More on the Government’s January 6 Google GeoFence

In October, I wrote a piece on a reasonably framed challenge to the Google GeoFence used to investigate January 6, in the trespassing case of David Rhine. In recent days, Wired picked up my story, but didn’t situate the GeoFence in the context of prior rulings overturning their use, including the EDVA ruling in March on which this challenge most directly relies. Nor did it show how this information worked with other evidence against Rhine (including two tips), that led to his arrest. That led to a lot of alarmism that, if the January 6 GeoFence is upheld, it’ll set some kind of precedent.

Yesterday, the government submitted its response to the challenge, which better explains how the GeoFence was used and why it is highly unlikely the conditions present with this GeoFence will be replicated in the future. That description is here.

As described this was a three step process:

  • Provide an anonymized list of the phones using Google Location Services that were present in the Capitol between 2 and 6:30PM on January 6 (whether in Google records preserved on the evening of January 6, the morning of January 7, or still on January 13). In addition, provide anonymized lists of phones using Google Location Services present in the Capitol between 12:00 and 12:15 and/or 9:00 and 9:15 PM on January 6.
  • Eliminate devices believed to be legally present in the Capitol (because they were in the earlier and/or later lists, so there before and/or after the riot), and identify those that evinced likely criminal behavior, either because the location data showed at least one hit entirely within the margin of error, or because there device showed presence in the Capitol (but not entirely within the margin of error) but also showed evidence of account deletion.

First, the government compared the 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. data with the noon and 9:00 p.m. “control” lists, and then struck the control-list devices from the main list. Def. Ex. A at 27. That process eliminated over 200 unique devices. Def. Ex. B. at 7. Second, the government eliminated all devices except those that had at least one location data point within the Capitol building with a margin-of-error radius entirely within the geofence. Def. Ex. B. at 7. This process reduced the pool to approximately 1,500 unique devices. Id. Third, the government added back 37 devices that, despite not having a margin-of-error radius entirely within the geofence, still hit on the geofence between 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and, in addition, had another indicator of criminal activity: the account’s Location History data was deleted at some point between January 6 and January 13.

  • For the resulting ~1,500 devices, DOJ obtained a second warrant for Google to obtain the account identifier.

As the government explains this Google GeoFence differs from ones that have been overturned in several ways. Most importantly, in addition to the claim that the use of Location Services is voluntary (as distinct from location services associated with using cell phones), which was rejected in other GeoFences, here, the government also argues that, even on a normal day, anyone entering the Capitol would have no reasonable expectation of privacy, but all the more so here, where it was closed to the public.

So whereas the government argued that with Google and Facebook, users had no Reasonable Expectation of Privacy regarding information voluntarily shared with the tech company, they appear to have pursued individualized warrants with cell companies because sharing that information (under Carpenter) does involve REP. For all three, though, I think the government would argue there was no REP for people who entered the Capitol without authorization.

The government is also relying on the short timespan — 4.5 hours — to justify its GeoFence.

Relatedly, in contrast to other GeoFences that encompassed public spaces and in some cases, private residences, here, most people captured by the Google GeoFence would be people who committed a crime by being in the Capitol, or who were witnesses, victims, or first responders.

The defendant’s reliance (ECF No. 43 at 16) on the magistrate judge’s decision in Matter of Search of Information Stored at Premises Controlled by Google, 2020 WL 5491763 (N.D. Ill. July 8, 2020), is misplaced for essentially the same reason: there, the geofence covered “a congested urban area encompassing individuals’ residences, businesses, and healthcare providers,” so that “the vast majority of cellular telephones likely to be identified in [that] geofence will have nothing whatsoever to do with the offenses under investigation.” Id. at *5 (footnote omitted); see also id. at *5 n.7 (stating that “[t]he government’s inclusion of a large apartment complex in one of its geofences raise[d] additional concerns … that it may obtain location information as to an individual who may be in the privacy of their own residence”). Again, the geofence here was limited to the U.S. Capitol during a time period when members of the public were not allowed to be in the area.

In the past, I’ve noted that the others captured by the GeoFence would be victims (employees of Congress, whether Members, staff, or service staff) or First Responders. The most serious privacy exposure here might be journalists, particularly those carrying burner phones or similar.

I asked Igor Bobic, as a test of whether a credentialed journalist would be included in those deemed legally present(recall that Bobic took the iconic footage of Doug Jensen chasing Officer Eugene Goodman up the steps). He told me he was inside the Capitol for both the control periods, at noon and at 9PM. That makes sense: those present to report on the vote certification would have had cause to show up before it started and to stay — often until the wee hours of the morning — to witness its completion.

In other words, journalists who were covering events outside, but followed rioters in (and there were substantial teams from multiple media outlets as well as a number of documentary teams), would be those whose privacy was most affected.

I said in my last post that this is a well-argued motion to suppress. But the government’s response explains why Rhine is not the best situated defendant to bring this challenge. Generally, the FBI has used this GeoFence in three ways: To confirm already identified defendants were present in the Capitol or entered the Capitol, to help identify a suspect in surveillance footage, or (more recently) as leads sent out to the field to run down.

As I suspected, Rhine is in the second category: DOJ opened the investigation and advanced it based off several tips and even had confirmed Rhine’s presence via a particularized warrant to Verizon. Only later did it use the GeoFence to identify where in the existing surveillance footage to look for images of Rhine (who obscured his face with a mask).

In June 2021, the FBI’s principal investigator spent approximately 10 hours reviewing videos from the U.S. Capitol Building, attempting to locate the defendant and his activities during the January 6 riot. Def. Ex. O. During this initial review, the investigator already had access to the geofence data, which the FBI investigators received in March 2021. Gov’t Ex. 1. Despite having access to the geofence data, the investigator’s initial efforts were not successful. Def. Ex. O. After receiving additional training about the FBI’s video system, the investigator was able to locate the defendant in the Capitol Police footage. Def. Exs. O, P. The FBI then traced the defendant through U.S. Capitol based on his clothing and appearance. Def. Ex. O at 1-4 (trace of the defendant through the U.S. Capitol); Def. Ex. M at 15-22.

[snip]

[T]he November 2021 Affidavit described, in addition to the results of the geofence warrant, a constellation of evidence supporting probable cause. First, it described information reported by two separate tipsters who had learned that the defendant had entered the Capitol building during the riot on January 6. Def. Ex. M at 12. The first tipster also reported that, when confronted, the defendant did not deny entering the Capitol building and claimed that the Capitol police moved the barriers to let him into the building. Def. Ex. M. at 12. Second, the affidavit stated that, according to Verizon records, the defendant’s cell phone had connected, during the riot, to a cell site whose service area included the U.S. Capitol building’s interior. Def. Ex. M. at 12-13. Third, the affidavit reported that, in March 2021, investigators interviewed the first tipster. Def. Ex. M at 13. The tipster explained that, though he had not personally seen the Facebook post in which the defendant’s wife referred to the defendant entering the Capitol on January 6, he had seen a screenshot of the post, which a friend had sent to him. Id. The tipster also stated that he believed the defendant’s wife had deleted the Facebook post shortly after posting it. Id. And the affidavit included a screenshot of text messages that the tipster exchanged with the defendant and his wife after learning of the defendant’s participation in the riot. Id. In the exchange, the defendant did not deny entering the Capitol; in fact, he implied the opposite, stating that he saw no violence, and that Capitol police removed barriers and let people in. Def. Ex. M. at 14 (Aff. ¶ 42). Fourth, the affidavit reported that, in September 2021, the tipster identified the defendant in a still photograph obtained from the Capitol Police closed-circuit surveillance system: Def. Ex. M at 15. Fifth, the affidavit explained that investigators placed the same individual depicted in the photograph above at various locations inside the U.S. Capitol Building during the January 6 riot. Def. Ex. M. at 15-23. The affidavit included 10 supporting screenshots, complete with descriptions of the events depicted in the photographs. See Def. Ex. M at 16-23. Finally, the affidavit reported that, according to a Capitol Police officer who arrested the defendant inside the Capitol, the defendant was found in possession of two knives and pepper spray, which were seized. Ex. M, at 19. Even without the geofence evidence, the affidavit contained ample evidence of probable cause.

There are other arrest affidavits that, at least as described, start with the identification in the Google GeoFence (here’s one example). Some even suggest that leads based off GeoFence hits were sent to field offices to chase down. While there are no arrests based entirely on the GeoFence, defendants arrested after an investigation that started from a GeoFence lead would seem to be better situated to challenge the GeoFence.

In any case, the unique conditions at the Capitol on January 6, based on the fact that any unauthorized person who entered the Capitol was likely breaking the law, are unlikely to be replicated anytime in the future.

So whether or not this is sustained (and the warrants based on it would be sustained on good faith grounds), it’s unlikely to be a precedent for other GeoFences.

Andy McCarthy Gives Frothers Permission to Approve of a Trump Indictment

This column from Andy McCarthy is one of the most interesting GOP responses I’ve seem to the election on Tuesday.

It starts by saying the former President has jumped the shark because he attacked the two governors — Glenn Youngkin and Ron DeSantis — that in McCarthy’s estimation are the future of the Republican party.

After laying out the former President’s legal jeopardy — January 6, the stolen documents, the Georgia investigation — and getting details wrong throughout, Andy then lays out a conspiracy theory about how Democratic efforts to game the 2024 election would dictate the timing of a Trump investigation.

Still, for as long as it appeared that the Republican presidential primaries would end in Trump’s routing the field, or at least remaining competitive to the end, the Biden administration had an incentive to table any Trump indictment. If the DOJ were to charge Trump while the Republican primaries were ongoing, that would give Republicans — all but the most delusional Trump cultists — the final push they needed to abandon Trump and turn to a different candidate, who could (and probably would) defeat Biden (or some other Democrat) in November 2024. Of course, once Trump had the nomination sewn up, the Biden administration could indict him at any time, whether before or after defeating him in the general election.

Just as this calculus motivates the Justice Department to delay any indictment, it provides a powerful incentive for Trump to run — and, indeed, to launch a campaign early (maybe as early as next week) so he is positioned to claim that a likely future indictment is just a politicized weaponization of law enforcement aimed at taking out Biden’s arch-enemy.

Yet, again, all of these calculations have hinged on one thing: Trump’s remaining a plausible Republican nominee. And he’s not one anymore.

The idea is that Biden is controlling all the prosecutors at DOJ (and it’s not leaking) and all are working in concert to improve Biden’s chance of running against a damaged Trump by indicting Trump at the optimal time. And Trump, in turn, is running precisely to avoid prosecution. It doesn’t make any sense, mind you. It’s batshit crazypants, as Andy usually is these days.

After laying out the devious plots he claims the Democrats and Trump are involved with, Andy repeats, again, that the attacks on Youngkin and DeSantis mean Trump’s toast as a candidate.

Trump is toast after his unhinged tirades against DeSantis and Youngkin. Attacking such unpopular Republicans as Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger is one thing, and attacking Mitch McConnell (or was it “Coco Chow”?) is just par for the course. But going after DeSantis and Youngkin, accomplished rising stars who give the disheartened GOP hope that better times may be around the corner, is just flat-out nuts. And nobody who’s not flat-out nuts wants any part of flat-out nuts.

None of that is any more true than Andy’s conspiracy theories about how Biden is directing the actions of about 50 AUSAs.

But then Andy’s insane rant gets interesting. He argues that if DOJ indicts Trump it won’t help Trump politically because, Andy says, the January 6 investigation and the stolen document investigation are meritorious, unlike (he says), “Russiagate” [sic].

[S]ome calculate that an indictment of Trump would revive him politically. There is a certain surface appeal to this view, but it is ultimately wrong. It would be right if we were talking about allegations akin to those at issue in Russiagate — a manufactured political narrative substituting for evidence. Such a baseless case would make Trump stronger, because it would be a patent abuse of prosecutorial power.

But here we are talking about actual, egregious misconduct. A January 6 prosecution of Trump might be a reach legally, but the country was repulsed by the Capitol riot — as compared to being bemused, then annoyed, by the fever dream of Trump–Russia “collusion.” As for the Mar-a-Lago probe, Trump has handed the Justice Department on a silver platter simple crimes that are serious and easy to understand. Beyond that, the DOJ also has a convincing story to tell: The government didn’t want to do it this way; National Archives officials pleaded with Trump to surrender the classified material voluntarily, asking for it back multiple times even after it became clear that he was hoarding it; the DOJ resorted to a search warrant only when Trump defied a grand-jury subpoena (with his lawyers’ falsely representing that there were no more classified documents in Trump’s possession other than the ones they’d returned); even then, prosecutors went through a judge to get the warrant rather than acting on their own; and even after the search, there remain significant concerns that classified information is still missing. Even someone initially sympathetic to Trump who did not want to see a former president get prosecuted would have to stop and ask, “What else were they supposed to do when he was being so lawlessly unreasonable, and when national security could be imperiled if classified intelligence falls into the wrong hands?”

The cases the DOJ is now investigating are nothing like Russiagate.

I don’t think it’s true that either January 6 or the stolen documents are easier to lay out than the actual Russian investigation, as opposed to what Andy calls “Russiagate” [sic]. I’m not much interested in arguing the point either. This whole column is full of shit.

Still.

Andy’s columns are consistently full of shit. But they are important shit, because great swaths of Republican activists look to him to be told what to think and say about legal issues. And in this column, Andy has given those activists a bunch of ways to attack Democrats (the wild conspiracy theory about Biden coordinating 50 AUSAs to weaken a Trump candidacy for 2024) at the same time as telling those activists that after bitching about Biden orchestrating all those AUSAs, the activists have his permission to be outraged about what Trump did on January 6 or, especially, about the stolen documents. What else was DOJ supposed to do but indict Trump, Andy asks, when Trump’s unreasonable lawlessness was imperiling national security.

The cases DOJ is now investigating are very much like “Russiagate” [sic], because Trump coddling up to Russia also was outrageously lawless and imperiled national security. But (as I hope to show before Tuesday), the Russian investigation was used — by Trump, by Russia, by key influencers like Andy — to instill tribalism among Republican activists.

And in this column, Andy is telling the activists who look to him for a script about legal issues that, as tribal Republicans, they can treat January 6 and stolen document indictments as meritorious, whereas as tribal activists, they were obliged to wail about Russiagate [sic] for years.

Andy has told these activists that they can — should even, for the good of the party — support a Trump indictment.

It’s just one column.

Still, it’s precisely the kind of thing I’ve been expecting might happen, as Trump continues to impose greater and greater costs on the Republican Party. For years, Trump used investigations into himself — first Russia, then coercing Ukraine, then attacking the Capitol — as a means to enforce loyalty, all the while ratcheting up his demands on Republicans.

He got the Republican Party, with just a handful of exceptions, to applaud an attack on their workplace, because he demanded they do it as a show of loyalty. That was how he enforced his power and by making Republicans debase themselves in his defense, he made the party his own.

It doesn’t help Trump that that enforcement mechanism — replacing Trump critics with increasingly rabid Trump supporters — just cost Republicans at least the WA-3 and MI-3 House seats, as Democrats beat the Republicans who took out members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump, and thus far two Senate seats (in Arizona and Pennsylvania, with Georgia still up in the air). The cost of these loyalty tests now bear the names of
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Hillary Scholten, Mark Kelly, and John Fetterman.

But even without that cost, the legal investigations into Trump are convenient, for Republicans, not only because they provide a way to get Trump out of the way for a Youngkin or DeSantis, but also because by supporting an investigation into Trump — by calling the stolen document investigation meritorious — Republicans have a way to separate themselves from the grave damage on the US they’ve already sanctioned.

By supporting indictments against Trump, now, Republicans can pretend they didn’t already do grave damage to the country because Trump told them to, and they can clear the way for Ron DeSantis to do the same kind of damage in the future.

The Additional Complexities of the Proud Boy Sedition Case

Some weeks ago, someone involved in the Proud Boy case emailed me a personal invitation to the Proud Boy leader trial later this year: “please accept my invitation to come report on the proceedings in person.  In my opinion, it will prove far more interesting than the OK trial.” It had been a long time since I had heard from this person — since I warned him, for a second time, I would not treat his emails to me as presumptively off the record, because by then the frequency of them and the conflicts between what he said about the First Amendment publicly and what he said to me on emails had become newsworthy in and of itself.

I have no intention of traveling to DC for the Proud Boy trial. Like the Oath Keeper one, there will be scores of journalists who are very familiar with the case who will do great live coverage. I would add little, if anything.

But this person’s promise that the trial will be more interesting than the Oath Keeper one is a sound prediction. To be clear: I think the evidence shows that the Proud Boys are far more complicit in the attack on democracy on January 6 than the Oath Keepers, who were mostly whack right wingers with delusions of grandeur. But I also recognize that the Proud Boy case has been far more difficult for DOJ to put together than the Oath Keeper one, in significant part because they have been more successful at cultivating authoritarian law enforcement that likes their mob culture.

Remember, several Proud Boys, including Tarrio, worked with Roger Stone to threaten Amy Berman Jackson and Bill Barr’s DOJ treated it as a mere legal technicality. The Proud Boys got sanction, as a mob, from the President’s own mouth, which had ripple effects throughout government on the way they were treated.

So I wanted to look at three indications of the difficulties the Proud Boy prosecution may face that the Oath Keeper prosecutors did not.

Delayed phone exploitation

First, in a hearing yesterday in the case against five men who were co-travellers with Joe Biggs the day of the attack, prosecutor Nadia Moore mentioned that she had just provided the “scoped” phones from (I think) Paul Rae and Eddie George — “scoped” is what they call it when the FBI pulls out the things that are responsive to a warrant. That’s a fairly shocking delay in exploiting their phones. Rae was arrested on March 24, 2021 and George was arrested on July 15, 2021. But it’s true that a May discovery index from the Proud Boy leader case only shows a scoped LG Tablet from George, with no scoped phone listed for either (though there is a phone video from Rae listed).

It may well be that — like Enrique Tarrio — they had really complex passwords on their phone. It took over a year to exploit the content of his phone, even though it was seized before January 6. There appear to be others, too, whose phones were not yet exploited in May.

Aside from a delay in the scoping of Stewart Rhodes’ phone due to the volume of encrypted texts on it and a privilege review holding up the exploitation of Kellye SoRelle’s phone, there were no known similar delays on the Oath Keeper side.

Complicit FBI and law enforcement

While the Oath Keepers, like the Proud Boys, intentionally recruit law enforcement, the Proud Boys have been better at co-opting cops. Around five of the charged Proud Boys were former or still cops when charged. Tarrio had been a formal informant during a prior criminal prosecution. And several other members of the Proud Boys, including Joe Biggs, provided information to the FBI about what they claimed were Antifa.

Biggs described his own relationship with the FBI this way:

By late 2018, Biggs also started to get “cautionary” phone calls from FBI agents located in Jacksonville and Daytona Beach inquiring about what Biggs meant by something politically or culturally provocative he had said on the air or on social media concerning a national issue, political parties, the Proud Boys, Antifa or other groups. Biggs regularly satisfied FBI personnel with his answers. He also stayed in touch with a number of FBI agents in and out of Florida. In late July 2020, an FBI Special Agent out of the Daytona Beach area telephoned Biggs and asked Biggs to meet with him and another FBI agent at a local restaurant. Biggs agreed. Biggs learned after he travelled to the restaurant that the purpose of the meeting was to determine if Biggs could share information about Antifa networks operating in Florida and elsewhere. They wanted to know what Biggs was “seeing on the ground.” Biggs did have information about Antifa in Florida and Antifa networks in other parts of the United States. He agreed to share the information. The three met for approximately two hours. After the meeting, Biggs stayed in touch with the agent who had called him originally to set up the meeting. He answered follow-up questions in a series of several phone calls over the next few weeks. They spoke often.

This is the same office where an FBI Agent, in August, refused to participate in the arrest of militia-associated men who planned to bring weapons to January 6. The agent then ran to Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, bitching, after his clearance was suspended because he didn’t like the way FBI was running domestic terrorism investigations.

The single FBI informant known to have been present on January 6 appears not to have told his handlers about a meeting he was at the night before where using violence was discussed. And so DOJ has given two members of the Kansas City Proud Boy cell who were with him — Ryan Ashlock and Louis Colon — unbelievably sweet plea deals, I suspect to sustain the rest of the cases against the Proud Boys.

Both Tarrio and Biggs have made specific requests for their own communications with law enforcement — in Tarrio’s case, he claims it is Brady material. That is, they plan to argue they couldn’t be guilty of plotting against the government because they’ve been so chummy with often right wing authoritarian cops in the past.

Witness backsliding

The Proud Boys have also been very good at pressuring witnesses not to testify against the mob. It had seemed that Ryan Samsel might enter into a plea deal describing what transpired between him and Biggs right before he kicked off the entire riot, for example, until Samsel was assaulted in still unexplained circumstances at the DC jail. Zach Rehl seemed like he was considering a plea deal until Tarrio called Rehl’s wife about it.

Jeff Finley, who was a co-traveller of Rehl’s, seems like he cooperated his way into a misdemeanor plea deal (like Brandon Straka is known to have), but in a July request for a four-month continuance, the government seemed to suggest they weren’t sure how complicit Finley was.

The government requests this continuance to allow time for the parties to fully evaluate the nature and seriousness of the defendant’s misconduct and for the parties to prepare a full and complete allocution to assist this Court in its sentencing.

All this is background to the Jeremy Bertino plea rolled out yesterday. Bertino was a high level Proud Boy who, because he was injured in a December 12 brawl, was not present on January 6, but was closely involved in discussions in advance of it.

Bertino’s possible arrest has been anticipated for months. A misdemeanor docket for Bertino was briefly unsealed on September 15 but then sealed. Yesterday, he pled guilty to one count of seditious conspiracy and one count of unlawful weapons possession for a small arsenal he had in spite of a past felony conviction. He is, as everyone (including me) has reported, the first Proud Boy to plead to seditious conspiracy. And he’s another participant in key leadership discussions in advance of the attack.

His statement of offense, however, leads me to wonder whether he didn’t get this plea deal in part to keep Charles Donohoe — who like Bertino is from North Carolina, and who pled guilty to obstruction and assault in April — from backsliding as a cooperator.

Most of the new details the SOO provides focus on 2020, describing how the Proud Boys radicalized in late 2020 and emphasizing the import of the December 12, 2020 confrontations, including explicit discussions about using Tarrio’s anticipated arrest to rile people up against the cops. The description of changing attitudes about the cops (something that has featured in Proud Boy indictments from the start) may serve to combat Tarrio and Biggs’ efforts to claim chumminess with the cops.

Bertino further understood that due to a number of negative interactions with law enforcement, including the events of December 12, the Proud Boys increasingly viewed police as the enemy and Proud Boy members increasingly referred to the police as “coptifa,” meaning that they viewed the police as siding with Antifa.

The SOO explains that Bertino did not know what plan Biggs and Nordean came up with at a still unexplained meeting around 9PM on January 5. A very similar paragraph appears in Donohoe’s statement of offense.

What I’m most surprised about is who it includes and who it excludes: The SOO names Donohoe at least twelve times — sworn statements implicating Donohoe in events, many of which he himself admitted to in his own SOO. That shouldn’t be necessary for a cooperating witness (though because they were both in the Carolinas, the two men would have worked closely together). While it mentions Person-3, whom Alan Feuer has identified as John Stewart, it does not name Aaron Wolkind at all, referred to frequently in earlier Proud Boy materials as Person-2. With the exception of Person-3 (who is not yet charged), the focus is entirely on those already charged in the leaders conspiracy, not any other Proud Boys.

It is undoubtedly an important step to get a plea to sedition from someone who wasn’t even present the day of the attack. But that doesn’t alleviate the many things that make this case more complex than the Oath Keeper one.

Aileen Cannon Calls an Investigation into “What’s Literally a Stolen Diary” … “Politicized”

This is a minor point, but one that deserves more attention. Plus, I plan to use it in future posts about the unlawful assault on property rights that Judge Aileen Cannon has mounted in her opinion appointing a Special Master to stall the investigation into Donald Trump’s suspected theft of classified documents.

In a footnote of her opinion, Judge Cannon pointed to the Special Master appointed in the Project Veritas case as a precedent of a judge (Analisa Torres, in this case), appointing a Special Master “in politicized circumstances.”

Moreover, at least one other court has authorized additional independent review for attorney-client privilege outside of the law firm context, in politicized circumstances. See In re Search Warrant dated November 5, 2021, No. 21-Misc-813, 2021 WL 5845146, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2021) (appointing a special master to conduct review of materials seized from the homes of employees of Project Veritas for potentially attorney-client privileged materials).

To be fair, I kept waiting for Trump’s lawyers to raise this precedent (though not for the principle Cannon did).

But they didn’t.

Not in the original complaint (in which they relied heavily on the Lynne Stewart and Michael Cohen precedent). Not in their supplement (in which they added the Rudy precedent to those they relied on). Similarly, it didn’t come up in the hearing (in which Rudy featured prominently).

This was Judge Cannon going out of her way to find what she believed was a precedent on her own, one that she said supported an, “independent review for attorney-client privilege outside of the law firm context, in politicized circumstances.” But the opinion isn’t about attorney-client privilege. It was, explicitly, about press privileges.

In light of the potential First Amendment concerns that may be implicated by the review of the materials seized from Petitioners, the Court finds that the appointment of a special master will “help[] to protect the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.”

The opinion further holds there is no basis of law to do what Cannon did–intervene because of leaks (more on the leaks Cannon made up later).

Project Veritas and O’Keefe request that the Court order the Government to conduct a search for alleged leaks related to the Government’s investigation. O’Keefe Mot. II at 1. Petitioners do not provide a legal basis for their request or allege that the Government violated any specific rule, law, or policy

Crazier still, there’s no mention in the opinion, at all, about politics.

Nor should there be. This is a case about theft. We know it’s about theft because the two people who’ve already pled guilty in the case acknowledged it in real time (and pled guilty to transporting stolen goods across state lines).

They are in a sketchy business and here they are taking what’s literally a stolen diary and info . . . and trying to make a story that will ruin [the Victim’s] life and try and effect the election. [The Victim] can easily be thinking all her stuff is there and not concerned about it. .  . we have to tread even more carefully and that stuff needs to be gone through by us and if anything worthwhile it needs to be turned over and MUST be out of that house.

We know, too, that it’s not just about a stolen diary. In addition to the diary (which by the way included Ms. Biden’s extensive accounts of her own addiction treatment, the most personal kind of medical record), the thieves stole,

tax records, a digital camera, a digital storage card containing private family photographs, a cellphone, books, clothing, and luggage.

Aileen Cannon believes that the investigation of this theft — the culprits have admitted it!! — is politicized.

Presumably Aileen Cannon believes an investigation into stolen property must be about politics because she believes James O’Keefe’s claim that this was an investigation started under Joe Biden. Had she done as much work to fact-check O’Keefe as she did to find precedents for Trump, though, she would know that this investigation was not started under Joe Biden.

It was started under Donald Trump.

The first call records in this investigation were obtained in November 2020, while Bill Barr was Attorney General (under Merrick Garland, such a step might have required the AG’s approval, but Barr was less interested in such protections). The first warrant targeting people purporting to play the role of journalists was obtained on January 14, 2021. That one, I imagine, did require Main DOJ approval, hopefully even from then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Aileen Cannon argues that the investigation started under Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen into the theft — this is not contested! — of things including medical and tax records is politicized, mostly because the victim is the current President’s daughter.

Effectively, then, Judge Cannon is arguing that private citizen Ashley Biden can have no recourse for when someone literally steals her medical and tax records, but Trump must have special judicial interference to prevent the FBI taking medical and tax records in the process of investigating 11,000 stolen records.

James Taylor, King Herod, and January 6th

James Taylor in Concert (h/t photographer Elizabeth Warren. Yes, that Elizabeth Warren. [CC BY 2.0])

Back in 1988, musical storyteller James Taylor put out an album entitled “Home By Another Way.” “Never Die Young.” The song “Home By Another Way” from that album is one of my favorites, and is built around the story of the Magi, celebrated on the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church on January 6th as the Festival of the Epiphany. As JT properly observes, the story told by Matthew’s gospel is less about the Magi meeting Jesus and more about another meeting they had. Here’s how Matthew put it:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

There is no way that Herod’s words to the Magi were anything but a ruse, and anyone hearing this story back in the day knew it. Herod the Great was a feared figure, having risen to power through his father’s political connections with Julius Caesar. In the time-honored tradition of despots everywhere, he was ruthless to those below him that he viewed as potential threats to his wealth and power (i.e., all the locals), and relentlessly sucked up to those above him (i.e., Rome). This combination led the Senate of Rome to appoint him “King of the Jews” and he held fast to that title for almost four decades by employing domestic spies to sniff our plots against him, a massive bodyguard to protect him, and whatever bloodthirsty tactics he deemed necessary to keep him in power.

Herod the Great was succeeded not by his eldest son, but by his most ruthless son, known as Herod Antipas. Antipas clearly followed in his father’s footsteps, in that he had his two older brothers convicted of treason and executed, thanks to a kangaroo court over which he presided. Antipas went his father one better by ditching his first wife for a second one – his own niece, Herodias. The Herodians were also very big on self-promotion via large, splashy building projects using someone else’s money. There’s much more like this to the Herodian family history, as they all were a real piece of work.

James Taylor understands Herod very well, and offers a warning to the Magi and all who will listen:

Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents
He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce
They’ve found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh.

Not a nice guy, this Herod fellow.

As Matthew tells the story, the Magi understood this as well, and decided not to go back to Herod after visiting Jesus:

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

In JT’s telling, the Magi “went home by another way.” But Taylor isn’t singing just to retell the story of what happened back then. He’s preaching, in his own way, drawing his listeners into the song and changing us here today:

Well it pleasures me to be here
And to sing this song tonight
They tell me that life is a miracle
And I figure that they’re right
But Herod’s always out there
He’s got our cards on file
It’s a lead pipe cinch
If we give an inch
That Herod likes to take a mile

It’s best to go home by another way
Home by another way
We got this far to a lucky star
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way
“Safe home!” as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart up high
And go home another way

Yes, Herod *is* always out there, looking to game the system and rape the system and break the system if that’s what it takes to keep himself in power.

But there is also always another way, a way that leaves Herod and his successors powerless and impotent.

The way of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, of Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The way of Ella Baker and John Lewis, of Robert Graetz and Jeannie Graetz.
The way of Ida B. Wells and Upton Sinclair, of Harvey Milk, Del Martin, and Phyllis Lyon
The way of the Flirtations and Sweet Honey in the Rock, of the Weavers and John McCutcheon.

Tomorrow is January 6th, and I’ll read this story from Matthew again in my study first thing in the morning. Then I’ll pull up this song and listen to the wisdom of James Taylor, urging *us* to go home by another way — a way of justice and peace, a way of hope and love.

Brother James, if you’d take the lead, it’s time to sing . . . and you all are invited to sing along.

Updated to correct the album title. Thanks, @RyanCaseyWA, for pointing it out.

Kevin Fairlamb and Jacob Chansley Sentences Affirm Judicial Legitimacy

Today, Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman, to 41 months of prison for obstructing the vote certification on January 6. The sentence comes a week after Lamberth sentenced Kevin Fairlamb to the same 41 month sentence; Fairlamb pled guilty to both obstructing the vote and assault, for punching a cop.

Here’s my livethread of the Fairlamb sentencing. Here’s my livethread of the Chansley sentencing.

Whatever you think of these sentences, there were some themes from both worth taking away.

First, the defense attorneys in both cases spoke at length about how honorably the AUSAs on the case — Leslie Goemaat for Fairlamb, and Kimberly Paschall for Chansley — had acted throughout the prosecution. “The decency of prosecutors like this serve only to elevate the entire criminal justice system,” Fairlamb’s lawyer, Harley Breite stated. Chansley’s lawyer, Al Watkins, welcomed of Kimberly Paschall’s ability to see Chansley as an indivdiual. (Chansley also thanked Lamberth for ensuring he’d have access to organic food in accordance with his shamanic faith.)

In both cases, the defendant spoke about the legitimacy of Lamberth’s judgment. While both claimed they had come to see the error of the ways in pretrial detention, they nevertheless acknowledged that if Lamberth saw fit to send them to prison, they accepted his judgment. “I could not have asked god for a better judge, to judge my character, this is a wise man, who’s going to be impartial, going to be fair,” Chansley said of the judge who had repeatedly deemed him unsafe to release. “I just hope you show some mercy on me, Sir,” Fairlamb said.

In both cases, Lamberth — a Reagan appointee whose past notably independent decisions include presiding over much of the litigation over a Native American Trust lawsuit, Cobell, as well as some of the first rulings to rein in the Executive’s FISA demands — seemed moved by the men’s remorse. In both, he considered but rejected a below guidelines sentence (for both men, the guidelines range was 41 to 51 months). In both cases, he sentenced them men to the guidelines sentence, albeit the lowest one, because of the severity of their actions. “It’s such a serious offense under those circumstances,” Lamberth said of Fairlamb’s actions that day, “an affront to society and the law to have the Capitol overrun and this riot stop the whole functioning of government. I cannot give a below guidelines sentence.” With Chansley, Lamberth similarly judged, “The basic problem I have with a departure downward, what you did here was horrific, as you now concede, and obstructing the functioning of government as you did is a type of conduct that is so, uh, serious that I cannot justify downward departure.”

You may not like either of these sentences. But one thing that both did — whether motivated out of genuine remorse or as part of a cynical ploy to butter up a judge — is reaffirm the legitimacy of the judicial process. By imposing real sentences on two men he seemed to believe exhibited real remorse for their actions, Lamberth emphasized how serious the January 6 attack was. Both these men recognized their actions as crimes. Both recognized the legitimacy of a judge imposing sentence for it. And both defendants recognized the professionalism of those at DOJ working to prosecute the case.

Amid all the efforts to decry any effort to hold January 6 rioters accountable, those are no mean achievements.

Three Things: Ugly Goes Clean to the Bone [UPDATE-1]

[NB: As always, check the byline. Updates will appear at the bottom. Thanks. /~Rayne]

Friday we got badly wanted news; we wanted it badly enough we didn’t blink at its arrival in the late Friday afternoon news dump zone.

But it wasn’t enough. It was only the start, a mere teaser.

~ 3 ~

At 3:53 p.m. last Friday, the Department of Justice tweeted the indictment news:

The internet was paying attention:

…even if Steve Bannon hadn’t been.

Rather hubristic to carry on as if he didn’t expect to be indicted, but then many of us were beginning to think it would never happen.

Bannon is supposed to surrender himself today, which may be a bit of a circus since Bannon now has a new attorney, David Schoen. Schoen was one of Trump’s impeachment attorneys in 2020.

~ 2 ~

The well-meaning sages who insisted things were under control — it was a good sign it was taking nearly a month to indict Bannon, don’t be like deplorables, blah-blah-blah — all had their say.

But which is it?

These things just need more time because DOJ must be cautious?

Or these things just needed this one person who wasn’t approved as DC-US Attorney until October 28 and sworn in more than a week later on November 5 to do the thing — which, by the way, took one week from oath to indictment?

Because it sure looks like the entirety of the House January 6 committee’s ability to wield its inherent powers on intransigent witnesses was completely dependent on the absence/presence of a single Biden appointee which some jerk like Sen. Ted Cruz could have held up the way he is currently holding our foreign policy hostage with holds on State Department nominees.

Are we supposed to accept with a pat on our heads that our democracy yet again depended on one person’s role?

If the DC-US Attorney were to become incapacitated at any time when the January 6 committee refers a contempt charge to DOJ, are we supposed to accept the platitudes “this takes time” or “don’t be a deplorable” when nothing happens?

What kind of government continuity is this?

~ 1 ~

Which brings us to the problem of former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who received communications both Thursday and Friday from the chair of the January 6 committee about his lack of response to a subpoena issued by the committee on September 23.

Using false or misleading claims, Meadows had attempted to spur the DOJ to investigate election fraud claims including a bizarre theory that unknown persons located in Italy used military technology and satellites to remotely switch votes from Trump to Biden. These claims were sent to then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen between December and January — after the 2020 election but before the January 6 insurrection.

Meadows was supposed to appear before the committee on October 15 to answer questions about these claims and his role in pushing them toward the DOJ, a week after he was supposed to have furnished documents requested by the committee in relation to these false election fraud claims.

The committee’s chair sent a letter last Thursday to Meadow’s attorney:

And on Friday the committee emphasized it’s going to use the tools available to it to obtain compliance with the subpoena — or else.


Meadow’s attorney sent a massively ballsy op-ed to the Washington Post as a rebuttal to the committee’s subpoena:

Opinion: In abandoning executive privilege, Biden rejects 200 years of history

George J. Terwilliger III is a partner at McGuireWoods LLP in Washington and previously served as deputy attorney general.

As counsel for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, I was surprised and disappointed to receive a letter Thursday informing me that the Biden administration will be the first in history not to resist a congressional subpoena for testimony from a senior White House aide. …

WaPo treated this like any other conservative’s op-ed; no caveat this op-ed may be tampering with an investigation.

Rather interesting how Terwilliger was able to get a 789-word op-ed published at 3:30 p.m. on the same day the January 6 committee issued its letter. This isn’t the first time Terwilliger has opined in WaPo about someone involved in the January 6 insurrection though Terwilliger’s last op-ed was a defense of former AG Bill Barr’s interference in Roger Stone’s sentencing. Can’t have the GOP’s senior ratfucker excessively punished during an election season after all.

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean didn’t think much of Terwilliger’s op-ed:


I think I’d put my money behind Dean as to which of these two attorneys has a better grasp on the limits of executive privilege.

But it gets worse for Meadows since the soon-to-be-released book about the January 6 insurrection by reporter Jonathan Karl revealed yet another memo outlining steps to effect the autogolpe overthrowing the election.

Meadows had forwarded by email to then-VP Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short a memo prepared by attorney Jennifer Ellis outlining the steps Pence needed to take to avoid certifying the election for Biden until a new alternate slate of electors for Trump could be introduced from just enough states to flip the election to Trump.

A rather pathetic carrot offered to Pence with the stick to follow on the day of the insurrection — a threat of violence and possible assassination by mob because Pence didn’t take the memo as a White House-approved order.

Looks like the number of questions Meadows must now answer has grown even longer.

~ 0 ~

The title of this post comes from an aphorism attributed to a favorite writer, Dorothy Parker: “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” Meadows may be more physically attractive and better dressed than Bannon but they’re both deeply ugly people who represent an existential threat to American democracy.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 10:00 P.M. ET —

Yeesh.

For a guy who was simply asked to appear before a House committee to answer some questions about what happened leading up to and on the day of January 6, this guy sure wants his audience to believe he’s being uniquely singled out for harassment by a president who both believes in the equal but separate powers inherent to each branch of government, and who believes the DOJ should be independent of the White House. Perhaps Bannon’s projecting since he was just fine with Trump’s DOJ acting like his personal police force.

Bannon could have just shown up, told the committee on a question by question basis, “I can’t answer that because my lawyer said it’s under executive privilege as Trump has claimed,” and simply gone about his day, coming off cool and collected like someone with nothing to hide.

But no, Bannon has to make a big scene because it’s a grift for more money; you know when he said “Stand by,” he will likely elaborate soon saying, “Stand by, because I’m going to ask you for help soon,” and then he’ll point to a link for donations for his legal fund.

Wow, he doesn’t even need to claim he’s building a border wall this time.

Rudy’s Lawyers Destroy His Reputation in an Attempt to Save It

Just before a long tirade about how, if DOJ had just asked Rudy Giuliani for help proving he’s not a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians while he was busy at State and WDPA acting as a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, he could have avoided a covert search to find out whether he’s a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, his lawyers say, in a now-public letter, that it’ll badly damage Rudy’s reputation if it becomes public that DOJ believed he might delete evidence or intimidate witnesses.

In addition, in the original warrant for the iCloud account, there is a nondisclosure order based upon an allegation made to the issuing Court, that if Giuliani were informed of the existence of the warrant, he might destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses. Such an allegation, on its face, strains credulity. It is not only false, but extremely damaging to Giuliani’s reputation. It is not supported by any credible facts and is contradicted by Giuliani’s efforts to provide information to the Government. We should be allowed to question the Government as to what basis it had, if any, to make that assertion. Accordingly, we request the information that was presented in the iCloud warrant to justify the NonNotification Order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 2705 (b) that “there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this warrant will result in destruction of or tampering with evidence, and/or tamping (sic) with potential witnesses, or otherwise will seriously jeopardize an ongoing investigation.” We also request access to the application for any extension of the non-disclosure provision which originally lasted for a year.

As the single exhibit to prove that Rudy had reached out to DOJ to provide help, his attorneys included a picture of a TV screen with his attorney making that claim (I’m not sure whether this claim is November 25, 2019, or in the wake of the most recent searches) when it might have avoided the search. But then they include all this verbiage which sure seems to describe Rudy acting as an Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians who just didn’t give a shit about registering as such because why do that if the President can bail you out?

It was premature and unwarranted for the Government to seize Giuliani’s ESI because Giuliani had already cooperated with the U S State Department (“State”) through Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, in March 2019 concerning Ukraine. He also cooperated again in July and August of 2019 at the request of the State Department in assisting them with regard to Ukraine. In fact, there has never been an occasion where Mr. Giuliani has refused to cooperate with, or give assistance, to his government. This was as true during the Clinton administration as it was during the Bush administration.

[snip]

As a reminder, this same attorney had cooperated with the State Department and offered, for a year and a half, to answer any questions from the SDNY about any subject or crime, with no limitations except for privileged matters. During that same time period, Giuliani did in fact cooperate with Main Justice, through their designee in Pittsburgh on the subject of the Ukraine. Amazingly, the SDNY continually turned down the offer by stating that while they would be happy to hear anything Mayor Giuliani’s counsel had to say, they refused to identify the subject, although those subjects were disclosed to the media.

Plus, Rudy’s lawyers note — as if it helps him — that they only reached out to offer to help on November 4, 2019, the very same day the warrant was obtained (as if maybe a birdie warned him?), which means he didn’t offer to help for the entire month after the indictment against his business partners Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was unsealed.

But Rudy’s letter and a similar one from Victoria Toensing’s lawyers lay out certain details of the investigations into the two of them.

There are two sets of warrants. With Rudy, SDNY obtained a sealed warrant for his iCloud account on November 4, 2019 and then the overt one for a shit-ton of devices on April 21, 2021. With Toensing, SDNY obtained a sealed warrant for her iCloud account on November 4, 2019 and another for her Google account on December 13, 2019; they obtained a warrant for a single phone on April 28, 2021.

Rudy says that the earlier warrants showed listed FARA, unregistered Foreign Agent, abetting, and conspiracy as the crimes under investigation.

In essence, the Government was looking for evidence that Giuliani was acting as an agent, unregistered agent or lobbyist of a Ukrainian national, government official, corporation or political party or in violation of the foreign agent registration and lobbying laws or making contributions on behalf of a foreign principal (see attachments to search warrant also citing 22 USC §§612 and 618, 18 USC §951, 18 USC §2, and 18 USC §371).

It’s not entirely clear whether the later warrants against Rudy are the same. He doesn’t say. Plus, he says the later search was only “nearly identical,” as compared to Toensing’s claim that the searches were “virtually” identical. (The content, of course, wouldn’t be identical.)

For her part, Toensing is quite worried that DOJ seized information about a client, who sure seems like Dmitro Firtash.

Rudy’s letter mentions “President President President President” over and over. But in this challenge, unlike the one Michael Cohen made, the President has not filed as an interested party, meaning Rudy’s on his own. Probably, he’s too cheap to pay his share of the presumed Special Master fees.

Rudy also argues, falsely, that the search of the President’s lawyer’s cloud content without the use of a Special Master is unprecedented and especially egregious given that this search came in the wake of the search of Michael Cohen’s devices, which used a Special Master.

Moreover, in the Fall of 2019, during an intense debate over the impeachment and the campaign for the upcoming Presidential Election, with Giuliani publicly acting as President Trump’s personal attorney, the Government decided to take the unprecedented step of seeking a search warrant for Giuliani’s iCloud account. In these circumstances, on the heels of the precautions instilled by Judge Wood in a nearly identical situation, the use of a one-sided “filter” team was highly inappropriate and inadequate to identify privileged materials and thereby protect Giuliani and his clients ’attorney-client privilege, and highly indicative of the appearance of impropriety. Had this been done overtly, or through the Government’s less onerous subpoena powers, we would have requested that a Special Master to be appointed at the time. Instead, the Government has had these private, confidential, and privileged materials in their possession for over eighteen months, and established a Taint Team who acted as prosecutor, defense lawyer, Special Master and Judge entirely in secret, knowing full well this contravened the protocol established in the Cohen case.

Except it’s not remotely unprecedented. That is, literally, the same thing that happened to Cohen. Indeed, his Trump Organization emails were preserved (at Microsoft) and searched by Mueller’s team, then shared with SDNY under a new warrant. And those emails actually did pertain to the President — though from the campaign period, not the period when he was trying to coerce campaign assistance from a foreign government.

Ultimately, a big story here is that someone high up in Billy Barr’s DOJ authorized the sealed searches in November and December 2019, making Rudy’s wails far less convincing. My guess is that after Rudy made Brian Benczkowski look corrupt for taking a related meeting on a bribery case (of the Venezuelan bankrolling the Ukrainian grift) at a time when Rudy was being criminally investigated, Benczkowski wasn’t all that interested in going out on a limb to protect Rudy, especially as it would focus attention on the earlier corrupt review of the whistleblower complaint. My further guess is that after Benczkowski resigned, effective July 3, and after Billy Barr failed to replace Geoffrey Berman with a loyal flunky during precisely the same weeks in June 2020, Barr and Jeffrey Rosen went to epic lengths to prevent this warrant from being approved, with Rosen going so far as to require that a specific person in the Deputy Attorney General’s office be required to sign off on such a warrant on December 30, weeks before the second effort. Whatever the case, Trump’s DOJ approved the covert warrants, the one both lawyers are wailing the most loudly about.

If, as the lawyers wail, SDNY has been sifting through their cloud content, then this warrant shouldn’t hurt them all that much more than their earlier searches (unless Parnas revealed that they weren’t backing up their encrypted apps to the cloud).

Except — particularly given the confirmation that Lev Parnas unsuccessfully deleted his own iCloud account — Rudy’s insistence that he doesn’t have a guilty conscience and wouldn’t have deleted anything rings false.

Despite these two warnings that the SDNY was seeking permission to apply for a search warrant for his electronic devices and because he had no guilty conscience, Giuliani took no steps to destroy evidence or wipe the electronic devices clean. Since Giuliani was not under subpoena, he had no legal obligation to preserve that evidence, but he did so because he is an innocent man who did nothing wrong.

At about this stage in the Michael Cohen litigation, we learned that he, too, had deleted some information.

Not only has SDNY been sorting through these files for 18 months, they had Parnas and Fruman’s content for far longer, and since then Parnas has been trying hard to take Rudy down. So I would imagine SDNY had good reason to believe that Rudy may have destroyed evidence.

Key related posts

October 14, 2019: The Criminal Investigation into Paul Manafort Was (and May Still be) Ongoing–and Likely Pertains to Trump’s Ukraine Extortion

The Parnas and Fruman grift was, in many ways, the direct continuation of Manafort’s efforts to cash in on Trump’s win. You’d think that would raise the stakes of Rudy’s privilege claims — but Trump doesn’t appear to care.

October 16, 2019: On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

I argued that doubts that Rudy could be prosecuted for FARA were not only too pat, but ignored his other criminal exposure for precisely the crimes that would be named in his warrant weeks later.

October 22, 2019: How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

I laid out that Criminal Division didn’t do any of the things they’re supposed to do with the whistleblower complaint. That may have forced their hand to approve of the initial warrants against Rudy and VicToe.

October 25, 2019: Main Justice Now Looking for the Evidence in Plain Sight They Ignored in August

Just before the sealed warrants were obtained, Main Justice got more involved in the SDNY investigation.

November 4, 2019: When Your Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob Blows Up in Your Face

I’ve written several posts about the ridiculous claims John Dowd made to try to cover this up in a network of privilege claims. The original is linked in the linked post. But I’m linking this one because I posted it on the same day DOJ got a warrant for Rudy’s iCloud.

November 23, 2019: Timeline: How Rudy Made It Hard for Mike Pompeo to Show Any Leadership

This post includes all the foreign influence peddling that Rudy was doing during the period covered by his warrant.

January 28, 2020: SDNY Prosecutors Protect Trump’s Privacy to Enter into a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

There were a bunch of discovery issues in the case in January 2020, including the revelation that Lev Parnas had deleted iCloud data and an affirmative assertion that Parnas could not waive attorney-client privilege for Dmitro Firtash.

May 7, 2021: Four Ways Billy Barr Obstructed the Investigation into Rudy Giuliani

Barr was working hard to kill the Ukraine investigation during the period through which Rudy’s subpoena extends.

Amanda Gorman Made Silvester Beaman Sad, Joe Biden Happy, and John Lewis Dance

"https://youtu.be/lI1c-Lbd4Bw

The saddest person on the Inaugural stage was not Mike Pence, the outgoing Vice President. Indeed, after what he had to put up with from Trump for the last month, he’s probably relieved if not outright happy. The saddest person was not Amy Klobuchar or other presidential hopefuls who came up short during the primaries, who no doubt imagined themselves as the person taking the oath of office today. The saddest person on the stage today was the Reverend Doctor Silvester Beaman of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

The happiest person on the stage was President Joe Biden, but it’s not because he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America. It’s not because the inauguration went off without more violence. It’s not because he can finally *do* things to address all the problems he and we are facing, which had to have been incredibly frustrating as the transition floundered and foundered and blundered its way to today. It’s not because he accomplished what Beau wanted him to do.

The reason Beaman was so sad and Biden was so happy is this: Biden finished before Amanda Gorman spoke and Beaman had to follow her. Honestly, I half expected Beaman to step up to the microphone, ask “Can I get an Amen?”, and then drop the folder with his prepared benediction and sit down. Don’t get me wrong: Beaman’s words were good, but he had to know that he was following something epic.

When I saw Gorman come down the Capitol steps wearing her yellow power coat, her bold hoop earrings, her bright red wrap around the powerful tight braids atop her head, I just sat back and smiled. Michelle Obama looked great in her purple, but she was a member of the audience today. Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez both made their entrances before they picked up the microphone, and were fine, but Gorman owned those steps in a way that no on else did today. Seeing her enter reminded me of AOC stepping onto the House floor in her power red suit as she prepared to respond to being called a “fucking bitch” by Florida Congressman Ted Yoho. Before Gorman opened her mouth, it was clear that she had Something To Say and it was going to be good.

And make no mistake: she did, and it was.

It was incredibly powerful for three reasons. First, Gorman was unapologetically herself: young, African-American, articulate, and proud of all three. She did not cast herself as Maya Angelou or Robert Frost, two earlier inaugural poets. She spoke with the rhythms of rap that are the language of her generation and her community, embracing the whole heritage of Africans on this continent, and conscious of her power in this moment.

Second, Gorman was unflinchingly honest. She spoke of the ugliness of our history at times, at the tragedies we have been through, and the reality of what is going on right now. There were no pious platitudes to paper over the pain that far too many have had to deal with for far too long.

Most of all, Gorman was unimaginably hopeful. If she owned and possessed the four centuries of pain poured out on the Africans brought to this country in chains and their descendants who lived through slavery, official Jim Crow, and unofficial oppression, she also owned and possessed the strength that carried them through it all, forcing this country to slowly and painfully look at its past, decide to change, and actually make those changes begin to come to be.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust
for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power
to author a new chapter,
to offer hope and laughter
to ourselves so while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert:
how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be
a country that is bruised, but whole,
benevolent, but bold,
fierce, and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
if we merge mercy with might and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

And with these words, I thought immediately of John Lewis, the happiest person *not* on the stage today.

Gorman was not mindlessly repeating the words of an earlier generation of activists, but building on them. Just as the 23 year old John Lewis spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, so the 22 year old Amanda Gorman stood at the other end of the Mall, on the steps of the Capitol in which John Lewis served until he died, and she is taking this nation one more step forward. She isn’t asking permission to do this, or suggesting this be done. She is declaring reality: we will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation.

I am glad that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris defeated Donald Trump and Mike Pence. I am relieved that we have made it through the transition between the election and today. I am still shaken by the insurrection of January 6th and what may yet lie ahead on that front. But I am dancing in my living room right now, and am convinced that John Lewis is dancing in heaven today, because in Amanda Gorman we see that the good troublemaking goes on.

How could catastrophe possibly prevail?

“Dems in Disarray” as the GOP Fractures over Trump

When I wrote this post, laying out what I perceived to be the urgent need to cure the GOP of the spell Trump has them under, I intended to premise the solution — the means by which Dems and others could encourage such a break — on the political calculus of those Republicans who’ve enabled him for four years. A sufficient number of Republicans need to want to break that spell.

Given how events of the last few days are beginning to fracture GOP unity (the “Dems in disarray” in the title is a sarcastic reference to how commentators always portray things in the worst light for democrats), I thought I’d lay out that premise in a stand-alone post.

Yesterday, even before the Georgia results were in, WaPo chronicled how Trump’s push for an unconstitutional challenge to the election today has splintered GOP unity.

President Trump is effectively sabotaging the Republican Party on his way out of office, obsessed with overturning his election loss and nursing pangs of betrayal from allies whom he had expected to bend the instruments of democracy to his will.

Trump has created a divide in his party as fundamental and impassioned as any during his four years as president, with lawmakers forced to choose between certifying the results of an election decided by their constituents or appeasing the president in an all-but-certain-to-fail crusade to keep him in power by subverting the vote.

[snip]

Trump’s intensifying drive to overturn the election results has deepened a GOP divide on Capitol Hill. McConnell last month urged Republican senators not to object to the electoral college vote certification in Wednesday’s joint session. But now that 13 have said they would, the leader has stepped back from any significant effort to tamp down the brewing rebellion. He is not whipping votes and has not spoken to Trump in weeks.

In conversations with other Senate Republicans, McConnell has stressed that their decision now will be a matter of conscience and that each senator should vote the way he or she has to vote, according to two senior GOP officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay the majority leader’s private posture.

Some Republican senators have expressed concerns that voting to certify — and against Trump — would open them up to a primary challenge from the right, while others worry that voting to object would make them vulnerable in a general election, a person familiar with the deliberations said.

“I think it is revealing that there is not a single senator who is arguing that the election was stolen from President Trump,” said Josh Holmes, an outside adviser to McConnell. “The divide in the party is whether it’s appropriate to pull the pin on an electoral college grenade, hoping that there are enough responsible people standing around who can shove it back in before they detonate American democracy.”

Then, at a time when a huge proportion of House Republicans and a shameful number of Senators were on the record supporting Trump’s arson attempt, Democrats appear to have pulled out both Senate seats in Georgia. While the corruption of and racist attacks from both Republicans hurt their own chances — especially a Kelly Loeffler attack on Raphael Warnock’s sermons, a direct attack on Black faith — there’s good reason to blame Trump.

With some exceptions for David Perdue, Democrats improved their performance county by county based on lower relative turnout from Republicans. Trump might like to claim that turnout fall-off is due to him not being on the ballot, but it’ll be easy for Republicans to argue, with reason, that it’s just as likely that Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the vote led people to stay home. All the more so given that the county where he held a rally the other night, underperformed turnout in the rest of the state.

So even if it weren’t true, it’d be in the self-interest of career Republicans to blame all this on Trump, which is beginning even before the race is formally called for Jon Ossoff.

“Trump is the cause of this, lock, stock and barrel,” said one Republican strategist. “But when you’re relying on someone to win you a Senate race that also lost statewide eight weeks prior, you’re not in a position of strength.”

The immediate recrimination is emblematic of the complicated GOP dynamics that have emerged after Trump’s loss in the November election. Fissures are forming as Republicans decide whether it’s useful to cling to Trump — even as he tries to subvert an election — or to distance themselves. And if the Georgia races are any indication, it appears Republicans are willing to turn on Trump if he can’t reliably turn out the vote for candidates in the months and years ahead.

When asked why Republicans didn’t prevail on Tuesday, a senior Senate Republican aide simply said: “Donald J. Trump.”

Importantly, there were already a number of Republicans who would have liked to turn on Trump if he didn’t have the power to make them regret that (and I expect we’ll hear stories of the means by which Trump commanded such unthinking loyalty in the days ahead). With Republicans out of power in DC, that’s all the more true. Republicans will undoubtedly try to limit the number of victories Biden enjoys, but they will have fewer means to do so going forward.

And Trump’s attempted coup is only going to exacerbate that. Since most Republicans committed to a position before the Georgia results — a decision Trump forced on a number of people, including Loeffler and Perdue, to their potential disadvantage — it will solidify pre-existing fracture lines. Yes, Republicans will blame Trump. But Republicans in Congress will also blame each other, particularly in the Senate.

All that creates a very different landscape in DC, if Biden and Democrats in Congress can exploit it. Some fraction of Republicans in Congress will have an incentive to burn Trump to the ground.

Update: This profile of what a dog-shit choice Trump has given Republicans today focuses on something I’ve been thinking a lot about: Michael Cohen’s warning to Republicans in his OGR testimony about how badly things were going to work out for them.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, whose fealty landed him in prison, feels like he’s watching a reprise of his own demise.

“I warned them,” he told me.

“I warned Mark Meadows at my oversight hearing. I warned the Jim Jordans,” he said, referring to his congressional testimony from less than two years ago as well as Trump’s current chief of staff and other notably pro-Trump GOP House members. His message: “I know what you’re doing. I know the Trump game plan, because I wrote it, and it didn’t work out for me. And it’s not going to work out for you.”

“Donald Trump,” he said, “will push people to the brink, and unless they want to end up disbarred and imprisoned and financially ruined, like what Trump did to me, they better open their eyes.”

[snip]

“Each of the Republicans that have signed on to Trump’s chaos are not doing it out of loyalty to Trump,” Cohen said. “They’re not doing it because they even believe in what Trump is doing. They’re doing it because they fear his Twitter wrath and believe that the supporters, the base of Trump supporters, will vote against them in any upcoming election for not siding with Trump. This is more about their survival than anything else. And that’s sad and pathetic.”

Not only will Cohen’s warnings of the downsides of coddling Trump be prescient in some foreseeable cases, but as Trump loses the power of the Presidency, the upside for making his loyalty oaths will have diminishing value. If something tarnishes Trump’s brand significantly (in my first post, I suggested financial setbacks and state prosecutions could do that), the value of allegiance to Trump could go south precipitously.

And that would have the effect of making these public oaths of loyalty backfire.

Update: Fixed spelling of Perdue’s last name.

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