There was a flurry of news developments on several Trump-Russia fronts Tuesday and Wednesday morning as we learned of new investigation details, a new indictment, a Supreme Court move, and a planned administration departure.
The biggest news was that a poorly redacted court filing from Paul Manafort revealed new details about what special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating — including that Manafort had shared polling data related to Trump’s presidential campaign with an associate tied to Russian intelligence.
Meanwhile, the Russian lawyer who met Don Jr. and Manafort at Trump Tower got indicted by federal prosecutors in New York on a matter unrelated to the Mueller investigation. The Supreme Court made its first significant move connected to the Mueller probe, in a suit involving a foreign govermment-owned company that remains largely secret. And reports claimed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and supervised him for a year and a half, will soon step down.
Major questions about the Mueller investigation, such as what the special counsel has found out about President Trump and how much longer the probe will continue, remain unanswered. But here’s the significance of what we learned just over the past 24 hours.
Paul Manafort’s lawyers’ sloppy redaction revealed that he shared Trump campaign polling data with Russian
In a court filing this week, Paul Manafort’s lawyers responded to special counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that he violated his cooperation agreement by lying repeatedly. (After being convicted of financial crimes in Virginia in August, Manafort agreed to a plea deal to avert a second trial on separate charges in Washington, and committed to cooperating with investigators.)
But though parts of the public version of this filing appeared to be redacted by black bars, it quickly became apparent that the text underneath those redactions could be revealed by simply copying and pasting from the document.
The hidden text reveals, among other things, that Mueller believes Manafort shared “polling data” that was “related to the 2016 presidential campaign” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former colleague of his who Mueller has claimed is tied to Russian intelligence.
After the filing, the New York Times’s Sharon LaFraniere, Kenneth Vogel, and Maggie Haberman reported further details. They said that Manafort had asked his longtime right-hand man, Rick Gates, to transfer polling data to Kilimnik so he could share it with Ukrainian oligarchs Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov. (The Times originally reported that the data was for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, but they’ve since corrected that claim.)
This data included some “developed by a private polling firm working for” Trump’s campaign, a source tells the Times. The transfer is said to have occurred in the spring of 2016 — remarkably soon after Manafort joined Trump’s campaign.
In the filing, Manafort’s lawyers disputed Mueller’s accusations that their client lied, saying that instead he was often forgetful about years-old events. They did not ask for a hearing on the matter, preferring instead to proceed to sentencing, but it’s possible Judge Amy Berman Jackson might still decide to schedule one anyway. You can read a fuller explainer here.
The Russian lawyer who met Don Jr. at Trump Tower was indicted in a separate matter
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer who infamously met with Donald Trump Jr. and top Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign and who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Now, the indictment (filed in December and newly unsealed) is unlikely to go anywhere. It’s highly improbable Veselnitskaya will come to the United States and face arrest. And it has no explicit link to the Trump-Russia investigation or the Mueller probe.
What it does do is provide context to that Trump Tower meeting — specifically, about what Veselnitskaya may have been up to and about her links to the Russian government.
The gist of what happened is related to a money laundering action against the Russian-owned company Prevezon Holdings in New York a few years back. Veselnitskaya was an adviser to defendants in the case.
In response to a US request, Russia’s prosecutor general’s office sent over a document purporting to outline its own “investigative findings” about the case — findings that conveniently got Veselnitskaya’s clients off the hook.
But SDNY alleges that this document was partly written and edited by Veselnitskaya, for her clients’ benefit — and that Veselnitskaya misled the court about her involvement in it. So now they’ve charged her with obstruction of justice.
The news makes clear that Veselnitskaya had serious connections in Russia’s prosecutor general’s office. And the Prevezon case also relates to several topics she admits bringing up at her meeting with Don Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016. Read this fuller explainer for more.
The mysterious grand jury challenge has reached the Supreme Court
Later on Tuesday, we got some tantalizing new tidbits about one of the Mueller investigation’s most intriguing mysteries.
For months, a certain foreign government-owned company has been fighting a grand jury subpoena in court. The details have remained largely hidden from public view, but various circumstantial evidence suggested the grand jury in question was Mueller’s, and the Washington Post confirmed that on Tuesday.
The company has lost its challenge at both the district court and circuit court level. A district judge ruled them in contempt of court and imposed a $50,000-per-day fine on them so long as they kept refusing to comply with the subpoena.
So the company asked the Supreme Court to put that contempt finding and financial penalty on hold, pending an expected appeal. However, on Tuesday, the court refused to do this — meaning the financial penalty will go into effect. The company is now expected to try and file its Supreme Court appeal in a way that keeps its identity secret.
We still don’t yet know which corporation or which country all this is about. But we learned a few more tidbits on Tuesday. The Post reported the corporation is a “foreign financial institution.” And a circuit court opinion revealed the subpoena was “served on a US office of a foreign corporation” and that the company has “considerable business” in the US. Read this fuller explainer for more.
Rod Rosenstein will reportedly leave the Justice Department if Bill Barr is confirmed
Finally, on Wednesday morning, both ABC News and NBC News reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to step down if Bill Barr is confirmed as attorney general in the coming weeks.
However, a later NBC News report cited a source close to Rosenstein claiming that he will step down once Mueller finishes his report — which is expected in the next few months.
It was Rosenstein who first appointed Mueller as special counsel back in May 2017, and he was Mueller’s ultimate overseer for about 18 months after that (because Attorney General Jeff Sessions was recused).
That changed when President Trump fired Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker to replace him on an acting basis. But Rosenstein has reportedly continued to remain involved in the investigation in his role as Whitaker’s deputy.
Barr’s potential confirmation would seem to raise serious questions about the Mueller investigation’s future. In May 2018 (months before Trump nominated him), Barr wrote a 19-page memo harshly criticizing Mueller’s investigation, particularly with regard to the special counsel’s reported focus on obstruction of justice and efforts to subpoena or question the president.
Yet Rosenstein seemed undisturbed. Publicly, he has praised Barr as an excellent choice. And when asked about Barr’s memo last month, Rosenstein said, “Our decisions are informed by our knowledge of the actual facts of the case, which Mr. Barr didn’t have.”
We continue to have very little idea of what’s going on in the Mueller investigation behind the scenes — for instance, what the probe has found related to the president and how close Mueller is to finishing up. But Rosenstein’s apparently voluntary departure might seem to suggest that he believes the probe would be safe under his successor. Or he could simply believe his continued service as Barr’s deputy wouldn’t work. Or he could know that Mueller is close to concluding his work anyway. Read this fuller explainer for more.
This article has been updated to reflect the New York Times’ correction.