July 7, 2022 / by 

 

The Methodology of Andrew DeFilippis’ Elaborate Plot to Break Judge Cooper’s Rules

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

When Michael Sussmann attorney Sean Berkowitz was walking FBI Agent Scott Hellman through the six meetings he had with Durham’s team on Tuesday — meetings he first had as a witness about the investigation into the Alfa Bank allegations and later in preparation for his trial testimony — Berkowitz asked Hellman about how, sometime earlier this year, Andrew DeFilippis and Jonathan Algor asked him whether he could serve as their DNS expert for the trial.

Q And then, more recently, you met with Mr. DeFilippis and I think Johnny Algor, who is also at the table here, who’s an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. They wanted to talk to you about whether you might be able to act as an expert in this case about DNS data?

A. Correct.

To Hellman’s credit, he told Durham’s prosecutors — who have been investigating matters pertaining to DNS data for two years — that he only had superficial knowledge of DNS and so wasn’t qualified to be their expert.

Q. You said, while you had some superficial knowledge, you didn’t necessarily feel qualified to be an expert in this case, correct, on DNS data?

A. On DNS data, that’s correct.

It wasn’t until the third day of trial before Durham’s team presented any evidence about the alleged crime. Instead, Durham’s first two witnesses were their nominal expert, David Martin, and Hellman, who told Durham he wasn’t an expert but who offered opinions he neither had the expertise to offer nor had done the work to substantiate.

That’s important, because DeFilippis used him to provide an opinion only an expert should give. And virtually everything about his testimony — his claim to have relied on the data in the materials without looking at the thumb drives, an apparently made up claim about the timing of the analysis, and behaviors that the FBI normally finds suspicious — suggest he’s not only not a DNS expert qualified to assess this report, but his assessment of the white paper Sussmann shared also suffers from serious credibility issues.

The battle over an expert

The testimony of the nominal expert, David Martin, was remarkably nondescript, particularly given the fight that led up to his testimony. Durham’s team sprung even having an expert on Sussmann at a really late date: on March 30, after months of blowing off Sussmann’s inquiries if they would. Not only did they want Martin to explain to the jury what DNS and Tor are, Durham’s team explained, but they also wanted him to weigh in on the validity of conclusions drawn by researchers who had found the anomaly.

  • the authenticity vel non of the purported data supporting the allegations provided to the FBI and Agency-2;
  • the possibility that such purported data was fabricated, altered, manipulated, spoofed, or intentionally generated for the purpose of creating the false appearance of communications;
  • whether the DNS data that the defendant provided to the FBI and Agency-2 supports the conclusion that a secret communications channel existed between and/or among the Trump Organization, Alfa Bank, and/or Spectrum Health;

[snip]

  • the validity and plausibility of the other assertions and conclusions set forth in the various white papers that the defendant provided to the FBI and Agency-2;

As Sussmann noted in his motion to limit Martin’s testimony, he didn’t mind the testimony about DNS and Tor. He just didn’t want this trial to be about the accuracy of the data, especially without the lead time to prepare his own expert.

As the Government has already disclosed to the defense, should the defense attempt to elicit testimony surrounding the accuracy and/or reliability of the data that the defendant provided to the FBI and Agency-2, Special Agent Martin would explain the following:

  • That while he cannot determine with certainty whether the data at issue was cherry-picked, manipulated, spoofed or authentic, the data was necessarily incomplete because it was a subset of all global DNS data;
  • That the purported data provided by the defendant nevertheless did not support the conclusions set forth in the primary white paper which the defendant provided to the FBI;
  • That numerous statements in the white paper were inaccurate and/or overstated; and
  • That individuals familiar with these relevant subject areas, such as DNS data and TOR, would know that such statements lacked support and were inaccurate and/or overstated.

Based off repeated assurances from Durham that they weren’t going to make accuracy an issue in their case in chief, Judge Cooper ruled that the government could only get into accuracy questions if Sussmann tried to raise the accuracy of the data himself. But if he said he relied on the assurances of Rodney Joffe, it wouldn’t come in.

The government suggests that Special Agent Martin’s testimony may go further, depending on what theories Sussmann pursues in cross-examination or his defense case. Consistent with its findings above, the Court will allow the government’s expert to testify about the accuracy (or lack thereof) of the specific data provided to the FBI here only in certain limited circumstances. In particular, if Sussmann seeks to establish at trial that the data were accurate, and that there was in fact a communications channel between Alfa Bank and the Trump Campaign, expert testimony explaining why this could not be the case will become relevant. But, as the Court noted above, additional testimony about the accuracy of the data—expert or otherwise—will not be admissible just because Mr. Sussmann presents evidence that he “relied on Tech Executive-1’s conclusions” about the data, or “lacked a motive to conceal information about his clients.” Gov’s Expert Opp’n at 11. As the Court has already explained, complex, technical explanations about the data are only marginally probative of those defense theories. The Court will not risk confusing the jury and wasting time on a largely irrelevant or tangential issue. See United States v. Libby, 467 F. Supp. 2d 1, 15 (D.D.C. 2006) (excluding evidence under Rule 403 where “any possible minimal probative value that would be derived . . . is far outweighed by the waste of time and diversion of the jury’s attention away from the actual issues”).

Then, days before the trial, the issue came up again. Durham sent a letter on May 6 (ten days before jury selection), raising a bunch of new issues they wanted Martin to raise. Sussmann argued that Durham was trying to expand the scope of what his expert could present. Among his complaints, Sussmann argued that Durham was trying to make a materiality argument via his expert witness.

Third, the Special Counsel apparently intends to offer expert testimony about the materiality of the false statement alleged in this case. Indeed, the Special Counsel’s supplemental topic 9 regarding the importance of considering the collection source of DNS data is plainly being offered to prove materiality. But the Special Counsel did not disclose this topic in either his initial expert disclosure or Opposition, and the Court’s ruling did not permit such testimony. The Special Counsel should not now be allowed to offer an entirely new expert opinion under the guise of eliciting testimony regarding the types of conclusions that can be drawn from a review of DNS data.

Judge Cooper considered the issue Tuesday morning, before opening arguments. When asking why Martin had to present the concept of visibility, DeFilippis explained that Hellman–the Agent who’s not an expert on DNS but whom DeFilippis nevertheless had asked to serve as an expert on DNS–would talk about the import of knowing visibility to assess data.

THE COURT: Well, but isn’t the question here whether a case agent — is your case agent later going to testify that that was something that the FBI looked at or wanted to look at in this case and was unable to do so, and that that negatively affected the FBI’s investigation in some way? MR.

DeFILIPPIS: Yes, and I expect Special Agent Hellman, who will testify likely today, Your Honor, I expect that that is a concept that he will say was relevant to the determination that — determinations he was making as he drafted analysis of the data that came in. And, again, I don’t think we — for example, another way in which this comes up is that the FBI routinely receives DNS data from various private companies who collect that data, and it is always relevant sort of the breadth of visibility that those companies have. So it’s relevant generally, but also in this particular case the fact that the FBI did not have insight into the visibility or lack of visibility of that data certainly affected steps that the FBI took.

THE COURT: Okay. But Mr. Sussman has not been accused of misrepresenting who the source is. He’s simply — but rather who the client is. So how do you link that to the materiality of the alleged false statement?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Because, Your Honor, I think we view them as intertwined. It was because — it was in part because Mr. Sussman said he didn’t have a client that made it more difficult for the FBI to get to the bottom of the source of this data or made it less likely they would, and so — and, again, I don’t think we expect to dwell for a long time on this, but I think the agents and the technical folks will say that that is part of why the origins of the data are extremely relevant when they took investigative steps here.

When Cooper noted Sussmann’s objection to Martin discussing possible spoofing of data, DeFilippis again answered not about what Martin would testify, but what Hellman would.

As DeFilippis explained, he claimed to believe that under Cooper’s ruling, the government could put in any little thing they wanted that they claimed had been part of the investigation.

And Special Agent Hellman, when he testifies today — now, Your Honor’s ruling we understand to permit us to put into evidence anything about what the FBI analyzed and concluded as its investigation unfolded because that goes to the materiality of the defendant’s statement. So Special Agent Hellman — through Agent Hellman we will offer into evidence a paper he prepared when the data first came in, and among its conclusions is that the data might — he doesn’t use the word “spoof” — but might have been intentionally generated and might have been fabricated. That was the FBI’s initial conclusion in what it wrote up.

So in order for the jury to understand the course of the FBI’s investigation and the conclusions that it drew at each stage, those concepts are at the center of it.

[snip]

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Okay. Your Honor, I’m sorry. We understood your ruling to be that the FBI’s conclusions as it went along were okay as long as we weren’t asserting the conclusion that it was, in fact, fabricated. You know, I mean, it’s difficult to chart the course of the FBI’s investigation unless we can elicit at each stage what it is that the FBI concluded.

Judge Cooper ordered that references to spoofing be removed — leading to a last minute redaction of an exhibit — but permitted a discussion of visibility to come in.

After all that fight, Martin’s testimony was not only bland, but it was recycled powerpoint. He not only admitted lifting the EFF description of Tor for his PowerPoint, but he included their logo.

Hellman delivers the non-expert expert opinion Durham was prohibited from giving

As I said, Martin was witness number one, Hellmann — the self-described non-expert in DNS — was witness number two.

Even though Hellman admitted, again, that he’s not a DNS expert, DeFilippis still had him go over what DNS is.

Q. How familiar or unfamiliar are you with what is known as DNS or Domain Name System data?

A. I know the basics about DNS.

Q. And in your understanding, on a very basic level, what is DNS?

A. DNS is basically how one computer would try and communicate with another computer.

After getting Hellman to explain how he purportedly got chain of custody signatures on September 20, 2016 for the materials Michael Sussmann dropped off with James Baker on September 19, DeFilippis walked Hellman through how, he claimed, he had concluded that the allegations Sussmann dropped off were unsupported. Hellman reviewed the data accompanying the white paper, Durham’s star cybersecurity witness claimed on the stand, and after reviewing that data, determined there was no allegation of a hack in the materials and therefore nothing for the Cyber Division to look at. And, as a report he wrote “within a day” summarized, he concluded the methodology was horrible.

As you read the following exchange, know that (as I understand it) some, if not most, of what Hellman describes as the methodology is wrong. Obviously, if Hellman’s understanding of the methodology is wrong, then the opinion that DeFilippis elicits from a guy who admitted he was not an expert on DNS but whom DeFilippis nevertheless asked to serve as his expert witness on DNS before inviting David Martin in to present slides lifted from the Electronic Frontier Foundation instead [Takes a breath] … If Hellman’s understanding of the methodology and the data he’s looking at is wrong, then his opinion about the methodology is going to be of little merit.

With that understanding, note the objection of Sean Berkowitz, who fought DeFilippis’ late hour addition of an expert that DeFilippis wanted to use to opine on the validity of the research, bolded below.

So we looked at the top part, which set out your top-line conclusion. You then have a portion of the paper that says, “The investigators who conducted the research appear to have done the following.” Now, Special Agent Hellman, it appears to be a pretty technical discussion, but can you just tell us, in that first part of the paper, what did you set out and what did you conclude?

A. It looks to be that they were looking for domains associated with Trump, and the way that they did that was they looked at a list of sort of all domains and looked for domains that had the word “Trump” in them as a way to narrow down the number of domains they were looking at.

And then they wanted to find, well, which of that initial set of Trump domains, which of them are email servers associated with those domains. And the way they did that was to search for terms associated with email, like “mail” or other email-related terms to then narrow down their list of domains even further to be Trump-associated domains that were email servers.

Q. And did you opine on the soundness of that methodology? In other words, did you express a view as to whether this was a good way to go about this project?

A. We did not — I did not feel that that was the most expeditious way to go about identifying email servers associated with the domain.

Q. And why was that?

A. You can name an email server anything you want. It doesn’t have to have the words “mail” or “SMTP” in it. And so by — if you’re just searching for those terms, I would wager to guess you would miss an actual email server because there are other — there are other more technical ways that you can use — basically look-up tools, Internet look-up tools where you can say, for any domain, tell me the associated email server. That’s essentially like a registered email server. But the way that they were doing it was they were just looking for key terms, and I think that it just didn’t make sense to me why they would go about identifying email servers that way as opposed to just being able to look them up.

Q. Was there anything else about the methodology used here by the writer or writers of this paper that you found questionable or that you didn’t agree with?

A. I think just the overall assumptions that were being made about that the server itself was actually communicating at all. That was probably one of the biggest ones.

Q. And what, if anything, did you conclude about whether you believed the authors of the paper or author of the paper was fairly and neutrally conducting an analysis? Did you have an opinion either way?

MR. BERKOWITZ: Objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Basis?

MR. BERKOWITZ: Objection on foundation. He asked him his opinion. He’s not qualified as an expert for that.

THE COURT: I’ll overrule it.

A. Sorry, can you please repeat the question?

Q. Sure. Did you draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the authors of this paper seemed to be applying a sound methodology or whether, to the contrary, they were trying to reach a particular result? Did you —

A. Based upon the conclusions they drew and the assumptions that they made, I did not feel like they were objective in the conclusions that they came to.

Q. And any particular reasons or support for that?

A. Just the assumption you would have to make was so far reaching, it didn’t — it just didn’t make any sense.

That’s how, as his second witness, Andrew DeFilippis introduced the opinion of a guy who admitted he wasn’t an expert on DNS that DeFilippis had asked to serve as an expert even though DeFilippis should have known that he didn’t have the expertise to offer expert opinions like this.

If Sussmann is found guilty, I would bet a great deal of money this stunt will be one part of a several pronged appeal, because Judge Cooper permitted DeFilippis to do precisely what Cooper had prohibited him from doing before trial, and he let him do it with a guy who by his own admission is not a DNS expert.

Cyber Division reaches a conclusion without looking at the thumb drives

Now let’s look at what Hellman describes his own methodology to be.

First, it was quick. DeFilippis seems to think that serves his narrative, as if this stuff was so crappy that it took a mere glimpse to discredit it.

Q. Special Agent Hellman, how long would you say it took you and Special Agent Batty to write this up?

A. Inside of a day.

Q. Inside of a day, you said?

Berkowitz walked Hellman through the timeline of it, and boy was it quick. There’s some uncertainty about this timeline, because John Durham’s office doesn’t feel the need to make clear whether exhibits they’re turning over in discovery reflect UTC or ET. But I think I’ve laid it out below (Berkowitz got it wrong in cross-examination, which DeFilippis used to attack his analysis).

As you can see, not only were FBI’s crack cybersecurity agents making a final conclusion about the data within a day but — by all appearances — they did so before they had ever looked at the thumb drives included with the white papers. From the record, it’s actually not clear when — if!!! — they looked at the thumb drives. But it’s certain they had their analysis finalized no more than one working day after they admitted they hadn’t looked at the thumb drive, which was itself after they had already decided the white paper was shit.

Timeline

September 20, 10:20AM: Nate Batty tells Jordan Kelly they’ll come from Chantilly to DC get the thumb drives

September 20, 10:31AM: Jordan Kelly tells Batty the chain of custody is “Sussman to Strzock to Sporre”

September 20, 12:29PM: Hellman and Nate Batty accept custody of the thumb drives

September 20, 1:30PM: Hour drive back to Chantilly, VA

September 20, 4:44PM: Hellman appears to explain the process of picking up the thumb drives to jrsmith, claiming to have spoken to Baker on the phone. jrsmith jokes about “doctor[ing] a chain of evidence form.”

September 20, 4:58: Hellman says the more he reads the report “it feels a little 5150ish,” suggesting (as he explained to Berkowitz on cross) the authors suffered from a mental disability, and Hellman complains that “it contains an absurd quantity of data” to which Batty responded, the data seemed “inserted to overwhelm and confuse the reader.”

September 21, 8:47AM: Batty tells Hellman their supervisor wants them to “write a brief summary of what we think about the DNC report.” Batty continues by suggesting that “we should at least plug the thumb drives into Frank’s computer and look at the files…”

9/22, 9:44AM: Curtis Heide, in Chicago, asks Batty to send the contents of the thumb drive so counterintelligence agents can begin to look at the evidence. The boys in Cyber struggle to do so for a bit.

9/22, 2:49PM: Batty asks Hellman what he did with the blue thumb drive.

9/22, 4:46PM: Batty sends “analysis of Trump white paper” to others.

In other words, the cyber division spent less than 28 hours doing this analysis.

Yes. The analysis was quick.

Hellman says his analysis is valid because he looked at the data

The hastiness of the analysis and the fact that Hellman didn’t look at the thumb drive before making initial conclusions about the research is fairly problematic, because when he discussed his own methodology, he described the data driving everything.

Q. Now, what principally, from the materials, did you rely on to do your analysis?

A. So it was really two things. It was looking at the data, the technical data itself. There was a summary that it came with. And then also we were comparing what we saw in the data, sort of the story that the data told us, and then looking at the narrative that it came with and comparing our assessment of the data to the narrative.

[snip]

Q. And in connection with that analysis, did you also take a look at the data itself that was underlying this paper?

A. Yes

[snip]

Q. And if we look at that first page there, Agent Hellman, what kind of data is this?

A. It appears to be — as far as I can tell, it looks to be — it’s log data. So it’s a log that shows a date and a time, a domain, and an IP address. And, I mean, that’s — just looking at this log, there’s not too much more from that.

Q. And do you understand this to be at least a part of the DNS data that was contained on the thumb drives that I think you testified about earlier?

A. Yes.

[snip]

A. It would have mattered — well, I think on one hand it would not have mattered from the technical standpoint. If I’m looking at technical data, the data’s going to tell me whatever story the data’s going to tell me independent of where it comes from. So I still would have done the same technical analysis.

But knowing where the data comes from helps to tell me — it gives me context regarding how much I believe in the data, how authentic it is, do I believe it’s real, and do I trust it. [my emphasis]

He repeated this claim on cross with Berkowitz.

I just disagreed with the conclusions they came to and the analysis that they did based upon the data that came along with the white paper.

When Berkowitz asked him why counterintelligence opened an investigation when Cyber didn’t, Hellman suggested that the people in CD wouldn’t understand how to read the technical logs.

A. Um, I think they’d probably be looking at it from the same vantage point, but if you’re not — you don’t have experience looking at technical logs, you may not have the capability of doing a review of those logs. You might rely on somebody else to do it. And perhaps counterintelligence agents are going to be thinking about other investigative questions. So I guess it would probably be a combination of both.

“If I’m looking at technical data,” DeFilippis’ star cybersecurity agent explained, “the data’s going to tell me whatever story the data’s going to tell me.”

Except he didn’t look at the technical data, at least not the data on the thumb drives, before he reached his initial conclusion.

Hellman makes a claim unsupported by the data in his own analysis

I’ll leave it to people more expert than me to rip apart Hellman’s own analysis of the white paper Sussmann shared with the FBI. In early consultations, I’ve been told he misunderstood the methodology, misunderstood how researchers used Trump’s other domains to prove that just one had this anomaly (that is, as a way to test their hypothesis), and misstated the necessity of some long-term feedback loop for this anomaly to be sustained. Again, the experts will eventually explain the problems.

One part of his report that I know damns his methodology, however, is where he says the researchers,

Searched “…global nonpublic DNS activity…” (unclear how this was done) and discovered there are (4) primary IP addresses that have resolved to the name “mail1.trump-email.com”. Two of these belong to DNS servers at Russian Alfa Bank. [my emphasis]

This is the point where every single person I know who assessed these allegations who is at least marginally expert on DNS issues stopped and said, “global nonpublic DNS activity? There are only a handful of people that could be!” See, for example, this Robert Graham post written in response to the original Slate story, perhaps the most influential critique of the allegations, probably even on Durham. Every marginally expert person I know has, upon reading something like that, tried to figure out who would have that kind of visibility on the data, because that kind of visibility, by itself, would speak to their expertise. Those marginally expert people did not have the means to identify the possible sources of the data. But a lot of them — including the NYTimes!! — were able to find people who had that kind of visibility to better understand the anomaly. When Hellman read that, he simply said, “unclear how this was done” and moved on.

Still, Hellman did not contest (or possibly even test) the analysis that said there were really just four IP addresses conducting look-ups with the Trump marketing server. Dozens of people have continued to test that result in the years since, and while there have been adjustments to the general result, no one has disproven that the anomaly was strongest between Alfa Bank and Trump’s marketing domain.

Where Hellman’s insta-analysis really goes off the rails, however, is in his assertion that, “it appears that the presumed suspicious activity began approximately three weeks prior to the stated start date of the investigation conducted by the researcher.”

I’m not a DNS expert, but I’m pretty good at timelines, and by my read here are the key dates in the white paper.

May 4, 2016: Beginning date for look-up analysis

July 28, 2016: Lookup for hostnames yielding Trump

September 4, 2016: End date for look-up analysis

September 14, 2016: Updated search for look-ups covering June 17 through September 14

The start date reflected in this white paper is July 28, 2016. Three weeks before that would be July 7, 2016, a date that doesn’t appear in the white paper. The anomaly started 85 days before the start date reflected in this white paper (and the start date for the research began months earlier, but still over three weeks after the May 4 start date).

I don’t understand where he got that claim. But DeFilippis repeated it on the stand, as if it were reflected in the data, I guess believing it makes his star cybersecurity agent look good.

DeFilippis’ star cybersecurity agent has some credibility problems

There are a few more problems with the credibility of Hellman, DeFilippis’ star cybersecurity agent who is not a DNS expert. One of those is that he compared notes with his boss before first testifying.

Q: And you also spoke with Nate Batty around that time, Right?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you talk to him before the first interview to kind of get ready for it?

A: I think so, but I don’t remember.

Q: Is that something that you encourage witnesses to do, to talk to other witnesses to see if your recollections are consistent?

A: No.

In addition, notwithstanding that Batty was told that Sussmann was in the chain of control, Batty claimed to believe the source was “anonymous” and Hellmann claimed to believe it was sensitive–a human source. Even after comparing notes their stories didn’t match.

There are other problems with Hellman’s memory of the events, notably that in his first interview — the one he did shortly after comparing notes with Batty — he claimed that Baker had told him he was unable to identify the source of the data.

Q. And when you went to Mr. Baker’s office, do you remember what, if anything, was said during that discussion or during that interaction?

A. I remember being in the office, but I don’t distinctly recall what the conversation was. I do remember after the fact, though, that I was frustrated that I was not able to identify who had provided these thumb drives, this information to Mr. Baker. He was not willing to tell me.

At the very least, this presents a conflict with Baker’s testimony, but it’s also another testament to how variable memories can be four years, much less six years, after the fact.

Hellman also claimed, when asked on cross, that the first time he had ever seen the reference to a “DNC report” in September 21 Lync notes he received was two years ago, when he was first interviewed.

A: The first time I saw this was two years ago when I was being interviewed by Mr. DeFilippis, and I don’t recall ever seeing it. I never had any recollection of this information coming from DNC. I don’t remember DNC being a part of anything we read or discussed.

Q: Okay. When you say, the first time you saw it was two years ago when you met with Mr. DeFilippis, that’s not accurate. Right? You saw it on September 21st, 2016. Correct?

A: It’s in there. I don’t have any memory of seeing it.

And when Sean Berkowitz asked about Hellman the significance of seeing the reference to a “DNC report” first thing on September 21, he described that DeFilippis suggested to him that it was likely just a typo for DNS.

Q. What’s your explanation for it?

A. I have no recollection of seeing that link message. And there is — I have absolutely no belief that either me or Agent Batty knew where that data was coming from, let alone that it was coming from DNC. The only explanation that popped or was discussed was that it could have been a typo and somebody was trying to refer to DNS instead of DNC.

Q. So you think it was a typo?

A. I don’t know.

Q. When you said the only one suggesting it — isn’t it true that it was Mr. DeFilippis that suggested to you that it might have been a typo recently?

A. That’s correct.

When asked about a topic for which there was documentary evidence Hellman had seen in real time that he claimed not to remember, Andrew DeFilippis offered up an explanation that Hellman then offered on the stand.

On the stand, DeFilippis also tried to get Hellman to call a marketing server a spam server, though Hellman resisted.

Once you look closely, I don’t think Hellman’s testimony helps Durham all that much. What it proves, however, is that DeFilippis attempted to coach testimony.

One final thing. DeFilippis got his star cybersecurity agent to observe that the researchers didn’t include their name or other markers on their report, as if that’s a measure of unreliablity.

Q. Now, let me ask you, were you able to determine from any of these materials who had actually drafted the paper alleging the secret channel?

A. No.

Q. In other words, was it contained anywhere in the documents?

Here’s what Hellman’s own report looks like:

There’s a unit — ECOU1 — but the names of the individual agents appear nowhere in the report. The report is not dated. It does not specifically identify the white papers and thumb drives by control numbers, something key to evidentiary analysis.

It has none of the markers of regularity you’d expect from the FBI. Hellman’s own analysis doesn’t meet the standards that DeFilippis uses to measure reliability.

This long-time Grand Rapids resident is furious that Hellman judged there was no hack

Everything above I write as a journalist who has tried to understand this story for almost six years. Between that and 18 years of covering national security cases, I hope I now have sufficient familiarity with it to know there are real problems with Hellman’s analysis.

But let me speak as someone who lived in Grand Rapids for most of this period, and had friends who had to deal with the aftermath of Spectrum Health appearing at the center of a politically contentious story.

Hellman had, as he testified, two jobs. First, he was supposed to determine whether there were any cyber equities, then he was supposed to do some insta-analysis of the data without first looking at the thumb drives.

According to Hellman, there was no hack.

I was asked to perform two tasks in tandem with Special Agent Batty, and our tasks were, number one, to look at this data, look at the data and look at the narrative that it came with and identify were there any what’s known as cyber equities. And by that it was, was there any allegation of a hacking. That’s what cyber division does. We investigate hacking. So was there an allegation that somebody or some company or some computer had been hacked. That was first.

[snip]

As I mentioned, the first piece was we had to identify was there any real allegation of hacking; and there was not. That was our first task by our supervisor. There was not.

[snip]

The allegation was that someone purported to find a secret communication channel between the Trump organization and Russia. And so we identified first that, no, we didn’t think that there was any cyber equity, meaning that there was probably nothing more for cyber to investigate further, if there was no hacking crime.

Except here’s what the white paper says about Spectrum, that Grand Rapids business that was swept up in this story.

The Spectrum Health IP address is a TOR exit node used exclusively by Alfa Bank. ie.,  Alfa Bank communications enter a Tor node somewhere in the world and those communications exit, presumably untraceable, at Spectrum Health There is absolutely no reason why Spectrum would want a Tor exit node on its system. (Indeed, Spectrum Health would not want a TOR node on its system because, by its nature, you never know what will come out of a TOR node, including child pornography and other legal content.)

We discovered that Spectrum Health is the victim of a network intrusion. Therefore, Spectrum Health may not know it has a TOR exit node on its network. Alternatively, the DeVos family may have people at Spectrum who know there is a TOR node. i.e.,  could have been placed there with inside help.

When faced with some anomalous activity that seemed to tie into the weird DNS traffic, the experts suggested that maybe the Spectrum hack related to the DNS anomaly.

To be clear, this Tor allegation is the the weakest part of this white paper. You will hear about this to no end over the next week. It was technically wrong.

But the allegation in the white paper is that maybe a recent hack of Spectrum Health is why it had this anomalous traffic with Trump’s marketing server. There’s your hack!!

Had the people at FBI’s cybersecurity side actually treated this as a possible compromise, it might have addressed the part of this story that never made any sense. And we might not, now, six years later, be arguing about what might explain it.

Let me be clear: I do think the white paper overstated its conclusions. I don’t think secret communication is the most obvious explanation here.

But there are hacks and then there are hacks in the testimony of DeFilippis’ star cybersecurity agent.

Update: Corrected an attribution to Batty instead of Hellman.

Update: Fixed my own timeline.

Update: Added link to Robert Graham’s analysis.

Update: This may be where Hellman gets his erroneous three week claim. There were two histograms included with the report. One, the close-up, does start around July 7.

But the broader scope shows look-ups earlier, very actively in June, but with a few stray ones in May.

The government didn’t include the pages and pages of logs that Batty complained about in this exhibit. Had they, it would be clear to jurors that this claim is false.

Update: Correction on two points. First, I think I’ve finally got the Lync exchange above correct between Batty and Hellman. As noted, Hellman complains that “it contains an absurd quantity of data” to which Batty responded, the data seemed “inserted to overwhelm and confuse the reader.”

Second, I was wading through exhibits this morning and found the exhibit of 19 pages of logs. Here’s just a subset of them, including logs that go back to May 2016. Hellman didn’t look even at the printed page of log files closely enough to realize his claim about three weeks was wrong. These data weren’t intended to overwhelm the reader. They were there to show how the anomaly accelerated during the election.


Brittain Shaw’s Privileged Attempt to Misrepresent Eric Lichtblau’s Privilege

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In the first words of her opening argument in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham prosecutor Brittain Shaw argued that this case is all about Sussmann’s privilege, his purported ability to exploit high level ties at DOJ to seed what she claims would be a smear campaign against the guy who was, in fact, hiding secret communications with the Kremlin and soliciting hacks of his opponent.

The evidence will show that this is a case about privilege: the privilege of a well-connected D.C. lawyer with access to the highest levels of the FBI; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that he could lie to the FBI without consequences; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful the normal rules didn’t apply, that he could use the FBI as a political tool.

The really painful irony of this case, though, is that Sussmann is being significantly hamstrung because of privilege, attorney-client privilege, because it is limiting his ability to present evidence about what really happened.

When Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that a subset of emails that had been protected under privilege were not, after all, he explained that, the documents, “do not strike the Court as being particularly revelatory.” Even so, Sussmann and Fusion can’t, ethically, simply offer up emails over which the Democrats are claiming privilege. There’s good reason to believe if they could, they could show that significant parts of Durham’s conspiracy theory have been based on imagining that Democrats were hiding the worst possible plotting behind privilege claims, when in fact the reality was much more mundane.

Take two exhibits from the trial as an example. Durham is making much of a September 15, 2016 email from Marc Elias to top people on the campaign. Its subject line was “Alfa article.” But it appears to be sharing an article about “testimony of an oil trader.” If Sussmann could share it, it might simply show that Elias had seen an article about corruption and seen some tie with the Alfa Bank allegations. He can’t, because Elias is the one who made that connection.

Meanwhile, two exhibits Sussmann introduced into evidence show Robby Mook — who is not a lawyer — sharing Sidney Blumenthal “intelligence” with him that the Trump campaign was freaking out because they had gotten advance word of a NYT article about Trump’s ties with Russia.

The Trump campaign is having “a major league freak-out,” according to a Republican source who has been reliable in the past. What is causing the Trump “freak-out” is anticipation of an investigative story to be published by the New York Times. The subject is described as “Russia” and “a disaster.” “That is completely the story of everything going on since Thursday,” insists the source. The Times story, says the source, accounts for Tramp’s extraordinarily defensive aggressive reactions–his declaration that he will sue the New York Times, his personal tweeting attack on Maureen Dowd as “wacky” and a neuSidney rotic dope,” (though the source says “that’s just him anyway”), his call for the assassination of HRC, and the campaign’s push to the media of the flat-out lie that I was behind birtherism in 2008. On Saturday night, Trump tweeted: “My lawyers want to sue the tailing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.” Trump did not specify why the Times might be guilty of”irresponsible intent,” which in any case lacks any legal weight. Earlier on Saturday, he tweeted that the Times was “a laughingstock rag.” The atmosphere inside the campaign is described as chaotic, frenetic and “spontaneous.” Bannon and Bossie are said to be grasping at anything to throw back in order to distract from and fend off the coming story. Journalistic sources have independently said that reporters at the Times are working on a Tromp-Russia story.

It wouldn’t be a high profile political trial, I guess, if Sid Blumenthal didn’t make a showing. Note that Mike Flynn’s Mueller interviews show him responding to some Sid Blumenthal stuff in precisely this period, so it’t clear Sid was talking to Republicans.

Anyway, that part — Blumenthal sharing with Mook — was not privileged. And that part makes it clear that Elias was right to be concerned about Trump suing if the Hillary campaign made factual observations about his ties with Russia. It also may (though this is uncertain) back Sussmann’s understanding that Eric Lichtblau was close to publishing the Alfa story, so close that Trump’s moles at the NYT had alerted him to it. But whatever Mook said about it to Elias, the campaign’s lawyer guarding against lawsuits, is privileged, as whatever Elias said to Sussmann and the Fusion guys when he forwarded Mook’s comment would be.

Whatever was said may have influenced Sussmann’s decision to go to the FBI, though, as this was shortly before he texted Jim Baker and asked to meet.

In his testimony, Elias stated that he had not given Sussmann permission to go to the FBI with the Alfa Bank story. He doesn’t think he knew until shortly afterwards, though could have learned before (the Blumenthal story may serve to explain a call that Sussmann knows prosecutors plan to dramatically reveal).

You testified that you became aware that Mr. Sussmann went to the FBI. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And your testimony was that you think that you were told right after, although there’s a possibility it was right before?

A. Yes.

Q. Your best recollection is which of those?

A. Is after.

Q. Okay. Did you tell him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did he seek your permission to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did you authorize him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Are you aware of anyone at the Clinton Campaign that authorized Mr. Sussmann to go to the FBI to share the possibility of The New York Times story?

A. Not that I’m aware of. No.

Q. Did you consent to his going to the FBI?

A. No, not that I remember. No.

Elias even explained what a colossally bad idea it would be for a candidate whose campaign had been badly damaged by Jim Comey to go to the FBI.

A. First of all, the FBI had in my view not been particularly helpful in investigating or doing anything to prevent the leaks of the emails. The exfiltration is one thing, you know, the stealing of the emails. But the publication of the emails, it was not just this one time. I mean, we were dealing with multiple publications of emails. And it was not just this one client.

And I think my sense was that the FBI was not for a variety of reasons going to do anything that was going to be — like stop bad things from happening, which would be one reason to go for the FBI.

The second, which is more unique to the Clinton Campaign, is that I think he was then the FBI director, but James Comey had taken public stances in around that time period that were in my view unfair and putting a thumb on the scale against Secretary Clinton.

So I’m not sure that I would have thought that the FBI was going to be — give a fair shake to anything that they viewed as anti-Trump or pro-Clinton.

And then the final thing is that if The New York Times was going to run this story, like that’s the goal. Right? The New York Times runs the story. If you get the FBI involved, any number of things could prevent that from happening. Right?

In the most extreme instance, the FBI can go to the publication and say: Please don’t. But the second is, the newspaper itself might then want to do further reporting on the FBI investigation and delay its story. Right?

So, like, even in a world in which, like, the FBI is being helpful — not being helpful; even in a world in which the FBI is doing stuff, the media may not run the story because they want to get the full picture because they view the FBI piece of it as an essential piece of the story.

It’s certainly possible that, given this advance warning of a Trump shit-storm, Sussmann decided it would be best to give FBI a head’s up. Sussmann, however, can’t ethically share the communications between Elias and him, even if it would help him. That’s how privilege works.

With that in mind, consider what Shaw said in Durham’s bid to keep Eric Lichtblau off the stand (this appears to have been filed two days after Judge Cooper ordered it, but one of the Durham lawyers has had a family emergency so they may have gotten an extension).

After explaining that prosecutors need to question Lichtblau about things the scope of which have been specifically excluded in the trial, a footnote claims that they won’t violate Judge Cooper’s rules about such things (they have, serially, during the trial).

The government should be permitted to cross-examine Lichtblau about any communications he had with other individuals, including, but not limited to, Fusion GPS personnel and computer researchers, regarding the alleged connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa bank. To the extent Sussmann, Fusion GPS, or others (including computer researchers) approached or communicated with Lichtblau concerning Alfa Bank or related matters, the government should be permitted to question Lichtblau about such exchanges, as they are relevant to the defendant’s communications with Lichtblau on these same issues and are probative of the defendant’s alleged actions on behalf of clients (Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign). The government also intends to cross-examine Lichtblau on issues pertaining to the credibility and reliability of his testimony. 1

[snip]

If Fusion GPS (which was hired by the defendant’s firm on behalf of the Hillary for America Campaign) and other persons known to Joffe and/or Sussmann similarly supplied opposition research-type information to Lichtblau regarding the Trump Organization as a part of a coordinated effort, this would be relevant to demonstrate that Sussmann was not acting merely as a concerned citizen trying to help the FBI when he met with FBI General Counsel and that his contrary representations were false. Indeed, the Government is aware that Sussmann and Joffe did enlist and/or task one or more other computer researchers to communicate with the media (including Lichtblau) concerning these matters

1 The government will abide by the Court’s order of May 7, 2022 and, in accordance with that order, will not “put on extensive evidence” about the accuracy of the data provided by Sussmann or his clients to the FBI, Lichtblau, or others. See Op. & Order (“In Limine Order”) at 5, ECF No. 121. [my emphasis]

Here, Shaw states as fact that the computer research was opposition research. It was not.

I am 100% certain that if Lichtblau could testify about all the people he spoke with on this story, he could explain that many if not most of the people involved — as well as a bunch of other people, including at least one whom prosecutors have affirmatively claimed did not have a role in chasing down this anomaly — believed the anomaly was real and were motivated out of a genuine alarm about the Russian attack that year. Yes, the NYT found people who pushed back (more so after the FBI killed the story). But that’s what makes Lichtblau’s work reporting, not opposition research.

If Lichtblau is able to testify, he could also provide a key piece of important context to evidence the government has already presented. Yesterday, Jim Baker described how, starting on September 21, he reached out to Sussmann for the name of the reporter working on the story.

Baker provided Lichtblau’s name to Bill Priestap before noon on September 22. But Lichtblau didn’t meet with the FBI until Monday, September 26.

We know that in between, the FBI called Cendyn, leading them to alter their DNS address, and the NYT called a representative for Alfa Bank which later — NYT believed, at least — led Alfa to alter their DNS address. The NYT believed that there was a response from Alfa that indicated they were trying to hide this activity.

A key part of Durham’s claim is that NYT wasn’t close to publishing when Sussmann went to the FBI and that Sussmann was, instead, trying to provide urgency for the story. That doesn’t accord with my understanding and it doesn’t accord with what Dexter Filkins has written. Durham can keep telling it so long as Lichtblau doesn’t testify.

One thing that happened, though — in addition to initial contacts that would have alerted Lichtblau that the FBI didn’t want him to publish — was the response to those calls after Sussmann and Joffe decided to share Lichtblau’s name. There was new news that Lichtblau had to try to understand that created a new delay.

As with Sussmann, it would be nice for Lichtblau if he could describe all the efforts he made to verify the story. If he could, it would demonstrably undercut several of the claims Durham is making. He can’t, because he has separate confidentiality agreements with those other sources.

Shaw, who accuses Sussmann of being privileged, completely flips how privilege works on its head (including by mis-citing the David Tatel concurrence in the Judy Miller subpoena, which as I understand it would support Lichtblau making the call about the scope of his testimony). She ties it to a topic rather than a privileged relationship to accuse Lichtblau of trying to selectively pick which parts of the story he can tell.

The D.C. Circuit has “declined to adopt a selective waiver doctrine” in the context of attorney-client communications that “would allow a party voluntarily to produce documents covered by the attorney-client privilege to one party and yet assert the privilege as a bar to production to a different party.” United States v. Williams Companies, Inc., 562 F.3d 387, 394 (D.C. Cir. 2009). “The client cannot be permitted to pick and choose among his opponents, waiving the privilege for some and resurrecting the claim of confidentiality to obstruct others.” Permian Corp. v. United States, 665 F.2d 1214, 1221 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Privilege holders must instead “treat the confidentiality of attorney-client communications like jewels—if not crown jewels” because courts “will not distinguish between various degrees of ‘voluntariness’ in waivers of the attorney-client privilege.” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d 976, 980 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

This principle—which restricts a privilege of “ancient lineage and continuing importance,” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d at 980—necessarily governs the novel and qualified reporter’s privilege advanced in this case. Sussmann subpoenaed Lichtblau to appear as a witness and Lichtblau has not moved to quash. Lichtblau and defendant Sussmann cannot “tactical[ly] employ[]” the asserted privilege to pick and choose the topics that may be put to Lichtblau on the witness stand. Permian Corp., 665 F.2d at 1221. Privileges are not “tool[s] for selective disclosure.” Ibid

I get why someone in the grips of a fevered conspiracy theory would make this argument. Durham believes that everyone involved with the Alfa Bank story was part of the same malicious conspiracy targeting poor Donald Trump, even though DOJ has in its possession abundant proof that’s false. Yet even in this case, Cooper has distinguished between the privileged relationships that Joffe has with what the Democrats have, and he has also pointed to affirmative evidence that this wasn’t one big conspiracy.

But Shaw would have you believe that Lichtblau’s privilege obligations are tied to a project, a story, and not a bunch of individuals, many of whom he had existing relationships with well before this story.

A lawyer not in the grip of a fevered conspiracy theory, however, would understand that that kind of privilege doesn’t make you special, it creates an obligation, even if the obligation prevents you from using your profession from helping yourself.


emptywheel’s Continuing Obsession with Sticky Notes, Michael Sussmann Trial Edition

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

Longtime readers of emptywheel are no doubt familiar with my obsession with the weird prevalence of sticky notes that appear on exhibits used by prosecutors Bill Barr appointed to launch politicized witch hunts. These posts provide a background, but the tl;dr is that I caught the Jeffrey Jensen crew adding dates on sticky notes, some inaccurate, to FBI notes as part of the effort to kill the Mike Flynn prosecution.

The Jeffrey Jensen “Investigation:” Post-It Notes and Other Irregularities (September 26, 2020)

Shorter DOJ: We Made Shit Up … Please Free Mike Flynn (October 27, 2020)

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket (December 3, 2020)

John Durham Is Hiding Evidence of Altered Notes (April 5, 2022)

As I noted here, there some reason to believe Durham’s evidence comes from the same collection of documents as Jeffrey Jensen’s.

Durham released the trial versions of Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson’s notes yesterday. So without further commentary (for now), I’d like to post how these notes appeared in the filing he used to get the notes admitted in the first place with what the jury will see.

Priestap notes motion version

Priestap notes trial exhibit version

Anderson notes motion version

Anderson notes trial exhibit version


John Durham’s Lies with Metadata

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

I’d like to thank John Durham for showing us back in April how he was going to mislead the jury with metadata.

He appears to have done just that, yesterday, with several exhibits entered into evidence. And I fear that unless Durham’s lie is corrected, he will gravely mislead the jury.

As I pointed out in April, because of the email system at Fusion GPS, the first email in any thread they produced to Durham renders as UTC; the rest render as ET. So, for the emails on which one could check, the first email in every thread they released in April was four hours later than the time the email was actually sent.

Durham has revealed that his exhibit has irregularities in the emails pertaining to a key issue: whether Fusion sent out a link to April Lorenzen’s i2p site before Mark Hosenball sent it to them.

This shows up in the timestamps. In the exhibit, the lead email for each appearance appears to be set to UTC, whereas the sent emails included in any thread appear to be set to ET.

For example, in this screencap, the time shown for Mark Hosenball’s response to Peter Fritsch (the pink rectangle) is 1:35 PM, which is presumably Eastern Time.

In this screencap, the very same response appears to be sent at 5:36PM, which is presumably UTC.

Both instances of Peter Fritsch’s email (the green rectangle), “that memo is OTR–tho all open source,” show at 1:33PM, again, Eastern Time.

To be clear: this irregularity likely stems from Fusion’s email system, not DOJ’s. It appears that the email being provided itself is rendered in UTC, while all the underlying emails are rendered in the actual received time.

That means if you show someone only the first email in a thread, you will be misrepresenting what time that email was sent.

That’s what Durham did yesterday with a bunch of Fusion-produced emails he submitted during Laura Seago’s testimony, including (but not limited to):

Over and over, Andrew DeFilippis showed these to Laura Seago and asked her to state what date and time the emails were.

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Okay. And, Your Honor, if there’s no objection from the defense, we’ll offer Government’s Exhibit 612.

MR. BERKOWITZ: No objection.

THE COURT: So moved.

Q. Okay. So what is the date and time of this email?

A. October 5, 2016, at 5:23 p.m.

Q. And the “Subject” line?

A. “Re: so is this safe to look at” — excuse me — “so this is safe to look at.”

While these emails appear to have been produced to Durham at a later time (their Bates numbers from Fusion are about 3000 pages off some of the earlier ones), they’re from the same series and produced by the same custodian, so we should assume that the same anomaly that existed on the earlier ones exists here.

Seago hasn’t seen these emails for years and — because they were treated as privileged — she can only see the first email in a thread, even if there are replies in that thread (and there clearly are, in some of them). She had no way of knowing if she was looking at UTC time!

But Andrew DeFilippis surely does. Indeed, he’s prepping an attack on Sussmann for not understanding that Durham turned over Lync files from the FBI without making clear they, also, get produced in UTC. So he’s aware of which exhibits he has sent to Sussmann without clarifying the correct time. Yet over and over again, DeFilippis asked Seago what time these emails were sent, even though he likely knows (especially since these are files that are no longer privileged, so he has seen those that are threads) that he was deceiving her.

And the timing of these Fusion emails — and possibly some earlier ones exchanged with Rodney Joffe — almost certainly matter.

As I showed in my earlier post, because Durham didn’t fix the anomaly in these emails, they have created the false impression that an October 5 email from Mark Hosenball that shared public links to Tea Leaves’ files came in after Fusion sent it out to Eric Lichtblau. They appear to be prepping another deceit, this one conflating a link that Hosenball sent with one Seago found on Reddit.

Assuming the emails released yesterday share this same anomaly, here’s how the timeline would work out. I’ve bolded the ones that would be grossly misleading taken out of order.

5:23PM (could be 1:23?): Seago to Fritsch, Is this safe?

1:31PM: [not included] Fritsch to Hosenball email with Alfa Group overview

1:32PM: Fritsch sends Isikoff the September 1, 2016 Alfa Group overview (full report included in unsealed exhibit)

1:33PM [not included] Fritsch to Hosenball, “that memo is OTR — tho all open source”

1:35/1:36PM: Hosenball replies, “yep got it, but is that from you all or from the outside computer experts?”

1:37PM: Fritsch responds,

the DNS stuff? not us at all

outside computer experts

we did put up an alfa memo unrelated to all this

1:38PM: [not included] Hosenball to Fritsch:

is the alfa attachment you just sent me experts or yours ? also is there additional data posted by the experts ? all I have found is the summary I sent you and a chart… [my emphasis]

1:41PM: [not included] Fritsch to Hosenball:

alfa was something we did unrelated to this. i sent you what we have BUT it gives you a tutanota address to leave questions.  1. Leave questions at: [email protected]

1:41PM: [not included] Hosenball to Fritsch:

yes I have emailed tuta and they have responded but haven’t sent me any new links yet. but I am pressing. but have you downloaded more data from them ?

1:43PM: [not included] Fritsch to Hosenball, “no”

1:44PM: Fritsch to Lichtblau:

fyi found this published on web … and downloaded it. super interesting in context of our discussions

[mediafire link] [my emphasis]

2:23PM: [not included] Lichtblau to Fritsch, “thanks. where did this come from?”

2:27PM: [not included] Hosenball to Fritsch:

tuta sent me this guidance

[snip]

Since I am technically hopeless I have asked our techie person to try to get into this. But here is the raw info in case you get there first. Chrs mh

2:32PM: Fritsch to Lichtblau:

no idea. our tech maven says it was first posted via reddit. i see it has a tutanota contact — so someone anonymous and encrypted. so it’s either someone real who has real info or one of donald’s 400 pounders. the de vos stuff looks rank to me … weird

6:33PM (likely 2:33PM): Fwd Alfa Fritsch to Seago

6:57PM (like 2:57PM): Re alfa Seago to Fritsch

7:02PM (likely 3:02): Re alfa Seago to Fritsch

3:27PM: [not included] Fritsch to Hosenball cc Simpson: “All same stuff”

3:58PM: [not included] Hosenball to Fritsch, asking, “so the trumpies just sent me the explanation below; how do I get behind it?”

4:28PM: [not included] Fritsch to Hosenball, “not easily, alas”

4:32PM: Fritsch to Hosenball, cc Simpson:

Though first step is to send that explanation to the source who posted this stuff. I understand the trump explanations can be refuted.

 

 

What Durham will completely and utterly misrepresent if it doesn’t clarify this anomaly (and this is the second time they have declined to) is that Seago and Mark Hosenball both accessed different packages of the Tea Leaves materials, one of which then got sent out to Lichtblau. Between 2:33 and 2:57, Seago appears to have compared the files and told Fritsch, who then told Hosenball, that the packages were “all the same stuff.”


With a Much-Anticipated Fusion GPS Witness, Andrew DeFilippis Bangs the Table

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

Andrew DeFilippis has done several arguably unethical things in an attempt to win the Michael Sussmann trial.

He repeatedly attempted to get Marc Elias to repeat something Elias shouldn’t have said in the first place: that the only way to understand whether Sussmann had gone to the FBI to benefit the Hillary campaign would be to ask him (in response to which stunt Sussmann is asking for a mistrial).

DeFilippis also set up a ploy to get a non-expert to offer opinions that only an expert should offer (more on that later).

At times (such as during Neustar employee Steve DeJong’s testimony), DeFilippis seemed more focused on eliciting testimony that might help him make a case against Rodney Joffe than obtain a guilty verdict against Sussmann.

And in direct examination yesterday of Fusion’s Laura Seago (my reading of the transcript is here), he did both, violating Judge Cooper’s orders in an attempt to set up his ongoing investigation in a way that did nothing to help him win the trial against Sussmann.

For all the anticipation for it, Seago’s testimony was not all that helpful to Durham’s team. She described having about as much awareness of which Democratic entity Fusion’s ultimately client was as the FBI did on Carter Page’s FISA applications. She indicated that the Alfa Bank allegations were just one of a whole bunch of possible ties to Russia that Trump had. She described how, to the extent Fusion could assess the Alfa Bank allegations, they found them credible. In discussing Fusion’s pitch to Franklin Foer on the Alfa Bank story, she described the other major data scientists who had backed the Alfa Bank allegations, identities that Durham has always suppressed because they kill his conspiracy theory.

Q. And what was discussed? What did you say, and what did they say?

A. I really don’t remember the specifics six years on. We talked about the allegations between the Trump organization and Alfa-Bank. We talked about highly credible computer scientists who seemed to think that these allegations were credible.

Q. And by that, are you referring to Mr. Joffe or somebody else?

A. There were others that ended up being cited in Mr. Foer’s article. He cited L. Jean Camp and Paul Vixie, who invented the DNS system.

During cross-examination by Sussmann lawyer Sean Berkowitz, Seago made it clear she didn’t tell Foer about the FBI investigation into these matters.

Q. And with respect to your meeting with Mr. Foer, did you tell Mr. Foer that the FBI was investigating these allegations?

A. No. I had no knowledge of that investigation.

Q. So before your meeting with Franklin Foer, did you have any information that the FBI was involved in any way?

A. No.

Q. All right. Did Mr. Fritsch or anyone else at the meeting say, “The FBI is looking into this”?

A. Not that I can remember.

Also on cross, Seago described that her impression from having dealt with Joffe is that he really did believe the allegations too.

Q. And your impression of Mr. Joffe that was made at that meeting was that he was — he seemed reliable?

A. Yes.

Q. And he seemed well-placed to have knowledge and information about the server issues?

A. Yes, he did.

Q. And you understood that Mr. Joffe supported the suggestion that there was at least potential contact between Trump servers and Alfa-Bank servers?

A. Yes, I did.

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Objection, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled.

Q. You answered the question?

A. Yes, I did understand that.

But it was in DeFilippis’ treatment of emails that Judge Cooper granted Durham’s team access to, but did not permit them to use at trial, where he got particularly obnoxious. Remember: while Durham’s team maintained from the start that the privilege claims behind these emails were not proper (because they were largely about communicating with the press, not about providing research assistance to the Democrats), the reason they didn’t get access to them was their own incompetence. They didn’t ask for a privilege review until right before trial.

DeFilippis has no one to blame but himself, but in true right wing fashion, he’s lashing out.

Perhaps in an attempt to make some drama out of documents that Cooper described “not very revelatory,” DeFilippis walked Seago through all the ones she was privy to, including those with Joffe that Cooper ruled were privileged.

Generally, such exchanges went something like this:

Q. Ms. Seago, does this appear to be part of the same chain as the prior email exchanges?

A. It has the same “Subject” line and says “Re,” so that is what it appears to be. I have no independent recollection of this email.

Q. And what, if any, connection in your mind did the Alfa Bank issue have to New York? I ask because “New York” is in the “Subject” line. Any sense?

A. I don’t know.

Q. And the attachment on this email, any sense of what that was?

A. I don’t know.

Note: there’s no reason to believe Seago has reviewed these emails recently.

That was all setup for DeFilippis’ last set of questions:

Q. Did you ever receive instructions that you couldn’t disclose your affiliation with Fusion GPS to the media?

A. No. I don’t remember hiding that affiliation from the media ever.

Q. Do you ever remember hiding or considering hiding that affiliation from anyone?

A. No.

Q. How certain are you of that?

A. I’m quite certain. You know, we don’t go around advertising who we are and where we work, but I certainly don’t lie to people, and I don’t lie to the press about where I work.

Q. Okay. So you’re fairly certain you never sought to conceal that?

A. Not that I can recall.

Immediately after Seago left the stand, DeFilippis asked for a bench conference (the DC Court adopted phones for the purpose during COVID and all the judges love them, so they’re keeping them). Seago’s answer to the question, DeFilippis noted, was inconsistent with the content of the email, which referenced Tea Leaves.

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Your Honor, could we speak to you on the phone?

THE COURT: Excuse me?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Could we speak to you on the phone?

THE COURT: Yes. (The following is a bench conference outside the hearing of the jury)

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Your Honor, can you hear me now?

THE COURT: Yes.

MR. DeFILIPPIS: So we have an issue with regard to Ms. Seago’s testimony. The government followed carefully Your Honor’s order with regard to the Fusion emails that were determined not to be privileged but that the government had moved on.

As Your Honor may recall, there was an email in there in which Ms. Seago talks very explicitly about seeking to approach someone associated with the Alfa-Bank matter and concealing her affiliation with Fusion in the email. When we asked her broadly whether she ever did that, she definitively said no when I, you know, revisited it with her. So it raises the prospect that she may be giving false testimony.

And so we were — you know, I considered trying to refresh her with that, but I didn’t understand that to be in line with Your Honor’s ruling. So the government is — we’d like to consider whether we should be — we’d like Your Honor to consider whether we should be able to at least recall her and refresh her with that document?

THE COURT: I don’t remember that question, but the subject matter was concealing Fusion or her identities in conversations with the press. If I recall correctly, that email related to “tea leaves,” correct?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Your Honor, I thought I had phrased it more broadly. We can go to the transcript.

THE COURT: Mr. Berkowitz?

MR. BERKOWITZ: Judge, I’m not familiar with the specifics. I’m happy to take a look at the transcript. I certainly got the impression he was asking if she had ever concealed Fusion as an entity from the press. That was what was asked in her deposition, and she answered the same way in her deposition. One thing, just to note, some of our paralegals can hear Mr. DeFilippis talking, so I suggest, just as a reminder, to keep your voices down.

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Sure, sure.

THE COURT: All right. Let me look at the transcript.

(Pause)

THE COURT: Can you hear me?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. Looking at the transcript, I think you did ask a more open-ended question. She said, “I don’t remember hiding that affiliation from the media ever.” And then you followed up, “Do you ever remember hiding or considering hiding that affiliation from anyone?” And she answered, “No.” I would — so I think that she — I think the email is inconsistent with her answer, Mr. Berkowitz. But the question now is whether they can refresh her with that email notwithstanding the Court’s order. And now she’s gone.

How are we going to do that even if we were to allow it? Is it worth the candle of calling her back?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Your Honor, I understand she’s still in the building.

MR. BERKOWITZ: Your Honor, is this email privileged?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: This was one of the emails that was determined not to be privileged by Your Honor.

MR. BERKOWITZ: So why didn’t they impeach her with it when they had the chance?

MR. DeFILIPPIS: Your Honor, the reason is because I didn’t want to violate Your Honor’s order that we couldn’t use those affirmatively.

THE COURT: Well, I think the time to have asked the Court whether using the document to refresh was consistent with the order was before she was tendered and dismissed. So I think you waived your opportunity. All right? So we’re going to move on.

Frankly, I think using the formerly privileged emails to impeach was beyond the scope of Cooper’s order, too. This was an affirmative use of the email!

But this was nothing more than a perjury trap, and with it an attempt to get the content of the email DeFilippis had been prohibited from using before the jury. Cooper didn’t allow it in, though he shouldn’t have allowed that line of questions in either (had such questions been permitted, then Seago should have been permitted to refresh her own memory of them).

Probably, DeFilippis will consider charging her with perjury over this. I think the fact that both Judge Cooper and Berkowitz had the impression that the question pertained solely to outreach to the press, Seago’s reiteration that, “I don’t lie to the press about where I work,” reinforcing that understanding, plus her last minute caveat, “Not that I can recall,” would make such a case as flimsy as this one. Probably, DeFilippis will use this exchange as part of his bid to get access to some subset of the 1,500 other not very revelatory emails that Democrats have claimed privilege over.

But this was a stunt. It wasn’t about getting, or sharing, the truth with the jury (and any scenario in which I can imagine Seago trying to hide her identity with Tea Leaves would suggest a more distant relationship than even I imagined Fusion had, though I would love to know what it was).

When a prosecutor engages in as many stunts as DeFilippis has, it’s a confession he knows the facts are not on his side.


Like the January 6 Investigation, the Mueller Investigation Was Boosted by Congressional Investigations

Midway through an article on which Glenn Thrush — who as far as I recall never covered the Russian investigation and has not yet covered the January 6 investigation — has the lead byline, the NYT claims that it is unusual for a congressional committee to receive testimony before a grand jury investigation does.

The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack for transcripts of interviews it is conducting behind closed doors, including some with associates of former President Donald J. Trump, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The move is further evidence of the wide-ranging nature of the department’s criminal inquiry into the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol and the role played by Mr. Trump and his allies as they sought to keep him in office after his defeat in the 2020 election.

[snip]

The Justice Department’s request for transcripts underscores how much ground the House committee has covered, and the unusual nature of a situation where a well-staffed congressional investigation has obtained testimony from key witnesses before a grand jury investigation. [my emphasis]

That’s simply false. This is precisely what happened with the Mueller investigation, and there’s good reason to believe that DOJ made a decision to facilitate doing the same back in July, in part to avoid some evidentiary challenges that Mueller had difficulties with, most notably Executive Privilege challenges.

First, let’s look at how Mueller used the two Congressional investigations.

At the start, he asked witnesses to provide him the same materials they were providing to Congress. I believe that in numerous cases, the process of complying with subpoenas led witnesses to believe such subpoenas were the only way Mueller was obtaining information. Trump Organization, especially, withheld a number of documents from Mueller and Congress, including direct contacts with Russian officials and a Steve Bannon email referencing Russian involvement in the election. By obtaining a warrant for Trump Transition materials held by GSA and the Trump Organization emails of Michael Cohen hosted by Microsoft, Mueller got records the subjects of the investigation were otherwise hiding. Steve Bannon, too, falsely told Mueller he didn’t use his personal accounts for campaign business, only to discover Mueller had obtained those records by the time of his October 2018 interview. Surprising witnesses with documents they had been hiding appears to have been one of the ways Mueller slowly coaxed Bannon and Cohen closer to the truth.

We should assume for key figures in the vicinity of Ali Alexander and John Eastman, the same is happening with the January 6 investigation: the very people who’ve been squealing about complying with subpoenas or call records served on their providers are likely ones DOJ obtained covert warrants for.

Then there are the prosecutions that arose entirely out of Congressional interviews. There were three Mueller prosecutions that arose out of Committee investigations.

Perhaps the most interesting was that of Sam Patten — whose interview materials are here. He had an interview with SSCI on January 5, 2018, where he appears to have lied about using a straw donor to buy Inauguration tickets for Konstantin Kilimnik. By March 20, the FBI attempted their first interview of Patten, after which Patten deleted some emails about Cambridge Analytica. And when Mueller did interview Patten on May 22, they already had the makings of a cooperation deal. After getting Patten to admit to the straw purchase and also to violating FARA — the latter of which he would plead guilty months later, on August 31 — Patten then provided a ton of information about how Kilimnik worked and what he had shared with Patten about his role in the 2016 operation, much of which still remained sealed as part of an ongoing investigation in August 2021. Patten had two more interviews in May then appeared before the grand jury, at which he shared more information about how Kilimnik was trying to monitor the investigation. He had two more interviews before pleading guilty, then at least two more after that.

Not only did Patten share information that likely served as part of a baseline for an understanding about Russia’s use of Ukraine to interfere in US politics and provided investigators with an understanding of what the mirror image to Paul Manafort looked like, but this remained secret from much of the public for three months.

It’s less clear precisely when SSCI shared Cohen’s lies with Mueller. But in the same period, both Mueller and SDNY were developing parallel investigations of him. But by the time Cohen pled guilty in SDNY (also in August 2018), Mueller had the evidence to spend almost three months obtaining information from Cohen as well before he entered into a separate plea agreement with Mueller in which he admitted to the secret communications with the Kremlin that he and Trump lied to hide.

Meanwhile, HPSCI’s much more hapless investigation proved a way to get a limited hangout prosecution of Roger Stone. By May 2018, when Mueller developed evidence showing not just ways that Stone was obstructing his own investigation but also how Stone attempted to craft lies to tell to the Committee — coordinated with Jerome Corsi and reliant on threats to Randy Credico — it provided a way to prosecute Stone while protecting Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether Stone conspired with Russia.

And by all public appearances at the time, it appeared that Congress was acting while Mueller was not. But that was false (and is probably false now). The entire time during which SSCI and HPSCI were taking steps with Cohen and Stone that would late become really useful to the criminal investigation, Mueller was taking active, albeit covert, steps in his own investigations of the two men (whether he was investigating Patten personally or just Kilimnik is uncertain). Mueller obtained his first warrants against Cohen and Stone in July and August, respectively. But no one knew that until the following spring. That is, Cohen and Stone and everyone else focused on Congress while Mueller got to investigate covertly for another nine months.

We should assume the same kind of thing is happening here. All the more so given the really delicate privilege issues raised by this investigation, including Executive, Attorney-Client, and Speech and Debate. When all is said and done, I believe we will learn that Merrick Garland set things up in July such that the January 6 Committee could go pursue Trump documents at the Archives as a co-equal branch of government bolstered by Biden waivers that don’t require any visibility into DOJ’s investigation. Privilege reviews covering Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and John Eastman’s communications are also being done. That is, this time around, DOJ seems to have solved a problem that Mueller struggled with. And they did so with the unsolicited help of the January 6 Committee.

Even those of us who’ve been covering DOJ’s January 6 prosecution day-to-day (unlike Thrush) have no way of saying what DOJ has been doing covertly in the last year — though it is public that they’ve been investigating Alex Jones, the purported new thrust of this investigation, since August.

What we know from recent history, however, is that DOJ’s use of Congress’ work in no way suggests DOJ hasn’t been doing its own.


The Founding Fantasy of Durham’s Prosecution of Michael Sussmann: Hillary’s Successful October Surprise

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work.

I’m still waiting on the second transcript from the Michael Sussmann trial, after which point I’ll lay out what Andrew DeFilippis already did to give Sussmann cause for appeal, if he were to lose.

Until then, I want to share the unbelievably crazypants belief that Durham’s prosecutors are attempting to sell to a jury. AUSA Brittain Shaw laid out the framework Durham’s team will use this way:

So what will the evidence show? The evidence will show that defendant’s lie was all part of a bigger plan, a plan that the defendant carried out in concert with two clients, the Hillary Clinton Campaign and Internet executive Rodney Joffe. It was a plan to create an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election, a plan that used and manipulated the FBI, a plan that the defendant hoped would trigger negative news stories and cause an FBI investigation, a plan that largely succeeded.

How did the defendant execute this plan? Through his two clients.

First, the Clinton Campaign. You’re going to hear that in the summer of 2016, as the presidential election was heating up, the defendant was working at a major D.C. law firm which was acting as legal counsel for the Clinton Campaign. You’re also going to find as part of — hear that as part of their campaign efforts they were hired and were paying an investigative firm called Fusion GPS that was hired to do what’s called opposition research.That’s where the defendant’s plan took shape, and the evidence will show that the plan had three parts: a look, a leak, and a lie.

[claims about Fusion GPS and Rodney Joffe’s efforts, the latter of which, especially, are badly wrong]

First the look. The evidence will show that as Sussmann and Joffe met and coordinated with representatives of the Clinton Campaign and Fusion GPS, they looked for more data. You will hear that Joffe instructed people at his companies to scour Internet traffic for any derogatory information they could find about Trump or his associates’ online Internet activities, including potential ties to Alfa-Bank or to Russia. And you will see that Fusion GPS did the same using their access to other information.

Second, the leak. You will hear from the evidence that the defendant and Joffe then leaked the Alfa-Bank allegations to a reporter at the New York Times with the hope and expectation that he would run a story about it.

Third, the lie. You will see that when the reporter didn’t publish this story right away, the defendant and others decided to bring this information to the FBI and to create a sense of urgency, to also tell the FBI that a major news organization was running a story within days. That’s when the defendant requested the meeting with the FBI general counsel and told him that he was not doing this for any client.

The evidence will show you that the defendant had at least two reasons to lie.

First you’re going to hear that the defendant was a cyber security lawyer who had been hired earlier that year by the Democratic National Committee to represent them in relation to a computer hack where they’d been the victim. Because of this, the defendant was in frequent contact with the FBI about the hack investigation. They considered him to be the DNS — I mean, the DNC attorney for that matter. Because they viewed him as the DNC lawyer for the hack, the defendant knew that if he came in and told them that he was representing a political candidate at this time, weeks before an election, they might not meet with him right away, let alone open an investigation.

Second, the defendant knew that if he could get the FBI to investigate the matter and reach out to the press to try to stop the story, that that would make the story more attractive to the press, and they would report on it. [my emphasis]

I get that this is supposed to be catchy for jurors. But this is a child’s fantasy (and Sussmann’s lawyer, Michael Bosworth, noted that Sussmann going to the FBI was, “The exact opposite of what the Clinton Campaign would want”).

Start with Shaw’s claims about “the look.” Not only is it false that Joffe was looking for new information after such time as Sussmann was aware of it, not only won’t the witnesses Durham plans to call explain all of where the data came from, but already, DOJ has submitted two exhibits showing that the focus on late data gathering was on Alfa Bank, not Trump. And those late data collection efforts even included dcleaks (I’m virtually certain that Durham has not provided Sussmann discovery on all the things, such as the FBI’s suspicions that Roger Stone had advance awareness of the dcleaks operation, for them to submit evidence about it).

Next, Shaw calls sharing information with a journalist who had called a lawyer known to be grappling with serial hacks by Russia and asked about Russian hacks, “a leak,” as if there’s something untoward about sharing information with the press, as if Sussmann would “leak” information and then go tell the FBI about “leaking” it, which he did. This is just word salad!

Then Shaw claimed that Sussmann lied to provide urgency to the story. Based on my understanding, Shaw is wrong about the NYT’s plans for publication of the story. My understanding is that Dean Baquet would have happily published the story in September, when Eric Lichtblau was ready to publish and when Sussmann helped kill the story, but by October, he would only publish if reporters could prove substantive communications had taken place. That’s consistent with what Dexter Filkins reported.

The F.B.I. officials asked Lichtblau to delay publishing his story, saying that releasing the news could jeopardize their investigation. As the story sat, Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, decided that it would not suffice to report the existence of computer contacts without knowing their purpose. Lichtblau disagreed, arguing that his story contained important news: that the F.B.I. had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russian contacts with Trump’s aides.

So none of her basic claims are true.

But the thing that is breathtakingly ridiculous is Shaw’s claim that Sussmann’s purported plan to create, “an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election … largely succeeded.”

What Sussmann got for his troubles of helping to kill the story in September was a story at Slate rather than NYT, immediate pre-election pushback from several entities (including me), and a NYT story that made multiple claims that were true at the time but that we now know to be false.

The story claimed there was no tie between Trump and the Russian government; but Trump and Michael Cohen were lying to cover up (among other things) a call with the Kremlin about doing a real estate deal with a sanctioned bank and a former GRU officer.

The story claimed there was no secret email communication between Trump and Russia, but Trump’s rat-fucker was communicating with the GRU persona behind the hack and (as noted) may have had advance knowledge of precisely the information operation that Joffe and the researchers were investigating in August 2016.

The story claimed that Russia hacked Trump only to disrupt the election, when subsequent reports have concluded Russia had by that point come to favor Trump (though, I suspect, that was partly because they knew how damaging Trump would be for the country).

Democrats I know place varying blame for Hillary’s loss. Virtually all put the FBI’s sabotage of her campaign as the most important cause (of which Devlin Barrett’s October Surprise, the successful leak of a criminal investigation into Hillary as compared to the opposite here, was a small part). Shaw asserted that, “the FBI is our institution that should not be used as a political tool for anyone,” and yet the Clinton email investigation, the Clinton Foundation investigation, and Durham’s own investigation are all more obvious — and wildly more successful — efforts to use the FBI as a political tool than sharing an anomaly with the FBI and helping to kill a story about it.

But no matter who Democrats blame for Hillary’s loss, most point to that NYT story as one of the most damaging stories of the campaign.

And Durham’s entire prosecution is based on the opposite, that the story that most infuriates Democrats was, instead, entirely the point.


EDNY Accuses Tom Barrack of “Harvesting Assets” by Crafting Policy to Help UAE in a Trump Presidency

DOJ has superseded Tom Barrack’s indictment. It did not charge any of his not-yet charged co-conspirators, though it added language pertaining to Paul Manafort’s role, making him US Person 1 and demoting Steve Bannon to US Person 2. Two new paragraphs about Manafort’s role describe him crafting Trump’s platform to take out a promise to release 28 pages of the 9/11 Report implicating the Saudis.

The big addition to the indictment, however, focuses on Barrack’s payoff: investment by UAE’s Sovereign Wealth Fund in Colony Capital (remember, Colony is paying for Barrack’s defense). In the two years after Barrack helped UAE craft Trump’s policies, Colony got commitments for $374 million in investments from the SWF.

According to records maintained by Company A, Company A raised no new capital from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth funds between 2009 and 2016. However, in2017 and 2018, in part as a result of the efforts of the defendants THOMAS JOSEPH BARRACK and MATTHEW GRIMES and the assistance of the defendant RASHID SULTAN RASHID AL MALIK ALSHAHHI and United Arab Emirates officials, Company A raised approximately $374 million in capital commitments from United Arab Emirates sovereign wealth funds.

The superseding indictment describes how Colony set up a fund with the intent of “harvesting assets” that will benefit from a Trump presidency, garnering political credibility by contributing to Trump’s policies.

On or about December 13,2016, the defendant MATTHEW GRIMES emailed himself a document summarizing the structure of the proposed investment fund, which stated in relevant part that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the [investment fund] [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also accomplish a secondary mandate to garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the President-Elect]. . . . We will do so by sourcing investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in . . . those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.” [my emphasis]

There are no charges tied to “harvesting” the Trump policies that Barrack would push (though it makes the forfeiture allegations far meatier). It does, however, make it clear that’s what the Trump presidency was about: selling policy to rich autocrats around the world.

And particularly given the way Barrack ensured that Mohammed bin Salman would be treated as if he were already Crown Prince by the Trump administration, it makes Jared Kushner’s similar “harvesting” of Trump policies look all the more suspect.


Comings and Goings on the Proud Boy Leaders Prosecution

When DOJ finally added Enrique Tarrio to the Proud Boy leader conspiracy, I noted that the way DOJ has structured the prosecution team for the Proud Boys made it really hard to understand where things were headed.

I’ve been expecting and predicting this indictment since December 28. But for the life of me, I’m not sure where DOJ expects to go from here.

This indictment describes the numbers of people massed at several stages of the operation. 65 members on the Ministry of Self Defense (MOSD) Members Group. 90 people in the New MOSD members group created on January 4. Approximately 100 Proud Boys who met at the Washington Memorial the morning of the attack. Donohoe bragging at 12:00PM on January 6 that “WE ARE WITH 200-300 PBS,” just before they kicked off the riot.

Perhaps this framework is meant to provide a way to implicate all those others, 300 people who agreed, by signing up, that they were following a plan that DOJ has now shown (and that Matthew Greene’s cooperation was designed to show) was a plan to occupy buildings from the start.

But otherwise, this still feels really dispersed, and the prosecution team (which consists of three visible members for the leadership conspiracy, including Erik Kenerson, Jason McCullough, and Luke Jones, and about four detailees from other offices for satellite cases; a fourth prosecutor who had been on the core cases, Christopher Berridge, left immediately after [Matthew] Greene pled) has a far harder caseload than the significantly larger team on the Oath Keepers.

Perhaps something will really start to crystalize as some of these continuances end in April. Or perhaps DOJ will be serially prosecuting Proud Boys for the foreseeable future.

That remains true. But on Friday, there were several minor structural changes worth noting. I’ve attempted to summarize the status of some key Proud Boy and related cases here (I’ve only listed a judge if it is someone other than Tim Kelly).

First, Trial Attorney Conor Mulroe filed a notice of appearance in the Proud Boy Leaders and the Biggs Co-Traveler cases. He hasn’t shown up on any January 6 cases before this. It’s likely he was added because on April 22, Judge Kelly set a trial date in the Proud Boy leaders for August 8. That is, it’s likely he was added to start preparing for trial. But the Biggs co-travelers, on whose case he also filed an appearance, won’t be going to trial anytime soon. That’s partly because three of the defendants have to work through the conflict created by John Pierce’s representation of three of them — Paul Rae, Kevin Tuck, and Nate Tuck (though Pierce recently ceded representation to William Shipley for the Tucks). In hearings, prosecutors have said that at least three of the defendants are considering plea deals.

Then Luke Jones, who has been part of the Leaders case from the start, dropped off the case (he recently dropped off an unremarkable misdemeanor case as well though remains on the Ryan Nichols and Alex Harkrider case). Jones had been focusing on Zach Rehl’s prosecution, and he remains on the Rehl co-traveler case, which has not yet been indicted. I don’t know what to make of his departure (perhaps a recognition that his efforts to flip Rehl won’t ever come to fruition?). Jones has, in the past, worked on national security cases, and in fact was listed as prosecuting Russian hacker Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh in the press release (though not the docket). That case will never go to trial (because the US is not about to get custody of Gladkikh anytime soon). But it suggests that Jones may have spent time last June helping co-counsel present that case to a DC grand jury.

I’m most interested in the addition of Nadia Moore to the Leaders case. She’s a Brooklyn-based prosecutor, among five or so prosecutors from around the country who’ve been working the Proud Boy cases (in this table, William Dreher is from Seattle, Alexis Loeb is from San Francisco, Michael Gordon is from Tampa, and Christopher Veatch is from Chicago). And as the table makes clear she has been working the Florida-based Proud Boy and related cases, as well as the case of Steven Miles and Matthew LeBrun, who spent January 6 with Florida Proud Boys AJ Fischer and friends, and the former of whom is accused of helping to bust open the other side window in the original breach of the Capitol. This may suggest the government believes they’ll obtain the testimony of multiple Floridians against Biggs and Tarrio.

Meanwhile, a slew of these cases have just one (listed) prosecutor, including the Kansas City case with its five remaining defendants.

We’ll still see some significant movements in the Proud Boys cases. But for now, the focus — as so much of the January 6 investigation is — may be on Florida.

Update, 6/1: Today Jones dropped off the Nichols and Rehl co-traveller cases.


Scene-Setter for the Sussmann Trial, Part Two: The Witnesses

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In this post, I laid out the elements of the offense, a single count of a false statement to the FBI, which will drive the outcome of the Michael Sussmann trial, in which jury selection begins today. As I showed, John Durham has to prove that:

  • Michael Sussmann said what Durham has accused him of saying, which is that he was not sharing information with the FBI on behalf of any client
  • Sussmann said that on September 19, not just September 18
  • Sussmann meant his statement to be understood to mean that no client of his had an interest in the data, as opposed to that he was not seeking any benefit for a client from the FBI
  • The lie made a difference in how the FBI operates

In this post I’d like to say a bit about the expected witnesses. Before I do, remember the scope of the trial, as laid out in several rulings from Judge Cooper.

  • Durham can only raise questions about the accuracy of the Alfa Bank anomaly if Sussmann does so first
  • He generally can only discuss how the data was collected via witnesses; with one exception, Cooper has ruled the emails between Rodney Joffe and researchers to be inadmissible in a trial about whether Sussmann lied
  • While Cooper found that 22 of 38 Fusion emails over which Democrats had claimed privilege were not privileged, he also ruled that because Andrew DeFilippis got cute in delaying his request for such a review, Durham can’t use those emails or pierce any related claims of privilege at trial
  • That leaves the unprivileged emails between Fusion and journalists, which Cooper has ruled admissible; he even considered changing his decision and letting a tweet from Hillary come in as evidence (though note that the emails Durham got pre-approved barely overlap with the emails Durham wants to use at trial, so there still could be problems admitting individual emails at trial)
  • Cooper ruled the communications between Rodney Joffe, the person who shared the DNS anomaly with Michael Sussmann, and Laura Seago, his connection with Fusion, were privileged
  • Cooper ruled that Sussmann can elicit testimony from witnesses, including Robby Mook and Marc Elias, about how Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more made him not just a campaign opponent, but a threat to national security

As I noted, a dispute over the final jury instructions suggests that Durham is beating a tactical retreat from his charged claim that Sussmann lied to cover up that he was representing both Hillary and Rodney Joffe.

Mr. Sussmann proposes modifying the last sentence as follows, as indicated by underlining: Specifically, the Indictment alleges that, on or about September 19, 2016, Mr. Sussmann, did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation in a matter before the FBI, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2), namely, that Mr. Sussmann stated to the General Counsel of the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning Donald Trump, when, in fact, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign.5 The government objects to the defense’s proposed modification since it will lead to confusion regarding charging in the conjunctive but only needing to prove in the disjunctive.

Durham wants to be able to get a guilty verdict if the jury decides that Sussmann was hiding Hillary but not hiding Joffe. What Durham will really need to prove won’t be finalized until sometime next week, meaning both sides will be arguing their cases without knowing whether Durham will have to prove that 1) the allegations pertained to Donald Trump personally 2) Sussmann had two clients 3) he lied to hide both of them, or whether he has to prove only that Sussmann lied to hide one or more client.

Durham’s tactical retreat is likely dictated by the scope set by Cooper and will dictate the witnesses he wants to call.

This post laid out whom, as of last week, each side planned to call. Remember that it’s not uncommon for a defendant not to put any witnesses on the stand (though I would be surprised if that happened in this case). Normally, the scope of a witness’ testimony is set by the Direct examination of them. So, for example, if Durham puts Marc Elias on the stand to talk exclusively about his decision to hire Fusion GPS, then Sussmann could not ask him questions about other topics. But Sussmann incorporated Durham’s entire witness list, and Cooper ruled that he would rather not have to call people twice. So for at least the Democratic witnesses, Sussmann will have the ability to ask about things that Durham would really prefer not to appear before the jury even though Durham called that witness as a government witness. Because Durham doesn’t understand much of what really went on here, that may be a really useful thing for Sussmann to exploit.

Summary Witness: It is typical for prosecutors to call one of their FBI agents at trial as a sort of omniscient narrator who can both introduce a vast swath of evidence (such as records the accuracy of which have been stipulated for emails that can be introduced without witness testimony) and provide some interpretation of what it all means. Usually, that agent is not the lead agent, because the lead agent knows things that the prosecutor wants to keep from the defendant and the public, either details of an ongoing investigation or major investigative fuck-ups that haven’t been formally disclosed to the defendant. As of last week, DeFilippis maintained that, “It may be an agent who’s our summary witness, but we’re not looking to put a case agent on the stand.” That suggests there is no agent on his team that is sufficiently compartmented from his secrets to take the stand. Judge Cooper seemed a bit surprised by that.

Jim Baker: Jim Baker is the single witness to Michael Sussmann’s alleged crime. Durham is going to have a challenge walking him through the version of this story Durham wants to tell, not least because the materiality parts of it — whether Baker thought it unusual to hear from Sussmann, whether he thought it mattered who Sussmann’s client was — are also recorded in Baker’s past sworn testimony. Given the late discovery of a text showing that Sussmann wrote Baker on September 18 telling him he wanted to benefit the FBI, and given the even later discovery of March 2017 notes recording that the FBI understood that Sussmann did have an (undisclosed) client, Sussmann doesn’t even have to trash Baker to call into question his memory: he can allow Baker to admit he can’t separate out what happened in which of at least five communications he had with Sussmann that week, the sum total of which show that Sussmann wasn’t hiding the existence of a client, did represent that he was trying to help the FBI, and did help the FBI. The cross-examination of Baker will, however, be an opportunity for Sussmann to implicate Durham’s investigative methods, both for building an entire case around Baker after concluding, years earlier, that he wasn’t credible, and then, for refreshing Baker’s memory only with the notes that said what Durham wanted Baker to say, and not what the FBI ultimately came to know.

Bill Priestap and Tisha Anderson, Mary McCord and Tasha Gauhar: This trial is expected to feature two sets of witnesses — the first set called by Durham and the second called by Sussmann — who will be asked to reconstruct from their own notes what was said in a meeting attended by Baker. Priestap and Anderson will say that the day of Baker’s meeting with Sussmann, they wrote down that Sussmann didn’t have a client (but not in the words Sussmann is known to have used or the words that Durham has charged). McCord and Gauhar will say that in March 2017, Andy McCabe stated, in front of Baker and with no correction, that the FBI did know Sussmann had a client. The only notes in question that use the same phrase — “on behalf of” — that Durham used in the indictment say that Sussmann did say he was meeting with FBI on behalf of someone. I expect at least several of these witnesses will be asked materiality questions: If they didn’t ask who the client is, doesn’t that prove it didn’t matter? The notes of everyone involved, importantly, emphasized the import of Sussmann sharing an imminent newspaper article. Sussmann will also ask Priestap how and why he asked the NYT to hold the Alfa Bank story.

Agents Heide, Sands, and Gaynor, plus Agent Martin: Durham plans to call three of the FBI Agents who investigated the anomaly — for a couple of hours each, in the case of Heide and Sands — to talk about how they did so. Let me suggest that not only is this overkill, it may backfire in spectacular fashion, because the March 2017 notes make it clear that these agents did not take very basic steps to chase this anomaly down and Heide, at least, is not a cyber agent (in the same period he was also investigating George Papadopoulos). In addition to having those hours and hours of testimony, Durham will call Agent Martin, ostensibly to explain what one could learn from the anomaly, though there’s still a fight about the scope of his testimony,  particularly with respect to misleading claims he would make about the scope of the data accessed to find the anomaly in the first place.

Antonakakis, Dagon, DeJong, and Novick: According to what DeFilippis said last week, in the wake of Cooper’s ruling excluding all but one of the researchers’ emails, he likely will not call David Dagon, may or may not call Manos Atonakakis, but will call two employees of Rodney Joffe whom, DeFilippis claims, were “tasked by” Joffe, in the first case to pull some but not all of the data researchers used to test the anomaly, and in the second case to do research that may not have been presented to the FBI. If these decisions hold, his presentation of the data will be, as I understand it, affirmatively false. For that reason, Sussmann might have been able to challenge Durham’s reliance on these witnesses in the absence of others; that Sussmann is not doing so may suggest he knows that the witnesses won’t do what Durham thinks they will. If Durham persists in this plan, it means he’ll have FBI agents spend 5 hours describing how they chased down an anomaly, without ever really explaining what the anomaly is (and how it could have easily been investigated using about two different steps that the FBI didn’t take). Perhaps (given his tactical retreat), Durham may want to eliminate virtually all discussion of the anomaly at the heart of this case. Alternately, this is a tactical move to force Sussmann to call David Dagon (whom Durham has immunized) or Manos Antonakakis (whose status is unknown) in hopes that they’ll help him make his YotaPhone case or explain the full scope of the data accessed (particularly if he gets Martin to make misleading comments about that topic first). But if Durham forgoes his chance to call the researchers and Sussmann does so himself, it may allow Sussmann to rebut Durham’s claims about what the anomaly was and what went into the two white papers presented to the FBI. In addition, Sussmann can have these witnesses explain how far before the involvement of the Democrats this research started and how Trump’s open invitation to Russia to do more hacking meant the anomaly posed a possible national security threat worthy of sharing with the FBI.

Robby Mook, Marc Elias, and Debbie Fine: Rather than talking about the anomaly, Durham wants to talk about the Hillary campaign. At least as of last week (before Cooper excluded some of this stuff on privilege and belated privilege challenges), Durham will definitely call Mook, may call Elias, but may rely instead on a Hillary lawyer named Debbie Fine, who was on daily calls with Fusion. Durham wants to claim,

[T]he strategy, as the Government will argue at trial, was to create news stories about this issue, about the Alfa-Bank issue; and second, it was to get law enforcement to investigate it; and perhaps third, your Honor, to get the press to report on the fact that law enforcement was investigating it.

Sussmann, by contrast, knows he has a witness or witnesses who will rebut that.

[I]t’s not the truth; and in fact, it’s the opposite of the truth. We expect there to be testimony from the campaign that, while they were interested in an article on this coming out, going to the FBI is something that was inconsistent with what they would have wanted before there was any press. And in fact, going to the FBI killed the press story, which was inconsistent with what the campaign would have wanted.

As suggested above, Elias is a witness Sussmann will call even if Durham does not. Among other things, Sussmann will have Elias explain what it was like to have Donald Trump openly asking Russia to hack Hillary some more.

Laura Seago: Before Cooper ruled on privilege issues, DeFilippis (who doesn’t know how to pronounce her last name) said he would call Seago. She was the pivot point between Fusion and Rodney Joffe. According to Fusion attorney Joshua Levy, Seago knows little about the white paper from Fusion that Sussmann shared with the FBI. “Seago didn’t contribute to it, doesn’t know who did, doesn’t know who researched it, doesn’t know who wrote it, doesn’t know its purpose; and the government’s aware of all that.” So it’s unclear how useful she’ll be as a witness.

Eric Lichtblau: As I noted the other day, Durham is trying to prevent Lichtblau from testifying unless he’s willing to testify to all his sources for the Alfa Bank story (which would include a bunch of experts never named in any charging documents). My guess is that Cooper will rule that forcing Lichtblau to talk about communications with Fusion would be cumulative, though he might force Lichtblau to talk about an in-person meeting he had at which Fusion shared information that did not derive from Joffe. If Sussmann succeeds in getting Lichtblau’s testimony, however, he will be able to talk about what a serious story this was and what a disastrous decision agreeing to hold the story was for his own career and, arguably, for democracy.

Perkins Coie billing person and McMahon: As Durham has repeatedly confessed, most of the substance of his conspiracy theory is based off billing records. But there’s a dispute about whether Sussmann fully billed his meeting with Baker (Sussmann has noted, for example, that he paid for his own taxi to and from the meeting). Durham will have a Perkins Coie person explain how they track billing and will call a former DNC person with whom Sussmann had lunch immediately before his Baker meeting, either because Sussmann said something to him about the Baker meeting, or because he needs to rule out that Sussmann billed for the lunch meeting but not Baker.

Agent Grasso: In addition to the hours and hours of testimony about how the FBI did investigate the anomaly, Durham also wants to call an Agent Grasso, with whom Joffe shared a piece of the Alfa Bank allegations directly. This may actually be an important witness for Durham, because it might show that the packaged up allegations shared with Baker were substantially different than what Joffe was sharing when his identity was not hidden.

Kevin P: Durham only plans to call one of the two CIA personnel at the meeting in January 2017 (ironically meaning a meeting in March 2017 will get far more focus than a meeting that played a central role in the indictment). It sounds like Sussmann will get the one person to validate an email from another person who also recorded Sussmann saying he had a client.

Agent Gessford: One FBI Agent Sussmann will call will authenticate emails Sussmann will use with other witnesses to show what FBI’s understanding of Sussmann’s activities were in 2016. Not only will he use these emails to prove that the FBI knew well he was representing Hillary on cyber issues, but he will likely also use these emails to talk about what it looks like for a campaign to be systematically attacked through the entirety of a campaign by a hostile nation-state, which will make the potential seriousness of the Alfa Bank anomaly quite clear.

Agent Giardina: This is someone the scope of whose testimony Durham may have actually tried to limit by calling him himself. Sussmann will have Giardina explain that after the Frank Foer article, he tried to open an investigation, which Sussmann will use to prove that the FBI would have opened an investigation whether or not he shared the tip with the FBI.

Jonathan Moffa: Moffa, a senior FBI agent involved in the Crossfire Hurricane and Alfa Bank investigations will address materiality. He’ll explain how, given the UNSUB investigation open to find out who in Trump’s camp got a heads up to the hack-and-leak investigation, it was inevitable they would chase down this tip and treat it, like the CH investigation itself, as a Full Investigation.

DOJ IG Michael Horowitz: On paper, Horowitz’s testimony will be limited to explaining how an anonymous tip from Joffe via Sussmann is supposed to work, which is that someone in a position to direct a tip to the right person does so and succeeds in addressing a national security concern. Joffe provided a tip to Horowitz in January 2017 that — we can assume given Horowitz’s testimony — proved to be valuable. This tip will also demonstrate that DNS research is not as limited as Agent Martin will claim it is. But given the way that Durham has failed to understand basic aspects of Horowitz’s investigation, including ones that disproved large swaths of Durham’s conspiracy theories, this testimony might be somewhat contentious.

Update, 5/22: Very belatedly added Moffa after writing this post.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2016-presidential-election/page/3/