August 7, 2020 / by 

 

DOJ Claims Some Ongoing Investigation Mueller Report Redactions Pertain to the the Assange Prosecution

DOJ just filed their answers to Judge Reggie Walton’s questions in the EPIC/BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report. While those are entirely sealed, a new declaration from Vanessa Brinkmann is available, albeit in heavily redacted form.

One thing that’s not redacted, however, is the list of pending prosecutions pertaining to which information remains redacted. One of those is US v. Assange.

Information that is withheld pursuant to (b)(7)(A) and included in Exhibit A pertains to a number of pending law enforcement proceedings, including [US v. Internet] Research Agency LLC (Case No. 1:18-cr-32 (D.D.C.)), United States v. Khusyaynova (Case No. 1:18-mj-464 (E.D. Va.)), United States v. Netyksho (Case No. 1:18-cr-215 (D.D.C.)), United States v. Morenets (Case No. 2:18-cr-00263 (W.D. Pa.)), United States v. Assange (Case No. 1:18-cr-00111-CMH (E.D. Va.)), United States v. Kilimnik (Case No. 1:17-cr-201-3 (D.D.C.)), or ongoing law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department and the FBI.1

The first two of these are prosecutions of Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls, the third and fourth are GRU hackers (the second of those is the WADA hack).

Regarding Assange, it’s possible that this is as simple as a description of how the FBI accessed communications coming into or going out of the Ecuadorian Embassy (one example of this is footnote 262). Or it could mean redacted sections on charging decisions implicate not just Roger Stone, but also Assange. The Stone warrants released earlier this spring described an ongoing 951 (foreign agent)/conspiracy investigation that also necessitated ongoing redactions.

Seven pages of the filing (out of 17) pertain to ongoing investigations, almost all of them entirely redacted.


Task and Countertask: The Interview of Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource

According to the interview report from Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource, the PSS confirmed that he had two sources behind the reporting that Carter Page met with Igor Sechin. He said one of those two sources — whom he described having ties to FSB — told him that Russia was sitting on kompromat against Trump (and Hillary). He described that his source for all the Michael Cohen reporting came from an old friend whom he trusted 100%. Steele’s Primary Subsource even took credit for some of the specific phrases in the Steele dossier — such as the one describing Michael Cohen’s efforts to sweep the Carter Page and Paul Manafort scandals “under the carpet.”

Even the Primary Subsource’s interactions with a person he believed to be Sergei Millian tracked most of the report based off the call.

[PSS] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. [PSS] recalls that the individual believed to be [Millian] said that there was an “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it,” Millian said that some of the information exchange could be good for Russian, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [PSS] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wikileaks.

The passage shows how badly DOJ IG over-read the interview when it first published the report and affirmatively stated that PSS “had no discussion” or “made no mention at all of” WikiLeaks.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary SubSource] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

To be sure, the provenance of that claimed Millian conversation is an utter shitshow — consisting of a call with someone the Primary Subsource believed, but had no way of confirming, was Millian. But Steele’s Primary Subsource did confirm that most of that report tracked the call, whoever it was from.

Still, you wouldn’t know that the Primary Subsource described the multiple sources behind key allegations in the dossier from the way the DOJ IG Report described what was a raw intelligence report. For example, this passage doesn’t reveal that the Primary Subsource heard details on Page’s trip from people with high level connections, including the meeting with Sechin (remember, the FBI had another source report that he had heard rumors about the Sechin meeting, which probably partly explains why Mueller concluded that Page’s whereabouts in Russia were still uncertain).

A second example provided by the Primary Sub-source was Report 134’s description of a meeting allegedly held between Carter Page and Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft, a Russian energy conglomerate. 337 Report 134 stated that, according to a “close associate” of Sechin, Sechin offered “PAGE/ TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft” in return for the lifting of sanctions against the company. 338 The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339 We reviewed the texts and did not find any discussion of a bribe, whether as an interest in Rosneft itself or a “brokerage. ” 340

The IG Report also repeats uncritically stuff from both the PSS and his sources that is pretty obviously bullshit, such as the claim from the PSS — who had been paid full time by Orbis for years to collect this intelligence — that he didn’t expect his reporting to show up in written reports.

The Primary Subsource also stated that he/she never expected Steele to put the Primary Subsource’s statements in reports or present them as facts. According to WFO Agent 1, the Primary Sub-source said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that “it was just talk.” WFO Agent 1 said that the Primary Sub-source explained that his/her information came from “word of mouth and hearsay;” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers;” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he/she heard made in “jest.”341 The Primary Sub-source also told WFO Agent 1 that he/she believed that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests.

Or the claim from a subsource who would be the key source of disinformation in the dossier if such disinformation exists that nothing in the dossier was attributable to her.

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

Nor would you know that from the reporting on the interview report of the Primary Subsource, released last night by Lindsey Graham.

Ultimately, the belated assessment of the Supervisory Intel Analyst probably appropriately attributes blame for problems with the dossier to multiple sources; a lot of the problems with this dossier stem from communication breakdowns and exaggerations from multiple people trying to make a buck.

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source.

Let me be very clear: none of this means these allegations are true, nor does this excuse the failures to alert the FISA Court to key problems in the dossier. I was one of the first people to raise doubts about some of the problems with the allegations in the dossier, and I stand by that.

Operational security

What’s more interesting about the interview are the hints of all the ways the dossier could have gone so badly wrong. The interview report describes multiple ways that Russia’s spooks might have found out about the project and fed it with disinformation (the footnotes declassified earlier this year describes that several Russian spooks knew of the project after what would have been the PSS’ first trip to Russia to do the reporting).

Steele’s PSS was an analyst by training that Steele increasingly used in an operational role (including by getting him hired at some kind of consulting company that seems to have served as a kind of cover for his travel to Russia). The arrangement seems to have had spotty operational security. For better and worse, PSS said that he rarely took substantive notes.

[PSS] was asked if he takes notes on the information he is collecting from his sources, or if he keeps any kind of records. He was told by Steele that it is a security risk to take notes; he hasn’t kept notes or electronic records. He occasionally makes scribbles and/or chicken scratch notes here and there, but gives verbal debriefs in [redacted] following his trips [to Russia].

PSS would then share the information with Steele, whom he always briefed alone (making misunderstandings more likely). He had no communications with Steele while in Russia. PSS described that his debriefings with Steele were always at the Orbis office, which meant if Steele himself were surveilled, PSS’ ties to Steele would become obvious.

PSS was originally tasked to investigate Manafort (which he had little success on), at a time when Fusion was still being paid by Paul Singer, meaning this interview seems to confirm, once and for all, that not just Fusion’s reporting, but Steele’s, was initially paid for by a Republican. PSS specified for that reporting he did some of his reporting to Steele via an encrypted app.

But his communications with Steele included many insecure methods. He first met Steele in a Starbucks. Early on, he communicated with him via email and Skype, and Steele would task him, at least in part, via email. He described discussing Page’s trip to Russia with Source 3 on some kind of voice call, possibly a phone, while he was at a public swimming pool, though he also described talking in an opaque way about election interference. Likewise, the most problematic December 13 report was based on a conversation with the same source, which was also a phone call.

In short, while Steele and PSS and PSS’ sources made some efforts to protect their communications from the Russians that surely considered Steele a target, those efforts were inconsistent.

PSS described making three trips to Russia for his election year reporting. On the second trip, he got grilled suspiciously at the border. On his third, “nothing bad happened,” which made PSS suspicious about how perfectly everything had gone.

PSS repeatedly described being uncomfortable with the election year tasking, and he seems to have had suspicions in real time that Russia had taken note of it.

Ties to intelligence

Meanwhile, for all the reports that PSS was “truthful and cooperative,” the interview report describes that he “balked, meandered in the conversation, and did not really answer the question” about whether he used other sources for his election year reporting aside from the six he described to the FBI. And, as laid out in the interview report, it became increasingly clear over the three days of interviews that PSS was not entirely forthcoming about any interactions he had had with Russian intelligence.

This started with his lawyers’ careful caveat at the beginning of the process that PSS did not have any contacts with people he knew to be part of the Russian intelligence services (the interview as a whole was conducted under a proffer).

[PSS] indicated, to his knowledge, he has not had any contacts with the Russian intelligence or security services. [ANALYST NOTE: His attorney emphasized “to his knowledge” during this part of the discussion.]

PSS said he had contact with Russian government officials, but — “as far as he … knew,” not with anyone in SVR, GRU, or FSB.

On day three, however, PSS described a friend (whose experience he drew on for a report on how Russia coerces criminal hackers to work for the intelligence services) who had had been busted for involvement with online pornography and pressured to work with the FSB. The Senior Intel Analyst noted that conflicted with his earlier claim to have no known ties to Russian spooks.

[ANALYST NOTE: This is in contradiction to [PSS’s] statement the first day, at which time he indicated that he did not have any contacts associated with the Russian intelligence and security services.]

Later that same day, PSS seemed to acknowledge that a Russian official and a Russian journalist he interacted with were spooks. The FBI noted,

[ANALYST NOTE: This contradicted [PSS’s] earlier statements regarding having no contact with Russia’s intelligence and security services, and it also contradicted regarding not really knowing if [a Russian official] was actually connected to Russia’s intelligence and security services.]

The EC goes on to describe PSS “brush[ing] aside the idea of being approached by the intelligence and security services” while he was a student.

This squirreliness about his own ties with Russian spooks was probably just self-preservation, an effort to avoid any exposure on 18 USC 951, but it is probably the key issue where the FBI questioned his candor in real time.

Countertasking

Meanwhile, PSS described at least three of his sources — Source 1, Source 2, and Source 3 — in such a way that led the FBI to wonder whether PSS was being tasked by his own sources. S1, for example — who has a close relationship to a Russian intelligence officer (probably FSB) —  always asks PSS to do projects together.

[S1] is always trying to get [PSS] to start projects and make money together — [PSS] related how [S1], like others, is always asking questions like, “Can you get us some projects?” or “Can you get us financing?” or “Let’s do something together dealing with [redacted]!” [PSS] doesn’t consider this as his source “tasking him” but as simply the normal course and scope of networking in these circles. [PSS] did help [S1] with an academic book about [redacted].

And both Source 2 and Source 3 — the sources for some of the more problematic information in the Steele dossier — knew PSS brokered intelligence. Both also discussed brokering information in Russia.

[S3] is one of the individuals who knows that [PSS] works for due diligence and business intelligence. [As an aside at this point, [PSS] insisted that [S2] probably has a better idea about this than does [S3] because [S2] is always trying to monetize his relationship with [PSS]. [PSS] reiterated again to interviewers that [S2] will often pitch money-making ideas or projects — “Let’s work together. I [S2] can try and get [redacted] to answer a question, but I’ll need some money to do it.”] [S3] has an understanding that [PSS] is “connected.” In fact, either [redacted] morning or [redacted] morning, [S3] reached out to [PSS] and asked him for help in [redacted] on how [redacted] living in the United States are viewing the Trump administration. She is asking him [redacted] by the weekend, probably so she can sell it to a friend in Moscow.

And because PSS asked Orbis to help S1 — the guy with close ties to an FSB officer — get a scholarship for language study in the UK, S1 presumably knows what Orbis and who Steele is.

In addition to S1, Source 5 also has ties to Russian intelligence. This showed up in footnote 339, which was partly declassified earlier this year.

This is to be expected, of course. Indeed, the dossier prominently touts the intelligence sourcing of its allegations, as I noted the first day the dossier was published. If the person on whose source network Steele was relying didn’t have ties to spooks, it would be as problematic.

The thing, though, is that it’s certain now that many of the allegations in the dossier are not true or were rumor, particularly virtually all the allegations sourced to Source 3 (the source for all the Michael Cohen reporting), PSS’s childhood friend whom he trusts 100%. That’s true even though generally the reports were sourced to people with at least indirect access to senior level officials.

All the huffing and puffing aside, that should be the takeaway from this. Steele was definitely not collecting this intelligence in optimal fashion, and sharing it with the press made things far worse. But in January 2017, it looked like raw intelligence, of varying quality, which is precisely what it was billed at. Yet, well before any pitches Steele made to the press, it seems some really well-connected people in Russia were feeding Steele’s PSS information that distracted from the real events going on and focused it elsewhere.


Lindsey Graham Provides Yet More Proof that Peter Strzok Didn’t Have It In for Trump

Lindsey Graham just released two more documents that don’t show what [his personally implicated staffer Barbara Ledeen] claims they show.

The more important is the Electronic Communication memorializing FBI’s 3-day interview with Christopher Steele’s primary subsource for the dossier. It’ll take me much of tomorrow to write it up, but suffice it to say that, as an utterly committed Steele skeptic, the EC is actually far more supportive of the dossier than I thought it’d be or than the DOJ IG Report claimed it was. Though it also provides tons of details of how it might have gone haywire, if it did.

More briefly, Lindsey also released an annotation Peter Strzok did (probably as part of his job hunting down leaks) of the February 14, 2017 NYT story alleging Trump’s flunkies had close ties with Russian intelligence.

The annotation shows that Strozk found multiple problems with the NYT story. Strozk’s corrections explain that,

  • None of Trump’s flunkies were known to have ties directly with Russian intelligence but:
    • While Carter Page had extensive ties with SVR, that wasn’t during his time on the campaign
    • At least one of Paul Manafort’s contacts had contact with Russian intelligence
    • Sergey Kislyak had contact with three people — Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, and one other person (probably JD Gordon)
  • The FBI didn’t have intercepts on people; while it had given names — that explicitly include Manafort’s Ukrainian colleagues — to CIA and NSA, but did not ask for close scrutiny of them
  • The counterintelligence case in which Manafort was a subject was not opened until 2016, although FBI may have had an earlier kleptocracy investigation earlier
  • In February 2017, the FBI did not have an investigation into Roger Stone
  • While Christopher Steele might have credibility, he didn’t have much insight into the reliability of his subsources

Strzok also inadvertently revealed (by debunking claims in the story) that by February 2017, the FBI had sent out call log and credit report NSLs on Manafort, Page, and Flynn, but hadn’t gotten many of those back, and had not gotten detailed banking records. The investigation was barely begun in February 2017.

To be fair, these details were largely known, though the specificity about the NSLs is not only welcome, but unprecedented and unnecessary.

Ultimately, though, this is yet another piece of evidence — like Strzok’s observations that Flynn didn’t betray he was lying and his judgment that the Russian investigation would amount to little — that Strzok didn’t have it in for Trump or his flunkies, but instead assessed the case in real time.

Nevertheless, Strzok remains the big villain in this story.

Update: I inadvertently left off the Steele judgment above.

Update: Strzok’s Steele judgment actually shows up in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

Following the January interview with the Primary Sub-source, on February 15, 2017, Strzok forwarded by email to Priestap and others a news article referencing the Steele election reporting; Strzok commented that “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal [Steele] may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”

The IG did not, however, note that this is one of several moments where Strzok clearly expressed skepticism, no matter his views about Trump, nor did it describe the other critiques he made.


“Hinky:” NPR Permitted Billy Barr to Lie More than Once

The other day, NPR’s public editor did a piece exploring how the NPR allowed itself to spread Billy Barr’s lies about vote by mail uncontested. It reviews the exchange, noting where Steve Inskeep did not ask obvious follow-ups.

Inskeep had 20 minutes to do the Barr interview, which was conducted at the Justice Department. In the portion of the interview on election security, Inskeep sounds, to my ear, off his game. His follow-up questions don’t reflect the facts that NPR had already reported, and are therefore ineffective at holding Barr accountable for his statements.

The transcript is available here. When Barr conflates the broad issue of foreign interference with the specific claim of ballot tampering, Inskeep does not call him out.

[snip]

When Barr compares the ballots to paper money, to suggest they can be easily duplicated, Inskeep asks: “Do they not also go through procedures like that with mail-in ballots?” Barr answers: “You’ve seen them. They’re pretty primitive.”

A journalist specializing in election security would have pressed Barr more firmly, by asking again whether intelligence of ballot tampering exists, and getting him to explain exactly how he imagines outsiders would attempt to circumvent the numerous safeguards in place, including barcodes, enumerated ballots, duplicating the specific paper stock and printing methods and signature verifications. Suggested question: How would a ballot counterfeiting scheme work at scale, to get around the well-established and tested controls, including the individual codes on each ballot and the signature comparisons?

It talks about the decision to include Barr’s lies (about vote-by-mail) rather than take more time and edit them out.

Inskeep worked with a show editor and producer to prepare the package. Together, they chose to air the bulk of Barr’s claims rather than truncate the statements to air only those not widely disputed as false. He could have decided to delay the air date of that particular segment in order to do more reporting and bring additional voices into the conversation, an internal or external expert to say that Barr is making a false statement.

Running an extensive portion of the exchange could only be a good option if Inskeep was willing to add more context, as you are about to see below.

And it described how NPR could have made it far clearer that Billy Barr lied to NPR.

There are many techniques to prepare listeners to hear false information. You can straight-up tell the audience the upcoming statements are inaccurate — while also explaining that part of our job is to sometimes allow public officials to make such statements so that the listener can hear it for herself. Stewart said he was grateful Inskeep got Barr on tape falsely claiming mail-in ballots will jeopardize the election. “This looks like pure, unadulterated Barr,” he said. “And I’m really glad the country got to hear that.”

I wish Inskeep would have spent a little air time making clear in the set-up that state election officials use several well-tested methods to ensure the integrity and security of mail-in ballots, and that transparency of those checks and balances is baked into the system.

Given that Barr primarily does interview with old friends from the Poppy Administration or propaganda outlet, I’m grateful that NPR reviewed this interview and laid out how Barr has successfully, relentlessly lied to the American people.

But they should have gone one step further, and noted all the other times Barr lied to Inskeep. And even before he lied about vote-by-mail, he falsely claimed that his interventions in both the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone case was proper. In the Stone case, for example, he explained his intervention in the sentencing recommendation because there was a dispute.

I was the decision maker in that case because there was a dispute. And usually what happens is, disputes, especially in high profile cases, come up to the attorney general.

To the extent there was a dispute, it was only because he had removed the Senate confirmed US Attorney and put in someone he told to dispute the sentencing guidelines. NPR also let Barr claim that his recommendation is what Amy Berman Jackson adopted, which is not at all true (she adopted most of the prosecutors’ guidelines sentence but gave Stone a lenient sentence on her own).

Worse still, NPR let Barr claim as fact that there was a lot hinky with Flynn’s case.

There was a lot of hinky stuff in the Flynn case. Everyone knew that. Everyone was wondering why was this case ever brought?

That’s not only false, but both DOJ Inspector General and Judge Emmet Sullivan had reviewed it and found nothing “hinky.” Effectively, Barr put in a flunkie to override the judgement of those people who are supposed to assess whether something is hinky.

Importantly, only people who haven’t consulted the public record believe that — which is why it is so dangerous for NPR to let the claim go unchallenged. So here, as with the vote-by-mail, Inskeep simply gave Barr the opportunity to provide false excuses for unprecedented abuse of power.

And the public editor should note that.


Roger Stone’s Flip Story Evolves for the Cameras

Last night, Roger Stone went on Sean Hannity’s show, mostly to lay the groundwork for withdrawing his appeal. But he also repeated a story he told at least twice shortly after his gag ended, describing how a Mueller prosecutor offered Stone leniency if he would testify that the content of some number of calls he had with Trump (29 in one telling, 36 in another) pertained to WikiLeaks.

Well, in the beginning of the case, Sean, I don’t think that [flipping on Trump] was their intention. But as they got closer and closer to having to issue the Mueller report and they realized that they had no Russian collusion because there was no Russian collusion, it was a hoax. On July 24, Jeannie Rhee, who was heading my prosecution within the Mueller team — that’s extraordinary in itself because she previously represented Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation in the illegal email server case, the missing email case. So she had a clear bias. She was a maximum donor to both of Hillary’s presidential campaigns. By the way, she has all the charm of a North Korean prison guard. She made it very clear to one of my lawyers — after a hearing she asked to see them privately — that if I would really remember certain phone conversations I had with candidate trump, if I would come clean, if I would confess, that they might be willing to, you know, recommend leniency to the judge perhaps I wouldn’t even serve any jail time. I didn’t have to think about it very long. I said absolutely not. There was no circumstance under which I would bear false witness against the president.

This story, as told, is impossible.

The problem is with the date.

In the version of the story Stone told to Lou Dobbs earlier this spring, Stone was quite clear: the meeting between this prosecutor and his lawyer happened on July 24, 2019.

DOBBS: We’re back with Roger Stone. And Roger, do you think you were targeted by Mueller, specifically to get dirt — to put you under pressure to get dirt on President Trump?

STONE: There’s no question whatsoever. After illegal leaks over a year saying I would be charged with treason and conspiracy against the United States, being the link between the Trump campaign and Russia. They indicted me on the flimsiest charges of lying to Congress even though there was no underlying crime for me to lie about. And then on July 24th, 2019, a member of the Mueller’s dirty cop squad approached one of my lawyers proposing a deal. If Stone would be willing to really re-remember the content of some 36 phone calls I had with candidate Trump, and admit that they were about Russia and WikiLeaks, they would be willing to perhaps recommend no jail time and I said, no. This President needs to be reelected, Lou. He is the greatest President in my lifetime, I would never give false testimony against him.

Similarly, the version Stone told some Daily Caller hack stated that this conversation happened on July 24, 2019.

On July 24, 2019, one of the prosecutors approached my lawyer and proposed, essentially, a deal. If your client would be willing to come clean, if your client would be prepared to confess, that these 29 phone calls between himself and candidate Donald Trump were about WikiLeaks and the Russians, we might be willing to recommend no jail time.

All three of these stories place this conversation on July 24, and two of them place it on July 24, 2019.

Jeannie Rhee withdrew from the case (and left DOJ) on April 16, 2019, before this discussion allegedly took place (unless it happened in 2018, which would raise a whole slew of different questions).

Mind you, in both the Hannity version and the Daily Caller version, Stone claims this conversation happened in the lead-up to the Mueller Report.

Their purpose was very clear. This was days before the Mueller Report. So they knew that their Russian section of the report was a dud, that they had nothing. So they wanted me to be their ham in their ham sandwich. And I declined, because it’s not true.

Rhee was at four hearings with Stone, post-indictment, before the report was issued:

  • January 29, 2019 (Arraignment)
  • February 1, 2019 (Status hearing)
  • February 21, 2019 (Gag hearing)
  • March 14, 2019

The latter of those certainly was in the days before the Mueller Report was released, but it was also at a time when the report was drafted. So if the conversation happened then, it is unlikely such testimony would have been included in the report.

Indeed, it is better thought of as a part of the second part of the investigation into Stone, the one for which the raid on Stone’s house was an attempt, in part, to obtain the notebook in which Stone had written notes of every conversation he had with Trump during the campaign.

53. On May 8, 2018, a law enforcement interview of [redacted] was conducted. [redacted] was an employee of Stone’s from approximately June 2016 through approximately December 2016 and resided in Stone’s previous New York apartment for a period of time. [redacted] provided information technology support for Stone, but was not formally trained to do so. [redacted] was aware that Stone communicated with Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and afterward, both in person and by telephone. [redacted] provided information about a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump and Stone during the time [redacted] worked for him, to which Sterne carried a “file booklet” with him. Stone told [redacted] the file booklet was important and that no one should touch it. [redacted] also said Stone maintained the file booklet in his closet.

54. On December 3, 2018, law enforcement conducted an interview of an individual (“Person 1 “) who previously had a professional relationship with a reporter who provided Person 1 with information about Stone. The reporter relayed to Person 1 that in or around January and February 2016, Stone and Trump were in constant communication and that Stone kept contemporaneous notes of the conversations. Stone’s purpose in keeping notes was to later provide a “post mortem of what went wrong.”

If the conversation happened on March 14, then, it might reflect prosecutors’ review of that notebook, if indeed they found it in the raid. If the conversation happened on March 14, prosecutors might already have known that those conversations pertained to WikiLeaks (remember, 29 or 36 conversations would just be a subset of the 60 or so prosecutors showed Stone had directly with a Trump phone number).

And if that’s the case — if prosecutors asked Stone to testify about 29 to 36 calls that, because of the rat-fucker’s carelessness (or instincts for self-preservation) they knew from his notes pertained to WikiLeaks — then this publicity tour about what a hero he was for risking prison to protect the President is just that, PR.

Effectively, Stone is telling this story on every show that Trump watches closely, presumably to reassure the President he succeeded in protecting him. With that notebook out there, it’s not at all clear that is true.


Reggie Walton Seems Interested Revealing Some of Mueller’s Referrals

I made at least one error in this post. I surmised, based on the exemptions DOJ had claimed in a reprocessed version of the Mueller Report released last month, that there might be ongoing investigations into Rudy Giuliani’s grifters reflected in it.

But the sentencing of George Nader a week later reminded me that it cannot be the case that DOJ did a full reprocessing of the Mueller Report. Warrants made it clear that Nader’s prosecution for child porn — which developed into a prosecution for sexually abusing a boy — was a referral from the Mueller team.

Yet the reprocessed Mueller Report continues to redact all the referrals in Appendix D not previously unsealed (that is, all but the Michael Cohen and Greg Craig ones), including one that must be the Nader prosecution, under b7A redactions signaling an ongoing investigation, quite possibly this one.

The Nader referral, because it was prosecuted, should not be redacted under any exemption. Well before this reprocessing, Nader’s prosecution was public (meaning the privacy exemptions are improper), and by the time of this reprocessing, his conviction had been entered, so was no longer ongoing.

The reprocessing did change two Stone-related referrals to the same privacy exemption used for most other referrals — b(6)/b(7)(C-4) instead of b(6)/b(7)(C-3). (These are the newly reprocessed redactions; compare with pages 240-241 of the initial FOIA release.)

The change from C-3 to C-4 signifies that the person involved was only mentioned in the report, but that category is unrelated to whether or not the person remains under a separate investigation. But all referrals still use the b7(A) exemption, even though we know at least one — that of George Nader — is no longer ongoing.

That’s a very complicated way of saying that we can be certain DOJ is claiming some of these referrals are ongoing investigations even though no investigation is ongoing, whether because — like Nader — the investigation has been completed, because the investigation was properly closed, or because Billy Barr intervened and improperly closed them (as might be the case for investigations known to be targeting Erik Prince and Jared Kushner).

And that’s why some filings this week in this lawsuit are so interesting.

A month ago, Judge Reggie Walton, after having reviewed an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report, canceled a public status conference and instead scheduled an ex parte hearing on July 20 at which DOJ would have to answer his questions about the redactions.

Knowing that it would have to answer Walton’s questions, yet claiming to respond to an earlier BuzzFeed/EPIC filing, DOJ offered up that it was preparing to reissue the report in light of the completion of the Roger Stone prosecution. It released that copy — the one that claims at least one investigation that has been completed is ongoing — on June 19.

Which brings us to this week. On Monday, Judge Walton ordered the government to answer questions he raised in an Excel spreadsheet addressing the redactions.

To accord the Department knowledge of the questions that the Court has regarding some of the redactions prior to the ex parte hearing, the Court has prepared an Excel spreadsheet that catalogues these questions, which is attached as Exhibit A to this Order. 1 To the extent that the Department is able to respond to the Court’s questions in writing, it is hereby

ORDERED that, on or before July 14, 2020, at 5:00 p.m., the Department shall file2 under seal its responses to the Court’s questions by completing Column G of Exhibit A. 3

SO ORDERED this 6th day of July, 2020.

1 Exhibit A will be issued under seal and will remain under seal unless otherwise ordered by this Court.

2 The Department shall coordinate with chambers regarding the delivery of a hard copy of its submission.

3 The Court will advise the Department as to whether the Department’s written explanations obviate the need for the ex parte hearing currently scheduled for July 20, 2020.

Judge Walton gave DOJ just over a week to answer the questions.

Yesterday, DOJ asked for more time. DOJ described that they needed to consult with other entities to respond to Walton’s questions, and explained that they had not yet gotten answers from some of the “entities” they needed to hear from.

The Department has been diligently working to comply with the Court’s Order. That work has involved consultations with numerous Department components, including the Office of Information Privacy, the National Security Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices. However, the Department requires one additional week—until 5:00 PM on July 21, 2020—to coordinate and provide responses to all of the Court’s questions. This additional time is necessary because the majority of Court’s inquiries concerning the redactions require the Department to consult with various entities with equities in the information at issue, both within and outside the Department. The Department has received information from some, but not all, of the entities. Once the Department has completed its consultation with these entities, the Department needs time to compile information received from those entities into a detailed response that addresses all of the Court’s questions. Those entities then need time to review the compiled draft responses before the responses are filed under seal with the Court.2 The Department’s goal with this process is to ensure fulsome responses to the Court’s questions that would obviate the need for a hearing. [my emphasis]

This paragraph is fairly dense, but two things are worth noting. First, after describing “Department components” it would need to consult, the filing then notes that the entities with which DOJ must consult aren’t all inside the Department. This reference may be innocent. After all, any investigations into Russians or other foreigners might implicate foreign intelligence agencies, and Treasury has an ongoing sanctions process working against Oleg Deripaska, another possible referral. So those non-departmental entities could be CIA, NSA, and Treasury, among others.

Or, those non-departmental entities could be the White House.

There has already been abundant evidence that DOJ is consulting with the White House on its response to the BuzzFeed/EPIC FOIA (or at least deferring to their goals), particularly with regards to the 302 releases. Perhaps they’re doing so in the guise of honoring executive privilege claims that Trump never claimed during the investigation. But particularly if this involves hiding details about the investigation into Don Jr and/or Jared, it would be particularly abusive here.

Meanwhile, the reference to US Attorney’s Offices, plural, strongly suggests that these questions get into b7(A) redactions, because the primary reason to need to ask US Attorney’s Offices about these redactions is if they’re investigating or prosecuting cases.

We know of Mueller referrals to, at least, DC, SDNY, and EDVA. The GRU indictment was sent back to WDPA, where it started. And there were reports that investigations into Jared, Tom Barrack, and Elliot Broidy were in EDNY (though it’s unclear which of those, if any, were referrals from Mueller).

That doesn’t necessarily mean these consultations are about unknown referrals. But a footnote to the DOJ filing strongly suggests they are.

2 Although “the question in FOIA cases is typically whether an agency improperly withheld documents at the time that it processed a FOIA request,” in the interest of saving resources and promoting efficiency, if the Department determines during its review that there no longer exists a basis for a redaction, the Department plans to indicate as such in its response to the Court’s questions, withdraw the redaction, and reprocess the Report with the redaction lifted at the appropriate time. ACLU v. Dep’t of Justice, 640 F. App’x 9, 13 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (unpublished); see also Bonner v. Dep’t of State, 928 F.2d 1148, 1152 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (“To require an agency to adjust or modify its FOIA responses based on post-response occurrences could create an endless cycle of judicially mandated reprocessing.”). The Report was originally processed in spring 2019. A basis may no longer exist for a redaction if, for example, material was redacted concerning a prosecution that had been ongoing at the time of the redaction that has now been completed. See Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Dep’t of Justice, 746 F.3d 1082, 1097 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (stating that because a “proceeding must remain pending at the time of our decision,” an agency’s “reliance on Exemption 7(A) may become outdated when the proceeding at issue comes to a close”).[my emphasis]

DOJ directly addresses b7(A) redactions, claiming that if the investigation was ongoing when it originally did the FOIA review, it is not in violation of FOIA if it hasn’t since released the information (the filing is silent on the reprocessing done last month).

Mind you, DOJ will argue that all of these redactions are still proper under privacy protections. But on that point, DOJ (and Billy Barr personally) has outright lied publicly, claiming that these redactions only protect tangential third parties and not people like the President’s son or son-in-law.

Having looked at Walton’s questions, DOJ directly addressed redactions that originally protected ongoing investigations and contacted more than one US Attorney’s Office for consultations. That says he may consider ordering DOJ to release information about investigations that were started but did not end in prosecution.

Which makes the delay more interesting. It may be totally innocent, the slow pace of bureaucracy, particularly as offices still recover from COVID shut-downs. But one US Attorney’s Office of interest has undergone a sudden change of leadership between the time Judge Walton asked for this information and the time DOJ will respond. Last night, Billy Barr swapped EDNY US Attorney Richard Donoghue with PDAAG Seth DuCharme. While Barr has shown trust in both (he put Donoghue in charge of reviewing Ukraine related allegations), DuCharme has been one of the people who has orchestrated his efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. Whatever answers DOJ provides to Walton, then, will be answers that Barr’s newly appointed flunky will oversee. That’s by no means the most suspicious part of DuCharme’s appointment, but it is something DuCharme will review in his first week on the job.

DOJ may successfully argue that all of this should remain redacted for privacy reasons. And, with the possible exception of an Erik Prince referral, if they’re disclosed as closed investigations, it would not necessarily indicate whether they were closed through more Barr interference. But it certainly suggests Walton may be thinking that some of this should be public.


Credico Feared Stone Would Go to Prison; Corsi’s Lawyer Fears He Would Not

As you heard, last night Donald Trump commuted the sentence of his rat-fucker.

There’s a lot to say about whether Trump will succeed in his effort to thwart the investigation into himself. I guess I know how I’ll be spending the remaining 12 days of my quarantine: considering just that question.

I’d like to start by pointing to a curious dynamic: Randy Credico, who played a key public role in Stone’s trial and who destroyed the cover story Stone had started crafting as early as 2016, feared that Stone would go to prison and Stone’s thuggish racist buddies would harass him or worse in retaliation.

Minutes before the actual commutation, by contrast, the “lawyer” for Jerome Corsi, Larry Klayman, wrote a post arguing that Trump shouldn’t pardon Stone, in part because Stone is so guilty…

Roger Stone, contrary to the spin that is peddled by his surrogates at Fox News and elsewhere, was justly convicted of seven felony counts of perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. I know because I sat in the courtroom listening and observing during his two-week trial, while the pundits seeking to gain political favor with the president by supporting his supposed friend Stone did not. Regardless of whether the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, or the jury foreperson, was biased against Stone, the hard fact of life is that Stone’s lawyers, who could have themselves been indicted for providing false information to Congress on their client’s behalf, did not present one witness, repeat, one witness, including Stone himself, in defense of the prosecutors’ case in chief.

Though Stone sat at counsel’s table frequently smirking and smiling during the trial, the bottom line is that regardless of any bias, the now-convicted felon had no defense. This in a nutshell is why he does not want a new trial, even in another forum outside of Washington, D.C., because he was convicted by his own words and deeds.

… And in part because Stone came after Credico and Klayman.

While you have done many good things in office, you need independent voters in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and other so-called swing states to win reelection, so don’t blow it with a pardon for Roger Stone. He is not worth it! Believe me, I know. And, if you want to see why, just pick up a copy of my autobiography, “Whores: Why and How I Came to Fight the Establishment!” which chronicles my personal experience with this self-styled Mafia admirer and dirty trickster.

Or go on the Pacer court internet system and find the defamation complaints in Florida and elsewhere that I have been forced to file against him for my brave client Dr. Corsi and me, whom Stone smeared with disgusting slander and libel because he feared that Corsi would testify against him in his criminal trial – something Jerry never wanted to do.

Admittedly, Klayman is selling a book. Maybe that’s all there is to this.

But, as I laid out here, the real dispute between Corsi and Stone has to do with whether Corsi told the truth when he told Mueller’s prosecutors and the grand jury that an August 31, 2016 report he wrote on John Podesta was done to provide Stone a cover story for his “time in a barrel” tweet about Podesta.

Corsi himself told a lot of lies to prosecutors. But he’s willing to confront Stone — and Trump — to insist that that testimony was true.

Randy Credico, who has no fucking clue what Roger Stone did, but who played a significant part in getting him convicted, feared that Roger Stone would go to prison. But Corsi’s team, who has a much better sense what Stone did yet played little part in getting Stone convicted, feared Stone would not go to prison.


Trump Prepares to Do Something Even Billy Barr Has Said Might Be Obstruction

Update: Trump did, indeed, commute Stone’s sentence. Kayleigh McEnany put out a ridiculous press release here.

According to just about every major outlet (here’s Fox’s story), Trump will use his clemency power — possibly tonight — to keep Roger Stone out of prison, preventing him from spending even one day in prison for lying to Congress about how he tried to optimize the release of emails stolen by Russia and intimidating witnesses (most notably, but not only, Randy Credico) to adhere to Stone’s false cover story.

That Trump was willing to let Paulie Manafort do time, but not Stone, is a testament to how much more damning Stone’s honest testimony against Trump would be.

Trump will presumably commute Stone’s sentence, rather than pardon him, so Stone doesn’t lose his Fifth Amendment privileges that will allow him to avoid testifying about his calls with Trump. Trump is a dummy on most things, but not bribing people to cover up for his own crimes. Plus, he is personally familiar with how George Bush bought Scooter Libby’s silence with a commutation, given that Trump finally got around to pardoning Libby.

While every outlet is reporting on this imminent (presumed) commutation, virtually none are reporting that it will be an act of obstruction, Trump’s payoff for Stone’s lies about what he did.

Stone invented an elaborate story, post-dating the time when he made efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases by months, and attributing those efforts to someone he knew had no ties with Julian Assange or anyone else involved in the hack-and-leak. Stone threatened Randy Credico to adhere to that story, his thuggish friends gave Credico real reason to worry about his safety (concerns that continue today), and even hired a PI to find out where Credico moved after he went underground to continue the pressure.

The government has alleged that Stone knew and was coordinating what was coming even before the leak was publicly announced (their public evidence for that is sketchy, however). The government has further pointed to something for which there is abundant evidence: that in return for optimized publication, Assange was promised a pardon, a pardon that Stone tried to deliver from days after the election until early 2018, well after the Vault 7 releases made such a pardon untenable.

Plus, we know that Trump’s personal involvement in the optimization of the WikiLeaks releases is one topic that Trump lied to Mueller about (though not as brazenly as he lied about the Russian Trump Tower deal).

No lesser authority than Billy Barr has said that this kind of clemency might be obstruction of justice. He said as much three times during his confirmation hearing.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

And unlike Barr’s effort to erase Mike Flynn’s serial betrayal of the country, the Attorney General has admitted that Roger Stone’s was a “righteous” prosecution, even if only to prevent a rebellion on the part of DC federal prosecutors. Barr at least publicly disputes Trump’s claim that this was a witch hunt.

Trump is going to keep Roger Stone out of prison to ensure his silence.

That’s obstruction. And yet, almost no one is reporting on the crime in progress.


Sidney Powell Proves She (and Everyone Else, including Timothy Shea) Was Wrong about the Logan Act

Sidney Powell has released the next set of documents that Jeffrey Jensen has been serially feeding her and through her the frothy right.

They prove that the entire premise of DOJ’s Motion to Dismiss the Flynn prosecution — and everything Powell has been spewing for a year — is wrong.

That’s because the Timothy Shea Motion to Dismiss claims that FBI seized on the Logan Act as a reason — the sole reason — to extend the investigation into Mike Flynn.

The FBI had in their possession transcripts of the relevant calls. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13 at 3, FBI FD-302, Interview of Peter Strzok, July 19, 2017 (Date of Entry: Aug. 22, 2017). Believing that the counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn was to be closed, FBI leadership (“the 7th Floor”) determined to continue its investigation of Mr. Flynn on the basis of these calls, and considered opening a new criminal investigation based solely on a potential violation of the Logan Act, 18 U.S.C. § 953. See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 7 at 1-2; Ex. 8 at 1-5, FBI Emails RE: Logan Act Jan. 4, 2017.

Indeed, Shea’s memo claimed there was no criminal purpose to interview Flynn.

Notably, at this time FBI did not open a criminal investigation based on Mr. Flynn’s calls with Mr. Kislyak predicated on the Logan Act. See Ex. 7 at 1-2.4 See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 4 at 1-2; Ex. 5 at 9. The FBI never attempted to open a new investigation of Mr. Flynn on these grounds. Mr. Flynn’s communications with the Russian ambassador implicated no crime. This is apparent from the FBI’s rush to revive its old investigation rather than open and justify a new one, see Ex. 7 at 1-2, as well as its ongoing inability to espouse a consistent justification for its probe in conversations with DOJ leadership, See Ex. 3 at 5. In fact, Deputy Attorney General Yates thought that the FBI leadership “morphed” between describing the investigation into Mr. Flynn as a “counterintelligence” or a “criminal” investigation. Id.

But notes from Tashina Gauhar recording a January 25 meeting on the interview confirm what I had laid out: the purpose of the interview was to assess whether Flynn had a clandestine or agency relationship with Russia — that is, whether he was an Agent of Russia, which is a crime under 18 USC 951, the crime the original investigation into Flynn was predicated on and the crime the investigation continued to be predicated on, even as other potential crimes — including but not limited to the Logan Act — got added.

Importantly, Gauhar recorded the conclusion of that meeting, which adds context to another of the claims Powell has made for the last year. She described how from a CI perspective, FBI “did not think [Flynn was an] Agent, but need to verify.” From a criminal perspective, FBI was “not willing to say at this point, now.” And from a view of compromise, FBI discussed defensive briefings (though it’s not sure whether for the White House or Flynn).

In a draft timeline, someone translated this into the conclusion that FBI “did not believe General Flynn was acting as an agent of Russia,” but without the clear caveat that Gaushar recorded, that the FBI needed to verify whether that initial conclusion was true.

Viewed in context, this conclusion only reinforces the clear evidence that the FBI was investigating whether Flynn was a foreign agent (for Russia, in addition to what would become clear included Turkey), because this was the initial conclusion the FBI offered in a meeting the day after the interview reporting on their findings. But the entire record also makes it clear that FBI would continue to investigate that claim, whereupon they found more damning information against Flynn.

You may now dismiss every single claim about the Logan Act’s import in the investigation into Mike Flynn, as that was (transparently) all just gaslighting.

Furthermore, you can dismiss the claims about doctored 302s, because Gauhar’s notes directly map the final 302s, including the assertion that Flynn denied the substance of his calls both on Israel and sanctions.

In her filing misrepresenting what the notes say, Powell complains that the agents claimed Flynn first denied than admitted the number of calls; Gauhar only records the former, though it’s not even clear what the context is (that is, whether the question was about the number of calls on December 29 and 31, or the frequency of calls over the course of the Transition). In any case, that wasn’t a charged lie.

Gauhar even succinctly described, in real time, what the FBI had concluded: Flynn’s answers were false, but he appeared to believe them.

The FBI would develop, over time, additional reasons to know that Flynn had deliberately lied, most notably proof that the Transition team had discussed sanctions with him before the Kislyak call, making it clear Flynn had lied when he claimed he didn’t know about the sanctions at the time of his calls with Kislyak. Worse still, Flynn would ultimately admit that he created a cover email to hide what he had discussed in real time.

On January 25, it was reasonable to take Flynn’s demeanor and conclude he didn’t think he was lying. But not after you came across the record showing that he planned to cover up the calls as soon as they were made, even before the leaks gave reason for him to lie publicly.

Finally, Sidney Powell’s own filing totally undermines the government motion to dismiss in one other way. Powell asserts that the documents newly disclosed to her were “known to at least ten people at the highest levels” of DOJ and FBI.

These documents both corroborate information provided by others previously and provide new information known to at least ten people at the highest levels of the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Shea’s Motion to Dismiss was premised on a false claim that these facts weren’t known to the highest levels of DOJ. That insinuation has always been obviously false. But now Powell has made it clear she agrees. Which, if the DC Circuit reviews the Mandamus petition en banc (as a filing today staying the order suggests they’re likely to do), may be an important detail if Judge Emmet Sullivan ever gets to review how DOJ came to flip-flop on prison time for Flynn if they had all this information when they recommended prison time.


The Growing WikiLeaks Conspiracy [Indictment]

I want to revisit the superseding Julian Assange indictment with a view to unpacking how the conspiracy charges work in it. Alexa O’Brien and Dell Cameron — both experts on some of the acts described in the indictment — have written really useful pieces on the indictment that don’t, however, fully account for the way DOJ built the charges around two conspiracy charges, one a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information (18 USC 793(g)) and one a conspiracy to commit computer intrusions (18 USC 371). While commenters are right to argue that the Espionage Act related charges risk criminalizing journalism, the CFAA conspiracy charge — particularly as expanded in this superseding indictment — does nothing unusual in charging the conspiracy.

As background to what the government has to do to prove a conspiracy, see this Elizabeth de la Vega thread from 2018. As she notes,

  • A conspiracy needs not succeed
  • Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree
  • Conspiracies can have more than one object
  • But all co-conspirators have to agree on one object of the conspiracy
  • Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy
  • Co-conspirators don’t have to know what all the other conspirators are doing
  • Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators
  • Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator
  • Overt acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal

Conspiracy charges are a powerful way for the government to charge groups of people (and also a way to charge crimes without showing all the evidence for them). But that’s true whenever it is used, not just against Assange. So if this associative kind of guilt bothers you (often with justification), your problem is with the law and precedents, not with the treatment of Assange.

For the moment, there are two key takeaways from de la Vega’s list: to prove Assange guilty of conspiring to hack various victims, the government only needs to show that he entered into an agreement to break US law and took overt acts to advance that conspiracy.

Here’s how the government presented the elements of this very same hacking conspiracy in Jeremy Hammond’s change of plea hearing (though Assange is charged with conspiring to violate four different CFAA charges, so the conspiracy is larger than what Hammond pled guilty to).

The crime of conspiracy, which is what he’s charged with, the elements are that there existed an agreement or implicit understanding between two or more people to violate a law of the United States, that the defendant knowingly and willingly joined that agreement, and that any one member of the conspiracy committed at least one overt act in the Southern District of New York. And the object of the conspiracy here is computer hacking to obtain information in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(A).

The elements of that offense are that, without authorization, members of the conspiracy agreed to intentionally access a computer, that they obtained information  from a protected computer, and that the value of the information obtained was greater than $5,000.

With regard to venue, I believe that defendant said that, I believe he did say that information was intentionally uploaded to a server located in the Southern District of New York.

The venue for Assange is different — EDVA rather than SDNY. The venue would be uncontroversial in any case, given that the Chelsea Manning-related leaks tie to the Pentagon and so EDVA. That said, when the US government extradites someone from overseas, they get venue wherever the person first enters the US (which is why EDNY, where JFK is located, has a lot of interesting precedents tied to foreigners violating US law). The indictment against Assange notes repeatedly that Assange “will be first brought to the Eastern District of Virginia,” so they plan on obtaining venue in EDVA, with all its harsh precedents on the Espionage Act, by landing him there if and when they get him, on top of the venue they’d already get via the leaks themselves.

Thus, so long as the government can prove that Assange entered into an agreement with co-conspirators to commit illegal hacks, then the government will have plenty of evidence to prove that the conspiracy happened, not least because co-conspirators Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond, and Sabu pled guilty to them. Sigurdur Thordarsson (Siggi) is another key co-conspirator; the reason the government refers to him as “Teenager,” is to signal he was part of the conspiracy while explaining whey he wasn’t prosecuted for it (because he was a minor). The government also refers to Daniel Domscheit-Berg (WLA-2), Jake Appelbaum (WLA-3), and Sarah Harrison (WLA-4) in a way that treats them as co-conspirators; it’s unclear whether that numbering system starts at 2 because it treats Assange as WLA-1 or whether there’s some unnamed conspirator who will be added in the future.

The indictment alleges Assange entered into an agreement to commit CFAA in a number of ways:

  • Agreeing to help Manning crack a password on the same day Manning said the Gitmo detainee briefs were “all [she] really have got left” and Assange said, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience” (¶¶18-21)
  • Asking Siggi to hack Iceland (¶36)
  • Asking David House to decrypt a file stolen from Iceland before going on to hire him (¶44)
  • Agreeing that Siggi should meet with Gnosis, which included getting Laurelei and Kayla to agree to hack for WikiLeaks (¶¶48-49)
  • Publicly stating a link with LulzSec in June 2011 (¶62)
  • Validating Siggi’s outreach to Topiary, in which Siggi said, “WikiLeaks cannot publicly be taking down websites, but we might give a suggestion of something or something similar, if that’s acceptable to LulzSec” (¶¶63-64)
  • Cooperating with Jeremy Hammond, as reflected in Hammond’s statements to Sabu (¶70)
  • Providing Hammond a script to search the emails hacked from Stratfor (¶72)
  • Responding to a Sabu request for targets first by saying they could not do that “for the obvious legal reasons” but then suggesting a target (¶73)
  • Providing Sabu a script for searching emails (¶75)

The reason (one reason, anyway, I suspect there are a bunch more) that — as Cameron notes — the indictment doesn’t describe the earlier parts of the Stratfor hack is because they don’t matter at all to proving Assange was part of the conspiracy. The indictment provides evidence Assange agreed to enter into a conspiracy with LulzSec long before the hack and further evidence he remained actively involved as Hammond tried to exploit it.

Cameron’s piece is inconsistent, as well, when it attributes the hack to Hyrriiya but then claims that Sabu initiated the crime. Neither ultimately matters in the Assange conspiracy indictment, because — to the extent that Hyrriiya’s letter taking credit can be believed without corroboration — he laid out the basis for a conspiracy in the letter in any case, and he, too, would be a member of the conspiracy and that letter, if it could be validated, would be admissible.

As de la Vega described, once someone joins a conspiracy, that person becomes implicated in the acts of all the others in the conspiracy, whether or not one knows about those other acts. Assange agreed to enter into a conspiracy before and after the actual hack of Stratfor, so he’s on the hook for it.

Finally, given that the contemporaneous statements of all the co-conspirators would be admissible, concerns about the credibility of Siggi or any lack of cooperation from Manning and Hammond are less serious than they might otherwise be.

That principle of conspiracies — that once someone joins the conspiracy he is on the hook for everything else — is why (as O’Brien notes), the Espionage abetting charges all take place after the March 8 agreement to help hack a password. Before that, DOJ might be thinking, Assange might be playing a typical role of a publisher, publishing classified information provided to him, but after that, they seem to be arguing, he was part of the crime. An awful lot hangs on that agreement to crack a password (remember, a conspiracy doesn’t need to be successful to be charged), which is the main thing that distinguishes the Manning-related charges from journalism. But the government may be planning to tie WikiLeaks’ targeting of Iceland — which was not charged as a Manning-related crime but which involves conspiring to hack materials related to materials that Manning provided — with the Espionage charges.

As I’ve repeatedly argued, though, this dual structure — one conspiracy to hack, and another to steal National Defense Information from the US — sets up the Vault 7 leak perfectly, the charge that for some reason WikiLeaks associates want no tie to. The government will show, among other things, that even after WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 files, WikiLeaks published Joshua Schulte’s blogs, in which he attempted to provide details of the skills he deployed at CIA. The government will likewise show that Schulte, in attempting, from prison, to convince others to leak, fits into their theory that WikiLeaks was recruiting others to leak.

That’s one of many reasons why I expect Vault 7 to eventually be added to this indictment. Thus far, the government has obtained two indictments just as statutes of limitation might toll on the overt acts (the first being the agreement to crack a password, and the second to be the recruiting efforts five years ago). So I wouldn’t be surprised if, in April of next year, the government supersedes this again to include Vault 7, including some of the same charges (such as exposing the identities of covert officers) we already see in this indictment.

The real question, however, is if the government includes Russians as co-conspirators in a future superseding indictment. There were Russians in the chat rooms behind the Stratfor hack. And the existing conspiracy to hack charge is the same charge (though with slightly different counts) as two of the charges against the GRU officers who hacked the Democrats in 2016. Plus, there are repeated references in the Schulte trial about outreach to Russia (these references are quite ambiguous, but I hope to explain why that might be in the nearish future); I had heard about that outreach before it was publicly disclosed.

When the government made its last ditch attempt to get Hammond to testify before the grand jury, according to Hammond’s account, they twice claimed to Hammond that Assange was a Russian spy. And when he asked why Assange wasn’t charged in the 2016 hack-and-leak, the prosecutor appears to have suggested the extradition would take a long time, which might mean they could add those charges in a superseding indictment.

If the government eventually argues that Russians were part of this conspiracy from very early on, then the charges will look very different if and when Assange gets extradited.

Copyright © 2018 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2016-presidential-election/page/2/