HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE, IF YOU'RE LISTENING: It's Manafort. It's Always Been Manafort.
Toward the end of the Mueller investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign's complicity in and embrace of that attack, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann made an eye-opening statement. During a hearing on whether Paul Manafort had fully and willfully breached his plea agreement by lying to investigators (repeatedly), Weissmann referred to an August 2, 2016, meeting between Manafort and his old business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who worked for Oleg Deripaska AKA "Putin's favorite oligarch," and who is assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence. At that meeting, for some reason, amid conversations about "peace plans" for Ukraine (which are code for sanctions relief for Moscow), Manafort passed internal polling data of some sort to Kiliminik, which we later found out in the Mueller Report was specifically Rust Belt polling data. Indeed, the Mueller Report says their conversation that day was about "Manafort's strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states." Isn't it odd how that is exactly where Trump pulled off the extremely unlikely inside straight he needed to
steal win the Electoral College, while simultaneously being resoundingly rejected by the vote of the American people?
Here's a smidge of that transcript, of Weissmann addressing Judge Amy Berman Jackson about that meeting:
WEISSMANN: This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think the motive here is. This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel's office is investigating. And in 2016 there is an in-person meeting with someone who the government has certainly proffered to this Court in the past, is understood by the FBI, assessed to be -- have a relationship with Russian intelligence, that there is [REDACTED].
And there is an in-person meeting at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman to be spending time, and to be doing it in person.
That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel. The -- in looking at the issue of what [REDACTED REDACTED OH MY GOD REDACTED]
Yeah. And what, again, was the "heart" of what Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate? The Russian attack on the election and the Trump campaign's possible conspiracies/collusion/cahoots-ing with that Russian attack.
Soon after that hearing, and not long after Attorney General Bill Barr was confirmed (spidey senses UP!), the Mueller investigation was over, and in May, Manafort was sentenced to prison. And we still don't know exactly what that meeting and other Manafort contacts with Kilimnik during the campaign were about, just that they went to the "heart" of the matter. Odd how Manafort lied and lied and lied and lied about that meeting, right? Also odd how, as the Mueller Report states, Manafort continued passing Kilimnik polling data even after that meeting, isn't that just odd?
When the Mueller Report came out, we learned some more things about what it was like to investigate Paul Manafort. On top of the lying, there was the fact that Manafort used encrypted communications and outright deleted his communications. Indeed, Manafort would have Rick Gates send the polling data via WhatsApp, and he'd have him delete it on the daily. All this led Mueller to conclude he "could not reliably determine" why Manafort was handing that Rust Belt polling data to his Russian spy friend who worked for Putin's favorite oligarch. When we read the Mueller Report, we noticed that Mueller was very careful with the language of his conclusions about this. There's lots of "did not establish" and "did not identify." There's also this:
Because of questions about Manafort's credibility and our limited ability to gather evidence on what happened to the polling data after it was sent to Kilimnik, the Office could not assess what Kilimnik (or others he may have given it to) did with it.
We don't want to speak for Mueller (he's doing that tomorrow!) but we bet that if he could have exonerated Paul Manafort, he would have loved it, especially later in the summer. But he couldn't.
Let's shift out of the Mueller Report for a second, and into Hillary Clinton's book, which we just finally finished, because we are really up to date on all our important reading.
WAIT WHAT HILLARY WHO WHAT NOW?
Hillary Clinton's book What Happened has a really good section on what the Russian active measures attack against the 2016 election and the Trump campaign's complicity, at least as much as we knew when the book was published, and it reminded us of a few things.
On the Trump campaign side, the data operation was led by Jared Kushner and overseen by a ball of pubic hair caked with Funyuns. What those guys were really up to is still a mystery, but we do know that in October 2016, it was reported that according to a senior Trump campaign official, they had "three major voter suppression operations underway," specifically targeting "idealistic white liberals, young women and African Americans." We also know that Trump's team was well-aware that the only way it could win would be to pull an inside straight and tear down the Democratic blue wall in the Rust Belt.
Back in 2017, McClatchy reported on some comments made by Senator Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Pod Save America, which Clinton recounted in her book. He was talking about the troll farm operations using bots and fake memes to target voters on Facebook, Twitter, and Farmers Only, the dating site that is only for farmers:
"Whether they could know how to target states and levels of voters that the Democrats weren't even aware (of) really raises some questions … How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?"
The Russians appear to have targeted women and African-Americans in two of the three decisive states, Wisconsin and Michigan, "where the Democrats were too brain dead to realize those states were even in play," Warner said.
Indeed, how did the Russians know to target women and African-Americans in those Rust Belt states where Trump "won" by a combined 70,000 votes? And how odd is it that they were so specifically targeting the same people the Trump campaign was targeting with voter suppression, in a campaign where the internals showed the only path to victory was just that exact inside straight in the Rust Belt? How was it that, according to a study conducted after the election, fully half the political content on Twitter posted from Michigan was quite literally fake news?
If only there was somebody who might have been passing the Russians detailed info they could use to target the exact places and demographics Trump needed to pull out the world's most improbable "victory." BUT WHO?
Paul Manafort, you dipshit.
No collusion, though, right?
CONNECT THE DOTS, MORANS!
Oh great, Wonkette is probably about to talk about Alfa Bank in Moscow and that weird Trump Organization server that only communicated with that very bank, because Wonkette is just convinced that Alfa Bank assassinated JFK during the faked moon landing, probably with an assist from Cambridge Analytica.
Everything we've said up to now in this post is part of the public record, except for when we've explicitly said we're #JustAskingQuestions. But it's hard not to mention that we just learned that later investigative findings from British spy Christopher Steele (after he compiled the memos that became THE DOSSIER), which he briefed to US officials in October of 2016, assessed that Manafort might have been the biological operator of that very weird Trump organization server. Indeed, Steele's investigation alleged that Petr Aven of Alfa Bank was the "conduit" for secret communications between the Kremlin and Manafort," and that those comms were "encrypted via TOR software and run between a hidden server managed by Alfa Bank." Which sure does seem to be the same story as the story reporter Franklin Foer broke at Slate just days before the 2016 election, told from a different perspective.
We don't know if Manafort, after he was fired as campaign chair, was technically still around and doing work for the Trump campaign in the fall of 2016. (During his official time with the campaign, he was working for free, so it's not like he would have been busy working his shift at the Starbucks.) But we do know that communicating secretly with the Russians via encrypted software and servers was extremely on brand for Manafort, and we know, again, according to the Mueller Report, that he was still passing data to his Russian spy buddy Kilimnik after that August 2 meeting, with the expectation that it would reach Oleg Deripaska. Was he also taking handoffs from the Trump/Kushner/PubeNeck contingent and passing stuff to a different Kremlin-connected Russian as well?
Go back and read the post we wrote on the "new" dossier information from Steele about Manafort and Alfa Bank when you're done here, but if we may quote ourselves, this is the overlap between Foer's reporting on Alfa Bank and Steele's spy data:
Franklin Foer had "Trump organization server + Alfa Bank + Spectrum Health," while Chris Steele had "Manafort + Alfa Bank," independent of each other, and that's quite frankly kinda stunning. Foer's sources said the interactions were designed so as to be concealed. Steele said Manafort and Alfa were using TOR software and a hidden server. It sure does appear to be the same story, from two different directions, with two completely different lines of sourcing.
The Steele part of that is raw intelligence, of course. But it might not be wrong.
House Intelligence Democrats, If You're Listening, And We Know You Are Because Some Of You Follow Us On Twitter, HELLO.
The House Intelligence Committee has two hours to question Robert Mueller tomorrow, at least before they go into closed session. And a lot of this stuff relates to the counter-intelligence findings from the Mueller investigation, the stuff Bill Barr has been trying his damnedest to hide up inside his voluminous ass to keep it away from Congress.
The case against Concord Management -- i.e. the first set of Russian indictments Mueller came down with, where he nailed all those fucking Russians at the Internet Research Agency (IRA) with their troll farms and their bots and their social media fake news campaigns -- is still ongoing in the Eastern District of Virginia. In the Mueller Report, there are a FUCKTON of redactions about any and all things related to the Russian online influence operation. So Mueller won't be able to say much of anything in public about this stuff. (And DOJ was careful to instruct Mueller in its snitty-ass letter that he's NOT ALLOWED to talk about ongoing investigations or cases or the evidence he gathered or his favorite color or what kind of toppings he prefers on Taco Tuesday.)
The Mueller Report states that the investigation "did not identify evidence" that there was a conspiracy connection between the troll farm operation and the Trump campaign, and Bill Barr was eager to point this out in his initial letter announcing the
coverup end of the Mueller investigation. But maybe there was, and Mueller just didn't have the tools or the honest cooperating witnesses or the time to suss it all out. And if there was a connection -- if somebody was secretly sending data so that the Russian trolls knew exactly who to troll and where -- we'd bet all the diamonds in our secret vault that that connection was Paul Manafort.
There was a reason Robert Mueller held on to the Manafort case like a bone until the end. His own prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said Manafort's Russian spy meeting in August of 2016 was the "heart" of what they were investigating. For some reason, we feel Weissmann might have wanted to get that on the record, to leave breadcrumbs for whoever came next. House Intelligence Committee, you're up!
One man definitely knows for sure if the theory we're presenting here, and whatever theory of the case Weissmann was alluding to that day, is correct. That man is sitting in prison, where he's apparently willing to stay until he dies in order to protect his secret. We think our theory is pretty good, though, and we bet it's not that far off from Mueller's theory.
House Intelligence Committee members and staff need to pursue this line of questioning, both with Mueller tomorrow (in closed session if needs be but PREFERABLY they need to ask some Manafort questions on TV where we can see them too) and also in the future.
\We could be wrong about all this, but we could also be right.
OK, everyone, this is your open thread! Goodbye!
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