Unfortunately, I was busy yesterday when the Alex Van Der Zwaan indictment went down. This Atlantic piece
is your hippest, quickest look at the affair, although I think we need to take things a bit further.
Basically, Manafort's Russian-backed autocrat in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, had tossed his rival Yulia Tymoshenko in the pokey on snakey charges. (He really did lock her up
.) The Skadden law firm was asked to write a report designed to convince the international community that everything about this process was hunkey-dory. The job went to Van Der Zwaan, son-in-law of a Russian oligarch.
One month later, Mueller’s team accused Manafort and Gates of using “one of their offshore accounts to funnel $4 million to pay secretly” for the 300-page Tymoshenko report.
Hey, do you remember Alfa Bank? Guess what...
Van Der Zwaan’s father-in-law, Khan, owns Russia’s Alfa Bank along with Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven. The three billionaires sued BuzzFeed News last year over its decision to publish a dossier written by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that alleged, among other things, Alfa Bank’s involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
And do you remember that ultra-weird server in Trump Tower? It was "talking" to Alfa Bank. Nobody knows why. All innocent explanations for that situation have failed to convince.
Skadden has represented Alfa in several disputes over the years, according to descriptions of attorneys’ work available on its website. Manafort’s daughter, Andrea, was hired as an associate at Skadden in October 2012—one month after the firm completed the Tymoshenko report. She left Skadden in October 2016, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Ah, Andrea! I like her. The Atlantic piece doesn't mention that Andrea Manafort Shand has serious Daddy issues and may be willing to rat him out. Whenever I think about her, I flash on Ina Balin's character in The Commancheros
(Ever see that one? Fun movie. Basically, it's a James Bond flick in the Old West.)
Andrea's text messages revealed that Manafort kept close to Trump even after Manafort was officially axed from the campaign. See here
She said that Trump and her father shared many similarities.
‘This is pure sport. He is a power hungry egomaniac. Yes. He is loving it,’ Andrea Manafort Shand writes of her father.
‘Conclusively. Him and Trump are perfect allies for this agenda. It’s so weird he is my dad.’
‘He is very manipulative,’ Andrea Manafort Shand texts to her friend.
‘I did inherit that ability. But I don’t exploit it like he does. I know all his tactics. They aren’t that brilliant but they do work.’
‘It’s confidence. When you say something unwaveringly, people start to believe it.’
Here's my favorite bit -- the one that goes a long ways toward explaining why Andrea has gone the Ina Balin route:
‘My dad is a psycho!!! At least Trump let his wives leave him,’ Andrea Manafort Shand texted.
‘Plus, Trump has been a good father.’
In the past, we've already discussed the most famous text from Andrea
"Don’t fool yourself,” Andrea wrote to her sister, according to the texts. “That money we have is blood money.” “You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,” she continued, according to the reviewed texts. “As a tactic to outrage the world and get focus on Ukraine. Remember when there were all those deaths taking place. A while back. About a year ago. Revolts and what not. Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that, to send those people out and get them slaughtered."
Can't wait for her book. I wonder who will play her in the movie? (If all of this had happened fifty years ago, Ina Balin would have been the perfect choice. A definite resemblance.)
The big mystery of the day is: Who is "Person A" in the indictment?
Basically, contact with A is the reason Van Der Zwaan was indicted. The guy said to prosecutors that he had not communicated with A since 2014 "when VAN DER ZWAAN and Person A discussed Person A's family." This turned out to be a big fat lie. It's not nice to lie to Robert Mueller.
At first, everyone presumed that Manafort is A. A few have suggested Trump himself. But Ari Melber
says that this is not so:
New Mueller filing describes Person A as a “longtime business associate of Manafort and Gates in Ukraine.”
My first thought, of course, was Roger Stone. To the best of my knowledge, nobody else has mentioned Roger Stone as an A candidate, but he and Manafort have been partners for ages, and they worked together in Ukraine.
My second thought was Tad Devine. Wouldn't that
But journalist Dan Friedman seems to have the real answer:
Person A in this case seems to be Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s longtime Ukrainian business associate, per Andrew Weissman’s statements in federal court this afternoon.
Van der Zwaan communicated with Kilimnik via an encryption program and, according to prosecutors, shared details of Skadden’s supposedly independent report with him without the permission of the senior partner overseeing the work. That would be former Obama WH counsel Greg Craig.
Weissman made clear in court that “Person A” is not Manafort and that’s it’s a person who worked with Gates who lives primarily in Ukraine.
Oh dear. Lives in Ukraine
? Then we're not talking about Stone or Devine. Ah, well.
Actually, Kilimnik (an Oleg Deripaska associate discussed in a couple of previous posts) may be even more
scandalous. He's widely thought to be GRU -- Russian intelligence. He denies it, but few believe that denial.
From a 2016 piece
by Kenneth Vogel:
A Russian Army-trained linguist who has told a previous employer of a background with Russian intelligence, Kilimnik started working for Manafort in 2005 when Manafort was representing Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, a gig that morphed into a long-term contract with Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-aligned hard-liner who became president of Ukraine.
Kilimnik eventually became “Manafort’s Manafort” in Kiev, and he continued to lead Manafort’s office there after Yanukovych fled the country for Russia in 2014, according to Ukrainian business records and interviews with several political operatives who have worked in Ukraine’s capital.
All the while, Kilimnik has told people that he remains in touch with his old mentor. He told several people that he traveled to the United States and met with Manafort this spring. The trip and alleged meeting came at a time when Manafort was immersed in helping guide Trump’s campaign through the bitter Republican presidential primaries, and was trying to distance himself from his work in Ukraine.
Let that sink in. When Manafort was guiding the Trump campaign, he met with a Russian intelligence officer.
What's more, this GRU officer came for a briefing on the Trump campaign
This is the same Kilimnik who Manafort had emailed during the 2016 election about giving a Russian oligarch a private campaign briefing.
Manafort wanted to set up a private Trump campaign briefing with a Russian oligarch through Kilimnik who was GRU trained and who had wired him $53,000 dollars back in 2013.
Yet ‘There’s absolutely no evidence of collusion’ we keep hearing.
Here’s how Kilimnik-who Manafort may have helped launder stolen Ukrainian money after the fall of Yanukovych in 2014 describes his and Manafort’s emails in 2016:
“Paul Manafort’s longtime employee, Russian-Ukrainian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he and Manafort emailed each other “about Trump and everything” during the campaign.”
“Kilimnik’s comments came a day after The Washington Post reported that Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, sent Kilimnik an email in July 2016 asking him to offer Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska “private briefings” about the campaign.”
“There were millions of emails,” Kilimnik told RFERL in a text message. “We worked for 11 years. And we discussed a lot of issues, from Putin to women.”
“Of course we discussed Trump and everything,” he said in another message. “A lot of things.”
I know we say this every day, but let's say it again: Just imagine
the reaction from the right if a Democratic campaign manager secretly met with a Russian intelligence officer.
This would explain why Van Der Zwaan -- a lawyer who knows better -- would lie to investigators about talking to Kilimnik. Kilimnik is as radioactive as Chernobyl right after the meltdown.
says that if Manafort flips, Trump goes down soon after. Abramson wrote the text after the asterisks; afterward, I'll be back with a parting thought.
* * *
Per NBC, Trump has told friends he'd be in trouble if Paul Manafort "flipped" on him—clearly signaling that Manafort can incriminate him and get him impeached. By that measure, today's events have brought Trump closer than ever to impeachment. Hope you'll read and share.
Three weeks ago, NBC all but reported that Trump has incriminated himself in private calls to friends. I've no idea why this reporting didn't become major national news—frankly, I expect whoever dimed him out thought it would be. And it still should be.
In common and legal parlance, to "flip" on someone is to agree to testify against them in a criminal case. A current defendant like Paul Manafort would only flip on someone if they had sufficient incriminating evidence to offer their prosecutor that they could cut a plea deal.
So when NBC reported—3 weeks ago—that "Trump is telling friends and aides in private that things are going great for him [because] he's decided a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn't going to flip and sell him out," they were saying he's incriminated himself.
NBC put the word "flip" in quotes—meaning Trump confidants say that's the word he's using. That's not a word Trump or anyone would use for the only other possible fear that Trump could have been referring to with Paul Manafort—that Manafort will make up an incriminating story.
While one could use a phrase like "stab me in the back" to describe a criminal defendant who makes up a story about someone else to save themselves, to "flip" is to make a "proffer" to the prosecutor to the effect that you can offer evidence to incriminate and convict another.
Keep in mind two things about Trump and Manafort: 1. They knew each other for years before Trump made Manafort his Campaign Manager. (They lived in the same building—Trump Tower—for years.) 2. The two kept speaking by phone for at least six months after Trump fired Manafort.
Let's focus on the second item. It means Trump kept up a clandestine relationship with Manafort for half a year after he publicly disavowed him. It also means that he was speaking to Manafort long after it had become clear that Manafort would be a witness in the Mueller probe.
Indeed, because Manafort worked for Trump for six months (not the three Trump claims) for *free*, it's not at all clear that his role in Trump's life changed much after he was fired in late summer 2016: he was an unpaid advisor to Trump both before and after his sudden firing.
My point is that there's every reason to believe—as Trump has done this with *other* Mueller witnesses—that a) Trump believes Manafort can incriminate him, and b) he's found ways to stay in contact with Manafort, so that Manafort understands he can expect a pardon from Trump.
If you doubt this, look at the question via a different angle: what *public* information could Trump *possibly* be looking at to so smugly—with such certitude—be telling confidants there's *no* chance that Manafort will flip on him? *All* the *public* evidence says otherwise.
As for the public evidence in the Manafort case, here's what we know: with the superseding indictments Mueller plans to bring soon, Manafort's *easily* looking at spending the rest of his life in a federal prison and running out of money to pay his attorneys long before then.
His main co-conspirator—his deputy, Rick Gates—will soon get a plea deal, meaning that he's already told Mueller and his agents, in *detail*, of *every single criminal act he ever saw Manafort engage in*. Gates' assistance appears to have led to another charge and plea today.
He (Manafort) is facing the most talented team of federal criminal prosecutors assembled for the purpose a single criminal investigation in the last half-century. Also, not for nothing, Manafort is—as Manafort knows—100% and unalterably guilty of everything he's charged with.
Manafort also knows that Mueller can basically flip any witness he wants (assuming they're Americans currently on U.S. soil; foreigners are harder for Mueller to access). So it's not clear what in the *world* would make Trump or Manafort optimistic about Manafort's chances.
Trump has only two cards to play on Manafort: 1. Pardon him. 2. Fire Mueller (and then, likely, get impeached). Manafort has only *one* card to play, based on public information: 1. Wait for Trump to pardon him. And we know this: 1. Trump's confident Manafort won't flip.
Add to those facts Trump's long relationship with Manafort, prior clandestine contacts with him, and demonstrated willingness to tamper with witnesses in a federal criminal investigation, and I'm telling you anyone in Mueller's shoes would assume Trump has contacted Manafort.
But there's another thing: if Manafort knows Trump, he knows Trump can't be trusted. He *certainly* knows he can't trust Trump with his *life*. And he *also* knows he's a primary Mueller target—so he can't "flip" for a deal unless and until he can *deliver Trump to Mueller*.
So a reasonable "theory of the case" from the standpoint of a seasoned CJS professional would include these facts: 1. There's a good chance Trump is tampering with Manafort. 2. Trump thinks Manafort can incriminate him. 3. Manafort doesn't trust Trump. 4. Manafort will flip.
If you assume—and you should—Mueller is working from these four very reasonable and basic assumptions, you can (a) understand everything Mueller is doing right now, and (b) see just how close Mueller is getting to nailing Trump and referring impeachable offenses to DOJ.
* * *
I agree with most of what Abramson has said, but I'm far from persuaded that Manafort will not bet on the pardon. Too much of the writing about this case has been marred by optimism. For this reason, I hope to God that Mueller has also found some state-level charges to bring against Manafort. There's gotta be something
(And so there is
. Also see here
There's another point which "polite" writers like Abramson refuse to address. I keep running into indications that Trump manipulates people not just with the carrot but with the stick. As in: Hiring very tough guys to do certain dirty jobs.
Even if Trump balks at such tactics, his Russian pals certainly do not. (Molly Bloom now says that Italian
mobsters beat her up, but the original story was different.)
I ask you merely to keep that concept in mind as you decide whether or not Manafort will rat.