Political Animal

The ‘Entrapment’ of Michael Caputo and Roger Stone

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post does a more than adequate job of giving you the nuts and bolts of the latest Roger Stone blowup, so I won’t waste time here repeating his work. The short version is Roger Stone and his longtime partner in shenanigans Michael Caputo both very clearly and indisputably perjured themselves during testimony before Congress. Specifically, they both denied in the most emphatic terms that they had ever met with any Russians during the campaign who were peddling information purported to be damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutors from the special counsel’s inquiry questioned Caputo last month and confronted him with a meeting he set up between a Russian and Stone. At that point, Caputo knew he and Stone were in trouble and they’ve been working ever since to concoct a defense. The defense won’t clear them of lying to Congress, but it appears that the Russian in question had worked as an FBI informant in the past. So, supposedly, this is a case of entrapment.

Caputo is unique among the suspects in the Russia inquiry in that he’s the only one I know of who has persistently bragged over the years about having worked for the Kremlin. He got his start working to help Boris Yeltsin beat the odds and win reelection. Later on, he had a job burnishing the image of Vladimir Putin in the United States as an employee of Gazprom Media. Along the way, he never seems to have strayed too far from Roger Stone’s side, working with him on a variety of trollish New York state campaigns, including the long-shot gubernatorial bids of Carl Paladino and Tom Golisano, and the takedown of attorney general Eliot Spitzer. It’s probably through Stone that Caputo made the acquaintance of Donald Trump and landed a job working as a senior communications adviser for his campaign.

While serving in that capacity, Caputo contacted Stone and told him to meet with a man variously known as Henry Greenberg, Henry Oknyansky, and Gennadiy Vasilievich Vostretsov.

One day in late May 2016, Roger Stone — the political dark sorcerer and longtime confidant of Donald Trump — slipped into his Jaguar and headed out to meet a man with a “Make America Great Again” hat and a viscous Russian accent.

The man, who called himself Henry Greenberg, offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the upcoming presidential election, according to Stone, who spoke about the previously unreported incident in interviews with The Washington Post. Greenberg, who did not reveal the information he claimed to possess, wanted Trump to pay $2 million for the political dirt, Stone said.

Stone is only telling us this version of the story now because he knows that Mueller is aware of the meeting and the fact that he’s denied under oath having any meetings of this type. But he does have some text messages that back up at least part of his account. After the meeting, Caputo texted Stone to find out how the meeting with “the crazy Russian” went, and Stone said that he had wanted a lot of money to tell his story and did not provide anything of interest.

There’s a whole lot to unpack in this mess, and I’ll probably get to that later. For now, I just want to focus on one thing. While he has changed his LinkedIn page, I noted in May 2017 that Caputo listed himself there as a “Senior Advisor” to the Trump campaign from April 2016 to June 2016. Today, he says he served as “New York GOP Primary Director, Senior Adviser” to the Donald J. Trump campaign between November 2015 and April 2016. In other words, he’s made it look like he wan’t employed by the campaign in May 2016 when he asked Stone to take a meeting with Mr. Greenberg/Oknyansky/Vostretsov. In fact, as I also noted in May 2017, Caputo resigned from the Trump campaign the same day (June 20th) that Corey Lewandowski was forced out as the campaign manager in favor of Paul Manafort. In fact, he wrote an apology to Manafort to mark the occasion:

I regret sending out a tweet today alluding to the firing of Corey Lewandowski. In hindsight, that was too exuberant a reaction to this personnel move. I know this is a distraction from the kind of campaign you want to run, so I’m resigning my position as director of communications for caucus operations at the 2016 Republican Convention. Let’s make this immediate.

No matter how you look at it, when Michael Caputo asked Roger Stone to get in his Jaguar and go meet with a Russian who claimed to have to dirt on Hillary Clinton, Caputo was serving in an official capacity for the Trump campaign.

And it’s instructive that he tasked Roger Stone with taking the meeting. There may be legal reasons to not consider Roger Stone a member of the Trump campaign, like the fact that he wasn’t drawing a salary. But he was integrated into the campaign from start to finish.

In this case, the source wanted two million dollars and Stone says he told him that Trump doesn’t pay for anything and would not be ponying up such a large sum. We don’t know if someone else stepped in to foot the bill. We don’t know a lot of things. In part, we don’t know them because Stone and Caputo lied to Congress.

And there’s no version of these events where they were entrapped into committing perjury.

Sessions and Nielsen Give Trump ‘Shock and Awe’ on Our Southern Border

As we know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently made the decision to detain every migrant who crossed our southern border while they await prosecution, leading to separation from their children. Here is how Reuters reported on the story at the time this policy was announced:

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ramped up calls on Friday to criminally prosecute immigrants who cross illegally into the United States, adding to a barrage of statements on immigration by the administration of President Donald Trump this week.

Pointing to an upswing in border crossings to levels seen during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, Sessions said he was ordering U.S. Attorneys offices near the Southwest border to prioritize bringing cases against first-time offenders.

During an NPR interview in which she was asked about this decision, Secretary Nielsen said this:

First of all, the law says if you cross between the ports of entry, you are entering without inspection and that is a crime. First time is a misdemeanor. After that it’s a felony. And then it goes on from there. So that hasn’t changed, that’s the underlying law. Our policy has not changed in that if you break the law, we will refer you for prosecution. What that means, however, is if you are single adult, if you are part of a family, if you are pregnant, if you have any other condition, you’re an adult and you break the law, we will refer you. Operationally what that means is we will have to separate your family. That’s no different than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult of a family commits a crime. If you as a parent break into a house, you will be incarcerated by police and thereby separated from your family. We’re doing the same thing at the border.

Did you catch the lie she told there? The whole policy is based on prioritizing first-time offenders who have committed misdemeanors. In this country, it is not normal practice to detain people who have been charged with a misdemeanor and separate them from their family.

Nielsen is right, the underlying law hasn’t changed. What the Trump administration has changed is that previously, people who committed the misdemeanor offense of unlawfully crossing our border were released awaiting a court hearing—much like anyone else charged with a misdemeanor would be. Now, for undocumented immigrants, that charge comes with detention and separation from their children.

You can tell that this policy is causing headaches for the Trump administration because they are rolling out one excuse after another, from “it’s biblical” to the standard Trump lie about how everything bad is the Democrat’s fault.

But two months into Trump’s presidency, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly announced that the administration was considering this policy change.

Kelly: “Yes I’m considering (that), in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents. … It’s more important to me, Wolf, to try to keep people off of this awful network.”…

Currently, when adults enter the country accompanied by children, they are generally released into the US and able to stay in the country, pending disposition of their cases, the official said.

The proposal would allow US immigration officials to separate children from the adults they came here with. The adults could be kept in detention, and the children could be moved elsewhere under protected status, possibly with family members already in the country or to state protective custody such as child protective services.

As Jonathan Blitzer documented, the proposal was rejected because of “intense criticism from the press, human-rights advocates, and members of Congress.” Why did it resurface?

Trump has complained that U.S. immigration laws are “pathetic” and riddled with “loopholes,” including, among other things, the “catch and release” of asylum seekers. He’s also held Nielsen personally responsible for the rise in migration from Central America. “What you’re seeing now is the President’s frustration with the fact that the numbers are back up,” the person told me.

If you remember, back in May we began to hear reports of the president berating his DHS Secretary during cabinet meetings. Here is the cause:

In April, the number of illegal border crossers arrested by U.S. agents topped 50,000 for the second consecutive month. The increase has stripped the president of one of his proudest accomplishments — the sharp drop in illegal migration in the months immediately following his 2016 win.

Trump has been in no mood to hear that migration patterns have returned to historic, seasonal norms this spring, a trend occurring in part because the U.S. economy is buzzing and farms, factories and businesses are desperate for workers.

Reports are that Trump wanted a crackdown that looked like “shock and awe.” It appears as though that is exactly what he’s gotten from Sessions and Nielsen.

The Russia Conspiracy Is Unraveling Across the Pond

George Cottrell’s arrest was hardly noticed at the time, especially in the United States, and it appeared even in the court documents that his subsequent cooperation with federal prosecutors pertained to the crimes for which he had been indicted, which had no obvious relationship to the Russia investigation. Before long, however, we may all know his name and his story, and he could wind up being a key figure in the downfall of Donald Trump.

You’ll have to go behind a paywall to find out how George Cottrell survived his time in a U.S. prison. He was arrested at O’Hare International Airport on July 22, 2016, the same day that Julian Assange did his major dump of hacked emails from the Democratic National Headquarters.

Seated in a dark suit with a glass of claret in front of him at lunch recently in the Sydney Arms in Chelsea, George Cottrell describes the evening of 23 June 2016 as ‘the best night of my life – something I’ll never forget’.

On that day of the EU referendum poll, indeed throughout that overheated political summer, Cottrell had been in the ‘jump seat’ at Nigel Farage’s side, working as his aide-de-camp, gatekeeper and campaign fixer – from booking his helicopters to letting Simpson’s Tavern in the City know that Nigel was on the way for what he likes to call a ‘PFL’ (Proper F—ing Lunch).

George is the nephew of Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh, a UK Independence Party donor, former member of the House of Lords, and Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was 22 years old when the Feds intercepted him at O’Hare, seized his phone and laptop, and charged him with twenty-one counts, including blackmail, dark web money laundering, conspiracy, and wire fraud. He had been traveling in the company of Nigel Farage and his entourage as they sought to return home to England from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Understandably embarrassed, Mr. Farage sought to distance himself from his aide-de-camp.

After the arrest, Farage called Cottrell a “22-year-old unpaid volunteer and party supporter” and said he knew nothing of the “series of allegations” that had been lodged against him.

Of course, it’s highly doubtful that Farage was wholly ignorant of Cottrell’s criminal activities, and it’s more certain that Cottrell knew some unsavory things about Farage and the players behind the Brexit campaign. I suspect he used that to his advantage as he immediately offered to become a cooperating witness.

A court document filed by the prosecutors in February – which has not previously been reported in detail – advised the judge in the case to offer Cottrell a light prison sentence because he had been willing to “provide federal agents additional information after his arrest”.

Cottrell ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in a case that was unrelated to his work at Ukip. The crime was committed in 2014, before Cottrell worked for either the anti-EU party or Farage. Twenty other counts against him, including blackmail, were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Robert Mueller isn’t the only one investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. In the United Kingdom, there are parliamentary inquiries underway that are looking closely at the Russians’ role in the Brexit vote, and it has become clear that the same players who worked for the Leave Campaign in Britain were also involved in helping Trump win the presidency. One thing investigators there have discovered is that the Russians had a keen interest in the arrest of Mr. Cottrell.

One of the Brexit campaign chiefs appeared to pass documents detailing an American law enforcement investigation to a Russian official, according to a cache of leaked emails.

The papers, which detailed a probe into dark web money laundering, were apparently shared with the Russian embassy in London by Leave.EU executive Andy Wigmore. They concerned the arrest of Brexit financier George Cottrell, who was seized at an airport on the way home from the Republican convention in 2016 where Donald Trump had just been nominated as the presidential candidate.

Cottrell had been at the convention in Cleveland with his boss Nigel Farage, who dined with Roger Stone and met a string of other Republican operatives and elected officials.

Parliament has discovered that key Leave Campaign figures Andy Wigmore and Arron Banks not only coordinated their efforts with the Russians but lied to them under oath about the nature and extent of their contacts. Mr. Cottell seems to have been an important part of their conspiracy:

A Daily Beast investigation of Cottrell revealed that he had a series of online links to small banks that were part of the notorious Russian Laundromat scam, which allowed dirty money to be shipped all over the world. A UKIP insider wrote that it was his knowledge of the “murky and complicated world of shadow banking” that “landed Cottrell an unpaid role” in the party.

UKIP officials said they had no idea that Cottrell had touted himself as a money launderer on a TOR black market site until they saw the indictment against him.

Arron Banks was a co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign whose generosity toward the effort made him the largest political donor in the history of British politics. We now know that the day after Leave.EU launched its campaign, the Russian ambassador to the UK introduced Mr. Banks to a Russian businessman who “offered Banks a multi-billion dollar opportunity to buy Russian goldmines.” We know that Mr. Banks traveled “to Moscow in February 2016 to meet key partners and financiers behind a gold project, including a Russian bank.” And we know that Banks maintained  and “continued extensive contact” with Russian embassy figures “in the run-up to the US election when Banks, his business partner and Leave.EU spokesman Andy Wigmore, and Nigel Farage campaigned in the US to support Donald Trump’s candidacy.”

Despite the unfortunate incident at O’Hare airport, Farage and his crew didn’t come away empty from their time at the Republican National Convention.  And they may have Farage’s drinking problem to thank.

Farage, who hours before had witnessed the New York business mogul’s official presidential nomination by the Republican Party, wanted one last round of drinks at 4:30 a.m. in his hotel bar before retiring for the night.

He and an associate sat down at the bar and happened to strike up a conversation with Gov. Phil Bryant’s aide John Bartley Boykin, who was staying at the same hotel. Boykin, who accompanies Bryant to nearly every public or private function, suggested that the popular British politician visit Mississippi.

Farage, “amid the alcohol-fueled joviality” of Trump’s nomination, assumed the invitation would not come to fruition, Banks writes.

A formal invitation to visit Mississippi from Gov. Phil Bryant’s office arrived the next day, setting the stage for Farage’s memorable introduction by Donald Trump at a Jackson, Mississippi campaign rally on August 23, 2016.

By the time Farage stepped off his plane on Aug. 23 at the Jackson-Evers International Airport and into Gov. Phil Bryant’s blacked out SUV, he and two of his aides had drunk four bottles of wine.

Before the three boarded their plane at London Heathrow, they drank three “filthy cappuccino martinis” at the request of Farage, Banks writes. The team landed in Jackson “eleven hours and four bottles of red wine later,” he says.

While Mr. Banks was in Mississippi, he convinced Gov. Bryant to help him establish a relationship with the University of Mississippi’s research park.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser testified before British Parliament this week that Banks’ insurance company Eldon Insurance Services and his data firm Big Data Dolphins was working with “a data science team at the University of Mississippi” after Banks cut off data contract negotiations with Cambridge Analytica.

Kaiser claimed the University of Mississippi researchers could have held or processed U.K. citizens’ data outside of the country, a possible criminal offense.

Since that time, Gov. Bryant’s relationship with the Brexit crew has only grown stronger:

Bryant has since hosted the Brexit leaders in Mississippi several times and has regularly appeared on Farage’s radio show in London.

During an Ole Miss football game on Nov. 2, 2017, Bryant was in the stadium’s luxury skyboxes with Banks, Wigmore and British billionaire Michael Ashcroft. Lord Ashcroft even fired off the on-field cannon used when Ole Miss scores a touchdown, according to his Twitter post.

Lord Ashcroft is another shady character who is best known at this point for gloating over his successful tax evasion.

As of now, the American media has not seized on this web of conspiracy and criminality, largely because it is hard to understand and even harder to report. At the moment, it is a white hot story in England, however, as it has more than adequately provided a smoking gun to prove Russian involvement in the Brexit campaign. But it’s a web that leads everywhere, including into Cambridge Analytica and the whole Facebook controversy, and including into the Trump campaign and the governor’s office in Mississippi.

It’s still unclear how instrumental George Cottrell’s July 22, 2016 arrest, seized phone and laptop, and cooperation with U.S. prosecutors has been or will be in unraveling this mess, but there’s a reason that his confederates went running to the Russian embassy to keep them abreast of the charges against him.

The main difference between Mueller’s investigation and the parliamentary inquiries in Britain is that we’re getting almost no information from Mueller. But it’s doubtful that Mueller doesn’t know as much or more than what parliament has learned. And I suspect a time will come when, one way or another, Mr. Cottrell will tell us his story.

How Rogue Agents at the FBI Influenced the Election

The one word Trump and his enablers want everyone to take from the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report on the Clinton email investigation is “bias.” They are totally unconcerned about the major finding in the report, which was that the decision to not charge Clinton was “based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice,” not bias.

Instead, what they want to focus on is the purported anti-Trump bias of FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Strzok has now agreed to testify before any committee in Congress and his lawyer said this about the claims that he was biased.

He said there was “no question” that Strzok regrets sending anti-Trump messages, but added: “I think what he was doing is expressing his political opinions in what he thought was a private text conversation, and he regrets that this has been weaponized by people with political motivations to try to discredit the Mueller investigation.”…

“The kind of drumbeat — the repeated assertion of bias and the investigation was infected by anti-Trump bias — it’s completely illogical because the only thing that Pete and the FBI’s actions or inactions did throughout this period of time benefited Trump and hurt Hillary’s electoral chances,” Goelman said.

What Strzok might not want you to know (due to loyalty to the FBI) is that there was, in fact, bias involved in the Clinton investigation. It’s just that it was anti-Clinton rather than anti-Trump bias. Josh Marshall has been on this story for the last few days, even though it is getting very little national attention.

We’ve been hearing rumors about anti-Clinton bias in the FBI’s New York field office for months now. But in testimony to the IG, here is what former Attorney General Loretta Lynch reported about a conversation she had with Comey right after he sent a letter to Congress announcing that the email investigation had been re-opened when it was discovered that Anthony Weiner’s laptop contained Clinton emails.

And then I said, now, we’ve got to talk about the New York office in general. And he said yes. And I said we both work with them. We both know them. We both, you know, think highly of them. I said, but this has become a problem. And he said, and he said to me that it had become clear to him, he didn’t say over the course of what investigation or whatever, he said it’s clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton. And he said it is, it is deep. It’s, and he said, he said it was surprising to him or stunning to him.

The IG report has an entire chapter devoted to the problem of FBI agents leaking to the press. As evidence of that,  Rep. Devin Nunes admitted last week that he was the recipient of those leaks.

As Marshall documents, an FBI agent in the New York office discovered the Clinton emails on Weiner’s laptop on September 26th or 27th. Nunes says that he was told about the find in “late September.” That means that the agents who told him weren’t whistle-blowers, but leakers. We also know that the same information was leaked to Rudy Giuliani, who was then an advisor to the Trump campaign, and that he discussed the information on Fox News.

In the end, the whole thing was a load of nonsense because, “the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that almost every email discovered in a laptop used primarily by the husband of an aide to Hillary Clinton was a duplicate of previously produced documents or personal emails.”

Marshall makes the point that all of this goes beyond just bias.

It further seems clear that fear of such leaks was a major or even the primary reason why James Comey sent his letter to Congress on October 28th, 2016. In other words, there was not just bias – Comey himself reportedly called it a “deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton”. That bias lead to specific and repeated actions which at least violated FBI regulations and possibly violated the law. Those violations triggered a chain of events which likely changed the outcome of the election. That is a very big deal.

We know a fair amount about how this bias at the FBI’s New York office worked from reporting by Devlin Barrett and Christopher Matthews in the Wall Street Journal on November 2, 2016, less than a week before the election. Instead of emails, that story focused on the fact that this same FBI office was intent on investigating the Clinton Foundation after being spurred on by the insinuations published in Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash.

When presented with the case, FBI officials, public integrity prosecutors and the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division weren’t impressed with the evidence and basically told the New York agents to “stand down.”

Justice Department officials became increasingly frustrated that the agents seemed to be disregarding or disobeying their instructions…

As prosecutors rebuffed their requests to proceed more overtly, those Justice Department officials became more annoyed that the investigators didn’t seem to understand or care about the instructions issued by their own bosses and prosecutors to act discreetly.

That aligns with what Lynch told the IG about her conversation with Comey in regards to the email investigation.

…But he was saying [bias] did exist, and it was hard to manage because these were agents that were very, very senior, or had even had timed out and were staying on, and therefore did not really feel under pressure from headquarters or anything to that effect.

The picture this paints is of a group of very senior FBI agents in the New York field office who went rogue with their “deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton” by leaking information to congressional Republicans and being insubordinate when told to “stand down” on investigations that had no merit. That is the story behind the decision by James Comey to go public with the fact that the email investigation had been re-opened, a move that might have given Donald Trump the presidency.

This story could get lost in light of the Mueller probe and the investigation of the business practices of Michael Cohen and his client Donald Trump that is being conducted by U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. That doesn’t make it any less important.

The problem is that Trump and his enablers have muddied the water about FBI bias in their battle against that institution as a means to undermine the Mueller probe. Career professionals like Comey and Strzok are on the defense to protect the FBI from these attacks and are unlikely to air this dirty laundry. But rather than fall back on their heels in defense, Democrats need to go on offense and get to the bottom of this story. It wasn’t just the Russians who influenced the election.