in a pump-and-dump stock scheme in 1998.

The California Democrat’s invitation is not a formal Judiciary Committee subpoena, but Sater’s cooperation could fill some significant gaps in the story of Donald Trump’s business dealings in Russia. Feinstein asked Sater to turn over “all documents related to the proposed Trump Tower in Moscow,” as well as a any communications with the campaign or related to the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, and everything related to Sater’s financial dealings with the Trump Organization.

“In light of your involvement in brokering business deals for the Trump Organization in Russia, and your apparent efforts to leverage business relations to wield influence and curry favor with high-ranking Russian officials and candidate Trump,” Feinstein wrote, “we believe that you have information that would advance the Committee’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Committee would ask to schedule an interview with you to take place in November 2017.”

Feinstein also asked for documents related to the notorious Ukraine-Russia “peace deal” Sater tried to broker between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and ousted Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko in January. At that meeting, Cohen said Sater had given him a written proposal in a sealed envelope, which Cohen said he gave to Michael Flynn. The document in that envelope has never been produced.

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Update: This story has been updated to include Rick Gates’ rebuttal to some of the prosecutors’ claims as well as the decision by the judge overseeing the case to not allow Gates to leave home confinement.

Two weeks after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team began its negotiations with Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates for a bail package, the government alleged in court filings Wednesday that it still had not obtained enough financial information from Gates to propose an agreement.

Gates and Manafort were placed in home confinement on Oct. 30, after turning themselves in as part of Mueller’s Russia investigation, where they’re facing allegations of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to comply with foreign lobbying disclosure laws.

At a hearing on Nov. 2, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson indicated she considered Gates and Manafort a flight risk but signaled her openness to releasing them from home confinement if they put up enough financial assets as bail.

The latest round of filings come as Gates has requested to be permitted to travel outside of his home for various family commitments and work meetings.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Gates has still not “completed any paperwork to post his house, or any other property, and has failed to answer a series of questions about his assets.”

“[T]he government continues to have concerns about the accuracy of the defendant’s account of his net assets,” Mueller’s team said.

Prosecutors are opposed to the request filed by Gates on Wednesday to be allowed to leave the house to assist with transporting his children, to meet with work clients so that he can “continue to earn a living to support his family,” and to attend family events over the holidays.

The government in its response said that Gates’ suggestion that he will ask for permission to leave home for family events during Christmas “undermines the notion that counsel is diligently working to secure a bail package.”

In addition to the issues faced in assessing Gates’ net worth, Mueller also raised concerns about one of the individuals Gates has offered as a surety.

“Counsel has noted that one proposed surety already serves as a surety for a relative who is currently charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District New York, a circumstance that, at least at first blush, raises certain concerns,” the government said.

Late update:

Gates’ attorneys filed a response to the Special Counsel Office’s claims about the information needed for a bail package. The filing accused Mueller’s team of being “dismayingly disingenuous”  and said that “any delay in Mr. Gates submitting a bail package is entirely caused by” the Special Counsel’s Office. It laid out a number of steps Gates attorneys say they have taken to reach a deal on a bail package,  including submitting a new appraisal of Gates’ house, and handing over to Mueller the contact information of representatives who could confirm the value of some of Gates’ other assets.

Gates’ attorneys said that they planned on submitting those relevant documents to the court as well — a step they hadn’t taken yet because they had been “led to believe that by the SCO that the SCO sought in good faith to agree to a joint proposal.”

Nonetheless, the judge, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order Thursday denying Gates’ request to be released from home confinement for the particular circumstances he had outlined.

“The Court is well aware that a house full of busy children comes with constant and competing transportation demands, and that the burden shouldered by many mothers is exacerbated by defendant’s current bond conditions,” she said. “But the Court has repeatedly made it clear what it would take to secure defendant’s release, and the record reflects that the family may be able to ameliorate the problem in other ways during the time it takes to reach an agreement with the prosecution or submit the necessary financial information and have the issued resolved by the Court.”

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A federal judge said Wednesday that the legal fight over whether the House Intelligence Committee can subpoena the bank records of the Trump dossier firm was too important for the filings in the case to remain under seal.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon told lawyers representing the firm Fusion GPS, its bank and the House of Representative that they needed rework court pleadings filed previously under seal so that they could be made available to the public.

“Let the public see the pleadings,” Leon said. “This is not a normal case.”

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Almost no one sets out to be an asset to a foreign intelligence service, and many who do aren’t even aware that they’re doing so, intelligence professionals tell TPM.

That troubling ambiguity—whether seemingly innocuous conversations with senior Russian officials constituted aid to a hostile government—may lie at the heart of the investigation into what role, if any, the Trump campaign played in Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

As multiple investigations delve deeper into suspected collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump campaign staffers, embarrassing questions about the Trump campaign’s players keep coming up: Does the fact that Paul Manafort appears to have used Bond007 as his Dropbox password not make him seem kind of silly? Were people like George Papadopoulos and Carter Page sophisticated enough for a foreign intelligence service to bother targeting?

Silly? Perhaps.

Too unsophisticated? No, says CIA clandestine service veteran John Sipher. As an intelligence officer, “it’s my job to recruit sources who have access to gaps in knowledge,” he says. “And I’m getting promoted for finding new sources.”

It’s not about intelligence, it’s about information: Information that is foreign, of interest, new, clandestine, and authoritative—FINCA, to intel pros.

Sources who travel extensively and criticize the U.S. government while working for a major political campaign—like Page and Papadopoulos—are sending clear signals to Sipher: “They’re showing leg, essentially,” he told TPM. Manafort had already taken millions to work for foreign governments before signing on to the Trump campaign. None of these things by themselves make these men traitors—they just suggest to people looking for traitors that it might be a good idea to talk to them.

Page has said often that he spoke regularly on the international circuit, sometimes deploring the hidebound nature of American authorities from the podium. Papadopoulos spoke more than once in Greece, TPM’s Tierney Sneed wrote last week, preaching the gospel of improved international relations between the U.S. and Cyprus, the Mos Eisley Cantina of international finance for Russian oligarchs.

Some people betray their employer or government out of genuine conviction, says David Chasteen, a former CIA clandestine service officer, but that’s not necessarily the rule. “People are confused: What people think of as a spy is actually an intelligence officer, an IO, an employee of the CIA […] or the SVR.” An asset, Chasteen explains, is more properly a spy—a person who is already inside an institution and has agreed to work with a CIA officer. Some act on principle, but as a class they’re similar to criminal informants.

Or, as Chasteen puts it, “Most assets are Fredos.”

What’s usually true of those kinds of sources, Sipher said, is that they rarely have much that is valuable to an intelligence officer. The reason the Trump campaign staffers under investigation are being scrutinized so carefully, Sipher said, is that “those guys also happened to have access. They were working for the Trump campaign.”

Page in particular has found himself coincidentally meeting with at least one very august Russian official. At Moscow’s New Economic School, Page gave a talk in July 2016 critical of the US establishment; also on the bill was Russian deputy prime minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich, Page testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee under questioning by Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-FL).

“He was also speaking,” Page explained to Rooney, emphasizing that he perceived the meeting to be a simple exchange of pleasantries. “He had been delayed because he had meetings with the government. And he came in, gave a brief speech. As he was walking out, I said hello to him.” That he and the Russian deputy PM were on the same bill in the first place could be the red flag.

Intelligence officers use the acrostic MICE to describe the primary ways to manipulate potential assets: Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego. “The big one, frankly, is ego,” says Sipher.

Sipher says that were he to approach Page for recruitment he would seek to flatter him. “[You would] talk to him and say ‘Oh my god, you can play a role in international affairs. You can get your information to the top levels of the Russian government,'” he hypothesized. “Honestly, I’d be worried it was too easy. ‘Your insights are really interesting! If you’ll give me a paper that’s just for me, I’ll take it back to the highest levels.'”

This is part of gathering information, Sipher says; after that comes recruitment. “Next step is getting them to follow directions: ‘Next time meet me in public.’ ‘Don’t take papers from the office, but memorize stuff and we’ll talk about it.’ [Your source] thinks he can play footsie with the Russians without stepping over the line.”

Page refused to answer specific questions from TPM, saying he had “more important things to work on today;” besides, he said, “I have extensive experience with the U.S. intelligence community making false assessments throughout its history.” Sipher’s judgment that he might be likely to be approached by Russian agents constituted “ignorant comments to you based on false or no evidence, a la Sleazeball Steele,” he told TPM, apparently referring to Christopher Steele, the author of the so-called Trump dossier.

As far back as May, intelligence professionals from the top tier of CIA have been publicly warning Congress, not merely about the danger of espionage, but about the danger of people who had committed espionage without knowing it. The former head of the CIA, John Brennan, told Congress that Russian intelligence was working to recruit spies within the Trump campaign “either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

“Frequently,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee, “individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.”

Sipher said Brenann’s line “jumped out at [intelligence professionals] like a bolt from the blue. He had crafted that.”

As for the president himself, Sipher said, would probably not make a good asset. “Trump is the perfect mark in the sense that his ego is totally out of control and sleazy and willing to cut corners to make money,” Sipher said. “But you can’t control him. He doesn’t follow orders.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he has “no basis to dispute” the intelligence committee’s assessment that Russia sought to interfere with the 2016 election.

“I do think they have said that they don’t believe that votes were changed,” he added.

His comment comes after President Trump yet again cast his own doubt on the conclusion, in telling reporters Saturday that he “believes” Russian President Vladimir Putin “means it” when he says there was no Russian election meddling. Trump also called some of the previous leaders of the intelligence community, including former FBI director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “political hacks.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was not aware of the largely-white extremist group “sovereign citizens” targeting law enforcement officials, but said that he believed black extremist groups had, even though he couldn’t name one such group off the top of his head during a House Judiciary hearing Tuesday.

Sessions was being grilled by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) about an internal report the Justice Department issued in August in which the FBI said “black identity extremists” had engaged in “in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement.” She asked him if he considered Black Lives Matter an extremist group.

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