The Russia investigation is closing in


On Tuesday, Judges Tatel, Griffith and Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a contempt citation against the unnamed defendant in In re: Grand Jury Subpoena, the case of the mystery subpoena filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against a foreign bank first reported by Politico late last year. The full ruling is here. (h/t Lawfare Blog).

This follows the Supreme Court ruling mystery company must pay fines while it challenges Mueller-related subpoena.

The Supreme Court Monday turned away an effort by an unnamed foreign government-owned corporation to resist a subpoena related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The court’s order restores a daily fine the company will face that had been put on hold by Chief Justice John Roberts while the full court considered the issue. It is an apparent loss for the company and marks the full court’s first foray into the Mueller probe.

The order will put pressure on the company to turn over information to the grand jury or otherwise cooperate with Mueller as contempt fines continue to accumulate.

The company will have to pay $50,000 a day until it complies by turning over information, the DC Circuit said in an opinion published Tuesday. Those fees haven’t yet piled up, but will begin now since the Supreme Court declined earlier Tuesday to freeze the fees.

There were no noted dissents in the high court’s two-sentence order.

In a separate filing, the company has asked the court to review its case on the merits. The court has yet to rule on that request.

In breaking news Tuesday, Paul Manafort’s lawyers screwed up in a big way and wound up revealing evidence of “collusion” between Donald Trump’s campaign manager and his Russian handlers. CNN Reports, Mueller believes Manafort fed information to Russian with intel ties:

Special counsel Robert Mueller believes that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data and discussing Russian-Ukrainian policy with his close Russian-intelligence-linked associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, while he led the Trump presidential campaign, according to parts of a court filing that were meant to be redacted by Manafort’s legal team Tuesday but were released publicly.

Manafort discussed a Ukrainian peace plan with Kilimnik, his lawyers acknowledged. He also shared polling data related to the 2016 presidential campaign with Kilimnik, Manafort’s legal team acknowledges in their court filing.

The details accidentally released Tuesday are the closest public assertion yet in the Mueller cases of coordination between a Trump campaign official and the Russian government, as Kilimnik is believed to be linked to Russian military intelligence. It’s a major acknowledgment from the Mueller team that their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is finding potential contact between at least one Trump campaign official and the Kremlin.

The Ukraine peace plan that they discussed likely would have dealt with Russian intervention in the region. At around the same time, Russian government operatives were allegedly hacking Democratic computers to help Trump and orchestrating a social media propaganda scheme to sway voters against Trump’s electoral opponents.

Kilimnik has long been suspected to be central to Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. The revelations in the court filing Tuesday seem to confirm that.

Manafort’s filing also acknowledges he met with Kilimnik in Madrid while he worked on Trump’s presidential campaign. That would now total three known meetings Manafort had with Kilimnik during the campaign.

The sentences revealed in the filing certify for the first time Mueller’s interest in Kilimnik’s political actions during the campaign. Manafort has not been charged with crimes related to his work for Trump.

Kilimnik only faces a charge from Mueller related to allegedly helping Manafort tamper with witnesses following his arrest.

Kilimnik has not entered a plea in US courts, and Manafort has pleaded guilty to the witness tampering allegation and has been convicted on several lobbying-related financial crimes.

Prosecutors have previously said they believe Kilimnik has ties to the military intelligence unit the GRU, which allegedly hacked the Democratic Party and leaked damaging emails while Manafort ran Trump’s campaign operation. Manafort and Kilimnik have been close colleagues for years.

The errant admissions in Manafort’s court filing also acknowledge that a person wanted to use his name when meeting President Donald Trump.

The revelations come in Manafort’s written response to accusations that Manafort lied to Mueller’s team during cooperation interviews. Those portions had been redacted given Mueller’s sensitivities toward ongoing investigations, Manafort’s lawyers said, but the redactions were able to be read in the document filed with the federal court online.

Manafort’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the filing error, though they corrected it in the court’s official record.

Also on Tuesday it was reported that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump, Jr. and other senior Trump campaign advisers at Trump Tower in June 2016, has been indicted in a separate matter. Russian lawyer at Trump Tower meeting charged in separate case:

A Russian lawyer whose role in a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower has come under scrutiny from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was charged Tuesday with obstructing justice in a separate money-laundering investigation.

Natalia Veselnitskaya became a central figure in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election when it was revealed that, in June of that year, she met with Donald Trump Jr. and other senior Trump campaign advisers after an intermediary indicated she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

The indictment unsealed Tuesday relates to a different legal fight involving the Russian and U.S. governments and charges that Veselnitskaya made a “misleading declaration” to the court in 2015, as part of a civil case arising from an investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan into suspected Russian money laundering and tax fraud.

Her work on that case attracted little attention at the time, but her role in the Trump Tower meeting made her the subject of intense investigative interest in the United States, as Mueller’s team has sought to determine whether that meeting was part of any broader conspiracy by Trump associates to seek the Kremlin’s help in defeating Clinton.

While Veselnitskaya has long proclaimed she is innocent and not a representative of the Russian government, the indictment argues she has worked closely with senior Russian officials for years.

The charges against her were filed under seal last year. They stem from a long-running feud between the Russian government and Bill Browder, an American-born businessman who ran Hermitage Capital Management and was once one of Russia’s biggest foreign investors until he had a falling-out with the country’s leaders in 2005.

The lawyers Browder hired included Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian who played a key role in uncovering the alleged fraud and finding evidence that Russian government officials were complicit, U.S. prosecutors say.

Magnitsky was arrested in Russia and died in custody in 2009.

* * *

The incident sparked the United States to pass the Magnitsky Act, which allowed the U.S. government to penalize Russian officials found to have committed human rights violations there. The Russian government has spent years trying to end those sanctions and have Browder arrested.

On Tuesday, Browder called Veselnitskaya’s indictment “the definition of karma,” adding: “When all is said and done, all the truth will come out.”

* * *

In November 2015, Veselnitskaya submitted a declaration to the judge overseeing the Prevezon case, asserting that she had gone to great lengths to acquire the Russian government’s response to the U.S. records request. In 2017, the U.S. attorney’s office settled its civil case against Prevezon for more than $5.8 million.

According to the indictment, Veselnitskaya’s 2015 filing to the court in the Prevezon case amounted to obstruction of justice because she “made to the court a false and misleading declaration implying that she had not participated in the drafting” of the Russian government’s response to the U.S. request for records.

The indictment charges that, contrary to those claims, U.S. investigators obtained emails between Veselnitskaya and a Russian prosecutor in which, together, they worked on the language of the Russian government’s response.

The thrust of the charge is that Veselnitskaya stymied prosecutors’ investigation by working with the Russian government to prevent the United States from acquiring documents that could have aided their investigation, while claiming to the court that she was not acting in concert with Russian prosecutors.

* * *

Veselnitskaya, who has deep experience in Russian political and legal matters, had been brought on by Prevezon to fight the lawsuit, though she also lobbied more broadly against the political outgrowths of the allegations against the company. When she met with Trump Jr. and others, she talked about her opposition to the Magnitsky Act.

Veselnitskaya has in the past sought to dispute her characterization as a “government attorney,” noting that she worked only in the prosecutor’s office of the province that surrounds but does not include Moscow. “A regional prosecutor is not the Kremlin,” she said previously.

The indictment unsealed Tuesday also underscores how some of the key characters in the Russian government’s fight with Browder reappeared in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Lawyers for Prevezon hired a research firm, Fusion GPS, to collect information about Browder. Separately, Fusion GPS was also hired by a Republican donor and then a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign to explore any ties between Donald Trump and Russia. That work produced a dossier of unverified allegations against the president that played a key role in the early days of the FBI’s investigation of Trump.

Joshua A. Levy, a lawyer for Fusion GPS, said the allegations in the indictment were not known to the firm. “No one at Fusion GPS has any knowledge that Natalya Veselnitskaya played any role in the drafting of the Russian . . . response discussed in the indictment,” Levy said.

Finally, late last week the Mueller grand jury was extended for up to 6 months:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s federal grand jury has been extended so it may continue to meet and vote on criminal indictments for up to six more months.

The grand jury’s initial 18-month term was set to expire over the weekend.

The extension is the surest sign yet that the Russia investigation isn’t finished. It means, broadly, that Mueller may continue pursuing alleged criminal activity related to the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and that more indictments may be coming.

The [grand jury] last met, according to CNN reporting, on December 21 for about two hours.

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