The Parnas Files Raise the Import of DOJ’s Failure to Connect-the-Dots on the Whistleblower Complaint

Last night, HPSCI released some of Lev Parnas’ files that were seized as part of the investigation into Rudy Giuliani and his grifters.

The most important document, for the legal impeachment case against Donald Trump, is a letter Rudy sent to Volodymyr Zelensky stating clearly that he was contacting the Ukrainian president as Trump’s personal lawyer, not a government lawyer.

Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States.

It makes it clear that — contrary to the Republican cover story — Rudy and Zelensky both knew they were negotiating a personal benefit for Trump, not a benefit to the US.

But the most important files showing Trump’s abuse of power are texts between Parnas and a thoroughly American grifter, Robert F. Hyde, who appears to have had people on the ground in Kyiv surveilling Marie Yovanovitch in the days before she was recalled. He not only appears to have known precisely where she was, but he seemed to suggest to Parnas that he could have her assassinated for a price. “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money,” he quipped.

Viewed in isolation, these comments are (at least) a chilling indication of the lengths to which Trump supporters will go to push his conspiracies.

But viewed in light of Trump’s comment to Zelensky about Yovanovitch — “Well, she’s going to go through some things” — it suggests a direct tie between Trump and the more sordid things that Parnas was doing.

Which makes DOJ’s remarkable failure to connect the dots on the whistleblower complaint all the more damning.

As I have laid out, by August 15, top people at DOJ knew of the complaint and knew that Trump had invoked the Attorney General in his comments to Zelensky. Perhaps ten days later, DOJ got the full complaint from the whistleblower, discussing the call itself but also the larger context. Based on a claim that there was no first hand reporting in the complaint, DOJ evaluated just the MEMCON in their review of whether or not a crime was committed, not the complaint as a whole. (Not only was the claim that the whistleblower offered no first hand information false — he was in the loop on the July 18 call and July 23 and 26 meetings about withholding aid — but the complaint included concerns about withholding funding not mentioned on the call.) They quickly publicly declared that the call did not constitute a campaign finance violation, and then did not share the complaint with the FEC (which could have imposed civil penalties) and tried to prevent Congress from obtaining the complaint.

By reviewing the MEMCON instead of the full complaint, DOJ avoided doing what would be normal connect-the-dots database searches on all the names included in it, which — because the whistleblower included multiple references to and a link to this article, would have included searches on Parnas and Igor Fruman. As this table makes clear, if DOJ had done that basic connect-the-dots work they do when assessing tips, they would have found the investigation at SDNY — which Bill Barr had been briefed on when he was confirmed as AG and Jeffrey Rosen probably knew about as well.

And had DOJ tied the call to Zelensky — with its reference to potential violence targeting Yovanovitch — it would have immediately implicated Trump far more deeply in some really corrupt shit.

As if by magic, DOJ failed to do those searches, and therefore failed to obtain official notice that the President was personally involved with a grift that SDNY was close to indicting.

Useful But Not Sufficient: FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

As one of her last acts as presiding FISA judge, Rosemary Collyer ordered the government to explain how it will ensure the statement of facts in future FISA applications don’t have the same kind of errors laid out in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

THEREFORE, the Court ORDERS that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application. In the event that the FBI at the time of that submission is not yet able to perform any of the planned steps described in the submission, it shall also include (a) a proposed timetable for implementing such measures and (b) an explanation of why, in the government’s view, the information in FBI applications submitted in the interim should be regarded as reliable.

DOJ and FBI submitted their response on Friday. (This post lays out new revelations about the FISA process in it.) While I think there are useful fixes, most laid out in FBI Director Chris Wray’s response to the IG Report itself, the fixes are insufficient to fix FISA.

The filing largely focuses on the institution and evolution of the current accuracy review process. It promises to review the memorandum guiding that process (though doesn’t set a deadline for doing so), and adds some forms and training to try to ensure that FBI Agents provide DOJ all the information that the lawyers should include in an application to FISA. One of those forms — pertaining to human sources — seems important though might lead to counterintelligence problems in the future. Another, requiring agents to provide all exculpatory information, may improve the process. But fundamentally, DOJ and FBI assume that the process they currently use just needs to be improved to make sure it works the way they intend it to.

They’re probably insufficient to fix the underlying problems in the Carter Page FISA application.

The FISA Fix Filing is based on faulty assumptions

I say that, first of all, because the FISA Fix Filing adopts certain assumptions from the DOJ IG Report that may not be valid. The FISA Fix Filing assumes that:

  • FBI was responsible for all the errors on the Carter Page application
  • The right people at FBI had the information they needed
  • The Carter Page application was an aberration

The IG Report ignored where DOJ’s National Security Division contributed to errors

As I note in this post, possibly because of institutional scope (DOJ IG cannot investigate DOJ’s prosecutors), possibly because of its own confirmation bias, the IG Report held the FBI responsible for all the information that was known to investigators, but not included in the Carter Page FISA applications. Yet the report showed that at least two of the things it says should have been included in the Page applications — Page’s own denials of a tie with Paul Manafort, and Steele’s own derogatory comments about Sergei Millian — were shared with DOJ’s Office of Intelligence, which writes the applications. Indeed, Rosemary Collyer even noted the latter example in her letter. It also shows DOJ’s National Security Division had confirmed a fact — that Carter Page had no role in the platform change at the RNC — before FBI had.

Because the FISA Fix Filing assumes FBI is responsible for everything mistakenly excluded from the applications, the proposed fixes shift even more responsibility to FBI, requiring agents, with FBI lawyers, to identify the information that should be in an application. But if — as the IG Report shows — sometimes FBI provides the relevant information but it’s not included by the lawyers, then ensuring they provide all the relevant information won’t be sufficient to fix the problem.

The focus on FBI to the detriment of NSD has one other effect. NSD includes few changes to their behaviors in the FISA Fix Filing (largely limited to training and inadequate accuracy reviews). And where they do consider changes, they do not — as ordered by the court — set deadlines for themselves.

The IG Report barely noted the import of the failure to share information in timely fashion

The IG Report deviates radically from almost twenty years of after-action reports that have consistently advocated for more sharing of national security information. It recommends that Bruce Ohr be disciplined for doing just that. Perhaps to sustain that bizarre conclusion, the IG Report focuses almost no attention on an issue that is critical to fixing the problems in the Carter Page applications: ensuring that the people submitting a FISA application have all the information available to the US government. The IG Report showed a 2 month delay before the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained the Steele reports, a month delay in getting feedback from State Department official Kathleen Kavalec, and delays in obtaining the full extent of Bruce Ohr’s knowledge on the dossier, all of which contributed to the delayed vetting of the dossier. But the IG Report doesn’t explore why this happened. And the FBI FISA Fix only addresses it by reminding agents to consult with other agencies.

In another of the 17 problems with the FISA applications, the people submitting the applications apparently did not learn that Christopher Steele had admitted meeting with Yahoo in court filings.

According to the Rule 13 Letter and FBI officials, although there had been open source reporting in May 2017 about Steele’s statements in the foreign litigation, the FBI did not obtain Steele’s court filings until the receipt of Senators Grassley and Graham’s January 2018 letter to DAG Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray with the filings enclosed. We found no evidence that the FBI made any attempts in May or June 2017 to obtain the filings to assist a determination of whether to change the FBI’s assessment concerning the September 23 news article in the final renewal application.

In other instance (as noted above), while NSD had affirmative knowledge that Carter Page had not been involved in the change to the RNC platform, FBI had a different view, yet this issue was not resolved to fully discount the claim in FISA applications. The IG Report also faults FBI managers (but never NSD ones) for not aggressively questioning subordinates to get a full sense of problems with the applications. All of these are information sharing problems, not errors of transparency. Making the case agent fill out forms about what he or she knows will have only limited effect on ensuring that those agents obtain all the information they need, because if they don’t know it, they won’t know to look for it.

With the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, that problem was exacerbated by the close hold of the investigation (most notably by running the investigation out of Main Justice) and, probably, by the urgency of investigating an ongoing attack while it’s happening, which likely led personnel to focus more on collecting information about the attack than exculpatory information.

The FISA Fix Filing includes a vaguely worded document describing technological improvements — including a workflow document that sounds like bureaucratic annoyance as described — that suggest FBI is considering moving some of this to the cloud.

Corrective Action #11 requires the identification and pursuit of short- and long-term technological improvements, in partnership with DOJ, that aid in consistency and accountability. I have already directed executives in the FBI’s Information Technology Branch leadership to work with our National Security Branch leadership and other relevant stakeholders to identify technological improvements that will advance these goals. To provide one example of a contemplated improvement, the FBI is considering the conversion of the revised FISA Request Form into a workflow document that would require completion of every question before it could be sent to OI. The FBI proposes to update the Court on its progress with respect to this Corrective Action in a filing made by March 27, 2020.

It’s still not clear this would fix the problem (it’s still not clear how Bruce Ohr would have shared the information he had in such a way that he wouldn’t now be threatened with firing for doing so, for example). And for a close hold investigation like this, such a cloud might not work. But it would be an improvement (if FBI could keep it secure, which is a big if).

The FISA Fix Filing does have suggests to improve information sharing. But because the scope of the problem, as defined in the IG Report, doesn’t account for information that simply doesn’t get to the people submitting the application, it’s not clear it will fix that problem.

No one knows whether the Page applications are an aberration or not

Finally, no one yet knows whether the Carter Page application was an aberration, and thus far, no one at DOJ has committed to finding out. DOJ IG has committed to doing an audit of the Woods Procedure process that failed in the Carter Page case (and the FISA Fix Filing committed to respond to any findings from that).

The Government further notes that the OIG is conducting an audit of FBI’s process for the verification of facts included in FISA applications that FBI submits to the Court, including an evaluation of whether the FBI is in compliance with its Woods Procedures requirements. The Department will work with the OIG to address any issues identified in this audit.

Yet everyone involved admits that the most serious problems with the Page applications consisted of information excluded from the application, not inaccurate information in it.

Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were … [when] relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney.

Doing an audit of the Woods Procedures, then, does not test the conclusion that Page’s applications are an aberration, and therefore does not test whether more substantive fixes are necessary.

DOJ IG has considered doing more — and PCLOB suggested last year they might get involved (though technically, their counterterrorism scope wouldn’t even permit them to look at counterintelligence cases like Page’s) — but thus far there’s no plan in this filing to figure out of this is a broader problem.

The existing oversight for FISA may be inadequate

There are several reasons to believe that the existing oversight regime for FISA may be inadequate.

As noted, the existing IG plan to audit the Woods Procedure is insufficient to identify whether the existing FISA Fix Filing is sufficient to fix the problem. Also as noted above, the jurisdiction of DOJ’s IG, because it cannot review the actions of prosecutors, might not (and in this case, pretty demonstrably did not) adequately review all parts of the process, because it could not subject NSD attorneys to the same scrutiny it did FBI.

Then there are shortcomings to NSD’s oversight regime — shortcomings that Judge James Boasberg — the new presiding FISA Judge and so the just now in charge of overseeing these fixes — already highlighted in an opinion on problems with Section 702 queries.

As the FISA Fix Filing describes, OI (the same office that the IG Report let off when it received information but did not include it in applications) does a certain number of oversight reviews each year. But they don’t do reviews in every FBI field office (to which FBI devolved the FISA application process some years ago), and they don’t do accuracy reviews at every office where they do an oversight review.

OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight reviews at approximately 25-30 FBI field offices annually. During those reviews, OI assesses compliance with Court-approved minimization and querying procedures, as well as the Court orders. Pursuant to the 2009 Memorandum, OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application. 5 OI may conduct more than one accuracy review at a particular field office, depending on the number ofFISA applications submitted by the office and factors such as whether there are identified cases where errors have previously been reported or where there is potential for use of FISA information in a criminal prosecution. OI has also, as a matter of general practice,_ conducted accuracy reviews of FISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use of FISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person. See 50U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d).

During these reviews, OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5 is supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document. With regard specifically to human source reporting included in an application, the 2009 Memorandum requires that the accuracy sub-file include the reporting that is referenced in the application and further requires that the FBI must provide the reviewing attorney with redacted documentation from the confidential human source sub-file substantiating all factual assertions regarding the source’s reliability and background.

As Boasberg noted in his 702 opinion last year, this partial review may result in problems going unaddressed for years.

Personnel from the Office of Intelligence (OI) within the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD) visit about half of the FBI’s field offices for oversight purposes in a given year. Id at 35 & n 42. Moreover OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently, so those offices [redacted] are visited annually, id at 35 n. 42, which necessitates that some other offices go for periods of two years or more between oversight visits. The intervals of time between oversight visits at a given location may contribute to lengthy delays in detecting querying violations and reporting them to the FISC. See, e.g., Jan. 18, 2019, Notice [redacted] had been conducting improper queries in a training context since 2011, but the practice was not discovered until 2017).

Furthermore, OI’s review of a subset of a subset of applications targeting Americans only reviews for things included in the application, not things excluded from it.

OI’s accuracy reviews cover four areas: (1) facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the fact and manner of FBI’s verification that the target uses or is about to use each targeted facility and that property subject to search is or is about to be owned, used, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target; (3) the basis for the asserted U.S. person status of the target(s) and the means of verification; and (4) the factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case.

DOJ admits that this is a problem, and considers doing a check for the kind of information excluded from Carter Page’s applications, but doesn’t commit to doing so and (again, unlike FBI) doesn’t give itself a deadline to do so.

Admittedly, these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application. That is, if additional, relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney, these accuracy reviews would not uncover the problem. Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were of this nature. Accordingly, OI is considering how to expand at least a subset of its existing accuracy reviews at FBI field offices to check for the completeness of the factual information contained in the application being reviewed. NSD will provide a further update to the Court on any such expansion of the existing accuracy reviews.

Improving these oversight reviews will have a salutary effect on all FISA authorities, not just individualized orders. Since Boasberg has already identified the inadequacies of the current reviews, I would hope he’d ask for at least an improved oversight regime.

Treating alleged subpoenas like they’re not subpoenas

There’s a change promised that I’m unsure about: Chris Wray’s voluntary decision to subject Section 215 and pen register orders to heightened accuracy reviews.

Currently, the accuracy of facts contained in applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1841 , et seq. , or applications for business records pursuant to 50 U.S. C. § 1861 , et seq. , must, prior to submission to the Court, be reviewed for accuracy by the case agent and must be verified as true and correct under penalty ofpeijury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746 by the Supervisory Special Agent or other designated federal official submitting the application. Historically, the Woods Procedures described herein have not been formally applied by the FBI to applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance or business records. As discussed in the FBI Declaration, FBI will begin to formally apply accuracy procedures to such applications and proposes to update the Court on this action by March 27, 2020.

FBI has, for years, told the public these are mere grand jury subpoena equivalents, and so the privacy impact is not that great. That Wray thinks these need accuracy reviews suggests they’re more intrusive than that, in which case by all means FBI should add these reviews.

But as I suggested in this post, some of the problems with the Carter Page applications might have been avoided had the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained call records from both Page and George Papadopoulos early in the process, which would not only have confirmed Page’s accurate claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails (undermining a key claim from the dossier), but it would have revealed Papadopoulos’ interactions with suspect Russian asset Joseph Mifsud, thereby pinpointing where the investigative focus should have been (and making it a lot harder for Papadopoulos to obstruct the investigation in the way he did). The IG Report doesn’t ask why this didn’t happen, but it seems an important question because if the FBI chose not to use ostensibly less intrusive legal process because existing Section 215 applications are not worth the trouble, then making the purportedly less-intrusive applications even more onerous will only lead to a rush to use full FISA, as appears to have happened here.

Further breaking the affiant-officer of the court relationship

One of the more insightful observations from the IG Report described how OI attorneys and FBI agents applying for FISA orders don’t work as closely as prosecutors and agents on a normal case.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that OI rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

The proposed FISA fixes seem to derive from this OI viewpoint, that because OI don’t work closely with agents they need to replace cooperation that is often inadequate on normal criminal investigations with a process that has even less cooperation for applications that are supposed to have a higher degree of candor.

The FISA Fix Filing seems to envision FBI lawyers picking up this slack, but especially since DOJ devolved the application process to Field Agents some years ago, it’s not clear, at all, why this would result in better lawyering.

Formalizing the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal review;

[snip]

Corrective Action #7 requires the formalization of the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal reviewer. Through this Corrective Action, the FBI seeks to encourage legal engagement throughout the FISA process, while still ensuring that case agents and field supervisors maintain ownership of their contributions.

As it is, the FISA process requires a more senior agent to be the affiant on an application, which in at least one of the Page applications, resulted in someone who had less knowledge of the case making the attestation under penalty of perjury.

It may be that these changes go in the opposite direction from where FISA should go, which would be closer to the criminal warrant model where a judge will have an FBI affiant who anticipates taking the stand at a trial (and therefore needs to retain his or her integrity to avoid damaging the case), and an office of the court signing off on applications (whom judges can sanction directly). That is, by introducing more layers and absolving OI from some of the direct responsibility for the process, these proposed changes may make FISA worse, not better.

Remarkably, the court might consider something far more effective.

On Friday, Boasberg appointed David Kris as amicus for this consideration. Kris literally wrote the book on all this, in addition to writing the 2001 OLC memo that eliminated the wall between the intelligence collected under FISA and the prosecutions that arise out of them. In a recent podcast, he mused that the way to fix all this may be to give defendants review of their applications, something always envisioned by Congress, but something no defendant has done. That — along with a more robust oversight process — seems like it has a better chance of changing the way the FBI and DOJ approach FISA applications than adding a bunch more checklists for the process.

The frothy right is in a lather over Kris’ appointment, which is a testament to how little these people (up to and especially Devin Nunes) understand FISA. But he has the institutional clout to be able to recommend real fixes to FISA, rather than a bunch of paperwork to try to make the Woods Procedure to work the way it’s supposed to.

DOJ could, voluntarily, provide review to more defendants. Alternately, Congress could mandate it in whatever bill reauthorizes Section 215 this year. Or Kris could suggest that’s the kind of thing that should happen.

Update: David Kris submitted his recommendations to Boasberg. Like me, he finds Wray’s plan useful but not sufficient. Like me he notes that the agents doing the investigation should be the ones signing off on affidavits (and he suggests the FISC review more applications until new procedures are in place). Kris also focuses on cultural changes that need to happen.

One thing he doesn’t do is review DOJ’s role (though he does argue that part of this stems from conflict between DOJ and FBI).

He also notes that DOJ has not imposed deadlines for itself.

Steve Bannon’s 302 of Laughter and Forgetting

I want to wade through some half truths Steve Bannon told in his second Mueller interview, because it serves as a useful baseline to understand what has happened since, including Bannon’s testimony in Roger Stone’s trial.

Bannon had, according to the unredacted entries on a list of all Mueller FBI 302s, interviews with Mueller’s team on four days:

  • February 12, 2018 (26 pages)
  • February 14, 2018 (37 pages)
  • October 26, 2018 (16 pages; the interview list lists three different interviews, but they are likely just copies of the same one)
  • January 18, 2019 (4 pages)

The report (called a 302), notes, and backup for the February 14, 2018 interview were released via FOIA just before the Stone trial.

I knew — when this interview was first released — that he was shading the truth, because there was already public evidence that contradicted the story he told back in it and prosecutors caught him in a number of forgetfulness and omissions even within the interview. His Stone testimony and some other 302s released since that time make that even more clear. Which makes how he told the original half truths particularly interesting, as it points to several topics, at least some of which remain under investigation, where Bannon tried to obscure the truth.

Finding the line between false statements and being ousted from the right wing

Consider the background to the interview. Through the entire time he worked on the campaign and in the White House, Bannon was at odds with Jared Kushner, which ultimately led to his ouster from the White House in August 2017. In early January 2018, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which rather obviously relied heavily on Bannon as a source, came out. Among the incendiary claims Bannon was described as making in the book was that Don Jr’s acceptance of the June 9 meeting was “treasonous.” Even though he issued a sort of apology, Bannon was still ousted from Breitbart, cut off from the wingnut gravy train that is key to his power. Days later, Mueller used Bannon’s comments as an opportunity to subpoena him, long after obtaining testimony from similarly situated people in the investigation (Mueller may have waited because of the evidence Bannon had been part of some back channels during the transition). Between the time Mueller subpoenaed Bannon and he testified with Mueller, he testified to HPSCI, effectively previewing a story he knew would be shared with the White House. All those events likely made Bannon want to tell a story that backed off the inflammatory claims he shared with Wolff, while still hewing closely enough to the truth to avoid prison.

This was a long interview. The report extends 37 pages, the longest of any Mueller interview report noted.

The beginning focuses on obstruction. After five redacted pages, the interview discusses Trump’s disdain for Jeff Sessions. Five pages later, the interview remained focused on Trump’s obstruction, having moved onto his efforts to fire Mueller.

Several pages later, it moved to the June 9 meeting. Bannon said he had no knowledge of the meeting at the time it happened (remember, he joined the campaign in August 2016), which made it easy for him to accuse Jared of treason, since he was uninvolved.

Bannon can’t decide whether he got Manafort fired or tried to protect him

But Bannon’s response to and insulation from the June 9 meeting is important background to where things start to get interesting, an apparent attempt to get Kushner fired in the wake of the June 9 meeting revelations.

On page 14 of the interview, Bannon got shown a July 24 email (PDF 174), which shows him forwarding a July 24, 2017 story implicating Jared in Russian money laundering to someone at Breitbart, telling them not to touch it yet. But the subsequent conversation makes it clear that Bannon was preparing to try to get Jared fired in the wake of the June 9 meeting revelation.

Bannon’s explanation to Mueller’s team was totally nonsensical, not least because he doesn’t appear to address the article at all, but important for everything that came after. He talks about what happened when he joined the campaign.

Bannon knew Kushner was on vacation off the coast of Croatia with a Russian billionaire when Bannon took over the campaign. Kushner was with Wendy Deng, the Russian billionaire, and the Russian’s girlfriend. Bannon said his friends in the intelligence community said the girlfriend was “questionable.” Bannon called Kushner and told him to come back from vacation. They had 85 days to go, no money and they needed Kushner to come back and fire Paul Manafort.

Both by date — 85 days before the election would be — and by public reporting, Bannon is referring to something that happened in mid-August 2016, when Ivanka and Jared were pictured on David Geffen’s boat off of Dubrovnik, probably a hit piece meant to suggest that Kushner was really a Democrat. Later, the frothy left had, in 2017, made much of the fact that Dmitry Rybolovlev was in Dubrovnik at the same time Kushner was. But in his interview, Bannon was basically answering a question about a hit piece from the weeks before he was ousted by making a claim that he had had to recall Kushner from that vacation in Dubrovnik at a time the campaign was failing to fire Paul Manafort.

Two pages later, the interview turns to how Bannon get set up with Trump in the first place — both how he had earlier been aligned with other outsider candidates and then swooped in in August 2016 to take over the campaign. The notes, but not the report itself, reveals that he got to know Sam Nunberg pretty well. The narrative loops through discussions of Cruz and Lewandowski, includes discussions from June 2016, then turns back to where Bannon anachronistically put his answer to the previous question: to what sorry shape the campaign was in when he took over in mid-August.

At the time Trump was 16 points down, the campaign had no organization, no money, 75% of the population through the country was in decline, they were working with the “deplorables,” and  Bannon had a 100% certitude that they would win. Bannon believed that the big task was to give people permission to vote for Trump as commander in chief.

Bannon’s story shifts immediately back to how he ousted Manafort, but this time he tells a story that differs from what he told Mueller just pages earlier.

The next day Bannon met with Manafort, which was the same time that the news about the “Black Ledger” was breaking. Bannon was at campaign headquarters when Manafort told Bannon to come up to Trump Tower. When Bannon arrived, Manafort showed him something about a NY Times story about the “Black Ledger” and $15 million dollars from the Ukraine. Bannon asked when this story was coming out. Manafort replied that he had known about the story coming out for approximately 2 months and had not gotten involved in it. Bannon subsequently told Trump to keep Manafort, to not fire him, and to keep him around for a couple of weeks. Bannon called Kushner, and asked him to get back in order to do something publicity wise to counteract the negative press surrounding the story. Trump had asked Bannon at one time about “what was this thing with Manafort out of the Ukraine,” and they talked for approximately 15 minutes on it. Trump was never linked with other Russian news stories at the time, and he believed Manafort was a promoter. Trump was more worried about how they [sic] story made them look. Bannon believed that Trump talked with Manafort about the story.

Just pages earlier, Bannon had claimed he called Kushner back to fire Manafort; here he said he called Kushner back to do publicity to make it feasible to keep him on.

Bannon claims not to remember how Prince scripted Trump’s answers on Russia for the last debate

Then the interview moves to Erik Prince.

Remember, this interview takes place against he background of Mueller’s efforts to figure out Bannon’s role in sending Prince to set up a back channel with Kirill Dmitriev in the Seychelles. But rather than go there, the interview focuses on whether whether Prince had scripted the answers on Russia that Trump used in the final debate on October 19, 2016.

Bannon explained that he had never had a conversation with Prince about foreign policy with respect to the Trump campaign. Then, prosecutors asked him about a series of documents that proved him wrong:

  • Some talking points Prince sent on September 8, 2015 (PDF 181), effectively pitching his services, which Bannon forwarded to Corey Lewandowski
  • An email exchange showing Bannon forwarding those talking points, Bannon following up (after just having spoken to Prince) asking whether Lewandowski had read the Prince brief, Lewandowski responding they were meeting with Flynn shortly, followed by Bannon offering Prince to brief Trump
  • An email showing Bannon setting up an interview (possibly with Prince) regarding the GOP spat over Section 215 in December 2015
  • A January 14, 2016 where Bannon gave Prince a reference for someone he described as Muslim who was living in India, possibly suggesting Prince should hire him
  • A March 17, 2016 email showing Bannon inviting Prince on his show and trying to set up another Prince-Trump meeting
  • A May 23, 2016 email with Prince suggesting Trump meet with Oleg Hladkovskyy, then the National Security Advisor of Ukraine, who was being hosted by a Prince friend who was in the aerospace business
  • An October 18, 2016 email (PDF 196) from Prince suggesting that, “Mr. T should introduce, an alternative narrative” on Russian election interference by arguing that Putin and Lavrov, “know your weaknesses and your penchant for recklessness, ignoring rules and regulations, which has provided a treasure trove of sensitive information while you were Secretary of State” (!!!)
  • A November 16, 2016 email from Mark Corallo that Prince forwarded to Bannon showing that Corallo was fluffing Bannon with reporters, with the explanation, “We are getting you more PR help”

In response to seeing these documents, Bannon claimed to forget almost all of it.

He professed to not remembering whether Prince had briefed Trump in September 2015, and claimed — the written record notwithstanding — that he spoke to Prince infrequently. He then claimed to not remember whether Prince had come on his show but excused it because Prince was “on the right;” he doesn’t appear to have answered whether Prince briefed Trump. Bannon did not remember the Hladkovskyy pitch, but explained that by saying Prince “as someone with a good relationship with Trump.” Bannon appears to have responded to the Prince advice on how to change the Russian narrative — what the original question was directed towards — by suggesting that campaign headquarters were “loosey goosey” meaning Prince may have come in with free reign during the period Bannon was the campaign CEO (meaning that Bannon couldn’t be pinned down as the exclusive via which Prince scripted that question). Bannon claimed not to remember Prince going out of his way to help Bannon get good PR.

In other words, Mueller’s team first asked Bannon if he had been the channel for Prince to inject policy views — specifically the view that the US should partner with Russia to go after ISIS — into the campaign. Bannon said no. And then prosecutors showed him a bunch of emails showing that’s probably what happened, including Prince offering a scripted answer about Russia for the last debate.

The MBZ back channel

Mueller’s prosecutors then moved to another of the sensitive things Bannon had a role in: the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed during the transition.

The story goes back to a meeting Trump had with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, something George Papadopoulos had claimed credit for. Bannon gave Kushner the credit. He claimed he didn’t know if they talked about Russia. He also claimed that if he met George Nader, they did little more than shake hands (Bannon would retain ties with Nader for quite some time after this).

There’s a heavily redacted paragraph that, in the notes, clearly involves George Nader. Given his role in brokering the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev, that may be what the passage is about.

Bannon then claims that he last heard from Nader two or three months earlier (that is, late 2017), but that Nader hadn’t reached out to him about being forced to testify to Mueller the month earlier.

Bannon remembers Rick Gerson

Immediately after catching Bannon forgetting how central he was to channeling Prince into the campaign (above), he was asked about Rick Gerson, who would play a key role, with Kirill Dmitriev, in scripting the initial phone call between Trump and Putin. When he was first asked, Bannon said he didn’t remember him.

Then, after the Nader discussion, he was shown a picture, and Bannon recognized that he was Kushner’s hedge fund buddy whom he had referenced earlier. There are two redacted paragraphs, after which Bannon is again asked whether he spoke to Nader about his testimony. Bannon claimed to have learned of Nader’s testimony from the newspaper, “but then said that he could be wrong.” It seems like prosecutors knew it was wrong.

Bannon disclaims any knowledge of Trump’s Russian business ties

After over two redacted pages, the interview then turns to the Trump Tower Russia deal. Bannon started by blaming Michael Cohen for the shit he protected Trump from (a particularly notable comment since Wolff had reported him claiming that Cohen had “taken care of” a “hundred women” during the campaign).

Bannon described Cohen as the kind of guy who thought it would be a good idea to send $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

Bannon was then shown a document about Trump Tower (which was not released in the FOIA). In response, he tried to claim he had no knowledge of Trump having any business deals.

Bannon was told “zero” deals involving Russia and the Trump Organization. Candidate Trump would say he didn’t know any Russians and there was no collusion. This came up during the campaign a couple of times. Bannon never asked Trump about any Russian business deals. In regard to the emails [sic] reference to Felix Sater, Bannon stated that this went back to the House Intelligence Committee, that they had a signed term sheet in December 2015 on Trump Tower Moscow. This was a big deal to Bannon, and Bannon described it as a “big reveal.”

Mostly, they’re asking Bannon about the cover story that wouldn’t be exposed as such for months after this interview. But it’s significant because before and after the question, Bannon claimed that when Manafort’s Russian ties were creating problems in August 2016, he had no knowledge that Trump had ties to Russia.

After a number of redacted paragraphs, the interview turns to Bannon’s knowledge — which he had reportedly bragged about to Wolff — of the Stormy Daniels payment. Bannon claimed, dubiously, to have spoken to Breitbart people about the payment (which happened while he was CEO of the campaign), but not anyone on the campaign. This dubious claim is of particular interest given that, shortly after Cohen was raided two months after this interview, Bannon started pushing to fire Rod Rosenstein to end the investigation.

Then the discussion returns to Trump’s Russian business deals. After twice already claiming that he had no knowledge of Trump’s Russian business ties, Bannon then admitted:

  • Having read stories from March and April in 2016 on the topic, but not discussing them with anyone on the campaign
  • Learning, while he was on the campaign, of the Dmitry Rybolovlev purchase of Trump’s mansion, but accepting Trump’s “plausible” explanation for it
  • Learning the limited hangout Trump Tower story, but reaching out to people at The Intercept, Fox, the Guardian, and ABC, and because they had no knowledge of it, thinking no further of it
  • Claiming to have “never talked to Trump on how he thought all these stories on his business dealings with Russia was absurd”

Bannon was then shown an email (this is out of order, in the back-up section starting at PDF 234) where he had asked Cohen about claims about Sergey Millian, which he didn’t remember getting, nor does he remember discussing it with the campaign, even though he included Kellyanne Conway, Jared, Stephen Miller, and two other people in his question to Cohen about it. It consisted of a September 22, 2016, response from Sergei Millian to an FT reporter on how sanctions affected deals with Russia, a follow-up four days later, followed by a specific disavowal on September 27 that he had worked, personally, for Trump. Millian forwarded it to Cohen that same day, and Cohen forwarded it to the campaign, misstating what Millian said as a disavowal of any relationship. When Bannon asked what the context was, Jared responded by explaining that Hillary was playing commercials claiming that Trump wasn’t releasing his taxes to hide his ties to Russian oligarchs.

Effectively, Bannon made a not very credible case, one undermined by the documentary record, that he never learned — and never asked about — the Russian business ties of his boss.

But her emails and those other emails and other emails still

Much of the rest of the interview focuses on at least five different uses of emails, oppo research, and social media during the campaign: Cambridge Analytica, Bannon’s own oppo research, Hillary 33,0000 emails, Papadopoulos’ advance notice of the Russian operation, and Stone’s activities. One interesting aspect of this is the way the interview seems to shift back and forth between these seemingly distinct issues, starting with Sam Nunberg, going through Cambridge Analytica and the 33,000 emails, then returning to Stone. That may be because this section is heavily redacted (much of it for ongoing investigative reasons, and not just the parts pertaining to Stone), but it also may have to do with the fact that Bannon’s role went from outside purveyor of junk oppo research and lackey of the Mercers to the guy leading the campaign. Remember, the Mercers funded both Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute and CA. While it’s not yet clear why, the way in which these two streams collapsed in August 2016 remains important.

First, Bannon was asked about a June 5, 2015 email from Barbara Ledeen (PDF 199) sharing her proposal to find Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails (which was specifically pitched in terms of opposition research, not — in Ledeen’s function on SJC — as an oversight goal). The Bates stamp on it suggests it came from his response to subpoena. Bannon said that was part of his work on Government Accountability Institute, and was part of his effort to package allegations about the Clinton Foundation into the book, Clinton Cash, that would go on to be the basis of an FBI investigation during the campaign.

Next, Bannon explained an August 4, 2015 email to Bannon saying that Lewandowski had “just confirmed green light on Trump :-)))”. It pertained to voter targeting, but the data operation people were not retained.  Bannon seems to have responded to this 2015 email by explaining that someone from Cambridge Analytica introduced Bannon to Ivanka and Jared after Ted Cruz withdrew in May 2016, which was the first time he met them.

Next, Bannon was asked about a June 12, 2016 email from someone in the UK (PDF 226). Based on the length of some of the redactions, Alexander Nix was almost certainly involved. The email pitched Bannon meeting with someone while on a trip to the UK in the next two weeks to discuss the Super PAC. Bannon responded “Love it,” but in the interview he claimed not remembering talking to what is almost certainly Nix about this meeting. Parts of this email are redacted under the b7ABC exemption, reflecting an ongoing investigation in November when it was released.

Then Bannon was asked whether he had worked with George Papadopoulos on setting up the meeting with al-Sisi as a way to ask if he had heard Papadopoulos’ information about Russian dirt. Bannon claimed that Flynn would be on the hook for the al-Sisi meetings Papadopoulos was floating, so he didn’t need to interact with Papadopoulos.

Importantly, Bannon said he “had all the dirt he needed from Clinton Cash and Uranium One,” so he didn’t need “any more dirt from ‘clowns’ like Papadopoulos and Clovis.” This is an important issue: Bannon claimed, back in February 2018, that he believed there was a finite amount of dirt needed between the dirt he had invented and the dirt others — the Russians — were offering. By saying he already had his own dirt, he was effectively disavowing an interest in dirt that came from Russia and suggesting they were separate. Note, too, that the answer is particularly interesting because when Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer about the Russian offer, he mentioned that the campaign already had a ton of dirt, which presumably would have been Bannon’s.

It appears, given his name appearing in the notes but not in unredacted form in the 302, that the discussion then turned to Sam Nunberg, who may have sent Bannon an email on January 7, 2016 — long before Bannon joined the campaign — referring to the “Data Guy in Trump Tower.” Bannon thought the name in the email was wrong though did remember meeting a “data guy” there in January 2016. He thought Nunberg did a great job running the campaign by himself for a year (which is interesting because he seemed to have a good relationship with Lewandowski, who was nominally running it).

Bannon is then shown two emails which were not released in FOIA, at least one of which pertains to CA. His responses are redacted under ongoing investigation exemptions.

Bannon then explained that in August 2016, Kushner was in charge of the digital campaign and fundraising, and “the campaign had almost no cash and they were receiving only a small amount from online contributions.” Thus, he repeats the refrain he used at the beginning of the interview, but this time in the specific context of social media and online fundraising.

The interview then turns to an April 20, 2016 email (this is out of order at PDF 239) showing what may be Bannon following up on a meeting by referring to someone else, with the interlocutor asking to call the next day. Bannon claimed not to remember that email.

Bannon is then shown a May 4, 2016 email (which seems to be an automatically forwarded text) that came from Cambridge Analytica. The CA sender described someone — either Ken Cuccinelli or someone who worked for him — being a “total pretender,” because “We worked on our very first pilot program with him in 2013.” Bannon believed that this pertained to an earlier email he had been shown (one of the ones not released under FOIA), and explained that “Cambridge Analytica claimed they could help micro-target voters on Facebook.” He goes on to discuss a project for CA.

The interview turns to two more emails, not provided under FOIA, withheld under the ongoing investigations exemptions.

The next refers to an email to someone dated August 26, 2016, asking if the recipient (by redaction length, this could be Stone) could talk because Bannon Had some ideas.

Bannon claimed not to remember what the ideas in question were. As noted, it was withheld as part of an ongoing investigation.

The next document was from Ted Malloch, dated August 30, 2016, who offered up the idea that Trump should hand Hillary an indictment during the first debate. Malloch said he’d been “in constant touch with the campaign” though the rest is redacted. Bannon claimed to have no contact, apparently with Malloch though possibly with Jerome Corsi (who was in contact with him at the time).

Bannon was shown another email, about which there was a short entirely redacted description. Then the interviewers took a 10 minute break. He was asked about the email again, and there was an extensive description, per the notes, possibly integrating two more issues. Whatever the email was, it is a significant part of this interview, redacted for ongoing investigations.

But it likely pertains to Stone, because Bannon claimed he was interested in the 33,000 emails, but not the John Podesta information.

Bannon was always interested in the missing 33,000 emails, but was not interested in the John Podesta information since he believed it was not going to impact the election. Bannon clarified that he was talking to [several sentences redacted] Bannon was interested in the verified 33,000 emails and how it related to Uranium One. Bannon might have talked with [redacted] at one time, about the 33,0000 emails. After Bannon came onto the campaign, it got into Candidate Trump’s “head” that the 33,000 emails might be important. Trump was focused on “crooked Hillary” and the Uranium One story, and thought the 33,000 missing emails might unlock it. They never discussed that the Russians might have them. Bannon thought that some hackers in Bulgarian might have them. There was not much of a response from Trump and every now and then he would bring up the 33,000 emails. One time when the Podesta emails were released, Trump asked if it was a big deal. Bannon [redacted] with Trump. Flynn or Kellogg might have had a disc on finding the 33,000 emails. Bannon though Flynn might have had an idea about using an outside company and finding the 33,000 missing emails. If it was anything cyber related, Bannon would always refer to Bannon and the cyber guys. Bannon did not think the WikiLeaks releases were that big of a deal, the important information was the 33,000 missing emails. Kellogg thought the same thing, and he was not a cyber guy. Priebus and Miller had talked about the 33,000 missing emails.

There’s a lot that’s obvious invention here (notably that no one thought Russia might have the 33,000 emails and that Bannon wasn’t interested in the WikiLeaks releases). But I’m particularly interested in the degree to which Bannon again pitches these things as unrelated — the 33,000 emails are one thing, the WikiLeaks releases are another. When Bannon joined the campaign, after all, Roger Stone was bragging about how the following dumps would be the missing emails.

The interview then turned to a discussion of the way the Podesta emails came out jut as the Billy Bush tape came out, with Bannon claiming that he “never thought the Podesta releases were a big deal.”

The interview then reviews three more emails, the discussion of one of which is redacted for ongoing investigations but the email itself appears largely unredacted in the backup.

This is, then, an email about debate prep for the same October 19 debate where Erik Prince appears to have scripted Trump’s answer on Russia, though this time there’s a reference to “Our friend in FL,” which might be Stone.

The next email and discussion is not redacted. It pertains to a Prince fundraiser, which leads Bannon to disavow any coordination issue. As I’ll discuss in a follow-up, we know that Prince was fundraising for Stone at this time, which did pose coordination problems. The issue was supposed to come up at Stone’s trial, but did not.

Then Bannon is asked about the September 21 email via which Trump Jr sends a link to a WikiLeaks site (though Bannon was forwarded the email — he didn’t get it directly). The discussion of the email is not interesting. But Bannon’s disavowals on WikiLeaks, again, have been refuted by his subsequent testimony, including during Stone’s trial.

Bannon did not remember anyone else in contact with WikiLeaks. There was discussion during the campaign on how WikiLeaks could impact the race. Bannon did not think anyone had any ideas on where WikiLeaks had got their information. Bannon did not remember anyone reaching out to [redacted, almost certainly Stone], WikiLeaks, or any other intermediary to see what information might be coming.

Indeed, Bannon’s claims were almost immediately challenged in the interview, when Bannon was asked about the November 5, 2016 thread that started with Paul Manafort sending Jared a memo warning that Hillary would,

move immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.

Jared forwarded it to Bannon and David Bossie, in response to which Bannon said,

We need to avoid this guy like the plague.

They are going to try and say the Russians worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us.

Paul is a nice guy but can’t let word get out he is advising us.

In response to being shown an email where he suggests Manafort was advising the campaign (the Mueller Report reveals that Rick Gates, in an interview just two days before this one, had revealed that Manafort told Gates he was still speaking with Trump, Kushner, and Bannon himself), Bannon claimed he,

was not aware of any instances of Manafort advising, or being involved in the campaign after his ouster.

Then, Bannon claimed that,

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [redacted, almost certainly Stone] or Manafort.

The substantive part of the interview ends, then, with Bannon making a tie between Manafort and (almost certainly) Stone that admits a tie between Stone and WikiLeaks that Bannon would later testify to, repeatedly, under oath, even while disclaiming any tie to Stone, even though emails would prove that false.

Bannon tells Mueller want to obtain warrants for

The last major paragraph of the interview lays out Bannon’s claims about his communications habits, including:

  • Bannon had three cell phones but did not use either the campaign one or the “secure” one provided by the Federal government to ensure his communications remained secure
  • He didn’t use the campaign iPad much
  • He had no idea that his cell phone had been set up to not archive text messages (which is pertinent because his messages with Prince got deleted)
  • He claimed not to use secure apps during the campaign and transition, but got ProtonMail and Signal not long before leaving the White House
  • Bannon never used Slack, though Breitbart did
  • Bannon got Wickr on Prince’s recommendation, but used Signal with other people
  • He claimed not to know of all the people using secure apps
  • After having just said he primarily used his personal cell phone, Bannon claimed not to have used his personal phone for White House business
  • Bannon several times disclaimed any discussion of the importance of keeping his text messages to comply with the Federal Records Act
  • Bannon said he primarily used his White House email to do business, but then described using his “arc-ent” one, but claimed they got archived a the White House

This language would be particularly useful for prosecutors to use in warrants.

But it’s also important for another reason. Most, if not all, of the referenced Bates stamps in this interview were clearly Steve Bannon’s own production, what he turned over himself. But we know of at least two key emails that don’t appear in this interview, either because they’re redacted, or because Bannon didn’t turn them over. One is an August 18, 2016 email from Stone, sent immediately after Bannon was publicly announced to be joining the campaign, promising Bannon he knew how to win the election. Another is an exchange from October 4 2016, showing Bannon showing great interest in WikiLeaks, in contradiction to the unredacted parts of his testimony. Plus, there’s a text from Bannon’s assistant, Andrea Preate, congratulating Stone after WikiLeaks stomped on the Access Hollywood tape.

To the extent that Mueller relied in this interview (and the earlier one, two days earlier) on Bannon’s production — and it’s not clear whether that’s what happened or not — it would leave the possibility that Bannon didn’t turn over things that were clearly responsive to any Mueller subpoena.

Again, we don’t know whether that happened or not. But Bannon’s unredacted testimony is inconsistent with exchanges with Stone we know were documented. And, as mentioned above, when Cohen was raided, Bannon lost it, pushing to fire Rosenstein after he had told Jared that firing Comey was the stupidest political decision in modern history.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. And as a reminder, a significant part of my PhD work involved Czech literature. 

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

As I noted, I spent much of the last month wading through the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. Back when the IG Report came out, a bunch of people — largely Devin Nunes flunkies — declared, incorrectly and apparently without close review, that the IG Report shows that Devin Nunes was right and Adam Schiff was wrong in their memos from 2018.

The reality is that both were talking past each other, with Nunes trying to make the Steele dossier stand in for and discredit the entire investigation, and Schiff trying to point out that the Steele dossier did not predicate the entire Russia investigation. Nunes made dishonest claims about the Ohrs and Comey’s briefing of the Steele dossier to Trump. Schiff wrongly defended the FBI’s treatment of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff story and overstated the known reliability of the dossier at the time of the memo, to which additional details were added by the IG Report.

Schiff overstates both the predicted and actual efficacy of the FISA collection, which is something it’d be nice to see both parties return to. Though it has long been evident that the FBI and the IC generally often continues surveillance (and surveillance programs) past their point of usefulness, the Intelligence Committees do a piss poor job of challenging such collection.

Before I compare the two, though, consider that both memos came before almost a year of parallel investigations (one conducted by House Republicans, another conducted by the DOJ IG) into the process. Even Nunes was not aware when he wrote his memo of some of the problems identified in the IG Report. I say that with great confidence, not least because I spoke with a Republican who had read the FISA application closely months after the Nunes memo was written who told me there was so much else in Carter Page’s FISA application that approval of the application was not a close call even with concerns about the dossier; the person changed his opinion after that time. In other words, when both parties released a memo about the Carter Page application in early 2018, neither side knew of some of the problems revealed in the IG Report. That’s actually evident from the things Nunes does not complain about in his memo (though he may remain silent about Page’s past relationship with CIA for classification reasons), and it means some of Schiff’s assurances about the dossier have been proven inaccurate since.

This post will conduct a paragraph-by-paragraph assessment of the letters that uses the IG Report, with one key exception, as arbiter of accuracy. The exception is DOJ IG’s conclusions on (but not facts presented about) Bruce Ohr, as that is one area where DOJ IG can be shown to misrepresent the record.

Nunes Memo

¶1-4: The introductory paragraphs of the Nunes memo lays out when FBI obtained FISA orders on Page and who approved them. These details are true, though uncontroversial. From there, Nunes adopts an outline of allegations that are either less sound or inaccurate:

¶5 (marked as 1):

“The dossier was essential:”

The IG Report said the FBI lawyer said ” the Steele reporting in September ‘pushed it over’ the line in terms of establishing probable cause,” and generally the IG Report shows that FBI would not have initiated the FISA process without the dossier, though by the time the application was approved FBI had collected more damning information on Page.

The IG Report describes five things substantiated probable cause against Page:

  • Russia’s effort to influence the election
  • The Papadopoulos report
  • Page’s past history with Russia, including his Gazprom dealings, his serial recruitment by Russian intelligence officers, his comments about what he had told the FBI
  • The Steele allegations
  • His enthusiasm about being offered a “blank check” to start a pro-Russian think tank on his July trip to Russia

“Steele was a longtime FBI source:” Steele had been known to Bruce Ohr and Andrew McCabe via mutual interest in combatting organized crime since the 2000s. Ohr first introduced Steele to an FBI handler in 2010. He was formally opened as a CHS in 2013, though the two sides disagreed about the terms of that relationship.

Steele was paid over $160K, to obtain derogatory research: True, but not part of the IG Report. The Nunes memo doesn’t note that Steele was paid $95,000 by the FBI, none of it for dossier-related work.

¶ 6, 7 (marked as 1a and 1b): “Neither the initial applications nor the renewals disclose the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials:” The footnote disclosing this did not name any Democrat, but it wouldn’t have in any case. It did say that,

[Steele], who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #l’s ties to Russia (the identified U.S. person and [Steele] have a long-standing business relationship). The identified U.S. person hired [Steele] to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #l’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1 ‘s campaign.

The political origins of the dossier were suspected by senior FBI and DOJ officials before the first application. After that, they had far more specific knowledge of it, thanks largely to Bruce Ohr. The FBI did not disclose its enhanced understanding of the nature of the project in reauthorizations, though some of the people involved believed the initial footnote remained adequate.

“The FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.” It wasn’t the same information. FBI authorized Steele to be paid if he completed taskings focused on the subjects of the investigation, but they offered that in the (false) expectation he’d offer them information exclusively. He was not, ultimately, paid for this.

¶8 (marked as 2): “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff … This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself.

This entirely misstates the point of the Yahoo inclusion, which was to include Page’s denials.

Evans told the OIG that 01 included the reference to the September 23 Yahoo News article in the FISA application solely because it was favorable to Carter Page and not as corroboration for the Steele reporting in the application. According to Evans, the application’s treatment of the article was favorable to Page in three respects: (1) the application described statements in the article that the campaign distanced itself from Page and minimized his role as an advisor; (2) the application stated that Page denied the allegations in the news article in a letter to the Director; and (3) as described below, the application made clear that the people who financed Steele’s reporting were likely the same source for the information in the article.

While it is true that the FISA application did not attribute the quote to Steele (not even after FBI learned he had been the source from Bruce Ohr), the application did attribute it to Glenn Simpson.

Given that the information contained in the September 23rd News Article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered during his/her research, the FBI assesses that [Steele’s] business associate or the law firm that hired the business associate likely provided this information to the press.

¶9, 10 (marked as 2a and 2b): “Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations–an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI. … Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo.”

This is correct, insofar as Steele was closed for cause because he disclosed that he had shared information with the FBI, which amounted to being a control problem.

Strzok told the OIG that the FBI closed Steele “because he was a control problem. We did not close him because we thought he was [a] fabricator.” According to Strzok, Steele’s decisions to discuss his reporting with the media and to disclose his relationship with the FBI were “horrible and it hurt what we were doing, and no question, he shouldn’t have done it.”

But there are more serious violations, such as breaking the law.

However, a CHS must be closed for cause “if t here is grievous action by the CHS or a discovery of previously unknown facts or circumstances that make the individual unsuitable for use as a CHS.”97 Reasons that justify closing a CHS for cause include commission of unauthorized illegal activity, unwillingness to follow instructions, unreliability, or serious control problems. 98

Also, Steele’s decision to share the information, while utterly stupid from a HUMINT standpoint, was not actually a violation of any warning the FBI had given him, since he disclosed information he had collected for someone else.

Steele’s handling agent said that Steele should have been closed for cause because of the attention he was attracting for himself, but he recognized that Steele was not leaking information he had collected for the FBI (and the IG Report didn’t find any orders that he not speak to the press, either).

Handling Agent 1 told us that he understood why Steele would believe in September 2016 that he did not have an obligation to discuss his press contacts with him given that: (1) Steele’s work resulted from a private client engagement; and (2) Handling Agent 1 told Steele on July 5 that he was not collecting his election reporting on behalf of the FBI. However, Handling Agent 1 ‘s view was that while it was obvious that Fusion GPS would want to publicize Steele’s election information, it was not apparent that Steele would be conducting press briefings and otherwise interjecting himself into the media spotlight. Handling Agent 1 told us that he would have recommended that Steele be closed in September 2016 if he had known about the attention that Steele was attracting to himself. According to Handling Agent 1, Steele should have had the foresight to recognize this fact and the professionalism to afford Handling Agent 1 an opportunity to assess the situation. However, we are unaware of any FBI admonishments that Steele violated by speaking to third parties, including the press, about work that he had done solely for his firm’s clients and where he made no mention of his relationship with the FBI.

[snip]

According to Handling Agent 1, while Steele appeared to follow the directions of Fusion GPS, he did not treat his other client – the FBI – fairly. According to Handling Agent 1, if Steele “had been straight with the FBI,” he would not have been closed as a CHS.

¶11 (marked as 3): Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via … Bruce Ohr.

This is true, but it was part of a 10 year relationship based on sharing information about organized crime, and this information included non-dossier related information on Trump (focused on Oleg Deripaska’s double game offers to offer evidence against Paul Manafort) and other Russian (including doping) and non-Russian matters.

The IG Report makes the same kinds of errors in its portrayal of Ohr as the FISA Application does about Page, effectively arguing Ohr should be disciplined for the kind of information sharing DOJ and FBI have insisted they need to encourage since 9/11.

Ohr said, “Steele said he ‘was desperate.'”

This is true, though the IG Report shows (but then misrepresents) that Ohr specifically said this was an ideological desperation, not a political one: “but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

¶12 (marked as 3a): “During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump … the Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.”

This is dishonest. Nellie Ohr’s last day working as a contractor for Fusion was September 24, 2016, so she was no longer employed by Fusion at the time of the first Page application or at the time when Ohr was helping FBI vet the dossier. The IG Report does not say their relationship should have been disclosed to the FISC, nor should it have been, as Nellie Ohr’s research was a separate stream from Steele’s.

¶13 (marked as 4):

“corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its ‘infancy’ at the time of the initial Page application.”

This is true, but that is not unusual in the FISA context.

Evans and other witnesses told us that the fact that the source information in the FISA application had not yet been corroborated was not unusual in the FISA context

DOJ assessed the reliability of this information, for the first application, by assessing Steele’s reliability and including information on his subsources. His past as an MI6 officer gave him more credibility than other sources might have had. All the applications misstated what Steele’s handling agent had said about the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated.

“a source validation report … assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated.”

The source validation that found Steele’s reporting to be minimally corroborated was done in March 2017, after the first two FISA applications and the Trump briefing.

“Yet in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steel dossier, even though it was–according to his June 2017 testimony–‘salacious and unverified.'”

This is an utterly dishonest attack. As noted, the validation review referred to here took place two months after Comey briefed Trump on the dossier. And Comey briefed Trump on it largely because it was salacious, out of desire to warn Trump about what was out there.

“McCabe testified … that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from FISC without the Steele dossier.”

McCabe said something different to the IG when asked about this quote and this discrepancy remains unresolved.

McCabe told us that he did not recall his exact testimony, but that his view was that the FBI would have “absolutely” sought FISA authority on Carter Page, even without the Steele reporting, based upon Page’s historical interactions with known Russian intelligence officers and the fact that Page told known Russian intelligence officers about the FBI’s knowledge of those interactions. However, McCabe also told us that he was not privy to the discussions that took place between attorneys in FBI OGC and Case Agent 1 on the sufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause before the Crossfire Hurricane team received Steele’s election reports. McCabe said he could not speculate as to whether the FBI would have been successful in obtaining FISA authority from the FISC without the inclusion of the Steele reporting.

Schiff Memo

¶1-4: Introductory matter, including an assertion that ODJ would have been remiss if they had not sought a FISA warrant. The IG Report showed that while there was no question about investigating Page’s ties to Russia, there was some question about the efficacy of the FISA application.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly.

¶5: “Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. In fact, the FBI’s closely held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.”

This is true. The FBI opened the investigation on July 31 based off the Australian tip, and the Crossfire Hurricane team only got the Steele dossier information on September 19.

¶6-7:

“Multi-pronged rational for surveilling Page” There were five things the first Page application used to establish probable cause, as noted above.

“no longer with the Trump campaign” True.

“narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities … did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump” This is a bit cynical, because while the FBI did not use all the reports they had gotten from Steele (including the pee tape allegation), the Page application used the specific references to Page plus more general allegations about cooperation between Russia and Trump.

Specifically, the following aspects of Steele’s Reports 80, 94, 95, and 102 were used to support the application:

  • Compromising information about Hillary Clinton had been compiled for many years, was controlled by the Kremlin, and the Kremlin had been feeding information to the Trump campaign for an extended period of time (Report 80);
  • During his July 2016 trip to Moscow, Carter Page attended a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, Chairman of Rosneft and close associate of Putin, to discuss future cooperation and the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia; and a secret meeting with Igor Divyekin, another highly placed Russian official, to discuss sharing compromising information about Clinton with the Trump campaign (Report 94);
  • Page was an intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign’s then manager (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy” of cooperation, which led, with at least Page’s knowledge and agreement, to Russia’s disclosure of hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign’s agreement to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue (Report 95); 267 and
  • Russia released the DNC emails to Wikileaks in an attempt to swing voters to Trump, an objective conceived and promoted by Carter Page and others (Report 102).

“interaction with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign … FBI interviewed Page in March 2016.” It is both true that Page’s actual interactions with Russian officials — including the offer of an “open checkbook” to open a pro-Russian think tank during his July 2016 trip — and his comments to the FBI in March 2016 were part of the case for probable cause.

“DOJ also disclosed” It is true DOJ disclosed Steele’s prior relationship and the details of his termination as a source — though at first they incorrectly only said he had been suspended — but they did not supplement the application with details of the Fusion project as they became known after the first application.

¶8-10: Repetition of the opening blather.

¶11-13: The investigation was started based off Australia’s tip about Papadopoulos and by the time the Crossfire Hurricane team received dossier information on September 19, they had already opened investigations against 4 Trump people, Page, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort [the other three names of which are redacted]. That’s true. Here’s what the government told FISC about the Papadopoulos tip:

In or about March 2016, George Papadopoulos [footnote omitted] and Carter Page (the target of this application) were publicly identified by Candidate #1 as part of his/her foreign policy team. Based on reporting from a friendly foreign government, which has provided reliable information in the past … the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #l’s campaign. In or about July 2016, the above-referenced friendly foreign government provided information to a senior official within the U.S. [government] regarding efforts made by the Russian Government to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Specifically, according to this information, during a meeting in or about April 2016 between officials of the friendly foreign government and George Papadopoulos … Papadopoulos suggested that Candidate #l’s campaign had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to another candidate for U.S. President (Candidate #2). It was unclear whether Papadopoulos or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear from this reporting how Candidate #l’s campaign reacted to the alleged Russian offer. Nevertheless, as discussed below, the FBI believes that election influence efforts are being coordinated between the RIS and Page, and possibly others.

Note the Schiff memo supplements what the government told FISC and what FBI knew at the time with information from Papadopoulos’ plea deal, though by October 2016, the FBI had come to learn outlines of Papadopoulos’ interactions with Mifsud via an informant.

¶14: Details about the Page applications. As corrected these claims are true. The Schiff memo doesn’t list the judges, but they are:

  • September application: Rosemary Collyer, W appointee
  • January application: Michael Mosman, W appointee
  • April application: Anne Conway, Poppy appointee
  • June application: Raymond Dearie, Reagan appointee

Note that the Schiff memo describes both electronic surveillance and physical search; the IG Report hides the latter. The physical search authorization is important because that provided FBI authorization to obtain Page’s stored communications, including emails.

¶15: FISA was not used to spy on the campaign. True, but the use of physical surveillance would permit the FBI to obtain stored communication, and it’s not public whether the specific minimization procedures adopted by FISC limited the access to emails Page sent while on the campaign.

¶16-17: Page’s connections to Russian Government and intelligence officials. To the extent this information is public, this is largely true (though it’s probably more accurate to state that one of the Russians indicted, Victor Podobnyy, attempted to recruit Page, and he talked about it with a second). We now know, however, that an earlier attempted recruitment happened with the knowledge of CIA, and there’s no allegation that Page hid his willingness to share information with Russian intelligence officers until 2017. That raises problems for claims he was secretly working with Russian spies.

¶18: Page’s suspicious activity during the 2016 campaign. To the extent this is public, it does reflect what FBI told FISC. The memo doesn’t deal with real questions about the allegations about whom Page met with in Russia. There’s still no corroboration that Page met with anyone named Divyekin (indeed, Dmitry Peskov affirmatively chose not to set up a meeting for him with the Kremlin), but the IG Report reveals that the people who brought Page to Moscow provided RUMINT that he had met with Igor Sechin. The Mueller Report concluded Page’s activities in Moscow “were not fully explained.”

¶19: Subsequent renewals. Much of this discussion is redacted, though it’s clear it provides details of Page’s December trip to Moscow, where he met with the Deputy Prime Minister again, and probably refers to Page’s meeting with the VP of Gazprombank in Singapore.

This table shows the new claims made in each FISA application described in the IG Report.

It’s not clear that Page’s denials in the HPSCI interview are as damning as Schiff makes out, as some of them amounted to denials of claims in the dossier than have not been proven. The IG Report would go on to describe other denials from Page that were provably true, denials that did not get included in reauthorization applications.

¶20: The Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable information. Publicly, Michael Horowitz has suggested this is not the case. But the IG Report admits that that investigation team “did not review the entirety of the FISA [intelligence collected by] targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those [redacted] under FISA authority that were relevant to our review.”

The Report suggests that the reality is that the first two, and possibly three, warrants were useful, as they captured Page interacting with Russia in suspicious ways, but that the fourth and maybe the third application were far less useful, in part because by that point Page knew he was being surveilled and by that point he was no longer a key player in Trump’s orbit.

¶21-22: DOJ was transparent with the Court about Steele’s sourcing. The Schiff memo accurately describes the footnote used to inform the court of the political nature of Steele’s project. It doesn’t describe that FBI didn’t amend that description as more information became known, though there is disagreement over whether more was necessary.

¶23: DOJ explained the FBI’s reasonable basis for finding Steele credible. The Schiff memo accurately describes how DOJ described Steele. But it doesn’t note that the reauthorizations did not reflect questions FBI had come to raise about the credibility of the dossier, nor does it note (and it probably wasn’t known) that the applications used language from an intelligence report rather than from Steele’s handling agent to describe the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated, and as a result overstated that.

¶24-25: FBI properly notified FISC after it terminated Steele as a source. As a minor point, in the first reauthorization, FBI said Steele had been suspended rather than closed, when he had actually been closed. More seriously, the Schiff memo badly understates how obvious it should have been that Steele had a role in Michael Isikoff’s October 21 story (though, as noted, the FBI attributed the story to Simpson in any case).

¶26: The FBI never paid Steele for the dossier. Here, the two memos are talking past each other dishonestly. The FBI did authorize Steele to be paid for any exclusive reporting on specific taskings, but what he provided was always his work for Fusion.

¶27: DOJ appropriately provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including … Papadopoulos. This is largely true. The IG Report complains that FBI didn’t include Papadopolous’ really damning admissions to informants, but the FBI correctly deemed the denials he made (and Joseph Mifsud’s denials) to be inaccurate, so had they been included they would have been included to substantiate deceit.

¶28: DOJ made proper use of news coverage. The unredacted claims are all true (though don’t account for FBI’s failures to identify Isikoff’s article as coming from Steele).

¶29-30: The Majority’s reference to Bruce Ohr is misleading.

This passage states that Ohr’s meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team happened after the FISA application, which is true, but it doesn’t mention a meeting had with Andrew McCabe (not Crossfire Hurricane) days before the FISA application. The McCabe meeting included reporting from Steele (whom Ohr had spoken to the previous day) and Simpson; I argue, however, that the precipitating reason for the meeting had to do with Oleg Deripaska, which the IG Report inaccurately treats as synonymous with the Steele dossier (though it’s problematic for other reasons).

Also, the Schiff memo speaks of “debriefs” without describing the multiple meetings.

The Schiff memo correctly calls the Nunes memo on insinuating that because Ohr worked with Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein that meant there was a conspiracy; in fact, the IG Report argues he should be disciplined because he didn’t provide them enough notice of what he was doing.

The evidence in the IG Report backs Schiff’s conclusion — that Ohr’s contacts with the Crossfire Hurricane team amounted to debriefing about Steele’s project — more than it backs its own.

¶31: Strzok and Page’s text messages are irrelevant to the FISA application. That is true. The IG Report found,

As part of this review, in order to determine whether there was any bias in the investigative activities for Crossfire Hurricane that we reviewed, we asked agents and analysts assigned to the case about the roles Strzok and Page played in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and their level of involvement in decision making. With respect to Strzok, these witnesses told us that while he approved the team’s investigative decisions during the time he was in the supervisory chain of command for the investigation, he did not unilaterally make any decisions or override any proposed investigative steps. Priestap, in addition to telling us that it was his (Priestap’s) decision to initiate the investigation, told us that to his knowledge, Strzok was not the primary or sole decision maker on any investigative step in Crossfire Hurricane. Further, as described above, in January 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane cases were divided between two operational branches within CD, and Strzok no longer supervised the Carter Page investigation, which was transferred to Operations Branch II, CD-1, under the supervision of then DAD Boone. In this report, we describe those occasions when Strzok was involved in investigative decisions.

With respect to Lisa Page, witnesses told us that she did not work with the team on a regular basis or make any decisions that impacted the investigation.

The Bigger Threat for Flynn than Six Months in Prison: the Counterintelligence Language

As I laid out in this post on the government sentencing memo for Mike Flynn, they basically gave Judge Emmet Sullivan all the justification he’d need to throw the book at Mike Flynn, certainly a few months in prison and maybe more.

But that may not be the most worrisome stuff in this memo, particularly given Robert Mueller’s statement, in July, that the FBI continued to investigate aspects of Flynn’s false statements about Russia.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

The Flynn sentencing memo, for lying about whether he had discussed sanctions with Russia, speaks over and over again about the questions I laid out here: why Flynn lied and whether he did it on Trump’s orders, questions rather conspicuously not answered in the Mueller Report.

On top of repeatedly referring to the “FBI counterintelligence” investigation, for example, for the first time I remember, the government discusses the scope of the inquiry to include whether any Trump associates took actions that would benefit Russia (the Mueller Report did say that it did not establish “coordination” trading Russian assistance during the election for favorable treatment in the future, though there were temporal limits on the scope of that part of the investigation, not including the transition).

The inquiry included examining relationships between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government, as well as identifying actions of such individuals that would have benefited the Russian government.

Much later, the memo describes undermining sanctions — what Flynn did, then lied about — as possible evidence of that kind of benefit to Russia.

The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

The sentencing memo even raises the import of who directed that Flynn ask Russian to hold off on retaliating on sanctions — again, something very pointedly not answered in the Mueller Report, but the answer to which might either be “because Trump ordered him to” or “because then counterintelligence suspect Mike Flynn was acting as an Agent of Russia.”

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

After raising the import of benefits to Russia like undermining sanctions, the sentencing memo also focuses on why Flynn lied, something else that has not been fully explained.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

The sentencing memo describes how the Intelligence Community Assessment raised the stakes on Russia’s actions in the immediate wake of his sanctions call with Sergey Kislyak and how Flynn started lying shortly thereafter and just kept on lying. But that doesn’t explain why he lied in the first place — or why he and KT McFarland created a false paper trail immediately after Kislyak informed Flynn they would not respond.

In one of the memo’s most scathing passages, however, it ties Flynn’s lies — about both Turkey and Russia — to monetizing his influence and power.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it. [my emphasis]

This may just be shorthand or an attempt to spin both Flynn’s charged lies in most damning light (though this filing has been reviewed with such attention that the government had to get two extensions for the necessary review). But the passage suggests he was engaged in sleazy influence peddling both when he secretly acted as an agent of Turkey while serving as Trump’s top national security campaign advisor, and when he took a call during the Transition and worked to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. The first is obviously influence peddling, and its import for national security is also fairly clear.

It’s also obvious how the second — Flynn’s attempts to undermine sanctions — compromised national security. The effort basically attempted to eliminate any punishment for Russia’s attempt to pick our President.

What’s not clear, however, is whether (and if so, why) the government includes his calls to Sergey Kislyak in a passage describing him “monetizing his power and influence.”

And Flynn should have known better, the memo implies. Among the reasons why Flynn’s extensive government service is so important, the government explains, is that he should have known the counterintelligence danger from Russia.

The defendant’s extensive military record, as described in his prior sentencing submission, presents a clear factor in mitigation. See Def. Sent’g Mem. at 7-12. However, that extensive record and government service, at the highest levels of the national security apparatus, and his “many years” of working with the FBI, should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false statements to the government. See id. at 13. That work also exposed him to the threat posed by foreign governments, in particular Russia, seeking to covertly influence our government and democracy.

The sentencing memo gives Emmet Sullivan lots of reason to want to punish Flynn more aggressively than any of the other liars busted by Mueller. In does so, in part, by laying out the stakes of his sleazy influence peddling, describing how it made the country less safe.

And then, the memo notes the Russian government continues its attempts to interfere in “our democratic process,” something that is broader than elections.

The sentence should also to deter others from lying to the government. The FBI protects our homeland from terrorism, espionage, cyber-based attacks, and all other manner of threats. Lying to the FBI, in any context, cannot be tolerated. That is particularly true in a counterintelligence investigation targeting efforts by a foreign government to interfere in our democratic process—a threat that continues to this day.

The sentencing memo argues that Flynn’s lies made it harder for the FBI to protect the country from Russia’s efforts to undermine our democracy and speaks obliquely in terms of benefit and monetization. These oblique references to the counterintelligence investigation ought to be of far more concern to Flynn than the prospect of six months in prison.

Prosecutors Invite Emmet Sullivan to Throw the Book at Mike Flynn

Technically, the scathing sentencing memo for Mike Flynn the government just submitted calls for the same sentence they called for in December 2018, when he was first set to be sentenced, something they note explicitly: a guidelines sentence of 0-6 months in prison.

[T]he government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

[snip]

The government notes its decision to withdraw its motion for substantial assistance has no impact on the applicable Guidelines range, which will remain 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

But in their sentencing disparity section, they argue Flynn’s actions are worse than those of George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan (because of his position of trust and security clearance) and Rick Gates and James Wolfe (because they accepted responsibility), all of whom served prison time.

Along the way, they give Judge Emmet Sullivan all the ammunition he needs and write the memo in such a way as to invite him to, at least, sentence Flynn at the top of a guidelines sentence, 6 months of prison.

Before Flynn fired the very competent Rob Kelner and hired Fox News firebreather Sidney Powell and then blew up his cooperation deal, the government had argued he should be sentenced at the low end of that range, meaning probation. They justify implying he should get a real prison sentence now because of the way he undermined the prosecution of his former partner, Bijan Kian, and reneged on his acceptance of responsibility.

Given the serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation in – and his affirmative efforts to undermine – the prosecution of Bijan Rafiekian, and the need to promote respect for the law and adequately deter such criminal conduct, the government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

The government lays out two ways Flynn undermined the Bijan Kian prosecution

Flynn’s reversal on the Kian case is important because — according to the cooperation addendum submitted in 2018 — that’s the one investigation in which he provided “substantial cooperation.

Notably, only the assistance he had provided in the Rafiekian case was deemed “substantial.”

Over the last six months, Flynn has negated all that cooperation.

In light of the complete record, including actions subsequent to December 18, 2018, that negate the benefits of much of the defendant’s earlier cooperation, the government no longer deems the defendant’s assistance “substantial.”

The government substantiates that Flynn changed his testimony by including Kian trial exhibits, Flynn’s grand jury testimony, a Flynn 302, two Rob Kelner 302s (two), and the 302 from another of the lawyers who helped submit his FARA filing. After having substantiated that Flynn reneged on his cooperation, the government then lays out another way Flynn undermined Kian’s prosecution — by contesting that he was Kian’s co-conspirator.

Remarkably, the defendant, through his counsel, then affirmatively intervened in the Rafiekian case and filed a memorandum opposing the government’s theory of admissibility on the grounds that the defendant was not charged or alleged as a coconspirator. See Flynn Memorandum Opposing Designation, United States v. Bijan Rafiekian, No. 18-cr-457 (E.D. Va July 8, 2019) (Doc. 270). This action was wholly inconsistent with the defendant assisting (let alone substantially assisting) or cooperating with the government in that case.12 Accordingly, while the defendant initially helped the prosecutors in EDVA bring the Rafiekian case, he ultimately hindered their prosecution of it.

The government then rebuts first one counterargument Flynn might make — that he should get credit for cooperating anyway since he waived privilege so his Covington lawyers could testify.

12 Any claim by the defendant that the Rafiekian prosecution was aided by his agreement to waive the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine regarding his attorneys’ preparation and filing of the FARA documents would be unfounded. The defendant explicitly did not waive any privileges or protections with respect to the preparation and filing of the FARA documents. No waiver occurred because the government (and the defendant’s attorneys) did not believe a waiver for such information was necessary—information provided to a lawyer for the purposes of a public filing is not privileged. The district judge in Rafiekian agreed with that conclusion, and permitted the defendant’s attorneys to testify about what the defendant and Rafiekian told them because those statements were not privileged or protected as opinion work product. See United States v. Rafiekian, No. 18-cr-457, 2019 WL 3021769, at *2, 17-19 (E.D. Va. July 9, 2019).

And they obliquely rebut an argument that Powell has already made — that EDVA prosecutors chose not to call Flynn only to retaliate against him.

13 The government does not believe it is prudent or necessary to relitigate before this Court every factual dispute between the defendant and the Rafiekian prosecutors. The above explanation of the decision not to call the defendant as a witness in the Rafiekian trial is provided as background for the Court to understand the basis for the government’s decision to exercise its discretion to determine that the defendant has not provided substantial assistance to the government. The government is not asking this Court to make factual determinations concerning the defendant’s interactions with the Rafiekian prosecutors, other than the undisputed fact that the defendant affirmatively litigated against the admission of evidence by the government in that case.

Finally, they quote a Kian filing saying for them what they therefore don’t have to say in such an inflammatory way: Flynn tried to game the Kian prosecution in such a way that he got to benefit from the plea deal without admitting his guilt.

Rafiekian’s counsel characterized the “new Flynn version of events” as “an unbelievable explanation, intended to make Flynn look less culpable than his signed December 1, 2017 Statement of Offense and consistent with his position at his sentencing hearing. In short, Flynn wants to benefit off his plea agreement without actually being guilty of anything.” See Defendant’s Memorandum Regarding Correction at 5, United States v. Bijan Rafiekian, No. 18- cr-457 (E.D. Va. July 5, 2019) (Doc. 262).

The government asks Judge Sullivan to allocute Flynn again

Which may be why the government twice asks Judge Sullivan to force Flynn to admit his guilt again if he wants credit for it in sentencing.

Indeed, the government has reason to believe, through representations by the defendant’s counsel, that the defendant has retreated from his acceptance of responsibility in this case regarding his lies to the FBI. For that reason, the government asks this Court to inquire of the defendant as to whether he maintains those apparent statements of innocence or whether he disavows them and fully accepts responsibility for his criminal conduct.

[snip]

Based on statements made in recent defense filings, the defendant has not accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct, and therefore is not entitled to any such credit unless he clearly and credibly disavows those statements in a colloquy with the Court.

The government lays out evidence of Flynn’s perjury before Emmet Sullivan

But there may be another reason the government invites Sullivan to allocute Flynn again. In an extended passage, the government basically lays out evidence that — given his statements made in the last six months — Flynn perjured himself before Judge Sullivan on December 18, 2018, when the judge had the prescience to put Flynn under oath.

During the hearing, the Court engaged in a dialogue with the defendant concerning arguments in his sentencing memorandum that appeared to challenge the circumstances of the January 24 interview. See 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 6-7. However, when questioned by the Court, the defendant declined to challenge the circumstances of that interview. Id. at 8. When pressed by the Court about whether he wanted to proceed with his guilty plea “[b]ecause you are guilty of this offense,” the defendant unequivocally responded, “Yes, Your Honor.” Id. at 16. And when the Court asked whether he was “continuing to accept responsibility for [his] false statements,” the defendant replied, “I am, Your Honor.” Id. at 10. The defendant’s recent conduct and statements dramatically differ from those representations to the Court, which he made under oath.

Six months later, in June 2019, the defendant began retracting those admissions and denying responsibility for his criminal conduct. Far from accepting the consequences of his unlawful actions, he has sought to blame almost every other person and entity involved in his case, including his former counsel. Most blatantly, the defendant now professes his innocence. See, e.g., Reply in Support of His Motion to Compel Production of Brady Material and to Hold the Prosecutors in Contempt at 2, 6, United States v. Flynn, 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Oct. 22, 2019) (Doc. 129-2) (“Reply”) (“When the Director of the FBI, and a group of his close associates, plot to set up an innocent man and create a crime . . . ;” alleging that text messages provided by the government “go to the core of Mr. Flynn’s . . . innocence”). With respect to his false statements to the FBI, he now asserts that he “was honest with the agents [on January 24, 2017] to the best of his recollection at the time.” Reply at 23. Such a claim is far from accepting responsibility for his actions. As the defendant admitted in his plea agreement and before this Court, during the January 24 interview the defendant knew he was lying to the FBI, just as he knew he was lying to the Vice President of the United States.

The defendant has also chosen to reverse course and challenge the elements and circumstances of his false statements to the FBI. See, e.g., June 6, 2019 Sidney Powell Letter to the Attorney General (Doc. 122-2) (“Powell Letter to AG”). The defendant now claims that his false statements were not material, see Reply at 27-28, and that the FBI conducted an “ambush interview” to trap him into making false statements, see Reply at 1. The Circuit Court recently stated in United States v. Leyva, 916 F.3d 14 (D.C. Cir. 2019), cert. denied, No. 19-5796, 2019 WL 5150737 (U.S. Oct. 15, 2019), that “[i]t is not error for a district court to ‘require an acceptance of responsibility that extended beyond the narrow elements of the offense’ to ‘all of the circumstances’ surrounding the defendant’s offense.” Id. at 28 (citing United States v. Taylor, 937 F.2d 676, 680-81 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). A defendant cannot “accept responsibility for his conduct and simultaneously contest the sufficiency of the evidence that he engaged in that conduct.” Id. at 29. Any notion of the defendant “clearly” accepted responsibility is further undermined by the defendant’s efforts over the last four months to have the Court dismiss the case. See Reply at 32.7

This effectively lays out a catch-22 for Flynn: either he makes a bid, still, for the acceptance of responsibility he has reneged on, or Sidney Powell instead argues that he perjured himself. One way or another (or in both cases) Flynn lied. Repeatedly.

Notably, the government introduces its discussion of why Flynn’s past lies — which were false statements, not formally perjury — were so important using a SCOTUS discussion of perjury, something they didn’t do in his prior sentencing memo.

That is precisely why providing false statements to the government is a crime. As the Supreme Court has noted:

In this constitutional process of securing a witness’ testimony, perjury simply has no place whatsoever. Perjured testimony is an obvious and flagrant affront to the basic concepts of judicial proceedings. Effective restraints against this type of egregious offense are therefore imperative. The power of subpoena, broad as it is, and the power of contempt for refusing to answer, drastic as that is — and even the solemnity of the oath — cannot insure truthful answers. Hence, Congress has made the giving of false answers a criminal act punishable by severe penalties; in no other way can criminal conduct be flushed into the open where the law can deal with it.

Sidney Powell may be too rash to notice this (as she has missed or not given a shit about other similar warnings in the past). But the government is laying out a case to go after Flynn for perjury if he decides to get cute again.

The government recalls Judge Sullivan’s past disgust with Flynn

Having laid out two reasons why the outcome should be significantly different this time around than the outcome the government argued for in December 2018, they then remind Judge Sullivan how pissed off he was at that hearing (where he asked whether treason had been considered for Flynn), where it seemed clear he was already ready to send Flynn to prison.

The government reminds Judge Sullivan that he himself decided to let Flynn’s “cooperation” play out to see the true nature of it.

At the initial sentencing hearing in December 2018, the Court raised concerns about proceeding to sentencing without “fully understanding the true extent and nature” of the defendant’s assistance.

[snip]

Although the government noted that “some of th[e] benefit” of the defendant’s assistance “may not be fully realized at th[at] time,” it proceeded to sentencing because it believed the defendant’s anticipated testimony in the Rafiekian case had been secured through his grand jury testimony and the Statement of Offense.8 The Court, however, expressed that “courts are reluctant to proceed to sentencing unless and until cooperation has been completed . . . [b]ecause the Court wants to be in a position to fully evaluate someone’s efforts to assist the government.” 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 26. The Court’s concern that the parties had prematurely proceeded to sentencing was prescient.

It then reminds Judge Sullivan that he asked — and the government affirmed — that Flynn could have been charged in a conspiracy to act as an Agent of Turkey, one of the things that Sullivan found so disgusting in the last sentencing hearing.

The Court inquired whether the defendant could have been charged as a co-defendant in the Rafiekian case, and the government affirmed that the defendant could have been charged with various offenses in connection with his false statements in his FARA filings, consistent with his Statement of Offense.

The government next reminds Sullivan that Flynn’s actions were an abuse of public trust, another of the things that really pissed him off in the last sentencing hearing.

Public office is a public trust. The defendant made multiple, material and false statements and omissions, to several DOJ entities, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor and a senior member of the Presidential Transition Team. As the government represented to the Court at the initial sentencing hearing, the defendant’s offense was serious. See Gov’t Sent’g Mem. at 2; 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 32 (the Court explaining that “[t]his crime is very serious”).

The government returns to those themes to argue — factually but aggressively — that Flynn compromised national security.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it. [my emphasis]

Having laid out the reasons why Sullivan was ready to send Flynn to prison before he started all the Sidney Powell shenanigans, the government then repeats his past judgment that this is a unique case, and Flynn’s case is worse than all the directly relevant precedents, Papadopoulos, van der Zwaan, and, since the last sentencing hearing, Wolfe and Gates, who were sentenced to a range between two weeks and two months.

It goes without saying that this case is unique. See 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 43 (Court noting that “[t]his case is in a category by itself”). Few courts have sentenced a high-ranking government official and former military general for making false statements. And the government is not aware of any case where such a high-ranking official failed to accept responsibility for his conduct, continued to lie to the government, and took steps to impair a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, while Section 3553(a)(6) requires the court to consider “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct,” there are no similarly situated defendants.

Although other persons investigated by the SCO pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and were sentenced to varying terms of incarceration, those individuals and their conduct are easily distinguishable. See id. at 42-43 (“The Court’s of the opinion that those two cases aren’t really analogous to this case. I mean, neither one of those individuals was a high-ranking government official who committed a crime while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House.”). Alex van der Zwaan lied to the SCO, pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and was sentenced to 30 days incarceration and a fine of $20,000. See United States v. van der Zwaan, No. 18-cr-31 (ABJ). George Papadopoulos likewise lied to the SCO, pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and was sentenced to serve 14 days incarceration, to perform 200 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $9,500. See United States v. Papadopoulos, No. 17-cr-182 (RDM). Neither defendant was a high-ranking government official, held a position of trust vis-à-vis the United States, held a security clearance, had a special understanding of the impact of providing misleading information to investigators, or denied responsibility for his unlawful conduct.

[snip]

The Court granted the government’s motion for a significant downward departure pursuant to Section 5K1.1 for providing substantial assistance, gave Gates credit for accepting responsibility, and still sentenced him to 45 days of confinement.

Effectively, then, the government uses Sullivan’s own past judgments, giving him all the reasons he would need to sentence Flynn, at least, near the top of guidelines range six months.

Subtly, the government twice invokes “aggravating factors” (once citing the Wolfe case, which I predicted would happen).

The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct.

[snip]

The court concluded that Wolfe’s position—which was far less significant than the defendant’s position as National Security Advisor—was an aggravating factor to consider at sentencing, and one that distinguished his case from those of Papadopoulos and van der Zwaan. Moreover, in that case, the defendant received credit for accepting responsibility.

The government doesn’t ask Sullivan to go beyond a guidelines sentence of six months (though even six months would be almost unheard of), though the comparison to Wolfe makes it clear they think Flynn should serve more than two months in prison. But they give him all the ammunition he’d need if he wanted to go there on his own.

Ultimately, as the government notes, the guidelines range is the same. But the facts of the case are now very different.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.

A Few Thoughts On Carter Page Warrants, Franks v. Delaware and Michael Horowitz

Marcy Wheeler did a giant post on the Page warrants and the Horowitz report, one she just updated significantly this morning. I did a comment on there, but since this is pretty much my hobby horse from long before the Horowitz IG Report was released, I decided it needed at least a short standalone post.

This concerns the Franks v. Delaware standards for warrant affidavit review, how it should apply to Carter Page’s series of four warrants signed by four different experienced and sober judges, and the complete ignoring of said standards by the typically Michael Horowitz’s usual attempt to validate his own work and time.

First, there are two types of identifiable errors in warrant affidavits for Franks v. Delaware challenge purposes. The first is what I call the error of commission, i.e. affirmatively inserting materially false information, and the second is error of omission, i.e. leaving out materially critical information. Courts are generally much more loathe to grant relief on omission claims than commission claims. This is important as to the caterwauling about Page having talked to the CIA (long ago as Marcy notes) claim. Sorry, that is so old, stale and meaningless as to be completely irrelevant for these purposes. Nobody would ever get dinged for that nonsense. It is not like the IC was running Page as a asset, this is just nonsense. But that is what uninformed howlers like Page, Nunes and Chuck Ross roll with.

Secondly, when Marcy says “Franks challenges require the defendant to prove that false statements in a warrant application are false, were knowing, intentional, or reckless false statements, and were necessary to the finding of probable cause”, that is true. But it has to be established that the actual affiant knew that as opposed to some diffuse other government agent or person may have known. And the actual affiant gets every benefit in the world of “good faith” in this regard. Always. Darn near impossible to overcome. So, that isn’t going to work either for the reasons Marcy lays out.

Third. It is infuriating that Horowitz did not address one lick of any of this. In 435 pages of his “report” Horowitz could not find just a few to address the actual standards he should have been reviewing under. Not once. Couldn’t even be bothered to mention it in passing. And it has not entered many, if at all, other post hoc discussions, either, short of at this blog. That is just laziness.

Lastly, for now, I would suggest the law review article Marcy linked to above, specifically pps. 443-449. It is not the most complex dissertation of Franks v. Delaware law and review standards, but it is one easily understandable by the lay person, especially if you read the footnotes carefully too.

I have been successful on a couple of Franks attacks in days gone by….out of a LOT attempted. Very few defense attorneys can claim even that. I cannot possibly tell you how difficult it is. But I can, without any reservation, tell you I think there is about little to no chance that the Page affidavits would not stand up with sufficient probable cause if subjected to such a review. Since Page would have never gotten there, it was derelict of Horowitz to have not done so.

It is not that Horowitz did not identify some error, whether of commission or omission, in the Page applications, he did. But he very much overplayed how significant they are under extant warrant law. Now, the argument that FBI, and other law enforcement entities, ought to tighten up their policies for submission of affidavits, whether under FISA or Title III, is well taken. They should. All defendants and surveillance targets deserve that. But under the applicable law at the time, the thought that the Page affidavits would not stand up under the mere ex-parte probable cause standard is ridiculous. Of course they would have.

Horowitz

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Update, January 6: After much haranguing from bmaz, I’m updating this post with a new section discussing whether any of the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application would have mattered, had be been criminally charged. I argue that, given precedents about reviewing FISA applications and suppressing warrants, none of the problems with Page’s FISA application would have mattered were it used in a criminal prosecution. As the IG carries out further review of FBI’s FISA work — and as policy makers decide how to integrate the lessons of this IG Report — that reality needs to be part of the consideration, and, in part because Horowitz dodged the issue of these precedents, that’s missing from this discussion.

I’ve spent the last week doing a really deep dive into the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and am finally ready to start explaining what it shows (and what it does not show or where it demonstrably commits the same kinds of errors it accuses the Crossfire Hurricane team of). This post will be a summary of what the IG Report shows about the Carter Page FISA process (with some comment on the FISA process generally).

I will do follow-up posts on — at a minimum — how the report treats “exculpatory” information and the biases of this report, what the report says about Bruce Ohr (where I think this report fails, badly), the details the Report offers on the Steele reports, and what it implies about Oleg Deripaska. I’ll probably do one more demonstrating how this IG Report radically deviates from past history on similar reports in ways that are remarkable and troubling. Eventually I’ll do some posts on what should be done to fix FISA.

This post will address the following topics:

  • The predication of the investigation
  • The errors impacting Carter Page
  • The details about whether Carter Page should have been targeted
  • Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants had he been charged

The predication of the investigation

The Report is quite clear: “Crossfire Hurricane,” as the investigation was called (henceforth, CH), started in response to the tip Australia provided in the wake of the release of the DNC emails on WikiLeaks.

The FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane in July 2016 following the receipt of ·certain information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG). According to the information provided by the FFG, in May 2016, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign had received “some kind of suggestion” from Russia that it could assist with the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton (Trump’s opponent in the presidential election) and President Barack Obama. At the time the FBI received the FFG information, the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), which includes the FBI, was aware of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including efforts to infiltrate servers and steal emails belongfng to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The FFG shared this information with the State Department on July 26, 2016, after the internet site Wikileaks began releasing emails hacked from computers belonging to the DNC and Clinton’s campaign manager.

The WikiLeaks release made Papadopoulos’ comments to Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with him in May 2016 before one she attended with Downer) look like the campaign had advance knowledge from the Russians about that release. That it did has since been confirmed with respect to Papadopoulos and — evidence in Roger Stone’s trial suggests — possibly Stone, too.

Australia provided the tip first to the US embassy in London (which may or may not have involved the CIA), which then passed it on to the Philadelphia Field Office, which passed it to the Section Chief of Cyber Counterintelligence Coordination at FBI HQ, where it arrived on July 28. People at HQ, including Peter Strzok, spent the next three days discussing what to do, after which Bill Priestap opened a full investigation to determine whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with the government of Russia.

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a full counterintelligence investigation under the code name Crossfire Hurricane “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

A big part of that was trying to figure out how Papadopoulos might have gotten advance notice of the email dump, which is why, over the next 16 days, the FBI opened counterintelligence investigations into the four most likely sources of that information: Papadopoulos himself, Carter Page (who was already the subject of a counterintelligence investigation opened in April 2016), Paul Manafort (who was already the subject of a money laundering investigation opened in January 2016), and Mike Flynn (who had met with Putin the previous December and had ongoing communications with the GRU).

Of the four, Page is the only one not charged with or judged to have lied to obstruct the investigation (though the FBI believed he was not telling the full truth in his March 2017 interviews). The government still has questions about what Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos did during the campaign period. And a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn remained ongoing as of May. In other words, not only was the investigation justified, but it still is, because questions about everyone originally included remain.

The IG found no bias in the opening of the investigation, and everyone asked said the FBI would have been derelict had they not done so.

That’s worth keeping in mind as Bill Barr lies about the reasons for and results of this investigation, not least because had FBI made different decisions early in the investigation, it might have had more success in figuring out what (especially) Paul Manafort was up to.

The errors impacting Carter Page

In part because the FBI already had substantiated concerns about Page’s willingness to work with known Russian intelligence officers, it moved immediately to get a FISA order on him in August 2016. Lawyers deemed it premature. Then, days after the CH belatedly got the first Christopher Steele reports (which had been churning around FBI for two months), they moved to get a FISA order on him. By the time they applied for the order, they had additional damning information about his July 2016 trip to Russia (that he believed he had been offered an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank in the US), but it is true that the dossier was the precipitating event that led the CH team to start the FISA process.

The decision to get a FISA order relying on an unverified tip from an existing “Confidential Human Source” was, per the report, no unusual. Not only does that happen, but Steele is a more credible informant than lots of sources for intelligence targeting. Moreover, by the time of the application, FBI had laid out who his assumed sub-sources were (including Sergei Millian, whom they knew to be interacting closely with Papadopoulos by the time the order was approved).

That said there were clear errors with Page’s applications. Those fall into three areas:

  • The FBI did not tell FISC that Page had been an approved contact for CIA until 2013
  • The FBI did not describe Steele accurately and failed to update the application as it discovered problems with the dossier
  • The FBI did not include information that the IG deemed exculpatory to either Page (correctly) or Papadopoulos (less convincingly)

Notice about Page’s past CIA contacts

Before the FBI first applied for a FISA targeting Page, and again in June 2017, it learned that Page had been approved for “operational contact” from 2008 until 2013. Per a footnote, an operational contact is someone the CIA can talk to about information he has, but not someone they can task to collect information.

According to the other U.S. government agency, “operational contact,” as that term is used in the memorandum about Page, provides “Contact Approval,” which allows the other agency to contact and discuss sensitive information with a U.S. person and to collect information from that person via “passive debriefing,” or debriefing a person of information that is within the knowledge of an individual and has been acquired through the normal course of that individual’s activities. According to the U.S. government agency, a “Contact Approval” does not allow for operational use of a U.S. person or tasking of that person.

While the details are not entirely clear, Page appears to have told CIA honestly about his contacts with the first Russian intelligence officer who recruited him after he returned to the US from Russia, but not another (probably Victor Podobnyy). His last contact with CIA was in July 2011, which seems to suggest he did not reveal his ongoing ties to Russian intelligence officers to CIA. Moreover, the FBI would come to have concerns about his earlier ties with Russian spies that would not be excused by this CIA designation, not least because after Podobnyy and his fellow Russian intelligence officers were indicted, Page told a Russian stationed at the UN and some others that he knew he was the person described in the indictment, which they discovered when preparing for trial in 2016. The FBI would come to believe Page was less than honest about Page’s comments about showing up in the indictment in 2017.

The FBI did not provide notice of the CIA designation, at all, to FISC. That’s a big problem because the FBI had included both Russian recruitment attempts in its application without explaining that Page had been candid about the first one with the CIA. Worse still, in advance of the last reauthorization in June 2017, FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith — who is one of the people who had sent anti-Trump texts using his FBI phone — altered an email to hide the relationship.

None of that changes that Carter Page, throughout this period, told anyone who asked that he thought it was okay to provide non-public information to people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers, nor that he enthusiastically considered taking money from Russia to set up a pro-Russian think tank. But it does raise real questions about whether Page was acting clandestinely, a key requirement for a FISA application.

Inaccurate descriptions of Steele

The IG Report also shows a number of problems with the way the FBI described Steele.

For the first application, that consisted of two problems. First, the FBI didn’t ask Steele’s handler, Mike Gaeta, for his description of Steele’s reliability. As a result, the description overstated how much of his past reporting to the FBI had been corroborated (some of it had been, but much of it was, like the Trump dossier, based on single sources in Russia who couldn’t easily be replicated), and falsely stated that his earlier reporting had been used in court cases, which would have signaled that prosecutors had found it reliable. His reporting had been key to starting the FIFA investigation, but mostly to start the investigation, not to substantiate evidence for trial. Unlike the non-notice about this CIA relationship, this is an error that would have been fixed had the FBI rigorously adhered to the Woods procedures (though the FBI Agent who did the application did have a document — an intelligence report on Steele — he relied on, just not the proper one).

The other initial problem is that the FBI claimed that Steele had not been behind a September 23 Michael Isikoff story relying on Steele’s reporting, something I’ve always found inexcusable. That said, the FBI did alert FISC to the article — they just ridiculously assumed that Glenn Simpson had been the source for the story, not Steele, and did so after initially stating that Steele was behind it. Had they attributed the story to Steele, they would have had to close him as a source weeks before they otherwise did, but it probably wouldn’t have affected the initial approval for the order.

The far more egregious error, however, came on reauthorizations (see this post for a timeline of the events laid out in the report). Starting immediately after they closed Steele as a source, the FBI started getting more details — initially from Bruce Ohr, then Steele’s former colleagues, then his primary sub-source — about his reporting. And most of the things they learned should have raised general concerns about Steele and serious concerns about the reliability of the dossier. Of the ten additional problems DOJ IG found with the applications on the renewals, six of them pertain to providing no notice of increasing reason to doubt the Steele dossier.

I’ll write about the Steele fiasco in a follow-up post. But one detail is worth noting here. There was disagreement between Steele and the FBI about his work dating back to 2013, with Steele understanding he was a contractor and the FBI treating him (partly for bureaucratic reasons) as a CHS. Then, in October 2016, when the CH team tried to task him to answer specific questions about the investigation — about the predicated subjects of the investigation, physical evidence, sub sources who might serve as cooperating witnesses — there was again a misunderstanding about whether Steele was working exclusively for the FBI or simply providing information he was providing to Fusion. As a result, Steele believed he could speak to the press about anything he wasn’t doing for FBI exclusively (which included the dossier), but the FBI considered that cause to stop using him altogether.

Failure to include exculpatory information

Finally, the FBI failed to include exculpatory information pertaining to denials from Page, Papadopoulos, and Joseph Mifsud, and reliability questions about Millian (who was himself the subject of a counterintelligence investigation).

The DOJ IG is absolutely right that FBI should have included Page’s denials in these applications, which include denials that he had ever spoken to Paul Manafort (as alleged in the dossier), had a role in the Republican platform on Ukraine (also alleged in the dossier), or had a role in the email release (the question they were supposed to be answering). All those denials are, as far as we know, absolutely correct. It also excluded his denials of meeting Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin (as alleged in the dossier), which is probably true, though FBI obtained RUMINT supporting a Sechin meeting.

I’ll address DOJ IG’s stance on the Papadopoulos and Mifsud denials later, both of which were (and were deemed to be by the FBI) at least partly false. But it raises a key problem with a FISA application that — unlike a criminal warrant affidavit — will never be shared with the target of it. Excluding this kind of stuff is generally deemed acceptable in a normal criminal warrant. It is not (and should not be) here, because there will never be discovery. But that raises real questions about what gets counted as exculpatory, which is a topic I’ll return to.

Ultimately, the IG Report judged it should all have been noticed to DOJ which, for the most part, it was not.

Note, Julian Sanchez argues — convincingly, I think — that many of these errors come not from malice or political bias, but from confirmation bias.

Whether Carter Page should have been targeted

The errors in the Page applications are inexcusable.

But they don’t address (and the IG Report pointedly avoids addressing) whether he should have been targeted, from a Fourth Amendment, prudential, or investigative focus standpoint.

Without the full application, it’s impossible to say with certainty whether it would meet probable cause had FBI addressed the problems laid out in the IG Report. But a summary of what the IG Report says appeared in the applications (which I’ve laid out here) suggests there probably was probable cause to support the first two applications. In the first one, the derogatory evidence against Steele’s reporting was not yet known to the agents submitting the application (more on that in a follow-up), so he would have been deemed a credible informant by any measure. And by the second one, the FBI had obtained enough information on Page’s trips to Moscow that likely would have supported a probable cause finding without the dossier — though that finding would have far less to do with whether the Trump campaign had foreknowledge of the email dump, which is unsurprising given that FBI already had an investigation into Page in April 2016. The third and fourth application, however, are much closer calls.

That’s a separate question from whether it was a good idea to get a FISA order on Page, something that multiple people at DOJ raised even before the first application, including Stu Evans (the same guy who ensured there’d be a footnote clarifying that Steele likely was working for a political candidate). As the IG Report describes, everyone at FBI responded by saying they could not pull their punches because of political risk.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly. He told the OIG that he thought there was no right or wrong answer to this question, which he characterized as a prudential question of risk vs. reward, but he wanted to make sure he raised the issue for the decision makers to consider. According to Evans, the reactions he received from the FBI to this prudential question were some variations of-we understand your concerns, those are valid points, but if you are telling us it’s legal, we cannot pull any punches just because there could be criticism afterward.

It’s easy to say Evans was right on this. But if you go there, it also raises the question that no Trump supporter ever wants to answer (when discussing this FISA or the use of CHSes): what should FBI have done when faced with evidence that Trump was amenable to the help from Russia and might be coordinating with them?

That’s a debate we really need to have but won’t because Barr is trying mightily to pretend the correct answer is “nothing.”

Which is a pity, because I suspect there are key policy issues that trying to answer the question would raise. For example:

  • Aside from the National Security Letters FBI had already served on Page’s providers in the spring, were there other less intrusive kinds of legal process that would have answered some of the questions about Page (and Papadopoulos) without obtaining content?
  • Given FBI’s success at gagging providers, why couldn’t it have used normal criminal process?
  • Are CHSes really as unintrusive as FBI claims, or should they be reserved for higher predication in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (though because CH was a full investigation, they would have achieved that level of predication anyway)
  • Why did FBI wait to obtain Page’s financial records — which, for someone working for “free” for the campaign didn’t implicate the campaign at all — until the spring?
  • If FBI believed — because this was clearly a counterintelligence investigation — it had to use FISA, did something prevent it from using Section 215 first to obtain more probable cause?
  • Was Page even the key person they should have been focusing on?

The last question gets into whether targeting Page with a FISA was the right question — both on the first application, and on the fourth — from an investigative standpoint.

In an effort to ensure the investigation would not leak, from its inception through December 2016, CH was done out of FBI Headquarters (for diagrams of the three different organizations used before Mueller took over, see PDF 117-119), meaning it didn’t have the investigative resources it would have had if it had left the investigations in the field offices. That may have necessitated some resource allocation questions.

Then, by the time of (at least) the second renewal, Page had not only been spun well free of the Trump Administration, but the FBI investigation into everyone but Papadopoulos had already become public.

Because it was not its job, DOJ IG only reported on questions about whether getting a FISA on Page was the right investigative choice — both focusing on him more aggressively than the others, and obtaining a FISA on him.

Start with the former question. By the time CH decided to obtain a FISA order on Page, Papadopoulos had given answers to Stefan Halper that Republicans like to claim were exculpatory but were in fact correctly identified as a cover story and — I think but am awaiting response from the IG’s office — actually could be provably shown to be a lie in real time. Had CH obtained the call records on Papadopoulos at that point rather than a full content warrant on Page, they would have identified Papadopoulos’ ties with Joseph Mifsud, someone already suspected of being a Russian asset. Papadopoulos then laid out the outlines of his interactions with Mifsud in an October conversation with an informant. Had FBI focused on this more closely, they would have known before they interviewed Papadopoulos in January that he had these ties and was lying about them, which might have led FBI to obtain enough information about Mifsud in time to detain him rather than just interview him in early 2017.

The same could be said of Paul Manafort. Had CH focused on him, they might have obtained call records reflecting his ongoing communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, who (as a foreigner overseas) could be targeted under Section 702 and EO 12333. That might have revealed Manafort’s ongoing coordination in real time, which he continues to lie about.

Perhaps they did some of this, or perhaps they could have done it all. But it’s worth asking whether, because the prior concerns about Page meant they could get a FISA on him, they chose that path rather than other less intrusive but potentially more productive approaches.

Then there’s the question of whether ongoing FISAs on Page had merit. The Report suggests the FBI believed the first and, probably, the second order were really productive (the IG only reviewed those comms that were pertinent to its study, but based on that partial review, seemed more skeptical).

But by the later applications, the FBI was not keeping up with the incoming FISA materials, something we’ve seen in FISA collections in the past. There ought to be a rule: if you can’t keep up with incoming surveillance collection, it probably means it’s not important enough to justify the impact on an American.

Although there were no recent relevant FISA collections the team found useful, we were told that the FBI was still reviewing FISA collections identified prior to Renewal Application No. 2.

Finally, by the last collections, the FBI admitted that it was no longer getting anything from the FISA (in part, they believed, because Page knew he was being surveilled).

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30.  Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information.

There’s an exchange in the Report that leads me to suspect they kept targeting Page not because he remained interesting, but because there were new facilities they had IDed in April 2017 that would be easier to target using FISA than criminal process, including encrypted communications. First, they describe finding out that he used an encrypted app.

NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone.

Then, the report describes “previously unknown locations” they could target, which led them to seek a renewal.

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal.

There’s very good reason to believe that the FBI either has techniques (probably including hacking phones to get encrypted chat texts) that are easier to conduct using FISA, or techniques they’d like to hide by using FISA.

That’s a policy question that needs to be answered. If FBI is choosing to use FISA to hide techniques, it changes the import and use of the law. But it seems clear: by the time of the fourth if not the third order on Page, they really should have stopped for investigative reasons, but may not have because it’s too easy to avoid the risk of detasking against someone who might be a risk.

Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants

Finally, there’s the question of whether, had Carter Page been prosecuted using information obtained under these FISA warrants, he would have gotten any of the information thrown out. As bmaz has been screaming since this IG Report became public, the standard for suppression would require Page to argue that this affidavit didn’t meet the probable cause he was an agent of a foreign power, that the FBI Agents who submitted the application knew or should have known there was a problem with the claims they made in the affidavit, and — because this was a FISA order — he’d have to get a judge to allow him to review the affidavit where no prior defendant has been able to. 

And that’s assuming Page even got notice. Often, the FBI will build criminal cases without relying on information obtained under FISA at all. In such cases (as seems to be the case with Lev Parnas and his co-defendants), the government doesn’t have to notice their use of FISA, meaning the defendant never gets the opportunity to try to challenge the FISA warrant. Given how high profile this case is, FBI likely would have tried to avoid giving notice.

Had Page gotten notice, I feel safe in saying he would not have gotten to review his FISA application, because that never has happened, not even in cases with more obviously problematic affidavits

The IG Report carefully avoids saying whether the applications against Carter Page met the threshold of probable cause, either with or without the errors it lays out. Generally, if a magistrate has found probable cause, defendants have a tough time getting those warrants suppressed; and here, four different District Court judges had approved his applications. 

In Page’s case, the way to do this would be to show that stuff in the applications was knowingly false or omitted. In this hypothetical prosecution, Page should have gotten the detail that he was an approved contact with the CIA until 2013, evidence to support his claim that he hadn’t done two of the things in the dossier (interact with Paul Manafort and change the platform), and possibly some of the evidence undermining the Steele dossier (though sometimes the FBI can withhold stuff pertaining to informants). 

As for the first, with his efforts to sustain contact with Russia after CIA’s approved contact lapsed and his interactions with a second Russian intelligence officer CIA didn’t know about, it’s not clear that’d be enough to convince a judge that the prior approvals were improper. 

As to information proving the dossier wrong, because FBI took such a conservative investigative approach prior to the election, it took some time before the FBI discovered it. The FBI first appears to have gotten evidence that would prove Carter Page wasn’t involved in changing the platform in March 2017, though it appears DOJ’s NSD had better information at the time than FBI. Had FBI taken a more aggressive approach prior to Mueller taking over, they might have developed call records to support Carter Page’s claim that Manafort never returned his emails, but it’s not sure that’s enough. The IG Report doesn’t focus as much on the Manafort exculpatory evidence, perhaps because the FBI plausibly believed Page could have been working with Manafort indirectly, as George Papadopoulos had suggested to Stefan Halper. And, as the IG Report notes but minimizes, one reason the FBI didn’t take details undermining the Steele dossier that seriously is because they believed Steele’s Sub-Informant was withholding information from them, which (given the political firestorm at the time and the claims that the Sub-Source might be in danger are quite likely, even ignoring the possibility the Sub-Source had been involved in disinformation).

Then there’s the standard that would apply to both Fourth Amendment and Franks challenges: whether the FBI affiant on the application knew or should have known their claims were wrong.

In this case, a supervisory special agent who wasn’t closely involved in the investigation was the affiant on the first application. He wouldn’t have known, personally, of any problems with the application. He said he relied on the case agent’s Woods review (though said he routinely does review Woods files). So in that first case, the FBI’s policy of having more senior FBI agents sign FISA applications actually make it harder to challenge the warrant, because it would be harder to claim he knew the application was deficient. 

The affiant on the other three applications, called SS2 in the IG Report, was more closely involved in the case. The IG Report provides two specific examples where he swore to something that the IG Report presents as knowably untrue. The first pertains to claims Steele’s Sub-Source made about Millian. But the IG Report said specifically that, “the investigators believed at the time that the Primary Sub-source was holding something back about his/her interaction with [Millian],” which actually accords with what Steele said. Which is to say, the FBI had reason (which may actually have been justified) to believe that the Sub-Source’s comments did not need to be added to the application. 

The other thing SS2 might have known by the last application is Page’s past relationship with the CIA; indeed, he made an effort to nail that down for that application. But Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of the email that thereby hid that Page had been an approved contact for the CIA specifically prevented SS2 from learning that information. So while Clinesmith can (and is in this case) be disciplined, that doesn’t change that the affiant specifically tried to clarify Page’s relationship with the CIA, but got bad information preventing him from being able to.

And it’s not just the two affiants (though they would be the ones at issue in a suppression motion of Franks hearing). The IG Report specifically says that the agents providing that information did not believe they were withholding relevant information.

In most instances, the agents and supervisors told us that they either did not know or recall why the information was not shared with OI, that the failure to do so may have been an oversight, that they did not recognize at the time the relevance of the information to the FISA application, or that they did not believe the missing information to be significant. 

The reality is it is usually enough, in criminal prosecutions, for FBI agents to attest to such belief in the case of suppression motions, and probably would be here too, even if Carter Page had succeeded in getting the first ever review of his FISA application.

Finally, there’s the standard for Franks challenges, the means by which, on very rare occasions, defendants argue that the law enforcement officers who obtained a warrant on them were so negligent or malicious in their application so as to merit the warrant and its fruit being thrown out.

Franks challenges require the defendant to prove that false statements in a warrant application are false, were knowing, intentional, or reckless false statements, and were necessary to the finding of probable cause (as this law review article explains at length).

Franks challenges involve heavy burdens for defendants to meet, even at the earliest stages. First, the defendant must make “a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit.”79 A defendant’s claim will fail if it only alleges innocent or negligent misrepresentation;80 it will similarly fail if the court determines that the evidence fails to demonstrate falsity.81 At this stage, the defendant must also show that “the allegedly false statement is necessary to the finding of probable cause.”82 Many Franks challenges fail at this stage because the court determines that the allegedly false statement is not important enough to affect the probable cause analysis.83 If the defendant’s “preliminary showing” clears all three of these hurdles (falsity, intent, and materiality), then the defendant is entitled to a hearing on the allegations.84 At the evidentiary hearing, the defendant has to establish by a preponderance of the evidence the same three things; only then will the evidence be suppressed “to the same extent as if probable cause was lacking on the face of the affidavit.”85 Reviewing courts presume the affidavit’s validity and require the defendant to provide specific allegations and an offer of proof.86

As noted, the IG Report itself notes that the agents believed they had submitted what was necessary for the application, so Page could not show they were knowing falsehoods, meaning he’d have to prove that such a belief was reckless, which — particularly for the matter of relying on Steele — would be hard to do, given that he’s a more credible informant than most FISA informants. 

Moreover, aside from Page’s alleged involvement in the platform, it’s not even clear Page could prove that some of the key allegations were false. The FBI did obtain evidence — weak, RUMINT, but nevertheless evidence — that Page may have met with Igor Sechin, and the fact that he met with related people would make disproving those details difficult. Ultimately, the FBI suspected Page was not entirely truthful in his March 2017 interactions with them, and Mueller found that, “Page’s activities in Russia-as described in his emails with the Campaign-were not fully explained.” 

Finally, in addition to the Trump-related allegations about Page in his application, the FBI showed that Page willingly remained a recruitment target of known Russian intelligence officers, shared non-public information (possibly deemed trade secrets) with them, and enthusiastically considered an offer of an “open checkbook” to start a pro-Russian think tank. That’s not enough to prove he was an agent under 18 USC 951, but it probably reaches probable cause in any case. 

I’m not saying any of this is the way it should be — for FISA warrants or traditional criminal warrants. But that’s the way it is. It is virtually guaranteed that if Carter Page had been prosecuted, he would never have been able to challenge his FISA applications and even if he had, he likely would not have succeeded with either a Franks challenge or a Fourth Amendment suppression motion. That suggests that the way FISA works right now raises the bar well further than it already is for criminal defendants to ensure that the searches against them were proper in the first place. 

Update: Corrected post to indicate last contact between Page and CIA was in July 2011.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

 

Jerome Corsi’s Descent into Madness

Among the Mueller documents released to BuzzFeed under FOIA the other day are five of Jerome Corsi’s six interview reports (called 302s). Two 302s from Ted Malloch were released as well. I suspect these were released now so that they could be released after Roger Stone’s trial, but before the gag order Amy Berman Jackson imposed is lifted when Stone is sentenced next month, meaning it was a convenient way to hide information behind b7ABC redactions for an ongoing investigation.

While some are heavily (and in one case, entirely) redacted, the reports read in conjunction with Corsi’s book provide a glimpse of what Mueller’s team was focused on in 2018 as they tried to finalize charges against Roger Stone.

Corsi’s “cooperation” can be broken into three periods. From September 6 to 21, Mueller’s team got Corsi to stop lying about his role in Roger Stone’s attempt to learn about WikiLeaks’ releases and testify to the grand jury that a report he did on August 31, 2016 was a cover story Stone asked him to write on August 30. From then until November 2, Mueller’s team unsuccessfully tried to get Corsi to tell them his (or Stone’s) source of information about WikiLeaks’ drops. In response, they tried to use false statements charges to get him to cooperate, but after the election, Jeff Sessions’ replacement with Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker, and some intervention from Trump, Corsi refused to cooperate on November 26.

While there’s a ton that’s still redacted, it seems that Corsi revealed a lot of details about how he and Stone tried to cover up what they were doing in August 2016, but not the stuff they were trying to cover up. Which may be why the government charged Stone just for that cover-up.

Corsi’s claims about joint defense agreements

In his book, Corsi provides an illogical explanation for why he purported was comparing notes with Trump’s lawyers, but not Stone’s.

September 5, 2018: He immediately precedes the description of his first trip to DC to meet with Mueller’s team with an explanation that Jay Sekulow had reached out to his lawyer, David Gray, to offer to enter into a Joint Defense Agreement. Contextually, Gray’s call to accept Sekulow’s offer may have been placed the night before they went to DC.

September 6: First interview (Zelinsky, Goldstein, Rhee)

In the first interview, Corsi attempted to (and publicly said in advance he would) testify that Stone had asked him to break the law, but he had not done what Stone requested. After going through background about how Corsi met Trump, some people on his campaign, and Stone, Aaron Zelinsky made it clear that they had proof Corsi had done what Stone requested. That led Gray to ask prosecutors excuse Corsi’s false testimony because he didn’t have his emails, so hadn’t been able to review what really happened. After Gray offered to have Corsi restore his emails and review what really did happen, they broke for the day.

The unredacted parts of the 302 contradict Corsi’s claims about two topics: how many FBI Agents were in his interview (the 302 appears to show just two) and who started a discussion about recording the interview. According to the 302, Corsi’s lawyer did — and asked to record the interview himself, which led Mueller’s team to ask whether he or Corsi were taping the interview and whether they had recorded their conversations with the FBI Agent who had picked them up. After this discussion in the 302, there’s a long redaction that may pertain to the terms on which Corsi shared his devices.

Much of the unredacted interview includes Corsi’s background, including how he came to move from WorldNetDaily to InfoWars, though this passage redacts Stone’s name for ongoing investigation reasons.

The unredacted passage describes Corsi’s description of visiting Trump campaign headquarters in June. He does not, at least in the unredacted passages, reveal something that he revealed in his book: that he met Trump there, who said, “That’s trouble there.” The 302 includes a detail that isn’t in his book though: that he had extensive interactions with Michael Cohen, who “relayed messages to Trump” for him.

The 302 redacts Corsi’s description of how he came to know Stone, and his claims about what happened in July and August 2016.

Which leads to this description of interacting with Sam Clovis about Ted Malloch.

Around the same time, Corsi told Sam Clovis about Malloch. Clovis was being ignored by the campaign and his foreign policy team was failing. Corsi never met with Clovis in person, but Clovis knew of Corsi’s work.

In his book, Corsi provides a version of something that’s totally redacted (for ongoing investigations) in the 302: how he claimed he did not respond to Stone’s request to try to find out what Julian Assange had.

“As I result of that experience, I told Stone, ‘No,’ that I would not contact Assange or ask anyone to get in touch with Assange,” I explained. “I knew that from the moment I contacted Julian Assange, I would be under investigation from several different intelligence agencies, including those of the U.S. government.” Besides, I asserted to Mueller’s team, even if Assange had told me what Democratic National Committee emails he had and what he planned to do with them, no one would believe me. I argued that I had decided to wait until Assange published the emails. Then, I could write about the stolen emails without being involved in an investigation.

In response to this lie, Zelinsky told Corsi they had proof that he did actually respond (which was an email he forwarded to Ted Malloch on July 25).

The 302 includes (but redacts) some things Corsi said to the FBI Agent who drove him back to his hotel; he said he asked them for help figuring out what proof Zelinsky had that he had actually responded.

In Corsi’s book, he explains how the night after he testified, one of Stone’s lawyers called David Gray. Corsi describes the dilemma he faced about whether to respond (which, he claimed, he worried would leak) or not to (which, he worried, would make Stone think he flipped on him). Ultimately they claim they told Stone’s lawyer, “We decline, for now,” to tell him what happened. Even assuming this is true, Corsi doesn’t reveal whether they later did tell Stone what was going on in his interviews. Effectively Corsi would like you to believe he had no problem sharing notes with Trump but he thought it would be a problem to share them with Stone.

The day after his interview, Agents return his devices, and he describes restoring his emails from 2016. He describes “discovering” the July 25 email (but not, allegedly, the August 2 one or an August 15 one that clearly pertains to WikiLeaks files, nor an August 16 one to Ted Malloch discussing Putin). He also “discovers” an August 15 story he wrote about Stone.

Note: it’s bullshit that he didn’t have the July 25 and August 2 emails. On April 3, 2017, Stone lawyer Grant Smith had sent Corsi what he claimed were the only two emails discussing a request between them.

This got sent while Corsi and Stone were further elaborating on his cover story, so might have been interpreted as a code not to mention Corsi’s response or an August 15 email from him reflecting further knowledge of what emails would drop.

September 17: Second interview (Zelinsky, Rhee, Goldstein)

In any case, at the beginning of the next interview on September 17, per Corsi’s book, Zelinsky told Grey they have specific knowledge that Corsi predicted the Podesta emails and had some effect over their release in October.

In this interview, per his book, Corsi admits he told Stone that the Podesta emails were coming, but claimed not to know who told him about them. The unredacted parts of the 302 seem to show some of what explanation he gave, including his ties to Ted Malloch. The 302 shows Corsi admitting he spoke with Malloch (on Facetime), did not recall Malloch ever providing information from Assange.

The 302 describes Corsi claiming, “[M]any people were interested in Corsi getting in touch with Assange.” That’s probably true, as his WND editor wanted him to interview Assange. But I wonder if it reflects speaking to Trump about it.

Corsi also explained that he had additional ties to the Trump campaign, via Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller, the latter of whom is particularly interesting, given his ties to white supremacist culture.

The 302 redacts all of Corsi’s bullshit claims not to know who told him about the Podesta emails.

September 21: Third interview (Zelinsky, Rhee, Goldstein), proffer signed

Corsi’s third interview took place at the DC Courthouse, just before he testified for half an hour before the grand jury. Over the course of the interview, his lawyer asked for a proffer to protect Corsi for being charged with suborning perjury for writing part of Stone’s cover story.

The interview started with Corsi repeating his bullshit story about telling Stone that Podesta’s emails were coming (which is redacted in the 302), but claiming that he didn’t know his own source for that information.

Corsi said, as of August 2016, he had watched and seen Podesta for a long time. Corsi thought WikiLeaks would release Podesta’s emails serially in order to continually feed the news cycle, as opposed to dropping all the information at once. Corsi also thought Julian Assange (Assange) would designed the release of Podesta’s emails to be an “October surprise.”

After that the interview turned to Corsi’s claims in an email (which Mueller was never able to determine the truth of) to have been responsible for WikiLeaks releasing the Podesta emails to stomp on the Access Hollywood video. In this interview, he stated he had no input over that release.

The 302 redacts the discussion of the cover story Corsi helped craft on August 30, but shows the process of Mueller’s team verbally and then later writing up a proffer protecting Corsi from any criminal exposure for doing that.

10:50 AM: SCO enters into a verbal proffer (Corsi’s lawyer realizing his client was at risk for cover-up)

Corsi’s discussion of Ted Malloch is totally redacted (Corsi told Malloch in August that he knew the Podesta emails were coming).

There’s a partly redacted discussion of Corsi’s relationship to someone whose name is redacted. It likely relates to Brexit (because it mentions the EU), and it appears someone offered Corsi a job, which Corsi claims felt like a con-job.

Then interview moves to someone Russian he knows (redacted with b7A but not B, suggesting it was counterintelligence). That discussion appears before the 302 notes that, “Corsi said many people contact him and he doesn’t always know who they are.”

Some of the discussion about October 7, the Podesta email release, is redacted. But there’s a great deal of bullshit claims about how Corsi got the emails released via the strength of his own tweeting.

Corsi was convinced, however, it was through his efforts that WikiLeaks released Podesta’s emails when they did.

Finally, this passage is likely a reference to Stone trying to coach Corsi’s testimony, though the redacted name is likely not Stone’s (because it’s not redacted for b7ABC). Given that one of Stone’s lawyers called him on September 6, it seems likely it was one of the lawyers (possibly Grant Smith by length and his seeming role in Stone’s cover stories). Note he may be trying to move Corsi back to the Credico cover story.

This passage — and the references to Trump getting reports on his testimony — is all the more weird given that his lawyer probably was in close contact with Sekulow during this process (Sekulow doesn’t seem to fit based on length).

After Corsi gave testimony about the August 30 cover story to the grand jury, Mueller’s team told him he might be called back to talk more about his source.

October 22: In the middle of this process, I wrote a post arguing that Stone and Corsi appeared to have not just gotten news of Podesta’s emails, but got the actual emails in advance. I’m sure Mueller’s team had far more evidence to get there on their own, but I find this post worth marking.

October 25:  Before they brought Corsi back again, they interviewed Rick Gates on WikiLeaks stuff, including asking why he got sent Corsi stuff. (PDF 39)

October 29: The FBI finished the first batch of Corsi’s 302s, from September 6, 17, and 21, on October 29, also before he was called back.

October 31: Proffer continued.

DOJ did not release the October 31 Corsi 302 (though it’s supposedly going to come out in a January 17 production). Corsi’s book discusses his testimony from October 31, November 1, and November 2 all in one bunch. But it seems clear that on October 31, the prosecutors showed him more records showing that he was lying about his source for Podesta.

November 1 (Rhee, Goldstein, Zelinsky, Atkinson for some of the interview): Proffer continued

This is the one interview where Rush Atkinson showed up for parts of the interview, which is interesting given that he worked on the Russian side of the investigation.

The interview starts with Corsi shifting his story yet again, claiming he did not remember a lot of what he was shown the day before, so he “realized that the way he wanted to remember things was not actually how things happened.” The interview discusses a bunch of redacted stuff, then again Corsi admitted he, “had been lying to himself to believe his own cover story.”

The discussion then turns to Ted Malloch, interspersed with discussions about WND. He clearly invents another story about how he learned about Podesta’s emails (which Corsi lays out in his book). After more redacted material, the 302 reveals that, rather than (or in addition to) asking Assange about Bernie’s brother on August 16, 2016 — a request Stone had made of him in July — he also mentioned Putin. (!!!)

Corsi did not remember sending Malloch an email on August 16, 2016 about Putin.

This leads directly into a discussion claiming his October 6, 2016 story on John Podesta — which I argued in my October 22 post suggested Corsi had already seen the Joule Holding emails that WikiLeaks would not release until October 11 — is just his August 31 cover story report.

Corsi published the August 31, 2016 memo on October 6, 2016. At that time, he still help himself out as the connection to WikiLeaks. The trigger for the release of the article was the publication of an article about [Paul] Manafort and [Viktor] Yanukovych. Corsi wanted to counter it with a story about Podesta, but he really wanted to provide stimulus to Assange to release whatever he had on Podesta. Corsi was angry with Assange for not releasing emails on October 4, 2016.

The interview then returns to events of October 7, with Corsi again offering some story for how he forced Assange to optimize the release of those Podesta emails. The unredacted parts of this show Corsi equivocating about what he did and did not have a clearly memory of, just as he lays out in his book. But in this case, he admits he did not deserve credit for optimizing the release; the paragraph is half redacted, suggesting maybe he says Stone should get credit for it.

The interview reveals that Corsi met with Malloch and another person on January 7, 2017; but he did not recall any conversation about WikiLeaks, Stone, or Assange

From there, prosecutors made Corsi walk though the March 2017 version of his August 31 report to explain where each bit came from.

The 302 then describes Corsi [going] through the [March 2017 cover story] “Blame Me!” article and said [redacted] Paragraphs three through six were pulled from the Schweitzer report. Over a page is redacted here, which probably pertains to the ongoing cover-up that he and Stone engaged in.

The interview ends with a discussion of his work changes, most notably the move from WND to DCI and InfoWars, which paid better. Whereas an earlier 302 redacts that it was Stone who got Corsi his job, this one reveals that, “Stone told Corsi that WND was not big enough for him and he should work for Jones.” He also revealed he “did not get paid by InfoWars directly.” There were reports that prosecutors were investigating whether this was a means to bribe Corsi to remain silent, which they would later return to. Corsi stopped working for DCI in March or April 2018.

Interspersed in all this, Corsi described Malloch trying to get him involved in a Turkey contract.

November 2: Proffer continued (Rhee, Zelinsky, entirely redacted)

The November 2 302 is entirely redacted (and shorter — just a page long), aside from the boilerplate language that revealed that for the first time, Goldstein did not attend the interview, perhaps because Corsi was just flinging bullshit on most topics.

November 6: Election day.

November 7: November 2 Corsi 302 finished, Sessions gets fired.

November 8: On his podcast, Corsi suggests something big is going down with Mueller/

November 9: Corsi appears before the grand jury and doesn’t give the answer — regarding how he learned that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails — that prosecutors expected; they told him they were going to charge him with perjury.

November 12: On his podcast, Corsi says he expects to be indicted; a huge media frenzy follows.

November 13: The media frenzy continues until (Corsi claims), moments before starting an MSNBC interview, his lawyer tells him to call it off.

November 13: Plea first offered.

November 14: November 1 Corsi 302 finished.

November 15: Trump tweet apparently reflects Corsi’s claim of prosecutors yelling at him to give specific testimony they seek.

November 18: According to Corsi’s book, he wrote his delirious rant on how he guessed the Podesta emails would be dumped on this date. It is clearly a cover story preparing to reject the plea deal.

November 23: Corsi goes to the WaPo (off the record), AP, and MSNBC (the latter two both on the record) to tell them he is in plea negotiations.

November 25: Zelinsky writes letter on plea deal.

November 26: Corsi announces he has been offered, but will reject, a plea deal to one count of perjury, accuses Mueller of Gestapo tactics, and claims he will file a complaint with Whitaker.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

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