Document dump: Team Trump complies with Senate probe — but what about Fusion GPS? Update: FBI raided Manafort home
While Robert Mueller works with a grand jury on the Russia probe, the Senate Judiciary Committee has continued its own probe into the 2016 election. Bloomberg reports that the Donald Trump campaign met the panel’s deadline and turned over 20,000 pages of documents, as did Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr for any contacts with Russians. The papers include documents related to the now-infamous meeting between Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016:
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, his son Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign manager Paul Manafort have started turning over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the panel’s expanded investigation of Russian election-meddling.
The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on Aug. 2, committee spokesman George Hartmann said Tuesday. Manafort provided about 400 pages on Aug. 2, including his foreign-advocacy filing, while Trump Jr. gave about 250 pages on Aug. 4, Hartmann said. The committee had asked them last month to start producing the documents by Aug. 2.
This continued push by the Judiciary panel seems a bit curious, given the news about the grand jury Mueller has convened for his investigation. That could create some jurisdictional conflicts — if the grand jury is investigating anything that directly relates to the Trump campaign or the Veselnitskaya meeting. Members of the panel met with Mueller six weeks ago to avoid any such conflicts. Afterward, both sides “committed to keeping an open dialogue” to avoid stepping on the FBI/special counsel investigation.
With that in mind, does this document release signal that the grand jury is being asked to look at issues other than the campaign? It would seem odd for targets of a grand jury to release potential self-incriminating evidence to a political body while being at risk for indictments. Mueller might still be looking at Michael Flynn’s actions, rather than issues directly relating to “collusion” with Russians from the Trump campaign relating to the hacking of the DNC — which, in case anyone’s forgotten, was the original predicate for the special counsel probe. At the very least, it seems that Mueller has given Judiciary a green light to go down that road themselves. Hmmm.
Also curious, given recent White House accusations, is the fact that Fusion GPS missed those same deadlines:
A company the Judiciary panel says has been linked to a salacious “dossier” on Trump, Fusion GPS, and its chief executive officer, Glenn Simpson, have yet to turn over any requested documents, Hartmann said.
Last week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Fusion of creating the “golden showers” dossier that later got debunked as an oppo-research attack:
“The Democrat-linked firm Fusion GPS actually took money from the Russian government while it created the phony dossier that’s been the basis for all of the Russia scandal fake news.”
That’s actually just speculation, not an established fact, as Glenn Kessler points out today:
Fusion’s many clients in recent years included a law firm and a Republican donor. The donor, concerned about the rise of Donald Trump, wanted opposition research on the businessman. The law firm, Baker & Hotstetler, needed help on litigation defending a Russia-owned company.
The Republican donor hired Fusion in September 2015, according to an account in the New York Times. But once Trump won the Republican nomination, the GOP donor lost interest. But in spring 2016, Fusion was able to persuade donors to Hillary Clinton to keep funding the research. Fusion in June hired Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent known for his contacts in Russia, and Steele produced a series of salacious memos, claiming the Kremlin had the goods to blackmail Trump, which made its way to reporters, members of Congress and the FBI. The FBI considered Steele’s work credible enough that it reached an agreement to pay him to continue his work, though the planned arrangement fell apart after the dossier became public.
At the same time, Baker & Hostetler hired Fusion for another project, involving the defense of Prevezon Holdings, which had been sued by the US government for fraud and money laundering, and this is where it starts to get rather incestuous:
Hermitage Capital Management, the alleged victim of the fraud, is headed by William Browder, once a top investor in Russia who had a falling out with the Russian government. Browder had hired Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant, to investigate an alleged theft from his Russian companies, but Magnitsky was arrested and died in prison in 2009 under suspicious circumstances. Browder’s advocacy of Magnitsky’s case led Congress to pass the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which bars Russian officials believed to be involved in the lawyer’s death from entering the United States or using its banking system. In response, Russia blocked U.S. parents from adopting Russian children. …
Steele’s work for Fusion centered on Trump’s business dealings in Russia. And people working for Prevezon — and opposed to the Magnitsky Act — met with Trump campaign officials at the Trump Tower in June 2016, including Donald Trump Jr., campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump. Trump Jr. agreed to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya after an intermediary promised dirt on Clinton. (The participants claim most of the discussions centered on the adoption ban imposed in response to the Magnitsky Act.)
Veselnitskaya was also working for Baker Hotstetler on the Prevezon case, according to a declaration she filed in federal court in 2016. In addition, she sought to help Prevezon fan opposition against the Magnitsky sanctions.
Read the whole fact check, but the bottom line is that there’s a lot of smoke but no fire — yet. Fusion GPS may well have done nothing more than its usual work for a diverse clientele, even when their interests converged and conflicted. As Kessler says — “hey, this is Washington.” But clearly the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken a keen interest in that convergence, and apparently Fusion GPS has a keen interest in keeping it under wraps. Perhaps there may be a few licks of flames under all the smoke after all.
Addendum: Here’s more from Mark Hemingway on “where it gets weird”:
In short, it appears Fusion GPS was simultaneously on the payroll of Democratic interests seeking to discredit Trump on the basis of his ties to the Russian government even as it was working on a lobbying effort whose beneficiaries would be Vladimir Putin and his billionaire cronies.
All this was sordid-looking enough for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was investigating the Trump meeting, to seek testimony from Fusion GPS founder and former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson. He balked, and negotiations reportedly foundered on his unwillingness to reveal the client who had been paying for the Trump-Russia dossier. After the threat of a subpoena, Simpson eventually agreed to speak to the committee privately.
Hemingway also reminds readers that in Washington, smoke doesn’t necessarily equate to fire. Be sure to read all of Mark’s article to see where Fusion GPS usually lands on the political spectrum, though.
Update: This seems a little more hostile:
FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chairman late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort’s home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records.
This could be a bit problematic, however:
The raid came as Manafort has been voluntarily producing documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.
If that’s how they got the search warrant, they may be in trouble if they plan to use what they found. Assuming Manafort has fully cooperated as he claims, then he could challenge that warrant on the basis of misrepresentation and keep anything the FBI got from the search from use in court. It’s probably a long shot, but it’s certainly a possibility. It might also create some political headaches for Mueller. However, we do know from the original story that it didn’t stop Manafort from producing documents this week, and maybe motivated him to cooperate more fully.
One White House source told the Washington Post that they didn’t get anything new from the raid. “If the FBI wanted the documents, they could just ask [Manafort] and he would have turned them over.” Now they won’t have to guess at it, but that raises another question: did they try asking for them? The Senate Judiciary Committee did, and got them. Hmmmm.
Update: This also makes the question of cooperation between Judiciary and Mueller even more interesting. At least on the surface, it appears that they’re overlapping each other, which complicates matters in a criminal investigation. Did Judiciary know about the raid ahead of time? Probably not, but they’re also probably fortunate that Manafort is still cooperating with them after it. You’d expect the target of a raid to lawyer up.
On the other hand, it’s also true that conducting a raid on Manafort strongly suggests that Mueller has taken a serious interest in his activities. Whether that’s connected to the campaign, or to his earlier work as a then-undeclared foreign agent prior to the campaign, will come out later, presumably.