assigned me the homework of asked if I’d go through the Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic minority report on Russian active measures interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. The report can be found at this link. I want to highlight this important caveat from the final paragraph on page 1 (emphasis mine):
We still do not know the full story about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower or, more broadly, the degree to which the campaign cooperated or communicated with Russia. 1 While Senate Judiciary Democrats have sought to conduct a robust and independent investigation, the lack of bipartisan agreement on what to investigate has limited the Committee’s examination of Russian interference in the 2016 election and who was involved. The Committee’s progress has also been hampered by the lack of cooperation from several key witnesses, identified in the Appendix that accompanies these findings. As a result, the Committee has been unable to answer a number of questions regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Democratic minority on the committee is telling us right up front that the committee has really not been able to conduct a proper investigation up to this point. From the news reporting, my take is that the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation has been better than the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s, but not as seemingly good as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s. So Senator Grassley has been better than Congressman Nunes in conducting his duties, but not as good as Senator Burr. While you’d like to see these committees actually doing their jobs, that is not possible right now given the ongoing corruption of congressional Republicans as the President remakes the GOP in his own image. While Senator Burr and Senator Warner seem to be on track, unless or until the Democrats were to retake the majority in either or both chambers, the real action will remain with Special Counsel Mueller and his various investigations.
The first thing that really jumped out at me is just how sloppy the players involved were. Especially in regard to their communications. While a lot of what is in the report, both substantive factual information and about the various individuals involved, has been previously reported, this sloppiness just sort of screams at the reader. For instance (emphasis mine):
On Friday June 3, 2016, at 10:36 a.m., Donald Trump Jr. received an email with the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” The email came from Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who represented Emin Agalarov, and offered assistance from Russia via Trump’s trusted friend Aras Agalarov. Goldstone wrote: Good morning. Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump—helped along by Aras and Emin.
This jumped out at me. Emin Agalarov called Goldstone, asked him to get a hold of Donald Trump, Jr., and gave Goldstone enough information so that he could convey the details when reaching out. HE CALLED HIM AND GAVE HIM ENOUGH INFORMATION TO CONVEY THE DETAILS!!!!! The Agalarovs are oligarchs and known to be connected to Putin and Goldstone is a British citizen and was in England at the time of the phone call. While this conversation, and the subsequent emails, took place about two months before the FBI opened their counterintelligence investigation, I would not be surprised at all to find out that Britain’s GCHQ routinely tracked phone calls, emails, and texts from the Agalarovs that came in to British citizens because of Aras Agalarov’s connections to Putin. I would also not be surprised if other of our allied intelligence partners in Europe who are concerned about Russia were also monitoring the Agalarov’s communications. And I would definitely not be surprised that if this SIGINT was captured by our allies, that the Special Counsel’s Office has it and knows exactly what Emin Agalarov told Rob Goldstone.
And this wasn’t a one off in sloppy communication (emphasis mine):
In the days leading up to the meeting, Mr. Trump Jr. exchanged a number of emails and phone calls with Mr. Goldstone and Emin Agalarov. On Monday, June 6, 2016, Mr. Goldstone emailed Mr. Trump Jr. and asked when he would be available to talk with Emin Agalarov “by phone about this Hillary info.”14 Mr. Trump Jr. responded, “Rob could we speak now?”15 Mr. Goldstone then told Mr. Trump Jr. that Emin Agalarov would call in twenty minutes.16
Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. at the designated time.17 Twenty-five minutes after this first call ended, Mr. Trump Jr. called Emin back and then emailed Mr. Goldstone, “Rob thanks for the help.”18 Despite phone records reflecting this exchange of phone calls, Mr. Trump Jr. testified that he did not recall whether he spoke to Emin or what they discussed.
The next day, June 7, Emin called Mr. Trump Jr. again.
While I have no way of knowing if there is SIGINT capture of these calls, if GCHQ or one of our other partner’s intelligence services that routinely monitors and captures the communications of Russian oligarchs, as well as officials, their families, and their employees, then I would expect that the Special Counsel’s Office has all of it and knows exactly what was discussed, what was promised, and what the responses were.
To me, the lack of any attempt to secure communications is what is really interesting. Everything else in the Democratic minority’s preliminary report has been reported at one time or another over the past year or so. But these descriptions of how the approach and the dangle were made by Goldstone and Agalarov to Donald Trump, Jr. on behalf of the Russian government really stand out. And they do so because they provide hints that there may be low hanging SIGINT fruit that has been plucked. If I were Jr, Goldstone, and/or the Agalarovs I would be very, very concerned that GCHQ captured everything. And that if they did, that they would have provided it to the counterintelligence investigation that Special Counsel Mueller inherited when he was appointed. There’s really no way to know, and even if Special Counsel Mueller knows, the rest of us may never know.