Trump’s Second Impeachment Has Already Had a Beneficial Effect

After Billy Barr spent eight months dedicating DOJ resources to supporting Sidney Powell’s conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn, Trump pardoned his short-lived National Security Advisor for everything associated with the Mueller investigation. Within weeks, Flynn called for martial law, a three-star General with an avid QAnon following inciting an insurrection.

After Billy Barr dismissed the seriousness of threats against Randy Credico and Amy Berman Jackson backed by Proud Boy associates of Roger Stone, Trump first ensured that Stone would do no prison time and then pardoned him for his cover-up of the Trump campaign’s efforts to optimize the release of stolen John Podesta files. While Roger Stone claims to have had no role, the key organization behind the riot, Stop the Steal, adopted the name and the methods he used in 2016. And thus far five members of the Proud Boys have been arrested in association with the coup attempt.

It seems that Trump’s belief in his own invincibility — one he got, in significant part, by successfully obstructing the Mueller investigation by buying silence with promised pardons, then hiring an Attorney General who would and did repeatedly protect him from consequences — not only led him to believe he could incite a riot, but led key bridges between him and the foot soldiers in this coup attempt to believe they had impunity too.

But according to stories in virtually all major outlets (here’s the CNN version), in the wake of both the coup attempt and impeachment for it, Trump has backed off plans to complete that act of impunity by pardoning his spawn and himself.

Initially, two major batches had been ready to roll out, one at the end of last week and one on Tuesday. Now, officials expect the last batch to be the only one — unless Trump decides at the last minute to grant pardons to controversial allies, members of his family or himself.

[snip]

The January 6 riots that led to Trump’s second impeachment have complicated his desire to pardon himself, his kids and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. At this point, aides do not think he will do so, but caution only Trump knows what he will do with his last bit of presidential power before he is officially out of office at noon on January 20.

After the riots, advisers encouraged Trump to forgo a self-pardon because it would appear like he was guilty of something, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Several of Trump’s closest advisers have also urged him not to grant clemency to anyone involved in the siege on the US Capitol, despite Trump’s initial stance that those involved had done nothing wrong.

I predicted this would happen here.

To be clear, I don’t think Trump’s moderated plans come from any remorse or sense of contrition. Rather, after the riot Pat Cipollone apparently refused to be a part of such plans anymore (though I also think the Stone and Paul Manafort pardons were far more modest than they might have been). Lindsey Graham’s efforts to minimize the impeachment trial in the Senate also helped, as Lindsey knows any attempt to prevent conviction in the Senate is premised on Trump avoiding any further abuse.

None of this changes the fact that Trump has abused the pardon power far more than any president before him. Nor will it prevent a great many other abusive pardons today.

But to restore legitimacy and belief in the rule of law, the story of Trump’s crimes needs to be told, and told in a way that makes the damage he caused and the betrayal of his supporters clear. If, indeed, Trump decides not to pardon his lawyer, his spawn, and himself, it will be one important step in that process.

Update: This CNN story reports on precisely this phenomenon.

The decision to not pardon any Republican lawmakers or his family members was a last minute one. After initially defending the idea that he may pardon himself or his family members out of concern they would be targeted once he’s out of office, Trump decided Saturday night that he would not pardon anyone in his family or himself.

Trump agreed with the attorneys and other advisers that doing so would increase the appearance of guilt and could make them more vulnerable, but was disappointed at the outcome, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump, according to people he’d spoken to, appeared more taken with the message of unchecked power it might send to his naysayers than actual protection from liability. His pardon power was among his favorite perks of the job.

The newfound concerns about actually exercising this favorite perk of the job extends to members of Congress worried about their own legal exposure and Ed Snowden and Julian Assange.

Several Republican lawmakers who are alleged to have been involved in the rally that preceded the deadly riot on the US Capitol have sought clemency from Trump before he leaves office, but after meeting with his legal advisers for several hours on Saturday, the President decided he would not grant them, according to two people familiar with his plans.

[snip]

Trump is also not expected to pardon Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, whose roles in revealing US secrets infuriated official Washington.

While he had once entertained the idea, Trump decided against it because he did not want to anger Senate Republicans who will soon determine whether he’s convicted during his Senate trial. Multiple GOP lawmakers had sent messages through aides that they felt strongly about not granting clemency to Assange or Snowden.

But His Emails! Kushner’s Unique Exposure under the Presidential Records Act

The focus on what Trump will burn down in his final days as President has brought renewed focus on whether Trump will manage to destroy evidence on his way out. For example, Trump’s refusal to concede defeat may have delayed the normal archiving process, not to mention the instructions to White House employee that there needed to be an archiving process.

When Trump lost the November election, records staffers were in position to transfer electronic records, pack up the paper ones and move them to the National Archives by Jan. 20, as required by law. But Trump’s reluctance to concede has meant they will miss the deadline.

“Necessary funding from the (White House) Office of Management and Budget was delayed for many weeks after the election, which has caused delays in arranging for the transfer of the Trump presidential records into the National Archives’ custody,” the National Archives said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Even though the transfer of these records will not be completed until after Jan. 20, the National Archives will assume legal custody of them on Jan. 20 in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Saturday that contesting the election did not cause the delay in getting the president’s records transferred to the archives and that guidance was available to staffers on how to pack up their materials.

One person familiar with the transition said guidance typically emailed to executive branch employees explaining how to turn in equipment and pack up their offices was sent out in December, but quickly rescinded because Trump insisted on contesting the election.

With little guidance, some staffers in the White House started quietly calling records workers to find out what to do.

In early December, CREW and the National Security Archive tried to sue to preserve records, requesting a Temporary Restraining Order. While a key part of that suit — which the parties may be moving to novel litigation over — pertains to whether it’s enough to take a screen shot of an electronic communication, the suit also focuses on Jared Kushner’s well-documented habit of using private communications.

72. Notwithstanding these requests and the preservation directive, Mr. Kushner and his wife and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump reportedly re-routed their personal email accounts to Trump Organization computers within one to two days of receiving the September 25, 2017 letters. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 3.

73. In a December 2018 interview with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Gowdy and Ranking Member Cummings, Mr. Kushner’s counsel “confirmed that Mr. Kushner has used—and continues to use—WhatsApp” to create or send Presidential records, including to communicate “with people outside the United States.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6. When asked by Rep. Cummings if “Mr. Kushner has ever used WhatsApp to discuss classified information,” his counsel replied, “That’s above my pay grade.” Id.

74. WhatsApp is a non-official, encrypted electronic messaging application.

75. Mr. Kushner’s lawyer further explained that Mr. Kushner preserves Presidential records created or sent from his WhatsApp account by “tak[ing] ‘screenshots’ of these communications and forward[ing] them to his official White House email account or to the National Security Council.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6 (emphasis added).

76. Mr. Kushner’s attorney also admitted that between January and August 2017, Mr. Kushner used his personal email account to send and receive official emails. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 2-3.

The government is trying to make all this go away quickly though, arguing, in part, that the NGOs suing have no private right of action under the Presidential Records Act (meaning there’s no way for them to demand more diligent treatment of records).

Here, Plaintiffs cannot make such a showing; not only does the PRA lack any private right of action, see Judicial Watch, Inc. v. NARA, 845 F. Supp. 2d 288, 299 n.5 (D.D.C. 2012), but, as discussed above, the D.C. Circuit has concluded that it affirmatively precludes judicial review.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in what happened in the last week in another lawsuit, Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ for being fired as a result of Trump’s personal retaliation against him.

Whereas CREW and NSA sued in December, McCabe instead submitted a document subpoena to the Executive Office of the President on November 4 asking for materials relating to McCabe and his firing. Since then, the parties have been squabbling over how to deal with the subpoena and, specifically, how to make sure that relevant records stored on private accounts would be preserved.

In a mid-December hearing, Judge Randolph Moss endorsed, in principle, that such records should be preserved both by those who’ve already left government and those who remained at the White House.

That’s when things got interesting.

According to a status report submitted the day of the insurrection, even though this dispute was primarily about those still in the White House, the government tried to claim it would be too onerous to ask current White House employees — McCabe focused specifically on Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, Stephen Miller, and Jared Kushner — to simply ask these four specifically whether they have archived their private server emails and WhatsApp chats properly and if not, to both do so and tell McCabe’s team if they haven’t.

Defendants’ position is as follows: Plaintiff asks that Defendants apply the procedure outlined in paragraph five above to four current EOP employees (Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and Daniel Scavino) to ensure that the individuals have copied any PRA records to an official EOP account before the end of their service at the White House. The White House has reminded all employees since the November election of their existing obligation to do just that—ensure that any official communications conducted on personal devices have been preserved on an official EOP account before the transition. Thus, there is no need to provide additional reminders to these individuals, particularly where there is no reason to presume that they have not complied with their obligations to preserve records. The benefit, if any, of requiring another reminder is outweighed by the burden on the EOP and its employees, especially given the deference owed to the White House in matters of discovery, see Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 542 U.S. 367, 387 (2004), and the alleged peripheral, at best, role of the four EOP employees in this litigation, as to which the White House is not even a defendant.

As McCabe’s team pointed out, it’s not enough to say these White House employees have a general obligation under the toothless PRA; these employees should also know they have a specific obligation under a lawsuit in which discovery has already been granted.

Moreover, a general post-election reminder to preserve documents does not suffice to inform the four current EOP employees of their obligation, specific to this litigation, to preserve relevant documents.

There’s no reason for DOJ to react in the way they did unless they had reason to believe the simple document retention request would cause problems. That’s particularly true given that, over the course of the Mueller investigation, DOJ has learned over and over that Jared (and people like Steve Bannon) weren’t archiving official records on specifically this topic. They already know details about what Jared (and Bannon) destroyed, which may explain why they responded in this fashion.

On January 8, Judge Moss sided with McCabe on this dispute, and ordered DOJ to give the four people specific warnings.

I assume, like everyone else, that Trump and his spawn have been lighting bonfires on their way out.

But in Jared’s case, he will now be asked, legally, whether he has done so.

The PRA still doesn’t have any teeth. But we may learn whether DOJ has been covering for Jared’s past document destruction, including on matters pertaining to the Mueller investigation and Trump’s vengeance for the investigation.

Julian Assange Officially Asks Trump to Pardon Him for Helping Him Get Elected

As I have noted, there’s abundant evidence that Robert Mueller investigated pardon discussions between Julian Assange and Roger Stone; that investigation appeared to be ongoing at least as of October 2020. That should make any Trump pardon of Julian Assange at least as legally fraught as any of the others he has given or is expected to give, short of a self-pardon.

Predictably, Ken Vogel makes no mention of that in his story on two parallel efforts to obtain a pardon for Assange. Nor does Vogel note that the petition submitted by Assange’s US defense attorney, Barry Pollack, includes what would be that quid pro quo in the requested scope of the pardon.

Mr. Assange should be granted a pardon to cover the conduct at issue in the pending criminal case against him and any other conduct prior to the pardon grant that could be the basis for criminal charges against him in the United States.

If Trump gave Assange a pardon with this scope, the language would amount to a pardon for helping Trump get elected, a pardon under discussion within days of Trump’s 2016 victory if not even before it. This would amount to a more generous pardon than Trump gave his own rat-fucker, Roger Stone.

Along with a misrepresentation of what the current CFAA charge against Assange is and a claim that Assange, “has already been confined longer than any person ever charged or convicted under the Espionage Act in its more than 100-year history” (effectively counting time Assange chose to hide out in the Ecuadorian Embassy while still engaged in similar acts to those he’s being prosecuted for), Pollack presents a really hysterical subset of the files Assange leaked in 2016 and 2017:

In 2016, WikiLeaks published:

  • 19,252 e-mails and 8,034 attachments from the Democratic National Party leadership, which resulted in the resignation of five top officials who had taken actions during the primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

In 2017,WikiLeaks:

  • exposed lax security in the CIA unit dedicated to malware development, a fact acknowledged by an internal CIA report into the publication, which was subsequently revealed by Senator Ron Wyden; and
  • published the “the Russia Spy files,” documents relating to Russia under Vladimir Putin, including releases about surveillance contractors in Russia.

Pollack leaves off, among other things, the Podesta files involved in the seeming quid pro quo (which I guess might otherwise make him party to the crime). And he includes the Russian files for the same reason WikiLeaks published the already published files — as propaganda to cover up his role as a cut-out for Russia. The Vault 7 release, of course, happened during the period when — Pollack claims — Assange was “confined” as if it had anything to do with Espionage charges.

The real focus of the Vogel story, however, is how — in the wake of Trump’s coup this week — a bunch of Australian buddies of Assange just signed a “pro bono” contract with a lobbyist to push for the pardon.

Mr. Davis, who is now a lawyer specializing in national security and whistle-blower cases, is on the board of Blueprint for Free Speech, an Australia-based nonprofit group that advocates for press freedoms and whistle-blower protections. The group, which was started by Suelette Dreyfus, a former journalist who is an old friend and collaborator with Mr. Assange, signed a pro bono contract on Saturday with the lobbyist Robert Stryk to seek a pardon for Mr. Assange.

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Stryk, who is well connected in Trump administration circles, has developed a lucrative business representing foreign clients in precarious geopolitical situations.

He has worked for a jailed Saudi prince who had fallen out of favor with his country’s powerful de facto leader, as well as the administration of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, which the Trump administration considers illegitimate. Mr. Styrk also worked for Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former president, who is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from a state oil company she once headed, as well as the government of the former Congolese president Joseph Kabila, which had faced American sanctions for human rights abuses and corruption.

Disclosure: my travel expenses were paid to speak at events in Australia in 2017 by Dreyfus’ organization.

Again, I’m perfectly happy with the decision that our prisons are too inhumane for Assange. Pollack is a superb lawyer and Assange is certainly entitled to a vigorous defense (the first real hint of which shows up in the petition). But this whole effort is yet more of a propaganda campaign hiding what Assange has become and the role Assange had in electing the guy who just attempted a coup to stay in power. That does not serve journalism, though it may give Trump enough cover to pay off his 2016 campaign dues to Russia.

Bill Barr Keeps Pretending (Falsely) That He Didn’t Encourage Yesterday’s Insurrection

Disgraced former Attorney General Billy Barr has released two statements condemning yesterday’s terrorist attack on the Capitol. First, a comment released via his spox,

Then he released a statement to the AP’s Barr-chummy DOJ reporter:

Former Attorney General William Barr says President Donald Trump’s conduct as a violent mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol was a “betrayal of his office and supporters.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Barr said Thursday that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”

Barr was one of Trump’s most loyal and ardent defenders in the Cabinet.

His comments come a day after angry and armed protesters broke into the U.S. Capitol, forcing Congress members to halt the ongoing vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election and then flee from the House and Senate chambers.

Barr resigned last month amid lingering tension over the president’s baseless claims of election fraud and the investigation into Biden’s son.

Of course, Barr himself encouraged the violence yesterday.

That’s because, less than a year ago, he treated a threat against a sitting judge issued by some of the men who organized yesterday’s actions as a “technicality” not worthy of a sentencing enhancement for Roger Stone.

Two years ago, after Roger Stone posted a picture of Amy Berman Jackson with crosshairs on it, Jonathan Kravis asked Stone who came up with the picture. The President’s rat-fucker named two of his buddies who are key leaders of the Proud Boys, Jacob Engles and Enrique Tarrio.

Amy Berman Jackson. How was the image conveyed to you by the person who selected it?

Stone. It was emailed to me or text-messaged to me. I’m not certain.

Q. Who sent the email?

A. I would have to go back and look. I don’t recognize. I don’t know. Somebody else uses my —

THE COURT: How big is your staff, Mr. Stone?

THE DEFENDANT: I don’t have a staff, Your Honor. I have a few volunteers. I also — others use my phone, so I’m not the only one texting, because it is my account and, therefore, it’s registered to me. So I’m uncertain how I got the image. I think it is conceivable that it was selected on my phone. I believe that is the case, but I’m uncertain.

THE COURT: So individuals, whom you cannot identify, provide you with material to be posted on your personal Instagram account and you post it, even if you don’t know who it came from?

THE DEFENDANT: Everybody who works for me is a volunteer. My phone is used by numerous people because it can only be posted to the person to whom it is registered.

[snip]

Jonathan Kravis. What are the names of the five or six volunteers that you’re referring to?

Stone. I would — Jacob Engles, Enrique Tarrio. I would have to go back and look.

Not only did Stone appear at the rally before yesterday’s insurrection, but Tarrio was arrested on his way to the riot for crimes he committed during the last demonstration in support of Trump, an attack on a historic Black church in DC and possession of weapons.

Prosecutors asked Judge Jackson to add a two-level sentencing enhancement for this action, in which Stone’s Proud Boys associates crafted a threat against her.

Finally, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1, two levels are added because the defendant “willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the prosecution of the instant offense of conviction.” Shortly after the case was indicted, Stone posted an image of the presiding judge with a crosshair next to her head. In a hearing to address, among other things, Stone’s ongoing pretrial release, Stone gave sworn testimony about this matter that was not credible. Stone then repeatedly violated a more specific court order by posting messages on social media about matters related to the case.

This enhancement is warranted based on that conduct. See U.S.S.G. § 3C1.C Cmt. 4(F) (“providing materially false information to a magistrate or judge”); see, e.g., United States v. Lassequ, 806 F.3d 618, 625 (1st Cir. 2015) (“Providing false information to a judge in the course of a bail hearing can serve as a basis for the obstruction of justice enhancement.”); United States v. Jones, 911 F. Supp. 54 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (applying §3C1.1 enhancement to a defendant who submitted false information at hearing on modifying defendant’s conditions of release).

The sentencing memo that Bill Barr had drawn up to justify a more lenient sentence dismissed this enhancement which it admitted “technically” applied.

Notably, however, the Sentencing Guidelines enhancements in this case—while perhaps technically applicable— more than double the defendant’s total offense level and, as a result, disproportionately escalate the defendant’s sentencing exposure to an offense level of 29, which typically applies in cases involving violent offenses, such as armed robbery, not obstruction cases. Cf. U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(a)-(b).

[snip]

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the [defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.]

When ABJ gagged Stone in response to him posting the picture, she talked about the possibility that Stone’s post might incite his extremist followers to take action.

What concerns me is the fact that he chose to use his public platform, and chose to express himself in a manner that can incite others who may feel less constrained. The approach he chose posed a very real risk that others with extreme views and violent inclinations would be inflamed.

[snip]

The defendant himself told me he had more than one to choose from. And so what he chose, particularly when paired with the sorts of incendiary comments included in the text, the comments that not only can lead to disrespect for the judiciary, but threats on the judiciary, the post had a more sinister message. As a man who, according to his own account, has made communication his forté, his raison d’être, his life’s work, Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols. And there’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs.

She repeated that sentiment when she overruled the Barr-authorized memo, judging the enhancement was appropriate.

Here, the defendant willfully engaged in behavior that a rational person would find to be inherently obstructive. It’s important to note that he didn’t just fire off a few intemperate emails. He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. It wasn’t accidental. He had a staff that helped him do it.

As the defendant emphasized in emails introduced into evidence in this case, using the new social media is his “sweet spot.” It’s his area of expertise. And even the letters submitted on his behalf by his friends emphasized that incendiary activity is precisely what he is specifically known for. He knew exactly what he was doing. And by choosing Instagram and Twitter as his platforms, he understood that he was multiplying the number of people who would hear his message.

By deliberately stoking public opinion against prosecution and the Court in this matter, he willfully increased the risk that someone else, with even poorer judgment than he has, would act on his behalf. This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the Court cannot sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say: Oh, that’s just Roger being Roger, or it wouldn’t have grounds to act the next time someone tries it.

Effectively, ABJ was warning against precisely what happened yesterday: that Stone (and Trump) would rile up extremists and those extremists would, predictably, take violent actions. ABJ judged that you can’t let the incitement go unpunished.

Barr, on the other hand, suggested that unless there was proof the incitement had an effect, it was just a technicality.

Bill Barr had a chance to stand against the incitement-driven terrorism led by the Proud Boys last year. And he chose to use his authority, instead, to protect Trump.

Four Years Ago Today, Russia Told Trump the Deep State Was Targeting Trump Along with Russia

Four years and a few days ago, when Trump’s Transition team learned that President Obama would impose sanctions on Russia, in part, to punish them for interfering in the election that got Trump elected, Mike Flynn and KT McFarland strategized about how to respond. Before Flynn returned a request for a call from Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, McFarland asked Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert to find out from his predecessor how Russia was responding to the sanctions. He came back with a report that he emailed to Trump’s top advisors, including Steve Bannon at his private email.

[Monaco] confirms the Russiand [sic] have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate. [She] characterized the Russian response as bellicose. My thoughts, sans the Russia angle, on which I defer to Mike and KT: [redacted] : Cyber attacks by forcing governments or anyone else are unacceptable and must be taken seriously. The alleged Russian hack of US entities involved in the US political process is a problem. Of course we must separate their attempts to influence our election from the rash conclusion that they succeeded in altering the views of any American voter. We must be wary of escalatory retaliation to follow.

Immediately after Bossert sent out this email, Flynn and McFarland talked about what he should say to Kislyak. We don’t know what they said. Shortly after they hung up, Flynn called Kislyak and asked him not to escalate. Among other things, Flynn told Kislyak that Russia would be sending a message that Trump’s team would recognize if they didn’t escalate.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

About 12 minutes after Flynn and the Ambassador hung up, McFarland sent an email responding to Bossert’s (with at least Bannon using his personal email), purporting to strategize about a response, and claiming that Flynn would speak to Kislyak in the future (even though Flynn had already returned the call). Her email repeated some of the language Flynn had used — a (second) request that Russian not box Trump in, a hope to avoid a tit for tat escalation — in his call with Kislyak (which the analyst who transcribed the call thought might have been made on a speaker phone).

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

[snip]

Mr. Obama, she wrote, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia,” which could limit his options with other countries, including Iran and Syria. “Russia is key that unlocks door,” she wrote.

She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling were intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote. [my emphasis]

The next day, Russia first announced, then backed off an escalation.

Then, on December 31, 2016, Kislyak called Flynn again. It had been two days since the calls Flynn made from a hotel phone in the Dominican Republic and the emails sent to insecure private emails. It had been over a week since Flynn foolishly blurted out to the Russian Ambassador that he wasn’t just trying to undermine President Obama’s policies with Russia; he was making similar calls to a bunch of other countries.

In short, it had been plenty of time for Russia to recognize there were likely insecure communications floating around talking about Flynn’s (and Trump’s) efforts to undermine the official policy of the United States.

In case Russia’s public “good message” to Flynn hadn’t been enough, Kislyak wanted to tell Flynn personally (on a phone he surely knew was bugged) that Putin had made his decision based on Flynn’s promise to operate with cooler heads. But along the way, he echoed something that McFarland had said in her own email.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight. [my emphasis]

As McFarland had said two days earlier, Kislyak echoed back: The sanctions weren’t [just] about punishing Russia for interfering in the election. They also targeted Trump.

Four years ago today, the Russian Ambassador secretly spoke to Flynn and told him that Russia and Trump had both been targeted, together, by the US government. That comment explains a lot of what happened since.

Emmet Sullivan’s Revenge: Rupert Murdoch’s Rag Calls Mike Flynn’s Actions “Tantamount to Treason”

Once upon a time, Trump loyalists were thrilled that Judge Emmet Sullivan had gotten Mike Flynn’s case after Rudolph Contreras recused. They were sure that a judge who had fearlessly taken on prosecutorial abuse in the past would find prosecutorial abuse in the sweetheart False Statements charge that General Flynn got in lieu of a Foreign Agent charge.

In the days before Flynn’s scheduled sentencing two years ago, for example, Rupert Murdoch employee Kim Strassel stated with confidence that something had concerned the judge when he asked to see the documents Flynn claimed suggested misconduct.

It’s clear that something has concerned the judge—who likely sees obvious parallels to the Stevens case. The media was predicting a quick ruling in the Flynn case. Instead, Judge Sullivan issued new orders Wednesday, demanding to see for himself the McCabe memo and the Flynn 302. He also ordered the special counsel to hand over by Friday any other documents relevant to the Flynn-FBI meeting.

Given his history with the FBI, the judge may also have some questions about the curious date on the Flynn 302—Aug. 22, 2017, seven months after the interview. Texts from Mr. Strzok and testimony from Mr. Comey both suggest the 302 was written long before then. Was the 302 edited in the interim? If so, by whom, and at whose direction? FBI officials initially testified to Congress that the agents did not think Mr. Flynn had lied.

Judges have the ability to reject plea deals and require a prosecutor to make a case at trial. The criminal-justice system isn’t only about holding defendants accountable; trials also provide oversight of investigators and their tactics. And judges are not obliged to follow prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations.

Then Sullivan got questions on those issues answered and raised more pressing questions — such as what charges Flynn avoided with his plea deal.

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

MR. VAN GRACK: The government did not consider — I shouldn’t say — I shouldn’t say did not consider, but in terms of the evidence that the government had at the time, that was not something that we were considering in terms of charging the defendant.

THE COURT: All right. Hypothetically, could he have been charged with treason?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I want to be careful what I represent.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. VAN GRACK: And not having that information in front of me and because it’s such a serious question, I’m hesitant to answer it, especially because I think it’s different than asking if he could be charged under FARA or if there were other 1001 violations, for example. [my emphasis]

Those comments fed attacks from Fox News personalities in the two years that followed and Judge Sullivan became a more pointed target of employees of the News Corp empire. After he refused to immediately dismiss the prosecution against Mike Flynn, Fox personalities accused him of bias.

Sullivan earned the ire of Fox News hosts who have been arguing that Flynn’s prosecution was the canary in the coal mine of a coup against President Trump.

Former New York state judge Jeanine Pirro said Wednesday night that Sullivan should “recuse himself” from the case, adding “he should be embarrassed to put a robe on.”

“And now what he’s doing is he’s poisoning the 2020 election by trying to make it look like [Attorney General] Bill Barr,” she said. “He’s trying to destroy the whole thing so that Barr looks like the villain here.”

Sean Hannity offered an extensive broadside against Sullivan later in Fox’s prime-time programming.

“Mr. Sullivan, what part of General Flynn being ambushed and set up by [former FBI deputy director Andrew] McCabe and [former FBI director James] Comey don’t you understand?” Hannity said Wednesday night, accusing Sullivan of taking a “clearly political stand.”

He added: “You botched this from Day One, and you had a bias from Day One,” he seethed. “You reek of ignorance, you reek of political bias!”

After Neomi Rao ordered Judge Sullivan to rubber stamp Flynn’s exoneration, for example, Greg Jarrett included it in a long attack on the judge’s insistence on acting like a judge.

Again, Sullivan balked. Something was amiss. At this point, it became clear that Sullivan was not a neutral or objective jurist dedicated to following the law. He was a rogue judge with an agenda. His decisions reeked of dead fish.

[snip]

It’s anyone’s guess whether Sullivan will grudgingly admit that he was wrong — flagrantly so. After all, this is the same guy who falsely and preposterously accused Flynn of “treason” during a previous court hearing, then recanted when he realized (with prompting) that what he’d said was not just dumb, but anathema to the law governing treason.

All of this leads me to suspect that this judge’s grasp of the law is embarrassingly feeble. His ability to recognize his own disqualifying bias is shamefully absent.

In a piece declaring that “Mr. Flynn has finally received justice” earlier this month (after Mike Flynn first called for martial law), Strassel complained that Sullivan was churlish for noting that Flynn’s guilty plea, as a legal issue, remained intact.

Judge Sullivan finally, belatedly, churlishly dismissed the Flynn case as moot on Tuesday, two weeks after President Trump pardoned the former national security adviser. But the self-important Judge Sullivan couldn’t resist delivering a parting “verdict.” He issued a 43-page opinion in which he all but declared Mr. Flynn guilty of lying and perjury and the entire Justice Department corrupt.

But now the boss has weighed in. In an editorial begging Trump to accept his loss and work to save the Senate today, the NY Post describes Sidney Powell as a crazy person and Flynn’s call for martial law “tantamount to treason.”

Sidney Powell is a crazy person. Michael Flynn suggesting martial law is tantamount to treason. It is shameful.

To be clear, Flynn’s call for martial law wasn’t treason, just as secretly working for Turkey while serving as Trump’s top national security advisor wasn’t either.

But both Judge Sullivan and Rupert Murdoch appear to agree: Mike Flynn sold out this country.

The Three Types (Thus Far) of Trump Mueller Pardons

To date, Trump has pardoned five people who were prosecuted by Mueller. I’m seeing a good deal of misunderstanding about what those pardons mean for any legal proceedings going forward, so I’d like to address some of that.

First, a lot of people say that accepting a pardon is tantamount to accepting guilt, under Burdick v.United States. It’s not. It’s narrower, though importantly goes to questions about whether a witness who has been pardoned has to testify or not. It also says that someone who has been pardoned must inform the court of the fact for it to be valid in any legal proceeding before the court.

That said, claims that Trump flunkies who’ve been pardoned have to testify are also too broad. If the people have any remaining legal exposure (as I’ll explain, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort do), they can still invoke the Fifth. That’s also true if they have state exposure for something like fraud or tax evasion. But in cases where the pardoned crime is only federal, such as Papadopoulos’ lies, it would be easy for prosecutors to immunize him in case he invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges, effectively forcing him to testify on penalty of contempt.

Thus far, Trump has issued three kinds of pardons for people prosecuted by Mueller:

  • Pardons for people with no further known (Mueller) legal exposure
  • Pardons for people with potentially grave further legal exposure
  • Fruit of the poison tree pardon for anything Mueller touched

Alex Van der Zwaan and George Papadopoulos:

Both Van Der Zwaan and Papadopoulos were pardoned for the single False Statements charge against them. Neither is known to have committed another crime. In Papadopoulos’ case, however, things could get dicey on several points. Trump forgave his $9,500 fine, which was the amount Papadopoulos accepted from suspected Israeli spooks. If he asks for that back that may raise questions about his exposure on FARA grounds. In addition, Papadopoulos has already testified before Congress that he called Marc Kasowitz after he was first interviewed by the FBI. If there were a larger prosecution about Trump’s obstruction, he might have been able to plead the Fifth for making that call — except he has already testified to it.

Papadopoulos withheld documents from Congress. With a DOJ that can enforce subpoenas, he might be asked to share those documents, which may require him to testify contrary to his 2018 OGR/HJC testimony.

If DOJ decided to reopen the investigation into a suspected Egyptian bribe to Trump because serving a subpoena on Trump Organization would now be less controversial than it was last summer, then Papadopoulos might be a key witness in that investigation, though since that’s unrelated to his charged false statements, he could still invoke the Fifth if questioned about it.

Roger Stone and Paul Manafort:

Like Van der Zwaan and Papadopoulos, Stone and Manafort were just pardoned for the crimes that they were found or pled guilty to, the money laundering, tax evasion, and FARA crimes in Manafort’s case, and the cover-up crimes in Stone’s case. For both, however, that’s not the full extent of what they were investigated or might be witnesses for.

Before I get there, let me note that multiple sources are claiming that, because Trump included Manafort’s criminal forfeiture in the language of his pardon, he’ll get his ill-gotten gains back. I’m not an expert on this, but I do know that Manafort also civilly forfeited these goods in his plea agreement.

So to attempt to reverse this forfeiture, Manafort would have to spend a great deal of money litigating it, and it’s not at all clear it’d work.

Manafort was also referred for suspected FECA violations involving two PACs that, prosecutors suspected, he got paid through via a kickback system. These cases must be closed, because they were unsealed in the Mueller Report back in September. But Manafort may face more scrutiny on them if DOJ investigates Trump’s other corrupt PACs.

Unless he, too, is pardoned, Konstantin Kilimnik remains under investigation. That’s an area where things might get more interesting for Manafort, because during the period when he was purportedly cooperating, he lied about the fact that he had conspired with Kilimnik. In any case, until the Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska investigations are closed, Manafort has some exposure.

Things are more complicated still for Stone. There were at least two investigations into Stone — probably on conspiracy and foreign agent crimes — still active in April. If the redactions if Mueller 302s are any indication, Barr shut parts of that investigation down since, which will be of interest on its own right (Congress learned of these ongoing investigations when they got unsealed portions of the Mueller Report that have only recently been made public, and I know there is some interest in learning what those investigations were or are, and that was true even before any discussions about Trump’s abuse of pardons).

In any case, the investigation into a pardon for Julian Assange was active at least as recently as October. Stone has already called on Trump to pardon Assange since his own pardon, potentially a new overt act in a conspiracy. And Trump might well pardon Assange; even pardoning him for the crimes currently charged would be a new overt act in that conspiracy, which would implicate Stone. So even if Barr shut that investigation down, there is already reason to reopen it.

So while Barr may have tried to clean up the remaining criminal exposure against Stone, it’s not clear he could succeed at doing so, much less without creating problems for others going forward.

Mike Flynn:

As I have written, Mike Flynn’s pardon was constructed in a way that attempted to eliminate all criminal exposure that might arise from anything associated with the Mueller investigation for him. In addition to pardoning Flynn for the false statements charge he pled guilty to, it pardons him for lying about being an Agent of Turkey, for being an Agent of Turkey, and for lying to Judge Sullivan.

But it also attempts to pardon Flynn for any crime that might arise out of facts known to Mueller. While, generally, I think the pardon power is very broad, this effectively tried to pardon Flynn for an investigation, not for crimes. Plus, the broadness of the pardon may backfire, insofar as it would strip Flynn of the ability to plead the Fifth more broadly. Even just a retrial of Bijan Kian (unless Trump pardons him and Mike Jr) might force Flynn to commit new crimes, because both telling the truth and lying about his secret relationship with Turkey would be a new crime.

Given his seditious behavior, Flynn might have entirely new criminal exposure by the time Joe Biden is sworn in any case. But the attempt to be expansive with Flynn’s pardon might backfire for him.

Of the five Mueller criminals pardoned so far, only Van der Zwaan is clearly free of danger going forward.

And these five don’t even cover some of the most complex pardon recipients. Any Assange pardon may be the most obviously illegal for Trump (save a self-pardon), because it would involve a quid pro quo entered before he was elected. With Steve Bannon, Trump will need to pardon for another crime, fraud associated with Build the Wall, but if it covers Mueller, it may make it easier for Bannon to repeat what truths he already told to the grand jury. With Rudy Giuliani, Trump will need to pardon for unidentified crimes currently under investigation, but also Rudy’s efforts to broker pardons, which may make the pardon itself more dicey. With Trump’s children (including Jared Kushner), I assume he’ll offer a Nixon type pardon for all crimes committed before the day of pardon. But there may be ways to make them admit to these crimes.

Billy Barr is the best cover-up artist in the history of DOJ. But Trump is attempting to pardon himself out of a dicier situation than Poppy Bush was in Iran-Contra. Plus, even assuming Mueller’s team left everything available for Barr’s discovery, Barr may be hamstrung by the fact that he doesn’t believe in most of the crimes Trump committed, something that could become especially problematic as the full extent of Trump’s dalliance with Russia becomes known going forward. Barr didn’t support some of these pardons, like a hypothetical Assange one. And now, in his absence, Trump has grown increasingly paranoid about Pat Cipollone, who will have to shepherd the rest.

The pardon power is awesome and fairly unlimited. But it’s not yet clear the Mueller pardons will do what Trump hopes they will. With virtually all of them, there are loose strings that, if they get pulled, may undo the immunity Trump has tried to offer.

Footnote: The Day Before Roger Stone Received a Pre-Written Pardon, He Lied about the Ongoing Investigation into His Conspiracy with Russia

As I noted here, Roger Stone’s pardon appears to have been all packaged up, covering only the crimes for which he has already been found guilty, before Billy Barr left DOJ and the pardons were rolled out.

Which is why I’m intrigued that Roger Stone went on The Gateway Pundit to lie about the investigation into him just yesterday. In what appears to be an interview of himself, Stone makes several assertions. First, he includes me among those who — he claims — were “obsessed with the idea that I was working with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks was working with the Russians.”

It wasn’t just the nut jobs like Mother Jones ,the Daily Beast , Salon and nutty bloggers like Marcy Wheeler but allegedly responsible media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNN and MSNBC became obsessed with the idea that I was working with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks was working with the Russians.

I’m flattered Stone felt the need to include me in this esteemed list without, this time, threatening to sue me for reporting things that would later be confirmed in court documents. It’s a testament to how closely Stone has always read me.

Stone wrote this self-interview for a more specific purpose, however: To claim that the Mueller Report passages unsealed the day before the election concluded he had no ties to WikiLeaks.

At midnight on election day November 3rd, 2020- the busiest news day of the year and timed to get as little press coverage as possible, the United States Department of Justice released the remaining unredacted sections of the Mueller Report regarding me specifically, in which they had admitted that despite two years of intense investigation, spending millions to pour through every aspect of my life, dragging 36 witnesses to the grand jury and after obtaining all my electronic communications for four years ( literally millions of e-mails and pages of documents, tax returns, banking and financial records –they found no factual evidence of any collaboration or coordination between me and WikiLeaks regarding the release of emails regarding John Podesta, the Democratic National committee or Hillary Clinton or that I had any advance knowledge of the timing, content or source of their disclosures).

He says that this passage proves that:

“The Office determined that it could not pursue a Section 1030 conspiracy charge against Stone for some of the same legal reasons. The most fundamental hurdles, though, are factual ones.1279 As explained in Volume I, Section III.D.1, supra, Corsi’s accounts of his interactions with Stone on October 7, 2016 are not fully consistent or corroborated. Even if they were, neither Corsi’s testimony nor other evidence currently available to the Office is sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stone knew or believed that the computer intrusions were ongoing at the time he ostensibly encouraged or coordinated the publication of the Podesta emails. Stone’s actions would thus be consistent with (among other things) a belief that he was aiding in the dissemination of the fruits of an already completed hacking operation perpetrated by a third party, which would be a level of knowledge insufficient to establish conspiracy liability. See State v. Phillips, 82 S.E.2d 762, 766 (N.C. 1954) (“In the very nature of things, persons cannot retroactively conspire to commit a previously consummated crime.”) (quoted in Model Penal Code and Commentaries § 5.03, at 442 (1985).

[additional content that Stone doesn’t include]

“Regardless, success would also depend upon evidence of WikiLeaks’s and Stone’s knowledge of ongoing or contemplated future computer intrusions-the proof that is currently lacking.”

Unsurprisingly, Stone does not include the footnote modifying this passage which, as I noted at the time, made it clear there were still ongoing investigations, plural, into this question at the time Mueller closed up shop on March 22, 2019.

1279 Some of the factual uncertainties are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.

That is, the passage said the exact opposite of what Stone said it did. It said that, presumably in part because Roger Stone’s aide Andrew Miller had stalled on his grand jury testimony for a year, the investigation into whether Stone could be charged in the CFAA conspiracy with Russia was not yet complete, not after two years of investigation.

And having lied about what the unsealed passage says, Stone then complains that Judge Amy Berman Jackson withheld it from his lawyers.

Judge Amy Berman withheld this from my lawyers at trial. The Mueller’s dirty cops concluded in their report that even if they had found evidence that I had received documents from Assange of WikiLeaks and passed them to anyone, which I did not and for which they found no evidence whatsoever, it would not have been illegal. The whole thing was a hoax.

ABJ withheld it, of course, because DOJ was still investigating, even as recently as April 2020 when DOJ unsealed warrants that made that clear. DOJ withheld that passage so Stone wouldn’t know that the witness tampering case into him was just one step in an ongoing investigation, one that remained focussed on whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia or — indeed — had even served as an Agent of Russia.

Stone goes on to complain that only BuzzFeed, along with right wing propaganda sites Washington Examiner (who launched the investigation into Stone in the first place) and Zero Hedge, misreported the significance of this detail.

The only three news outlets who reported on this shocking election day admission that there was no evidence found that would support this narrative were BuzzFeed, who successfully brought the lawsuit for the release of this material, the Washington Examiner and ZeroHedge. Where were the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Hill, Politico, Salon, Vox, Vice, CNN, MSNBC, NBC and the Business Insider – all of who were quick to smear me as a “go-between for WikiLeaks and the Trump Campaign” but none of whom reported on the stunning conclusions of Mueller’s thugs.

He didn’t mention me in this case, because I correctly reported that the Mueller language actually said the exact opposite of what Stone claims.

Hours before he received a pardon for lying to cover up his real go-between with WikiLeaks — which a good deal of evidence suggests was Guccifer 2.0 — Roger Stone did an interview of himself where he falsely claimed the Mueller Report had finished its investigation only to fall short of proving that he was conspiring with Russia.

That’s a crime, it should be noted, for which Stone was not pardoned.

Snowden

Like Glenn Greenwald, Roger Stone Links a Pardon for Edward Snowden to a Corrupt Pardon for Julian Assange

After being pardoned for his crime of lying to Congress last night, Roger Stone called for a pardon for Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Stone welcomed the pardon and complained he’d been subjected to a “Soviet-style show trial on politically-motivated charges.”

The longtime political provocateur also urged the president to extend clemency to a key figure in the release of hacked emails during the 2016 campaign, Julian Assange, and to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

“Other good Americans have been victims of a corrupt system made to serve venal power-seekers,rewarding deceit and manipulation, rather than reason and justice. President Trump can be the purveyor of justice over the vile machinations of wicked pretenders to the mantle of public service,” Stone wrote.

Unless Bill Barr shut it down in preparation for the pardons to come (a very good possibility), DOJ has an ongoing investigation into the circumstances under which Roger Stone started pursuing a pardon for Assange, one that ties a pardon for Assange to Stone’s successful optimization of the release of the John Podesta files in October 2016. That might even make Stone’s call a new overt act in a conspiracy that started in 2016.

What it also does, though, is tie a hypothetical Snowden pardon — one that otherwise would have nothing to do with Trump’s crimes — to this quid pro quo.

Stone is not the first to do so in a corrupt way, of course. So did Glenn Greenwald, when he pitched such a dual pardon as a way for Trump to get back at The [American] Deep State on Tucker Carlson’s show, back in September.

Glenn: Let’s remember, Tucker, that the criminal investigation into Julian Assange began by the Obama Administration because in 2010 WikiLeaks published a slew of documents — none of which harmed anybody, not even the government claims that. That was very embarrassing to the Obama Administration. It revealed all kinds of abuses and lies that they were telling about these endless wars that the Pentagon and the CIA are determined to fight. They were embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, and so they conducted, they initiated a grand jury investigation to try and prosecute him for reporting to the public. He worked with the New York Times, the Guardian, to publish very embarrassing information about the endless war machine, about the Neocons who were working in the Obama Administration. To understand what’s happening here, we can look at a very similar case which is one that President Trump recently raised is the prosecution by the Obama Administration, as well, of Edward Snowden for the same reason — that he exposed the lies that James Clapper told, he exposed how there’s this massive spying system that the NSA and the CIA control, that they can use against American citizens. Obviously this isn’t coming from President Trump! He praised WikiLeaks in 2016 for informing the public. He knows, firsthand, how these spying systems that Edward Snowden exposed can be abused and were abused in 2016. This is coming from people who work in the CIA, who work in the Pentagon, who insist on endless war, and who believe that they’re a government unto themselves, more powerful than the President. I posted this weekend that there’s a speech from Dwight Eisenhower warning that this military industrial complex — what we now call the Deep State — is becoming more powerful than the President. Chuck Schumer warned right before President Obama — President Trump — took office that President Trump challenging the CIA was foolish because they have many ways to get back at anybody who impedes them. That’s what these cases are about Tucker, they’re punishing Julian Assange and trying to punish Edward Snowden for informing the public about things that they have the right to know about the Obama Administration. They’re basically saying to President Trump, “You don’t run the country even though you were elected. We do!” And they’re daring him to use his pardon power to put an end to these very abusive prosecutions. One which resulted in eight years of punishment for Julian Assange for telling the truth, the other which resulted in seven years of exile for Edward Snowden of being in Russia simply for informing the public and embarrassing political officials who are very powerful.

While there’s abundant evidence (which press organizations and journalists who’ve been personally involved are dutifully ignoring) that Julian Assange has been something other than he has been claiming for years, I have always believed a Snowden pardon is an entirely different thing, something far more justified. But if these people who were running interference for Guccifer 2.0 back in 2016 and have continued to do so to this day keep linking a corruptly negotiated Assange with a Snowden one, it does raise questions about whether there’s some closer tie.

The WaPo Solution to the NYT Problem: Laura Poitras’ Misrepresentation of Assange’s 18th Charge

If you were the average NYT reader who is unfamiliar with the developments in the prosecution against Julian Assange, reading this excellent Laura Poitras op-ed calling for, “the Justice Department [to] immediately drop these charges and the president [to] pardon Mr. Assange,” might lead you to believe there were 17 charges under the Espionage Act and the original password cracking as the single overt act in a CFAA (hacking) charge, all of them 10 years old.

That was when the Justice Department indicted Julian Assange, the founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act, on top of one earlier count of conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The charges against Mr. Assange date back a decade, to when WikiLeaks, in collaboration with The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and others, published the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and subsequently partnered with The Guardian to publish State Department cables. The indictment describes many activities conducted by news organizations every day, including obtaining and publishing true information of public interest, communication between a publisher and a source, and using encryption tools.

Of course, as emptywheel readers, you know that DOJ superseded the indictment against Assange in June, and with it extended the timeline on the CFAA conspiracy charge through 2015.

Even the original CFAA charge described a relationship between Assange and Manning that goes beyond what journalists do (I think I understand why DOJ charged it and may return to explain that in days ahead). But the current one credibly charges Assange in the same conspiracy to hack Stratfor that five other people have already pled guilty to, meaning the only question at trial would be whether DOJ can prove Assange entered into the conspiracy and took overt acts to further it, something they appear to have compelling proof he did.

The superseding indictment also describes Assange ordering up the hack of a WikiLeaks dissident. That’s not something anyone should be defending, and there’s good reason to believe it was not an isolated incident.

Poitras’ silence about the superseding indictment, however, is all the more striking given that it includes WikiLeaks’ efforts to help Edward Snowden to flee among the overt acts in the CFAA conspiracy. (I emailed Poitras to ask whether she even knows of the superseding indictment, which she may not, given the crappy coverage of it; I will update if she responds.)

84. To encourage leakers and hackers to provide stolen materials to WikiLeaks in the future, ASSANGE and others at WikiLeaks openly displayed their attempts to assist Snowden in evading arrest.

85. In June 2013, a WikiLeaks associate [Sarah Harrison] traveled with Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.

[snip]

87. At the same presentation [where Assange and Jake Appelbaum encouraged people to join the CIA to steal files, Appelbaum] said “Edward Snowden did not save himself. … Specifically for source protection, [Harrison] took actions to protect [Snowden]. … [I]f we can succeed in saving Edward Snowden’s life and to keep him free, then the next Edward Snowden will have that to look forward to. And if we look also to what has happened to Chelsea Manning, we see additionally that Snowden has clearly learned….”

[snip]

90. In an interview of May 25, 2015, ASSANGE claimed to have arranged distraction operations to assist Snowden in avoiding arrest by the United States. [listing several operations, including using “presidential jets,” suggesting that the US may have searched Evo Morales’ plane in response to disinformation spread by WikiLeaks] [bolded brackets original, other brackets my own]

With these passages, DOJ wrote the first draft of what I suspect will be expanded in the near future into a dramatically different story than the one we know about Edward Snowden (whether it will be sustainable or not is another thing). And Laura Poitras, who didn’t mention these overt acts in her op-ed, was at least adjacent to many key events in this story. For example, Poitras is likely one of the few people who would know if Snowden was in contact with Jake Appelbaum before he got a job in Hawaii and started scraping files related and unrelated to programs of concern, as Snowden himself hinted in his book. If he was, then several parts of the story that Snowden has always told are probably not true.

Similarly, Poitras’ film Risk briefly hints at tensions between Poitras and Assange over how the Snowden files would be released. That, too, suggests that WikiLeaks may have had a bigger role on the front end in Snowden’s theft of NSA documents than is publicly known.

Most importantly, at least as Bart Gellman tells it in his book, both he and Poitras were quite explicit, in the wake of requests from Snowden to help him prove his identity to obtain asylum in a foreign country, about where journalism ended and sharing classified files with foreign governments might begin.

Snowden had asked Gellman to ensure that the WaPo publish the first PRISM file with his PGP key attached. At first, Gellman hadn’t thought through why Snowden made the request. Then he figured it out.

In the Saturday night email, Snowden spelled it out. He had chosen to risk his freedom, he wrote, but he was not resigned to life in prison or worse. He preferred to set an example for “an entire class of potential whistleblowers” who might follow his lead. Ordinary citizens would not take impossible risks. They had to have some hope for a happy ending.

To effect this, I intend to apply for asylum (preferably somewhere with strong internet and press freedoms, e.g. Iceland, though the strength of the reaction will determine how choosy I can be). Given how tightly the U.S. surveils diplomatic outposts (I should know, I used to work in our U.N. spying shop), I cannot risk this until you have already gone to press, as it would immediately tip our hand. It would also be futile without proof of my claims—they’d have me committed—and I have no desire to provide raw source material to a foreign government. Post publication, the source document and cryptographic signature will allow me to immediately substantiate both the truth of my claim and the danger I am in without having to give anything up. . . . Give me the bottom line: when do you expect to go to print?

Alarm gave way to vertigo. I forced myself to reread the passage slowly. Snowden planned to seek the protection of a foreign government. He would canvass diplomatic posts on an island under Chinese sovereign control. He might not have very good choices. The signature’s purpose, its only purpose, was to help him through the gates.

How could I have missed this? Poitras and I did not need the signature to know who sent us the PRISM file. Snowden wanted to prove his role in the story to someone else. That thought had never occurred to me. Confidential sources, in my experience, did not implicate themselves—irrevocably, mathematically—in a classified leak. As soon as Snowden laid it out, the strategic logic was obvious. If we did as he asked, Snowden could demonstrate that our copy of the NSA document came from him. His plea for asylum would assert a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” for an act of political dissent. The U.S. government would maintain that Snowden’s actions were criminal, not political. Under international law each nation could make that judgment for itself. The fulcrum of Snowden’s entire plan was the signature file, a few hundred characters of cryptographic text, about the length of this paragraph. And I was the one he expected to place it online for his use.

Idiot. Remember “chain of custody”? He came right out and told you he wanted a historical record.

My mind raced. When Snowden walked into a consulate, evidence of his identity in hand, any intelligence officer would surmise that he might have other classified information in reach. Snowden said he did not want to hand over documents, but his language, as I read it that night, seemed equivocal. Even assuming he divulged nothing, I had not signed up for his plan. I had agreed to protect my source’s identity in order to report a story to the public. He wanted me to help him disclose it, in private, as a credential to present to foreign governments. That was something altogether different.

Gellman realized — and Poitras seemed to agree in texts Gellman published in the book — that this request might amount to abetting Snowden’s sharing of secrets with a hostile government.

LP: oh god fuck

BG: He’s in a position to provide that material. He may be under compulsion. We REALLY can’t do anything that could abet or be perceived to abet that.

LP: of course

BG: I just wanna be a goddam journalist

Gellman and Poitras discussed the request with the lawyers WaPo consulted regarding the Snowden publications. In what might be the chilling consultation with a First Amendment lawyer that Poitras describes in her oped, one lawyer seems to have raised concerns about aiding and abetting charges, and had them both write explicit notes to Snowden denying his request to publish his key. In those notes, as published by Gellman, both drew a bright line between what they considered journalistic — protecting his identity and publishing the newsworthy files while balancing risk — and what was not.

Everyone on the call agreed that we would carry on with our story plans and protect the source’s identity as before. No one but Poitras and I knew Snowden’s name anyway. But Kevin Baine, the lead outside counsel, asked me in a no-bullshit tone to level with him. Had I ever promised to publish the full PRISM presentation or its digital signature? I had not, and Poitras said the same. Our source framed both those points as “requests” before he sent the document. Poitras and I had ducked and changed the subject. Why engage him in a hypothetical dispute? Depending on what the document said, publication in full might have been an easy yes. “You have to tell him you never agreed to that,” Baine said. Poitras and I faced a whole new kind of legal exposure now. We could not leave unanswered a “direct attempt to enlist you in assisting him with his plans to approach foreign governments.”

[snip]

We hated the replies we sent to Snowden on May 26. We had lawyered up and it showed. “You were clear with me and I want to be equally clear with you,” I wrote. “There are a number of unwarranted assumptions in your email. My intentions and objectives are purely journalistic, and I will not tie them or time them to any other goal.” I was working hard and intended to publish, but “I cannot give you the bottom line you want.”

Poitras wrote to him separately.

There have been several developments since Monday (e.g., your decision to leave the country, your choice of location, possible intentions re asylum), that have come as a surprise and make [it] necessary to be clear. As B explained, our intentions and objectives are journalistic. I believe you know my interest and commitment to this subject. B’s work on the topic speaks for itself. I cannot travel to interview you in person. However, I do have questions if you are still willing to answer them. [my emphasis]

If Assange (or anyone associated with him) is ever tried on the superseding indictment, I’d be surprised if these passages weren’t introduced at trial. Here you have two of the key journalists who published the Snowden files, laying out precisely where WikiLeaks fails the NYT problem that DOJ, under Obama, could never get past in any prosecution of Julian Assange.

“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told the Post. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”

In 2013, before the first Snowden files got published, Gellman and Poitras and the Washington Post solved the New York Times problem. Helping Snowden flee to a foreign country — which, given Snowden’s plan to meet them in Hong Kong, they assumed might include to an adversarial nation like China — was not journalistic and, seemingly even according to the journalists, might be abetting Snowden’s sharing of files with a hostile foreign government.

Which is why Poitras’ silence about these charges in her bid to dismiss the charges against Assange undermines her argument.

Again, I absolutely agree with Poitras that the Espionage charges, as charged, pose a real risk to journalism. But the government is going to use the CFAA charge to explain how Assange’s methods are different from journalists. And Poitras’ own actions may well be part of that proof.

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