Tuesday, June 2, 2020

53 Transcripts: Papadopolous and Page: How'd That Happen?

In March 2016, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had a problem.  As Trump moved to the front of the GOP pack, the press was starting to take the candidate more seriously, asking questions about who was advising him on foreign policy, implying (well, maybe more than implying) he lacked the gravitas and substance needed to be President.

As with any policy matter in the campaign, foreign policy was whatever Donald Trump said in the moment but Lewandowski wasn't about to say that, knowing what the press reaction would be.   He needed to have a group of national security advisors so the media would stop saying they didn't have one.  And he was getting pressure from Jared Kushner to fix it fast.

According to their testimony, no one associated with the Trump campaign had a detailed policy discussion with the candidate on any subject, let alone Russia.  The Trump you saw on the campaign trail was the private Trump, talking in generalities and not interested in details.

To the extent anyone recalled discussions about Russia it was at the level of wanting Russia's cooperation against ISIS or Steve Bannon's characterization of Trump's view (which he also attributed to Michael Flynn) that "they're an enemy, but somebody that you may be able to work with over time, and you certainly don't want more enemies in the world" (p.34).  Discussions were more at the level of what Michael Cohen recounted as his one conversation with Trump about Russia which consisted of him saying, "Did you see that President Putin said some really nice things about me?" (p.140).

Lewandowski decided he needed to "check the box" and move on, so on March 12, 2016 he called Sam Clovis, senior policy advisor and a campaign co-chair.  Clovis was an ex-fighter pilot, former Inspector General for NORAD, later a talk show host in Iowa who lost the 2014 primary for the Republican Senate nomination to Jodi Ernst.  Sam was initially a Rick Perry supporter, who joined the Trump campaign after Perry dropped out.

Clovis described himself to the committee as a "Classic Cold War warrior" who favored containing Russia and supported Trump because he was a "trade hawk". (p.15).  He also dismissed Trump's favorable comments regarding Putin:
". . . I think he was having a lot of fun with the Putin thing" and liked to "play up [the bromance] . . . I just think he really liked poking the media". (p.16)
When asked about Trump's foreign policy views, Sam's response was like the others, "I don't think he ever expressed to me definitively what he thought about foreign policy on any level" (p.17), and reinforced what the committee had been hearing from others about thin campaign staffing, "Policy shop was one-deep and it was me." (p.18)

Lewandowski tasked Clovis with putting together a National Security advisory board which would have a short public session with media present and then a one-hour meeting with the President.  Other than that it would have no further duties or meetings.  Before coming back to what Clovis did next, there are three other Trump associates involved with the advisory board.

Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump and he was asked to chair the board.  To the committee, Sessions described his foreign policy views as transitioning in recent years from Wilsonian to realist.  His view of the board:
"The committee was not any serious - a group of people authorized to speak for President Trump, and they absolutely weren't authorized to go around the world pretending to represent him". (p.26)
Navy veteran Jeff (JD) Gordon served as Pentagon spokesperson for Secretaries Rumsfeld and Gates.  Gordon testified he believed Russia was a threat, though it was okay to try to deal with the country, but:
"I think the Obama administration tried to have better relations but for getting nothing in return at all." (52)
He was Director of the board and confirmed it was a one-time event.

Rick Dearbon had worked for Senator Sessions since 1996, was his chief of staff, and, as a part-time job, ran the DC policy office for the Trump campaign. (1)

Sessions, Gordon, and Dearborn had never heard of Papadopoulos (I'm just going to call him Papa from here on because I'm tired of typing his full name) and Page before they were recommended by Sam Clovis.  And how did Clovis come across them?

Carter Page came to Clovis' attention through Ed Cox, chair of the New York Republican Party and son-in-law of Richard Nixon.  Page was a 1993 graduate of the Naval Academy (top 10% in his class) and served five years on active duty.  After leaving the service he did a Fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, got an MBA from NYU, joined Merrill Lynch as an investment banker and was a VP in that firm's Moscow office.  He'd left Merrill in 2009 to co-found Global Energy Capital, a little known energy investment firm.  Along the way he'd gotten to know Cox who introduced him to Lewandowski, and Clovis met him while visiting Trump Tower in early 2016. (2)

If Page's credentials were thin and definitely not a heavy hitter in the national security arena, those of the 28-year old Papa were virtually nonexistent.  He'd been working on Ben Carson's campaign, and cold-called Lewandowski who passed him on to Clovis.  Papa had a Masters in Security Studies from University College London and worked as an unpaid intern at the Hudson Institute from 2011 to 2015.  In 2015 he'd joined Energy Stream, a small London-based (where Papa was living) energy consultancy.

Lewandowski told Clovis they needed to stop getting beat up by the media and NeverTrumpers and "alleviate some of the press pressure". (p.39) but the problem facing Clovis was that most of the GOP foreign policy establishment wanted nothing to do with Donald Trump.  Sam was able to assemble a few people with some experience for the board, Generals Keith Kellogg, Bert Mizusawa, Garry Harrell, Admiral Chuck Kubic, Walid Phares, Joe Schmitz, telling the committee, "That was about all the people we had on a Rolodex that were supportive of the President that had any cachet at all". (p.40) but felt he needed to add a couple more which is when he reached out to Papa and Page.  Why he needed more was never explained but it reminds me of this scene from Ocean's 11.


He'd only met Papa on the phone but "He was young, didn't have a lot of experience, but at that point we needed people" (p.41), and later in his testimony added, Papa was "a man on the make" "I thought he was in it for himself, and I didn't think he was in it for the candidate"(p.76)  Clovis had a higher opinion of Page though he was "far more . . . favorably disposed to Russia" than himself (p.24), and felt, "he was one of the few people we could find that had a credible enough background that we could put him on that team and would help assauge the press" (p.58), so decided to fill out the board with the two.

Bannon claimed he thought the National Security advisors were weak and told Lewandowski not to do it but he wanted to "check the box and get it out". (p.181)  Whether or not Bannon actually said it (I'm skeptical of anything Bannon says), Lewandowski, by his own admission, paid no attention to the advisors and any substance of foreign policy.  At one point in his testimony he said he'd had a discussion with President Trump just after the Papadopolous indictment and plea was announced and was asked:
"What did you say to the President about George Papadopolous?"
"I said, who the fuck is this guy?" (p.43)
Papa and Page did not impress anybody.  In his polite, mannered way, Jeff Session said:
"Well, I didn't feel like either one had - apparently had a background of significance, that would indicate that they had contributions to make."(p.33)
Rick Dearborn called Papa:"A volunteer that attended one meeting that wanted to travel and had no access to the candidate other than the one meeting"(p.47) and later wrote an email referring to the pair:
"I've met him once.  He has a Carter Page problem.  He goes and meets with folks, expresses his views, and then is tagged by the press as our guy". (p.49) 
Walid Phares, a board member who actually had a reputation and expertise told the committee the other board members wondered why Papa was a member given his lack of experience, and he came to the conclusion that "What he wanted to do is to appear in the campaign as the person who could engage in establishing these relationships". (p.44)  Phares went on to say that while Papa and Page's views on Russia were different from those of the rest of the board:
"At that time, discussing international relations and relations with Russia and China or anybody in the world, was not a taboo.  It was a normal matter." (p.47)
The only meeting of the board took place on March 31 in Washington DC - Carter Page did not attend!  The press was invited in and took photos and then left.  According to Rick Dearborn there was no agenda and no written summary of the meeting.  However, the memory of those attending is consistent.  The meeting last for an hour.  Trump began by asking each member to introduce themselves and make a short statement but Trump and the second board member to introduce himself, Keith Payne, spent 40 minutes talking nuclear weapons and doctrine and national security philosophy, leaving very little time for the others and any other dialogue.  Papa spoke for 90 seconds or two minutes before Sessions shut him down, when Papa raised the possibility of Trump meeting with Putin during the campaign.  It was the only time during the meeting when Sessions intervened which he testified he did because Papa was out of line raising the issue.

Though it was the only time Papa and Page were "active" in the campaign, their actions bedeviled Clovis, Gordon, Dearborn and others throughout and then became the hook upon which the entire Russia collusion hoax was pegged.

Papa was ostensibly the reason the FBI commenced the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, based on his conversation with the mysterious Josef Mifsud (we know what he isn't - Russian asset or FBI informant - but we still don't know what Mifsud is) about damaging Clinton emails supposedly possessed by the Russians, a conversation Papa never told anyone on the Trump campaign about (3), and Page was the target of the FISA warrant, a warrant based on allegations he was the lynchpin of the coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Both Page and Papa kept sending emails trying to push the idea of a Trump-Putin meeting but campaign officials either ignored them or fobbed them off with polite excuses.  As Lewandowski put it when shown one of Page's emails offering such a meeting:
"I wouldn't have needed Carter Page if Donald Trump wanted to see Vladimir Putin". (p.87)
And Clovis said of Papa's proposal for a meeting, "I thought it was a bogus offer" from a self-promoter. (p.88)

As to Papa, Walid Phares impression was "Dr Clovis wanted Papa out of his hair" and and everytime Papa raised a possible Putin meeting "Clovis and JD would say: well it's like dismissive, to we don't need that now". (p.65)

Apart from Papa's conversation with Josef Mifsud (4), the biggest issue was Page's acceptance of an invitation to speak at a conference in Moscow.  According to JD Gordon, Carter Page had "zero" role in formulating campaign policy towards Russia and Ukraine. (p60) and told Page the trip to Russia was a "bad idea" but he went around him and got approval from Lewandowski, as long as it was clear he was there on a personal basis, not representing the campaign.  Once this became public in September, Page was told to disassociate himself from campaign.  Page's Moscow visit allowed the Steele Dossier to paint him as having secret discussions with top Russian officials and Gazprom executives (for which there is no evidence), which was further spun into his alleged role in influencing the Ukraine plank in the GOP platform (something he had nothing to do with).

The association of Papa and Page with the campaign was a disaster both for their lack of substance and for their actions which helped embroil the Trump presidency for three years.

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(1)  There was a campaign staffer who was linked to Russia in the past.  Michael Caputo, NY State primary director for the campaign and then communications director for caucus operations in the lead up to the convention, did business as a political consultant in that country during the 1990s.   He told the committee he'd never discussed Russia with anyone in the campaign, "There is a good reason for that.  We were running and gunning with our hair on fire". (p. 22)  Like others caught up in the collusion hoax, his job prospects suffered and testified that he'd had to liquidate his childrens' college fund to pay for legal representation.

(2)  Clovis didn't know that Page was an informant for the FBI and had been frequently debriefed by the CIA regarding his contacts with Russians.  The IG Report took the FBI to task for lying to the FISA Court and not informing it of Page's history with the agencies.

(3)  Adam Schiff described the contents of this conversation with so much lurid overstatement that even the FBI's Andrew McCabe pushed back, telling him, "The original Papadopolous information wasn't quite that specific". (p38)  McCabe also made a revealing statement as to why the FISA Warrant was on Page, even though the original information that came to the FBI regarded Papadopolous, "The Papadopolous comment didn't particularly indicate that he was the person that had had - that was interacting with the Russians". (p.13)  This resulted in the peculiar circumstances I noted in a prior post that the FBI Special Agent who handled Steele was informed the dossier was used to corroborate the original information regarding Papadopolous even though the dossier could never be validated, the FBI didn't have enough to get a warrant on Papa, and Papa isn't mentioned in the dossier!

(4)  Mifsud approached Papa immediately after the announcement that he was part of the Trump campaign.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Opening The Show

The best approaches to opening a rock or pop concert are to have a first song that either comes strong right out of the box and energizes the crowd or something slow, dramatic, and unexpected to rivet their attention.

While living in the Boston area I saw concerts by Elvis Costello & The Attractions on each of their first 4 U.S. tours between 1977 and 1980.  I can't remember the first songs from the 1st and 3rd concerts but Elvis deployed both strategies effectively in the 2nd and 4th shows, both at the Orpheum Theater downtown.

In May 1978, Elvis opened with No Action, also the opening song on his recently released second album, This Year's Model featuring a fast pace, thunderous drumming, and sardonic lyrics (I don't wanna kiss you/ I don't wanna touch/ I don't wanna see you/ cause I don't miss you that much).

In contrast the 4th show started with the stage and theater completely dark.  Suddenly out of the darkness, unaccompanied by any instruments came Elvis' voice, "laying about lying in bed/maybe it was something that I thought I'd said", the opening lines of Just A Memory (a song he'd originally written for Dusty Springfield, who later recorded it), soon to be joined by the beautiful piano playing of Steve Nieve of The Attractions.  It was just Elvis and Steve for the entire song and it certainly caught everyone's attention.

Here are both tunes.  The recorded version of Just A Memory begins with keyboards but the concert version began with Elvis' voice.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

53 Transcripts: Different Worlds, Part 2

Donald Trump's business dealings, lifestyle, management methods, impulsiveness, and the unique way he ran his campaign baffled the career politicians on the Intelligence Committee (and not just the Democrats).  When I was young, I remember people would talk about how a left-handed boxer could throw his opponents off because they weren't used to punches coming from that angle.  Trump was the political equivalent of a left-handed boxer.  Nothing he did made sense from a traditional campaigning perspective but it threw everyone off.

Trump's entire persona was foreign territory, even for Congressmen used to media and meeting well-known people.  Trump's long-time administrative assistant, Rhona Graff, described it this way:
"My understanding of Mr Trump's life is it's like an encyclopedia-sized version of how many world leaders, athletes, movie stars, TV celebrities, characters around New York City.  I mean, his life is just one celebrity after another". (p.77-78)
What Trump and his campaign pulled off is astonishing.  Whatever else you think of the man it was quite an accomplishment to decide you want to run for president, put together a staff with little national, or even local, campaign experience, use an unprecedented and very unorthodox strategy and succeed in a stunning upset.

The downside was with the lack of political sophistication, barebones staffing, disdain for policy details, and the peculiar character of the candidate, a series of acts occurred which, while random and uncoordinated at the time, gave opponents the ammunition to construct a compelling, though fake, narrative that would hobble the President.

From those on the campaign staff, it was those very characteristics that caused their disbelief that anyone would think they were colluding with the Russians in the midst of the chaos.  You can read it in the testimony - they had their hands full just trying to keep the ship afloat and gave no evidence they had the ability to coordinate an international conspiracy.  To them, the conspiracy story was a joke.  As usual Corey Lewandowski put it bluntly when asked about a conversation with Hope Hicks, in 2017 after the Russian collusion story became big:
"I probably said this was all bullshit". (p.27)
Among the unusual aspects of the Trump campaign was it did no polling or opposition research, both of which are standard practices, though once it became clear Trump would be the nominee the Republican National Committee provided the campaign with its opposition research file on Hillary.

Like communications director Hope Hicks, media director Brad Parscale had no previous campaign experience, being hired because he had done some previous work for the Trump organization.  He testified he used "very simple" Facebook targeting with ads that featured Trump talking.  Questioning Parscale about ads targeting groups (with the expectation a lot occurred which could then be branded as another divisive, racist Trump tactic) the Democrats on the committee were clearly perplexed when he responded that there were, "no ads based on race, religion . . . or immigration status" (p.90) though some were based on whether the recipient were male or female.

All of those around him spoke to the characteristics we saw on the campaign trail and since and were consistent with Trump's way of operating long before that time.

Rhona Graff had some "Public Relations" responsibility for Trump prior to the campaign, which really amounted to scheduling her boss and screening calls, but Democratic members peppered her with questions as though she really managed Trump's PR and could not comprehend her responses.  After listening to the back and forthRep Peter King (R-NY) who'd known Trump for many years helped her out:
"And just like people in the White House say they can't control his tweets, you could not control his PR all the time",  to which she responded, "Correct" (p121)
Corey Lewandowski:
"The candidate and I, you may not believe this, but sometimes he goes off script and says what he wants to." (p.144)
Hope Hicks:
"His private comments echo his public comments" (p.66)
Jared Kushner: 
"Again, he controls his Twitter, and it comes from what's on his mind at the time" (p.104)(1)
Kushner summed it up:
"We had a very different type of campaign than most". (28) 
For most of the primary season, Trump's national staff consisted of Lewandowski, Hicks and Sam Clovis, with Donald Jr., Jared, and Ivanka providing family counsel. That was it.

Trump went through a senior political advisor (Roger Stone), prior to his announcement, and three campaign managers, Corey Lewandowski (June 2015-June 2016), Paul Manafort (June-August 2016), and Steve Bannon (August 2016).  Lewandowski hates Stone and Manafort and Bannon hated Manafort.

How Stone got dumped from the campaign depends on who you ask.  According to Lewandowski he fired Stone because, "I didn't believe he brought any value to the organization any longer" (p.54) and adding the following in a Q&A:
"Roger Stone is a liar"

"What did he lie to you about?"

"The time of day, the color of his tie, what color of shoes he was wearing, basically everything and everything." (p.66)
According to Stone, he resigned because he disagreed with Trump's plan to run a campaign based upon big rallies and the massive coverage the candidate was sure he could get from cable news networks.  In his testimony he admitted, "He was right, I was wrong." (p.21) (2)(3)

Lewandowski managed to alienate a lot of people around Trump, who referred to Hicks and he as "kids", particularly Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who pushed for his removal.  There was also a real and pressing issue facing the campaign as the convention approached.  It looked like there would be a concerted effort by the Cruz campaign and other GOP figures to use convention rules to "steal" the nomination away from Trump and the campaign had no one who understand convention rules, and how to deal with delegates and effectively manage the event.  Paul Manafort, an experienced GOP political operator, seemed to fit the bill, and indeed he effectively managed the convention.

In his testimony, Lewandowski was blunt about his dislike and more significantly, his distrust of Manafort, believing he was self-dealing and stealing money from the campaign (Manafort's successor, Bannon, thought the same), though he couldn't prove it.

According to Bannon, the plan all along was to replace Manafort after the convention, but the timing was accelerated when Manafort's Ukrainian connections became a big media story (Hillary's campaign had been colluding with Ukranian sources on this).  Bannon said the Ukraine story was "a complete shock" to Trump and "he doesn't like surprises".

Hope Hicks told a funny story about Manafort's hiring.  Since Kushner had been responsible for Manafort's hiring, Trump assigned him to do the firing.  Hicks was with the candidate traveling by car in Louisiana the day Manafort was supposed to be fired.  Trump called Jared and Hicks recounts:
"you know has Paul been fired yet?  And Jared said no, I'm taking him out to breakfast first.  And I remember the response of, 'We don't need to buy him eggs.  Let him go'." (p.76)
Bannon portrayed himself as the campaign's savior.  Here's his version:
"When I came on this campaign, it's 84 days to go or 85 days to go, we're down by 16 points, double digits in every battleground state . . . it was about focus" (p.49)

"the perception was and reality was we were pretty far behind until the end" (p.194)

"we didn't have any money, not a lot of organization . . . it [the campaign]was driven by media" (p.237)
He claimed he advised Trump to only focus on three things, in addition to Clinton's corruption; stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration; bring back manufacturing jobs; and end pointless foreign wars.

Bannon's testimony must have been embarrassing for him at times.  Though he'd left the White House a few months before, he had given interviews to notoriously unreliable author Michael Wolff who had just published Fire and Fury an explosive expose of the Trump White House in its early days.  Bannon, holding a grudge against Kushner who he blamed for being pushed out of the White House, was quoted as calling Jared a traitor for arranging the Trump Tower meetings and saying the chances that Don Jr didn't tell his dad about the meeting immediately after it happened "were zero". (4) 

Bannon squirmed around questions as to whether he was quoted directly, but his bad judgment in doing the interviews in the first place reinforced for me his unsuitability to be in the White House in any capacity.  He admitted he only knew what he read in the papers about the meeting and was unaware it was Don Jr, not Jared, who set it up.

With the loose organization, disorganization, and its small size and uncontrollable candidate the campaign was vulnerable.  And as Kushner noted there were, "lots of marginal characters, the campaign did have a lot of hanger-oners in different ways" (p.45).  It's two of those characters, George Papadopolous and Carter Page, we'll next turn to and explain the circumstances under which they became involved with the campaign and the havoc that ensued.

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(1)  Michael Caputo, New York State primary director for the campaign and later Director of Communications for Caucus Operations for the Convention, was fired by the campaign for tweeting a joyous cartoon celebrating the firing of Lewandowski.  In his testimony, Caputo remarked, "I want to stipulate here that the irony of me being fired for a tweet from the Trump campaign is not lost on me". (p.15) 

(2) And, consistent with Stone's behavior over the years, he lied in his testimony to the Intelligence Committee.   I downloaded a copy of his indictment by Mueller's goon squad to have handy while I read his testimony (I'd also followed the trial and was familiar with the evidence presented).  He lied, and he lied on items of no consequence to the issue of Russia collusion or hacks.  As Lewandowski commented, he lied because that's his habit.  It was idiotic, but allowed Mueller to add to the collusion narrative he was creating though the specifics of the indictment had nothing to do with collusion.  AG Barr was right in intervening to reduce the outrageous sentencing request by Mueller's minions, but Stone did lie and was properly convicted.  A fitting end to his career.

(3) Trump's unconventional campaign strategy was brilliant.  The cable news channels gave him more coverage than all of his GOP rivals combined.  He was great for ratings and for MSNBC and CNN it was like inserting a virus into the GOP race.  Even the mainstream newspapers, like the New York Times, were happy to give him disproportionate coverage early on.  His approach also supports my thesis that Trump never expected to win the nomination, let along the Presidency, because his primary motives were branding, thwarting Jeb Bush whom he hated, and having fun.  His strategy was the low-cost and very cost-effective way to go about this.

(4)  I'm convinced Donald Jr did not tell his dad about the meeting, either before or after it happened. I'll explain why in the post on the Trump Tower meeting.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Why

You keep saying no to her
Since she was a baby
You keep saying no to her
Not even maybe
Why?

You say it's a dead old world
Dull and unforgiving
I don't know where you live
But you're not living
Why?
Like The Byrds groundbreaking A-side single, Eight Miles High, it's B-side, Why, was a very heavy song for that time period, sharing with the hit side the fractured and inventive guitar sound of Roger McGuinn.  I can assure you these were both very unusual sounding songs when released in March 1966.

The high harmonies are courtesy of David Crosby, co-composer with McGuinn, who was ejected from the band two years later, going on to form the law firm of Crosby Stills & Nash, from which, years later, he was also ejected prior to the firm's final dissolution.

How Can People Live Like This?

My thoughts as soon as I saw this abomination:

1.  Incredibly dangerous street and sidewalk in wet, windy or snowy weather. 
2.  Wet basements as you go further down the hill.
3.  The houses are mold factories.
3.  Get some building inspectors in there, no doubt mass code violations.

How can this be allowed!

Image

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

53 Transcripts: Different Worlds, Part 1

Having completed reading the 53 transcripts recently released House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (which you can find here) as well as earlier reading many other relevant documents such as the IG and Mueller reports I can assure you there is no evidence showing collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 elections, despite the continued insistence of Adam Schiff to the contrary.

Adam Schiff is the 21st century equivalent of Senator Joseph McCarthy yelling about the non-existent evidence he has of 205 card-carrying communists in the State Department.  Though, as I write this, an alternative way to think about it is Robert Mueller as the addled McCarthy-like frontman for an unethical, ambitious, and partisan lawyer, with Andrew Weissman as the modern version of Roy Cohn.

It's all part of the greatest political scandal of my lifetime and I look forward to the results of the Durham/Barr probe.

And please, will somebody finally tell me who Josef Mifsud was working for???

I'll use this post to reflect on some important background to the collusion allegations and investigation and over the next couple of weeks continue with the series of posts focused on specific aspects of the transcripts.

Reading the transcripts was like wading through Rachel Maddow's Greatest Hits.  Here are the various conspiracy theories covered by the committee (those I've written about or intend to write about are in boldface):
George Papadopolous, Josef Mifsud, and the alleged damaging information on Hillary

Carter Page as key link in collusion

Trump Tower Meeting

Trump Tower Moscow

Miss Universe Moscow and the "salacious allegations" (Fake news, but relevant because Russians.)

Russian Financiers of Trump Org (except there weren't any, but relevant because Russians)

Russian Condo Buyers (after Trump Tower was built, which contains condos separate from the office space, some of the original condo purchasers resold their unit to Russian buyers.  The Trump Organization was not involved but somehow this was relevant because Russians.)

Russian Buying Florida Mansion (Trump bought a Florida mansion and sold it a few years later to a Russian and made tens of millions.  Relevant because Russians.)

Deutsche Bank (so stupid even the D's on the committee gave up on this one.)

Alfa Bank  (Russian owned bank with its servers allegedly connected directly with Trump Org.  Fake news, but relevant because Russians)

Ukraine Plank on GOP Platform

Paul Manafort.  (Supposed co-mastermind behind it all.  Not.  Targeted by Ukrainians working with Hillary Campaign in 2016).

Michael Flynn & The Ruskies

Peter Smith (An eccentric 80 year old GOP supporter who had been trying to find Hillary hacked emails via the Dark Web and who had contact with Michael Flynn.  In 2017, Smith committed suicide after speaking to a reporter from the Wall St Journal which subsequently published an article on his quest.)

The Hacks (DNC, DCCC, John Podesta)

Wikileaks (Bumbling clowns Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi try to get info from Assange but fail).

Michael Cohen in Prague.  (And, according to Steele Dossier, co-mastermind with Manafort of collusion.  I was surprised and impressed with Cohen's testimony - precise, knows the real estate world, impassioned rebuttal of the Steele Dossier, and refused to be pushed around by Schiff and Swalwell.)

Cambridge Analytica.  (Bad because it used data from Facebook, unlike the Obama people in 2012 who were good because they used data from Facebook.)

The 53 interviews cover 5,571 pages and are of 49 individuals (Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, John Podesta, and David Kramer were interviewed twice).  The interviews began in June 2017 and extended into March 2018 with 39 of the 53 in the period from late September to mid-January (and 17 between Dec 4 and 22).  Two witnesses, both with FusionGPS, took the 5th so gave no testimony: Peter Fritsch and Thomas Catan.

Witnesses included 6 of the 8 participants in the Trump Tower meeting of June 2016, Keith Schiller, head of security for the Trump Organization and Trump's personal bodyguard, and Rhona Graff, Trump's administrative assistant since 1987, along with 13 others who worked on the Trump campaign, including three of the four campaign senior advisors or managers (Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon) along with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.

Eleven of the transcripts contain redactions so, at times, it is difficult to understand the context of the unredacted materials.  For instance in two of the interviews there is reference to intelligence received by FBI Director Comey in the summer of 2016 that led him to decide to make the decision on the Clinton email investigation himself, but the details are redacted.  The heaviest redacted transcripts were of Susan Rice, Loretta Lynch, James Clapper, Andrew McCabe, and an unidentified FBI Special Agent.  Interviews with fewer redactions were of Samantha Power, Mary McCord (DOJ), John Carlin (DOJ), Evelyn Farkas (DoD), Dan Coats, and Matthew Tait (formerly of UK Intelligence).

Regarding the unidentified FBI Special Agent.  This individual was the original contact for Christopher Steele regarding the dossier (he'd previously met Steele, who was a paid FBI source, in 2009).  He was responsible for getting Steele in touch with the appropriate offices within the FBI.  Other than passing Steele on, he had no involvement in verification of the dossier contents, nor in the FISA warrant application.  The agent heard back from FBI HQ in late September that "information in the Steele dossier corroborated an investigation they had opened previously . . ." (p.36) (1)  He had no knowledge of the connection with the Clinton Campaign, was appalled to find out Steele had been briefing reporters, and expressed his strong support for terminating him.  Came across as professional and credible.

Some of the transcripts were fascinating, some boring, and a few quite funny and entertaining, particularly Corey Lewandowski, Rob Goldstone (the music promoter who set up the Trump Tower meeting) and Felix Sater, the real estate promoter working with Michael Cohen on the Trump Tower Moscow project.

The committee conducted more than 53 interviews.  It previously released its November 14, 2017 interview with Glenn Simpson of FusionGPS which is a conspiracy theory fantasy.  There are also references to additional interviews which the committee did not vote to release.  In addition, other Congressional committees were conducting interviews around the same time, notably of James Comey by the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, 2017 and of George Papadopolous by the House Judiciary Committee on October 25, 2018.

The title of this post, "Different Worlds" is a twofold reference.  First to the different political world in which the interviews took place, 2017 is very different from 2020.  Second, the different worlds of real estate promoter BS and that of political operative BS.  They are both BS worlds but so different in their orientation it contributed to the Democratic belief that Trump was a creature from another planet and to the bafflement of the Democrats on the committee as they tried to understand the very unconventional Trump campaign and the financial world of Trumpdom (to be covered in Part 2).

The Political Landscape in 2017

When the Intelligence Committee began its interviews in June 2017 things looked very different than they did in 2019 and 2020.  The Committee was focused on four issues:
Russia's actions with respect to the 2016 election cycle
With whom, if anyone, in the United States did they work with?
The US government response during that period
The role of masking, unmasking in the dissemination of classified information
Though the Republicans controlled the House, the Intelligence Committee was without the services of its chairman, Devin Nunes (R-CA) until the end of the year.  In a clever maneuver, Democrats filed an ethics complaint against Nunes in March 2017, claiming he had leaked classified information in order to help Donald Trump, meaning the first Republican on the committee to smell something was seriously wrong was neutralized.  Nunes was not cleared until the end of 2017, so GOP leadership on the committee fell upon Mike Conaway (R-TX) who, along with Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) were the most active Republican questioners.  Gowdy and Rooney left Congress in 2018, while Conaway is not running for reelection this year.  Of the other active questioners, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) retired in 2018 and Peter King (R-NY) retiring this year, leaving Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) as the only GOP questioners who will be left in January 2021.  In contrast, only one of the seven active Democrats during the interviews will have left.

Though today most Republicans in Congress are solidly, though some reluctantly, behind President Trump; that was not true in 2017.  The change came about for three reasons:
1.  With the Mueller Report, the IG Report and a flood of other documentation, the extent of the conspiracy against Trump is now evident, the recklessness of agency bureaucrats, the complicity of the media, along with 3+ years of unprecedented obstruction by Democrats in Congress.
2.  The Kavanaugh hearings made it clear that all Republicans will be attacked just like Trump, no one is immune.
3.  The power of Trump with the GOP electorate making Senators and Representatives worried about getting on his wrong side.
But in 2017, Trump's relations with Congress were frayed, his behavior erratic and one never knew where he stood on his own proposals.  Whatever they said publicly, a significant percentage were unhappy he was President.

And on Russia, the President's own behavior made them fear there might be something to the collusion allegations.  The President had commented favorably on Putin, but more than that had put America on the same relative moral plane as Russia.  He had, in his view, merely joked about Hillary's emails but it didn't seem so funny when hacked Democratic emails started showing up in the midst of the campaign (2).   Dark stories about Russian connections were floating around about Carter Page, George Papadopolous, and Paul Manafort and then came the Michael Flynn stories and his resignation.  January saw the publication of the Steele Dossier, about which no one knew the origins.  In May came the firing of Comey, and then the capper, when the President could not stay on script and contradicted the reasons for the firing in his interview with Lester Holt and then gloated to the Russian Ambassador about the firing.  It looked terrible.  And then, three weeks after the committee's first interview (Dan Coats), came news about the Trump Tower meeting which occurred in June 2016.  And let's face it, how many of us are confident that if Trump had actually been presented with a quid pro quo arrangement with Putin that he would have refused?

The truth about the Steele Dossier, that the Clinton campaign paid for it and that there was a direct link between that campaign and Russian intelligence sources, did not begin to emerge until late October 2017 and even then the Democrats managed to muddy the water for a while longer, falsely claiming FusionGPS was just continuing opposition research work it had been doing for a Republican donor (3).

I don't think all the GOP members of the committee knew where the investigation was going to end up when it started and the existence of the Mueller investigation further concerned and constrained them.

While there were interviews focused on the unmaskings and the Obama administration response they were not particularly revealing, except as to the extent of the unmaskings.  As to the response, or lack of it, the line by the Democratic interviewees is that the Obama administration worried that if it made a big deal of Russian interference during the campaign it might backfire and be seen as a political intervention.  Left unsaid was that they feared the intervention might hurt Hillary and there was no need to take that risk since they all expected Hillary to easily win.

That left the Democrats free to play a lot of offense, though many of the Republican members were able to effectively help witnesses.  The leading Democrat questioners were Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.  Schiff was a very skillful questioner.  In contrast, Swalwell acted like he was always on the verge of asking the one question that would unravel the entire conspiracy and evidenced a very high opinion of his own abilities.  I think Schiff realized fairly quickly the Democrats were drilling a dry hole in the search for a conspiracy but understood the political advantage of continuing the charade.  Swalwell was dumb enough he may really have been a true believer.
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(1) So, with the twisted reasoning we've seen elsewhere in this investigation, the FBI used a dossier that it was never able to corroborate, in order to corroborate the accuracy of the investigation it had previously opened.

(2) In her testimony, Hope Hicks, Trump’s communications director spoke to that specific incident:
“I did make him aware that there were some that were taking this sort of facetious comment to be literal and that we needed to make sure people understood that it was intended to mock those that were suggesting he could possibly be involved with the hack.”
She said Trump, “expressed sort of disbelief that anybody could possibly take it seriously”. (p.60)

(3) On December 12, 2017 the committee interviewed Michael Goldfarb, publisher of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication funded by Paul Singer who backed Marco Rubio for the GOP nomination.  Goldfarb hired FusionGPS to do research on the financial history of the Trump organization (he hired other firms to do oppo research on Hillary).

In April 2016, once Trump seemed assured of the GOP nomination, Goldfarb had FusionGPS end its research and it was at this point Glenn Simpson of Fusion approached the Clinton campaign offering to continue the research.  Steele was not hired until June.

Goldfarb was furious, not just about the dossier when he learned about it, saying "I thought it was bullshit" (p.36), but upon finding out that Fusion was working with a Russian oligarch to overturn the Magnitsky Act, while Goldfarb had worked closely with Michael Browder, the main proponent of the Act.