The Non-Visible Networks behind the More Visible Networks of Fascism

There’s an RT posted at the Guccifer 2.0 Twitter account in 2016 that has always puzzled me: a stupid meme, posted on Labor Day, about what unemployed people do on Labor Day.

Virtually all Guccifer 2.0’s other public Tweets served to sustain a cover story about the hack-and-leak operation and its tie to WikiLeaks, disseminate stolen documents, or network with those who might be used to disseminate stolen documents. This RT does not do that — at least not obviously — and it deviates from the BernieBro culture adopted by the Guccifer persona up to that point. It suggests either there was an unseen tie to far right meme culture, or that someone had access to this account who was part of it.

The RT is especially interesting given that three different GRU indictments (DNC, Anti-Doping, Macron Leaks) adopt different approaches in discussing the dissemination of the documents stolen by GRU, which I’ve addressed here and here. In 2016, the Guccifer persona cultivated ties with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and released select files (on Black Lives Matter) to then-Breitbart, future-Sputnik writer Lee Stranahan. By the time of the Macron Leaks in May 2017, Jack Posobiec played an even more central, overt role in the leak part of the operation, via still unidentified Latvian account. But this meme suggests some other tie in real time.

Keep this RT in mind as you read the following discussion, about the extent to which much of what we visibly see in the Republican slide to fascism is just the public manifestation of a far more instrumental and far uglier infrastructure that exists in chat rooms.

Some of what we know about the 2016 state of that infrastructure comes from exhibits introduced at the Douglass Mackey trial. On the very same day Guccifer 2.0 RTed that meme, for example, the trolls in the Madman Twitter DM list were pushing memes to push a narrative, one picked up from Trump, that Hillary Clinton was unwell and might not make the election — a narrative about a Democrat replicated, with far greater success, in this election.

White nationalists plotted in private about how to get minorities to turn on Democrats. They explicitly focused on ways to affect turnout in ways that could swing the election.

As I’ve written here and here, the far right efforts to set a narrative that would (and did) help Trump win the presidency started over a year before the election. Both Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer — the webmaster for Daily Stormer — and Microchip worked hard in early months to professionalize the effort. They planned campaigns that would bridge from reddit, 4Chan, and The Donald onto Twitter, including efforts that started at Daily Stormer. This effort was transnational: the trolls reached back to efforts made during Brexit and looked ahead to EU elections, and planned to build a bigger bot army. They complained about Twitter’s shoddy efforts to moderate and plotted ways to defeat any moderation.

The effort by far right trolls to hijack the virality of Twitter to get mainstream journalists to echo their far right themes had at least two direct ties to Trump’s campaign. Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, whom Microchip alerted when the FBI first came calling, claimed to be part of a Trump campaign Slack, to which he invited others.

More importantly, Don Jr has confessed he was part of this network (curiously, when the Mackey took the stand at trial, he claimed to know nothing about the identities of his unindicted co-conspirators. As I have noted, there’s a troll in that channel who used the moniker P0TUSTrump and whom other trolls called Donald that was pushing hashtags pushing stolen documents on the same days Don Jr was doing so on his eponymous Twitter account. From there, trolls like Microchip made them go viral. If P0TUSTrump is Don Jr, then, it shows that he was a key channel between WikiLeaks through this far right channel to make things go viral.

Between 2016 and 2020, people associated with this far right group orchestrated PizzaGate, may have had a hand in QAnon, and helped disseminated documents stolen by GRU from Emmanuel Macron. PizzaGate and QAnon served as powerful recruiting narratives. I’ve shown how Doug Jensen, the QAnoner who chased Officer Eugene Goodman up the Senate stairs on January 6, went from a lifelong union Democrat to hating Hillary to throwing away his life in QAnon to attacking the Capitol via that process of radicalization. Early prosecutions, at least, suggested that QAnon was actually more successful at getting bodies where they could obstruct the vote certification than the militias.

But even as that cult narrative of QAnon was radicalizing people from all walks of life, the same network was replicating networks of more overtly partisan, paramilitary mobilization.

I suppose I or someone else should draw a network map of this.

But we know that Roger Stone had a Signal list call Friends of Stone, which included among its 47 members Stewart Rhodes, Enrique Tarrio, Ali Alexander, and Owen Shroyer, along with anti-vaxxers, Bundyists, Mike Flynn associate Ivan Raiklin, and longtime aides Jacobs Engels and Tyler Ziolkowski (who, along with Tarrio, were both implicated in the meme targeting Amy Berman Jackson during Stone’s prosecution).

Both Rhodes and Tarrio ran parallel sets of communication leading up to the insurrection — more public, accessible communications, and more select lists (on Signal in Rhodes’ case and on Telegram in Tarrio’s) that planned for the operation. Unlike Twitter, Signal and Telegram would only be accessible to law enforcement after exploiting the phones on which they were used, and only then if the comms hadn’t been successfully deleted.

Tarrio would also be networked into the Latinos for Trump group, along with Bianca Gracia and Oath Keeper Kellye SoRelle, with whom he visited the White House in December 2020 and both of whom were present for the parking garage meeting Tarrio had with Rhodes on January 5, 2021. One court filing submitted in advance of the trial of the cop who allegedly tipped off Tarrio to his arrest shows Tarrio also has a “Christian Nationalist” group that officer Shane Lamond joined on November 9, 2020. Another filing shows how Lamond warned Tarrio about investigations into Harry’s Bar and the Proud Boys organizing on Parler.

Ali Alexander and Brandon Straka provided the January 6 Committee (entirely unreliable) descriptions of the all-important Stop the Steal threads on which Alexander organized — first — early mob scenes at state capitols and then events around January 6 itself (though unlike Alexander, who fully attributed getting the brand from Roger Stone, Straka disclaimed knowledge of all that). Straka did acknowledge that Paul Gosar had ties to the Stop the Steal effort. The sentencing memorandum for Alan Hostetter, a key player in the SoCal anti-vax community with ties to 3Percenters, actually contacted Alexander on December 16, 2020, to suggest Stop the Steal organize a rally for January 6, though it’s not clear via what channel he knew him. While the leaders of the Stop the Steal effort were on Twitter until a late move to Signal (again, if we can believe unreliable J6C testimony), it spawned a massive viral effort on other platforms, including Facebook.

In addition to being the big draw for the donation from Publix heir Julie Fancelli, Alex Jones has his own media infrastructure. Organizers claim some percentage — a fifth or a third — of those at the Capitol were there for Jones, not Trump. Like Alexander, he also mobilized the earlier mobs in the states.

It’s not entire clear how Baked Alaska continues to fit into this network. But in order to avoid felony charges (as Straka had earlier), he reportedly agreed to share the kind of network information that would further elucidate these networks.

And that network of lists and threads maps onto this one, the list of people who, in 2020, were the most effective at spreading disinformation on Twitter.

We just don’t know via what chat rooms and threads they map, who else is in that map, and what international ties they have.

What kind of chat rooms did Don Jr inhabit, four years after he networked with Douglass Mackey, that helped him direct a broader network to make false claims go viral? Today, as Ric Grenell — Trump’s troll turned Ambassador to Germany turned Acting Director of National Intelligence — returns from supporting a coup attempt in Guatemala, what international networks was he mobilizing?

I’m always most fascinated by the role of Mike Roman on this list, punching well above his modest Twitter following of 29,610 people. Roman, a charged co-conspirator in Trump’s Georgia indictment, is claiming Fani Willis has a conflict arising from a personal relationship with one of the prosecutors she brought in for the case. He’s often thought of someone who ferried documents from fake electors around, but before that he was a kind of internal intelligence service for Trump targeting Republicans, and before that, the Kochs. Like Grenell, he has branched out to push far right policies internationally, in Canada. None of those activities, however, explain what chat rooms he was in that allowed him to help spread the Big Lie in 2020. They must exist, and yet they’re not yet visible.

Mike Roman is one of the Trump associates whose phone DOJ seized before Jack Smith was appointed. To the extent he didn’t delete them, that should disclose his networks to prosecutors.

As I noted above, increasingly, these networks have moved to platforms, especially Telegram and Signal, that are harder to investigate, particularly without advance notice. It took years (starting before January 6, with the seizure of Tarrio’s phone, which nevertheless took a full year to exploit) before the government had collected at least three sets of the Friends of Stone list.

That’s true even though some network effect — whether including anyone named here or not — likely explains a swatting campaign that has targeted:

While not all targets are seen as adversaries of Trump, or even Democrats, his top adversaries have been targeted. The swatting campaign is, at a minimum, terrorism (and could be part of a campaign to do real violence).

And there’s a non-zero chance that behind it is the same kind of non-visible infrastructure the far right has been professionalizing for a decade.

My effort to describe how Trump trained the Republican party to hate rule of law will describe the visible aspects of that effort. But behind it all, these non-visible networks form an integral part of the effort.

Update: Took out reference to Pepe.

This post is part of a Ball of Thread I’m putting together before I attempt to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law. See this post for an explanation of my Ball of Thread.

Scott Perry Explains How Trump, Fox, and Russian Propaganda Made Him Hate Rule of Law

This exchange, between Scott Perry and Dan Goldman, is one of the best depictions of why and how Republicans have come to hate rule of law.

Jared Moskowitz had just called out Republicans for their utter lack of curiosity about Jared Kushner’s $2 billion windfall for monetizing his role overseeing Middle East policy.

Then Scott Perry — who earlier in the hearing had been brutally criticized for his role in a coup attempt — decided to explain what “galls, or troubles us on this side of the aisle.” He claimed that witnesses in the first impeachment lied in their depositions. “Many of us — I was one of them — sat in a SCIF … for an impeachment [calls out Dan Goldman] … knew there were lies being told to compel the impeachment. … abject straight up lies.”

Then Perry turned to the Russian investigation.

Not to mention the fact that, for years, the other side of the aisle pursued the then-duly elected President of the United States based on pure hyperbole about some Russian hoax that has now turned into, you know, it’s the same old thing from the 1930s in Germany and the 1940s. If you tell a lie enough times it becomes the truth. We sat and watched you dismantle the country and the presidency and any agenda that the American people had voted for based on that.

Then he complained that Hillary Clinton sat for a deposition instead of a grand jury appearance.

Look. Secretary Clinton got away with it. She was allowed to be deposed, not under oath, and her deposition on a Saturday, on a holiday weekend. She got to do that. That galls the rest of America who says, when the FBI or the local magistrate or some law enforcement agency comes knocking on my door and says you’re going to appear, you’ve been served.

In response, Dan Goldman spoke about what distinguished the first Trump impeachment from this GOP inquiry: Fact witnesses. But before he got very far into that, Scott Perry had walked out.

It’s tempting to laugh at this, at the hypocrisy of Perry, who blew off a subpoena himself, and then invoked privileges to withhold evidence of an insurrection from prosecutors, to complain that Hillary also got accommodations from prosecutors. It’s even more tempting to laugh that Perry is so stupid he doesn’t realize neither Trump nor his failson — the latter, a private citizen — did even that in the Mueller investigation; he doesn’t realize that Donald Trump couldn’t even manage what Hillary did. It’s even more tempting to guffaw that Perry has forgotten Hillary’s famous 11-hour Congressional appearance during the Benghazi stunt.

It’s tempting to mock Scott Perry for his belief that the Russian investigation was a hoax, even after five top Trump associates were found, via guilty verdict or judge’s ruling, to have lied to cover up Trump’s ties to Russia. Trump’s campaign manager, coffee boy, his National Security Advisor, his personal lawyer, and his rat-fucker — all of them lied to cover up Trump’s ties to Russia in the year before becoming President.

And I have no idea what he’s referring to when he says witnesses in the first Trump impeachment lied. Perhaps it’s a dispute about Alex Vindman’s testimony that Trump’s White House took out a mention of Burisma in Trump’s perfect phone call with Volodymyr Zelenkyy (though ultimately, even Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams testified the word Burisma had been uttered). Perhaps he’s adopting the renewed Republican belief — based off what Mykola Zlochevsky told an FBI informant around the time that Bill Barr’s DOJ shut down a corruption investigation into him, that he had bribed Joe Biden — that Biden got Viktor Shokin fired to help Burisma, not to reverse corruption.

It’s tempting to dismiss this rank hypocrisy from one of the key figures in an attack on democracy in 2021.

But it’s important to recognize that Scott Perry believes this. Scott Perry actually believes that Hillary Clinton got better treatment than Donald Trump got. Scott Perry actually believes that the Russian investigation revealed no egregious wrong-doing, including strong evidence that both Trump’s campaign manager and his rat-fucker helped the attack by Russian spies, whether wittingly or not. Scott Perry actually believes that Trump didn’t violate Congress’ appropriation authority to try to extort campaign assistance from a foreign leader.

Sure, those beliefs are ridiculous, and easily factually disproven. But as Perry demonstrated by walking out as Goldman spoke, he’s not going to stick around to be exposed to any facts.

One reason Scott Perry believes all these ridiculous things are because he lives in a right wing media bubble, and the default position for those who live in that media bubble is to believe these false claims. If you consume Fox News, you would have no way of learning that these are all false beliefs. None.

Another reason that Scott Perry believes these things is because he was easily, gleefully manipulated by one of the best con mans of all time, Donald Trump. Scott Perry is so gullible he even believed some of the most whack election conspiracy claims in 2020.

He’s an easy mark, Scott Perry is.

And finally, Scott Perry believes these things because he has become susceptible to Russian propaganda, propaganda designed to make easy marks like Scott Perry hate rule of law, prefer his party, “his guy,” over the Constitution.

Scott Perry attacked his country and he did so — he told us at length on Wednesday — because he came to believe a series of false claims, believe them so deeply that rule of law galls him.

It’s tempting to laugh that someone can be so easily manipulated as Scott Perry has been. But Scott Perry succinctly explained why he attacked the country, why he helped Donald Trump attack democracy. And until we come to grips with the series of things that came to make Scott Perry believe absurd things, we will never convince Trump’s believers to adhere to rule of law.

Update: In a recent post on Elise Stefanik, in which I argued that she adopts Trump’s fascism out of naked ambition, I included a rubric I’ve increasingly used to try to understand why Republicans adopt Trump’s fascism. Because folks in comments are discussing similar ideas, I thought I’d include it.

  1. Cowards afraid of his retaliation
  2. People conned by his grift
  3. Utilitarians who believe he’s the only way GOP wins
  4. Adherents of fascism
  5. Christian nationalists

This post argues that Perry believes a bunch of obviously false things, which would put him into the con category. But he has definitely parroted ideologies that would put him into one of the latter two categories.

Refusing to Take Yes for an Answer: Remember the Pardons in the Desk Drawer

One notable aspect of yesterday’s hearing on Trump’s absolute immunity claims is the fact that James Pearce — and through him, Jack Smith — refused to take yes for an answer.

They refused to accept what Judge Florence Pan, at least, seemed to suggest would be the quickest way to get to trial.

Throughout the hearing, Judges Michelle Childs and Pan seemed persuaded by American Oversight’s amicus argument that Midland Asphalt prohibits this appeal. While Childs never seemed to fully concede that point, after Pearce responded to a Childs’ argument by stating that because this involves a President, the immunity analysis is different, Pan asked Pearce why he wasn’t adopting the American Oversight argument. Pearce responded, first, by emphasizing the goal of “doing justice” and so getting the law right, and only secondarily getting to trial quickly.

Judge Pan: Why aren’t you taking the position that we should dismiss this appeal because it’s interlocutory? Doesn’t that advance your interests?

Pearce: Our interests are two-fold. One, as in United States versus Nixon, it is in doing justice. And the second is to move promptly to satisfy the public’s and the defendant’s interest in a prompt resolution of this trial. But doing justice means getting the law right, and our view is even if a dismissal on jurisdiction might move this case faster — actually, empirically, that’s hard to know — we just don’t think that’s the right analysis here, on either immunity or the second claim.

So Pan set about figuring out how they could use the hypothetical statutory jurisdiction to reach the merits even if she and, especially, Childs still had doubts they were allowed to do that.

Pan: If we have discretion to reach the merits versus just dismissing this case under Midland Asphalt, which I think is a strong precedent which which suggests that this appeal is interlocutory and does not fall under the collateral order doctrine, how should we determine how to exercise that jurisdiction, about whether or not we should reach the merits?

Pearce: So I think in the American Hospitals decision, the 2020 decision, the court said, the formulation was something like, we’re doubtful as to our jurisdiction but nonetheless, invoking the line of cases you’ve just described, went on to decide the merits. We would urge the court to do the same here, even if it entertains doubts with respect to the jurisdiction. Yes, hypothetical statutory jurisdiction is available under the law of the circuit. The court should use that to reach the merits.

At least some of the panelists on this worthwhile Lawfare Podcast about the hearing took that “doing justice” line to be fluff, and took the “empirical” questions about whether rejecting this appeal on jurisdictional grounds would really speed things up.

But I’m not so sure.

Granted, later in the hearing, Pearce provided some explanation for why a rejection on jurisdictional grounds might not help move things along. It came as part of a discussion of two questions: Childs’ question about whether the panel should rule on the broad question of presidential immunity, as Judge Chutkan had, or whether — as Judge Henderson at least entertained — they should assess whether a president was immune from prosecution for the crimes, as charged in the indictment, as most Motions to Dismiss are treated. In the same discussion, Henderson asked twice about how to apply the Blassingame decision in this context. Both these questions are about whether Trump can be prosecuted only because of the nature of the charges in the indictment, or whether as an ex-President he can be charged, regardless of what the charges are.

But as the discussion proceeded, Pearce voiced some of the concerns about what a more narrow ruling would do to the prosecution.

Childs: Are we to look at the broader question that was dealt with by Judge Chutkan with respect to Presidential immunity, no, absolutely immunity for no criminal prosecution of official acts, versus looking at this indictment and accepting as true the allegations that are brought there. Or both?

James Pearce: So we have a strong preference that the court adopts the former view, and looks at the question — in the way, as the District Court did, which is to say, based on questions of separation of powers, of constitutional text, history, precedent, Is there, in fact, immunity for a former President?

We think the answer to that is no, for of course all the reasons we put in the brief and I’m happy to sort of address here. Candidly, I think if the court gets to that second question, there are some hard questions about the nature of official acts. And frankly, as I think Judge Pan’s hypothetical described, I mean, what kind of world are we living in if, as I understood my friend on the other side to say here, a President orders his Seal team to assassinate his political rival and resigns, for example, before an impeachment? Not a criminal act.

President sells a pardon. Resigns, or is not impeached? Not a crime.

I think that is [an] extraordinarily frightening future, and that is the kind — if we’re talking about a balancing and a weighing of the interests — I think that should weigh extraordinarily heavily in the court’s consideration.

Henderson: Let me ask you about the effect of Blassingame. How does it either bind us. How is it persuasive to us.

Pearce: So, I think it, formally, has no application at all, because of course very early on in the opinion, the court says, “we’re not dealing with any questions of immunity in the criminal context.” I tend to agree with my friend on the other side that in many respects, it does reinforce the nature of the Fitzgerald standard outer perimeter standard. It says, you don’t look at intent, or you don’t look at purpose. Context plays a more important role than — often — the content of communications. I think the significant change of course is the acknowledgement of looking at a President — whether that President is acting in his or her role as office-seeker or office-holder.

But, again, to go back to my response to Judge Childs’ question, although that would change the nature of whether — it may change the nature of whether certain things are or are not official acts in the indictment, we just think that’s entirely the wrong paradigm to use. We think that under Fitzgerald — in fact, that would be inconsistent with Fitzgerald’s reasoning — and it’s also just irreconcilable with the nature of how criminal law works. I mean, to say that we’re not going to take account of motive or intent? There are plenty of acts that, everyday, I mean, for example, if I were going to encourage someone not to testify at trial because I wanted to go on a hike with that person, it’s not a crime. If I were to encourage someone not to go on a hike because their testimony a trial — sorry, encourage them to skip their trial testimony because their testimony was going to incriminate me?

It’s the same underlying act.

And now, when you map that onto the criminal–onto the Presidential context, you come up with some of the frightening hypotheticals where as long as something is plausibly official, even if it involves assassinating a prominent critic, or a business rival? That would seem to then, be exempt, potentially, from criminal prosecution, we certainly wouldn’t concede that. If that’s the world we need to live in. I think we would advance plenty of arguments below, but we really — but those arguments themselves would create satellite litigation that are an additional reason not to go down this route.

Childs: But looking, and thinking about your answer about potentially not looking at, your argument about motive and intent, when there is a criminal prosecution, that mens rea and that intent is part of the actual statute charged criminally.

Pearce: Yes. Precisely. And that’s why it wouldn’t make sense to use this non-motive — as I understand how Fitzgerald outer perimeter standard might work, it could say, “those types of official acts, official conduct, that is something from which a President is immune.” You don’t ever get to that second question of, well, did that person act with mens rea, can we prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, because at least under a theory where it’s not available at trial, then there’s no way to reach that conduct.

Childs: When we’re looking at this indictment, though — back to Judge Henderon’s question about the use of Blassingame. Some of the acts are the same or similar, and there was direct discussion of that in that opinion as determining whether it was office-seeker versus office-holder. So do we use Blassingame, at least for that?

Pearce: So if this court decides the case the way the district court does — did, pardon me — then I don’t think Blassingame has any role to play at all. Because there is no question of whether, you know, is this act official, or were these sets of allegations official? The question is, based on a Fitzgerald analysis and history, precedent, et cetera, is there any quantum of immunity for a former President. We think the answer to that question is no. There’s no reason, as the district court also found, to turn to the indictment and consider the outer perimeter, this civil outer perimeter standard.

Henderson: How about if you don’t decide it? On the Blassingame. [inaudible]

Pearce: If you don’t, [inaudible, cross talk] so there are a lot of different ways this court could not decide it that way. I think, to pick up on my response to Judge Childs, we certainly stand by our view in the brief that some substantial number of allegations would fall outside of an outer perimeter, and that, I think, is enough to affirm, I think either party is encouraging the court at that point to send the case back to the District Court. I think that would then create a series of challenging questions that I mentioned earlier: What are the evidentiary theories under which that evidence could potentially come in? And, but it would be our strong view and we would want, if the court followed that route, which we would urge the court not to, to make clear that immunity is an on-off switch. Right? This is the immunity appeal. If the court says, we affirm, we send it back, there’s no immunity. Then other things become evidentiary questions, or questions of jury instructions, which any appeal is then an appeal from a final judgment, if any final judgment.

Childs: And the immunity defense is never lost?

Pearce: Um, well, I don’t think it’s immunity at that point. I think this court, in what I’ve just described, will have said there is no immunity. There may be some other types of challenges, as evidence comes in at trial, but again, I think that would lead to this extraordinarily complicated litigation that is, not the topline reason, but certainly among the reasons why the court should not go down that path. [emphasis added]

As Childs and Pearce laid out, one problem with defining immunity in the criminal context with regards to official (in Blassingame, actions taken as an office-holder) and non-official (in Blassingame, actions taken as an office-seeker) acts is that criminal law, including the laws charged here, pivot on mens rea. Trump can’t be convicted of obstructing the vote certification, for example (assuming SCOTUS sustains its adoption with January 6), unless prosecutors can prove he had “corrupt purpose” in doing so, however that ends up being defined.

But also, if you’re going to split presidential immunity based on a categorization about official and unofficial acts, the evidentiary disputes become impossible. It would draw out that phase of litigation, probably requiring several hearings, but also would create expansive basis for appeal.

One argument John Sauer made yesterday, for example, is that because in Knight, the Second Circuit held that Trump’s Twitter account was a public forum on which he could not conduct viewpoint discrimination, it made his Tweets official acts. If the DC Circuit rules on an official/unofficial split, Trump would undoubtedly argue that under Knight none of his Tweets could come in as evidence, at least three of which are among the most critical pieces of evidence in the case.

But, as Pearce said, the difficulties such a split would create was not the topline concern here. They want DC Circuit to reach the merits, and they want DC Circuit to rule broadly, as Chutkan did.

I don’t think that “doing justice” comment is fluff. Immediately after Pearce presented his not-topline concern about how a categorical ruling would affect the prosecution, he and Pan returned to the theme of the hearing: The Seal Team Six assassination.

And also, selling pardons.

Immediately after that exchange — which was close to the end of Pearce’s time — Pan came back to what, as this really accessible George Conway column lays out, she had stripped things down to be the key issue.

Pan: Since President Trump concedes that a President can be criminally prosecuted under some circumstances — he says that is true only if he is first impeached and convicted by Congress, do you agree that this appeal largely boils down to whether he’s correct in his interpretation of the Impeachment Judgment Clause? That is, if he’s correct, that the Impeachment Judgment Clause includes this impeachment-first rule, then he wins, and if he’s wrong, if we think the Impeachment Judgement Clause does not contain an impeachment-first rule, then he loses?

Pearce: So I think that’s basically right. I mean, the defendant’s theory over the course of this litigation has evolved a bit, and I think, now, before this court, I understand the argument to be the principle submission to be as you’ve just described — what we call in our brief the conditioned precedent argument. That there is only liability — criminal liability for a former president — if that President has been impeached and convicted.

And that is wrong for textual, structural, historical reasons, and a host of practical ones, one of which I’ll start with again, to just amplify the point. It would mean that if a former President engages in assassination, selling pardons, these kinds of things, and then isn’t impeached and convicted? There is no accountability for that, for that individual. And that is frightening. [my emphasis]

While Pearce addressed Sauer’s historical argument briefly, this was close to the end of Pearce’s argument, and really the key point of the hearing. Pan had (as Conway laid out) stripped the issues down to whether Trump’s view on impeachment is correct, and then Pan had demonstrated, using hypotheticals, how impossibly absurd that outcome would be.

James Pearce and Florence Pan don’t want to give Joe Biden an easy way to legally assassinate Trump, only Trump is asking for that.

Pan’s laser focus on those hypotheticals provided Pearce opportunity to repeatedly do what he did far more subtly starting in October. As I argued then, the five hypotheticals that Pearce floated in October were all near analogues for Trump’s known actions.

  • Trading pardons to dissuade criminal associates from testifying against someone
  • Ordering the National Guard to murder his critics
  • Ordering an FBI agent to plant evidence on his political enemy
  • Taking a bribe in exchange for a family member getting a lucrative contract
  • Selling nuclear secrets to America’s adversaries

Todd Blanche (one of the lawyers representing Trump in both the stolen election and stolen documents cases, and so someone who is intimately familiar what kind of paperwork DOJ discovered, along with hundreds of classified documents, that Trump took with him when he left office) responded to this line of argument by calling the hypotheticals treason and suggesting they might be private acts, but arguing, as Sauer did yesterday that there would still be a remedy: impeachment.

10 Ignoring actual lessons from history, the Government provides a list of lurid hypotheticals that have never happened—including treason and murder. Response, at 20 (speculating that a President might “murder his most prominent critics” or “sell[] nuclear secrets to a foreign adversary”). Some or all of these hypotheticals, depending on the facts, would likely involve purely private conduct, rendering them irrelevant here. See id. Yet even if such examples somehow were within the outer perimeter of a President’s duties, it is overwhelmingly likely the House impeach and the Senate would convict, and the offending President would then be subject to “Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment” by criminal prosecution. U.S. CONST. art. I, § 3, cl. 7. That is the process the Constitution provides, and the prosecution may not ignore it here. [my emphasis]

As Pan had laid out, though, one part of Trump’s argument for immunity is actually bigger than that, arguing for immunity regardless. Indeed, that’s how Pearce presented this very same argument in his appellate response. He took Trump’s claims of absolute immunity at his word, describing that these scenarios — but not the pardon one — would be flat-out legal.

The implications of the defendant’s broad immunity theory are sobering. In his view, a court should treat a President’s criminal conduct as immune from prosecution as long as it takes the form of correspondence with a state official about a matter in which there is a federal interest, a meeting with a member of the Executive Branch, or a statement on a matter of public concern. That approach would grant immunity from criminal prosecution to a President who accepts a bribe in exchange for directing a lucrative government contract to the payer; a President who instructs the FBI Director to plant incriminating evidence on a political enemy; a President who orders the National Guard to murder his most prominent critics; or a President who sells nuclear secrets to a foreign adversary, because in each of these scenarios, the President could assert that he was simply executing the laws; or communicating with the Department of Justice; or discharging his powers as Commander-in-Chief; or engaging in foreign diplomacy. Under the defendant’s framework, the Nation would have no recourse to deter a President from inciting his supporters during a State of the Union address to kill opposing lawmakers—thereby hamstringing any impeachment proceeding—to ensure that he remains in office unlawfully. See Blassingame v. Trump, 87 F.4th 1, 21 (D.C. Cir. 2023) (President’s delivery of the State of the Union address is an official act). Such a result would severely undermine the compelling public interest in the rule of law and criminal accountability. [my emphasis]

An analogue for Pan’s (more vivid) Seal Team Six hypothetical was in there: the National Guard order. And an analogue for her military secrets was in there: selling nuclear secrets.

But pardons aren’t in that brief. The only discussion of pardons in it pertained to the Nixon pardon.

Indeed, it was Sauer who briefed pardons, not Pearce. In an attempt to “prove” that presidents had committed crimes that had not been charged before, he cited the Marc Rich pardon — or rather an Andy McCarthy paywalled column about it — to imply that Bill Clinton committed a crime that had not been prosecuted.

The government argues that the absence of any prior criminal prosecution of a President in American history merely “reflects … the fact that most presidents have done nothing criminal.” Resp.Br.37 (citation omitted). This claim is untenable. App.Br.17 (citing examples of Presidents accused of crimes in official acts, from John Quincy Adams to Barack Obama). American history contains many such examples—President Reagan’s alleged involvement in Iran-Contra, President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, President Bush’s claims of “weapons of mass destruction,” President Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox, etc. 5 None of the above conduct was prosecuted. “Perhaps the most telling indication of a severe constitutional problem” with this prosecution “is a lack of historical precedent to support it.” Seila Law LLC v. CFPB, 140 S. Ct. 2183, 2201 (2020) (cleaned up).

5 Tim Arango, Ex-Prosecutor’s Book Accuses Bush of Murder, N.Y. TIMES (July 7, 2008), https://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/07/business/media/07bugliosi.html; Andrew C. McCarthy, The Wages of Prosecuting Presidents for their Official Acts, NAT’L REVIEW (Dec. 9, 2023), https://www.nationalreview.com/2023/12/the-wagesof-prosecuting-presidents-over-their-official-acts/; The Editors, Iran-Contra Scandal Begins with Shredded Documents, HISTORY (Nov. 13, 2009), at https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/oliver-north-starts-feeding-documentsinto-the-shredding-machine.

With regards to Iran-Contra, Pearce noted that “in Chapter 27” of Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s report, “assumes that President Reagan is subject to prosecution and says, but we didn’t get there evidentiarily.”

In response to Judge Pan’s hypotheticals yesterday, he returned to noted authority, Andy McCarthy’s opinion, about Marc Rich, then said again that pardons had come up historically and not been charged. Pan raised it as a hypothetical, but Sauer wanted to make good and sure that pardons could not be charged because, he said, Andy McCarthy says so.

But then both times Pearce mocked the implications of Sauer’s logic, he did raise selling pardons, even though he left it off his response brief. And he added the scenario of corruptly getting someone not to testify against oneself by inviting them on a hike!

Incidentally, according to Anna Bower, Walt Nauta — the aide who has refused to explain what he knows about what happened to the stolen classified documents that got brought to Bedminster in 2022 — along with his attorney Stan Woodward (and of course Boris Epshteyn), were at yesterday’s hearing.

But the reason — one reason — why I find the way the way pardons have gotten floated repeatedly in this claim of absolute immunity is that, along with hundreds of documents, including nuclear secrets, found at Mar-a-Lago on August 8, 2022, DOJ found documentation about clemency granted by Donald Trump, probably including that of:

Oh, and also, some kind of clemency document — one that has some tie to Emmanuel Macron and therefore possibly a pardon beyond the one we know about — for Roger Stone, the guy who was convicted after refusing to disclose the substance of conversations he had with Donald Trump about advance knowledge of the Russian hack-and-leak. The same guy who, in 2020, was allegedly plotting assassinations with his former NYPD buddy Sal Greco.

It’s certainly possible that James Pearce — and so Jack Smith — want to have a clear decision that presidents can be prosecuted for their official acts simply out of getting the law right.

But both sides in this argument seem to understand there’s something more going on.

The First Time Trump “Colluded” with Russia Was To Help Bibi Netanyahu

The first time Donald Trump worked via back channel with Russia to undermine Barack Obama’s foreign policy, it was to help Bibi Netanyahu dodge repercussions for illegal settlements in the West Bank.

And yet that effort — and the way that Jared Kushner mobilized a group of countries to undermine the sitting President’s foreign policy decision — has gone unmentioned in recent months, even as Bibi blows off Joe Biden’s requests for moderation in advance of the November election, even as Vladimir Putin holds overt meetings with Hamas, even as Kushner — effectively an employee of Mohammed bin Salman at this point — meets with Qatar and tours Kfar Aza.

The Mueller Report actually soft-pedaled what happened in December 2016.

On December 21, 2016, Egypt submitted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling on Israel to cease settlement activities in Palestinian territory.1208 The Security Council, which includes Russia, was scheduled to vote on the resolution the following day.1209 There was speculation in the media that the Obama Administration would not oppose the resolution.1210

According to Flynn, the Transition Team regarded the vote as a significant issue and wanted to support Israel by opposing the resolution.1211 On December 22, 2016, multiple members of the Transition Team, as well as President-Elect Trump, communicated with foreign government officials to determine their views on the resolution and to rally support to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.1212 Kushner led the effort for the Transition Team; Flynn was responsible for the Russian government.1213 Minutes after an early morning phone call with Kushner on December 22, Flynn called Kislyak.1214 According to Flynn, he informed Kislyak about the vote and the Transition Team’s opposition to the resolution, and requested that Russia vote against or delay the resolution.1215 Later that day, President-Elect Trump spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about the vote.1216 Ultimately, Egypt postponed the vote.1217

On December 23, 2016, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela resubmitted the resolution.1218 Throughout the day, members of the Transition Team continued to talk with foreign leaders about the resolution, with Flynn continuing to lead the outreach with the Russian government through Kislyak.1219 When Flynn again spoke with Kislyak, Kislyak informed Flynn that if the resolution came to a vote, Russia would not vote against it.1220 The resolution later passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining.1221 [my emphasis]

1208 Karen DeYoung, How the U.S. Came to Abstain on a U.N. Resolution Condemning Israeli Settlements, Washington Post (Dec. 28, 2016).

1209 Karen DeYoung, How the U.S. Came to Abstain on a U.N. Resolution Condemning Israeli Settlements, Washington Post (Dec. 28, 2016).

1210 Michelle Nichols & Lesley Wroughton, U.S. Intended to Allow Passage of U.N. Draft Critical of Israel, Reuters (Dec. 21, 2016).

1211 Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 12; Flynn 11/17/17 302, at 2.

1212 Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 12-14; Flynn 11/17/17 302, at 2.

1213 Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 12-14; Flynn 11/17/17 302, at 2; Kushner 11/1/17 302, at 3; 12/22/16 Email, Kushner to Flynn; 12/22/16 Email, McFarland to et al.

1214 Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 13; Call Records of Michael T. Flynn

1215 Statement of Offense ¶ 3(d), United States v. Michael T. Flynn, No. 1:17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017), Doc. 4 (“Flynn Statement of Offense”); Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 12-13.

1216 Flynn 11/17/17 302, at 2; Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 13.

1217 U.N. Vote on Israeli Settlement Postponed, “Potentially Indefinitely”, Reuters (Dec. 22, 2016).

1218 Somini Sengupta & Rick Gladstone, Rebuffing Israel, U.S. Allows Censure Over Settlements, New York Times (Dec. 23, 2016).

1219 Flynn 11/16/17 302, at 12-14; Kushner 11/1/17 302, at 3; 12/23/16 Email, Flynn to Kushner et al.

1220 Flynn Statement of Offense ¶ 3(g).

1221 Israel’s Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms, 7853rd Meeting (PM), United Nations Security Council (Dec. 23, 2016).

This account separates the description of the December 1, 2016 meeting including Sergey Kislyak and Flynn at which Jared suggested setting up a back channel via secure Russian channels, as well as the December 13, 2016 meeting with sanctioned banker Sergey Gorkov at Tom Barrack’s office, a meeting Jared claimed was diplomatic but Gorkov claimed pertained to business.

The Report doesn’t reveal which Senator’s office alerted Flynn to the risk that Obama would allow Israel be sanctioned.

The Report doesn’t describe all the calls that took place on December 22. In a warrant affidavit targeting Flynn, multiple calls are described as taking place on Flynn’s phone — suggesting the possibility that Trump used Flynn’s phone to call al-Sisi. McFarland later noted that Flynn, “worked it all day with trump from Mara lago.”

The Report did not mention that Jared asked toand did — release a false report claiming that Egypt had initiated this effort.

Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact patter and better for this to be out there.

Because it remained under investigation, the Report doesn’t mention the suspected $10 million payment an Egyptian bank had given Trump in September 2016, important background to Trump’s call to al-Sisi.

It doesn’t describe that KT McFarland had likened the effort to undercut Obama’s foreign policy to Richard Nixon’s effort to forestall peace in Vietnam and Ronald Reagan’s effort to delay the release of hostages from Iran.

Based on her study of prior presidential transitions, McFarland believed the sorts of things Flynn did were not unusual. She cited Richard Nixon’s involvement in Vietnam War peace talks and Ronald Reagan’s purported dealings with Iran to free American hostages during an incoming administration. Most incoming administrations did similar things. No “red light” or “alarm bells” went off in her head when she heard what Flynn was doing. The President-elect made his support for Israel very clear during the campaign and contrasted his position with President Obama, who he believed had not treated Israel fairly.

And Mueller — likely working under the normally safe assumption that the call intercepts with Sergey Kislyak would never be released — left out several damning details revealed when John Ratcliffe did release the transcripts in May 2020.

First, Mueller implies that Egypt, by itself, decided to delay the vote, but on their second call, Sergey Kislyak told Flynn that they would push for a delay too.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia. Secondly, uh, uh, here we are pointing [PH], uh, taking into account, uh, entirely your, uh, arguments.

Flynn: Yes.

Kislyak: To raise a proposal or an idea of continued consultations in New York. We will do it.

Flynn: Okay.

Kislyak: Uh, to give time for working out something, uh, that would be, would be, uh, less controversial.

Flynn: Okay. That. .. That’s good news.

[snip]

Kislyak: But, uh, responding to your, uh, telephone call and our conversations, we will try to help, uh, to~ uh~ postpone the vote and to allow for consultations.

Flynn: Okay. That’s .. that’s good.

In Kislyak’s call with Flynn (in which he had to cut off the blubbering General to make his carefully scripted points), he made it clear that he had discussed the topic with “the highest level in Russia,” which can only mean Putin.

When Flynn called Kislyak back on December 29, the Russian Ambassador told him that they were not going to support Obama’s other framework for the Middle East at the time.

KISLYAK: Oh, General, thank you very much for calling me back. I was trying to reach you for quite a while because I have several, uh, issues to raise with you —

FLYNN: Uh huh.

KISLYAK: – rather to inform you. If you’ll allow me, one by one.

FLYNN: Please.

KISLYAK: One, uh, since you were interested in the issue of the Middle East and you called me on that issue

FLYNN: Uh huh.

KISLYAK: We wanted to convey to you and through you to the President Elect that we had uh significant reservations about the idea of adopting now the principles for the Middle East, uh, that our American colleagues are pushing for. So we are not going to support it to — in the quartet, or in the Security Council. And we have conveyed to our American colleagues. So in the spirit of full transparency I was asked to inform you as well.

FLYNN: Okay.

KfSLYAK: So it’s not something that we – Russia – are going to support.

FLYNN: Okay that’s good.

Kislyak tied that, implicitly, to a demand to reverse Obama’s sanctions; he used Flynn’s discussion about cooperating on counterterrorism to note that GRU and FSB would need to be part of the cooperation.

FLYNN: We have to eliminate the common threat.

KISLYAK: We agree. One fo the problems among the measures that have been announced today is that now FSB and GRU are sanctions, are sanctioned, and I ask myself, uh, does it mean that the United States isn’t willing to work on terrorist threats?

FLYNN: Yeah, yeah.

KISLYAK: Because that’s the people who are exactly, uh, fighting the terrorists.

Most importantly, a point utterly inconsistent with the conclusion in the Mueller Report that it was never clear if Trump knew of this back channel, on their December 31 call, Flynn told Kislyak that “boss is aware” of an invite that Kislyak had extended.

Remember that a pro-Trump FBI agent was pushing the conclusion that all this was a big misunderstanding, a conclusion that largely held the day.

And that’s just what is included. Ratcliffe didn’t release the December 22 transcript, the one that started this discussion.

Flynn was in Mar-a-Lago on December 22 — and the December 29 transcript suggests that Flynn may have been on speaker phone (he made the call from his hotel phone, and so could have had his own phone connected back to MAL). So it’s not impossible that Trump was actually involved in the calls placed on December 22. As bolded above, in the Report, Mueller didn’t describe what he knew from the transcripts; instead, he attributed his version of the December 22 calls to Flynn.

At a time when Trump was advised — at least partly — by adults, he didn’t hesitate to intervene back channel to undercut his Democratic predecessor in order to help Bibi Netanyahu. Per KT McFarland, it was all in the tradition of Nixon and Reagan intervening in foreign policy to help win an election.

This post is part of a Ball of Thread I’m putting together before I attempt to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law. See this post for an explanation of my Ball of Thread.

Ball of Thread: Trump’s Narcissism Makes Him Easy to Trigger

This post is part of a Ball of Thread I’m putting together before I attempt to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law. See this post for an explanation of my Ball of Thread.

Discussions of Trump’s cultivation by Russia (and other authoritarian countries) always founder on discussions of his formal recruitment.

There is abundant evidence that Russia, like other countries, did at least attempt to recruit Trump. Craig Unger has written two good books on the subject.

But many attempts to describe why and whether that happened, particularly in the hands of pundits, are easily discredited. That’s true, in significant part, because people imagine recruitment is an either/or thing: that people come fully recruited spies one day and from that point forward they are puppets of their handlers. The reality, as I understand it, is a gradual process of creating the preconditions via which people can be persuaded to act in ways that benefit another country.

On top of being an all around annoyance, for example, Jonathan Chait’s consideration of whether Trump had long been recruited was sloppy and made the entire Russian investigation easier to discredit.

And the thing is, such efforts are unnecessary.

All you need to explain Trump’s actions (and all I’ll rely on for this series) is Trump’s narcissism. Trump is such an epic narcissist, and narcissists’ reactiveness and paranoia and pathological need to feed their own ego are so predictable, that the only explanation you need for how Trump could be manipulated is that narcissism. So long as you could reliably trigger Trump’s narcissism, you could fairly reliably trigger a predictable narcissistic response to a given trigger.

Trump’s habit of releasing highly classified documents is a great example. Trump almost blew the Vault 7 investigation by revealing details that made it clear FBI considered Josh Schulte as the prime suspect to Tucker Carlson the day of his first search; Trump did so to try to blame Obama for the compromise. Trump burned an Israeli counterterrorism program by giving it to Russia, which he did to show off. Trump burned the satellite imagery targeting Iran, which he did so to dickwag Iran. Trump attempted to release all the backup materials to the Russian investigation because some dopey advisor convinced him that it would help to disprove his critics. Trump shared details of DOD’s plans to attack Iran with Mark Meadows’ ghost writer because he thought it would help him discredit Mark Milley. A master spy might have asked Trump to release all this intelligence for him. Maybe one day we’ll learn the documents that went missing from Mar-a-Lago were specifically requested. But you don’t even need that master spy request (and if there were a master spy, he might not ask for documents in the form of a request): because all it takes to get Trump to release highly classified documents is to suggest that in some way doing so will harm his detractors.

The Trump Tower Moscow deal — or really, any deal — is another example. It is not important whether the Trump Tower Moscow deal pitched to Michael Cohen (or any of the several other Russian Trump Tower deals) to be real, or plausible. Russia could, with great certainty, dangle offers for free money and the biggest tower in Russia, and Trump was bound to act irresponsibly, as he did.

There certainly could be more: but there doesn’t have to be. All you need to manipulate Donald Trump is to trigger his narcissism.

Ball of Thread: Introduction

In my post on Elise Stefanik’s decline into fascism, I described that I’ve been meaning to lay out how Trump used his legal cases to train Republicans to hate rule of law, which has been a key part of how the Republican party has come to embrace fascism. I’ve been dreading and therefore putting off writing that, in large part because it’ll involve rehashing the Russian investigation, and the counter-propaganda to the Russian investigation has been so effective that even addressing the reality of the Russian investigation at this point is always a real chore.

One other reason I’ve been putting it off is because there are a lot of things I want to have in the background — what I’ll call a Ball of Thread. These are not so much related points. Rather, they’re just things that I want to have in the background so I can pull on one or another thread without distracting from the main argument.

So I’m going to first try to write those up fairly quickly, so they’re out there, my Ball of Thread. Some of these posts will be more observation than detailed collection of facts. Others will not show my proof to the extent I normally do. Some will update things I’ve already said. Still others would not normally merit their own post, but I want to have it out there, as part of my Ball of Thread.

Plus, I’m going to try to do this while continuing to cover two Trump prosecutions, multiple Hunter Biden dick pic sniffing campaigns, 1,200 January 6 cases, and some other things that will come up. You know? My day job. All while learning to walk again, after foot surgery.

Happy New Year!

As of now, I anticipate that my Ball of Thread will include:

These will hopefully be quick; they may be sloppy; they likely will not be in this order. But hopefully I can spin my Ball of Thread then move onto the larger task.

Update: Updated the “flipping focus” bullet since I decided it was a misnomer.

On the image: The featured image for this post comes from the Library of Congress’ Farm Services Administration set. 

Rebuttals to Eric Trump’s Talking Points about His Daddy’s Corruption

Yesterday, the Oversight Democrats released a report showing the fraction of foreign payments Donald Trump accepted from foreign governments while President that they were able to document before James Comer helped Trump cover it all up. The topline result is that while President, Trump was known to have received over $7 million from foreign entities, of which $5.5 came from China.

As I’ll show below, that’s a very partial number, but by itself it says that Trump made as much from foreign governments while President as the entirety of the funds that James Comer has spent a year lying about with respect to private citizen Hunter Biden over a longer period of time.

It’s not Hunter Biden who has been on the foreign take. It’s Donald Trump. And while this report mentions that Trump is basically an employee of Mohammed bin Salman through his LIV Golf relationship, that funding, and a number of other foreign payments Trump and his Oval Office employee family members received is not reflected in the topline of this report.

Thanks to some of my best trolls, I’ve had a flood of stupid MAGAts repeating the talking points fed them to make them comfortable with the fact that Donny was effectively for sale to a slew of foreign governments. So I wanted to talk about how silly those excuses for selling access are.

Start with Eric Trump’s supposed rebuttal, a claim that Trump Organization donated their foreign profits to the US Treasury.

First, Trump Org only did this for a subset of their properties.

[T]he policy substantially limited the scope of “profits” it covered to those (1) “generated from foreign governments’ patronage from wholly-owned Properties,” and (2) “generated from management fees earned from managed hotels and condominium-hotels attributed to foreign governments’ patronage.”71 By excluding non-wholly owned and non-hotel Trump properties, the policy omitted potentially significant sums from the already truncated category of emoluments that it covered. For example, this report identifies more than $1 million in foreign emoluments paid to Trump World Tower in New York which fall outside the scope of The Trump Organization’s policy.

But even ignoring Trump Organization’s famously dodgy accounting, it’s not enough to donate profits. That’s because the revenues permitted Trump to have a DC-based influence peddling shop.

Revenues paid to Trump International DC (which most trolls appear not to understand Trump leased the Old Post Office only from 2016 until 2022; it was not a pre-existing hotel that just happened to become inconvenient when Trump became President) effectively provided Trump a way to have foreign governments pay lease to the US government for a private influence peddling location for him during his Administration, which he then sold for a tidy profit.

A review of financial documents regarding the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., provided by the General Services Administration (GSA) revealed that while President Trump claimed on required financial disclosures that he made $156 million in employment income from the hotel between 2016 and 2020, the hotel in fact lost more than $73 million during this period.74 Reflecting the serious financial problems at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., annual financial statements obtained by the Committee also reveal that one of President Trump’s holding companies, DJT Holdings LLC, injected tens of millions of dollars into the Trump International Hotel as loans, the vast majority of which were never repaid and were later converted to capital contributions. The hotel’s significant losses were due in part to the hotel’s fixed costs, including general and administrative expenses, sales and marketing expenses, and property operations and maintenance.75 Given that the hotel was operating at a significant loss, foreign government revenue would have helped to cover a portion of these fixed costs, even if alleged “profits” were donated.

Plus, there’s no transparency to how Trump Org decided something was a foreign payment. The report notes that Mazars had no accounting for what qualified as foreign payments — meaning, however Trump Org made this calculation, they didn’t share it with their accountants.

Mazars also indicated that it had no specific accounting of foreign government spending at Trump-owned properties. This is stunning in light of former President Trump’s pledge that Trump hotel properties would donate “all profits from foreign government payments” to the U.S. Treasury and the policy announced by The Trump Organization purportedly intended to effectuate that pledge.

And for the things that Oversight did get paperwork for, there were clear discrepancies. The Mazars documentation doesn’t cover all the known foreign spending at Trump International, for example.

Last Congress, based on records provided by GSA, former Committee Chairwoman Maloney estimated that total foreign government payments to just the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., from 2017 through 2019 would have been $3,787,485.117 This estimate was based on the hotel’s representations that, for these three years, it had identified $355,687 in foreign government profits (which it had remitted to DJT Holdings LLC, another Trump-owned entity; which DJT Holdings LLC had remitted to the Trump Corporation; and which the Trump Corporation in turn had “donated” to the U.S. Treasury on behalf of The Trump Organization).118 However, only a fraction of this foreign government spending at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., is reflected in the documents provided by Mazars and discussed in this report.

Of particular concern, Mazars didn’t turn over guest ledgers for Trump’s Inauguration, a period when the hotel was wildly inflating prices and hosting any number of foreign visitors.

Also, James Comer intervened in Mazars’ compliance before they had provided “any documents relating to Russia, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil.”

There are other big gaps. For example, Mazars didn’t turn over any documentation of other properties that hosted significant numbers of foreign visitors.

Mazars also did not provide any ledgers before the subpoena was terminated for properties which reportedly received a large number of foreign government visitors, including: Trump Turnberry Hotel and Resort in Scotland; Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Illinois; and Trump International Hotel in New York, New York.

And Mazars didn’t provide any documentation pertaining to 80% of Trump’s properties.

The Committee did not receive from Mazars any documents regarding at least 80% of Donald Trump’s business entities. For many other entities, Mazars produced only a single document.

Finally there were two specific expenses that Mazars claimed to have no record of. Mazars claimed to have no do documentation of ICBC’s nearly two-million dollar a year lease in Trump Tower.

Counsel for Mazars informed the Committee that following a comprehensive search of its records, the firm identified no responsive documents in its database relating to the “Industrial and Commercial Bank of China” or “ICBC.” The absence of these records from Mazars’s files raises troubling concerns about The Trump Organization’s candor with its accounting firm.179

As noted above, this was included in the report, based on other publicly available sources.

Mazars similarly claimed to have no documentation of a $20 million loan from Daewoo.

Spreadsheets prepared by Jeffrey McConney, The Trump Organization’s former controller, reflect that former President Trump’s “LOANS PAYABLE” included a loan for $19,760,000 owed to “L/P Daewoo” as of June 30, 2015.113 This loan remained outstanding until Daewoo was “bought out of its position on July 5, 2017.”114 Critically, as Forbes reported: “Although the debt appeared on The Trump Organization’s internal paperwork, it did not show up on Trump’s public financial disclosure reports, documents he was required to submit to federal officials while running for president and after taking office.”115 Yet Mazars informed the Committee’s Democratic staff it had no records to produce regarding the Daewoo loan.

I believe this payment was not included in this report. But its an instance where Trump’s disclosures covered up a key financial tie.

Finally, there are a number of things that this report did not include in its top line conclusion. Along with the LIV partnership mentioned above, Jared Kushner’s financial entanglements, and Ivanka’s trademarks, this report didn’t include Huwaei or CEFC in its emoluments accounting.

Finally, the documents provided by Mazars also record expenditures at Trump-owned properties by two Chinese companies that are closely aligned with the P.R.C.: Huawei; and Hongkong Huaxin Petroleum Unlimited, a subsidiary of CEFC China Energy (CEFC). While the government of the P.R.C. has been linked with both Huawei and CEFC, given the opacity and convoluted ownership and financing arrangements of these companies, this report does not classify their expenditures among the emoluments paid by the P.R.C. to Trump-owned businesses. However, the receipt by former President Trump’s businesses of expenditures from these entities while Mr. Trump was in office created conflicts of interest.

The Huawei payment (for a conference in Las Vegas) was minor, but CEFC maintained a property in Trump Tower for the entirety of Trump’s term.

In 2012, Hong Kong Huaxin Petroleum Company Limited—a wholly owned subsidiary of CEFC—bought an apartment in Trump World Tower for $5.25 million dollars.235 Hong Kong Huaxin Petroleum Company Limited maintained this property throughout the Trump presidency.236 Records provided to the Committee by Mazars and court documents indicate that Hong Kong Huaxin Petroleum Limited paid a standard common charge of $3,177.20 every month in 2018.237 CEFC listed its apartment at Trump World Tower for sale on October 20, 2020.238 On January 26, 2022, CEFC sold the unit to an anonymous LLC named “845UN 78B LLC” for $4.625 million.239

Assuming that the base charges did not change during the four years of the Trump presidency, Hong Kong Huaxin Petroleum Limited paid Trump World Tower at least $152,505 during the four years of the Trump presidency.240

James Comer has falsely claimed that because Joe Biden’s brother and son paid back personal loans to the then ex-VP with money they were paid by CEFC-associated businesses, it amounts to being paid by CEFC directly (again, during a period when Biden was a private citizen). But meanwhile, by halting Mazars’ compliance with a Congressional subpoena before it was done, Comer may, himself, be covering up details of Trump’s own payments from CEFC-related funds.

“Whether Others … Said Untrue Things on the Internet Does Not Exonerate” Trump

Obstinately adhering to the pre-existing pre-trial schedule even though Trump’s immunity appeal has stayed all deadlines, Jack Smith just submitted a motion in limine asking to exclude a bunch of things from any eventual January 6 trial.

Altogether, the filing asks Judge Chutkan to exclude the following:

  1. Claims of selective and vindictive prosecution that will be settled when Chutkan rules on Trump’s motion to dismiss on the same topic
  2. Claims of investigative misconduct based on Carol Leonnig’s misleading article about the investigation
  3. Topics — such as claims that the First Amendment covers his alleged fraud — that are matters of law
  4. The consequences Trump might face, including electoral, if the jury convicts
  5. Claims that law enforcement did not adequately prepare for January 6
  6. Claims that January 6 was a FedSurrection incited by undercover feds
  7. Claims that the disinformation of foreigners, and not Trump’s own lies, mobilized January 6
  8. Discussions of revisions to the Electoral College Act passed to prevent Trump from criming (in this particular way) again
  9. Opinions from others about Trump’s state of mind
  10. Attempts to elicit witnesses to invoke privileges — such as attorney-client or Speech and Debate

The most important of these is what I’ve listed as number 9: an attempt to get witnesses to expound about what Trump’s state of mind was.

The defendant’s state of mind during the charged conspiracies will be a key issue at trial. Both parties will introduce circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s state of mind, and the defendant may choose to testify himself. But the defendant should be precluded from eliciting speculative testimony from any witnesses other than himself about the defendant’s state of mind or beliefs about the election or his claims of election fraud. In the particular circumstances here, such testimony—which would go to an ultimate issue for the jury’s consideration—would be speculative, unhelpful to the jury, and unfairly prejudicial, and should thus be excluded.

Eliciting such speculation from witnesses about what the defendant knew or believed would violate Rule 602’s precept that all non-expert witnesses must testify based only on “personal knowledge,” and Rule 701’s requirement that non-expert witnesses can provide opinion testimony only if it is based on personal knowledge and is helpful to the jury.

[snip]

Allowing witnesses to share their personal views about the defendant’s state of mind likely will only distract the jury from its duty to assess and weigh the facts, as opposed to the speculation of fact witnesses. Because a witness’s personal opinion about the defendant’s beliefs or knowledge has little or no probative value, any weight the jury gives to it is likely to be undue and based on improper considerations.

This is the kind of testimony that Trump-friendly witnesses — even Mike Pence!! — have often offered in the press. And Trump could call a long list of people who’d be happy to claim that Trump believed and still believes that the election was stolen.

But as the filing notes, that would be inadmissible testimony for several reasons. It would also be a ploy to help Trump avoid taking the stand himself.

That said, there are several quips in the filing, which was submitted by Molly Gaston (who has had a role in earlier Trump-related prosecutions), that are more salient observations about Trump.

For example, in one place, the government argues that Trump should not be able to argue (as he has in pretrial motions) that it’s not his fault if his rubes fell for his lies.

A bank robber cannot defend himself by blaming the bank’s security guard for failing to stop him. A fraud defendant cannot claim to the jury that his victims should have known better than to fall for his scheme. And the defendant cannot argue that law enforcement should have prevented the violence he caused and obstruction he intended.

Relatedly, the government notes that it doesn’t matter if (as he has also argued) foreign actors also spread disinformation.

Next, any argument that foreign actors—rather than the defendant, and his ceaseless, knowingly false claims of election fraud—were responsible for inflaming his followers and causing the Capitol riot is nothing more than an infirm third-party guilt defense.

[snip]

[I]n any event, whether others—be they civilians or foreign actors—said untrue things on the internet does not exonerate the defendant for the lies he told to his followers or the criminal steps he took to illegally retain power.

In 2016, Russians got too much credit for the lies they told on the Internet, absolving the more effective right wing trolls (some of whom themselves had ties to Russia) with which Trump had direct ties. In advance of his trial, Trump has tried to repeat that error, blaming Russia (and China) for his far more systematic and powerful lies.

While Judge Chutkan won’t have opportunity to rule on this motion for months yet, Molly Gaston is trying to lay a marker that, this time, Trump will be credited for the power and effect of his own lies.

In Lev Parnas Investigation, SDNY Decided that Ivana Trump Is Not Political

I really should be writing a responsible article describing, in detail, the three phases of the Lev Parnas investigation. But instead, I need to obsess about Ivana Trump.

There were, roughly speaking, three phases of the investigation into Parnas:

January through August 2019: Campaign Finance crimes

The first — which I laid out here — focused primarily on the campaign finance crimes. SDNY obtained two warrants in this period:

  • January 18, 2019, 19 MJ 1729: For Yahoo and Google content
  • May 16, 2019, 19 MJ 4784: For iCloud content

When DOJ did a search of Parnas and Fruman’s residences the day they were arrested, the only crime listed on the warrants were the campaign finance crimes; they did this to hide the scope of the ongoing investigation. SDNY only unsealed the Fruman warrant, not the Parnas one (nor warrants in other districts targeting their co-defendants).

August through December 2019: Foreign Agent suspicions

After the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, SDNY investigated whether all Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman’s influence-peddling served the interests of foreign principals — chiefly Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, but also other Ukrainians and maybe some Russians too.

SDNY obtained at least 8 warrants in this period (there are at least two, 19 MJ 7594 and 19 MJ 9830, which must be related — perhaps targeting their Russian backer, Andrey Muraviev? — but which SDNY withheld). And SDNY also withheld the November 2019 warrants targeting Rudy Giuliani.

  • August 14, 2019, 19 MJ 7593: Yahoo and Google content since January, with expanded focus
  • August 14, 2019, 19 MJ 7595: Existing Yahoo and Google content, with expanded focus
  • October 17, 2019, 19 MJ 7595: Actual authorization of the warrant approved in August
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9829: iCloud content since May
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9831: Devices from Dulles
  • October 21, 2019, 19 MJ 9832: Existing iCloud content for expanded focus
  • November 4, 2019: Warrants targeting Rudy
  • December 10, 2019, 19 MJ 11500: Stuff seized from residences for foreign agent focus
  • December 10, 2019, 19 MJ 11501: Instagram

As I’ll return to, it looks like Bill Barr intervened to halt SDNY’s expanding investigation even earlier than previously disclosed, in December 2019 rather than January 2020.

The only additional warrants SDNY served after December 10, 2019 in the foreign agent investigation was a warrant obtained in March 2020 because Fruman had not synced his iCloud with his phone until after SDNY obtained the May 2019 warrants, meaning some of the texts and chats he had already sent were not in the earlier warrant return.

  • March 20, 2020, 20 MJ 3074: iCloud content obtained with October 21, 2019 to cover earlier periods

Effectively, SDNY discovered that they had obtained content in October 2019 pertaining to events in 2018 and earlier in 2019 that hadn’t been available when they first got Fruman’s iCloud in May 2019, so they asked to use the October 2019 warrant for the earlier periods.

This may mean that Fruman, like Parnas, deleted some of his content on his phones.

December 2019 through March 2020: Fraud Guarantee fraud

Starting on December 12, 2019 — two days after the foreign agent investigation halted — SDNY spent several months trying to figure out what Fraud Guarantee actually was.

  • December 12, 2019, 19 MJ 11651: Google for longer period and expanded focus
  • January 21, 2020, 20 MJ 740: Existing email content for expanded focus
  • February 28, 2020, 20 MJ 2240: Google from creation date for Fraud Guarantee
  • February 28, 2020, 20 MJ 2241: Parnas iCloud for expanded focus

SDNY originally had believed, in 2018, that Fraud Guarantee was a recent creation, one serving as another means to launder political donations. But they had to keep digging further and further back, to 2012, to try to figure out what Fraud Guarantee really was.

The Instagram pivot

I’m still triple checking my own work, but SDNY appears not to have complied with SDNY’s order to release all this backup. In addition to withholding the warrant for the search of Lev Parnas’ residence on October 9, 2019 (though that’s likely to be nearly indistinguishable from the one used to search Fruman’s residence, which was obtained in the same docket), I don’t think they released the affidavit for the December 10, 2019 search of the devices seized at the residences for foreign agent crimes.

That’s the one that should have the most expansive description of the foreign agent investigation (and, I suspect, of the financing behind the effort to fire Marie Yovanovitch and obtain dirt on Hunter Biden, which I’ll return to). I suspect the affidavit is closer in content to the one used to seize Rudy’s email in November 2019 than what was unsealed the other day.

The Instagram warrant obtained that same day necessarily used a different affidavit, partly because it included all the crimes under investigation (broadly, the campaign finance crimes and the suspected foreign agent crimes), but also because it was looking for a different kind of information: mostly, but not entirely, photos that Parnas had posted.

But there’s something really weird about it, which has made me obsess about Ivana Trump.

The warrant suggests SDNY learned about the Instagram account from this WSJ video.

As you’ll note, WSJ describes that the oldest thing on the account was an April 2015 photo of a dog, then this photo, showing Parnas and co-defendant David Correia with Ivana Trump, at what he billed as a “Fraud Guarantee pow wow.”

As WSJ notes, the next things in Parnas’ Instagram account are photos showing him getting access to Trump from very early on in Trump’s campaign, in 2015 (as I’ll return to, Parnas’ 2016 access peddling is something that the warrants focus on more than the coverage of Parnas ever did). Then there’s a break in the Instagram account until summer 2018, when it returns to its focus on political access. The Instagram shows Parnas’ work with Rudy to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden and the 2016 election. It ends (again, per WSJ), with their trip days after the Perfect Phone Call to Madrid, to continue that effort.

SDNY obtained this warrant just two days before the investigation shifted focus to Fraud Guarantee. When they obtained the warrant, they undoubtedly had all the questions they spent the next two months pursuing.

Yet SDNY limited the temporal scope of this warrant to postings starting on October 1, 2015 — effectively excluding only the photo of the dog and some event with Ivana trump six months before Parnas started insinuating himself into Trump’s political orbit, one pertaining to Fraud Guarantee.

To the extent materials are dated, this warrant is limited to materials created between October 1, 2015, which is the month in which it appears Parnas first posted a photo related to a political event, to the present.

Did Ivana have some pre-existing relationship with Lev Parnas, one that dates to months before Lev started serially insinuating himself into Donald Trump’s orbit?

And if she did, why didn’t SDNY want that photo?

Don Jr Confesses He and Douglass Mackey Were “Put on Lists” Together

In an interview of far right troll and now convicted felon Douglass Mackey yesterday, Don Jr confessed that he and Mackey had frequented the same lists back in the day.

DONALD TRUMP JR. (HOST): And with that, guys, joining us now is Doug Mackey. Again, if you guys were in the meme wars, like, early adapters like me back in 2015 and ’16, you’ll know him as Ricky Vaughn. But Doug, for the people watching — and it’s great to have you. You know, I know — we’ve probably gone back and forth on Twitter back in the old days and DMs, and I’m sure we were put on lists way back then. But for the people watching, can you explain what happened here? I mean, you literally ran a Twitter account named Ricky Vaughn. And you got charged for posting a meme. What’s going on?

Later in the interview, Trump Jr. told Mackey that his Ricky Vaughn account was “awesome” and “may be my favorite Twitter account of all time” and “maybe the best of all time.” [my emphasis]

I find that particularly interesting, because there’s a troll in the troll rooms released as part of Mackey’s trial named P0TUS Trump. I’ve always wondered whether it could be Don Jr.

I had that suspicion not just because of the name, but also because P0TUS Trump always seemed even more focused on the WikiLeaks releases than the others. The others were busy conducting far more sophisticated campaigns.

On October 12, 2016, as everyone else was excited that Mackey had been added back to their group after being banned, P0TUS Trump was instead pushing #PodestaEmails3.

An hour later, in a conversation with Mackey co-conspirator MicroChip, he pushed #PodestaEmails4.

The next day, as MicroChip and unindicted co-conspirator HalleyBorderCol were casting doubt on claims that Trump was a rapist, P0TUS Trump again was focused on WikiLeaks.

That monomaniacal focus on WikiLeaks while everyone else was focused on other things came in the days after — according to the SSCI Report — WikiLeaks had DMed Don Jr at his normal Twitter account (for which Mueller obtained.a warrant in October 2017) directly to get him to push hashtags, including pertaining to PodestaEmails4.

(U) WikiLeaks also sought to coordinate its distribution of stolen documents with the Campaign. After Trump proclaimed at an October 10 rally, “I love WikiLeaks” and then posted about it on Twitter,1730 WikiLeaks resumed messaging with Trump Jr. On October 12, it said: “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us … there’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”1731 Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged System!”1732 Two days later, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link himself: “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: wlsearch.tk.”1733 Trump Jr. admitted that this may have been in response to the request from WikiLeaks, but also suggested that it could have been part of a general practice of retweeting the WikiLeaks releases when they came out. 1734 [my emphasis]

WikiLeaks remained focused on cultivating Don Jr for at least another year, trying to get him rather than Roger Stone to take the lead on a pardon for Julian Assange, and when that didn’t happen, posting ominous warnings about dropping the source code Josh Schulte had stolen under the Vault 8 label.

And that’s just what’s public.

Imagine if the former President’s failson had a private identity, one playing right along with two men who have been convicted of conspiring to harm the civil rights of Hillary Clinton supporters, the same crime, 18 USC 241, for which Trump now stands accused.

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