On the Classification Disputes over Mike Flynn’s Discovery

Over the last week, I have laid out how Mike Flynn’s TV lawyer, Sidney Powell, used what was nominally a reply brief in her Brady demand to make a new request that the entire prosecution against Flynn be thrown out. I showed how her argument misrepresented the evidence she used to make it — at one point, she even accused her own client of lying in his initial FBI interview! Nevertheless, Powell succeeded at least far enough to get Sullivan to order the government to respond to her entirely new demand, a sign he may be sympathetic to her gaslighting.

But I’d like to go back and consider the declassification process that got us to this point.

Flynn’s reply was due on October 22, a week ago Tuesday. Starting on Saturday, October 19, Flynn’s team tried to get DOJ to approve its use of the materials it had received under the protective order — 302s involving Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Strzok and Joe Pientka’s notes from the initial interview, some of the Strzok-Page texts, and a redline of the 302 from February 10.  That exchange looked like this:

October 19, 3:54PM: Powell writes AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine cc’ing other lawyers, stating she plans to include quotes from the protected materials, including from “the various 302s of the 24th, [redacted], [Page’s] 302, and the agents [sic] notes,” stating they may file without sealing the reply or exhibits.

October 20, 1:36PM: Brandon Van Grack response, stating they need to ask “equity holders, in particular the FBI,” and offering to start reviewing quotes before the reply is finished.

October 20, 1:49PM Flynn attorney Molly McCann replies and asks Van Grack to “begin the process to clear the full documents,” including the 302s, the documents whose description is redacted, [Page]’s 302, and the agents’ notes.”

October 22, 12:00PM: Flynn files his reply under seal.

October 22, 12:45PM: Molly McCann writes Van Grack and others, attaching “our proposed redactions,” based off “the redactions [the government] made in the original Motion to Compel. McCann stated that, “until you can complete your review process we would expect to keep the exhibits under seal.”

October 22, 3:34: Van Grack replies, stating that “we have circulated the motion, and your proposed edits, to the appropriate entities,” noting that “we will need to request redactions beyond what you propose.”

October 23, 10:33AM: Powell writes Van Grack, advising him that “if we have not received your proposed redactions as to the Reply brief by 1 p.m. today, we will be filing a motion with the court.”

October 23, 10:39AM: Ballantine writes Powell, stating that “there is information in your filing beyond that which you flagged for us on Sunday,” adding, “there is one sensitive matter that is unlikely to be resolved before the end of the day.”

October 23, 11:10AM: Powell responded, “without a proposed redacted version from you that can be unsealed today or an assurance it will be resolved today, we will be seeking relief from the court by 5 p.m.

October 23, 7:17PM: Flynn’s team submits a motion to file their proposed brief.

October 24, 10:23PM: Flynn’s team submits motion for leave to file, along with their “reply,” based on adopting the government’s redactions.

Effectively, Powell got fed up waiting for FBI to decide what could and could not show up in her reply, and pushed to publish a public copy. Sure, she was insistent on filing as much of this in unredacted form as she could so she could feed the frothy right with her brief (which she effectively admits in her October 23 filing). But that is entirely her right. I’m totally sympathetic with her demand that she be allowed to file this in timely fashion (though I imagine the government would suggest they should have started the declassification process more than three days in advance).

This is one issue I’m absolutely supportive of Powell’s aggressiveness.

But, particularly given the timing, I’m interested in the substance of the dispute. I’m interested for several reasons. Powell’s entire representation of Flynn went through Bill Barr. She clearly has gotten information about the Durham investigation stovepiped to her, most recently in the form of totally irrelevant (to Flynn) information about the government obtaining Joseph Mifsud’s phones. And she made claims about what she believed she knew should and should not be redacted.

Just as interesting, on the morning of October 23, Jocelyn Ballentine said one “sensitive matter” was unlikely to get resolved that day. On October 24, the NYT and other outlets first started reporting that Durham’s inquiry had become a criminal investigation. Certainly, there could be other issues that might be that sensitive issue (including decisions about indicting Andrew McCabe). But the redactions on some of these exhibits certainly might be implicated by a Durham investigation, depending on the scope of it.

Let’s work backwards. First, of the 16 exhibits submitted with her reply, just eight came from the government and so were subject to the protective order (this post has more extensive discussions of what these are):

2) Page-Strzok texts*

3) Comey memos

5) Strzok 302 responding to propaganda Sara Carter and John Solomon “reported”*

6) Previously released Strzok 302 on his own role in the investigation*

9) Joe Pientka notes from the interview

10) Strzok notes of the interview

11) Redline of edits made to 302 on February 10*

12) Lisa Page 302 on texts with Strzok regarding the interview with Flynn*

In the exhibit showing the conversation about declassification, the existence of the Sara Carter-related 302 and the Page 302 were redacted entirely. All the exhibits were cleared for release in some fashion, though I’ll get back to what remains redacted.

In Powell’s filing asking Sullivan to intervene, she said, “The only exhibits to the Reply for which the defense knows of any reason to remain under seal are 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 12.” In her motion to file the reply brief, she said, “The government … proposed redactions to five of the exhibits Mr. Flynn included in his filing—Exhibits 2, 5, 6, 11, and 12,” meaning the texts included stuff she didn’t know should still be redacted. I’ve marked the exhibits the government added redactions to above.

The redactions of the redline must be — in addition to names — redactions of information that would reveal how FBI works. Among other things, it likely includes codes the agents use to track them, because DOJ screwed up who made the two changes to the redline (as I note here, they say Strzok didn’t remember something that Pientka added, but it must be the reverse given their notes).

Similarly, the only thing redacted in the Page 302 is names and organizational stuff. That would suggest that nothing in the Page 302 implicates ongoing investigations (including, but not limited to, Durham).

It’s hard to tell what got redacted in the texts. Clearly, something that the government released to Flynn was deemed too sensitive to release. But there were already two sets of redactions in the texts — the gray ones (possibly for privacy reasons) and some black ones that redact genuinely sensitive material. One of those things, for example, is the name of the person Strzok and Page were worried about locking in on May 10, 2017, which Flynn (and the rest of the frothy right) believed incorrectly to be him. But there are other things — such as a October 19, 2016 and another January 23, 2017 text — that might have been released to Flynn but cannot be released publicly. Or, it’s possible FBI just redacted the phone numbers.

Most intriguing is the Sara Carter related 302. There are two redactions, one introductory and one referring to the third allegation Carter was chasing, that after Flynn resigned, people high fived and said, “we got him.” Powell apparently knows why it was redacted. But I had heard, in reporting something else, that this was considered a hoax targeted at McCabe. If the redaction reflected badly on McCabe, Powell would be sure to include it in her filing, which she doesn’t. One possible explanation is that DOJ is still trying to chase down where this disinformation got spread (consistent with the fact that DOJ IG still hasn’t released its report on who was behind the NY Field Office leaks, in part because there were too many to pinpoint).

Finally, there’s the 302 memorializing Strzok’s role in the initiation of the investigation. It has the same redactions (and appears to be the same version) of the 302 released in June, in the wake of the Mueller Report. At the time, the government said those were deliberative privilege and personal privacy redactions — meaning most of what remains redacted consists of discussions of investigative choices.

The government continues to redact DIA stuff on Flynn’s trips to Russia

Except that last point — about the 302 memorializing Strzok’s role in initiating the investigation — might have changed.

Note that the government told Flynn’s team there were things in their actual brief that needed redaction. Aside from names, two things are redacted. First, a footnote modifying Powell’s otherwise unsubstantiated claim that the FBI knew they had no basis to investigate Flynn, which cites to the 302 on Strzok’s role in opening the investigation.

This must be something genuinely investigative, or Powell would have contested it on releasing the motion. Remember that at the time, Flynn was under investigation for being an Agent of Russia. Perhaps significantly, in the government’s Surreply, they get really vague when addressing the multiple bases for interviewing Flynn.

The defendant also now argues that the information he seeks will prove that the “FBI had no factual or legal basis for a criminal investigation.” Reply at 14-16. In support, the defendant cites to the standard necessary to obtain a warrant pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (”FISA”). See Reply at 14, n.11. Obtaining a FISA warrant, however, is entirely different from the FBI interviewing an individual as part of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation. Here, there were multiple bases for the FBI to interview the defendant. The defendant’s false statements publicly attributed to him by White House officials about his communications with Russia were alone a sufficient and appropriate basis for conducting the investigative step of interviewing the defendant.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re right that Powell is speciously arguing that the government needs probable cause showing someone is an Agent of a Foreign Power (the FISA standard) before they interview someone — it’s a point I made in bullet 9 here. But the Flynn camp has always tried to limit the reasons why the FBI interviewed Flynn (not least so they could claim it was an improper investigation into policy). There’s likely a whole lot of baggage to these redactions.

A more interesting redaction comes in a passage that invents out of thin air a claim that Chuck Grassley had seen files regarding briefings Flynn did before he went to Russia and deemed them exculpatory. In it, the government redacted a sentence about those briefings.

Probably, this stuff comes from DIA material shared with Flynn in August (after it was handed to Grassley). The government, in its response to Powell’s initial motion, said some of what Flynn told the DIA was inculpatory.

Request #15: The government is not aware of any information in possession of the Defense Intelligence Agency that is favorable and material to sentencing, including the information that the government provided on August 16, 2019. Specifically, the information of which the government is aware, including that August 16 production, is either inculpatory or has no relevance to the defendant’s false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, or to the FARA Unit.

Which makes it interesting, first, that Powell isn’t trying to represent the content of these supposedly inculpatory DIA files, and second, that DOJ continues to hide it.

There seem to be two tensions going on behind all this discovery. First, the possible referral of people involved in his prosecution (but apparently not Lisa Page) to Durham. But just as interesting, given ongoing redactions regarding Flynn’s ties to Russia, inculpatory information about his own ties to Russia.

The Republican Closing Argument against Impeachment Is Personally Implicated in the Scandal

I’m waiting on the procedural votes to authorize the House impeachment inquiry. There were some nice speeches, with Speaker Pelosi lecturing the Republicans about American history, Republicans repeating the same quote from Alexander Hamilton over and over, Steve Scalise posing next to an image of the Kremlin [Correction: This is St. Basil’s Cathedral], and Eric Swalwell accusing the President of using taxpayer dollars to lead an “an extortion shakedown scheme.”

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the debate is that the Republican closing argument — yet another recital of that same Hamilton quote — came from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy is implicated in the scandal he doesn’t want investigated.

McCarthy received money both personally and in the guise of his Protect the House PAC from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, the grifters at the core of the influence operation that led to Trump’s quid pro quo conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. He also keynoted an event with the grifters. While he has said he’d donate the money to charity (though has not yet, as far as I know, shown that he did that), there is no way to unring the bell of their support. He became Majority Leader with the support of men who have since been indicted for that support.

That is the face that is leading opposition to impeachment.

Update: Here’s the roll call.

  • Impeachment curious Republicans Will Hurd and Francis Rooney both voted against the inquiry
  • Democrats Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew also voted against
  • Justin Amash voted for the inquiry
  • Republicans Jody Hice, John Rose, and William Timmons, and Democrat Donald McEachin did not vote

So 98.5% of the Republican caucus voted to do nothing after another branch of government usurped Congress’ power of the purse.

The Ellipses and the Recordings, Plural, of Joe Biden

Before I get into the NYT report on Alexander Vindman’s testimony that the White House removed damning things from the transcript of the July 25 call, I want to note something from his opening statement. At the end of his description of who he is and what he does, Vindman warned that the impeachment inquiry should carefully balance the need for disclosure against national security concerns.

Most of my interactions relate to national security issues and are therefore especially sensitive. I would urge the Committees to carefully balance the need for information against the impact that disclosure would have on our foreign policy and national security.

Then, when discussing the July 25 call, Vindman emphasized that, because the transcript is in the public record, “we are all aware of what was said.”

On July 25, 2019, the call occurred. I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and the office of the Vice President. As the transcript is in the public record, we are all aware of what was said.

I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.

Yet immediately following his statement that “we are all aware of what was said,” Vindman asserts that the call was about investigating the Bidens and Burisma. But Burisma doesn’t appear in the TELCON. It is one of the things that, according to the NYT, the White House removed — where it says “the company” in this passage — and he recommended it be put back in.

I understand and I’m knowledgeable .about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. [my emphasis]

NYCSouthpaw had said once this had to be a reference to Burisma — he was absolutely correct.

According to NYT, the ellipsis in this passage of the TELCON,

Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it …

… Took out a reference to Joe Biden talking about getting Viktor Shokin fired.

The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption,

[snip]

The rough transcript also contains ellipses at three points where Mr. Trump is speaking. Colonel Vindman told investigators that at the point of the transcript where the third set of ellipses appear, Mr. Trump said there were tapes of Mr. Biden.

Mr. Trump’s mention of tapes is an apparent reference to Mr. Biden’s comments at a January 2018 event about his effort to get Ukraine to force out its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. [my emphasis]

The NYT and other outlets have asserted that this is a reference to a video that Rudy Giuliani has been publicly shopping for some time, and it undoubtedly is that, at least.

But I want to suggest the possibility that it’s a reference to more.

The NYT goes to absurd lengths to make this appear as innocuous as possible, seemingly offering up the possibility that the words “the company” appeared because of a failure of the voice recognition software (though the TELCON itself notes that such a possibility would be marked by “inaudible” in the transcript).

It is not clear why some of Colonel Vindman’s changes were not made, while others he recommended were, but the decision by a White House lawyer to quickly lock down the reconstructed transcript subverted the normal process of handling such documents.

The note-takers and voice recognition software used during the July 25 call had missed Mr. Zelensky saying the word “Burisma,” but the reconstructed transcript does reference “the company,” and suggests that the Ukrainian president is aware that it is of great interest to Mr. Trump.

Which is one reason I find it notable that the NYT suggests the reference to recordings refers solely to a single publicly known recording of Biden even though both times they refer to Vindman’s testimony, they refer to tapes or recordings, plural.

The thing is, there are undoubtedly are tapes, plural, of Biden talking about firing Shokin. Indeed, in the recording in question, Biden even says that he had already gotten a commitment from Petro Poroshenko to fire Shokin.

I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t.

So at the very least, there are the US versions of prior communications in which Biden would have emphasized the importance of firing Shokin. And there may well be other recordings reflecting that the ask happened, for example of Poroshenko talking to Arseniy Yatsenyuk about it. Given that getting Poroshenko to act on corruption was a key focus of Obama’s policy, it would have been a key focus of SIGINT collection. So if we had the ability to collect such conversations, we would have done so. And if we did, those recordings would still be sitting at NSA available to anyone with the need to know.

Trump would have legal access to all of that and, given his focus on Ukraine and “corruption,” an excuse to pull it up. Given that this purported concern about “corruption” is part of the official, stated policy of the US, it is not at all crazy to assume that his aides have pulled existing intercepts pertaining to past discussions of corruption and if they did, they would have, by definition, involved Joe Biden, because he was the one Obama tasked to take care of such issues.

And if there were — and if Trump’s comment reflected knowledge of that — it would explain two other details.

First, Vindman clearly doesn’t think all of the details about this call should be aired publicly. It’s certainly possible that he just didn’t want it to become public that Zelensky had parroted Trump’s demand to investigate Burisma. As I noted, by releasing the transcript, Trump has already made it clear that he succeeded in corrupting Zelensky, who ran on a platform of ending corruption. Revealing that Zelensky was literally repeating the script that Gordon Sondland had dictated for him would make that worse.

It’s also possible that whatever the other two ellipses in the TELCON hide are things he believes should remain secret. Vindman certainly would know what those ellipses hide, even if he didn’t recommend adding those details back in, and surely got asked about it yesterday.

But a national security professional like Vindman would also want to keep any details about intercepts classified. Even just the fact — not at all controversial but not something spoken of in polite company — that the US was sitting on records of Poroshenko’s resistance to dealing with corruption would be the kind of thing Vindman might want to keep secret.

Again, it may be that Vindman’s concerns about airing this dirty laundry involve nothing more than an effort to minimize the damage already done to Zelensky. But it may reflect more specific concerns about sources and methods.

And if the original transcript did reflect sources and methods, it might provide an excuse for John Eisenberg to insist it be stored on the Top Secret server. Again, his decision to do so may extend no further than a desire to cover up the President’s crime. But if the call reflected more sensitive collection, then it would need to be stored on a more secure server. That also might explain why everyone else — except the whistleblower, who wasn’t on the call — treated these details as Top Secret.

The existing TELCON does not hide that Trump was discussing right wing propaganda with Zelensky. So there would be no reason to remove Trump’s reference to another piece of right wing propaganda. But the treatment of it suggests that the TELCON as released removed classified information (the document is titled “Unclassified,” suggesting that if the TELCON included the statements reflected in the ellipses, it’d be Classified). In which case, there may be other recordings, recordings that are classified and aren’t known to every frothy right winger spouting propaganda.

For some reason, the NYT thinks Trump referred to more than one recording of Biden talking corruption. It is not at all unreasonable to imagine he knows of classified recordings.

Horowitz

DOJ’s Inspector General (and 70 Colleagues) Says DOJ’s Lawyers Fucked Up

On Tuesday, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency just sent OLC head Steve Engel a scathing letter criticizing his opinion that Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire could not share the whistleblower complaint about President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Volodymyr with Congress. Generally, its content says about what you’d think:

  • ICIG was right to complain about OLC’s decision in a September 17 letter
  • ICIG was about DNI’s jurisdiction over federal elections and classification of information
  • OLC’s opinion could impair whistleblowing
  • OLC’s opinion deviates from Congressional intent on IC statutes, as backed by both Chuck Grassley and Mark Warner
  • OLC did not raise any valid constitutional concern, but instead simply substituted its judgment for the ICIG’s

But I’m more interested in what it means that CIGIE’s Chair, Michael Horowitz, wrote it. Horowitz also happens to be DOJ’s Inspector General, the same guy Bill Barr has loaded up with investigations designed to take down Trump’s critics, someone whom the frothy right has invested a lot of their respect.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Horowitz would have written the letter in any case, even if he weren’t DOJ IG. He’s a fierce protector of IG prerogatives, which is one reason why he’s the Chair.

Horowitz is also a brilliant tactician who has used his positions–both as DOJ IG and as CIGIE head–to assert his authority. Just as one very key example, after a several year fight with FBI, he managed to get broad access to FBI’s files for IG investigations. In another example, he managed to investigate lawyer Jim Comey (in his administrative role) even though generally such investigations get done by DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

And I view this letter, in addition to being a very public and powerful stand on an important principle, as a tactic. One thing the letter does, for example, is lay out that a top DOJ lawyer violated Congress’ intent on how Inspectors General are supposed to work. That’s the kind of thing that — if my years of watching Horowitz are any indication — we may hear the next time Horowitz testifies about his work and the scope of DOJ’s IG, which is limited in ways that other IGs aren’t.

More interesting, given the abundant proof that DOJ worked hard to avoid connecting the dots on this complaint, is Horowitz’s footnote noting that DOJ and FBI have responsibilities to investigation interference in our elections seems

The fact that other parts of the government, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice, also have responsibilities in this area does not divest the DNI of such duties as a matter of law or practice.

Horowitz may not have the authority to investigate Steve Engel, but he does have the authority to investigate the people who found ways not to investigate this complaint competently, and his concern on OLC may reflect a concern on what else happened at DOJ.

Horowitz also maps out broad authority for ICIG to continue to investigating both the allegation itself and (importantly), the misuse of the Top Secret server to hide other problematic call transcripts.

These responsibilities support the ICIG’s conclusion that the protection of federal elections from foreign interference is squarely within the DNI’s “operations”. The legal authorities cited in his letter also support the ICIG’s determination that the whistleblower raised a claim of a serious or flagrant problem that relates to an intelligence activity within the DNI’s jurisdiction. It surely cannot be the case that the DNI has responsibilities related to foreign election interference but is prohibited from reviewing the cause of any such alleged interference.

We further note that the DNI has jurisdiction over the handling of classified and other sensitive information. As a result, the whistleblower’s allegation that certain officials may have misused an intelligence system also raises an additional claim of a serious or flagrant problem that relates to the operations of the DNI and therefore may properly be considered an urgent concern under the statute.

We actually don’t know whether ICIG has continued to investigate this issue. But Horowitz lays out the case that he has the authority to.

Finally, Horowitz focuses on the delay that OLC’s opinion had, preventing Congress from learning about the complaint by September 2 (when, by law, they should have received the whistleblower complaint).

As Congress has done in every other whistleblower law passed since 1978, it entrusted IGs to play a central role in the evaluation of the information provided. Specifically, the ICWPA requires an IG to make within 14 days a factual determination as to whether an alleged urgent concern provided to the IG “appears credible.” If the IG determines that the allegation appears credible, which necessarily includes a determination by the IG that it involves an “urgent concern,” the IG is required to forward the allegation to the head of the agency and the agency head “shall” forward it to Congress within 7 days “with any comments.” The ICWPA’s use of the word “shall” makes it clear that the statute does not authorize the agency head, or any other party for that matter, to review or second-guess an IG’s good faith determination that a complaint meets the ICWPA’s statutory language.

Congress only received the complaint on September 25, an illegal delay of 23 days, during which time Trump released the withheld funds and had a meeting with a much-weakened Zelensky, to say nothing of whatever meetings Rudy and Bill Barr had in the interim. While it’s unlikely to happen, Horowitz’s language at least lays out the clear impact of Engel’s opinion in obstructing Congress’ ability to be able to deal with this issue in timely fashion.

Thus far, the American public has had little success at disciplining OLC lawyers for the bullshit they cause (though even courts are inching closer to doing so). This letter seems, to me, like the first step in an attempt by Horowitz to be able to do so.

Main Justice Now Looking for the Evidence in Plain Sight They Ignored in August

Along with more background about Rudy Giuliani’s legal troubles, Politico reports that Main Justice is now getting more involved in SDNY’s investigation of Rudy’s sleazy influence peddling.

According to a person close to the investigation, DOJ’s criminal division and SDNY have been pressed to more proactively work together in light of public confusion surrounding the department’s past statements on the campaign finance non-charging decision and the Giuliani meeting. This “happens all the time at DOJ, just usually not in such a high-profile case,” the person said. “It will lead to a natural decision to bring the resources together and to make sure they act at least in parallel and probably in coordination and not antagonistic to each other.”

A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment when asked about SDNY and the criminal division working in tandem.

A move to bring department headquarters — “Main Justice” as its widely known — deeper into the Giuliani probe is causing heartburn at SDNY, which is widely known for its autonomy and reputation as the “Sovereign District of New York.”

“You lose a certain amount of nimbleness and a certain amount of independence because now you are answering to someone above you,” explained a former senior SDNY official who said there’s “no way that Main Justice is not involved.”

As the quote from SDNY makes clear, this is probably partly an attempt by Bill Barr and Brian Benczkowski to limit the damage that the Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman prosecution can do to the President, even though it’s crystal clear their crimes tie to the extortion the President was engaged in on his July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky. The focus on Rudy suggests he may be the scapegoat, who must be aggressively prosecuted as a way to avoid prosecuting the President, which probably explains why the man who, 18 months ago, was brokering a pardon to keep Michael Cohen silent, is now publicly campaigning for his own pardon.

But Main Justice’s bigfooting into SDNY probably serves another purpose: it helps Benczkowski and others avoid obstruction charges for actions they took to ensure that the August assessment of the whistleblower complaint wouldn’t discover the obvious ties between the crimes that SDNY was about to charge and the President’s behavior.

As I have laid out, if the people at Main Justice had followed the protocols put into place after 9/11 — which includes a search of FBI’s existing holdings every time it gets a tip, particularly if the tip might indicate a tie to national security, as this one did — they would have found all the evidence of an influence campaign in DOJ’s possession.

At the time DOJ reviewed the whistleblower complaint, DOJ knew:

  • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were funded by big money from a lawyer who specializes in laundering money through real estate for foreigners
  • They were spending those funds, via a shell company, to make big donations to Republicans (including $325,000 to Trump’s SuperPAC)
  • Those donations were tied to specific asks about Ukraine
  • Rudy was working with Parnas and Fruman to share disinformation with multiple parts of government
  • One goal of that disinformation — a successful one — was to get Marie Yovanovitch recalled

A search on Rudy’s name (or that of Parnas and Fruman, who were not named in the complaint but were included by multiple references in it to a profile on their operation), DOJ would have found all of this evidence, making it impossible to render the verdict — that no crime had been committed — that DOJ did. There’s simply no way a marginally competent assessment could have rendered that verdict.

And finding that evidence would have made it clear that Trump’s mention of Rudy’s shenanigans and Yovanovitch on the call tie his extortion to the crime SDNY was investigating (and has now charged).

Since that is public and obvious to anyone who knows how FBI is supposed to work, Main Justice has no choice but to show some interest in these crimes now or risk being part of the conspiracy.

Which is why DOJ is now telling Politico that the things they’ve previously said (which I’ve used to show that they affirmatively avoided connecting the dots in August) didn’t really mean what they obviously did mean at the time.

Additional attention to these issues has come from DOJ headquarters, which in August was tasked with examining Trump’s phone call asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on the American leader’s political rivals. A statement released by DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec in late September said the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call “and determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.”

“All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded the matter,” Kupec said at the time.

A senior Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Kupec’s Sept. 25 statement was limited to the campaign finance issue raised by a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General and was not intended to rule in or out the possibility of Justice officials examining any other legal issues related to the Trump-Zelensky call, if warranted.

If I were HJC, I’d submit a document request around the actions (not) taken in August — including DOJ’s failure to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC, the same kind of conspiracy to prevent FEC from doing its job that the Russian trolls and Parnas and Fruman are being prosecuted for — and ask Michael Horowitz to review them. Because the efforts Main Justice is making now cannot undo the actions taken and not taken in August to prevent a thorough investigation of that complaint.

How Trump Put Volodymyr Zelensky in a Public Box, After All

Some weeks ago, I predicted museums would one day display a copy of John Dowd’s letter describing how Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — who was arraigned the other day, with the latter being represented by Paul Manafort’s lawyer in his NY State case — were in a nest of ethically ridiculous conflicts with Rudy Giuliani, the President, and Dmitry Firtash’s lawyers. Another document that will be displayed as a key record of history, I think, is William Taylor’s statement to Congress Monday, which WaPo managed to obtain and republish.

The whole thing is worthwhile. But I want to pay particular attention to what Taylor said about Trump’s demand that Volodymyr Zelensky state on the record his willingness to investigate the 2016 election and Joe Biden, because it changes the import of Trump’s decision to release the call transcript.

As Taylor describes it, he first learned of Trump’s demands regarding investigations on June 27, when Gordon Sondland told him about it. The next day, Sondland went to some lengths to prevent any contemporaneous transcript of a call with Zelensky, at which Sondland explained Trump wanted “cooperation on investigations to ‘get to the bottom of things'” (a line Trump would use in the July 25 call). Taylor would learn on July 19 that at a July 10 meeting (the one after which John Bolton accused Mick Mulvaney and Volker of setting up a drug deal), Sondland tied “investigations” to an Oval Office meeting with Trump. The same day he learned that, Sondland participated in a 3-way WhatsApp chat where Volker said that on an upcoming call, Zelensky should “say that he will help investigation–and address any specific personnel issues–if there are any” (another line that would appear in the July 25 call, this time parroted, though not as exactly, by Zelensky). The next day, Sondland told Taylor he had scripted Zelensky to say, “I will leave no stone unturned” on investigations (this particular line did not make it into the final call).

All that scripting (as well as more scripting from Sondland for Trump immediately beforehand) happened before the July 25 call.

In the call that Zelensky surely expected would remain private, he repeated much of what the back channel advisors had cued him to say. In addition to scolding Europe for not supporting Ukraine as well as the United States and providing assurances that he would and already had made personnel changes Trump wanted to see, Zelensky repeatedly agreed to cooperate on investigations.

I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations.will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.

[snip]

I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovitch. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%.

[snip]

I also wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also wanted to ensure you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation.

These assurances came in response to clear demands from Trump. First he asked for an investigation into 2016.

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Then he made several demands that Zelensky investigate Biden.

The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

He then seems to demand that Zelensky reinstate Viktor Shokin, the corrupt prosecutor Biden (and much of international community) called to be fired.

I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am. also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.

In the following weeks, as Trump’s Attorney General made at least four efforts to cover up a whistleblower complaint about this call, Trump made increasingly alarming (to Taylor) demands from Zelensky, even after he had provided the assurances he thought Trump wanted in this private call.

On August 16 — by which point DOJ had learned of the outlines of the whistleblower complaint from John Demers’ review of the transcript — Taylor learned that Andriy Yermak wanted to ask DOJ to make a formal request that Ukraine investigate Burisma (and, presumably, Hunter Biden).

Then, on September 1, after DOJ had already received the formal whistleblower complaint and as the risk of security cooperation initially withheld in mid-July would become permanent, Mike Pence refused to release it, instead renewing a request that Ukraine “do more to fight corruption.” Taylor also learned that Sondland had told Yermak that security assistance would not be released until Zelensky “committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”  That’s when Sondland told Taylor that,

President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Ambassador Sondland also tole me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent on a public announcement of investigations–in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, “everything” was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy “in a public box” by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.

That was one day before Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire should have transmitted the whistleblower complaint to Congress. It was two days before OLC would write a memo, which it overclassified as Top Secret, claiming Maguire could ignore the law and withhold the complaint.

On September 8, Taylor would learn that even after (on Taylor’s request) Sondland tried to push back on Trump’s demands for a public statement from Zelensky, Trump sustained them, and so Sondland passed on that demand.

He said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a “quid pro quo.” Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was no a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not “clear things up” in public, we would be at a “stalemate.” I understood a “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said that this conversation concluded with President Zelenskyy agreeing ot make a public statement in an interview with CNN.

[snip]

Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.

Taylor, of course, immediately saw the game and laid a record. “nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it.”

Taylor, apparently without even knowing about the brewing fight over the whistleblower complaint, sent a text the next day, September 9, making it clear he understood this to be a quid pro quo. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

That same day, after three bipartisan Congressional requests had already been made to release the assistance, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine,” (which would heighten the impoundment risk).  And the next, September 10, Adam Schiff sent the first letter making it clear he knew of the whistleblower complaint DOJ was so actively suppressing.

On September 11, Trump released the funds.

Taylor spent the next several days trying to get assurances from Ukrainians that they would not follow through on the CNN interview they had agreed to, which Oleksandr Danyliuk agreed to on September 13.

And that’s where everyone seems to believe it ended, with Taylor managing to prevent Trump from getting what he wanted, a public announcement from Zelensky that he would carry out Trump’s dirty work, but was doing so willingly.

But that’s an entirely incorrect understanding of what happened. Indeed, Taylor alludes to as much when he describes what happened when Trump — under gathering pressure about the complaint — chose to release the transcript of the call. As Taylor described, it happened as Zelensky went into his meeting with Trump at the UN, and Ukraine got no notice Trump was going to do so.

On September 25, at the UN General Assmebly session in New York City, President Trump met President Zelenskyy face-to-face. He also released the transcript of the July 25 call. The United Staes gave the Ukrainians virtually no notice of the release, and they were livid.

While they were at the UN, Danyliuk, who’d been central to these negotiations, got fired.

The first question at the joint presser after their meeting was about the call, and Zelensky had little choice but to claim, dishonestly, that Trump had put no pressure on him.

We had good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed, pushed me.

By staging it that way — by responding to Congressional demands the way he did — Trump got what he wanted in the first place, and got it in a way that got far more publicity than a CNN interview. By putting Zelensky in this position, Zelensky had not choice but to agree that both the investigations Trump wanted — into 2016 and 2020 — were legitimate investigations and not, themselves, abject corruption.

Corrupt hacks like Trump and Putin make great efforts to undermine any claim that others — the West, the pre-Trump — have greater moral standing than they do. And by ensuring that within months after taking power, someone who won on a platform of reform was publicly humiliated into embracing corruption, it normalizes corruption and undercuts Zelensky’s independent base of authority.

And it was not just Zelensky that Trump displayed as a corrupt hack, either. Bill Barr has spent the last month denying that his own corrupt effort to undermine the Barr investigation had any tie to this call and the President’s extortion. With Barr, it likely doesn’t matter. He would have happily done that anyway. Barr’s effort aims to do precisely what Trump did in that presser, to paint a legitimate investigation into Russian organized crime as, itself, corrupt, all the while undermining the rule of law in this country. But by implicating Barr in his extortion attempt, Trump eliminated Barr’s ability to distance himself from the larger corrupt enterprise.

This was not, as many people imagine, about getting Zelensky to led credence to the claims about Biden, though that’s a side benefit. It was about upending the very notion of corruption.

And Trump got that, without even needing that CNN interview.

If the AG Is Involved in a Foreign Influence Operation, Does He Have to Register with Himself?

Way at the end of a CNN story on Rudy Giuliani’s grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, this bombshell appears:

Two weeks ago when they were arrested, Parnas and Fruman were preparing to fly to Vienna, Austria, to meet Giuliani and another key figure in the impeachment investigation, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, according to four sources familiar with their trip. Shokin is the same Ukrainian official who former Vice President Joe Biden — along with other Western leaders — had pushed to have removed over concerns he wasn’t prosecuting corruption.

While questions in Washington swirl around Shokin’s role in this controversy, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman had specific plans for the former Ukrainian official up until the day of their arrest. According to those four sources, they told others they were headed to Vienna to help with a planned interview the next day: Shokin, they said, was scheduled to do an interview from the Austrian capital with Sean Hannity.

Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the first amendment seriously.”

The bullshit about how the First Amendment is why he’s not revealing his “potential source” who the TV star would have interviewed on TV got added overnight.

The news that Hannity was only saved from being a part of this influence operation by the arrest of two of its key players is news enough. But it dramatically changes the import of this news — that the night before this interview was scheduled, and after meeting with SDNY that same day, and probably after the grifters had been arrested as they tried to leave the country, the Attorney General of the United States had a meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the latter’s home.

Attorney General William P. Barr met privately Wednesday evening with Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who is one of President Trump’s frequent confidants but whose Fox News is viewed by the president as more hostile toward him than it used to be.

The meeting was held at Mr. Murdoch’s home in New York, according to someone familiar with it. It was unclear if anyone else attended or what was discussed. Aides to both Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Barr declined requests for comment on the meeting.

So the presumed schedule for the players looks like this:

Lunch: Rudy meets with the grifters across the street from DOJ

Before the arrest: Barr informed they would be arrested (he met with SDNY that day)

Roughly 6:30: SDNY has the grifters as they prepare to fly to Vienna using one way tickets

After the arrest: Barr meets privately with Sean Hannity’s boss

This story from Parnas and Fruman’s arraignment yesterday revealed that SDNY has been monitoring twelve different phone lines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski told Oetken that evidence in the case that will need to be turned over to the defense was “quite voluminous.” She mentioned about 50 bank accounts and more than a dozen cell phones that were monitored in some fashion, as well as search warrants and subpoenas.

Admittedly, this number is across four different defendants (thus far), but twelve is a lot, and that word, “monitor” sure sounds like wiretapping. Which may be why Rudy is finally shopping for a defense attorney.

Wiretaps might be the kind of thing SDNY would brief Barr on if he met with prosecutors the day of the arrest. Prosecutors might also tell Barr what kind of high profile people had been caught up on the grifters’ encrypted texts, as Hannity was with Paul Manafort. In either case, it is virtually certain that Hannity was caught in the surveillance of the grifters, even if contacts between him and Rudy weren’t already obtained.

It looks bad, but given how much Barr has mainlined Fox propaganda over the last two decades, it wouldn’t be surprising if Barr attempted to protect the propaganda channels’ top entertainer.

All of which leads me back to something else: the Attorney General’s very narrow denials that he was pursuing Ukrainian dirt in the wake of the release of the Trump-Zelensky call on September 25.

At the end of August, when two top intelligence officials asked a Justice Department lawyer whether a whistle-blower’s complaint should be forwarded to Congress, they were told no, Attorney General William P. Barr and his department could handle the criminal referral against the president of the United States.

About four weeks later, the department rendered its judgment: President Trump had not violated campaign finance laws when he urged Ukraine’s president to work with Mr. Barr to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

[snip]

The rough transcript showed that Mr. Trump believes he has that man. In a single sentence during the call with Ukraine’s leader, Mr. Trump said that he would have Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and Mr. Barr reach out to help further an investigation of Mr. Biden and his younger son, Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian corporation.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call, and we will get to the bottom of it,” Mr. Trump said.

A Justice Department official said that Mr. Barr had no knowledge of the call until the director of national intelligence and the intelligence community’s inspector general sent the department the whistle-blower’s criminal referral late last month, and that Mr. Trump has not spoken with the attorney general “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son.”

Mr. Trump has not asked Mr. Barr to contact Ukraine for any reason, Mr. Barr has not communicated with Ukraine on any topic, and Mr. Barr has not spoken with Mr. Giuliani about the president’s phone call “or anything relating to Ukraine,” a Justice Department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said in a statement.

[snip]

But Mr. Barr is also closely overseeing a review of the intelligence community’s decision to start a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, which is being led by John Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut. As part of that review, Mr. Durham is exploring what role, if any, a number of countries including Ukraine played in the investigation of the Trump campaign.

“While the attorney general has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating,” Ms. Kupec said.

According to DOJ, the following is true (or was true, as of September 25):

  • Barr had no knowledge of the call until Joseph Maguire sent the whistleblower complaint “late last month” (subsequent reporting probably moves that date back to when John Demers reviewed the transcript on August 15, and not knowing about the call is not the same thing as not knowing about the extortion attempt)
  • Trump has not spoken to Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” which doesn’t exclude Trump asking Barr to investigate 2016, which is what the transcript more directly references
  • Trump has not asked Mr. Barr to contact Ukraine for any reason, nor has Barr communicated with Ukraine (multiple reports have noted that Barr’s wild goose chase has largely bypassed official legal request channels, which would present problems regarding the admissibility of any evidence he receives, but also would be consistent with the public reporting that he is pursuing Ukrainian dirt outside of official channels)
  • Barr has not spoken with Rudy about the call “or anything relating to Ukraine,” which doesn’t address whether he has addressed other sources of disinformation with Rudy, nor does it say whether Barr has communicated to Rudy via other channels or received a dossier of disinformation on Ukraine, sent by Rudy on White House stationary, as Pompeo did
  • Certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating;” this does not exclude Barr speaking to these same Ukrainians, as Barr has been with so many other parts of his wild goose chase, nor does it exclude Barr learning of the Ukrainians when he took a meeting with Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing to discuss the Ukrainian oligarch whose bid to beat a bribery charge involves disinformation created by Viktor Shokin, the guy Hannity was going to interview

Given this narrow denial, it would be more likely than not that Barr knew of Firtash’s effort to use Shokin’s claim that he was unfairly targeted and encouraged John Durham to reach out to Shokin, to say nothing of several other pieces of disinformation Rudy has been floating.

What is absolutely certain, though, is that DOJ’s narrow denial in no way denies that Barr’s wild goose chase has incorporated materials that Rudy obtained as a result of the extortion attempt with Ukraine.

Indeed, back in the halcyon days before the grifters were arrested, frothy right wingers — up to and including close Rudy associate Michael Mukasey — keyed on DOJ’s confirmation that Durham was reviewing materials from Ukraine, as if that validated Rudy’s efforts. Back before Parnas and Fruman were arrested, the frothy right boasted that Durham had received these Ukrainian “leads.”

Which may be why Bill Barr’s DOJ did two things — consider the call transcript, and not the full whistleblower complaint, as the referral, and not forward the complaint to FEC as required under a standing MOU — that prevented others from identifying the ties between Parnas and Fruman (whom DOJ has repeatedly said Barr knew were being investigated) and the President’s July 25 call. To say nothing of the way his OLC treated his implication by the call as Top Secret, even though the White House itself considered it less classified.

Already, we have three solid pieces of evidence that Bill Barr’s DOJ engaged in a cover-up in a failed attempt to prevent anyone from tying the Parnas and Fruman influence campaign, his own wild goose chase, and the President’s extortion of Ukraine together.

But if Barr shared information learned about an ongoing investigation to prevent Hannity from embarrassment or even legal jeopardy, that would be a far more significant step.

Update: In the wake of Mick Mulvaney’s confirmation that Trump withheld duly appropriated funding from Ukraine to coerce it to cooperate in the Durham investigation, three different outlets did articles on what Durham is up to (NYT, NBC, CNN). Although all three provided new details on the investigation generally, none provided details describing from which Ukrainians Durham has received information.

White House Putting Political Appointees in Charge of Presidential Records Act Compliance

Axios has a story about how the White House is gutting the CISO staff put into place in the wake of the 2014 APT 29 operation in which Russia targeted the White House. They story is based off the October 17 resignation letter of Dimitrios Vastakis, who was in charge of White House computer network defense, which describes how hostility towards CISO staff has led most of the senior people to resign.

What Axios doesn’t describe, however, is Vastakis’ expressed concern about the effect: that political appointees will be in charge of everything, including compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

I have seen the planned organizational structure for the cybersecurity mission going forward. It essentially transfers the entire mission to the White House Communications Agency (WHCA). All key decision making roles and leadership positions will no longer by [sic] staffed EOP individuals. To me, this is in direct conflict with the recommendations made by the OA Office of General Counsel (OA GC). The main concern of OA GC was the oversight of PRA data and records. Considering the level of network access and privileged capabilities that cybersecurity staff have, it is highly concerning that the entire cybersecurity apparatus is being handed over to non-PRA entities.

That is, it’s not just that Russia will be able to hack the White House again. It’s also that some SysAdmin who knows fuckall about security but who knows how badly Trump needs to suppress or alter key records of his Administration will have the direct access to do that.

In the wake of Trump’s attempt to bury his recent efforts to hide potentially criminal conversations with foreign leaders in a particularly secure server (and in the wake of email or social media retention scandals going back to the first President that Bill Barr helped cover up crimes, Poppy Bush), this concern seems unbelievably important.

GOP Republicans Stage Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0 to Emasculate Their Own Power of the Purse

Twenty-some Republican Congressmen (and a few women) are staging a repeat Brooks Brother riot to stall the ongoing impeachment proceeding. I’ll post a picture if I find an open source one, but the riot is being led by Matt Gaetz and includes, among others:

  • Minority Whip Steve Scalise
  • Steve King
  • Louie Gohmert
  • Andy Biggs
  • Bradley Byrne
  • Mark Walker
  • Mo Brooks
  • Debbie Lesko
  • Alex Mooney
  • Michael Waltz

Some of the members stormed into the House SCIF with their cell phones, which is a violation of strict rules and may degrade the effectiveness of the SCIF. Reportedly, Republican Mike Conaway of Texas has started collecting the electronics of his colleagues.

The riot has delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper.

That’s significant–symbolic even. That’s because Cooper is expected to testify on DOD’s response to Trump’s illegal refusal to withhold funds duly appropriated by Congress.

House panels leading the impeachment inquiry are set to hear Wednesday from a Pentagon official responsible for policy toward Ukraine, who is expected to testify about the delay in nearly $400 million in security assistance to the country.

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, will be the first Defense Department official to testify before investigators, who have largely heard from State Department officials so far in the investigation. Ms. Cooper arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

The hold on the aid to Ukraine is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump conditioned the funding for Ukraine on his request to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The White House’s hold on military aid to Ukraine this summer set off alarms at the Pentagon, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Cooper’s exact role in the Defense Department’s effort to push back on the hold on the money, which was ultimately released in mid-September, isn’t known.

After the White House communicated the hold to the Defense and State Departments in July, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the legality of the hold, according to three people familiar with the matter. Pentagon officials argued that the administration couldn’t block money approved by Congress, delivering their analysis to career White House budget office officials at a July meeting, according to two of the people and another person familiar with the matter.

In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason that they share with Congress.

As I’ve said, even these people’s former colleague, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, has admitted this is a crime.

I know this entire inquiry has stirred up a lot of partisan bickering. But it is stunning that Republicans in Congress, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are so desperate to protect Trump that they are trying to prevent Congress from asserting its power of the purse.

There could be no more symbolic self-emasculation than this faux riot. And yet, these members of Congress apparently are willing to trade away their own power like this.

Update: According to a press release released yesterday, here’s who was part of the Brooks Brothers The Farce. Those marked with asterisks are on committees conducting the inquiry, so they’re basically complaining about a process they’re a part of. Those marked with checks were around in 2017 and voted for a rule holding that such protests on the House floor (to say nothing of inside HPSCI’s SCIF) were a violation of House Rules.

  1. Matt Gaetz√
  2. Steve Scalise√
  3. Brian Babin√
  4. Andy Biggs√
  5. Mo Brooks√
  6. Ken Buck√*
  7. Bradley Byrne
  8. Buddy Carter√
  9. Ben Cline
  10. Jeff Duncan√
  11. Drew Ferguson√
  12. Russ Fulcher
  13. Louie Gohmert√
  14. Paul Gosar√*
  15. Mark Green*
  16. Vicky Hartzler√
  17. Kevin Hern
  18. Jody Hice√*
  19. Duncan Hunter√
  20. Bill Johnson√
  21. Jim Jordan√*
  22. Fred Keller*
  23. Steve King√
  24. Debbie Lesko
  25. Carol Miller*
  26. Alex Mooney√
  27. Markwayne Mullin√
  28. Ralph Norman*
  29. Mark Walker√
  30. Mark Meadows√*
  31. Greg Murphy
  32. Peter Olson√
  33. Gary Palmer√
  34. Scott Perry√*
  35. David Rouzer√
  36. Ross Spano
  37. Michael Waltz
  38. Steve Watkins
  39. Randy Weber√
  40. Ron Wright*
  41. Lee Zeldin√*

Also note that the rules Adam Schiff is using for this inquiry are similar to the rules that Mark Meadows used for the investigation of the Russian investigation that he, Gaetz,  Jordan, and Gowdy did last year.

Update: Fixed the gender references as there are a few women who participated.

Bill Barr’s DOJ Engaged in Conspiracy to Defraud the US on Trump’s July 25 Meeting

Yesterday, I wrote a long post showing that DOJ could not have followed their most basic investigative protocols when it got the whistleblower complaint in late August. Had they done so, one of the first steps would have been to see what material FBI already had on all the people named in the complaint. And because a profile of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was cited 4 times in the complaint (though their names did not appear in the complaint itself), the original assessment of the complaint should have discovered all the things DOJ already knew about their influence operation, which at that point would have included:

  • Parnas and Fruman were funded by a big transfer from an attorney specializing in helping foreigners launder money
  • They were using that money to provide straw donations to Republicans, most notably a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC
  • Those donations tied to meetings with the recipients and actions on Ukraine shortly thereafter
  • Parnas was involved in Rudy Giuliani’s disinformation campaign on Ukraine

This table shows what DOJ probably learned by when. Once one part of DOJ got new information on the grifters, that information would have become available to anyone doing a search on their name in FBI databases.

Thus, had DOJ done what it does in virtually all its other assessments of tips (particularly those that have a national security component), line investigators would have discovered that the July 25 call was obviously a part of the influence operation — including Parnas and Fruman, but also Rudy by that point — already under Full Investigation in SDNY.

DOJ explained how it managed to do so by claiming, falsely, that there was no firsthand knowledge reflected in the complaint itself, and so rather than using the complaint (which included that reference to Parnas and Fruman), they used the call transcript, which did not mention the Ukrainian grifters. Because it mentioned Rudy, queries on his name would still have made it clear that the call was part of an influence operation, though it’s possible and defensible that (as happened with the Trump Russian investigation, at least at first) DOJ did not do the same kind of back door searches they would do on everyone else because Rudy was a politically sensitive person.

But it turns out that’s not the only way DOJ affirmatively prevented people from connecting the dots in a national security issue.

Yesterday, MoJo reported on another way that DOJ prevented anyone from connecting the dots. Under a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the FEC, DOJ should have shared campaign finance related complaints with the FEC so they can assess whether the complaint merits civil penalties.

But under a 1978 memorandum of understanding between the department and the FEC—which, like Justice is authorized to penalize campaign finance violations—the complaint should have been passed onto the FEC even if the department declined to launch a criminal investigation, so the election watchdog can determine whether a civil penalty is called for.

Earlier this month, Klobuchar set out to uncover whether the Justice Department had honored this agreement, sending two letters to the FEC inquiring whether it had received any such referral. On October 18, the commission’s Democratic chair, Ellen Weintraub, confirmed to Klobuchar that the FEC had not been notified. “The refusal to inform the FEC and refer the matter regarding the President’s call to the FEC as required to do, as the Justice Department is required, undermines our campaign finance system and is unacceptable in a democracy,” Klobuchar said in Tuesday statement.

FEC, of course, already had the original and supplemental CLC complaint about Parnas and Fruman, so they might have connected the profile showing their work for Rudy, included in the whistleblower complaint, with the President’s demand that Volodymyr Zelensky cooperate with Rudy’s antics on the call.

By not referring the complaint, then, DOJ prevented FEC from connecting the dots, just as treating the call record instead of the complaint itself as the referral prevented Public Integrity investigators assessing the complaint from doing so.

Again: this kind of dot-connecting is what FBI and the rest of our investigative apparatus have been refocused on doing since 9/11, specifically to ensure that any threats to the United States will be identified as quickly as possible. But when such dot-connecting would have knowably implicated powerful Republicans, including the President, it magically didn’t happen in this case.

Unless DOJ can come up with a good explanation for why they failed to share the unclassified part of the complaint with FEC (I’m waiting for DOJ to say that once Matthew Petersen resigned on August 26, just as DOJ was assessing the complaint, the MOU lapsed), then the failure to do so constitutes a willful attempt to thwart FEC from doing its job, something Ellen Weintraub lays out clearly in her letter to Amy Klobuchar. As far as she knows, the MOU remains intact, and therefore DOJ was obliged to share the complaint.

As the Commission explained earlier this year, the MOU3 between the FEC and the DOJ remains active. Though some DOJ-published materials state that DOJ no longer considers the agreement to reflect its current policy,4 it has not renegotiated the agreement with the Commission.5 Indeed, the Commission confirmed in its May response to oversight queries from the Committee on House Administration that the Commission continues to rely on the MOU:

In 1977, the Commission and DOJ entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) relating to their respective law enforcement jurisdiction and responsibilities. The MOU remains the primary guidance/procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.6

The Commission has taken no action to change its position that the MOU is the primary guidance and procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.

It turns out that deliberately undermining FEC’s ability to do its job is a crime, one of the same crimes that Parnas and Fruman got charged with, the same crime that Bill Barr’s DOJ is vigorously prosecuting against the Russian trolls (though which a recent decision from Dabney Friedrich may put at risk): Conspiracy to Defraud the US.

There’s zero chance, of course, that Bill Barr will charge his top aides with thwarting the ability of the FEC to connect the dots on a referral that directly ties to another complaint already in their hands. But we should be clear that DOJ appears to be engaged in undermining the proper functioning of the campaign finance system in the same way Russian trolls and Parnas and Fruman have been accused of doing.

image_print