Mueller's findings on Sam Clovis and a top Chuck Grassley staffer

The U.S. Department of Justice on April 18 released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election.” I’ve posted the full document after the jump. You can download it here or look through a searchable versions here or here.

Dozens of reporters and analysts have posted valuable takes on various aspects of the findings and Attorney General Bill Barr’s brazen lying about the Mueller team’s conclusions. This post will focus on angles of particular interest to Iowa readers: the roles of Sam Clovis, a former statewide candidate here who became a top foreign policy advisor for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Barbara Ledeen, a senior staffer for U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

REFERENCES TO SAM CLOVIS

Trump initially installed Clovis as his “eyes and ears” at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, then sought to elevate him to a USDA undersecretary position for which he was not qualified. Clovis withdrew from consideration for that post days after Mueller’s team announced their first indictments in October 2017.

Speaking to the Washington Examiner’s Byron York last year, Clovis said he “has testified and been interviewed for a total of 19 hours, by his own count, before special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, before Mueller’s grand jury, and before the House and Senate intelligence committees.”

Mueller’s team was interested in Clovis in large part because of his connection to George Papadopoulos, one of the first people charged by the special counsel’s office. Clovis was the unnamed “supervisor” mentioned in the government’s “Statement of the offense” against Papdopoulos.

From page 90 of the 448-page report:

As he was taking his position at LCILP [the London Centre of International Law Practice], Papadopoulos contacted Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski via Linkedln and emailed campaign official Michael Glassner about his interest in joining the Trump Campaign. 402 On March 2, 2016, Papadopoulos sent Glassner another message reiterating his interest. 403 Glassner passed along word of Papadopoulos’s interest to another campaign official, Joy Lutes, who notified Papadopoulos by email that she had been told by Glassner to introduce Papadopoulos to Sam Clovis, the Trump Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor.404

At the time of Papadopoulos’s March 2 email , the media was criticizing the Trump Campaign for lack of experienced foreign policy or national security advisors within its ranks. 405 To address that issue, senior Campaign officials asked Clovis to put a foreign policy team together on short notice. 406 After receiving Papadopoulos’s name from Lutes, Clovis performed a Google search on Papadopoulos, learned that he had worked at the Hudson Institute, and believed that he had credibility on energy issues. 407 On March 3, 2016, Clovis arranged to speak with Papadopoulos by phone to discuss Papadopoulos joining the Campaign as a foreign policy advisor, and on March 6, 2016, the two spoke. 408 Papadopoulos recalled that Russia was mentioned as a topic, and he understood from the conversation that Russia would be an important aspect of the Campaign’s foreign policy. 409 At the end of the conversation, Clovis offered Papadopoulos a role as a foreign policy advisor to the Campaign, and Papadopoulos accepted the offer. 410

Soon after being picked up by the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos went to Europe and spoke with some Russian contacts. In March 2016, he wrote to Clovis and other campaign advisers about a possible “Meeting with Russian leadership–including Putin.” The report notes on page 93,

Papadopoulos’s message came at a time when Clovis perceived a shift in the Campaign’s approach toward Russia-from one of engaging with Russia through the NATO framework and taking a strong stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine, [redacted clause due to grand jury testimony].

Clovis’s response to Papadopoulos, however, did not reflect that shift. Replying to Papadopoulos and the other members of the foreign policy advisory team copied on the initial email, Clovis wrote:

This is most informative. Let me work it through the campaign. No commitments until we see how this plays out. My thought is that we probably should not go forward with any meetings with the Russians until we have had occasion to sit with our NATO allies, especially France, Germany and Great Britain. We need to reassure our allies that we are not going to advance anything with Russia until we have everyone on the same page. More thoughts later today. Great work. 431 […]

Papadopoulos kept trying to set up high-level meetings between Russian officials and Trump or his associates. From pages 97 and 98:

Papadopoulos’s Russia-related communications with Campaign officials continued throughout the spring and summer of 2016. On May 4, 2016, he forwarded to Lewandowski an email from Timofeev raising the possibility of a meeting in Moscow, asking Lewandowski whether that was “something we want to move forward with.” 469 The next day, Papadopoulos forwarded the same Timofeev email to Sam Clovis, adding to the top of the email “Russia update.” 470 He included the same email in a May 21, 2016 message to senior Campaign official Paul Manafort, under the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump, ” stating that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.” 471 Manafort forwarded the message to another Campaign official, without including Papadopoulos, and stated: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the Campaign so as not to send any signal. ” 472

On June 1, 2016, Papadopoulos replied to an earlier email chain with Lewandowski about a Russia visit, asking if Lewandowski “want[ ed] to have a call about this topic ” and whether “we were following up with it.” 473 After Lewandowski told Papadopoulos to “connect with” Clovis because he was “running point,” Papadopoulos emailed Clovis that “the Russian MFA” was asking him “if Mr. Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point.” 474 Papadopoulos wrote in an email that he “[w]anted to pass this info along to you for you to decide what’s best to do with it and what message I should send (or to ignore).” 475 […]

A footnote on page 98 notes that David Klein reached out to Clovis in May 2016 “about a potential Campaign meeting with Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia,” saying the rabbi was “a very close confidante of Putin.” Mueller’s team “did not find evidence that Clovis responded to Klein’s email or that any further contacts of significance came out of Klein’s subsequent meeting with [Trump organization lawyer Jason] Greenblatt and Rabbi Lazar at Trump Tower.”

Clovis was oddly forgetful about a conference he and Papadopoulos attended together in July 2016. From pages 98 through 100:

Following Lewandowski’s departure from the Campaign, Papadopoulos communicated with Clovis and Walid Phares, another member of the foreign policy advisory team, about an off-the-record meeting between the Campaign and Russian government officials or with Papadopoulos’s other Russia connections, Mifsud and Timofeev .480 Papadopoulos also interacted directly with Clovis and Phares in connection with the summit of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counterterrorism (TAG), a group for which Phares was co-secretary general. 481 On July 16, 2016, Papadopoulos attended the TAG summit in Washington, D.C., where he sat next to Clovis (as reflected in the photograph below). 482

Although Clovis claimed to have no recollection of attending the TAG summit, 483 Papadopoulos remembered discussing Russia and a foreign policy trip with Clovis and Phares during the event. 484 Papadopoulos’s recollection is consistent with emails sent before and after the TAG summit. The pre-summit messages included a July 11, 2016 email in which Phares suggested meeting Papadopoulos the day after the summit to chat, 485 and a July 12 message in the same chain in which Phares advised Papadopoulos that other summit attendees “are very nervous about Russia. So be aware.”486 Ten days after the summit, Papadopoulos sent an email to Mifsud listing Phares and Clovis as other “participants” in a potential meeting at the London Academy of Diplomacy. 487

Finally, Papadopoulos ‘s recollection is also consistent with handwritten notes from a journal that he kept at the time. 488 Those notes, which are reprinted in part below, appear to refer to potential September 2016 meetings in London with representatives of the “office of Putin,” and suggest that Phares, Clovis, and Papadopoulos (“Walid/Sam me”) would attend without the official backing of the Campaign (“no official letter/no message from Trump”).

Later communications indicate that Clovis determined that he (Clovis) could not travel. On August 15, 2016, Papadopoulos emailed Clovis that he had received requests from multiple foreign governments, “even Russia[], ” for “closed door workshops/consultations abroad, “and asked whether there was still interest for Clovis, Phares, and Papadopoulos “to go on that trip.” 490 Clovis copied Phares on his response, which said that he could not “travel before the election” but that he “would encourage [Papadopoulos] and Walid to make the trips, if it is feasible. “491

Side note: when these communications were first publicized in October 2017, an attorney for Clovis said he “always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump and/or the campaign” and that “his responses to Papadopoulos were courtesy by ‘a polite gentleman from Iowa.’”

Mueller’s team recorded more forgetfulness on page 101.

f. Trump Campaign Knowledge of “Dirt”
Papadopoulos admitted telling at least one individual outside of the Campaign–specifically, the then-Greek foreign minister–about Russia’s obtaining Clinton -related emails. 493 […]

When interviewed, Papadopoulos and the Campaign officials who interacted with him told the Office that they could not recall Papadopoulos’s sharing the information that Russia had obtained “dirt” on candidate Clinton in the form of emails or that Russia could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information about Clinton. Papadopoulos stated that he could not clearly recall having told anyone on the Campaign and wavered about whether he accurately remembered an incident in which Clovis had been upset after hearing Papadopoulos tell Clovis that Papadopoulos thought “they have her emails.”495 The Campaign officials who interacted or corresponded with Papadopoulos have similarly stated, with varying degrees of certainty, that he did not tell them. Senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, for example, did not remember hearing anything from Papadopoulos or Clovis about Russia having emails of or dirt on candidate Clinton. 496 Clovis stated that he did not recall anyone, including Papadopoulos, having given him non-public information that a foreign government might be in possession of material damaging to Hillary Clinton .497 [several redacted sentences followed, due to grand jury testimony]

No documentary evidence, and nothing in the email accounts or other communications facilities reviewed by the Office, shows that Papadopoulos shared this information with the Campaign .

Another section of the report deals with Carter Page. Clovis hired Page as a foreign policy adviser for the campaign, having done only “a quick Google search” on him. Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman reported for the Washington Post in May 2017,

But what the Google search had not shown was that Page had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013, when Russian officials allegedly tried to use him to get information about the energy business.

By the summer of 2016, Page, who had been recently named as a Trump adviser, was under surveillance by FBI agents who suspected that he may have been acting as an agent of the Kremlin.

On page 106, Mueller’s report notes that Clovis “expressed appreciation for Page’s work and praised his work to other Campaign officials” in a March 2016 message.

In April 2016, Russian contacts invited Page to speak the commencement ceremony for the New Economic School in Moscow, scheduled for July. From page 107:

Page was eager to accept the invitation to speak at NES, and he sought approval from Trump Campaign officials to make the trip to Russia. 556 On May 16, 2016, while that request was still under consideration, Page emailed Clovis, J.D. Gordon, and Walid Phares and suggested that candidate Trump take his place speaking at the commencement ceremony in Moscow. 557 On June 19, 2016 , Page followed up again to request approval to speak at the NES event and to reiterate that NES “would love to have Mr. Trump speak at this annual celebration” in Page’s place .558 Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski responded the same day, saying, “If you want to do this, it would be out side [sic] of your role with the DJT for President campaign. I am certain Mr. Trump will not be able to attend.” 559

From page 109:

On July 9, 2016, Page emailed Clovis, writing in pertinent part:

Russian Deputy Prime minister and NES board member Arkady Dvorkovich also spoke before the event. In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems. Based on feedback from a diverse array of other sources close to the Presidential Administration, it was readily apparent that this sentiment is widely held at all levels of government. 578

Despite these representations to the Campaign, [paragraph redacted due to grand jury testimony].

The Office was unable to obtain additional evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated with in Moscow; thus, Page’s activities in Russia-as described in his emails with the Campaign-were not fully explained.

Clovis’s name came up briefly in a section of the report dealing with changes to the Republican Party platform. He wasn’t directly involved with the platform negotiations, which led to softening language about U.S. assistance to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. Clovis later told investigators that “he was surprised by the change and did not believe it was in line with Trump’s stance.”

The Mueller report also mentions Clovis in connection with Peter Smith’s efforts to find emails allegedly deleted by Hillary Clinton. From pages 71 to 73:

He created a company, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and recruited security experts and business associates. Smith made claims to others involved in the effort (and those from whom he sought funding) that he was in contact with hackers with “ties and affiliations to Russia” who had access to the emails , and that his efforts were coordinated with the Trump Campaign. 273

On August 28, 2016, Smith sent an email from an encrypted account with the subject “Sec. Clinton’s unsecured private email server” to an undisclosed list of recipients, including Campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis. The email stated that Smith was “[j]ust finishing two days of sensitive meetings here in DC with involved groups to poke and probe on the above. It is clear that the Clinton ‘s home -based, unprotected server was hacked with ease by both State-related players , and private mercenaries. Parties with varying interests , are circling to release ahead of the election.” […]

Smith recruited multiple people for his initiative, including security experts to search for and authenticate the emails .278 In early September 2016, as part of his recruitment and fundraising effort, Smith circulated a document stating that his initiative was “in coordination” with the Trump Campaign, “to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure organization.” 279 The document listed multiple individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign, including Flynn, Clovis, Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway. 280 The investigation established that Smith communicated with at least Flynn and Clovis about his search for the deleted Clinton emails ,281 but the Office did not identify evidence that any of the listed individuals initiated or directed Smith’s efforts.

Neither Clovis nor anyone else affiliated with Trump’s campaign informed the FBI during 2016 that people were trying to steal Clinton’s emails, possibly with Russian involvement.

REFERENCES TO GRASSLEY STAFFER BARBARA LEDEEN

As Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Grassley could have taken the lead in demanding an full investigation into foreign interference to benefit candidate Trump. He did the opposite. Iowa’s senior senator accepted and promulgated the laughable official line on why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.

Around the same time, Grassley made excuses for Trump revealing classified information during an Oval Office meeting with senior Russian officials. He further argued there was no need for a special prosecutor to investigate Trump/Russia ties.

Having seen part of what Mueller learned about Barbara Ledeen’s role, one wonders whether Grassley was trying to protect a valued member of his staff.

The Mueller team’s findings about Ledeen confirm what Stephanie Kirchgaessner was first to report in October 2017. Ledeen’s husband had co-authored a book with Michael Flynn, a “central figure” in the Trump/Russia investigation. From Kirchgaessner’s scoop for The Guardian:

According to interview notes released by the FBI last year, Ledeen decided in 2015 to launch her own investigation into Clinton’s use of the server. At the time, she was a staffer on the Senate judiciary committee. […]

Ledeen’s involvement is also important because she works on the Senate judiciary committee, which is conducting an investigation into the Trump campaign. Her family’s relationship with Flynn raises questions about whether Ledeen could be wielding influence over the investigation.

Grassley’s spokesman said that Ledeen’s 2015 inquiry had not been authorised by the judiciary committee and that the committee had only learned of it after it had been completed.

“She was instructed not to do any further follow-up once the committee learned of her involvement,” the spokesman said. […]

A Grassley spokesman told the Guardian that Barbara Ledeen was a part-time staffer on the judiciary committee judicial nominations unit. He said Ledeen was “in no way” connected to the investigations team and “would not have access to any of its materials”.

“Senator Grassley has no relationship with Barbara’s husband and wouldn’t recognise him if he saw him,” the spokesman added.

Grassley’s office was pushing a similar line today. From the Wall Street Journal’s article by Byron Tau:

The Judiciary Committee, under Mr. Grassley’s leadership, was one of several panels on Capitol Hill probing Mrs. Clinton’s email arrangement. But Ms.Ledeen’s efforts were not part of any congressional investigation effort and were undertaken on personal time, said a spokesman for Mr. Grassley, the former Judiciary Committee chairman, on Thursday [April 18].

Here’s what the Mueller report says about Ledeen, from pages 70 to 73:

After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn–who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration–recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails. 265

Barbara Ledeen and Peter Smith were among the people contacted by Flynn. Ledeen, a long-time Senate staffer who had previously sought the Clinton emails, provided updates to Flynn about her efforts throughout the summer of 2016.266 Smith, an investment advisor who was active in Republican politics, also attempted to locate and obtain the deleted Clinton emails. 267

Ledeen began her efforts to obtain the Clinton emails before Flynn’s request, as early as December 2015. 268 On December 3, 2015, she emailed Smith a proposal to obtain the emails, stating, “Here is the proposal I briefly mentioned to you. The person I described to you would be happy to talk with you either in person or over the phone. The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies. That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated. “269

Attached to the email was a 25-page proposal stating that the “Clinton email server was, in all likelihood, breached long ago,” and that the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian intelligence services could “re-assemble the server’s email content.” 270 The proposal called for a three-phase approach. The first two phases consisted of open-source analysis. The third phase consisted of checking with certain intelligence sources “that have access through liaison work with various foreign services” to determine if any of those services had gotten to the server. The proposal noted , “Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign[.]” Smith forwarded the email to two colleagues and wrote, “we can discuss to whom it should be referred. “27 1 On December 16, 2015, Smith informed Ledeen that he declined to participate in her “initiative.” According to one of Smith’s business associates, Smith believed Ledeen’s initiative was not viable at that time. 272 […]

In September 2016, Smith and Ledeen got back in touch with each other about their respective efforts. Ledeen wrote to Smith, “wondering if you had some more detailed reports or memos or other data you could share because we have come a long way in our efforts since we last visited … . We would need as much technical discussion as possible so we could marry it against the new data we have found and then could share it back to you ‘your eyes only.’ ” 282

Ledeen claimed to have obtained a trove of emails (from what she described as the “dark web”) that purpo1ted to be the deleted Clinton emails. Ledeen wanted to authenticate the emails and solicited contributions to fund that effort . Erik Prince provided funding to hire a tech advisor to ascertain the authenticity of the emails. According to Prince, the tech advisor determined that the emails were not authentic. 283 […]

The investigation did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.

Grassley’s staff don’t invite me to the senator’s tightly-controlled conference calls with Iowa reporters. For journalists with access, the Mueller report points toward many possible inquiries, some of them more important than Ledeen’s actions. (Remember, Grassley voted to convict President Bill Clinton of obstructing justice in 1999, with less evidence than what Mueller’s team uncovered about Trump.) Still, during the next call someone should press Grassley for answers to these questions:

  • When did others on the Judiciary Committee learn about Ledeen’s efforts to obtain stolen property (e-mails “purloined by our enemies”)?
  • Who found out what Ledeen was doing, and how?
  • Who allegedly “instructed” Ledeen not to do any further follow-up on Clinton’s e-mails?
  • Was Grassley trying to keep Ledeen’s freelance work out of the spotlight when he pooh-poohed claims of Russian interference and the need for a special counsel in the spring of 2017?
  • Any comments related to the Mueller report are welcome in this thread.

    UPDATE: Grassley’s official statement on the report doesn’t mention his staffer and doesn’t acknowledge any serious misconduct by Trump or anyone in his campaign or administration.

    Grassley: Mueller Report Provides Needed Reality Check after Years of Innuendo

    Apr 18, 2019
    WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released the following statement regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report of investigation.

    “I’m encouraged by the level of transparency that we saw today. Attorney General Barr went above and beyond what was required to give the American people answers, and after having reviewed the report, President Trump didn’t assert executive privilege over any of the material, allowing for maximum transparency under the law.

    “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report makes clear now more than ever that the peaceful transfer of power – a hallmark of our American democracy – was targeted by foreign adversaries ahead of the 2016 election. We know Russia sought to sow discord in our political dialogue. And we know that no American, including President Trump, colluded with Russia.

    “Unfortunately, for more than two years, many critics of the constitutionally-elected president perpetuated the baseless Russian collusion hysteria to the detriment of our democracy and to the delight of the Kremlin. Now that President Trump has been cleared of collusion and obstruction of justice, those critics ought to focus their energy on preventing future exploitation of our government and our democratic processes.

    “We must take a hard look at how we got here and at the relevant issues that the Mueller report did not address. Were our premiere law enforcement and intelligence agencies co-opted by candidate Trump’s political opponents in an attempt to take him down? Did political bias or unverified claims taint decisions by senior agency officials? How did the media allow unsubstantiated innuendo and speculation to fester at max volume for so long? And how did many opponents of President Trump allow themselves to be turned into tools of Putin to divide our nation? Attorney General Barr is right to review the Justice Department’s actions in the Russia saga and the Inspector General is doing the same. These are issues that all Americans, especially those running for president, should want examined.”

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