The Smoking Gun

The E-mails

The Atlantic posted a transcript of the e-mail chain between Donald Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the smoking gun being [emphasis mine}:

On June 3, 2016 at 10:36 AM, Rob Goldstone wrote:

Good morning

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Best

Rob Goldstone

Note Bene! – There is no such position as Crown Prosecutor of Russia, anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Russian history would realize that there would be no reference to the Russian monarchy in modern day Russia.  It is a British term, so we can infer that the effects of the “telephone game” are showing, the message is getting farther from the original (truth) with each retelling.  In this case. 1) the source, 2) possible surrogate, 3)Aras, 4) Emin and finally 5) Rob Goldstone.

The e-mail chain continues culminating  with:

On [Tuesday] Jun 7, 2016, at 4:20 PM, Rob Goldstone wrote:

Don

Hope all is well

Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday [June 9th].

I believe you are aware of the meeting — and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday [June 9] works for you?

I assume it would be at your office.

Best

Rob Goldstone


On Jun 7, 2016, at 5:16 PM, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:

How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.

D


On June 7, 2016, at 5:19PM, Rob Goldstone wrote:

Perfect… I won’t sit in on the meeting, but will bring them at 3 pm and introduce you etc.

I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today.

best

Rob


On Jun 7, 2016, at 18:14, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:

Great. It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law and me. 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.


Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2016 10:34 AM

To: Donald Trump Jr.

Subject: Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential

Good morning,

Would it be possible to move tomorrow meeting to 4pm as the Russian attorney is in court until 3 i was just informed.

Best

Rob


On June 8, 2016, at 11:15, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:

Yes Rob I could do that unless they wanted to do 3 today instead … just let me know and ill lock it in either way.

d


From: Rob Goldstone

Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2016 11:18 AM

To: Donald Trump Jr.

Subject: Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential

They can’t do today as she hasn’t landed yet from Moscow 4pm is great tomorrow.

Best

Rob


From: Donald Trump Jr.

Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2016 12:03PM

To: Jared Kushner; Paul Manafort

Subject: FW: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential

Meeting got moved to 4 tomorrow at my offices.

Best,

Don

The Cast

In order of appearance:

  • Rob Goldstone – 56 year old British  music publicist and former tabloid journalist, who lives in New York.  He claims to have been publicist for BB King, Richard Branson, EMI Music Publishing, TLC, HMV Music, The Hard Rock Café, Steinway & Sons and Best Buy.  His firm OUI 2 Entertainment, based in NY City.  He became associated with The Trump Organization via his representation of  the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant.
  • Emin – Emin Agalarov, 37 year old, US educated, Russian-Azerbaijani singer-songwriter and businessman, Vice President of Crocus Group (owned by his father). He writes and performs songs in English and Russian.  In June of 2016 he was preparing for a tour that began with a performance in Red Square on June 12th.
  • Crown Prosecutor – ambitious reference, possibly a Russian Official and the source of the “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” or Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya the Russian attorney who met with Donald Jr.
    The Atlantic identifies the analogues Prosecutor General of Russia as Yury Chaika, a Presidential appointee (Vladimir Putin).To round out the speculation it could have also been a lower level Federal Prosecutor or a surrogate for any of these.

    Or to use the British term Rob could have just been being a poser [1], inflating his importance via the term Crown Prosecutor.

  • Aras – Aras Iskanderovich Agalarov [2], [3], 61 year old President of Crocus Group, op. cit., who sponsored the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant and later negotiated with The Trump Organization, Alex Sapir and Rotem Roser to build a Moscow Trump Tower.
  • RhonaRhona Graff, Vice President, Assistant to the President
    Trump Organization, does not appear to have played a part, maybe Rob just name dropping, being more of a poser.
  • Don – Donald Trump Jr. DJT’s son and campaign advisor.
  • Russian government attorney – Base on her attendance at the meeting Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya,  age estimate to be about 45 based on graduation date, she is a lawyer in private practice who founded her own law firm Kameraton Consulting in 2003 specializing in corporate and property arguments in court after serving in Federal Prosecutor office for 3 years. Most of her clients are businesses, including  the Russian Businessman Denis Katsyv.  She reported graduated from Moscow State Legal Academy in 1998.She reportedly is divorced from a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow area, her only apparent link to Russian Government, other than her work for the prosecutor’s office, where she reported worked on legislation.According to Homeland Security she was visiting the US on a Business (B1/B2) visa at the time of her meeting with Donald Jr.

    Is this another case of Rob being a poser, referring to her as a government attorney?

  • Two people –  Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya (see above) and Rinat Akhmetshin, age 50, a naturalized, 2009, US citizen from Russia.  He served in Russian Army as a 19 year old draftee from 1986 – 1988, has stated that he was responsible for law enforcement and some counterintelligence matters in the Baltics.  He has been described in filings from various law suits, by opposing parties as “a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer.” and “a former member of the Russian military intelligence services (GRU).”It is unlikely that a 19 year old draftee would be an officer, more likely and enlisted, equivalent to US private or corporal.  This photo would seem to confirm an enlisted grade.
    Rinat
    Rinat Akhmetshin, center, on a training exercise in Russia while he was in the Soviet Army service in the 1980s. Credit via Rinat Akhmetshin in NY Times

    An acquaintance claims that Akhmetshin “openly described his years as an officer in the Soviet GRU, the military intelligence arm, serving in Afghanistan.”  he goes on to say “The original NBC News reports suggested that Akhmetshin’s intelligence past somehow has rolled forward until now, putting Russian spies in the same room with Donald Trump, Jr. Nothing I picked up in numerous intense reporting experiences with Akhmetshin over the years — in the former U.S.S.R. and the U.S. — suggested any current such relationships.”

    Many news outlets and blogs are referring to Rinat as a former spy, evidently not realizing the difference between counter-intelligence and intelligence.  Counter intelligence units are spy hunters while intelligence units are spys/spy-masters.

    He appears to be linked to Natalia via  Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, set up by one of Natalia’s clients Denis Katxyv.

Note: It appears based on subsequent reporting that Natalia’s posse expanded to four.

  • Paul Manafort – 68 year old political consultant, lobbyist and lawyer, chairman of DJT’s campaign from March 2016 to August 2016, when he resigned because of questions regarding his consulting work in the Ukraine.
  • Brother in law (sic) – Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump.
  • Russian attorney – Natalia again, this time without any link to the Russian Government.  Rob no longer being a poser.

The Meeting

Who was in the room:

  1. Donald Jr.
  2. Paul Manafort – reportedly was texting on his phone for most of the meeting.
  3. Jared Kushner – reported left after 7 – 10 minutes.
  4. Natalia Veselnitskaya
  5. Rinat Akhmetshin
  6. Rob Goldsmith, at least for introductions per e-mail, unclear if he stayed.
  7. Anatoli Samochornov, an Ex-State Department contract translator, reportedly hired by Natalia.  Potentially the most important witness, as he has no potential legal jeopardy, and if translating have been a party to the whole conversation.
  8. CNN reports “a representative of the Russian family who had asked Goldstone to set up the meeting. The source did not provide the names.”Two obvious choices, 1) a representative of Aras Iskanderovich Agalarov or 2) a unknown party, who was the source and not the Crown Prosecutor of Russia and possibly not affiliated with the Russian Government.This would also be a very important witness, but if foreign national unlikely to appear.

The meeting reportedly lasted 20 minutes, there was some “evidence” disclosed but evidently discounted by Jr., the remainder of the meeting was a discussion of adoption of Russian babies in the US.

The meeting evidently came to light when Jared updated his SF-86 subsequent to his initial January submission and reported a contact with Natalia and it was leaked to the NY Times.

Kushner’s attorneys provided the FBI with an amended SF-86 form — used to obtain a security clearance — on June 21 to list the meeting with the Russian lawyer from a year earlier after discovering the email chain while preparing documents to turn over to the Senate intelligence committee. The change was the third time Kushner has amended his SF-86 form.

Note, the relevant SF-86 question (Sec. 19, pg 59),  re: contacts with foreign nationals is “Do you have, or have you had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven years with who you, or your spouse, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation.”  IMHO a 20 – 30  minute business meeting, which he left, does not rise to the level of “close and/or continuing contact

What Was Discussed?

CNN reports:

Trump Jr., Veselnitskaya and Goldstone have said the meeting centered on the Magnitsky Act — a 2012 US law that imposed sanctions on Russian individuals — and the retaliatory Kremlin-imposed ban on adoption of Russian children by American citizens.

Continuing with Jr.’s original statement re: Hillary info:

“Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information,” Trump Jr. said in a statement last Sunday. He added that Veselnitskaya’s “true agenda” was to discuss the Magnitsky Act and the adoptions dispute.

Was There “Collusion”?

Certainly a prima fascia case of intent to collude, if there was such a charge, can be made based on the first e-mail’s  “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.” passage.  But there is no statute for collusion;

“But unlike obstruction of justice — which is clearly defined in the United States Code — there is no specific statute for collusion.”  [PBS]

Certainly it puts the Administration in the position of making a false statement relative to Russian Contacts, this was clearly a campaign meeting with Russians with the intent to get dirt on Hillary.

Did it result in any actions, no.

Should Donald Jr. have been savvy enough to not take the meeting and  refer Goldsmith to a surrogate, oppo research team or PAC, yes.

Will the Dems on the  Senate and House committees and press have a field day with this, yes.

Will the most important witness, in my opinion, Mr. Samochornov, be called before Congress to testify publicly, unlikely.

Will Mueller investigate this, most likely.

Will he find criminal activity or intent via campaign finance statutes, perjury or other crimes, To Be Determine, likely in 2 or more years.

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Mueller Should Recuse Himself From Obstruction of Justice Inquiry

For the same reason Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian Investigation, 28 CFR 45.2, Robert Mueller needs to recuse himself from the Obstruction of Justice investigation.

28 CFR 45.2 Disqualification arising from personal or political relationship.

(a) Unless authorized under paragraph (b) of this section, no employee [including Special Counsel] shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal  or political relationship with:

(1) Any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution; [e.g. James Comey] or

(2) Any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected [e.g. James Comey] by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.

(b) An employee assigned to or otherwise participating in a criminal investigation or prosecution who believes that his participation may be prohibited by paragraph (a) of this section shall report the matter and all attendant facts and circumstances to his supervisor at the level of section chief or the equivalent or higher. If the supervisor determines that a personal or political relationship exists between the employee and a person or organization described in paragraph (a) of this section, he shall relieve the employee from participation unless he determines further, in writing, after full consideration of all the facts and circumstances, that:

(1) The relationship will not have the effect of rendering the employee’s service less than fully impartial and professional; and

(2) The employee’s participation would not create an appearance of a conflict of interest likely to affect the public perception of the integrity of the investigation or prosecution.

(c) For the purposes of this section:

(1) ….

(2)Personal relationship means a close and substantial connection of the type normally viewed as likely to induce partiality.  An employee is presumed to have a personal relationship with his father, mother, brother, sister, child and spouse. Whether relationships (including friendships) of an employee to other persons or organizations are “personal” must be judged on an individual basis with due regard given to the subjective opinion of the employee.

Firstly in my humble opinion Mr. Mueller should not have been considered for the Special Counsel based on:

  1. The law firm in which he is a partner represents potential subject/witnesses of the investigation; Paul Manafort, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
    1. Other Wilmer Hale Partners:
      1. Thomas Mueller, relative?
      2. Joseph J. Mueller, relative?
  2. He has resigned his partnership, but has he divested his ownership (financial interest) position?
  3. He interviewed, with President Trump, for the directorship of the FBI, the day before his appointment as Special Counsel, presumably knowing that his appointment as Special Counsel was imminent.

DOJ ethics officials have cleared his prior employment at WilmerHale, as not being a conflict.

Again, in my humble opinion, he should recuse himself from the obstruction of justice (Flynn investigation and Comey firing)

He has a long working and social history (mentorship/friendship) with James Comey, a key figure in the obstruction of justice inquiry.   This certainly brings into play 28 CFR 45.2.b.2 “… an appearance of a conflict of interest likely to affect the public perception of the integrity of the investigation or prosecution.”  If charges of obstruction of justice re: Mike Flynn are brought Mr. Comey has potential legal jeopardy for failing to notify his superiors.   If the obstruction was the firing of Mr. Comey, he is again a central figure in the investigation and a key witness.

Additionally the DOJ official he reports to, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is embroiled in the Comey firing.  As such he should also recuse himself.

June 19th Update

Jared Kushner’s attorney at Wilmer Hale is effectively recusing herself, does she perceive an ethical issue with the DC Bar :

“After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advice of a lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should continue with us as his counsel,”

Shouldn’t Mueller have a reciprocal ethics issue?

 

Washington Post Divulges Intelligence Methods

In their May 26, 2017 article Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin, Washington Post Reporters Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous and Greg Miller and the Post’s National Security Editor divulged a US Intelligence Community method.

Let’s analyze what happened, as reported by the Post.

Leak

Kushner – Kislyak Meeting

Nakashima, Entous and Miller reported in a 332 word article:

Purported Facts (italics are verbatim pulls from article)

  1.  Kislyak and Kushner met in Trump Tower on Dec. 1 or 2,
  2. The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser,
  3. Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring,
  4. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications,
  5. Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team,
  6. The White House disclosed the meeting only [sic] in March,
  7. Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance,
  8. The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment,
  9. Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts,  
    Note Bene! — Disclosure provide the Russians with confirmation that the communication channel is monitored.

Speculation

  1. Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.
  2. people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) December 16, 2008 has 4 instances of the term “investigative interest”:

  1. (U) More broadly, detecting and interrupting criminal activities at their, early stages, and preventing crimes from occurring in the first place, is preferable to allowing criminal plots to come to fruition. Hence, assessments may also:be undertaken proactively with such objectives as detecting criminal activities; obtaining information on individuals, groups, or organizations of possible investigative interest, either because they may be involved in criminal or national security-threatening activities or because they may be targeted for attack or victimization in such activities; and identifying and assessing individuals who may have value as confidential human sources. (AGG-Dom, Part.II).  [pg 40]

  2. (U//FOUO) The sensitivity related to an academic institution arises from the American, tradition of “academic freedom” (e.g., ah atmosphere in which students and faculty are free to express unorthodox ideas and views and to challenge conventional thought without fear of repercussion). Academic freedom does not mean, however, that academic institutions are off limits to FBI investigators in pursuit of information or individuals of legitimate investigative interest. [pg 83]

  3. (U//FOUO) The sensitivity related to an academic institution arises from the American tradition of “academic freedom” (e.g., an atmosphere in which students and faculty are free to express unorthodox ideas and views and to challenge conventional thought without fear of repercussion). Academic freedom does not mean, however, that academic institutions are off limits to FBI investigators in pursuit of information or individuals of legitimate investigative interest. [pg 105]

  4. U//FOUO).An “undercover operation” is an operation that involves a series of related “undercover activities” over a period of time by an “undercover employee.” A series of related undercover activities consists of more than five separate substantive contacts by an undercover activities in employee violation with the individuals under investigation. In investigations relating to of federal criminal law that do not concern threats to the national security are listed or in foreign the AGG-UCO intelligence, undercover activity involving sensitive circumstances, which and the FGUSO, constitutes an undercover operation regardless of the number of contacts involved. A substantive contact is a communication, whether by oral, written, wire, or electronic means, that includes information of investigative interest. Mere incidental contact (e.g., a conversation that establishes an agreed time and location for another meeting) is not a substantive contact within the meaning of this policy.  [pg 137]

The first seems most applicable to the Trump Tower and the Russian Banker meetings.  The key phrases are:

  1. either because they may be involved in criminal or national security-threatening activities
  2. or because they may be targeted for attack or victimization in such activities;
  3. and identifying and assessing individuals who may have value as confidential human sources.

Since it is unlikely they would try to recruit Jared as a confidential human source, we can eliminate number 3.  The remaining choices are criminal or national  security-threatening activities or or they may be targeted for attack or victimization in such activities.

Until someone cites a criminal or national security-threatening activity that was potentially violated, I will lean towards the FBI is worried that Jared may be targeted for attack or victimization in a criminal or national security-threatening activity.

My Analysis

Let me define a few of my terms, some of which are in widespread use without specific definition:

  • Trump Russian Collusion – I interpret this to refer to collusion/conspiracy by the Trump Campaign team to help/coordinate with the Russian Government to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.  This would have occurred between June 16th 2015 and November 8th 2016.
  • Trump Transitions – November 8th 2016 – January 20th 2017.
  • SAP – Special Access Program – Special Access Program (SAP) is a high state of enforced need-to-know, and only a minimum number of cleared employees are given access to SAP information. It is established to control access, distribution, and provide protection for sensitive classified information beyond that normally required.
  • SSO – Special Security Officer – The Special Security Office (SSO) is a function within multiple arms of the United States federal government and armed forces with the mission to provide a reliable and secure means to receive and disseminate Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP) to authorized recipients in the United States government and military organizations.
  • Diplomatic Pouch – A diplomatic bag, also known as a diplomatic pouch, is a container with certain legal protections used for carrying official correspondence or other items between a diplomatic mission and its home government or other diplomatic, consular, or otherwise official entities.

The Meeting

A meeting between an Ambassador and the Transition Team of an incoming President-elect is neither uncommon nor illegal.  There is much made of the “non-reporting” of the meeting.  To the best of my knowledge there is no requirement to report the meeting to any government agency, in a manner that would be public record.  In general anyone holding a SAP clearance is required to report foreign contacts to their Special Security Officer (SSO), but these would not be public record.  I believe there may be an exception for official duties.

I find it interesting that the date of the meeting is vague, I would expect the Intelligence Community (IC) transcript would have the date of the meeting, assuming that Kislyak would have included the date in his report or the IC would have the date from their surveillance of Kislyak.

ABC reportsKushner asked Russian ambassador for back channel on Syria and other policy matters.

The sources stress that the talk between Kushner and the Russian envoy about communications was focused on the U.S. response to the crisis in Syria and other policy-related matters.

The Post reporting has three obvious effects:

  1. Confirms the IC monitoring of the communications channel used by the Russians.
  2. Put Kushner and Flynn on notice that they need to coordinate their recollection of the meeting.
  3. Put Kushner and Flynn on notice that they need to provide their lawyers with copies of any notes they may have made.

The Intercept

The communications between Kislyak and the Russian Foreign Office (his superiors?) was either:

  1. Open channel – plain text, in which case the Russians would have known it would be intercepted.
  2. Open channel – encoded text, in which case the Russian now know the code has been broken.
  3. Secure channel – again confirmation that the secure channel has been intercepted and the code broken.
  4. Diplomatic Bag – confirms that US has access to information prior to being place in the bag, has illegally breached the bag to gain access, or had a source after it has been removed from the pouch at the destination.
  5. Diplomatic Courier – Same as above, with exception of breaching the bag.

Transmission of the report via 1 – 3 above, with a priori knowledge that the channel is insecure lends credence to the possibility of  disinformation (fact 9 above).

There were published reports of investigations into  “establishment of back channel communications” going back to September 2016.  Therefore a disinformation campaign would support other reports.

The Criminal Activity

The government official who disclosed classified information to the Post Team is guilty of violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 (18 US Code S-798).  Other than that the reportage has not cited any criminal violation.

Note; the duration of the back channel communications is implied to be the period between the meeting and January 20th 2017, base on “ between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin”.  After January 20th President Trump would have direct secure communications with the Kremlin, via White House communications systems.

The Back Channel

As described in Ellen’s video (below) the back channel would consist of using the Russian Embassy’s secure communications.  Like me she finds it incredulous to consider using the facilities of the most surveilled place in the US as a clandestine back channel.  Let’s see Jared would put on sunglasses, a fake mustache and a wig, sneak out the back door of the White House, Uber to the Russian Embassy, have a secure conversation with Sergey Lavroy and return to the White House undetected.

I have to wonder if Kislyak is sitting back laughing at the uproar his report is creating, especially if it was disinformation.

Does anyone else wonder why Kushner would be attempting to set up a back channel, if all of the reported communications between the Trump Campaign and Russia during the campaign existed.  The transition team should have been able to use the existing collusion channels.

My Conclusion

Either the Washington Post Team disclosed US Intelligence methods, assuming Kislyak didn’t send his report via an open or known compromised channel, or they participated in a Russian disinformation campaign, if the report was sent by an open or known compromised channel.

Ellen Nakashima’s Video

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/4faa27a8-427e-11e7-b29f-f40ffced2ddb

Video caption from WP
“Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, asked him about setting up a communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in the United States. (Video: Alice Li,McKenna Ewen/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)”

The headline’s photo, by Jabin Botsford, is completely unrelated, the photo and its original caption:

Botsford170420Trump14331

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as President Trump and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni participate in a joint news conference at the White House on April 20. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)