Some Thoughts On The Manafort Indictment

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The first shoe has dropped in the big indictment watch initiated late Friday with the news that an indictment had been rendered in the Mueller investigation. Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates have been told to self surrender this morning. Manafort has already arrived at the field office for processing as the attached picture reflects. Here is the NYT story:

The charges against Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, were not immediately clear but represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over the president’s first year in office. Also charged was Mr. Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates, who was also told to surrender on Monday, the person said.

Mr. Manafort walked into the F.B.I.’s field office in Washington at about 8:15 a.m. with his lawyer.

Mr. Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show.

Mr. Manafort had been under investigation for violations of federal tax law, money laundering and whether he appropriately disclosed his foreign lobbying.

The indictment is here and contains twelve counts for conspiracy, conspiracy to launder money, failure to file as foreign agents, failure to file proper financial reports and false statements. Notable also is the notice of forfeiture of both real and personal property, and any derivative property tied thereto.

The fact that the first shoe is Manafort is no surprise. What is surprising, to me at least, is that it does not appear that Manafort’s wife Kathleen was named. This may be a reflection as to the nature of the charges … the charges may only be for activity she was not involved in. Or not. But, make no mistake, she is involved in many of the charges for tax fraud and money laundering; she has solid exposure. Perhaps Mueller and Andrew Weissmann have already discussed this with Manafort and his lawyer, or maybe that is being reserved as leverage in a potential superseding indictment. But it is extremely interesting that she does not appear to be named yet. Stunning actually.

Add into the status of Kathleen Manafort that she and her husband are reported to be near broke as to liquid funds, and their real estate is already heavily leveraged and now subject to civil seizure at this point. And given the fairly recent outing of Manafort having a very expensive mistress half his age, things cannot be too cozy on the Manafort home front. This is total chum in the water for an aggressive prosecutor like Weissmann. Why did he not take it??

NBC News is reporting that the current charges were brought now because of statute of limitation concerns on some of them, and that further charges are absolutely not ruled out. Which makes it even more curious that Kathleen Manafort is not named.

Manafort is a high value target for the Mueller shop. But so too is his lesser known business partner Rick Gates. Gates was not only with Manafort on the Trump Campaign and DNC Convention, but stayed on in a significant role with Trump throughout the campaign and transition, including the inaugural committee, even after Manafort left. Gates, like Manafort, has close foreign ties, including with Russia and Ukraine.

Two people to keep your eye on are Dmitri Firtash and Oleg Deripaska, Putin allies. As as Spencer Ackerman says
in the money “behind pro-Kremlin party in Ukraine that hired Manafort. He’s indicted in IL. Watch what Sessions does”. Spencer is right about that. Here is some bits from Spencer’s report on Manafort, Rick Gates and Firtash back in August:

Asked whether any Manafort deals seemed particularly troubling in retrospect, a senior administration official replied, “You mean like this one?” and appended a link to a 2016 story on Manafort’s alleged attempts to launder a Ukrainian oil and gas billionaire’s ill-gotten fortune through New York real estate—including the Drake.

The Justice Department is now seeking the extradition of that billionaire, Dmitry Firtash, so he can stand trial for a 2013 racketeering indictment in a Chicago federal court. Two weeks ago, in response to a legal filing from Firtash seeking dismissal of the case, the acting U.S. attorney in Chicago termed Firtash and a deputy as “two organized-crime members” and people “identified by United States law enforcement as two upper-echelon associates of Russian organized crime.” Years before the indictment, Firtash was a major moneyman for the Party of Regions in Ukraine, the pro-Kremlin political faction for which Manafort consulted.

Firtash’s alliance with Manafort to acquire the Drake has been reported before. But far less attention has gone to the involvement of another party: Oleg Deripaska, one of the wealthiest men in Russia—and a longtime Putin associate. In 2006, according to the Associated Press, Deripaska signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort for what Manafort pitched as political and economic efforts inside the U.S. to “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”
But Manafort was more than Deripaska’s political operative. They were business partners, as well.

“When Paul met with Mr. D last month he told Paul to lock in the other financing elements and then come back to him for the final piece of investment,” Gates wrote to two longtime business associates of Deripaska, Anton Vishnevsky and Andrey Zagorskiy, on July 1, 2008.

According to ex-prosecutors, a business relationship between a Kremlin-tied oligarch, an accused gangster and the manager of Donald Trump’s campaign is the sort of arrangement currently occupying Mueller’s time.

“Any financial dealings with Russia and Ukraine would be considered within the scope of [Mueller’s] current mandate,” said Barbara McQuade, the U.S. attorney in Detroit until Trump fired her in March. “With the search warrant executed on Manafort’s home, looking for bank records, tax records, and the like, it seems like this is the kind of thing that Mueller would be interested in.”

To sum up, today’s indictment news is quite a big deal. The spokes that look likely to come out of it lead directly to the biggest Russian interests imaginable. Ones that very likely lead to Trump as well, whether financial or in relation to potential collaboration and conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.

Time will tell where this goes, but this is an extremely significant and rollicking start.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Did President Trump Violate Federal Law With His Alabama Rant?

I wrote yesterday about the racial, social and football implications of Trump’s rant in the history and home of George Wallace.

But a new, and by all appearances excellent, commenter on that post noted this:

“It occurs to me that his tweets are at least arguably in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 227. That section prohibits the POTUS (among others), from “attempting to influence or interfere” in a private company’s labor matter, to urge a “political” firing. This is especially true where the basis for the POTUS’s urging of the firing of such a private company employee (union covered, collective bargaining agreement governed) — is (as here) centered on protected political first amendment expression.”

So, is that right? Well, it is a LOT closer call than most would dismissively think. Let’s look at the language of the relevant statute, 18 USC §277:

18 U.S. Code § 227 – Wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions by a Member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch:

(a) Whoever, being a covered government person, with the intent to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity—
(1) takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or
(2) influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 15 years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
(b) In this section, the term “covered government person” means—
(1) a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress;
(2) an employee of either House of Congress; or
(3) the President, Vice President, an employee of the United States Postal Service or the Postal Regulatory Commission, or any other executive branch employee (as such term is defined under section 2105 of title 5, United States Code).

Read the statute. It is a lot closer call than you think. Will Trump’s own Department of Justice pursue this? No, no chance, nor probably should it be. Is it a viable question, and one that ought be discussed in the public and media, yes, absolutely.

As sports law “experts” would say, let’s break it down. There are elements to a crime. Trump is unequivocally a “covered person” within the ambit of the statute. Also unequivocal is the fact that his words in Alabama were meant to influence “an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity”, in this case, the National Football League.

The problem lies in section (a)(1) of the relevant statute, which requires:

takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act

It is easy to see and admit that Trump would do just that in a heartbeat. But Trump did not do that per se in his Alabama speech.

No. That element cannot be met by Donald J. Trump’s Alabama Song of hate. So, no, there is no exposure to 18 USC §227.

It is a great thought and question though.

And it is a perfect example of the precipice of racism, bigotry and ignorance on which the political discussion in the United States, and our Article II Executive Branch, courtesy of President Trump, nows perilously treads nearly every day.

The events and actions in and from the NFL today, tomorrow, and in the next few weeks pale in comparison. They are a symbol and a voice. But it is so much more and bigger than that.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Some Thoughts On The Arpaio Pardon

As you probably already know, Trump has pardoned Joe Arpaio. It is an abominable act by a lawless jackass. One lawless jackass pardoning another lawless jackass. Trump and Arpaio are really two peas in the same racist bigot pod; both supreme narcissists, ignorant and contemptuous of the rule of law down to their deepest bone.

And Marcy Wheeler is right that the nation as a whole is not the audience Trump is signaling, and while “Trump’s base” may be part of his audience in making this pardon move, it is likely even more intended for law enforcement. Police unions were almost across the board for Trump, and they do speak for their rank and file. Not to mention that all cops are fine with a pro law enforcement approach of Trump and his DOJ, not just the racist bigot ones.

The ACLU statement on the pardon is good:

For more from the ACLU, see the Twitter feed of Cecilia Wang, the litigation lead for ACLU on the Melendres and Arpaio litigation (she is seriously great).

But the ACLU doesn’t really go far enough. A couple of weeks ago I tweeted:

Because there is no point to which @realDonaldTrump will not shit on the rule of law and sanctity of federal courts. What a piece of shit.

That was a little flippant, but there is simply no question but that the pardon of Joe Arpaio is Donald Trump is degrading the Constitution and undermining the very fabric of the sanctity of courts and Rule of Law itself. If the Presidential pardon was not so unbound, this pardon would not stand up. It violates every iota of the American rule of law. It also is heinously invasive to the separation of powers in that it infringes on the power of the federal courts. But, again, don’t buy any nut telling you this pardon is unconstitutional or won’t stand up. That is silly, it is Constitutional, and it will stand up.

That said, Noah Feldman did a good piece explaining just what a Constitutional affront this act is, and should be considered:

To see why pardoning Arpaio would be so exceptional — and so bad — you have to start with the sheriff’s crime. Arpaio wasn’t convicted by a jury after a trial for violating some specific federal statute. Rather, he was convicted by a federal judge on the rather unusual charge of criminal contempt of court.

Specifically, Arpaio was convicted this July by Judge Susan Bolton of willfully and intentionally violating an order issued to him in 2011 by a different federal judge, G. Murray Snow.

Judge Bolton convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt. She found he had “willfully violated” the federal court’s order “by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates’ compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed.” And she held that Arpaio had “announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”

This is the crime that Trump is suggesting he might pardon: willful defiance of a federal judge’s lawful order to enforce the Constitution.

It’s one thing to pardon a criminal out of a sense of mercy or on the belief that he has paid his debt to society.

It’s trickier when the president pardons someone who violated the law in pursuit of governmental policy, the way George H.W. Bush pardoned the Iran-Contra participants, including Oliver North.

But it would be an altogether different matter if Trump pardoned Arpaio for willfully refusing to follow the Constitution and violating the rights of people inside the U.S.

Such a pardon would reflect outright contempt for the judiciary, which convicted Arpaio for his resistance to its authority. Trump has questioned judges’ motives and decisions, but this would be a further, more radical step in his attack on the independent constitutional authority of Article III judges.

An Arpaio pardon would express presidential contempt for the Constitution. Arpaio didn’t just violate a law passed by Congress. His actions defied the Constitution itself, the bedrock of the entire system of government. For Trump to say that this violation is excusable would threaten the very structure on which is right to pardon is based.

Go read Noah’s entire piece at Bloomberg, you should. It perfectly captures everything I have thought ever since Arpaio was convicted by Judge Susan Bolton in July, and pardon talk started up. And, make no mistake, Arpaio started carping about getting a Trump pardon almost immediately, even if behind the scenes. It started long before the last 10 days.

To add insult to injury, Trump had the gall to issue this announcement after glibly leaving for the personal golf driving range at Camp David with a message to the victims in Texas and the Gulf Coast, who are currently being hammered by a Category Four hurricane and face imminent disaster. Trump’s message was “good luck”. What a complete cad.

And after callously signing his order implementing his patently discriminatory transgender ban for the military. Chris Geidner has a good report on that.

Just for the record, this is Trump’s first pardon issued, and for that he chose the most craven one imaginable. For comparison, both Obama and Bush waited nearly two years, and applied the power only to subjects properly vetted by the DOJ traditional pardon process, a copy of which is here for reference. Arpaio was not even eligible for consideration at this point, much less deserving under the guidelines. Those guidelines can be found here, pay particular attention to §1-2.112. To be clear, Arpaio had not even been sentenced yet, and was almost certainly not going to be sentenced to incarceration by Sue Bolton. I have known Judge Bolton for nearly 30 years, and I just cannot fathom that she was going to do more than give a nominal fine to Arpaio.

Craven jackass Arapio has already started crowing about his ill begotten good fortune through, what else, Twitter:

Thank you @realdonaldtrump for seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!

What a racist bigot ass. Joe Arapio came into office on the wings of lies he told his initial backers. Before we close, a little story I wrote here a few years ago:

Joe Arpaio did not magically come to be Sheriff of Maricopa County. It happened because the two previous occupants of the Sheriff’s Office were, shall we say, problematic on their own. There was Dick Godbehere, who was, prior to being Sheriff of the fourth largest county in the United States, literally a lawn mower repairman. No, I kid you not. And he served with the same level of sophistication you would expect of a lawn mower repairman.

Then came Tom Agnos, who was supposed to return “professionalism” to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). But Agnos was a subservient Sun City resident who led the MCSO into not just the biggest cock-up in Maricopa county law enforcement history, but one of national and international proportion. The Buddhist Temple Murder Case where nine buddhist monks and acolytes were lined up and shot in the back of the head, execution style, at the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple on the west side of Phoenix.

It was out of the Buddhist Temple Murders Joe Arpaio came to be. A group of prominent Phoenix trial attorneys, both criminal and civil, wanted an alternative to Tom Agnos and the whitewashing coverup he was conducting on one of the greatest coerced false confession cases in world history. The group of trial lawyers coalesced around the upstart primary candidacy of a local travel agent with a colorful background. Yep, one Joseph Arpaio.

Joseph Arpaio promised that initial group of trial lawyers he would clean up the MCSO, release the damning internal report of the gross misconduct that had occurred in the Temple Murder Case under Tom Agnos, which lead to at least four false and heinously coerced confessions, and that he would refuse, under all circumstances, to serve more than one term in office. It was a promise made and, obviously, a promise long ago broken.

To be fair, Arpaio did release the internal report on the Temple Murder Case, which led to five plus million dollar settlement for some of the most wrongfully arrested souls in American history. But with that promise kept within a short time of taking office, Joe Arpaio breached the solid promise he made to the people who gave him the seed funding carrying him into office. And Arpaio has made a mockery of his word, as a man, ever since by repeatedly running for office and sinking Maricopa County into depths of depravity and fiscal distress beyond comprehension, from the vantage of the MCSO.

So, now you know just exactly how Joe Arpaio came into office on the wings of lies. He leaves today on the wings of a Constitutional fraud and spittle in the face of the Rule of Law.

As a parting shot, the picture at the head of this article is of Arpaio at a cocktail party getting a surprise visit from Michael Manning, the local civil rights attorney who has fleeced Maricopa County for over $50 million because of Joe Arpaio’s craven and illegal actions. Arpaio was not thrilled to get his photo taken.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Chris Wray’s DodgeBall and Trump’s Latest Threats

Though I lived-tweeted it, I never wrote up Christopher Wray’s confirmation hearing to become FBI Director. Given the implicit and explicit threats against prosecutorial independence Trump made in this interview, the Senate should hold off on Wray’s confirmation until it gets far more explicit answers to some key questions.

Trump assails judicial independence

The NYT interview is full of Trump’s attacks on prosecutorial independence.

It started when Trump suggested (perhaps at the prompting of Michael Schmidt) that Comey only briefed Trump on the Christopher Steele dossier so he could gain leverage over the President.

Later, Trump called Sessions’ recusal “unfair” to the President.

He then attacked Rod Rosenstein by suggesting the Deputy Attorney General (who, Ryan Reilly pointed out, is from Bethesda) must be a Democrat because he’s from Baltimore.

Note NYT goes off the record (note the dashed line) with Trump in his discussions about Rosenstein at least twice (including for his response to whether it was Sessions’ fault or Rosenstein’s that Mueller got appointed), and NYT’s reporters seemingly don’t think to point out to the President that he appeared to suggest he had no involvement in picking DOJ’s #2, which would seem to be crazy news if true.

Finally, Trump suggested (as he has elsewhere) Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is pro-Clinton.

Having attacked all the people who are currently or who have led the investigation into him (elsewhere in the interview, though, Trump claims he’s not under investigation), Trump then suggested that FBI Directors report directly to the President. In that context, he mentioned there’ll soon be a new FBI Director.

In other words, this mostly softball interview (though Peter Baker made repeated efforts to get Trump to explain the emails setting up the June 9, 2016 meeting) served as a largely unfettered opportunity for Trump to take aim at every major DOJ official and at the concept of all prosecutorial independence. And in that same interview, he intimated that the reporting requirements with Christopher Wray — who got nominated, ostensibly, because Comey usurped the chain of command requiring him to report to Loretta Lynch — would amount to Wray reporting directly to Trump.

Rosenstein does what he says Comey should be fired for

Close to the same time this interview was being released, Fox News released an “exclusive” interview with Rod Rosenstein, one of two guys who acceded to the firing of Jim Comey ostensibly because the FBI Director made inappropriate comments about an investigation. In it, the guy overseeing Mueller’s investigation into (in part) whether Trump’s firing of Comey amounted to obstruction of justice, Rosenstein suggested Comey acted improperly in releasing the memos that led to Mueller’s appointment.

And he had tough words when asked about Comey’s recent admission that he used a friend at Columbia University to get a memo he penned on a discussion with Trump leaked to The New York Times.

“As a general proposition, you have to understand the Department of Justice. We take confidentiality seriously, so when we have memoranda about our ongoing matters, we have an obligation to keep that confidential,” Rosenstein said.

Asked if he would prohibit releasing memos on a discussion with the president, he said, “As a general position, I think it is quite clear. It’s what we were taught, all of us as prosecutors and agents.”

While Rosenstein went on to defend his appointment of Mueller (and DOJ’s reinstatement of asset forfeitures), he appears to have no clue that he undermined his act even as he defended it.

Christopher Wray’s dodge ball

Which brings me to Wray’s confirmation hearing.

In fact, there were some bright spots in Christopher Wray’s confirmation hearing, mostly in its last dregs. For example, Dick Durbin noted that DOJ used to investigate white collar crime, but then stopped. Wray suggested DOJ had lost its stomach for such things, hinting that he might “rectify” that.

Similarly, with the last questions of the hearing Mazie Hirono got the most important question about the process of Wray’s hiring answered, getting Wray to explain that only appropriate people (Trump, Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, Mike Pence) were in his two White House interviews.

But much of the rest of the hearing alternated between Wray’s obviously well-rehearsed promises he would never be pressured to shut down an investigation, alternating with a series of dodged questions. Those dodges included:

  • What he did with the 2003 torture memo (dodge 1)
  • Whether 702 should have more protections (dodge 2)
  • Why did Trump fire Comey (dodge 3)
  • To what extent the Fourth Amendment applies to undocumented people in the US (dodge 4)
  • What we should do about junk science (dodge 5)
  • Whether Don Jr should have taken a meeting with someone promising Russian government help to get Trump elected (dodge 6)
  • Whether Lindsey Graham had fairly summarized the lies Don Jr told about his June 9, 2016 meeting (dodge 7)
  • Can the President fire Robert Mueller (dodge 8)
  • Whether it was a good idea to form a joint cyber group with Russia (dodge 9)
  • The role of tech in terrorist recruitment (dodge 9 the second)
  • Whether FBI Agents had lost faith in Comey (dodge 10)
  • Who was in his White House interview — though this was nailed down in a Hirono follow up (dodge 11)

Now, don’t get me wrong, this kind of dodge ball is par for the course for executive branch nominees in this era of partisan bickering — it’s the safest way for someone who wants a job to avoid pissing anyone off.

But at this time of crisis, we can’t afford the same old dodge ball confirmation hearing.

Moreover, two of the these dodges are inexcusable, in my opinion. First, his non-responses on 702. That’s true, first of all, because if and when he is confirmed, he will have to jump into the reauthorization process right away, and those who want basic reforms let Wray off the hook on an issue they could have gotten commitments on. I also find it inexcusable because Wray plead ignorance about 702 even though he played a key role in (not) giving defendants discovery on Stellar Wind, and otherwise was read into Stellar Wind after 2004, meaning he knows generally how PRISM works. He’s not ignorant of PRISM, and given how much I know about 702, he shouldn’t be ignorant of that, either.

But the big one — the absolutely inexcusable non answer that would lead me to vote against him — is his claim not to know the law about whether the President can fire Robert Mueller himself.

Oh, sure, as FBI Director, Wray won’t be in the loop in any firing. But by not answering a question the answer to which most people watching the hearing had at least looked up, Wray avoided going on the record on an issue that could immediately put him at odds with Trump, the guy who thinks Wray should report directly to him.

Add to that the Committee’s failure to ask Wray two other questions I find pertinent (and his answers on David Passaro’s prosecution either revealed cynical deceit about his opposition to torture or lack of awareness of what really happened with that prosecution).

The first question Wray should have been asked (and I thought would have been by Al Franken, who instead asked no questions) is the circumstances surrounding Wray’s briefing of John Ashcroft about the CIA Leak investigation in 2003, including details on Ashcroft’s close associate Karl Rove’s role in exposing Valerie Plame’s identity.

Sure, at some level, Wray was just briefing his boss back in 2003 when he gave Ashcroft details he probably shouldn’t have. The fault was Ashcroft’s, not Wray’s. But being willing to give an inappropriate briefing in 2003 is a near parallel to where Comey found himself, being questioned directly by Trump on a matter which Trump shouldn’t have had access to. And asking Wray to explain his past actions is a far, far better indication of how he would act in the (near) future than his rehearsed assurances he can’t be pressured.

The other question I’d have loved Wray to get asked (though this is more obscure) is how, as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division under Bush, he implemented the July 22, 2002 Jay Bybee memo permitting the sharing of grand jury information directly with the President and his top advisors without notifying the district court of that sharing. I’d have asked Wray this question because it was something he would have several years of direct involvement with (potentially even with the Plame investigation!), and it would serve as a very good stand-in for his willingness to give the White House an inappropriate glimpse into investigations implicating the White House.

There are plenty more questions (about torture and the Chiquita settlement, especially) I’d have liked Wray to answer.

But in spite of Wray’s many rehearsed assurances he won’t spike any investigation at the command of Donald Trump, he dodged (and was not asked) key questions that would have made him prove that with both explanations of his past actions and commitments about future actions.

Given Trump’s direct assault on prosecutorial independence, an assault he launched while clearly looking forward to having Wray in place instead of McCabe, the Senate should go back and get answers. Trump has suggested he thinks Wray will be different than Sessions, Rosenstein, Comey, and McCabe. And before confirming Wray, the Senate should find out whether Trump has a reason to believe that.

Update: I did not realize that between the time I started this while you were all asleep and the time I woke up in middle of the night Oz time SJC voted Wray out unanimously, which is a testament to the absolute dearth of oversight in the Senate.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Curiouser: The Blindsiding of Sally Yates

Remember back in early May I noted the curious timing of events leading up to former Lt. General Michael Flynn’s departure from the Trump administration and the launch of Trump’s ‘travel ban’?

It looks like former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was completely blindsided by the travel ban, according to The New Yorker.

Yates told McGahn that she would have the Flynn materials for him by Monday morning. She left the White House, stopped at the Justice Department to pick up some documents, and continued on to the airport. She was returning to Atlanta for a dinner honoring a camp for children with serious illnesses and disabilities, which her husband has supported for years. On the way to the airport, she received a call from her deputy, Matt Axelrod. “You’re not going to believe this, but I just read online that the President has executed this travel ban,” he said.

It was the first Yates had heard of the order. “I had been sitting in Don McGahn’s office an hour before that,” she said. “He didn’t tell me.” She later learned that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, at the Justice Department, had reviewed the order, and that they had been instructed not to share it with her. A source familiar with the process said that even the most senior Trump aide assigned to Yates’s office didn’t know about the order until he saw the news on CNN.

Yates was in the White House meeting with the White House Counsel and the administration couldn’t bother to flag her and tell her, “By the way, we have something new for you to enforce”?

They couldn’t brief her on the order in advance?

The Office of Legal Counsel was  “instructed not to share it with her”?

They couldn’t call her directly and tell her about the order even after they signed and implemented it?

She had to look up the text of the order on the internet and read it. It doesn’t look as if the Trump administration ever bothered to contact Yates directly about the order, yet they expected her and the rest of federal law enforcement to blindly defend it.

Come Monday evening — after she told the Justice Department that afternoon it cannot enforce the travel ban — she was summarily fired. Trump called her “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” in her dismissal letter.

Either this administration was (is) completely out of its depth, unable to read organizational charts, understand how to administer operations changes, and muster basic team management skills, relying instead on media across the internet and television to disseminate information about executive orders throughout the executive branch…

Or they wanted to completely derail and swamp Yates from pulling together “underlying evidence” describing Flynn’s conduct for the following Monday morning after she left the White House on Friday evening, January 27.

Nor did they have any intention of successfully rolling out a legitimate ban on travel to thwart credible terrorist threats.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Trump FBI Nominee Christopher Wray Gave Inappropriate Briefings to John Ashcroft During Plame Investigation

Donald Trump has tweeted that he will nominate Christopher Wray, who worked in Bush’s DOJ, to head the FBI.

While most people are noting that Wray is Chris Christie’s personal lawyer in Bridgegate, I’m at least as interested in some of the things he did while at DOJ, as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.

Wray was on the border of a lot of torture decisions in 2004 — the ACLU database of torture documents is full of entirely redacted documents involving him.

Wray was involved in one of the noted field trips to Gitmo to watch torture.

And he also charged David Passaro, the only CIA person (Passaro was a contractor training Afghans to be paramilitaries) ever charged for torture. DOJ seized a bunch of documents Passaro had which would have shown that CIA’s chain of command had approved torture. Whatever you think of Passaro, I strongly believe he was denied due process in a number of ways.

To Wray’s credit, he was the first to review Stellar Wind data for information that might need to be disclosed as discovery to defendants.

While Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Wray was involved in negotiations with lawyers for Chiquita (including Eric Holder) that resulted in Chiquita’s executives avoiding all penalties for materially supporting Colombian terrorists.

Finally and probably most importantly, also while AAG DOJ in the early days of the Plame investigation, Wray provided inappropriate briefings to John Ashcroft about what Ashcroft’s buddies had said during FBI interviews.

Among other things, the sources said, Ashcroft was provided extensive details of an FBI interview of Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political advisor. The two men have enjoyed a close relationship ever since Rove advised the Attorney General during the course of three of Ashcroft’s political campaigns.

The briefings for Ashcroft were conducted by Christopher Wray, a political appointee in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, and John Dion, a 30-year career prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation at the time. Neither Wray nor Dion returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The briefings raise questions about the appropriateness of Ashcroft’s involvement in the investigation, especially given his longstanding ties to Rove. Senior federal law-enforcement officials have expressed serious concerns among themselves that Ashcroft spent months overseeing the probe and receiving regular briefings regarding a criminal investigation in which the stakes were so high for the Attorney General’s personal friends, political allies, and political party. One told me, “Attorneys General and U.S. Attorneys in the past traditionally recused for far less than this.”

This is what led to Ashcroft’s recusal and the appointment, by Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, of Patrick Fitzgerald as special counsel.

In short, it seems Wray is likely to ensure that highers up never see any consequences for their actions. And he sure seems likely to keep Trump in the loop on the investigation of Trump.

Update: Jack Goldsmith, who of course worked closely with Wray while at DOJ, thinks he is a “a good choice, a much better choice than any name I previously saw floated, and a much better choice than I expected Trump to make,” though notes there will be a “probing confirmation process” ahead.

Update: Here’s a hearing in which Wray got questioned about inappropriate briefings. h/t NW

Update: LOLOL. DOJ released a list of endorsements for Wray, about which I’ll have more to say. But they included an endorsement from the guy who made Wray give him inappropriate briefings.

“Chris Wray is a man of integrity with a deep commitment to the rule of law. His substantial experience, particularly in serving on our Justice Department team fighting terrorism after 9/11, uniquely qualifies him to protect America as FBI Director.”
–Former Attorney General John Ashcroft

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

A Letter For Rod Rosenstein To Remember

Before there were internet “memes” there were still plays in words that conveyed huge situations beyond the mere words. One was “A Night To Remember”. Yes, even before the famous movie (and before the sappy and stupid “Titanic” decades later), it was an earlier book about the Titanic disaster. There are daily shipwrecks as significant as that now in the Age of Trump.

Today, specifically, we have the issue of a Titanic level shipwreck President crashing the country out of pettiness and ignorance like the United States has never ostensibly seen in its history.

Yesterday on Twitter, I noted that there was a telling omission in the supposed “justification” memo Rod Rosenstein penned and Trump initially claimed to rely on as basis for firing Comey:

This morning, in what I can only describe as an admirable mea culpa statement that I think will long be remembered, in a good way, Ben Wittes called for Rosenstein to go.

In the end, Trump was able to make set piece out of Rosenstein, because Rosenstein let himself be used as a set piece. And there’s an important lesson in that for the many honorable men and women with pending appointments and nominations to serve in senior levels of the Justice Department—or who are considering accepting such appointments. It took Donald Trump only two weeks to put Rosenstein, a figure of sterling reputation, in the position of choosing between continued service and behaving honorably—and it took only two days after that for the President to announce that Rosenstein’s memo, after all, was nothing more than a Potemkin village designed as a facade on Trump’s predecided outcome.

Do you really want this to be you? Do you really think Trump will not leave your reputation as so much roadkill on the highway after enlisting you in sliming someone else a week or two after you take office?

The lesson here is that these are not honorable people, and they will do their best to drag you down to their level. They will often succeed.

Here we are, and, thankfully, people in and around the Third Branch, especially in the all important Southern District of New York region (from which Comey has come and gone), are fighting back and speaking out with shouts that are from far more than the cheap seats people like me occupy.

Without further adieu, a letter from SDNY luminaries:

May 12, 2017

Rod J. Rosenstein, Esq.
Deputy Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Deputy Attorney General:

We, the undersigned, are former United States Attorneys and Assistant United States Attorneys for the Southern District of New York. In view of the recent termination of James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we are writing to request that you appoint a special counsel to oversee the FBI’s continuing investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential election and related matters. This letter is addressed to you rather than the Attorney General since he has recused himself from this matter.

As you know, Jim has had a long and distinguished career with the Department of Justice, beginning with his appointment as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York serving under United States Attorneys Rudolph Giuliani, Benito Romano and Otto Obermaier from 1987 through 1993. He returned to the Southern District of New York in 2002 when he was appointed the United States Attorney and served in that capacity until he was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General in 2003. Most of us came to know Jim when he worked in the Southern District of New York. Many of us know him personally. All of us respect him as a highly professional and ethical person who has devoted more than 20 years of his life to public service.

While we do not all necessarily agree with the manner in which he dealt with the conclusion of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, we sincerely believe that his abrupt and belated termination for this conduct, occurring months later and on the heels of his public testimony about his oversight of the investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, has the appearance – if not the reality – of interfering with that investigation. Even if this investigation continues unabated, there is a substantial risk that the American people will not have confidence in its results, no matter who is appointed to succeed him, given that the Director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the President. We believe it is critical in the present political climate and clearly in the public’s interest that this investigation be directed by a truly independent, non-partisan prosecutor who is independent of the Department of Justice, as is contemplated by 28 C.F.R. §600.1.

We are Republicans, Democrats and independents. Most importantly, we are proud alumni and alumnae of the Department of Justice. We do not suggest that you or any other members of the Department of Justice or a newly appointed Director of the FBI would not conduct yourselves properly, but the gravity of this investigation requires that even the appearance of political involvement in this investigation be avoided. As former prosecutors, we believe the only solution in the present circumstances would be to appoint a Special Counsel pursuant to 28 C.F.R. §600.1, and we urge you to take that course.

Respectfully submitted,

Jonathan S. Abernethy Elkan Abramowitz Richard F. Albert
Marcus A. Asner Martin J. Auerbach Miriam Baer
Thomas H. Baer Kerri Martin Bartlett Maria Barton
Andrew Bauer Bernard W. Bell Richard Ben-Veniste
Neil S. Binder Laura Gossfield Birger Ira H. Block
Suzanne Jaffe Bloom Barry A. Bohrer Daniel H. Bookin
Jane E. Booth Katharine Bostick Laurie E. Brecher
David M. Brodsky Stacey Mortiz Brodsky William Bronnermn
Jennifer K. Brown Marshall A. Camp Bennett Capers
Michael Q. Carey Neil S. Cartusciello Sarah Chapman
Robert J. Cleary Brian D. Coad Glenn C. Colton
William Craco Nelson W. Cunningham Constance Cushman
Frederick T. Davis John M. Desmarais Rhea Dignam
Gregory L. Diskant Philip L. Douglas Sean Eskovitz
Jesse T. Fardella Meir Feder Ira M. Feinberg
Michael S. Feldberg Steven D. Feldman Edward T. Ferguson
David Finn Eric P. Fisher Sharon E. Frase
Steven I. Froot Maria T. Galeno Catherine Gallo
Robert Garcia Kay K. Gardiner Ronald L. Garnett
Scott Gilbert Barbara S. Gillers Mark Godsey
Joshua A. Goldberg James A. Goldston Mark P. Goodman
George I. Gordon Sheila Gowan Stuart GraBois
Paul R. Grand Helen Gredd Bruce Green
Marc L. Greenwald Jamie Gregg James G. Greilsheimer
Jane Bloom Grise Nicole Gueron Barbara Guss
Steven M. Haber Jonathan Halpern David Hammer
Jeffrey Harris Mark D. Harris Roger J. Hawke
Steven P. Heineman Mark R. Hellerer William Hibsher
Jay Holtmeier John R. Horan Patricia M. Hynes
Linda Imes Douglas Jensen James Kainen
Eugene Kaplan Steven M. Kaplan William C. Komaroff
David Koenigsberg Cynthia Kouril Mary Ellen Kris
Stephen Kurzman Nicole LaBarbera Kerry Lawrence
Sherry Leiwant Jane A. Levine Annmarie Levins
Raymond A. Levites Donna H. Lieberman Jon Liebman
Sarah E. Light Jon Lindsey Robin A. Linsenmayer
Edward J.M. Little Mary Shannon Little Walter Loughlin
Daniel Margolis Walter Mack Kathy S. Marks
Mark E. Matthews Marvin S. Mayell Sharon L. McCarthy
James J. McGuire Joan McPhee Christine Meding
Paul K. Milmed Judith L. Mogul David E. Montgomery
Lynn Neils Peter Neiman Rosemary Nidiry
Tai H. Park Robert M. Pennoyer Elliott R. Peters
Michael Pinnisi Robert Plotz Henry Putzel
T. Gorman Reilly Emily Reisbaum Peter Rient
Roland G. Riopelle Michael A. Rogoff Benito Romano
Amy Rothstein Thomas C. Rubin Daniel S. Ruzumna
Robert W. Sadowski Elliot G. Sagor Peter Salerno
Joseph F. Savage John F. Savarese Edward Scarvalone
Kenneth I. Schacter Frederick Schaffer Gideon A. Schor
Julian Schreibman Wendy Schwartz Linda Severin
David Siegal Marjorie A. Silver Paul H. Silverman
Charles Simon Carolyn L. Simpson David Sipiora
Dietrich L. Snell Peter Sobol Ira Lee Sorkin
David W. Spears Katherine Stanton Franklin H. Stone
Richard M. Strassberg Howard S. Sussman Erika Thomas
Richard Toder Timothy J. Treanor Paula Tuffin
Peter Vigeland David Wales Max Wild
Samuel J. Wilson Elaine Wood Paulette Wunsch
Thomas Zaccaro Ellen Zimiles
cc: Jefferson B. Sessions III, Esq.
Attorney General of the United States

This letter reflects the signers’ personal views, not of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Department of Justice, or any other government agency.

But it is STRONG. And it is hard to not love it completely. It is raw, and it is real. Nobody asks defense attorneys to sign these missives, nor would anybody give them credit for having done so, were they asked.

This letter, however, is from the elite of the elite prosecutors, with SDNY historic names attached to it (and sometimes significant family names you may not notice), and there are a LOT of them. Almost wonder who did “not” sign on to it?

So, what does it mean?

A LOT. If you know how District level US Attorney offices run, but especially the hallowed ground in SDNY, then you know just how unusual and remarkable is this collective letter.

Think I mentioned “stunning” earlier. It is all that.

Why? Because the problem in the US is here, and it is now. It is bigger than Red versus Blue. It is bigger than Me versus You. It is bigger than all that. There is a fracture in the very machinery governance itself runs on.

The clockworks of governance are buggered. “We are Republicans, Democrats and independents.” And we all deserve better than the orange narcissist piloting the nation into an iceberg.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

Tell The Truth: Who’s Been Bullying Who

The internet is a strange, yet consummately wonderful place. It allows for a feed from thought leaders and journalists, and with a new age real time speed emphasis, with the ability of other, and different on a granular level, voices to respond. It is a wonderful, even if still difficult, medium of interaction. Twitter is the epitome of it all.

Some will say Facebook, but I think Twitter is a far better avatar, especially for those that really think about hard news, current events and some sort of equilibrium of differing political discourse. Is it a little rough, unfiltered and harsh because of the proverbial 140 character limit? Sure. Absolutely. You hope that the friends you make are equal to the knowledge you take, whether you agree or disagree at any given point in time.

And then comes a day where a small fish gets accused of “bullying” by far bigger fishes. As if simple political and moral distinctions and views are “bullying” or otherwise unconscionable among people that have been agreeing and disagreeing/parrying with and against one another for give or take a decade.

Instead, I was always taught to go into a forum, argue like hell for what you think you must and/or right, and then go have a cocktail with your adversary, or at least shake hands and walk off with the understanding there are two sides to any legitimate argument. And, I will be honest, the “fight like hell” part is always job one. Indeed, criminal defense attorneys are schooled to zealously do just that.

So, recently, I was accused of “bullying”. By a friend with a perch several exponents above mine. I tried to explain. I apologized. And I got nothing in response but for the initial intellectual scorn and accusation that I was “bullying” the big fish.

But for the sadness, both on a personal and interpersonal plane, and greater intellectual one, I might laugh instead of cry. But I cannot. I will not.

The times are severe. The moment is critical. Let us all rise above this type of impertinent interaction. You can still respect and admire people you occasionally have real and very hard differences with. And you can talk to them. Both sides will be all the better for that discourse.

Trying times, civil rights, equality of justice, and the American experiment itself, depend on all of us.

[If you didn’t know, that was not just Slow Clapton in the video but also the one and only Yvonne Elliman too. She is, and always has been, special.]

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.

The Curious Timing of Flynn Events and EO 13769

The crew here has been seasonally busy; there are graduations, returns from college, business and vacation travel, many other demands keeping us away from the keyboard. Bear with us.

That’s not to say we’re not stewing about — well, everything. EVERYTHING. Pick a subject and it’s probably on fire if it’s not smoldering. Touch it and it may burst into flame, kind of like James Comey’s job.

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with testimony from Sally Yates and James Clapper is one such topic utterly ablaze. How to even start with what went wrong — like Ted ‘Zodiac Killer’ Cruz and his sidling up to ‘But her emails!’. Or John Kennedy’s [string a bunch of expletives together and insert here] questions which did nothing to further any investigation.

I’m glad Sally Yates laid one across Cruz on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA); he deserved it for his particularly egregious mansplaining.

As you can see from their tweets, I know my fellow contributors have much they wish they could post about the hearing. I know after the closing gavel I had many more questions, not fewer.

Like timing. Timing seemed so inter-related on seemingly disparate issues.

What about the timing of Yates’ discussion with White House Counsel Don McGahn about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) and the timing of the Muslim travel ban, Executive Order 13769?

10-NOV-2017 — First warning about Flynn to Trump by Obama during post-election meeting.

18-NOV-2017 — Flynn named National Security Adviser by Trump.

25-DEC-2017 — Flynn allegedly sends text messages to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak including holiday greetings.

29-DEC-2017 — New sanctions announced by Obama, including eviction of 35 Russians (including family members) from two compounds.

29-DEC-2017 — Michael Flynn talks with Kislyak more than once on the same day.

30-DEC-2017 — Trump tweeted positively about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s refusal to retaliate against the new sanctions.

12-JAN-2017 — The Washington Post reported on the Flynn-Kislyak conversations; source cited is “a senior U.S. government official.”

15-JAN-2017 — VP Mike Pence says in a TV interview that he had talked with Flynn about contact with Kislyak:

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about it was reported by David Ignatius that the incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn was in touch with the Russian ambassador on the day the United States government announced sanctions for Russian interference with the election. Did that contact help with that Russian kind of moderate response to it? That there was no counter-reaction from Russia. Did the Flynn conversation help pave the way for that sort of more temperate Russian response?

MIKE PENCE: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on—

JOHN DICKERSON: But what about after—

MIKE PENCE: —my conversation with General Flynn. Well, look. General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That’s exactly what the incoming national security advisor—

JOHN DICKERSON: Absolutely.

MIKE PENCE: —should do. But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

JOHN DICKERSON: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions.

MIKE PENCE: I don’t believe there were more conversations.

20-JAN-2017 — Inauguration Day

21-JAN-2017 — Flynn has a follow-up call with Kislyak with regard to a future phone call between Trump and Putin.

23-JAN-2017 — Answers to questions during a press briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn’t match what Pence said in the 15-JAN interview. Spicer said, “There’s been one call. I talked to Gen. Flynn about this again last night. One call, talked about four subjects. … During the transition, I asked Gen. Flynn that – whether or not there were any other conversations beyond the ambassador and he said no.”(Come on, Spicey. Come the fuck on. Pure sloppiness; this isn’t the time for disinformation.)

24-JAN-2017 — Flynn is interviewed by the FBI and without a lawyer present. Yates informed McGahn about Flynn’s interview.

25-JAN-2017 — Yates reviews Flynn’s interview.

25-JAN-2017 — Draft of the travel ban EO leaked and published by WaPo

A provision about safe zones in Syria appears in this draft. It will not appear in the final EO.

26-JAN-2017 — Yates called McGahn that morning and asked for an in-person meeting about a sensitive topic she could not discuss on the phone. They met later that afternoon at McGahn’s office:

…We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.”

A senior member of the DOJ’s National Security Division accompanied Yates. Yates explained why Flynn was compromised and how his actions set Pence up to make unknowingly false statements to the public.

Spicer has said McGahn immediately notified and briefed Trump after meeting with Yates.

27-JAN-2017 — McGahn called Yates and asked for a second in-person meeting. Yates met him at his office. During their conversation, McGahn asked, “Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another?” Yates re-reviews the FBI’s concerns shared the previous day. (I want to ask if McGahn got his JD out of a box of Cracker Jacks.) McGahn asked,

“And there was a request made by Mr. McGahn, in the second meeting as to whether or not they would be able to look at the underlying evidence that we had that we had described for him of General Flynn’s conduct.” (Bold mine; who is ‘they’?)

Yates indicated she would work with FBI team and “get back with him on Monday morning.”

27-JAN-2017 — Travel ban EO signed and distributed. Rex Tillerson has not yet appeared before the Senate in a confirmation hearing. Defense Department’s James Mattis did not see the EO until morning of January 27; the EO is signed later in the day after Mattis was sworn in just before 3:00 p.m. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he saw final EO draft not long before it was signed. Office of Legal Counsel issued a determination about the EO that day, “the proposed order is approved with respect to form and legality.” According to Yates’ SJC testimony the OLC’s determination goes to the form and not the content of the EO.

28-JAN-2017 — Federal Judge Ann Donnelly issued a stay late Saturday on deportations of persons with valid visas.

29-JAN-2017 — Though not yet confirmed as Secretary of State, Tillerson involved in cabinet-level meetings in pre-dawn hours regarding the travel ban.

30-JAN-2017 — Yates called McGahn that morning and told him he could go to FBI to look at “underlying evidence.” McGahn does not reply until the afternoon. Yates didn’t know whether McGahn looked at evidence because “because that was my last day with DOJ.” Yates ordered DOJ not to defend the EO in court

30-JAN-2017 — Yates is fired by the White House Monday night. White House statement said,

“The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States … This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. … Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration. It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

08-FEB-2017 — WaPo reports Flynn denied twice discussing Russian sanctions with Kislyak.

09-FEB-2017 — Allegedly, Pence learned this day Flynn was not straight with him about his interactions with Kislyak. WaPo reported Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak prior to the inauguration.

10-FEB-2017 — ABC News reported Flynn wasn’t certain he talked about the sanctions with Kislyak. Pence spoke with Flynn twice this day.

12-FEB-2017 — Stephen Miller dodges questions about Flynn’s status during Sunday morning TV interviews.

13-FEB-2017 — Flynn resigns, 18 days after Yates raised questions with the White House about his vulnerability to compromise.

Yates’ directive not to enforce the illegal travel ban EO is the prima facie reason why she was fired a week after the EO was pushed. But was it really the travel ban or the fact she had not only warned the White House about Flynn’s compromised status but the implication there might be more at stake?

The rushed timing of the EO — pushed out on a Friday night after business hours — and its inception generate more questions about the travel ban.

Who really wrote the travel ban? Some reports say the ‘major architects’ were Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, neither of whom have law degrees or any experience in legal profession. Wikipedia entry for Bannon indicates he has a master’s in national security studies from Georgetown, but there’s no indication about the date this was conferred and it’s still not a law degree. Miller has a BA from Duke and a bunch of cred from writing conservative stuff, much of it with a white nationalist bent. (Yeah, stuff, because none of it provided adequate background to write effective executive orders.)

There were reports a week after the first travel ban EO was issued which indicated Congressional aides actually wrote the executive order — aides from Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s office.

Who were those aides?

Why Goodlatte’s aides? Was it because Goodlatte is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee?

Was it because of Goodlatte’s immigration bills circa 2013:

H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (The SAFE Act)
H.R. 1773, the “Agricultural Guestworker Act”
H.R. 1772, the “Legal Workforce Act”
H.R. 2131, the “SKILLS Visa Act”

In other words, did the aides who wrote those bills also assist with and/or write the EO?

If these aides helped the ‘major architects’, why did the travel ban EO look so clearly illegal?

Did these aides ever refer the ‘major architects’ to the Office of Legal Counsel for assistance with the EO’s wording?

Did media try to interview the aides in question? If not, why? If not permitted to do so, why?

Did those aides sign a non-disclosure agreement with the White House? (Why the hell are there NDAs for ANY government employee anyhow, especially those with security clearance of any level? This is OUR government, not the Trump holding company.) Did the aides limit their work to transition team support, or were they working on the EO post-inauguration? Did they take vacation time to do the work? Or were they performing work for the White House on Congress’ dime?

In spite of his iffy-sounding support for their work, did Goodlatte kick those aides in the ass for moonlighting while puncturing the separation between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, making it appear (if tenuously) there was a degree of concurrence between the two branches?

Did Michael Flynn talk about the EO with these aides?

And was Flynn one of the ‘major architects’ of the travel ban EO along with Miller and Bannon as reported in some outlets?

Assuming Flynn was a co-architect/co-author of the EO, was the EO pushed through in a hurry to effect Flynn’s work before he might be terminated and/or prosecuted?

Was the execution of a travel ban EO part of a quid pro quo with a foreign entity?
Is this the reason why Trump reduced the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence to “an as-needed basis” on National Security Council — to reduce potential interference by seasoned security professionals who might stop the EO?

Was Miller’s role in the creation of the travel ban EO less about any experience he has but instead related to his former work during 113th Congress with the Gang of Eight on immigration reform? (We come full circle – see Goodlatte’s bills above.)

How might this travel ban EO — banning Muslims from specific countries — help a foreign entity?

Or was the Muslim travel ban EO simply launched early — before the administration even had a Secretary of State, before its content was reasonably defensible — to distract Yates and the DOJ and derail further investigation into Flynn’s compromised status?

I’m sure if I spend any more time re-reading the SJC’s hearing transcript I’ll come up with even more questions. But as events around Flynn and the travel ban EO unfolded as if knit together, I can’t help wondering if they really were of a piece.

How odd that the first thing the first SJC non-chair member did, before asking witnesses any questions, was hand out a timeline of events to all the participants.

And how convenient FBI Director James Comey screwed up his last testimony before congress enough that his firing this evening by the White House would look entirely justified — immediately removing him not only from the next FBI flight from Los Angeles to DC but from any further investigation into Michael Flynn.

What timing.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

The Tuesday Night Massacre

As you may have heard, President Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey.

This is truly Nixonian Saturday Night Massacre level action.

Trump previously ran on, indeed got elected on, and likely only on, the scurrilous rogue comments of Jim Comey starting with the rogue July 5, 2016 press conference where Comey went off all rails on DOJ and PIN protocols. Here is the New York Times original report:

Mr. Comey’s dismissal was a stunning development for a president that benefited from the F.B.I. investigation of the Democratic nominee during the 2016 campaign. Separately, the F.B.I. also is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.

The abrupt firing raised questions over whether Mr. Trump was trying to influence the Russia investigation. But he said he was following recommendations from the Justice Department, which criticized how Mr. Comey concluded the investigation into Mrs. Clinton.

Trump actually saluted Comey for this at one point. What a micro-moment self serving, not to mention narcissistic jerk.

If anybody in the world thought that that Trump is not as craven and against the Constitutional form of government we all were born and raised on, let that no longer be a question.

And if the media cannot get their heads out of their asses and realize the danger is NOT just to their First Amendment rights, but to the core of our republic and democracy, then they too should go the way of the dodo bird.

The foundations of this cowardly play were always there if you followed the ever changing voice and words of Donald Trump regarding the Clinton email issue and how the Department of Justice handled it.

If you thought this point, and/or Comey was the one only voice that could not be fired or silenced, you are sadly mistaken.

This blog has never, and I am being kind across my writings, Marcy’s and those of our departed friend Mary, been a friend of Jim Comey. He has long, and more presently, been an uneven and self serving voice mostly interested in preservation and enhancement of his own voice and position. Comey has been preternaturally successful at this.

That said, tonight I will be in Comey’s camp. I await what my friends at Lawfare and some others may have to say regarding the Tuesday Night Massacre.

Because this is a day that should live bright for a very long time.

People glibly talk about the “Resistance”. How naive. The battle is now, and has been joined in full by a cabal that makes Nixon look like a piker. The place is here. The time is now.

The temporal fact that it is Comey that tipped a scale of justice is immaterial. It has happened.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.