Rudy the Dripper: The Vicious Cycle of Dead-Ender Propagandists Feeding Bullshit to Tribalist Republicans

Not long after the former US Attorney of the Southern District of New York headlined a press conference where he and other lawyers presented insane conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump had been robbed of his victory, CNN reported that the FBI continues to investigate Rudy Giuliani for his ties to Russian Agents.

Complicating matters is that Giuliani’s post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.

In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.

But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign’s chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.

Meanwhile, the same propagandists who’ve helped Trump survive in recent years — on the left and the right — are claiming that because Democrats and others backed the investigation of Russian efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 (an investigation that attempted to understand why Trump fired Jim Comey, the person most Democrats chiefly blame for Hillary’s loss), it is precedent for Trump’s efforts to disclaim Joe Biden’s resounding win.

This exemplifies the vicious cycle we’ve been on since since August 2016, when Donald Trump authorized his rat-fucker to take desperate measures to find bullshit stories to tell to try to win an election.

After WikiLeaks released the first set of files Russia had stolen as part of its plot to help Trump get elected in July 2016 and someone — it’s not clear who — released damning information about Paul Manafort’s corrupt ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, Donald Trump doubled down. Rat-fucker Roger Stone, desperate to save Trump’s campaign and maybe even the job of his lifetime buddy, made a Faustian bargain for advance access to fairly innocuous John Podesta emails that Stone believed would provide the smoking gun for a conspiracy his allies had been chasing since March. The Faustian deal, by itself, exposed Stone as a co-conspirator in a hack-and-leak operation led by a hostile foreign agency. But the deal also brought ongoing exposure: at least as soon as he was elected, Trump’s rat-fucker (and maybe his eldest son!) started pursuing an effort to pay off Julian Assange with a pardon or some other way out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby implicating Trump in a quid pro quo. After Trump assumed the Presidency, his own exposure through Stone gave him reason to want to shut down the investigation, even the investigation into the hack-and-leak itself. As a result, from very early in his presidency, Trump had obstructed justice to hide the quid pro quo and conspiracy his rat-fucker (and possibly he and his son) had joined to help him get there.

Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, acting on advice that Paul Manafort gave after returning from a meeting with one of Oleg Deripaska’s key deputies, the Republicans defended their President by attacking the credibility of the Steele dossier — one that Deripaska himself likely ensured was filled with disinformation — as a stand-in for the larger investigation itself. Deripaska even has apparent sway at one of the outlets that most relentlessly pursued that synecdoche, the dossier as the Russian investigation. Former hawks on Russia, like Trey Gowdy, were lured into fiercely defending Trump even in the face of overwhelming proof of his compromise by the able gate-keeping of Kash Patel and the discovery of how the use of informants can implicate members of your own tribe, as it did with Carter Page. By the time Billy Barr deceived the nation with his roll-out of a very damning Mueller Report, almost every single Republican member of Congress was susceptible to ignoring damning evidence that their President treated both the pursuit of the presidency and his office as a means for self-benefit, no matter what that did to US interests.

Key to the process of co-opting virtually all Republican members of Congress was the process of villainizing the people who had tried to keep the country safe from Russian compromise, starting with Peter Strzok but also including Andy McCabe. That process easily exploited the same apparatus of Congress’ “oversight” powers — and the same susceptibility to heated rants over logic — that had been used to turn a tragic incident in Libya into a multi-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. Also key to that process were certain propagandists on Fox News, including three of the lawyers that stood with Rudy yesterday: DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell.

The day after Mueller closed up shop, those same propagandists joined with Rudy to pursue a revenge plot for the investigation — they started pursuing a way to frame Joe Biden in anticipation of the 2020 election. Most Democrats didn’t believe that Hillary lost because of Russia, but Trump and his conspiratorially-minded advisors believed they did. And so Rudy, relying on advice Manafort offered from prison, used the same networks of influence to try to frame Biden in a Ukrainian plot that, at the same time, might provide an alternative explanation for the Russian crimes Trump was personally implicated in.

Once again, Trump got personally involved, extorting the Ukrainian president over a series of months, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s abuse of Congress’ power of the purse in an effort to extort a campaign benefit from a foreign country merited impeachment. There’s also no doubt that it served to heighten the tribalism — and ranting illogic — of Republican members of Congress.

Things snowballed further.

That tribalism, by itself, might have gotten Trump re-elected. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. Instead, the President prepared an attack on the integrity of the vote by dissuading his own supporters from using mail-in ballots, setting up the Equal Protection hoaxes that Rudy has pushed in recent days. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claims that, by itself, the effort to discredit mail-in voting cost Trump the state of Georgia. But partisan attacks are what got Trump where he is, and partisan attacks are what he knows.

Trump also doubled down on what had gotten him elected in 2016: overblown attacks sourced to stolen emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, in this case rolled out by one guy at legal risk for his ties to Fraud Guarantee, and another under indictment for exploiting the tribalism of Trump’s supporters to commit fraud. According to CNN, the FBI believes these emails may have been packaged up by the Russian agents that have been buying access through Rudy and DiGenova and Toensing.

Trump’s DOJ, working with Sidney Powell, even tried to invent an attack on Joe Biden by altering exhibits in a court proceeding. In that case, the overblown attack was sourced to real notes, albeit notes that actual law enforcement officials had packaged in such a way as to tell a false story. Yet again, however, this was a false story that scapegoated those who’ve protected the interests of the country — adding Joe Biden to the targets along with McCabe and Strzok — to try to cover-up unbelievably damning evidence about Trump’s coziness with Russia. The effort to deny that Mike Flynn was secretly working for Turkey while claiming to work for Trump and to deny that Mike Flynn repeatedly called up the country that had just attacked us to try to obtain further benefits turned into an attack on those who tried to keep the country safe from sell-outs like Mike Flynn.

It’s a false story. But Republicans in Congress believe it with all their being. And so it has succeeded in convincing those Republicans they need to redouble their efforts to defend Trump.

So, yesterday, Rudy and the other propagandists gave a press conference that was, for the first time, broadly labeled as a coup attempt and roundly mocked, even by otherwise true believers. Trump, Rudy, Republicans, they’re all victims of an international plot launched by George Soros, Cuba, China, Venezuela, according to Rudy and the lawyers who spun the last several conspiracy theories on Fox News.

And this propaganda, an attempt to set aside the clear will of the voters, derives its strength not from any basis in fact. Rather, it derives its power from the fact that Republicans have gotten so tribally defensive of Trump, they will set aside the clear good of the country to back him.

Donald Trump, if he leaves office, may face legal consequences for what he did in 2016 to get elected. If Trump leaves office, Rudy may face consequences for the things he has done since to keep Trump in office.

To save themselves, they’re pursuing the same strategy they’ve pursued since 2016: telling bullshit stories by waving documents around and lying about what they say, relying on tribalism and raw power rather than reason to persuade their fellow Republicans. It just so happens that several of these stories got told with the help of Russian foreign agents (though some got told with the help of a corrupted law enforcement). It just so happens that Trump and Rudy (and Stone’s) willingness to rely on Russian help to tell these stories has greatly exacerbated their legal risk, and therefore made the spewing of bullshit stories more urgent.

But the Russian role mostly serves to magnify the desperation of this gambit.

Mostly, this is about weaponizing the tribalism of the Republican party that puts party loyalty over loyalty to the country or Constitution. And while there have been a few defectors from this dangerous tribalism in recent days, for the most part, Republicans in Congress don’t care that Trump is exploiting them like this or even — in some cases — don’t understand that this is all a shoddy set of lies.

Donald Trump Was Personally Involved in Flynn’s “Collusion” with Russia to Protect Israel

As noted earlier, Judge Emmet Sullivan has released the Mueller warrants targeting Mike Flynn. The two pertaining to his lies about the calls with Russia’s Ambassador — an August 2017 one targeting Flynn, KT McFarland, and his scheduler, and a September 2017 one targeting top Trump officials — make it crystal clear that Flynn knew he was lying when he covered up the calls, because he and McFarland were also lying to other Transition officials in real time. The affidavits also explain why Flynn lied: Trump was personally involved in (at least) the effort to undermine a UN effort targeting Israel.

Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak arose directly out of the “back channel” meeting with Jared Kushner

It has long been public that on November 30, 2016, Jared Kushner took a meeting with Sergey Kislyak at which he asked the Russian Ambassador if Russia could set up a back channel for communication with the Transition. Here’s the description from the Mueller Report:

It took place at Trump Tower on November 30, 2016.1139 At Kushner’s invitation, Flynn also attended; Bannon was invited but did not attend.1140 During the meeting, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, Kushner expressed a desire on the part of the incoming Administration to start afresh with U.S.-Russian relations.1141 Kushner also asked Kislyak to identify the best person (whether Kislyak or someone else) with whom to direct future discussions—someone who had contact with Putin and the ability to speak for him.1142

The three men also discussed U.S. policy toward Syria, and Kislyak floated the idea of having Russian generals brief the Transition Team on the topic using a secure communications line.1143 After Flynn explained that there was no secure line in the Transition Team offices, Kushner asked Kislyak if they could communicate using secure facilities at the Russian Embassy. 1144 Kislyak quickly rejected that idea. 1145 4.

It was also public that, following that meeting, Kislyak started working on setting up a meeting between sanctioned banker Sergey Gorkov and the President’s son-in-law.

On December 6, 2016, the Russian Embassy reached out to Kushner’s assistant to set up a second meeting between Kislyak and Kushner. 1146 Kushner declined several proposed meeting dates, but Kushner’s assistant indicated that Kislyak was very insistent about securing a second meeting. 1147

What wasn’t public is that, in response to these same requests for a meeting that (Kushner claimed in his testimony) Kushner rebuffed, he also ordered Flynn to respond.

[On December 6, 2017] The Embassy official also asked Kushner’s assistant to provide him with the contact information for FLYNN and to ask FLYNN to call the Russian Ambassador at either his home number or his cell phone number. Kushner’s assistant forwarded the email chain to FLYNN’s Chief of Staff, cc’ing FLYNN himself, and wrote “Please see the correspondence below and ensure Lt. General Flynn gets in contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey via phone.

That set off a debate. Marshall Billingslea, who had experience in government, recommended they postpone any response until after inauguration. But KT McFarland objected.

Let Flynn make this decision. Russian amb historically does meet with nsc head. Their amb to USA and to UN is of a very high rank with close relations to Putin. Plus Flynn has met with him in past.

McFarland’s stance is completely at odds with the claimed view of both Flynn and especially Kushner that Kislyak wasn’t the right person to liaise with. And it also may explain why she and Flynn hid some of his contacts with Kislyak even from other Transition staffers: because they knew this was wrong.

Trump was probably directly involved in the effort to delay a UN veto condemning Israel

The language from the affidavits on the Kushner-driven effort to undermine Obama’s position on an Egyptian condemnation of illegal Israeli settlements includes several important details.

First, it all started when a “senior advisor to a Republican Senator” reached out to McFarland and others (several at their personal accounts) alerting them that the Obama Administration was not responding to the effort. Jared was very centrally involved in the response.

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

Remember: The DC Attorney’s Office was investigating a bribe from Egypt that allowed the Trump campaign to stay afloat after they had gone broke in August 2016; Barr shut that investigation down.

The entire UN intervention is way more damning that previously reported. First, it’s quite clear that Flynn reached out to both Russia and Egypt, and because McFarland bragged about his success with others, everyone knew that to be true. That didn’t prevent Kushner from lying to the larger group email about the fact after Egypt announced that they would stand down.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “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 pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie. Flynn had reached out, on Kushner’s orders.

Or maybe not just Kushner’s. The affidavit reveals that Trump was involved with this.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

Remember, Ric Grenell withheld the transcript from the call Flynn placed to Kislyak on December 22 and in fact the affidavits show Flynn and. Kislyak had two conversations that day (Mueller significantly downplayed Russia’s concessions on the December 23 one). There’s a latter call (the December 29 one) where the analysts suggest that Flynn might be on a speaker phone.

That suggests it’s possible that Trump was on the call with Kislyak, or at least in the room. That might explain why Kushner immediately tried to establish a false record that Egypt had contacted the Trump Transition, not vice versa.

One more thing makes this exchange especially damning. Flynn wrote to the larger group on December 23 and revealed he had called the Ambassador. Then, later that day, McFarland said that Flynn should leak to the press about,

the crucial role [he] played in working your contacts built up over the decades to get administration ambush Israel headed off. You worked the phones with Japanese Russians Egyptians Spanish etc and reversed a sure defeat for Israel by kerry/Obama/susan rice/samantha power cabal.

Those communications make it far less credible that he forgot this effort, which makes the personal involvement of Donald Trump far more interesting.

Note, there appears to be another contact involving Russia (possibly not with Kislyak directly) on December 23 and the affidavits also confirm that Flynn did make a condolence call on December 20 to Russia about the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey. Grenell did not release these transcripts either.

Flynn lied about his sanctions discussion to hide that Mar-a-Lago was involved

As I have explained, the reason Flynn’s lies to the FBI were material is because he was hiding that he coordinated his calls with Mar-a-Lago. Even Sidney Powell has submitted clear evidence that investigators considered that a key question. Flynn lied to the FBI by saying that he didn’t know about Obama’s sanctions announcement when he contacted Kislyak because he was out of the loop in Dominican Republic. But the timeline laid out the in affidavit makes clear how blatant a lie that was. Here’s what it looks like (I’ve bolded details in this timeline that Mueller hid in the report, as noted in this post):

December 28

11:24AM: Obama Twitter account announces sanctions against Russia, with link to description

December 29

11:49AM: McFarland emails Flynn and three others.

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: Sarah Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland, using her GSA phone, calls Flynn (on his personal phone), but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

3:50PM: McFarland (apparently using her GSA phone) calls Flynn, they speak for 6:39 minutes

[Note: Somewhere in here, Flynn called SJC Staffer Barbara Ledeen’s spouse, Michael, which makes her involvement in undermining the investigation all the more corrupt]

4:01PM: Someone (likely Tom Bossert) relays what Lisa Monaco passed on to him to Flynn, McFarland, Bannon, Kellogg, and Priebus  explaining that “Russiand [sic] have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate. [She] characterized the Russian response as bellicose.

4:20PM: Using his hotel phone in the Dominican Republic (!!!!), Flynn calls the Russian Embassy

4:43PM: McFarland emails Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Spicer, Priebus, Bannon and one other (likely Bossert), saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

4:44PM: Flynn emails McFarland and two others.

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

6:05PM: McFarland emails Gelbinovich and one other person.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone (they spoke from 6:08 to 6:35PM). Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

10:06PM: Gelbinovich emails Flynn.

This timeline makes clear that Flynn and McFarland spoke about sanctions before Bossert relayed what Monaco had passed on tho him, and Flynn may have reviewed Bossert’s email, reflecting his inquiry to Monaco, before he called Kislyak. Importantly, by the time of the security briefing that day, Flynn had already spoken to Kislyak.

The affidavit then makes it clear how damning it is that McFarland wrote an email deliberately hiding that (she knew) Flynn had raised sanctions with Kislyak:

December 30

5:32AM: Sergey Lavrov says Russia will respond

7:15AM: Putin says they won’t respond

7:29AM: McFarland emails Flynn and two others

8AM: McFarland emails a group (again, Flynn appears to have been on his personal email) stating that Putin was sending a signal to Trump he wants to improve relations

10:50AM: McFarland emails the group again saying that “Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.”

11:41AM: Trump tweets “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

12:02PM: McFarland sends email to group with summary of Flynn’s call with Kislyak that “does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions”

Flynn would ultimately admit that the text he sent to McFarland that she used to inform the others deliberately left off his mention of sanctions.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

The timing, of course, is key: Once Trump weighed in, Flynn built plausible deniability that Trump had initiated outreach to Kislyak. Remember: The transcript shows that Flynn, not Kislyak, raised sanctions.

The affidavits have more on both Flynn and McFarland’s exchanges on December 31, when Flynn told Kislyak that Trump was aware of their calls, as well as details about how Flynn crafted a knowingly false cover story for the press. They also reveal another follow-up call from Russia on January 6.

Together, however, these affidavits make any claim from Mike Flynn that he didn’t deliberately lie to the FBI to be an utter fabrication. He and McFarland were lying to top Trump officials in real time. They were doing so to hide Trump’s personal involvement in all this from their own colleagues.

The affidavits also make it clear that the US government has abundant evidence to prove that Mike Flynn lied, just with the paper trail and the testimony of Trump officials as well as abundant DOJ documents helpfully released by Sidney Powell showing that every single account of Flynn’s interview DOJ has tracks with the 302 on which he was charged. They don’t need Peter Strzok or Joe Pientka’s testimony to prove Mike Flynn lied. Flynn and McFarland already made that case.

And we know why Flynn lied: Trump not only knew of Flynn’s calls to Kislyak. He may have been on the line for the Israeli-related ones.

Mike Flynn’s “Wiped” Phone

Back in October, I noted that Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson had written a 285-page report complaining that the FBI had obtained records from the GSA as part of the Mueller investigation. I further pointed out that one of their central complaints, that the FBI hadn’t obtained a warrant, was almost certainly refuted by the public record.

[T]he craziest thing is how the report confesses that they are unaware of any legal process for these files.

Although the FBI’s August 30, 2017 cover email referenced applying for a search warrant, the Committees are aware of only one court-ordered disclosure of records, specifically, information related to the transition records of Lt. Gen. Flynn, K.T. McFarland, Michael Flynn’s son, and Daniel Gelbinovich.128

128 Order, In re Application of the U.S. for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) Directed at Google Related to [the transition email accounts for those four individuals], 1:17-mc-2005 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2017) [GSA004400- 4404] (ordering the disclosure of customer/subscriber information but not content).

At one level, they’re being coy in that they claim to be interested in court-ordered disclosure. A document recently released via the Jeffrey Jensen review reveals that in February 2017, star witness and pro-Trump FBI Agent was obtaining some of this information using NSLs. Another document explains why, too: because one of the first things FBI had to do to understand why Flynn had lied to them was to determine if he was coordinating his story with those at Mar-a-Lago.

The lie that he didn’t even know Obama had imposed sanctions was not one of Flynn’s charged lies, but it was his most damning. He lied to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before picking up a phone and secretly undermining sanctions in “collusion” with Russia.

Crazier still, Chuck and Ron didn’t go to the first place one should go to understand how legal process worked, the publicly released Mueller warrants. The warrant to access the devices and email of at least the original nine (plus one other person) is right there in the docket.

GSA transferred the requested records to the FBI, but FBI didn’t access them until it had a warrant.

In other words, this 285-page report is effectively a confession from Chuck and Ron that two Committee Chairs and a whole slew of staffers can’t figure out how to read the public record.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the very same day Grassley and Johnson released their report, the government submitted its proposed redactions in the Mike Flynn warrants that Flynn’s attorneys had been stalling on. Those finally got released on November 10. Two of the warrants prove I was correct.

An August 25, 2017 warrant obtaining the GSA emails and device content of Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Daniel Gelbinovich explains,

As described below, each of the Target Email Accounts and Target Devices was provided by the General Services Administration (GSA) to one of three members of then-President Elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team after the 2016 presidential election: MICHAEL T. FLYNN, Kathleen T. McFarland, and [Gelbinovich]. At the FBI’s request, the GSA provided the Target Email Accounts and Target Devices to the FBI, which is maintaining them at the FBI’s Washington Field Office located at 601 4th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20535. While the FBI might already have all necessary authority to examine the property, I seek this additional warrant out of an abundance of caution to be certain that an examination of the property will comply with the Fourth Amendment and other laws.

Much later, the affidavit addresses another concern raised by the Senate report, that the devices had been preserved improperly. Not true.

Like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s cell phones, they were wiped.

Information provided by the GSA indicates that the Target Devices were “wiped” after they were returned to GSA following the transition period.

They were wiped even though there was an active criminal investigation into Flynn.

A September 27, 2017 warrant for the emails and devices of Keith Kellogg, Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner explains further.

Based on information provided by the GSA, when email accounts and devices including the Transition Team Email Accounts and Subject Devices were issued to members of the Transition Team, recipients were required to certify that the “Government property” they had received was being provided “in connection with [their] role with the President-elect/Eligible Candidate Transition Team”; that it needed to be returned when they were no longer working for the Transition Team; and that they agreed to abide by the IT Acceptable Use Policy. In addition, the laptop computers issued by GSA to members of the Transition Team included a visible banner upon turning on the computers that stated: “This is a U.S. General Services Administration Federal Government computer system that is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY. By accessing and using this computer you are consenting to monitoring, recording, auditing and information retrieval for law enforcement and other purposes. Therefore, no expectation of privacy is to be assumed.” [emphasis added)

Curiously, this warrant reveals that not all of these phones were wiped.

Information provided by the GSA indicates that some of the Subject Devices were “wiped” after they were returned to the GSA following the transition period.

If Mike Flynn’s phone (along with KT McFarland’s) was wiped, but those of other senior officials were not, even though the White House had learned of a criminal investigation into Flynn in the earliest days of the Administration, it would suggest that the most damning phones may have been selectively wiped.

I’ll describe in a follow-up some of the damning details that wiping the phones might have attempted to hide.

“Looking Forward” Will Be Harder for President Biden than It Was for President Obama

NBC has a story that has caused a bit of panic, reporting that “Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity.”

The panic is overblown, given that the main point of the story is that Biden is hoping that DOJ will resume a more independent stance than that taken, especially, by Billy Barr.

Biden wants his Justice Department to function independently from the White House, aides said, and Biden isn’t going to tell federal law enforcement officials whom or what to investigate or not to investigate.

“His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward,” an adviser said. “But the most important thing on this is that he will not interfere with his Justice Department and not politicize his Justice Department.”

If there were to be investigations of Trump, everyone should want them to be completely insulated from the White House.

The story raises two more specific types of investigations which are both likely moot.

They said he has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he “just wants to move on.”

Another Biden adviser said, “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”

New York state already has a tax investigation into Trump, so a federal one would be duplicative. And the pardon power is absolute; there’s little likelihood DOJ could investigate the pardons that Trump grants, because doing so would be constitutionally suspect.

All that said, attempting to move forward may not be as easy for President Biden as it was for President Obama.

That’s because there are a number of investigations that implicate Trump that are either pending (as of right now, but I don’t rule out Trump trying to kill them in the interim) or were shut down corruptly, to say nothing of the obstruction charges Mueller effectively recommended (which aforementioned pardons would renew, even in spite of DOJ’s declination prior to pardons). At a minimum, those include:

  • The Build the Wall fraud case against Steve Bannon and others that might, eventually, implicate the failson or his close buddies
  • The Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas graft which clearly implicates Rudy Giuliani and by all rights should always have included Trump’s extortion of Volodymyr Zelensky; given the timing of David Correia’s plea, it’s likely there will be grand jury testimony from him banked
  • Other foreign agent charges against Rudy
  • The investigation into Erik Prince for selling his private mercenary services to China
  • False statements charges against Ryan Zinke that Jeffrey Rosen attempted to kill
  • Various campaign finance and grift charges implicating Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, to say nothing of the hush payments involving Trump personally
  • Possible hack-and-leak charges against Roger Stone from 2016, as well as the related pardon quid pro quo for Julian Assange implicating Trump himself
  • The possible aftermath of Judge Sullivan’s decisions in the Mike Flynn case, which could include perjury referrals or an invitation for DOJ to prosecute Flynn on the foreign agent charges he pled out of

All of these investigations still do or were known to exist, and if they no longer exist when Biden’s Attorney General arrives at DOJ, it will be because of improper interference from Barr.

The last of these might get particularly awkward given that multiple people at Billy Barr’s DOJ, possibly in conjunction with Sidney Powell and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, altered documents to concoct a smear targeting Joe Biden in a false claim that he invented a rationale to investigate Flynn for undermining sanctions on Russia. You cannot have an independent DOJ if the people who weaponized it in such a way go unpunished. Except investigating such actions would immediately devolve into a partisan fight, particularly if Republicans retain control of the Senate. (This particular issue will most easily be addressed, and I suspect already is being addressed, via a DOJ IG investigation.)

Still, in the other cases, DOJ may need to decide what to do with investigations improperly closed by Barr, or what to do with investigations where just some of the defendants (such as Fruman and Bannon) get pardons.

And all this will undoubtedly play against the background of the confirmation battle for whomever Biden nominates. I would be shocked if Mitch McConnell (especially if he remains Majority Leader) didn’t demand certain promises before an Attorney General nominee got approved.

So none of this will be easy.

A far more interesting question will pertain to what President Biden does about the ICC investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan, crimes that occurred during both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Mike Pompeo launched an indefensible assault against the ICC in an attempt to block this investigation, sanctioning ICC officials leading the investigation. Biden’s Secretary of State will have to decide whether to reverse those sanctions, effectively making a decision about whether to look forward to ignore crimes committed (in part) under Barack Obama.

Sidney Powell Implicates Barbara Ledeen in Her Effort to Undermine Democracy

Yesterday, GA’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger used various means to push back on the Republicans who were trying to cheat to win. In addition to a genuinely useful thread from Erick Erickson debunking one after another conspiracy theory about GA’s vote, he gave an interview to the WaPo detailing how his Republican colleagues have been pressuring him.

He called Doug Collins (who, remember, campaigned with all the Trump felons) a liar.

The normally mild-mannered Raffensperger saved his harshest language for Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), who is leading the president’s efforts in Georgia and whom Raffensperger called a “liar” and a “charlatan.”

Collins has questioned Raffensperger’s handling of the vote and accused him of capitulating to Democrats by not backing allegations of voter fraud more strongly.

[snip]

“I’m an engineer. We look at numbers. We look at hard data,” Raffensperger said. “I can’t help it that a failed candidate like Collins is running around lying to everyone. He’s a liar.”

More alarmingly, Raffensperger described Lindsey Graham suggesting he should throw out entire counties of legally cast votes.

Raffensperger also said he spoke on Friday to Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims about voting irregularities.

In their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state’s signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with nonmatching signatures, according to Raffensperger. Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mail ballots in counties found to have higher rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger said he was stunned that Graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Absent court intervention, Raffensperger doesn’t have the power to do what Graham suggested because counties administer elections in Georgia.

“It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger said.

As a number of people have pointed out, it’s a crime under GA law to solicit election fraud.

Meanwhile, Sidney Powell continues her effort to drum up support for undermining democracy. In a tweet this morning, she included Lindsey Graham staffer Barbara Ledeen among her co-conspirators.

In addition to working with Mike Flynn to try to reach out to hostile foreign governments in hopes they had hacked Hillary’s emails, Ledeen’s spouse, Michael, was the first person Flynn called when he was trying to figure out how to undermine sanctions on Russia.

Ledeen is, in spite of those glaring conflicts, the key staffer behind Lindsey’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. That suggests she’s also a key staffer behind Lindsey’s decision to ignore how DOJ has altered documents in Bill Barr’s effort to undermine the prosecution of Powell’s staffer.

I honestly believe that Lindsey does all this because his mind has rotted and people like Ledeen have told him so many lies he believes it. But now he’s entering a potentially criminal racket.

Ockham’s Cut: How the Andrew McCabe Notes Were Doctored

Some weeks ago, I asked for help understanding the irregularities of the Andrew McCabe notes. Among other observations, two people showed that the notes had been created in layers, with the redaction of the protective order footnote seemingly added twice. Since then, longtime friend of the site “William Ockham” has done more analysis (he was the tech expert identified in the second post), and determined that the file must have been made as part of a multi-step process. I share his analysis here. The italics, including the bracket, are mine, the bold is his.

Here’s what I can say about the McCabe notes. The easiest way to explain this is to think about the ancestral tree of the images that are embedded in the documents we have. It all starts with the original page from McCabe’s notes (Generation 0).

Someone scanned that page to create an unredacted image file (Gen 1).

That image was printed (Gen 2). {From a technical point of view, this is what happens when a page is copied on a modern copy machine. Based on the evidence I have, I’m fairly sure that a digital image of the original page must exist. If not, it sucks to be the FBI.)

An analog redaction (probably with a black Sharpie or similar instrument) was applied. I strongly suspect that the date was added to the same physical page before it was rescanned. It’s possible, although I consider it very unlikely, that the date was added after the physical page was rescanned. These original redactions aren’t totally black the way they would be if done with the DoJ’s redaction software. In any event, this rescanned image is Gen 3.

That physical page with the date was scanned to an image file (Gen 4).

At this point, a PDF file  that will become 170510-mccabe-notes-jensen-200924.pdf is created by embedding the Gen 4 image and saving the file as a PDF. Then, a separate process adds the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” and “DOJSCO – 700023502” to the metadata inside the file and draws the words in a font called “Arial Black” at the bottom of that page and the file is saved again. ***I am 100% certain that a PDF was created exactly like I describe here***

Update from Ockham to describe how the redaction shows up in the DOJ footnote:

A PDF file is really a software program that has instructions for rendering one or more pages. An image similar to the one above [Gen 4] was turned into a PDF file which contained one set of instructions:

  1. Store about 1 megabyte of compressed data.
  2. Take that data and render an image by interpreting the data as an 8bit per pixel grayscale image 1710 pixels wide by 2196 pixels high (at normal 96 pixels per inch, 17.81 in by 22.87 in, so obviously scanned at a much higher resolution)
  3. Scale that image so it takes up an entire 8 ½ by 11 page
  4. Render the image

Then, an automated process adds the footer. The part of the instructions for rendering the Bates number are still in the document and look like this:

Operation Description Operands
Dictionary E.g.: /Name << … >> /Artifact<</Contents (DOJSCO – 700023502)/Subtype /BatesN /Type /Pagination >>
BDC (PDF 1.2) Begin marked-content sequence with property list
q Save graphics state
cm Concatenate matrix to current transformation matrix 1001458.234985434.7999268
gs (PDF 1.2) Set parameters from graphics state parameter dictionary /GS0
Tr Set text rendering mode 0
Tf Set text font and size /T1_031.5 [This is a pointer to a font name and size, Arial Black – 18PT]
Do Invoke named XObject /Fm0 [This is a pointer to the actual text and location to render it
Q Restore graphics state
EMC (PDF 1.2) End marked-content sequence

Originally, there would have been a similar set of instructions for the “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” part as well. They would have looked almost the same except for the “Artifact” operands, the actual text, and the positioning instruction.

Now, here’s the really important part. The DoJ redaction software presents the rendered PDF file to the end user. However, it operates on the actual PDF by rewriting the instructions. When the user drew the rectangle around the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER”, the redaction software has to find every instruction in the PDF that made changes to the pixels within the coordinates of the rectangle. The redaction software sees two “layers” of instructions that affect the rectangle, the text writing instructions and the image itself. The redaction software removes all the instructions for writing the text and replaces those instructions with instructions to draw a black box in the same place. Then, it also blacks out the pixels in the image itself. It has to do both of those things to ensure that it has removed all of the redacted information, even though in this case it didn’t really need to do both.

Then someone at the DoJ opens the PDF and redacts the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” from the page. The redaction does all of the following things:

  • It removes the metadata entry with the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER”,
  • It removes the commands that draw the words.
  • It replaces those commands with commands that draw a black rectangle the same size as the rendered words.
  • It replaces the pixels in the Gen 4 image that correspond to the area of the image that the words were drawn on top of with solid black pixels.

Those last two steps create two very slightly offset redaction boxes. The slight offset is caused by errors caused by using floating point math to draw the same shape in two different coordinate systems. Step 4 creates an image which I’ll call Gen 5 which can be extracted from 170510-mccabe-notes-jensen-200924.pdf.

When someone notices that this file and the Strzok notes have been altered, Judge Sullivan asks for the unaltered versions.  Jocelyn Ballantine has a problem. There’s no redacted version of McCabe’s notes without the added date. She can’t use the DoJ’s redaction software because that would look even worse (a big black rectangle where the date was added).  What’s a stressed out assistant US Attorney to do? Here’s what she did. She took the unredacted PDF file I mentioned above and converted it to an image. Then she used image editing software to remove the date, which made that rectangle of white pixels. She fires up Microsoft Word on her DoJ work computer and starts creating a new document (likely from a template designed creating exhibit files). The first page just says Exhibit A and on the second page (which has all margins set to 0) she pastes in the image she just created, scaled to fit exactly on the page. Without saving the Word file, she prints the document (using the Adobe Distiller print driver) to PDF and submits the printed file as the supposedly unaltered McCabe notes. [Gen 6]

It seems like these steps look like this:

Gen 0: FBI had or has McCabe’s original notes presumably stored with his other documents.

Gen 1:  Someone took the notes from there and scanned them, presumably to share with other investigators.

Gen 2: Someone printed out Gen 1 and made notes and otherwise altered them. This is the stage at which the government claims someone put a sticky note with a date on the notes, but it appears they just wrote the date on the notes themselves. If everything had been operating normally, however, when Judge Sullivan asked for unaltered copies of the documents, they could have used the Gen 1 copy to resubmit. They didn’t do so, which suggests the chain of custody may have already been suspect. Some possible explanations for that are that Jeffrey Jensen’s team received the document from either DOJ IG or John Durham’s investigation, not directly from the FBI files. That wouldn’t be suspect from the standpoint of DOJ internal workings, but it would be proof that DOJ knew the documents they relied on in their motion to dismiss had already been reviewed by Michael Horowitz or Durham’s teams, and found not to sustain the conspiracies that Billy Barr needed them to sustain to throw out Flynn’s prosecution (or that DOJ claimed they sustained in the motion to dismiss).

Gen 3: I think Ockham is viewing the creation of the image file in two steps. First, a scan of the file with the note written on it is made, which is Gen 3.

Gen 4: Then, probably before the file is handed off to Jocelyn Ballantine to “share” with Mike Flynn’s team (I’m scare-quoting because I suspect there may have been a back channel as well), the redaction is created for where the protective order stamp would go. Here’s what Gen 4 would have looked like:

Gen 5: Gen 4 is then prepared as an exhibit would normally be, by putting it into a PDF and adding the Bates number and protective order stamp, then redacted the latter. Reminder: The protective order footer was also redacted from (at least) the two altered Strzok notes, as I show here.

Gen 6: When Peter Strzok and McCabe tell Sullivan that their notes have had dates added, DOJ re-releases the notes such that the notes are no longer added but the redacted footnote is. As Ockham notes (and as I think everyone who looked closely at this agrees) the date is not removed by taking off a post-it. Instead, it is whited out digitally, leaving a clear mark in the exhibit.

One reason this is so interesting — besides providing more proof that DOJ went to some lengths to make sure a version of these notes did not include the protective order, freeing Sidney Powell to share it with Jenna Ellis and whomever else she wanted, so they could prepare campaign attacks from it — is that DOJ refused to say who added the date to McCabe’s notes. As I noted in my own discussion here, one possible explanation why DOJ kept redacting stuff rather than going back to the original (other than having to submit the file for formal declassification and the post-it hiding other parts of the document) is because the chain of custody itself would undermine the claims DOJ has made in the motion to dismiss, by making it clear that someone had already reviewed this document and found no criminal intent in the document.

The other problem with this multi-generation alteration of Andrew McCabe’s notes is, if anyone asks, it is going to be very difficult for anyone involved to disclaim knowledge that these documents were altered. Mind you, Ballantine already has problems on that front: I emailed her to note that the FBI version of Bill Barnett’s “302” she shared redacted information that was material to Judge Sullivan’s analysis, the positive comments that Barnett had for Brandon Van Grack. So if and when Sullivan asks her why DOJ hid that material information from him, she will not be able to claim she didn’t know. Then there’s her false claim — which both Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers have already disproved — that the lawyers affirmed that no other changes had been made to the notes.

But if this file was prepared as Ockham describes, then both DOJ and FBI will have a tough time claiming they didn’t know they were materially altering documents before submitting them to Judge Sullivan’s court.

Updated with some corrections from Ockham.

Trump’s Pardon Jenga, Starting with the Julian Assange Building Block

I was going to wait to address Trump’s likely use of his power of clemency in the days ahead until it was clear he was going to leave without a fight and I will return to it once that’s clear. But there have already been a slew of pieces on the likely upcoming pardons:

None of them mentions Julian Assange (though Graff does consider the possibility of a Snowden pardon, which I consider related, not least for the terms on which Glenn Greenwald is pitching a package deal as a way for Trump to damage the Deep State).

I would argue that unless a piece considers an Assange pardon, it cannot capture the complexity facing Trump as he tries to negotiate a way to use pardons (and other clemency) to eliminate his legal exposure itself.

I’m not saying Trump’s decision on whether to give Assange a pardon is his hardest decision. But it may be one a few that could bring any hope of protecting himself falling down.

Trump has talked about pardons, generally, covering a number of crimes in which he himself (or a family member) is implicated:

  • Asking DHS officials to violate the law in order to build the wall
  • Working with the National Enquirer to capture and kill damaging stories during the 2016 election
  • Dodging impeachment
  • Steve Bannon’s Build the Wall grift (which likely implicates Jr)

There are others whom Trump would give a pardon because they’re loyal criminals, like Ryan Zinke or Commerce Officials and others who’ve lied in court. There are hybrid cases; in addition to Bannon, Erik Prince has legal exposure both for his own lies that protected Trump, but also for his efforts to sell mercenary services to hostile foreign governments. And Rudy Giuliani has committed his own crimes as well as possible crimes to protect the President. With the possible exception of Rudy (who still might claim attorney client privilege to refuse to testify about Trump), those pardons create challenges, but they’re highly likely (unless Trump made some pardons contingent on remaining in power).

Then there’s the Mueller Report. In 2019 testimony to HPSCI, Michael Cohen credibly described Jay Sekulow considering mass “pre-pardons” in the summer of 2017 in an attempt to make the Russian investigation go away. But the Mueller Report itself only obviously talks about five pardons:

  • An extensive discussion of the reasons why pardons for Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone would amount to obstruction (a sentiment with which Billy Barr once agreed)
  • A discussion of Robert Costello’s efforts to broker silence from Cohen in exchange for a pardon and almost certainly a still-redacted referral of Costello for the same; Costello is currently Rudy Giuliani’s attorney
  • A question about discussions of a Julian Assange pardon, even while the report did not mention or obscured the tie with underlying evidence proving such an effort occurred, possibly as a part of a quid pro quo to optimize the WikiLeaks releases

There are difficulties — albeit surmountable ones — for pardons of Flynn and Manafort, not least because Billy Barr has found other ways for Trump to keep them out of jail (so far), even while issuing a DOJ ruling that his prior pardon dangles are not obstruction. Costello is someone who has no privilege directly with Trump and so might implicate him personally in trading pardons for silence if Trump himself is not pardoned.

But Stone (and quite possibly Don Jr) is indelibly tied to an Assange pardon.

It’s possible something might make this easier between now and January 20. If British Judge Vanessa Baraister rules on January 4, 2021 in favor of Julian Assange’s Lauri Love gambit, arguing that American prisons are not humane for those on the autism spectrum, then there’s a decent chance he’ll beat extradition. If not, his chances are slim. And even if he beats extradition the UK could choose to prosecute him on Official Secrets Act charges tied to Vault 7.

That presents Trump limited choices. He could pardon just Stone (and Don Jr, who will undoubtedly get a broad pardon in any case). But then both could be coerced to testify against Assange under threat of contempt or perjury from a Biden DOJ.

He could pardon all three, including a broad pardon (including Vault 7) for Assange. But if he did that, it could complete the conspiracy, a quid pro quo tied to Russian interference in 2016. That would make a Pence pardon of Trump much more politically costly; it would likewise make a Trump self-pardon much more toxic for even a very partisan SCOTUS to rubber stamp.

But if he doesn’t pardon Assange, he risks pissing of those who helped him in 2016, with whatever repercussions that would have for Trump Organization funding going forward. To sum up:

  • Pardoning just Stone and Jr would expose them to coercion to testify against Assange and maybe others
  • Pardoning all three would make Trump’s own pardons much less defensible to those who would have to ensure he himself got immunity
  • Pardoning Assange at all would complete the conspiracy Mueller never charged
  • Not pardoning Assange might risk ire from Russia

I’m not saying he can’t find a way out of this dilemma. But it is one of the reasons why Trump’s pardon gambit is far more complex than others are accounting for.

Convergence: Mueller Obstruction, Ukrainian Favors, and DOJ’s Altered Documents

Amid uncorrected false claims about election results and tweets inciting violence in DC, Donald Trump tweeted this last night.

After respectable law firms withdrew in AZ and PA, Trump’s legal team is now down to Rudy, DiGenova and Toensing, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, along with “other wonderful lawyers” whom he did not name.

Finally, the grand convergence: Trump’s obstruction of the Mueller investigation into Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, his demand that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “do him a favor” by inventing an investigation of Joe Biden, and the Billy Barr-led effort to blow up Mike Flynn’s prosecution for covering up Trump’s efforts to undermine sanctions imposed for helping Trump to win. All one grand effort led by lawyers barely clinging to reality.

That’s not a unique observation. Many people are making it (along with laughing at the sorry state of affairs for Trump, a glee that may be premature).

But it’s worth focusing on the relationship between Jenna Ellis and Powell. As I have noted repeatedly, when Judge Emmet Sullivan asked Powell whether she had been in direct contact with Trump about Mike Flynn’s case, she not only confessed to that, but also admitted multiple contacts with Trump’s campaign lawyer, Ellis. That means Ellis is directly implicated in whatever effort there was to alter documents to launch a false attack on Joe Biden, one intimately tied to DOJ’s false excuses (that the investigation was primarily about the Logan Act) for wanting to blow up the Flynn prosecution.

That is, the effort to throw out the Mike Flynn prosecution (about which the lawyers have mostly gone silent, post-election) was all part of an effort to obtain power via illegitimate means. And still is.

Andrew McCabe’s Comments about Trump More Likely Reference What an Easy Mark Russia Thinks He Is than Any (Unexpected) Thing He Did

Andrew McCabe was on Chris Cuomo’s show last night, talking about Trump’s reported plan to release more sensitive intelligence about the Russian investigation. A number of people have asked me about it, so I thought I’d talk about what he did and did not say. First, my transcription:

Cuomo: … the next leading theory, other than just payback, is he wants a lot of stuff from the Russia investigation declassified because he’s been told by Nunes and others, “the more comes out the more it would look you were framed.” Uh, what’s the risk there, if a lot of stuff comes out? We’ve talked about sources and methods. But let me reverse the question: from your knowledge, is there anything that could come out that people would look at it and say, “Wow, I can’t believe they ever included the President in this analysis. He and his people clearly did nothing.”

McCabe: There is some very, very serious, very specific undeniable intelligence that has NOT come out that, if it were released, would risk compromising our access to that sort of information in the future. I think it would also risk casting the President in a very negative light. So does it — would he have a motivation to release those things? It’s almost incomprehensible to me that he would want that information out. I don’t see how he spins it to his advantage because, quite frankly, I don’t believe it’s flattering.

Cuomo: You think there’s more bad stuff about him that we don’t know?

McCabe: There is always more intelligence — there was a lot more in the intelligence community assessment than what was ever released for public consumption. I mean, the original version of that report was classified at the absolute highest level I have ever seen. You’re talking about Top Secret, Compartmentalized Code Word stuff, and it would be ver–it would be tragic to American intelligence collection for those sources to be put at risk.

First, note that McCabe at first didn’t answer Cuomo’s question, which was basically whether there was anything that would substantiate Trump’s claims to have been framed. Instead, he first says that there’s stuff that if it were released, would have a permanent impact on US intelligence collection. Only after saying that does McCabe say there’s stuff that McCabe doesn’t believe is “flattering” that would “risk casting the President in a very negative light.” Cuomo picks up on that and asks if there’s more bad stuff about Trump that we don’t know (as if CNN has covered even the public stuff that puts Trump in a very bad light, which they have not). McCabe responds by addressing only the Intelligence Community Assessment completed by early January 2017. He then describes the ICA using terms that describe the most sensitive stuff coming from a variety of different collection sources, without specifically saying that this is about Trump, or if it is, whether it involves something that Trump did rather than something that was said about Trump.

Moreover, McCabe is talking about stuff that was available by January 6, 2017, not stuff that became available by May 2019, when Mueller shut down his office. He’s talking about stuff that, because CIA and NSA were key parts of the collection effort, could not be targeted at Trump, but instead would be targeted at Russians.

It’s possible this stuff refers to more compromise by women. After all, the SSCI Report (which benefitted more from CIA and NSA information than it did from FBI information) found more examples — three — than were known about Trump’s possible sexual compromise when in Russia, and the section is preceded by two redacted pages.

It may also include details about Trump’s 2013 trip associated with Miss Universe, which the SSCI Report also provides damning new details about.

Another likely topic pertains to Russia’s profiling of Trump as a potential asset. The SSCI Report leaves his usefulness as a money laundering vehicle almost unmentioned and similarly limits mention of Trump’s ties to the mob (though it does include the latter in several places, such as this discussion of his 2013 trip and this discussion of warnings about the Agalarovs). But if the IC had the kind of collection as sensitive as McCabe says, it likely includes discussions of how easy it would be to stoke Trump’s narcissism to get him to work contrary to America’s interests.

There’s one more thing it likely includes. As I observed when it came out, the Mueller Report does not discuss — at all — Trump’s interactions directly with Putin, not even his meeting at the G20 where they discussed adoptions in advance of Trump crafting a June 9 denial for his failson that focused on adoptions. In my never-ending fascination with what gets classified, the Andrew Weissmann book also makes no mention of that meeting, even though he discusses the adoption cover story at length. If that weren’t really sensitive, he should have been able to argue that the meeting was public, not least given that Trump confessed it himself in an NYT interview. Trump and Putin are not known to have met before he became President. Nevertheless, there must be a corpus of intelligence of “about” collections in which Trump’s cultivation by Putin are discussed.

Still, most of that isn’t about what Trump did — aside the same financial corruption and serial sexual philandering he has done in the US. It’s about what Russia thinks of Trump. Which is consistent with it not being “flattering” rather than being described as “damning.”

McCabe doesn’t talk about the damning information that FBI would have found between the time the ICA came out and the time the investigation into his closest associates ramped up. And that stuff is likely more interesting.

Roger Stone’s 2016 “Stop the Steal” Effort May Have Been Coordinated with Russia

CNN has traced out in detail what I’ve been noting for some time: the “Stop the Steal” effort ginning up disinformation and threats of violence in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss is a repackaged version of an effort that Roger Stone rolled out in 2016.

[W]hile Stop the Steal may sound like a new 2020 political slogan to many, it did not emerge organically over widespread concerns about voting fraud in President Donald Trump’s race against Joe Biden. It has been in the works for years.

Its origin traces to Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative and self-described “dirty trickster” whose 40-month prison sentence for seven felonies was cut short by Trump’s commutation in July.

Stone’s political action committee launched a “Stop the Steal” website in 2016 to fundraise ahead of that election, asking for $10,000 donations by saying, “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.”

But CNN — with four journalists bylined — misses several important parts of that earlier story, parts that are critical to understanding the stakes for Steve Bannon and Stone now.

Stone may have mixed his political fundraising

First, there’s good reason to believe that Stone was not segregating the different kinds of campaign finance organizations he was using for his 2016 rat-fucking. Even from what remained of his public infrastructure when I wrote this post, it showed that fundraising for one kind of dark money group went to links associated with a PAC.

[I]t’s clear he wasn’t segregating the fundraising for them, and I wonder whether some of his email fundraising involved other possible campaign finance violations. For example, here’s the Stop the Steal site as it existed on March 10, 2016. It was clearly trying to track fundraising, carefully instructing people to respond to emails if they received one. But it claimed to be TCTRAG (what I call CRAG), even though the incoming URL was for Stop the Steal.

That remained true even after Stop the Steal was formally created, on April 10. Even after the website changed language to disavow Stop the Steal being a PAC by April 23, the fundraising form still went to TCTRAG (what I call CRAG), a PAC.

In other words, people would click a link thinking it would fund one effort (and one kind of legal entity) and any money donated would instead go to another effort (and another kind of legal entity). Since then, we’ve learned more about how everyone associated with Trump — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, in addition to Stone — set up these entities to get rich off of Trump. It’s one reason the rivalry between Lewandowski and Manafort was so heated: because one’s relative prominence in Trump’s campaign effort was directly related to the amount of money that one could grift from it.

But as Bannon’s indictment for fraud makes clear, telling people they’re donating money for one purpose (to build a wall) but using the money for other purposes (to support Bannon’s pricey lifestyle) can be prosecuted as fraud.

When Andrew Miller was negotiating testimony about Stone, he specifically asked for immunity relating to Stone’s PACs and his texts with Stone that the government subpoenaed after his grand jury appearance overlapped with that campaign slush.

In 2016, Stone was (illegally) coordinating with the campaign

As appears to have been the case for all these efforts to grift off the campaign, Stone was coordinating his PAC and dark money efforts with the campaign.

We learned that, in Stone’s case, starting with a legal debate in the lead-up to Stone’s trial about 404(b) information, which is information about other bad actions (including crimes) that prosecutors are permitted to introduce during a trial to prove something like motive or consistent behavior.

In advance of Stone’s trial prosecutors got permission to introduce evidence that Stone lied about something in his HPSCI testimony, on top of all the lies about who his go-between with WikiLeaks was, only that other lie wasn’t charged.

At the pretrial conference held on September 25, 2019, the Court deferred ruling on that portion of the Government’s Notice of Intention to Introduce Rule 404(b) evidence [Dkt. # 140] that sought the introduction of evidence related to another alleged false statement to the HPSCI, which, like the statement charged in Count Six, relates to the defendant’s communications with the Trump campaign. After further review of the arguments made by the parties and the relevant authorities, and considering both the fact that the defendant has stated publicly that his alleged false statements were merely accidental, and that he is charged not only with making individual false statements, but also with corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the proceedings in general, the evidence will be admitted, with an appropriate limiting instruction. See Lavelle v. United States, 751 F.2d 1266, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1985), citing United States v. DeLoach, 654 F.2d 763 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (given the defendant’s claim that she was simply confused and did not intend to deceive Congress, evidence of false testimony in other instances was relevant to her intent and passed the threshold under Rule 404(b)). The Court further finds that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson permitted prosecutors to include it because it showed that Stone was trying to cover up all of his coordination with the campaign.

A September hearing about this topic made clear that it pertained to what Stone’s PACs were doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

This debate suggested prosecutors could present the information via just one witness, but unless I’m misunderstanding, it actually came in via two witnesses: There were a number of texts between Rick Gates and Stone where Stone kept demanding lists from the campaign (indeed, this is something that Stone’s lawyers actually emphasized!). And during the period when Bannon was campaign manager, Stone asked him to get Rebekah Mercer to support some of his other activities, designed to suppress the black vote.

Both of these communications show that Stone was at least attempting to coordinate his efforts with the campaign (it’s not clear to what degree Gates responded to Stone’s demands), and the second detail shows that he was coordinating with Bannon, the guy who took over the Stop the Steal effort this year.

This kind of coordination is illegal (albeit common), though Billy Barr’s DOJ refused to prosecute Trump for any of it (and he even appears to have shut down an investigation into what appeared to be a kickback system Manafort used to get paid).

Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts paralleled the voter suppression efforts of the Russian operation

Even back when I examined Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts in 2018 (when I was skeptical about his legal liability with respect to WikiLeaks), it was clear that the steps Stone took happened to coincide with Russia’s efforts.

Stone’s voter suppression effort is not surprising. It’s the kind of thing the rat-fucker has been doing his entire life.

Except it’s of particular interest in 2016 because of the specific form it took. That’s because two aspects of Stone’s voter suppression efforts paralleled Russian efforts. For example, even as Stone was recruiting thousands of “exit pollers” to intimidate people of color, Guccifer 2.0 was promising to register as an election observer, in part because of the “holes and vulnerabilities” in the software of the machines.

INFO FROM INSIDE THE FEC: THE DEMOCRATS MAY RIG THE ELECTIONS

I’d like to warn you that the Democrats may rig the elections on November 8. This may be possible because of the software installed in the FEC networks by the large IT companies.

As I’ve already said, their software is of poor quality, with many holes and vulnerabilities.

I have registered in the FEC electronic system as an independent election observer; so I will monitor that the elections are held honestly.

I also call on other hackers to join me, monitor the elections from inside and inform the U.S. society about the facts of electoral fraud.

More interesting still, the GRU indictment makes it clear that GRU’s information operation hackers were probing county electoral websites in swing states as late as October 28.

In or around October 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators further targeted state and county offices responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. elections. For example, on or about October 28, 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators visited the websites of certain counties in Georgia, Iowa, and Florida to identify vulnerabilities.

Whether or not GRU ever intended to alter the vote, Russia’s propagandists were providing the digital “proof” that Republicans might point to to sustain their claims that Democrats had rigged the election.

This is a line that Wikileaks also parroted, DMing Don Jr that if Hillary won his pop should not concede.

Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do.

Since that time, we’ve learned that Maria Butina and Sergey Kislyak were also aiming to focus on observing polls in 2016. We’ve learned that the GRU hackers were actually targeting conservative Florida counties in 2016 (including Matt Gaetz’s district), meaning that had Trump lost he might have turned to the hacking of GOP strongholds to claim that that hacking had undermined his vote totals in Florida.

There are also indications that Mueller was pursuing evidence that not only Stone, but also Paul Manafort, had advance notice of all this. For example, Manafort got asked about Russians hacking voting machines in regards to a November 5, 2016 note he sent to the campaign regarding “Securing the Victory” (which admittedly is a slightly different topic but one that might have elicited an answer about hacking the Boards of Election if Manafort were at all inclined to tell the truth, which he was not).

All of which is to say that, had Hillary won narrowly (as Biden won by close margins in enough states to amount to a resounding victory), we probably would have seen Stone’s Stop the Steal effort to be doing precisely what Bannon’s Stop the Steal has been doing this year, both delegitimizing the outcome and sowing violence. But in that case, the effort may have been accompanied by possible foreknowledge that a close investigation of certain GOP strongholds would disclose proof of tampering in the election.

Stone pitched Bannon on a way to win ugly the day he became Campaign Manager

At this point, I’ve come to believe that prosecutors used their live witnesses at Stone’s trial (aside from former FBI Agent Michelle Taylor, who introduced most of the evidence) to make certain testimony public regarding other investigative prongs. For example, prosecutors got Gates to testify publicly that Stone claimed involvement in the release of stolen emails at a time when only Guccifer 2.0 was releasing them, not WikiLeaks. Prosecutors got Randy Credico to confirm publicly that shortly after the election, he helped Stone try to pay off his election debt by pardoning Julian Assange.

And prosecutors got Steve Bannon to — very reluctantly — repeat grand jury testimony that he regarded a pitch that Stone made to him the day after he became campaign manager to be related to dirty tricks and WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors introduced a similar exchange with Steve Bannon, the guy who took over from Manafort weeks later: an August 18, 2016 email exchange  where Stone claimed Trump could “still win” … “but it ain’t pretty,” and Bannon responded by asking to talk ASAP.

Manafort didn’t testify at Stone’s trial. But Bannon did. Prosecutors had Bannon sitting there on the stand, forcing him to repeat what he had said to a grand jury earlier in the year, yet they only asked him to say this much about what all this means, in which he begrudgingly admitted he believed this discussion about using social media to win was about WikiLeaks:

Q. At the bottom of this email Mr. Stone states, “Trump can still win, but time is running out. Early voting begins in six weeks. I do know how to win this, but it ain’t pretty. Campaign has never been good at playing the new media. Lots to do, let me know when you can talk, R.” Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. Then you respond, “Let’s talk ASAP”; am I correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. When Mr. Stone wrote to you, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty,” what in your mind did you understand that to mean?

A. Well, Roger is an agent provocateur, he’s an expert in opposition research. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics. And when you’re this far behind, you have to use every tool in the toolbox.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, opposition research, dirty tricks, the types of things that campaigns use when they have got to make up some ground.

Q. Did you view that as sort of value added that Mr. Stone could add to the campaign?

A. Potentially value added, yes.

Q. Was one of the ways that Mr. Stone could add value to the campaign his relationship with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange?

A. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but he could — you know, I was led to believe that he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Even though prosecutors didn’t lay out precisely what happened next — something that other evidence suggests may have implicated Jared Kushner — Stone’s team never challenged the prosecution claim that this email and the subsequent exchanges did pertain to WikiLeaks. Perhaps, because they had reviewed Bannon’s grand jury and more recent testimony, they knew how he would respond and thought better off leaving it unchallenged.

Perhaps, too, they didn’t want to have to explain how long this exchange persisted. For example, the Stone affidavits — starting with one obtained after Bannon’s first testimony — showed this particular email exchange lasted two more days, through August 19 and 20 (the day before the Podesta “time in the barrel” tweet).

On August 19, 2016, Bannon sent Stone a text message asking if he could talk that morning. On August 20, 2016, Stone replied, “when can u talk???”

And those discussions may have continued into face-to-face meetings in September.

On September 4, 2016, Stone texted Bannon that he was in New York City for a few more days, and asked if Bannon was able to talk.

[snip]

On September 7, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted to arrange a meeting on September 8, 2016 at the Warner Center in New York.

On September 7, 2016, Bannon texted Stone asking him if he could “come by trump tower now???”

On September 8, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted about arranging a meeting in New York.

This is a lot of back-and-forth to discuss the “the tougher side of politics.”

Even though they had Bannon there on the stand, prosecutors did not get him to explain what this plan to win ugly entailed. So we don’t know whether it pertained to Stone’s efforts to suppress the black vote, his Stop the Steal effort to discredit a potential Hillary win, or something more (I’ll eventually get around to what that something more might be). But we do know that when Bannon enthusiastically responded to those pitches, he expected Stone’s plan to win ugly would involve dirty tricks and WikiLeaks.

Stone’s real go-between with WikiLeaks was likely Guccifer 2.0

No one involved with the Trump campaign — at least as far as is public — claims to have known who Stone’s claimed tie to WikiLeaks was.

But Rick Gates apparently did testify that Stone claimed to have a tie to Guccifer 2.0 well before the time he was DMing with the persona on Twitter. The FBI had evidence (though how good it is remains inconclusive) that he was searching on both Guccifer 2.0 and dcleaks before those sites went live. When prosecutors wrote the Mueller Report in March 2019, they still had not determined whether any proof they had of Stone’s awareness of Russia’s ongoing hacking — which extended until November 2016 — was sufficient proof beyond reasonable doubt to charge him as part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy.

As I have argued, there is evidence, albeit not conclusive, that Stone’s go-between with WikiLeaks was Guccifer 2.0.

If that’s right, it suggests that Stone’s parallel efforts with Guccifer 2.0’s, efforts that seemingly anticipated hacks that might have served to discredit the vote in 2016, may not have been coincidence or even just a result of the seeming dance via which Trump’s team and Russia followed the same path without any coordination. It may have reflected coordination.

Let me very clear: I’m not making any claims that happened this year. There’s no evidence of it, and those who tracked election tampering efforts have said they found none.

But until Billy Barr intervened in Stone’s sentencing, all this was (at least per FOIA redactions) an ongoing investigation, the investigation that Stone’s prosecution served, in part, as an investigative step in. If you put that together with Bannon’s own legal exposure in the Build the Wall fraud indictment, it changes the stakes on these men’s efforts to curry Trump’s favor (and to ensure he remains in power, via whatever means).

If Trump remains in charge of DOJ, these men will stay out of prison. If he doesn’t, they may not. And for Stone, especially, a Joe Biden DOJ (or a Democratic Congress, with DOJ’s help) may reveal what he has been denying for years, that Stone willingly coordinated during the 2016 election with someone whose ties to Russia were only thinly hidden.

image_print