The Trump Toadies Who Are Worried about Being Unmasked

Last week, Zoe Tillman noted this FOIA lawsuit from attorney Gene Schaerr, working on behalf of someone who wants to remain anonymous “at present,” suing to obtain records on the unmasking of Trump campaign and transition officials. The thing is, Shaerr isn’t just asking for unmasking records generally.

The odd collection of people being FOIAed

He’s asking for unmasking records pertaining to a really curious group of people:

  1. Steve Bannon
  2. Rep. Lou Barletta
  3. Rep. Marsha Blackburn
  4. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
  5. Rep. Chris Collins
  6. Rep. Tom Marino
  7. Rebekah Mercer
  8. Steven Mnuchin
  9. Rep. Devin Nunes
  10. Reince Priebus
  11. Anthony Scaramucci
  12. Peter Thiel
  13. Donald Trump Jr.
  14. Eric Trump
  15. Ivanka Trump
  16. Jared Kushner
  17. Rep. Sean Duffy
  18. Rep. Trey Gowdy
  19. Rep. Dennis Ross
  20. Pastor Darrell C. Scott
  21. Kiron Skinner

Some of these would be obvious, of course: Trump’s spawn, Bannon, Priebus, and Mnuchin. I’m really interested to see Rebekah Mercer (especially given the more we learn on Cambridge Analytica). Mooch is there. The litigious Peter Thiel is there (making him at least a reasonable candidate to be paying for this lawsuit, except for reasons I lay out below).

Mike Flynn, the one person we know to have been unmasked, is not in there (which is particularly odd given all the efforts to find some way to unring Flynn’s guilty plea, though that came after this FOIA was filed).

Then there are the eight members of Congress (in addition to the corrupt FL AG, Pam Bondi, who helped Trump out of a legal pinch in FL after Trump gave her a donation).

Lou Barletta, who’s a loud opponent of “illegal immigration,” a member of the Homeland Security Committee, and who, not long after this FOIA was first filed, prepared a challenge to PA’s Bob Casey in the Senate last year.

Marsha Blackburn, who works on a number of data issues in Congress, and is running to replace Bob Corker as TN Senator. Blackburn worked closely with Tom Marino to shield pharma and pill mills from DEA reach.

Chris Collins from upstate NY. His most interesting committee assignment is on Energy and Commerce, though he has worked on broadband issues.

Tom Marino, former US Attorney for Pennsyltucky who is on the Judiciary Committee. Trump tried to make him the Drug Czar, until it became clear he had pushed through a bill that hurt DEA’s ability to combat the opioid epidemic.

Devin Nunes, whose efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation have been epic, and who first manufactured the unmasking scandal. He’d be a great candidate to be Schaerr’s client, except he would probably just leak this information, which he has already seen.

Sean Duffy, a WI congressman who is chair of the investigations subcommittee of the Financial Services committee, and has been an opponent of CFPB.

Trey Gowdy took over as Chair of the Oversight Committee last year and also serves on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Because of those appointments, even without being designated by Devin Nunes to take the lead on the Mueller pushback, he would have already had the most visibility on the Mueller investigation. But because Nunes put him in charge of actually looking at the intelligence, he is the single Republican who has seen the bulk of the Mueller investigative materials. During Nunes week, he announces his retirement suddenly, and has warned about the seriousness of the Mueller investigation, and he just gave a crazy interview to Fox News (which I’ll return to).

Dennis Ross, from FL, serves on the Financial Services committee.

On top of the Republicans, the list includes two of the few African Americans (with David Clarke, Omarosa, and Tim Scott) who supported Trump.  Darrell Scott was head of a Michael Cohen invented diversity group hastily put together in April 2016. Kiron Skinner is a legit scholar of Reagan who teaches at Carnegie Mellon and has a bunch of other appointments.

As I said, aside from the big obvious players, this list is a curious collection. Of note, however, four people on it should have a sound understanding of how NSA spying and FISA work: Thiel, Nunes, Gowdy, and Marino. But (again aside from the big players), the international ties of most of these people (Thiel and Skinner are big exceptions) are not readily apparent.

The whack understanding of FISA laid out on the complaint

I’m interested in the FISA knowledge of some people named in this list because of the crazy depiction of FISA that the complaint lays out.

The complaint highlights two departments of NSA, claiming they’re the ones that deal with improper use of intelligence (but does not include the Inspector General).

On information and belief, at least two departments within the NSA handle complaints regarding the improper use of intelligence. These departments are known publicly by the codes “S12,” a code name apparently referring to the agency’s Information Sharing Services authority, and “SV,” a code name apparently referring to the agency’s Oversight and Compliance authority.

As part of the FOIA to NSA, Schaerr asked for anything submitted to these departments.

All reports made to S12 and SV regarding improper dissemination of any individual listed in Question 2, above. See National Security Agency, United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, § 7.5 (January 25, 2011).

That’s an oddly specific request, unless whoever is behind this request knows there are reports there.

That might suggest Nunes, Gowdy, or Marino is behind the request. But then consider how unbelievably wrong the complaint gets FISA.

After introducing FISA, it turns exclusively to Section 702, which is odd because the unmasking pseudo-scandal has thus far been based off the unmasking of individual orders.

Plaintiff’s requests in this case concern the Defendants’ use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).1 Section 702 of FISA (“Section 702”) empowers the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to jointly authorize “the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.” 50 U.S.C. § 1881a(a) (emphasis added). Section 702 expressly forbids use of this surveillance process to target persons who are either “United States persons” or located “inside the United States.” Id. at 1881a(b).

The complaint then makes three utterly false statements about how labor is divided between the FBI, NSA, and CIA.

14. The FBI collects data on outgoing communications, i.e., from persons in the United States to persons outside the United States.

15. The NSA collects data on incoming communications, i.e., from persons outside the United States to persons inside the United States.

16. The CIA, like the FBI and NSA, analyzes the information that comes from the FBI’s and NSA’s data collection. Unlike the other agencies, the CIA uses the information to engage in international intelligence operations.

The FBI collects on domestic targets, which can include incoming and outgoing comms, plus anything domestic (such as Sergey Kislyak’s calls across town to Mike Flynn; update — the December 29 calls would have been from DC to Dominican Republic, where Flynn was vacationing). The NSA likewise collects incoming and outgoing comms, as well as stuff that takes place entirely overseas (though very little of the latter is done under 702). Both the other agencies, in addition to CIA, use FISA information to engage in international intelligence operations.

The complaint then claims, in contradiction to a bunch of public information, that minimization equates to completely anonymizing US person data.

Section 702 also requires that foreign intelligence surveillance be conducted consistently with “minimization procedures.” Id. § 1881a(e)(1). These procedures are designed to “minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons,” but in a manner still “consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information.” Id. § 1801(h)(1). As relevant here, minimization procedures must be designed to ensure the anonymity of United States persons who may be incidentally surveilled. Id. § 1801(h)(1), (2).

This comment comes immediately after a paragraph on finished intelligence reports, so this may be an incorrect statement of what masking is.

It then makes a claim about how data gets circulated that entirely ignores the sharing of raw data under 702, and further makes claims relying on this article that aren’t actually supported by the article (admittedly, the article doesn’t describe the sharing of raw data, but its focus in primarily on traditional FISA).

Generally, original raw intelligence is not circulated to other agencies; instead, intelligence reports are created and circulated internally. See, e.g., Gregory Korte, What is ‘unmasking?’ How intelligence agencies treat U.S. citizens, USA Today, (Apr. 4, 2017; 2:14 p.m.), 2017/04/04/ what-unmasking-how-intelligence-agencies-treat-us-citizens/100026368. In the process of summarizing the intelligence, agencies exclude the names of U.S. citizens from the reports, referring to them instead with identifiers like “U.S. Person 1.” Id.

The complaint then describes what sounds like a muddle of upstream collection and back door searches, but gets both wrong.

The NSA also has the ability to search the internet data it collects by entering the name of an individual into a database search tool. This process is known as “upstreaming” and has the effect of creating additional raw intelligence that may contain the names of American persons. Such intelligence is also subject to the usual masking requirements and procedures.

This is wrong because upstream collection uses selectors, not names, whereas back door searches, which can use a name, are done by all three agencies. Such intelligence would not necessarily be masked at FBI if it made it into an investigative report.

The complaint then points to that godawful Circa report that itself muddles the difference between 702 and 704/705b to claim that they were upstream violations during the campaign cycle.

News reports—as well as a declassified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion—also note that some Americans had their names upstreamed, in violation of internal policies, during the 2016 election cycle, which the opinion described as a “serious Fourth Amendment issue.” See Declassified FISC Court opinion at 19-20, available at; Circa News, Obama intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on Americans for years, May 23, 2017),

The violations in question, while serious, actually involve back door searches on upstream collection, and to the extent the searches were done on 704/705b targets, would only have happened were there an individualized FISA order against one of the named people (in fact, NSA’s back door searches on US persons are generally limited to people with individualized orders, those who may be targets of a foreign power, or urgent searches following a terrorist attack or similar situation).

In short, it’s a remarkable garble of how FISA really works. That doesn’t exclude Nunes’ involvement (I would hope both Marino and Gowdy have a better understanding of FISA than this, but don’t guarantee it). But it seems to be an attempt to declassify stuff it knows about, even while it exhibits a remarkable misunderstanding of what it’s talking about.

So why are all these Trump toadies worried about being unmasked

All of which brings me to the puzzle: what the hell is his anonymous client up to? Why is the client concerned about this specific selection of transition officials, but not (say) Mike Flynn?

Update: Laura Rozen notes that this list is the list provided here, except with this chunk taken out, and with some weird alpha order going on.


Some Cover-Ups Are More Equal Than Other Cover-Ups

Over at TNR, I’ve got a piece that mocks how former top spooks and officials pretend the partisanship of HPSCI is anything new.

On Monday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released what it claimed to be a summary of its investigation into Russia’s role in the election. Among its conclusions, it disagreed with the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government “developed a clear preference” for candidate Trump.

The summary, presumably drafted by aides of Trump transition official and committee Chairman Devin Nunes, disputed that assessment even in the face of the recent indictment of Russian internet trolls, which laid out how they set up anti-Hillary and pro-Trump campaign rallies. The indictment also showed how their social media activity pursued the same anti-Hillary, pro-Trump line, launching hashtags like #TrumpTrain and #Hillary4Prison, the Twitter account March for Trump, and the Facebook accounts Clinton FRAUDation and Trumpsters United.

Even some Republicans on the committee have delicately distanced themselves from the report. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina affirmed that Russia was “motivated in whole or in part by a desire to harm [Hillary Clinton’s] candidacy or undermine her Presidency had she prevailed.” Florida’s Tom Rooney, like Gowdy retiring after this term, said, “I absolutely think there was evidence they were trying to help Trump at some points.”

The report also garnered criticism from former spooks and top officials. John McLaughlin, CIA’s deputy director during the first years of the George W. Bush administration, complained on Twitter about the partisan nature of the stunt.

As a subject or observer of Cong oversight of intell for 40 years, I’ve never seen a party drive a stake thru the process as House Reps just did. It depends on a bi-partisan approach that at least gives the minority a voice. Take that away and the thing dies. It just did.

So did Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder:

Republican House Intell Comm shut down Russia probe before doing a complete job This is a coverup and a lasting stain on the reputation of what used to be a bipartisan Committee when it was run by Republican Rogers and Democrat Ruppersberger. Politics beat a desire for the truth

Only, McLaughlin has seen such partisanship in congressional oversight before—when he benefited from it. In 2003, after Republicans regained the majority in the Senate, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Pat Roberts agreed with the CIA to shut down initial efforts by his Democratic predecessor, Bob Graham, to oversee Bush’s torture program. The CIA memorandum of his briefing recorded, “[T]he Senator interjected that he saw no reason for the Committee to pursue such a request and could think of ‘ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea’ for the Committee to do any such thing,” like observing interrogation as practiced in person. In the same period, Jane Harmon, then the ranking member of House Intelligence Committee, asked the CIA general counsel, “Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the president?” In response, he gave her an evasive answer.

If partisanship drives a stake through effective oversight of the intelligence community, then the efforts to bypass Democratic concerns about torture killed that vampire long ago.

Furthermore, for much of the period that Holder is describing, between 2011 and 2015, Republicans were obsessed with turning the tragedy of the Benghazi assault into a circus. The House Intelligence Committee did its own report on the incident, replete with “additional views” from Rogers offering a sharper attack on the Obama administration, especially Susan Rice. Democrats were left offering “minority views” from Ruppersberger reminding lawmakers that blame for the attack should lie with the attackers.

I realize, of course, I left something out: that Holder was part of the cover-up himself.

In any case, I otherwise thought it a useful piece.

How the DNC Hack Skeptics’ Dominant Theory Sinks Stone

I’ve been thinking about something since I wrote this piece on Roger Stone’s Swiss cheese denials of conspiring with Guccifer 2.0 or Wikileaks on the hack-and-leak. As I laid out, Stone’s denial consists of two tactics: he admits he spoke with Guccifer 2.0 at a time he believed him to have done the hack but notes that that happened after (he claims six weeks, but it was really three) the documents already started coming out. And he denies knowing anything in advance about Wikileaks, which wouldn’t be a problem anyway, he says, because there’s no evidence Wikileaks is a Russian asset.

Effectively, that puts Stone’s involvement after the undeniably criminal act — the hack of the DNC and puts the rest into simple general foreknowledge of Wikileaks’ plan.

As I noted in my first post on Stone’s non-denials, that doesn’t address the possibility he was involved in the Peter Smith led rat-fuck negotiations with Russian hackers to find Hillary’s deleted emails.

But there’s one other problem with it.

According to the public record, Guccifer 2.0 first spoke with Stone on August 12 (though in his statement to Congress, he fudged that date interestingly and claimed the first contact — perhaps meaning DM — was August 14). While that post-dates all known hacking, it pre-dates at least one and possibly several key dates on the leak part of the operation. As Raffi Khatchadourian lays out, Wikileaks may have obtained the John Podesta emails around this time.

A pattern that was set in June appeared to recur: just before DCLeaks became active with election publications, WikiLeaks began to prepare another tranche of e-mails, this time culled from John Podesta’s Gmail account. “We are working around the clock,” Assange told Fox News in late August. “We have received quite a lot of material.” It is unclear how long Assange had been in possession of the e-mails, but a staffer assigned to the project suggested that he had received them in the late summer: “As soon as we got them, we started working on them, and then we started publishing them. From when we received them to when we published them, it was a real crunch. My only wish is that we had the equivalent from the Republicans.”

All of the raw e-mail files that WikiLeaks published from Podesta’s account are dated September 19th, which appears to indicate the day that they were copied or modified for some purpose.

Indeed, Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment, which Chuck Todd noted addressed Tony but not John Podesta, may even have preceded Wikileaks’ receipt of the emails.

But Stone’s discussions with Guccifer 2.0 undeniably precede an event that, at least according to the skeptics’ theory, necessarily precedes the publication of Podesta’s emails. That’s Craig Murray obtaining … something from someone while he was in the US for the Sam Adams Award on September 25. He has said he didn’t obtain the documents, but it might be a key or something.

That still doesn’t, by itself, make Stone’s conduct criminal. But it does mean his timeline is not exonerating.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Reality Winner: The Cost of Mounting a Defense Arguing the Government Overclassifies

In this Democracy Now appearance, Reality Winner’s mom, Billie Winner-Davis, suggested that, whereas her case had originally been due to go to trial next month, it now looks like it will stretch into 2019.

We do not have a trial date at this point. The trial was originally scheduled for October, and then it was pushed to March. But as of right now, we do not have a new trial date. So we don’t know when she will be—face the jury. What I’m being told is that it will be late 2018, if not early February 2019.

Earlier this week the two sides submitted a proposed schedule that shows even that may be optimistic. Because Winner’s defense wants to use classified information to argue the document she is accused of releasing is not national defense information, it has to go through the onerous Classified Information Procedures Act process (see this for a description of the CIPA process) to get that information approved for use in a trial. If I’m doing the math correctly, most optimistically the proposed schedule looks like this:

  • March 30, 2018: Defense submits all proposed subpoenas
  • April 30: Deadline for discovery, including remainder of government’s CIPA Section 4
  • June 14: Government’s Rule 16 expert disclosures
  • July 14: Defendant’s Rule 16 expert disclosures, if they already have clearance (former ISOO head, Bill Leonard, who is already serving as expert witness already has clearance)
  • July 29: Defendant’s amended CIPA 5 notice
  • August 13: Government’s supplemental Rule 16 expert disclosures due, government’s objections to adequacy of defendant’s CIPA 5 notice
  • September 10: Government’ CIPA 6(a) motion
  • October 1: Defendant’s response to government’s CIPA 6(a) motion
  • October 15: Government’s reply to CIPA 6(a) motion
  • October 21: CIPA hearing (this is where the two sides argue about what classified information the defense needs to make her case)

At this point, there would either be 42 days to argue about CIPA 6(c) motion (where the government proposes unclassified substitutes). If that happens, it will be 90 days until trial, meaning it would start March 1. If it doesn’t, then the trial would skip that 42 day process and presumably drop into very early 2019).

  • Early January 2019 or March 1: Trial start

Again, this is a joint proposal, meaning the defense is on board with the long delay. Either they think they can win a graymail attempt (meaning the judge agrees they should get the classified information but the government refuses to provide adequate substitutes and so is forced to dismiss the case) or they believe they can make a case (with the help of Leonard) on the NDI claims generally. They may also anticipate that other events — the Mueller investigation, the congressional investigations into the Russian hack, state investigations, or more journalism — may make it clear how absurd it is to try Winner for information that has become publicly available as we have a public discussion about what the Russians did in 2016.

But if not, because (unlike most other people save Hal Martin recently charged under the Espionage Act) she will have been in jail for 19 months assuming an early January 2019 trial, or 21 months assuming a March 2019 trial. Winner is charged with one count of willful retention and dissemination of National Defense Information.

By comparison, Jeffrey Sterling, who was found guilty on nine counts, including five unauthorized disclosure counts, was sentenced to 42 months (the government had been asking for nine years, but Leonie Brinkema seemed to have reservations about the evidence behind a number of the guilty verdicts, and the sentencing came in the wake of the David Petraeus sweetheart two years of probation plea deal). Admittedly, the government piled on the charges in that case, whereas here they charged as one count things they might have charged as several (by charging both the leaks to The Intercept and WaPo, for example, or by charging her for not telling the full truth to the FBI). Nevertheless, Sterling was accused of exposing a critically sensitive program and an intelligence asset, whereas Winner is charged with leaking one document in an environment where very similar information is being leaked or released by multiple government sources.

Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who pled guilty to one count of disseminating NDI pertaining to CIA resources in North Korea, was sentenced to 13 months.

This is the no-win situation Winner is in, trying to challenge her conviction after having been denied bail. Because of the way we deal with classified information, she’ll have served a likely full sentence by the time she gets to trial.

It still may be worth it. After all, if she wins at trial, she’ll avoid a record as a felon.

But the larger battle seems to be one about the ridiculousness of our classification system. As Leonard said (see PDF 99-100) in his declaration to explain why he was providing his services pro bono in this case, he believes the kind of overclassification of information that may be at issue here amounts to degrading the entire classification system.

My motivation for becoming involved in this case. was my concern for the integrity of the classification system. I strongly believe that classification is a critical national security tool and that the responsibilities of cleared individuals to properly protect classified information are profound. At the same time, government agencies have equally profound responsibilities and in this regard, I have long witnessed the over•classification of rnfonnation within the Executive Branch due to the failure of agencies to fulfill these responsibilities. In this way, the actions of agencies can actually undermine the integrity of the classification system in that to be effective, it must be used with precision. As Justice Potter Stewart said in the Pentagon Papers case, “when everything is classified, then nothing is classified … ”


My involvement in [two prior prosecutions, that of Steven Rosen and Thomas Drake] confirmed for me the importance~ especially in criminal prosecutions, of not allowing representatives of the Executive Branch to simply assert that certain information is classified or closely held or potentially damaging if disclosed.

That is, Winner might prove a point: that this kind of information should be more accessible to the public.

But along the way she will have paid a very costly price.

Update, March 15: After two hearings, Magistrate Brian Epps cut two months off this schedule, setting Winner’s trial date for October 15. That will mean she will have been in jail over 16 months by the time of her trial.

Thug, Mob, Rogue: Trump Organization’s Own Description of Its Panama Hotel

While Trump and his son-in-law (and a number of his cabinet members) have clearly been profiting personally from Trump’s presidency (see my NYT op-ed on Jared’s woes), thus far their pursuit of self-interest hasn’t caused any international incidents (moving the US embassy to Jerusalem has come closest).

The scuffle between the Trump organization and the majority owner of the Panama City Trump hotel might just change that.

The problems go back aways (I’ll lay out some of the timeline below). But the short version is that the majority owner of the property, Orestes Fintiklis, got the other owners to vote to fire the Trump Organization in October, claiming the diminished brand and (importantly) a bad sales strategy is part of why the property is at less than 30% occupancy. The Trump Organization (screaming RICO) tried to force the matter into arbitration in December. And Fintiklis has now sued in SDNY to prevent that.

Things started getting crazy a week ago Thursday, when Fintiklis tried to fire the Trump employees, then cut off power, and then got the Panamanian government to side with him and arrest a Trump employed security guard. Significantly, the two sides are fighting over the control room and Fintiklis alleges that Trump employees are shredding documents.

Two people familiar with Fintiklis’s account said that, after his arrival, hotel employees barricaded office doors with furniture, and they added that documents were shredded. The two people said Trump Organization employees — including an executive who flew down from New York City — also blocked access to a control room that houses servers and surveillance-camera monitors.

This room, the two people said, is shared by the hotel operation and the managers of the residential side of the building, which is no longer operated by the Trump Organization.

I find that interesting given the Reuters report, from last November, describing how Ivanka put a Brazilian money launderer with ties to Russian organized crime, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, in charge of many of the advanced sales in the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country.

He left behind a trail of people who claim he cheated them, including over apartments in the Trump project, resulting in at least four criminal cases that eight years later have still to be judged.


When first approached by Reuters, Nogueira declined to answer questions. Writing on October 4, he said in an email: “Anything I would say could also damage a lot of important and powerful people. I am not sure I should do that.”

Later, Nogueira agreed to meet. In a lengthy interview, he described his contacts with the Trump family and his role in the Ocean Club project. He said he only learned after the Ocean Club project was almost complete that some of his partners and investors in the Trump project were criminals, including some with what he described as connections to the “Russian mafia.” He said he had not knowingly laundered any illicit money through the Trump project, although he did say he had laundered cash later in other schemes for corrupt Panamanian officials.

The role Nogueira played is similar to the one Sergey Millian played for a Trump property in LA, which basically amounts to artificially inflating the sales so as to be able to get the loans for the underlying property.

Two Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and Norma Torres, have decided to take this opportunity to ask the Trump Organization if it knew the Panama facility was being used as a money laundering vehicle.

With the possibility that Fintiklis will gain control of the facility before any records of money laundering get shredded, I want to look at the timeline the Trump Organization lays out in their statement on the fracas.

Just before the 2016 election, Fintiklis, who is Cypriot though has a residence in Florida, bought into a majority share in the hotel from the original owners. The Trump Organization could have blocked that sale but, no, they could not, because otherwise the hotel would go under.

In October 2016, the original developer of the Hotel, Newland International Properties Corp., notified Trump Hotels that it was actively negotiating a bulk sale of its remaining 202 units to a company controlled by Mr. Fintiklis. Because the Co-Ownership Regulations for the Hotel preclude any one person from owning more than ten units without Trump Hotels’ consent, Trump Hotels could have blocked the sale as a matter of right. Concerned, however, about the future of the Hotel and the fate of the Hotel’s highly dedicated and loyal staff, Trump Hotels agreed to allow the sale to proceed on one condition: that Mr. Fintiklis agree that he would not in any way attempt to interfere with Trump’s management of the Hotel or take any other steps to terminate its management agreement.

So weeks after Trump became President, Fintiklis agreed to the terms of the sale and eventually finalized the purchase in August.

In February 2017, Mr. Fintiklis agreed, in writing, to these terms and, in August 2017, closed on the purchase of the units, becoming the owner of 202 of the 369 hotel units.

At that time, last August, Fintiklis spoke in rosy terms of the deal, including the hotel operator (that is, Trump).

We are excited to welcome such an iconic property to our investment portfolio and we look forward towards working with the local team, the hotel operator and the Panama community, to establish the Property as the premier hotel in the country and the entire region.

The Trump Organization accuses Fintiklis of orchestrating a conspiracy to remove Trump Hotels from the property.

Unfortunately, within weeks of the closing, it became apparent to Trump Hotels that Mr. Fintiklis had other motives. Rather than abide by the clear terms of the agreement he had signed, Mr. Fintiklis had been conspiring with others to remove Trump Hotels as manager and fire most, if not all, of its loyal and dedicated employees. Looking back, it is now apparent that Mr. Fintiklis, in flagrant violation of the commitments he had made, never had any intention of keeping his word and had been plotting a takeover and termination of Trump Hotels all along.

On October 14, 2017, Mr. Fintiklis furthered his fraudulent scheme, calling a meeting of the hotel condominium under the false pretense of a “meet and greet” and used that moment to hold unlawful votes and declare Trump Hotels in default of the management agreement. Within minutes of the meeting concluding Mr. Fintiklis sent Trump Hotels a default notice and filed for arbitration to terminate the management agreement. Clearly, Mr. Fintiklis had been concocting and planning this scheme for months.

The Trump folks, too, emphasize that part of this fight is over the facility’s computer system.

Together, Mr. Fintiklis and Mr. Lundgren, over the past several days, have resorted to thug-like, mob style tactics, repeatedly attempting to force their way into Trump Hotels’ offices, infiltrate and disrupt its computer systems and threatening and intimidating any employee of the Hotel that resisted.

Now, the Trump Organization made less than a million dollars off management fees for this facility in the last year or so.

In his most recent personal financial disclosure, Trump said his company had received $810,000 in management fees over the preceding 15 ½ months.

They are not getting rich off this facility, certainly not rich enough to sustain the legal fight already brewing over retaining the contract.

These people are all douchebags and the brawling side show is fairly amusing. But it does seem that Fintiklis bought into something far more than a mostly empty hotel, and he’s now using it as leverage against the Trump family business.

The fight over the Trump Panama hotel seems to be as much about the fight over records that may show whether Ivanka knew she was involved in money laundering with Russian mobsters and Colombia narcotics traffickers as it is over who gets to run the mostly empty hotel.

Which is a reminder that it’s not just Robert Mueller who has Trump by the nuts.

We Have to Build the Future Out of the Past

(Drew Kadel points out an omission in this piece about the need for a strength of values in comments: 

“It’s important to own our own values, to know why we hold them and to have the character to hold those values in the face of opposition… you are discussing having integrity while loving people who do bad things… love (can) become sentimentalized and involve letting people off the hook (“Give him another chance”, “He’s really a good guy underneath, he doesn’t mean to always beat me”)… in loving those who violate our values, it’s important to know those values and keep them front and center. If empathy with self-pity becomes sympathy with self-pity we spiral down into moral vacuity.” Thank you for catching this, Drew!)

Science suggests to me this article may be doomed. This is because this article is about the best supported strategies for changing people’s minds, and I’m relying on facts, which studies show may be the least effective strategy.  But there’s little more I can do than give you this truth, and hope you can make it emotionally real for you. And that idea is this: we must give love to those whom the gods put in our paths. I am agnostic about who or what you call the gods. I am fundamental about love, and that love is truth.

Amongst my friends (and family) I’ve counted people who kill for money, drug dealers, criminals living on the run, fucked up teenagers, Ren faire runaways, alcoholics, rapists, alcoholic rapists, more people who kill for money (but also get praised for it), employees who routinely break monopoly law, homeless psychotics, an FBI agent, a whole troop of gutter punks, a couple of private investigators, several delinquent parents, sex addicts, a passel of sociopaths, people cheating on their spouses, and probably a bunch more ne’er-do-wells I can’t think of right now. And, of course, a lot of idiot hackers. Almost everyone I know enacts violence on the world. As Americans, we don’t even get a choice in that. The fact of our very lives is used as a justification for endless wars and global plunder. I have a friend who moved to Spain so that he could say at least his tax dollars didn’t go to fuel that violence, even if his existence still does — a choice few have the advantages or courage to make.

Most of my more reprehensible friends hide the things that make people hate them, but I have one who flaunts his worst qualities. I know him as weev. I know him from the hacker scene, and since being jailed and released he’s become famous for publicly embracing neo-nazi ideology. I talk about being friends with weev not because I’m proud of being friends with weev in particular, but because I believe I should model publicly the behaviors that I want others to take up, and this is one of them. I want other white people to be friends with the weevs, racist relatives, and bigoted co-workers in their lives. I want people to reach out to the abusive toxic men and senior executive vice presidents in their lives, because it’s the most scientifically sound way that we fight bad ideas. White people can fight white racism, men can fight toxic masculinity, we all can oppose the evil ideas that harm us. It doesn’t stop with race and gender. I want rapists to be confronted by their friends, and alcoholics to be held accountable by people who love them. I want sociopaths to find people who can be their moral compasses when they can’t build their own. Sometimes it means you can be that compass for a broken person. Doing that means you reduce the harm they do to others by standing in the way of people you care for.

At the moment it is popular to say that the only allowable engagement with poisonous thinking is intellectual: arguments and statistics, emotions restricted to admonition and demands for better behavior. But this approach is a failure, and we see that failure on every level. Study after study show that facts, statistics, and news reports only entrench people’s existing beliefs, whether those beliefs are in truth or lies.

The engagement that works is a combination of personal connection, empathy, reciprocity, and then, only then, high quality information. If it sounds like you’ve probably got to care about the person, invest in them, then you’re right, you do. That means you can’t do it with everyone on Facebook or Twitter. For me, my community is technology and science. That means it’s largely white, male, and full of hidden and overt racism and sexism. I have three choices: leave my community, ignore these faults in my community, or engage with the people who have these terrible false beliefs. Sometimes it means marshaling facts in passionate arguments, but over dinner and drinks, not verbal sparring in front of a soi-disant audience. Sometimes you do this for months or years. Sometimes it means letting someone see how much their beliefs hurt you. I’ve walked out of the room openly sobbing because of a friend who insisted on a racist stance. I’ve confessed to my own pain and humiliation as a woman while a crowd looked on. But mostly it’s not that dramatic, it just means being a thorn, always prickly about it, just bringing up that thing you’re not supposed to talk about. Sometimes when you fight with one person, another person who cares for you watches, and something in that second person’s soul begins to shift. Sometimes you don’t know for years and a friend buys you a coffee one day, and tells you that you changed their life.

Sometimes you’ll never get to know.

Healing communities takes practicing community. Just being difficult isn’t enough on its own, or Twitter would have fixed all our social ills years ago. When you start from the point of having things in common, and build on it by giving things to each other, even if it’s no more than a meal, it becomes much harder to talk about something like sexism or racism. That feeling is key, that feeling is what you’re looking for. When confrontation becomes difficult, awkward, and distressing, it means you’re invested. That’s the moment to bring it up, that’s when it’s going to matter the most. Being genuine in that moment, and confronting false beliefs, is so much harder than making an argument online or pointing at research on its own. You need to have those things in hand, but you also need to have skin in the game. That is how you kill the racism, without killing the racist. It’s how you take the toxic out of masculinity. This — and education — are the only things that work. Even if you wanted to solve the problem by killing the bad people, it doesn’t scale. That’s a blood-soaked fantasy world, and the world has soaked in enough blood already.

Shunning, like violence, often entrenches false beliefs. When we reject a person we’ve known, especially without any personal confrontation or explanation, it seems like betrayal. This only pushes that false belief farther into the world, where it can grow and do more harm.

What I have found is that listening, confrontation, and love are the most effective ways to fight the lies someone you care for is telling themselves.

The first part of facing another person’s false beliefs is to listen. Not quietly — actively. Ask questions, and stop them when you don’t understand and seek clarity. Be ready to hear anything, or the other person will hold back. Somewhere in their story of how they came to a poisonous perspective you will find out what scared them. That moment — or moments, is always there. There is always a toxic core of shame and fear. They’ll tell you where they got the belief, and why they feel they need it. Sometimes even that simple articulation can start to unwind that deadly core. Be honest with how you feel in the process, while remembering that this isn’t about your feelings. No matter what you hear, never lose sight of the person you’re with, their pain, and their potential to exceed it.

Don’t be afraid to connect their beliefs with consequences in their lives. Hateful beliefs very often come with shameful moments, but speaking that shame can take its power away, especially when you’re still there after you’ve talked about it. You’re still holding on, and that’s key. If you’re going to tell them their belief is wrong, be ready with the evidence, but also be ready to affirm them as worthy of love, and be ready to help them imagine other futures beyond what they could have hoped for at the beginning of the conversation.

This is very rarely a single conversation. These are threads to be woven into every conversation, and pushed on, but only rarely to the point of exhaustion or tears, as much for your own sake as theirs. Keep coming back, keep unwinding the shame, keep affirming the love. Be ready to have this process change you in ways you don’t expect.

People I have confronted have confronted me back with my own shame, my own failings, and my own fears. When I learned to listen, two great things happened: I got to confront and clarify my own thinking, and I got to show my friends an example of someone changing and growing because of our friendship. They’ve called me a hypocrite and been right. When I’ve faced that, and seen to my own pain and fear and shame, they’ve given me the chance to change for the better myself.

When you can face your bigoted friend, and thank them for calling you on your bigotry, they may not be that far behind you for long. The project of becoming better people is something we do in community.

None of this is comfortable, and it’s likely to make people angry. I know this not just because of the data, because it made me angry too. Examining my own false beliefs has never been particularly fun, be they about how relationships work, or race, or class, or my own family. But doing this, and the people who helped me do this, gave me a strength that is not fragile, a capacity to love and seek truth that carried me through hell and back.

St Augustine said, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” translated by Gandhi as: hate the sin and not the sinner. This beautiful phrase has been so often used as a put-down in recent years, but the sentiment it reflects saves worlds. When we’ve held false beliefs, succumbed to addictions, became sick in the mind and hated ourselves or others, the people who held us up did so by loving us and rejecting the lies we were clinging to, all at once.

In the case of my friend weev, I see a tragedy. I believe he is trying to strike out at the people who hurt him, but by propping up the same white supremacy that gave them their power in the first place. What he’s doing supports the very people who ordered violence on him, who took away his freedom, and tortured him. The same power structure that hurt him pays him a wage and gives him an attaboy now, as long as he keeps hurting people, just as he was hurt. The situation of his birth primed him to fall for a trick, and he did. He is falling for a con that’s been working in my country of birth for more than 400 years, and it hurts me to see it working again, still one person at a time, long after its original inventors are dead and dust. Torturing one group and then paying them to be guard labor over an even more tortured group is the first trick in the racism handbook.

It’s an effective lie, with its own life, and it’s hurting billions of people right now. But it is a lie. This false belief not only hurts the victims of racism, it hurts the people who hold the belief as well, robbing all of us of a future. It’s an angry and broken world that doesn’t realize there’s no point to the things we were taught to hate for. This idea keeps us fighting over scraps on a planet full of stunning abundance. I have sat with this thing all my life, and I have found it empty, hungry, and meaningless.

I have no need or desire to bring more hate and anger into this world. What’s more, I have science that can help me develop techniques to diminish the anger and hate that’s here now. Science, like all forms of truth, is a form of love.

We live for barely any time in the one tiny bit of the universe where we’ve found life. There’s no great other and opposite side in our fights, there’s only entropy, waiting to swallow everything we know back up into the chaos of the unaware and unfeeling universe. That we waste even a moment of our brief time hating each other is madness. But we do, and it’s a madness we have to deal with. Stop hating people, there’s no time for it, no possible rhyme or reason to it. Fight people’s false beliefs about the world, because they threaten not only to kill us, but also to make our extraordinary existence trivial and rob the meaning from our lives.

When we sit with our white supremacists and our addicts and abusers, we sit with our own flaws. If it weren’t so then they wouldn’t be any scarier than the open sky, or gravity, or a gun on the table, or getting old. The flaws that make us so angry are the ones that seem so close to eating us, an anger that feeds on us and turns us, like vampiracism for violence. We are not afraid of the other when we look at broken people, we are afraid of looking at ourselves and seeing the other, and then tearing ourselves apart.

Patriarchy, genders, whiteness and blackness were born as the abused children to first aristocracy, and then colonialism. They were set to fight for centuries. This is our legacy. My life, my existence and circumstance, is the product of genocide and rape, and most likely, so is yours. We all came from victims and aggressors, from slaves and slave masters going back thousands of years. Humans have been marking time in blood very possibly from the decline of all the other hominids. Now we have smart phones and social media and regularly look at ourselves from space. We watch movies about superhero powers and fractured families, and I think it’s no mistake. This is the myth of the truth of the moment — that we are powerful beyond our own understanding, and broken and angry within our dysfunctional family.

Proceed with truth and love.

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The Conspiracy to Defraud the United States Backbone of the Internet Research Agency and Manafort Indictments

In this post, I suggested there was an important parallel between the structure of the Internet Research Agency indictment rolled out Friday and the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment.

Both use a conspiracy to defraud the US (of its ability to enforce campaign finance and transparency law) as their backbone.

Just as way of comparison, Charge 1 in the IRA indictment alleges conspiracy to defraud the US because defendants impaired the lawful functions of the FEC, DOJ, and State in administering disclosure about foreign involvement in US politics.

From in or around 2014 to the present, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, Defendants, together with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of State in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.

Charge 1 in the Manafort indictment alleges conspiracy to defraud the US because the defendants impaired the lawful functions of DOJ and Treasury to require disclosures about foreign political activity in US politics.

From in or about and between 2006 and 2017, both dates being approximate and inclusive, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants PAUL J. MANAFORT, JR., and RICHARD W. GATES III, together with others, knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, and to commit offenses against the United States, to wit, the violations of law charged.

Whatever else is true, both indictments start there, and go onto other related crimes (compellingly money laundering for Manafort and identity theft for IRA) from there.

Several people have already commented on the use of the conspiracy to defraud as backbone in the IRA indictment. Jamil Jaffer (not the Knight Foundation civil liberties guy, but the hawkish former DOJ NatSec guy) argued that this structure might provide a way to charge Americans who help foreigners interfere with our elections.

Today’s indictment also represents a significant step forward for the Mueller investigation and, in many ways, breaks new ground for a federal indictment. The conspiracy charge is significant because if upheld by a federal court, it shows how additional conspiracy charges might be brought against individuals–even Americans–that help foreigners interfere with our electoral system.

The Democrats’ campaign finance guru Bob Bauer laid this out in considerable more depth. He starts by observing that while evidence of campaign finance violations is abundant, Mueller instead uses only the backbone.

The indictment alleges facts that support charges of federal campaign finance law violations—such as the prohibition on foreign national contributions—but does not charge any such offenses. This is clearly not for want of evidence, since the indictment sets out in considerable detail the millions in foreign national spending to influence the 2016 election.

While it’s not clear that this is why Mueller approached it this way, Bauer notes that foreigners aren’t going to comply with campaign finance laws and the FEC is largely dysfunctional anyway.

Now, of course, those engaged in illegal campaign finance activity, such as spending from foreign national sources, won’t ever make an exception and comply with self-incriminating reporting requirements. And the irony of the premise–that the FEC would get the job done if given the needed facts–will not be lost on those who have observed the agency’s decline.

So, while in that paragraph, he didn’t go that far, Bauer implies that Mueller couldn’t charge campaign finance violations because the legal infrastructure for enforcing our country’s campaign finance laws has been shredded.

When I pointed out this parallel on Twitter, Jaffer argued the difference was that the Manafort indictment charged FARA violations (counts 3 through 6) in addition to the conspiracy to defraud backbone.

Plus in the Manafort case, it isn’t just a pure bootstrap because they they also charge the underlying crimes. Here, not so.

But let’s look at what Paul Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing argued after his arraignment: the surprising thing about the Manafort indictment is that Mueller charged Foreign Agents Registration Act, because it had so rarely been charged before and only once led to a conviction.

Today, you see an indictment brought by an office of Special Counsel using a very novel theory to prosecute Mr. Manafort regarding a FARA filing. The United States government has only used that offense six times since 1966 and it only resulted in one conviction.

Downing doesn’t dispute the letter of the law. He instead credibly disputes that Manafort could be expected to believe the law means what it says because it has never been enforced.

Admittedly, immediately after the indictment, there was a surge of compliance with FARA.

The number of first-time filings like SCL Social Limited’s rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump’s associates and their business partners.

But that is, itself, testament to the fact that, at least when charged, no one believed FARA was a law. FARA, like other prohibitions on foreign campaign donations, didn’t work because those donating the money didn’t give a fuck and the agencies — FEC, DOJ, State, Treasury — mandated with protecting us from foreign tampering couldn’t do their jobs without the required reporting.

So we have a range of dysfunctional campaign transparency and finance laws, and two indictments charged as conspiracy to defraud the agencies empowered to oversee those laws, and only thereafter substantiated with more traditional crimes like money laundering and identity theft.

You see the parallel yet?

After arguing that FEC doesn’t work anymore anyway, Bauer argues you’re not going to charge foreigners with campaign finance violations because that would break too much legal ground.

Mueller and his team may have concluded that straight statutory campaign finance allegations rest on too much untested ground and would complicate what may well be the next phase of their investigation.  This consideration would not affect the foreign national side of the case: Foreign nationals are plainly prohibited from spending in the manner detailed in the indictment. But how the law reaches American co-conspirators is less certain, and the special counsel’s theory of the case, pleading the campaign finance aspect of the case through conspiracy-to-defraud, may allow more securely for the prosecution of American actors.

So to sum up thus far: campaign finance expert Bob Bauer, after admitting the FEC has been gutted, further argues that the theory of the conspiracy to defraud is necessitated by the involvement of foreign actors. His argument is based largely on the exclusion of FEC charges.

Yet Bob Mueller omitted any direct charge for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Instead, the indictment builds the campaign finance issues into a conspiracy to defraud the United States—it alleges that the Russians conspired to obstruct the capacity of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce the law.  The act of obstruction was a failure to report their illegal expenditures. If the FEC did not know about the expenditures, it could not enforce the law.

Click through to read that part of Bauer’s argument. Bauer seems to argue (I’m not convinced) that Mueller left off the FEC violations because he was only indicting foreigners.

But Bauer turns immediately to an invented necessity (having already proven that the underlying law is basically defunct) of sucking in Americans’ complicity that otherwise might hypothetically be covered by FEC.

If, however, Mueller possesses evidence of Americans’ complicity in these violations, he may have decided on a different theory of the campaign finance case that more reliably sweeps in U.S. citizen misconduct.

On the face of it, the law prohibits a U.S. campaign or person from “soliciting” something “of value” from a foreign national, and it bars rendering “substantial assistance” to illegal foreign national spending. It seems clear that the facts known to date implicate these rules. It is also true that there is little precedent and arguably an increased risk of a defense grounded in the “vagueness” of these prohibitions.  Some commentators have expressed unease about the constitutional limiting principle that would govern the enforcement of these provisions. I do not share this view, but it is held strongly in some quarters and, therefore, appropriately and respectfully noted.

The Mueller indictment is conceivably one way to solve this problem.

Bauer argues, breathtakingly, that instead of using America’s defunct campaign finance and transparency law, Mueller can use America’s insanely overbroad conspiracy law.

It alleges a conspiracy to prevent the FEC from taking up and addressing the regulatory issues, and American co-conspirators may be brought in on any overt act in furtherance of this illegal scheme. Any U.S. citizen who intentionally supported the Russian electoral intervention could be liable. Examples would include U.S. citizens engaged in conversations like those in Trump Tower in summer of 2016, or Don, Jr.’s communications with WikiLeaks about the timing of the release of stolen emails.  The conspiracy to defraud the United States could also envelop any Americans who helped cover the Russians’ illegal electoral program by lying to federal authorities about the campaign’s Russian contacts.

That is, Bauer is imagining Mueller might charge Trump associates in a conspiracy with IRA because they did really attenuated things — things like meeting with Russian lawyers in Trump Tower — that are associated with the conspiracy. That’s effectively what Jaffer argued, thought not in as unattenuated a way. “It shows how additional conspiracy charges might be brought against individuals–even Americans–that help foreigners interfere with our electoral system. ”

Maybe Bauer, who has the advantage of actually being an expert and a lawyer and a muckety muck, is right on this point.

But my guess is Mueller is, thus far, doing something more modest and more exciting.

To understand why, consider what Manafort is both alleged, in his indictment, to have done, and what is hanging over his head. He is alleged to have laundered both political influence (via some subordinate lobbying firms, including Tony Podesta’s) and money. The allegation is that this money and influence stems from misrepresenting the interests of his pro-Russian Party of Regions work in influence-peddling in the United States.

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

Effectively, the Manafort indictment argues that Manafort illegally hid the influence of Russian money and persuasion on US politics — in the form of face-to-face lobbying, among other things — in the same way that IRA obscured the financial backing and persuasion of Russia in the 2016 operation. The hidden object, Russian money and influence, is the same in both conspiracies to defraud the US indictments.

One of the biggest complaints from Republicans about the Manafort indictment, including from the President, is that Manafort’s Party of Regions work has nothing to do with his campaign. But once you define it as a conspiracy to hide Russian involvement in our politics, it goes right to the heart of whether the people running the Trump campaign, via their one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, were honest about whose interest the campaign served.

Which brings us to the stuff hanging over Manafort’s head, the stuff Mueller seems to be trying to flip him to get. Manafort is suspected of acting as Trump’s campaign manager during key periods of staffing and policy commitment while serving the interests of Russia via some oligarch cut-outs, notably but not exclusively Oleg Deripaska.

It’s not clear how you’d charge this, in an era where campaign finance and transparency are dead. Particularly given that Manafort worked for free, bypassing every law imposed on actual donations, and therefore making it really easy for a foreign country to pay you to run a campaign.

Until you get to the conspiracy to defraud framework, to Manafort’s role in a conspiracy to hide the fact that the Russians were actually paying him to ensure Trump got elected.

I don’t actually think Don Jr will be charged (as Bauer surmised might be possible) with conspiracy to defraud based off the IRA indictment because he attended that June 9 meeting; the campaign’s data people might be different.

Which is to say that Mueller is not going to name Trump or his spawn in a conspiracy to defraud the government based off really attenuated claims that the conspiracy all derived from the IRA operation. The import of the Manafort charges (even in the limited form they exist) is that Mueller seems to be larding on the “conspiracy to defraud” charges from multiple directions, from Russians and whatever co-conspirator intermediaries to those who paid Manafort’s bills for getting Trump past the challenge of the Republican convention. Though I expect once that Marine running SCO gets all his leverage points into place they might all have that conspiracy to defraud structure. Including, I suspect, the foreign policy priorities implemented, at Jared Kushner’s direction, immediately after the election.

There are many acts, starting with the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, where principals might have criminal liability directly. But the IRA indictment made me realize why the Manafort indictment was so solidly within the scope of Mueller’s authority: because the larger project is to demonstrate that, by bypassing the agencies mandated with preventing foreign sabotage of our democratic process, the Russian-backed efforts broke a more fundamental law.

And I’m certain they’ll get there with far more evidence than Mueller laid out in the IRA indictment. But I suspect they all will use that conspiracy structure as backbone.

Update: Cleaned this up for clarity purposes.

What Did Mueller Achieve with the Internet Research Agency Indictment?

Back during Nunes Week, Trey Gowdy described the importance of Robert Mueller’s investigation by stating that we were only seeing half of what he was doing. The other half of his work, Gowdy said, was the counterintelligence side, the investigation into what Russia did to the US in 2016.

Friday, Rod Rosenstein rolled out the first glimpse of the other half of that investigation, an indictment of 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory. The indictment accuses IRA of 8 crimes: criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.

In the wake of that indictment, the court unsealed a February 7  plea agreement with Californian Richard Pinedo, for identity theft (basically, selling bank account numbers; the information doesn’t identify the users who purchased the bank account numbers as IRA personnel who used them to set up “American” identities, but that is clearly what happened).

The 13 Russians charged in the IRA indictment — which include Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the close Putin associate who owns the company, those in charge of the operation (which was not limited to US targeting), down to a few of the analysts who did the troll work — will never be extradited to the US, though the most senior among them will surely be sanctioned. Nor will Putin in any way retaliate against them — they were doing work he approved of! Further, by criminalizing “information warfare” (as the Russians admitted they were engaged in, and as we do too, under the same name) we risk our own information warriors being indicted in other countries.

So what purpose did the indictment serve? Here are some thoughts:

Creating a paper trail

Rosenstein and Chris Wray have both said they believe investigators should speak through indictments and other official documents, not through Comeyesque press conferences. Here we have an indictment that serves as a record of what Mueller’s team has found.

We would probably have gotten it in any case, as Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has emphasized bringing more cybersecurity related indictments.

But that we did get it addresses one of the questions we’ve gotten about the Mueller investigation: whether we’ll get to read a report of what he has found.

To the extent that something is indictable, even if that indictment would name Russians or others located overseas, I guess we should expect more of the same.

Establishing bipartisan credibility for the larger investigation

The reason I keep pointing to Gowdy’s statements in support of the investigation in the last several weeks is because his actions seem to reflect one of the most partisan Republicans reacting soberly to an attack on the country, rather than just one party.

And while the details of the indictment — most notably that the trolls affirmatively supported Bernie Sanders as well as Trump — have resurfaced the old primary recriminations, for the most part, the indictment has provided a way for people from both parties to agree to the reality of the attack. Trump said Mueller did a good job with the indictment (admittedly, he may be currying favor). Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster responded to the indictment by declaring the evidence that Russia interfered in the election “incontrovertible.” This indictment offers a way for even self-interested Republicans to start acknowledging the reality of what happened.

The indictment also gave Rod Rosenstein an opportunity to own this investigation with a press conference announcing it. None of the prosecutors tied to the case appeared (since I track these things, know that Jeannie Rhee, Rush Atkinson, and Ryan Dickey are on the docket), just Rosenstein. Hopefully, tying him to this non-offensive indictment will make it harder to fire Rosenstein, and thereby further protect Mueller.

Reiterating the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States

The most interesting of the three crimes charged in the IRA indictment is the first, the conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictment describes the conspiracy this way:

U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General. And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government.

Effectively, Mueller is saying that it’s not illegal, per se, to engage in political trolling (AKA information warfare), but it is if you don’t but are legally obliged to register before you do so. That’s an important distinction, because much of what these trolls did is accepted behavior in American politics — all sides did this in 2016, including people employed by campaigns and others expressing their own political opinions. Trolling (AKA information warfare) only becomes illegal when you don’t carry out the required transparency or reporting before you do so.

The charge of a conspiracy to defraud the United States has a very important parallel elsewhere in this investigation, in the first charge in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment. The indictment explains,

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

The Manafort indictment then argues that by hiding that the lobbying work they were doing was on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions they, “knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.” I’ll have more to say about this parallel in coming days, but suffice it to say that Mueller is alleging that Manafort is the mirror image of the troll farm, engaging in politics while hiding on whose behalf he’s doing it (he was arguably doing the same in Ukraine). [Update: see this post for more on how this might work.]

In both cases, the indictments substantiate the conspiracy by naming a variety of crimes, like money laundering and identity theft.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this structure going forward (and suspect it’s something the numerous appellate specialists on Mueller’s team have been spending a lot of time thinking about).

Laying out how Americans might be involved with or without “colluding”

Much has been made of Rosenstein’s line, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” I don’t read too much into that. Rather, I think Rosenstein included it because the indictment does explicitly and implicitly describe actions many Americans and possible Americans took that were part of this conspiracy. That includes:

Illegal compensated acvitities

  • Richard Pinedo: Selling Russian trolls (and others) bank account numbers they can use to conduct identity fraud
  • Unknown persons: Providing social security numbers and fake US drivers licenses of Americans
  • Unknown persons: Selling stolen credit card information

Presumptively legal compensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Renting servers in the US to run VPNs to hide their foreign location
  • Yahoo, Gmail, Paypal: Providing email and PayPal accounts the Russians used as the basis for social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Providing those social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Selling advertisements on social media
  • Unknown Trump associates: Paying for IRA rally expenses
  • Paid providers: Building a cage, acquiring a costume, and posing as Hillary in prison stunt at a FL event
  • Unknown US person: Providing posters for a Support Hillary, Save American Muslims rally
  • Unknown American: Holding a sign in front of the White House on May 29, 2016

Uncompensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Interacting with Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva when they traveled to the US sometime between June 4 and June 26, 2014 to conduct reconnaissance and another co-conspirator that November
  • Members of the media: Accepting tips and promoting IRA events
  • A member of a real TX-based Tea Party organization: Advising the conspirators to focus on the purple states “like Colorado, Virginia & Florida”
  • Unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump: Distributing IRA materials through existing channels of those groups
  • Administrators of large social media groups focused on U.S. politics: Promoting IRA events
  • Trump volunteer: Providing signs for the March for Trump event and otherwise recruiting for it
  • A Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county: Advising on more locations and logistics for the Florida Trump event
  • Campaign Officials 1, 2, and 3: discussing the Florida events

Later the indictment describes a database of 100 real US persons whom the trolls treated as recruiting targets, complete with profiling.

On or about August 24, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators updated an internal ORGANIZATION list of over 100 real U.S. persons contacted through ORGANIZATION-controlled false U.S. persona accounts and tracked to monitor recruitment efforts and requests. The list included contact information for the U.S. persons, a summary of their political views, and activities they had been asked to perform by Defendants and their co-conspirators.

Here’s the important thing about all this. While Pinedo pled guilty and faces 12-18 months even with his cooperation agreement (and even there, while the information makes it clear he knew he was dealing with foreigners, his lawyer has made it clear he didn’t know who or what he was dealing with), there are only two other known illegal roles in this conspiracy, and there’s no reason those roles would have had to be carried out by Americans. Perhaps Mueller has others cooperating, perhaps those other criminals are unknown. But as for the rest, they are (as Rosenstein made clear) not guilty of any kind of conspiracy with Russia.

DOJ just rolled out an indictment in which probably 20 Americans can recognize themselves (many of whom were likely interviewed), about as many as all the Trump officials named in one or another plea agreement so far. Yet, as far as Mueller knows, none of these people did anything but conduct business or engage in sincerely held politics. They almost certainly had far less reason to be suspicious of the trolls they were being used by than Facebook and Twitter. Those actions have been tainted now through no fault of their own.

Which is something to remember: I’ve seen Hillary supporters, in the same breath, criticize Bernie or Jill Stein supporters because their preferred candidate was treated favorably by the trolls, yet in the same breath suggesting the black and Muslim activists targeted are innocent victims.

Obviously, Hillary and her supporters are victims. But everyone is, even the Trump volunteers. Because to the extent they had honestly held beliefs, the Russian operation tainted those beliefs, it diminished the weight of their honestly held beliefs. They were used by Russian trolls, most of them without the same profit motive that led Facebook and Twitter to allow themselves to be used. And we should remember that.

Hinting at what the US has

There are, however, a few tactical things this indictment does, starting with hinting at what other evidence the US has. This indictment was relatively easy, in that Adrian Chen (in a June 2015 article that still gets too little attention), Facebook and (to a lesser extent) other social media outlets, the Daily Beast, and SSCI generally have already laid out what IRA did. The indictment slaps some criminal charges on fraudulent behavior that enabled it, and without showing much about any additional evidence Mueller collected, you’ve got a showy indictment.

There are two hints, however, of the additional evidence used (which, given that the named conspirators will never face trial, will never need to be disclosed or explained). First, in a passage about how IRA started to cover their tracks after Mueller started focusing on this activity, there’s the reference to Irina Kaverzina.

On or about September 13, 2017, KAVERZINA wrote in an email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

Kaverzina was just a low-level troll and this may be nothing more than Section 702 collected email off GMail or Yahoo, or it may be a more formal intercept. But Mueller obtained communications from at least one of the indictees. Emails from more senior people, such as Prigozhin or his more senior managers (or the IT guys buying server space in the US) would be more interesting.

Plus, Mueller likely obtained cooperation from one IRA employee, the unnamed person who traveled to Atlanta in November 2014 for reconnaissance. Had that person not cooperated, he or she would have been named in the indictment.

Nevertheless establishing the political stakes

I said above that none of the hundred-plus Americans who were unknowingly used by trolls should be considered anything but victims. Their chosen political views, loathsome or not, have now been tainted, and not because of anything they’ve done except perhaps show too much trust or credulity.

But there are hints that Mueller is using this indictment to set up a more important point.

For example, the indictment (perhaps because of Mueller’s mandate) focuses on political activities supporting or opposing one or another 2016 candidate. Even where topics (immigration, Muslim religion, race) are not necessarily tied to the election, they’re presented here as such. Unless Facebook’s public reports are wrong, this is a very different emphasis than what Facebook has said the IRA focused on. Which is to say that Mueller’s team are focusing on a subset of the known IRA trolling, the subset that involves the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary.

And there are several events, in particular, that may one day serve as details in a larger conspiracy. Most interesting, for the timing and location, are the twin anti-Hillary and pro-Trump events in NYC in June and July 2016.

In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

a. In or around June through July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to promote the “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to send individualized messages to real U.S. persons to request that they participate in and help organize the rally. To assist their efforts, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through false U.S. personas, offered money to certain U.S. persons to cover rally expenses.

c. On or about June 5, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while posing as a U.S. grassroots activist, used the account @March_for_Trump to contact a volunteer for the Trump Campaign in New York. The volunteer agreed to provide signs for the “March for Trump” rally.


On or about July 23, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send out press releases to over thirty media outlets promoting the “Down With Hillary” rally at Trump Tower in New York City.

The description of a IRA-organized event at Trump Tower the day after WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails, in particular, suggests the possibility of a great deal of coordination, coordination with people in the US.

Similarly, the extended descriptions of events in Florida may also take on added relevance in the future, particularly coming as they did in tandem with Guccifer 2.0’s release of DCCC data targeting FL. (And this, in turn, should focus even more attention on the FL congressmen like Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis who’re leading the pushback on Mueller’s investigation.)

Using the term “co-conspirator” 119 times

Perhaps most interesting, given the tiny nods to what other intelligence Mueller might have, are the 119 uses of the word “co-conspirators.” Almost all of these uses seem to necessarily mean unnamed IRA employees working from the same St. Petersburg location described as trolling. Several times the co-conspirators are clearly described as located in Russia. So it may be that all references to co-conspirators here are just a way to refer to the 70 other people involved in this operation at IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Other uses of “co-conspirator” involve wider knowledge, perhaps an outsider’s knowledge of a go-between role Prigozhin might have had.

But others are things that might have involved a stateside co-conspirator, such as the mention of co-conspirators helping to set up the May 29, 2016 Prigozhin birthday tribute in front of the White House, co-conspirators tracking US social media use, co-conspirators engaged in identity theft, co-conspirators promoting claims of voter fraud, co-conspirators destroying data. Several of those things (such as tracking US social media use or claiming Hillary was going to steal the election) are things we know Trump associates were also doing. Others might be facilitated by someone stateside. So those uses of the term could be people not employed by IRA.

Which is to say, this indictment might be (probably is) intended to address just the activities of those employed by IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Update: added the public indictment part.

New Right Hook: Mike Flynn Lied When He Admitted to a Judge He Lied to the FBI

Apparently, the latest Grassley-Graham effort to spin a very understandable reaction to the discovery that the incoming National Security Advisor might be compromised by Russia — to have a meeting about whether that requires a change in the government’s investigative approach and then memorialize the meeting — as a Christopher Steele plots is not an isolated event. To accompany the Grassley-Graham effort to obscure, the right wing is now seeing a conspiracy, best captured in this Byron York piece with follow-ups elsewhere, in Mike Flynn’s guilty plea.

At issue is leaked March 2017 testimony from Jim Comey (in a piece complaining about the leak of Flynn’s FISA intercepts) that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017 believed any inaccuracies in Flynn’s interview with the FBI were unintentional.

In March 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey briefed a number of Capitol Hill lawmakers on the Trump-Russia investigation.


According to two sources familiar with the meetings, Comey told lawmakers that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe that Flynn had lied to them, or that any inaccuracies in his answers were intentional. As a result, some of those in attendance came away with the impression that Flynn would not be charged with a crime pertaining to the Jan. 24 interview.

From that, York spins out a slew of laughable claims: Mike Flynn would have no reason to address the FBI amid swirling coverage of lies about Russian ties! The Deputy Attorney General “sends” FBI agents to conduct interviews! DOJ “effectively gave” Jim Comey authority to decide Hillary’s fate but then fired him for usurping that authority! They lead up to York’s theory that DOJ may have overridden the FBI agents in forcing Flynn to sign a plea admitting he made false statements.

It could be that the FBI agents who did the questioning were overruled by Justice Department officials who came up with theories like Flynn’s alleged violation of the Logan Act or his alleged vulnerability to blackmail.


To some Republicans, it appears the Justice Department used a never-enforced law and a convoluted theory as a pretext to question Flynn — and then, when FBI questioners came away believing Flynn had not lied to them, forged ahead with a false-statements prosecution anyway. The Flynn matter is at the very heart of the Trump-Russia affair, and there is still a lot to learn about it.

Along the way, York feigns apparent ignorance of everything he knows about how criminal investigations work.

For example, York pretends to be unaware of all the pieces of evidence that have surfaced since that time that have changed the context of Flynn’s January 24 interview. There’s the weird dinner Trump invited Comey to on January 27, a day after Sally Yates first raised concerns about the interview with White House Counsel Don McGahn, where Trump told Comey “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” There’s the more troubling meeting on February 14, where (after asserting that Flynn had indeed lied to Mike Pence) Trump asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation.

He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

There’s the March 30 phone call in which the President complained about the “cloud” of the Russian investigation. There’s the April 11 phone call where the President complained about that “cloud” again, and asked for public exoneration. There’s the newly reported Don McGahn call following that conversation, to Dana Boente asking for public exoneration. There’s Comey’s May 9 firing, just in time for Trump to tell Russians on May 10 that firing that “nut job” relieved pressure on him. There’s the letter Trump drafted with Stephen Miller’s help that made it clear Comey was being fired because of the Russian investigation.

Already by the time of Comey’s firing, the White House claim that Mike Flynn got fired because he lied about his conversations to Sergey Kislyak to Mike Pence, was falling apart.

Then, in August, the Mueller team obtained the transition emails that transition lawyers had withheld from congressional requests (and therefore from Mueller), including those of Flynn himself, Jared Kushner, and KT McFarland. The transition would go on to squawk that these emails, which didn’t include Trump and dated to before Trump became President, were subject to executive privilege, alerting Mueller that the emails would have been withheld because the emails (some sent from Mar-A-Lago) reflected the involvement of Trump. Not to mention that the emails tied conversations about Russia to the “thrown election.”

Then there’s Jared Kushner’s interview with Mueller’s team in the weeks before Mike Flynn decided to plead guilty. At it, prosecutors asked Jared if he had any information that might exculpate Flynn.

One source said the nature of this conversation was principally to make sure Kushner doesn’t have information that exonerates Flynn.

There were reports that Flynn felt like he had been sold out just before he flipped, and I would bet this is part of the reason why. In addition to instructions regarding the sanction calls with Kislyak, which were directed by KT McFarland, Flynn’s statement of offense describes someone we know to be Kushner directing Flynn to call countries, including Russia, to try to persuade them to avoid a vote on Israeli West Bank settlements.

On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.

Granted, Mueller’s team didn’t make the point of the lies as obvious as they did with the George Papadopoulos plea, where they made clear Papadopoulos lied to hide that he learned of the “dirt” on Hillary in the form of emails after he started on the campaign and whether he told the campaign about those emails (not to mention that he had contacts with Ivan Timofeev).

Mueller’s not telling us why Flynn’s lies came to have more significance as Mueller collected more and more evidence.

But what they make clear is that the significance of Flynn’s lies was not, as it first appeared, that he was trying to hide the subject of the calls from Mike Pence. I mean, maybe he did lie to Pence about those calls. But discussions about how to work with the Russians were not secret; they included at least Kushner, McFarland, Tom Bossert, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer. Some of those conversations happened with McFarland emailing while at Mar-A-Lago with the President-Elect.

So given the weight of the evidence collected since, Flynn’s lies now appear neither an effort to avoid incriminating himself on Logan Act charges, nor an effort to cover up a lie he told others in the White House, but the opposite. His lies appear to have hidden how broadly held the Russian discussions were within the transition team, not to mention that he was ordered to make the requests he did, possibly by people relaying orders from Trump, rather than doing them on his own.

That, by itself, doesn’t make the Flynn conversations (as distinct from the lies) illegal. But it means Trump went to great lengths to try to prevent Flynn from suffering any consequences for lying to hide the degree to which negotiations with Russia during the transition period were the official policy of the Trump team. And when Trump (or rather, his son-in-law) stopped protecting Flynn on that point, Flynn decided to admit to a judge that he had been knowingly lying.

It doesn’t take a conspiracy to realize that the FBI Agents who interviewed Flynn in January had none of the evidence since made available largely because Trump tried so hard to protect Flynn that he fired his FBI Director over it. It takes looking at the evidence, which makes it clear why those false statements looked very different as it became clear Flynn, after acting on Trump transition team instructions, got sold out as other senior Trump officials started trying to protect themselves.

On the Grassley-Feinstein Dispute

In a podcast with Preet Bharara this week, Sheldon Whitehouse had the following exchange about whether he thought Carter Page should have been surveilled. (after 24:30)

Whitehouse: I’ve got to be a little bit careful because I’m one of the few Senators who have been given access to the underlying material.

Bharara: Meaning the affidavit in support of the FISA application.

Whitehouse And related documents, yes. The package.

Bharara: And you’ve gone to read them?

Whitehouse: I’ve gone to read them.

Bharara: You didn’t send Trey Gowdy?

Whitehouse: [Laughs] I did not send Trey Gowdy. I actually went through them. And, so I’ve got to be careful because some of this is still classified. But the conclusion that I’ve reached is that there was abundant evidence outside of the Steele dossier that would have provoked any responsible FBI with a counterintelligence concern to look at whether Carter Page was an undisclosed foreign agent. And to this day the FBI continues to assert that he was a undisclosed Russian foreign agent.

For the following discussion, then, keep in mind that a very sober former US Attorney has read the case against Carter Page and says that the FBI still — still, after Page is as far as we know no longer under a FISA order — asserts he “was” an undisclosed foreign agent (it’s not clear what that past tense “was” is doing, as it could mean he was a foreign agent until the attention on him got too intense or remains one; also, I believe John Ratcliffe, a Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and also a former US Attorney, has read the application too).

With that background, I’d like to turn to the substance of the dispute between Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein over the dossier, which has played out in the form of a referral of Christopher Steele to FBI for lying. In the wake of the Nunes memo theatrics, Grassley released first a heavily redacted version of the referral he and Lindsey Graham sent the FBI in early January, followed by a less-redacted version this week. The referral, even as a transparent political stunt, is nevertheless more substantive than Devin Nunes’ memo, leading some to take it more seriously.  Which may be why Feinstein released a rebuttal this week.

In case you’re wondering, I’m tracking footnote escalation in these documents. They line up this way:

  • 0: Nunes memo (0 footnotes over 4 pages, or 1 over 6 if you count Don McGahn’s cover letter)
  • 2.6: Grassley referral (26 footnotes over 10 pages)
  • 3.6: Schiff memo (36 footnotes, per HPSCI transcript, over 10 pages)
  • 5.4: Feinstein rebuttal (27 footnotes over 5 pages)

So let me answer a series of questions about the memo as a way of arguing that, while by all means the FBI’s use of consultants might bear more scrutiny, this is still a side-show.

Did Christopher Steele lie?

The Grassely-Graham referral says Steele may have lied, but doesn’t commit to whether classified documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee (presumably including the first two Page applications), a declaration Steele submitted in a British lawsuit, or Steele’s statements to the FBI include lies.

The FBI has since provided the Committee access to classified documents relevant to the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele and whether the FBI relied on his dossier work. As explained in greater detail below, when information in those classified documents is evaluated in light of sworn statements by Mr. Steele in British litigation, it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements.

On September 3, 2017 — a good three months before the Grassley-Graham referral — I pointed to a number of things in the Steele declaration, specifically pertaining to who got the dossier or heard about it when, that I deemed “improbable.”

That was the genius of the joint (!!) Russian-Republican campaign of lawfare against the dossier. As Steele and BuzzFeed and Fusion tried to avoid liability for false claims against Webzilla and Alfa Bank and their owners, they were backed into corners where they had to admit that Democrats funded the dossier and made claims that might crumble as Congress scrutinized the dossier.

So, yeah, I think it quite possible that Steele told some stretchers.

Did Christopher Steele lie to the FBI?

But that only matters if he lied to the FBI (and not really even there). The UK is not about to extradite one of its former spies because of lies told in the UK — they’re not even going to extradite alleged hacker Lauri Love, because we’re a barbaric country. And I assume the Brits give their spooks even more leeway to fib a little to courts than the US does.

The most critical passage of the referral on this point, which appears to make a claim about whether Steele told the FBI he had shared information with the press before they first used his dossier in a Page application, looks like this.

The footnote in the middle of that redacted passage goes to an unredacted footnote that says,

The FBI has failed to provide the Committee the 1023s documenting all of Mr. Steele’s statements to the FBI, so the Committee is relying on the accuracy of the FBI’s representation to the FISC regarding the statements.

1023s are Confidential Human Source reports.

I say that’s the most important passage because the referral goes on to admit that in subsequent FISA applications the FBI explained that the relationship with Steele had been terminated because of his obvious involvement in the October 31, 2016 David Corn story. Graham and Grassley complain that the FBI didn’t use Steele’s defiance of the FBI request not to share this information with anyone besides the FBI to downgrade his credibility rankings. Apparently FISC was less concerned about that than Graham and Grassley, which may say more about standards for informants in FISA applications than Steele or Carter Page.

The footnote, though, is the biggest tell. That’s because Feinstein’s rebuttal makes it quite clear that after Grassley and Graham made their referral, SJC received documents — which, given what we know has been given to HPSCI, surely include those 1023s — that would alter the claims made in the referral.

The Department of Justice has provided documents regarding its interactions with Mr. Steele to the Judiciary Committee both before and after the criminal referral was made. Despite this, the Majority did not modify the criminal referral and pressed forward with its original claims, which do not take into account the additional information provided after the initial January 4 referral.

Feinstein then goes on to state, several times and underlining almost everything for emphasis, that the referral provides no proof that Steele was ever asked if he had served as the source for Isikoff.

  • Importantly, the criminal referral fails to identify when, if ever, Mr. Steele was asked about and provided a materially false statement about his press contacts.
  • Tellingly, it also fails to explain any circumstances which would have required Mr. Steele to seek the FBI’s permission to speak to the press or to disclose if he had done so.


But the criminal referral provides no evidence that Steele was ever asked about the Isikoff article, or if asked that he lied.

In other words, between the redacted claim about what Steele said and Feinstein’s repeated claims that the referral presents no evidence Steele was asked about his prior contacts with the press, the evidence seems to suggest that Steele was probably not asked. And once he was, after the Corn article, he clearly did admit to the FBI he had spoken with the press. So while it appears Steele blew off the FBI’s warnings not to leak to the press, the evidence that he lied to the FBI appears far weaker.

Does it harm the viability of the FISA application?

That should end the analysis, because the ostensible purpose of the referral is a criminal referral, not to make an argument about the FISA process.

But let’s assess the memo’s efforts to discredit the FISA application.

In two places, the referral suggests the dossier played a bigger role in the FISA application than, for example, Whitehouse suggests.

Indeed, the documents we have reviewed show that the FBI took important investigative steps largely based on Mr. Steele’s information–and relying heavily on his credibility.


Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims. Thus the basis for the warrant authorizing surveillance on a U.S. citizen rests largely on Mr. Steele’s credibility.

These claims would be more convincing, however, if they acknowledged that FBI had to have obtained valuable foreign intelligence off their Page wiretap over the course of the year they had him wiretapped to get three more applications approved.

Indeed, had Grassley and Graham commented on the addition of new information in each application, their more justifiable complaint that the FBI did not alert FISC to the UK filings in which Steele admitted more contact with the press than (they claim) show up in the applications would be more compelling. If you’re going to bitch about newly learned information not showing up in subsequent applications, then admit that newly acquired information showed up.

Likewise, I’m very sympathetic with the substance of the Grassley-Graham complaint that Steele’s discussions with the press made it more likely that disinformation got inserted into the dossier (see my most recently post on that topic), but I think the Grassley-Graham complaint undermines itself in several ways.

Simply put, the more people who contemporaneously knew that Mr. Steele was compiling his dossier, the more likely it was vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, the British litigation, which involves a post-election dossier memorandum, Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it unsolicited–and unverified–allegations. That filing implies that implies that he similar received unsolicited intelligence on these matters prior to the election as well, stating that Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election.” [my underline]

The passage is followed by an entirely redacted paragraph that likely talks about disinformation.

This is actually an important claim, not just because it raises the possibility that Page might be unfairly surveilled as part of a Russian effort to distract attention from others (though its use in a secret application wouldn’t have sown the discord it has had it not leaked), but also because we can check whether their claims hold up against the Steele declaration. It’s one place we can check the referral to see whether their arguments accurately reflect the underlying evidence.

Importantly, to support a claim the potential for disinformation in the Steele dossier show up in the form of unsolicited information earlier than they otherwise substantiate, they claim a statement in Steele’s earlier declaration pertains to pre-election memos. Here’s what it looks like in that declaration:

That is, Steele didn’t say he was getting unsolicited information prior to the election; this was, in both declarations, a reference to the single December report.

Moreover, while I absolutely agree that the last report is the most likely to be disinformation, the referral is actually not clear whether that December 13 report ever actually got included in a FISA application. There’s no reason it would have been. While the last report mentions Page, the mention is only a referral back to earlier claims that Trump’s camp was trying to clean up after reports of Page’s involvement with the Russians got made public. So the risk that the December memorandum consisted partially or wholly of disinformation is likely utterly irrelevant to the validity of the three later FISA orders targeting Page.

Which is to say that, while I think worries about disinformation are real (particularly given their reference to Rinat Akhmetshin allegedly learning about the dossier during the summer, which I wrote about here), the case Grassley and Graham make on that point both miscites Steele’s own declaration and overstates the impact of their argued case on a Page application.

What about the Michael Isikoff reference?

Perhaps the most interesting detail in the Grassley-Graham referral pertains to their obsession with the applications’ references to the September 23 Michael Isikoff article based off Steele’s early discussions with the press. Grassley-Graham claim there’s no information corroborating the dossier (there’s a redacted Comey quote that likely says something similar). In that context, they point to the reference to Isikoff without explaining what it was doing there.

The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen people suggest the reference to Isikoff may have justified the need for secrecy or something, rater than as corroboration. But neither the referral nor Feinstein’s rebuttal explains what the reference is doing.

In this passage, Grassley and Graham not only focus on Isikoff, but they ascribe certain motives to the way FBI referred to it, suggesting the claim that they did not believe Steele was a source for Isikoff was an attempt to “shield Mr. Steele’s credibility.”

There’s absolutely no reason the FBI would have seen the need to shield Steele’s credibility in October. He was credible. More troubling is that the FBI said much the same thing in January.

In the January reapplication, the FBI stated in a footnote that, “it did not believe that Steele gave information to Yahoo News that ‘published the September 23 News Article.”

Let’s do some math.

If I’m doing my math correctly, if the FISA reapplications happened at a regular 90 day interval, they’d look like this.

That’d be consistent with what the Nunes memo said about who signed what, and would fit the firing dates of January 30 for Yates and May 9 for Comey, as well as the start date for Rosenstein of April 26 (Chris Wray started on August 1).

If that’s right, then Isikoff wrote his second article on the Steele dossier, one that made it clear via a link his earlier piece had been based off Steele, before the second application was submitted (though the application would have been finished and submitted in preliminary form a week earlier, meaning FBI would have had to note the Isikoff piece immediately to get it into the application, but the topic of the Isikoff piece — that Steele was an FBI asset — might have attracted their attention).

But that’s probably not right because the Grassley-Graham referral describes a June, not July, reapplication, meaning the application would have been no later than the last week of June. That makes the reauthorization dates look more like this, distributing the extra days roughly proportionately:

That would put the second footnote claiming the FBI had no reason to believe the September Isikoff piece was based on Steele before the time when the second Isikoff piece made it clear.

I’m doing this for a second reason, however. It’s possible (particularly given Whitehouse’s comments) Carter Page remains under surveillance, but for some reason it’s no longer contentious.

That might be the case if the reapplications no longer rely on the dossier.

And I’m interested in that timing because, on September 9, I made what was implicit clear: That pointing to the September Isikoff piece to claim the Steele dossier had been corroborated was self-referential. I’m not positive I was the first, but by that point, the Isikoff thing would have been made explicit.

Does this matter at all to the Mueller inquiry?

Ultimately, though, particularly given the Nunes memo confirmation that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s people all stems from the George Papadopoulos tip, and not Page (particularly given the evidence that the FBI was very conservative in their investigation of him) there’s not enough in even the Grassley-Graham referral to raise questions about the Mueller investigation, especially given a point I made out in the Politico last week.

According to a mid-January status report in the case against Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, the government has turned over “more than 590,000 items” to his defense team, “including (but not limited to) financial records, records from vendors identified in the indictment, email communications involving the defendants, and corporate records.” He and Gates have received imaged copies of 87 laptops, phones and thumb drives, and copies off 19 search-warrant applications. He has not received, however, a FISA notice, which the government would be required to provide if they planned to use anything acquired using evidence obtained using the reported FISA warrant against Manafort. That’s evidence of just how much of a distraction Manafort’s strategy [of using the Steele dossier to discredit the Mueller investigation] is, of turning the dossier into a surrogate for the far more substantive case against him and others.

And it’s not just Manafort. Not a single thing in the George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn guilty pleas—for lying to the FBI—stems from any recognizable mention in the dossier, either. Even if the Steele dossier were a poisoned fruit, rather than the kind of routine oppo research that Republicans themselves had pushed to the FBI to support investigations, Mueller has planted an entirely new tree blooming with incriminating details.

Thus the point of my graphic above. The Steele dossier evidence used in the Carter Page FISA application to support an investigation into Cater Page, no matter what else it says about the FISA application process or FBI candor, is just a small corner of the investigation into Trump’s people.