Brett Kavanaugh Thinks that Jack Smith Is as Crazy as Ken Starr Was

There was a subtle moment in yesterday’s SCOTUS hearing on Trump’s absolute immunity claim.

Former Whitewater prosecutor Brett Kavanaugh asked Michael Dreeben whether DOJ had weighed in on this prosecution.

Did the President weigh in? he asked. The Attorney General?

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: As you’ve indicated, this case has huge implications for the presidency, for the future of the presidency, for the future of the country, in my view. You’ve referred to the Department a few times as having supported the position. Who in the Department? Is it the president, the attorney general?

MR. DREEBEN: The Solicitor General of the United States. Part of the way in which the special counsel functions is as a component of the Department of Justice.

The regulations envision that we reach out and consult. And on a question of this magnitude, that involves equities that are far beyond this prosecution, as the questions of the Court have —

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: So it’s the solicitor general?

MR. DREEBEN: Yes.

Having been told that Jack Smith consulted with a Senate-confirmed DOJ official on these tough issues, Kavanaugh immediately launched into a screed about Morrison v. Olson, the circuit court decision that upheld the Independent Counsel statute.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Okay. Second, like Justice Gorsuch, I’m not focused on the here and now of this case. I’m very concerned about the future. And I think one of the Court’s biggest mistakes was Morrison versus Olson.

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: I think that was a terrible decision for the presidency and for the country. And not because there were bad people who were independent counsels, but President Reagan’s administration, President Bush’s administration, President Clinton’s administration were really hampered —

MR. DREEBEN: Yes.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: — in their view —

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: — all three, by the independent counsel structure. And what I’m worried about here is that that was kind of let’s relax Article II a bit for the needs of the moment. And I’m worried about the similar kind of situation applying here. That was a prosecutor investigating a president in each of those circumstances. And someone picked from the opposite party, the current president and — usually —

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: — was how it worked. And Justice Scalia wrote that the — the fairness of a process must be adjudged on the basis of what it permits to happen —

Kavanaugh slipped here, and described the horror of “Presidents,” not former Presidents, routinely being subject to investigation going forward.

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: — not what it produced in a particular case. You’ve emphasized many times regularity, the Department of Justice. And he said: And I think this applied to the independent counsel system, and it could apply if presidents are routinely subject to investigation going forward. “One thing is certain, however. It involves investigating and perhaps prosecuting a particular individual. Can one imagine a less equitable manner of fulfilling the executive responsibility to investigate and prosecute? What would the reaction be if, in an area not covered by this statute, the Justice Department posted a public notice inviting applicants to assist in an investigation and possible prosecution of a certain prominent person? Does this not invite what Justice Jackson described as picking the man and then searching the law books or putting investigators to work to pin some offense on him? To be sure, the investigation must relate to the area of criminal offense” specified by the statute, “but that has often been and nothing prevents it from being very broad.” I paraphrased at the end because it was referring to the judges.

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm. Yes.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: That’s the concern going forward, is that the — the system will — when former presidents are subject to prosecution and the history of Morrison versus Olson tells us it’s not going to stop. It’s going to — it’s going to cycle back and be used against the current president or the next president or — and the next president and the next president after that. All that, I want you to try to allay that concern. Why is this not Morrison v. Olson redux if we agree with you? [my emphasis]

Kavanaugh pretended, as he and others did throughout, that he wasn’t really suggesting this was a case of Morrison v. Olson redux; he was just talking hypothetically about the future.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Right. No, I was just saying this is kind of the mirror image of that, is one way someone could perceive it, but I take your point about the different structural protections internally. And like Justice Scalia said, let me — I do not mean to suggest anything of the sort in the present case. I’m not talking about the present case. So I’m talking about the future.

This intervention came long after Kavanaugh suggested that charging Trump with defrauding the US for submitting fake election certificates and charging Trump with obstructing the vote certification after first charging hundreds of others with the same statute amounted to “creative” lawyering.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Okay. For other official acts that the president may take that are not within that exclusive power, assume for the sake of argument this question that there’s not blanket immunity for those official acts but that to preserve the separation of powers, to provide fair notice, to make sure Congress has thought about this, that Congress has to speak clearly to criminalize official acts of the president by a specific reference. That seems to be what the OLC opinions suggest — I know you have a little bit of a disagreement with that — and what this Court’s cases also suggest.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Well, it’s — isn’t — it’s a serious constitutional question whether a statute can be applied to the president’s official acts. So wouldn’t you always interpret the statute not to apply to the president, even under your formulation, unless Congress had spoken with some clarity?

MR. DREEBEN: I don’t think — I don’t think across the board that a serious constitutional question exists on applying any criminal statute to the president.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: The problem is the vague statute, you know, obstruction and 371, conspiracy to defraud the United States, can be used against a lot of presidential activities historically with a — a creative prosecutor who wants to go after a president.

But Kavanaugh returned to his insinuation that it was a stretch to prosecute a political candidate for submitting false certificates to Congress and the Archives under 18 USC 371 after his purported complaint about Morrison v. Olson.

Second, another point, you said talking about the criminal statutes, it’s very easy to characterize presidential actions as false or misleading under vague statutes. So President Lyndon Johnson, statements about the Vietnam War —

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: — say something’s false, turns out to be false that he says about the Vietnam War, 371 prosecution —

MR. DREEBEN: So —

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: — after he leaves office?

None of this intervention made any sense; it wouldn’t even have made sense if offered by someone who hadn’t criminalized an abusive, yet consensual, blowjob for years.

After all, contrary to the demands of many, Merrick Garland didn’t appoint a Special Counsel until Trump declared himself a candidate. By that point, hundreds of people had already been charged under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) and DOJ was at least four months into Executive Privilege fights over testimony from Mike Pence’s aides and Trump’s White House counsel. Jack Smith was appointed nine months after Lisa Monaco publicly confirmed that DOJ was investigating the fake electors and six months after overt subpoenas focused on the scheme came out (to say nothing of the treatment of Rudy Giuliani’s phones starting a year earlier).

This is not a Morrison v. Olson issue.

Rather, Kavanaugh is using his well-established hatred for Morrison v. Olson to complain that Trump was investigated at all — and that, after such time that a conflict arose, Garland appointed a non-partisan figure to head the already mature investigation.

It was one of many examples yesterday where the aggrieved white men on the court vomited up false claims made by Trump.

Kavanaugh made no mention of the appointment of Robert Hur — not just a Republican but a Trump appointee who had deprived Andy McCabe of due process — to investigate Joe Biden for precisely the same crime for which Trump was charged. That’ll become pertinent at such time as Donald Trump’s claim to Jack Smith’s appointment gets to SCOTUS. After all, in that case, Trump will have been similarly treated as Joe Biden. In that case, Hur’s distinction between Biden’s actions and Trump’s should (but probably won’t) reassure the right wing Justices that Trump was not selectively prosecuted.

Speaking of things Kavanaugh didn’t mention, his false complaint — and which Clarence Thomas raised as well — comes at a curious time.

Because of Aileen Cannon’s dawdling, Trump’s challenge to Jack Smith’s appointment won’t get to SCOTUS for months, if ever.

But Hunter Biden, whose challenge to David Weiss’ appointment takes the same novel form as Trump’s — an appropriations clause challenge — may be before the Third Circuit as soon as next week. In a passage of Abbe Lowell’s response to Weiss’ demand that the Third Circuit give Lowell, an observant Jew, three days including Passover to establish jurisdiction for his interlocutory appeal, Lowell scolded Weiss for presuming to know the basis of his appeals.

The Special Counsel boasts that it prepared its motion in “two days” (Mot.Exped.3), but the legal errors that permeate its motion to dismiss only underscore why more time is needed to adequately research and thoughtfully brief the jurisdictional issues for this Court. The Special Counsel ignores numerous bases for jurisdiction (e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 (collateral order doctrine), 1292(a)(1) (denial of Appropriations Clause injunction), and 1651 (mandamus)) over this appeal, and the legal claims it does make are flatly wrong, compare Mot.6 (falsely claiming “all Circuit Courts” reject reviewing denials of motions to enforce plea agreements as collateral orders), with United States v. Morales, 465 F. App’x 734, 736 (9th Cir. 2012) (“We also have jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals of orders denying a motion to dismiss an indictment on the ground that it was filed in breach of a plea agreement.”)

In addition to mandamus (suggesting they may either attack Judge Noreika’s immunity decision directly or ask the Third Circuit to order Delaware’s Probation Department to approve the diversion agreement that would give Hunter Biden immunity), Lowell also invoked an Appropriations clause injunction — basically an argument that Weiss is spending money he should not be.

Normally, this would never work and it’s unlikely to work here.

But even on the SCO challenge, there are a number of problems in addition to Lowell’s original complaint: that Weiss was appointed in violation of the rules requiring someone outside of DOJ to fill the role.

For example Weiss keeps claiming to be both US Attorney and Special Counsel at the same time (most obviously in claiming that tolling agreements signed as US Attorney were still valid as Special Counsel), or the newly evident fact that Weiss asked for Special Counsel status so that he could revisit a lead he was ordered to investigate — in the wake of Trump’s complaints to Bill Barr that Hunter Biden wasn’t being investigated diligently enough — back in 2020, a lead that incorporated Joe as well as Hunter Biden, a lead that uncovered an attempt to frame Joe Biden, an attempt to frame Joe Biden to which Weiss is a witness.

The oddities of Weiss’ investigation of Joe Biden’s son may even offer another claim that the right wing Justices claim to want to review. Jack Smith claims to have found only two or three charges with which Kavanaugh, who insists (former) Presidents can only be charged under statutes that formally apply to Presidents, would leave available to charge a President. But there’s one he missed: 26 USC 7217, which specifically prohibits the President from ordering up a tax investigation into someone, which Lowell invoked in his selective and vindictive prosecution claim. Lowell has not yet proven that Trump directly ordered tax officials, as opposed to Bill Barr and other top DOJ officials, to investigate Hunter Biden for tax crimes. But there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that Trump pushed such an investigation. Certainly, statutes of limitation on Trump’s documented 2020 intrusions on the Hunter Biden investigation have not yet expired.

The Hunter Biden investigation has all the trappings of a politicized investigation that Kavanaugh claims to worry about — and with the Alexander Smirnov lead, it included Joe Biden, the Morisson v. Olson problem he claims to loathe.

That’s a made to order opportunity for Brett Kavanaugh to restrict such Special Counsel investigations.

Except, of course, it involves Democrats.

King John Would Like a Word with Justice Alito

The Magna Carta Monument, Runnymede England

I am annoyed by folks who claim to love history and are blind to it. I am disgusted by folks who claim to love history, are willfully blind to it, and in their willful blindness try to use their power to inflict damage on others.

Why yes, I *did* listen to the oral arguments at SCOTUS today. Why do you ask?

sigh

Here’s an exchange between Justice Alito and Michael Dreeben, speaking for the government:

JUSTICE ALITO: Mr. Dreeben, you dispute the proposition that a former president has some form of immunity.

MR. DREEBEN: Mm-hmm.

JUSTICE ALITO: But, as I understand your argument, you do recognize that a former president has a form of special protection, namely, that statutes that are applicable to everybody must be interpreted differently under some circumstances when they are applied to a former president.

Isn’t that true?

MR. DREEBEN: It is true because, Justice Alito, of the general principle that courts construe statutes to avoid serious constitutional questions. And that has been the longstanding practice of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice.

JUSTICE ALITO: All right. So this is more, I think, than just a — a quarrel about terminology, whether what the former president gets is some form of immunity or some form of special protection because it involves this difference which I’m sure you’re very well aware of.

If it’s just a form of special protection, in other words, statutes will be interpreted differently as applied to a former president, then that is something that has to be litigated at trial. The — the former president can make a motion to dismiss and may cite OLC opinions, and the district court may say: Well, that’s fine, I’m not bound by OLC and I interpret it differently, so let’s go to trial.

And then there has to be a trial, and that may involve great expense and it may take up a lot of time, and during the trial, the — the former president may be unable to engage in other activities that the former president would want to engage in. And then the outcome is dependent on the jury, the instructions to the jury and how the jury returns a verdict, and then it has to be taken up on appeal.

So the protection is greatly diluted if you take the form — if it takes the form that you have proposed. Now why is that better?

MR. DREEBEN: It’s better because it’s more balanced. The — the blanket immunity that Petitioner is arguing for just means that criminal prosecution is off the table, unless he says that impeachment and conviction have occurred.

Oh, the horrors of forcing a former president to defend himself in a trial! So sayeth Justice Alito, he who cites a 17th century English witchburner of a jurist (who also invented the marital rape exception), in order to justify denying women bodily autonomy.

If Justice Alito is fond of citing old English judicial writings, let me walk him back another 4 centuries and introduce him to John, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou.

Once upon a time — long before a bunch of rabble-rousing colonial insurrectionists said that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” — there was a little dustup between John, by the grace of God King of England etc., and a bunch of his barons, as well as various bishops and archbishops. The barons and clergy, distressed at what seemed to them to be very ill treatment at the hand of their king, expressed their frustrations in a manner that could not be ignored.

In June 1215, John and the barons negotiated an agreement. In it, after an introduction and 60 separate clauses in which King John agreed to various reforms and promised to make specific restitution in various particular cases that were demanded by his barons, the 1215 version of the Magna Carta ends like this:

* (61) SINCE WE [ed: John] HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirety, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power. We give public and free permission to take this oath to any man who so desires, and at no time will we prohibit any man from taking it. Indeed, we will compel any of our subjects who are unwilling to take it to swear it at our command.

If one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is prevented in any other way from discharging his duties, the rest of them shall choose another baron in his place, at their discretion, who shall be duly sworn in as they were.

In the event of disagreement among the twenty-five barons on any matter referred to them for decision, the verdict of the majority present shall have the same validity as a unanimous verdict of the whole twenty-five, whether these were all present or some of those summoned were unwilling or unable to appear.

The twenty-five barons shall swear to obey all the above articles faithfully, and shall cause them to be obeyed by others to the best of their power.

We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished. Should such a thing be procured, it shall be null and void and we will at no time make use of it, either ourselves or through a third party.

* (62) We have remitted and pardoned fully to all men any ill-will, hurt, or grudges that have arisen between us and our subjects, whether clergy or laymen, since the beginning of the dispute. We have in addition remitted fully, and for our own part have also pardoned, to all clergy and laymen any offences committed as a result of the said dispute between Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215) and the restoration of peace.

In addition we have caused letters patent to be made for the barons, bearing witness to this security and to the concessions set out above, over the seals of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, Henry archbishop of Dublin, the other bishops named above, and Master Pandulf.

* (63) IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.

Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith and without deceit. Witness the abovementioned people and many others.

Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign (i.e. 1215: the new regnal year began on 28 May).

Note the third paragraph, that begins “If we, our chief justice, . . .” In that paragraph, King John, by the grace of God King of England etc., is agreeing that he and his administration are not immune from accountability.

John and the barons agreed on a process for adjudicating disputes. They agreed on a panel that could both bring charges and judge them.  They agreed on how the panel should be chosen, and how the panel should select new members at the death of old ones. They agreed on how many members of the panel needed to agree in order for a judgment to be final. They agreed on a time frame for restitution. Most importantly, should John be found to have violated the terms of this document and yet refuse restitution, John, by the grace of God King of England etc., agreed that his castles and lands could be seized under order of the panel to make restitution for what he had done, or his officials had done on his behalf.

To be fair, the Magna Carta was changed and altered in the years and centuries that followed. But the original text of the original version makes it clear that even the King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou does not enjoy absolute immunity.

Trump may wish to be a monarch with absolute immunity and not a president.

Alito may wish to treat him as a monarch with absolute immunity and not a president.

But in a meadow at Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, John, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, said no. That’s not how even a divinely appointed monarch is to be treated.

Sam Alito Says that Donald Trump Is a Maligned Ham Sandwich

I’m not, now, as full of despair as I was at one point in the SCOTUS hearing on Presidential immunity. (Here’s my live thread.) I believe that a majority of the court will rule that for private conduct — adopting the Blassingame rule that a President acting as candidate acts in a private role — a former President can be prosecuted.

But whooboy, Sam Alito really really believes everything Trump has said about this being a witch hunt. He repeatedly said that the protections that we assume ensure rule of law in the US — DOJ guidelines on prosecutions, the role of a grand jury, the role of a judge — are not enough in the case of Donald Trump. Sam Alito believes that Donald Trump should not have to be inconvenienced by a trial while he could be doing something else. Sam Alito also believes that January 6 was a mostly peaceful protest.

Alito even suggested that a President would be more likely to engage in violence after a closely contested election if he knew he might be prosecuted for it than not.

It was fairly insane.

Meanwhile, while I think there’s a majority (though Steve Vladeck is not as convinced) — with at least all the women in a majority — to let this case proceed at least on the private acts alleged in the indictment (with the huge caveat that Trump’s demands of Pence would not be considered a private act!), it’s clear that Neil Gorsuch doesn’t see how 18 USC 1512(c)(2) could be applied to Trump because we don’t know what corrupt purpose is, even though, of all the January 6 defendants, his corrupt purpose — his effort to obtain a improper private benefit — is most clearcut.

But there’s a whole lot of garbage that will come out of this decision, including immunity for core actions, like pardons and appointments, that could clearly be part of a bribe.

Notably, both Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh appear to be gunning for Special Counsels (though possibly only with respect to Presidents, not the sons of Presidents).

Michael Dreeben backtracked and backtracked far enough to preserve a case. But it’s not sure what else there will be.

The Phone Contacts between the “Total Moron” and the PAC Head

According to Person 16 — who has the potty mouth and performed candor we’ve come to expect from Eric Herschmann — Person 5 is a “total moron” — an opinion about Boris Epshteyn that Herschmann has expressed elsewhere.

“I certainly am not relying on any legal analysis from either of you or Boris who — to be clear — I think is an idiot,” Mr. Herschmann wrote in a different email. “When I questioned Boris’s legal experience to work on challenging a presidential election since he appeared to have none — challenges that resulted in multiple court failures — he boasted that he was ‘just having fun,’ while also taking selfies and posting pictures online of his escapades.”

Mr. Corcoran at one point sought to get on the phone with Mr. Herschmann to discuss his testimony, instead of simply sending the written directions, which alarmed Mr. Herschmann, given that Mr. Herschmann was a witness, the emails show.

In language that mirrored the federal statute against witness tampering, Mr. Herschmann told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Epshteyn, himself under subpoena in Georgia, “should not in any way be involved in trying to influence, delay or prevent my testimony.”

“He is not in a position or qualified to opine on any of these issues,” Mr. Herschmann said.

At that same November 2, 2022 interview, Person 16 went on to tell Jack Smith’s investigators how Person 5 ingratiated himself to Trump after the former President left the White House.

Post January 2021, [Person 5] constantly sent FPOTUS what [he] had uncovered on the election fraud and maneuvered [his] way into FPOTUS’ circle. [Person 16] was unaware of an actual [redacted] for [Person 5], stating it was [Person 5] who would instruct media to report [on him] as [redacted].

I long laughed at the the way that journalist after journalist credited Ephsteyn with playing a role in Trump’s legal defense even while Ephsteyn was billing Trump’s PAC for strategy consulting, not law.

For the entirety of the time that Epshteyn was quarterbacking Trump’s response to the stolen documents probe, someone in his immediate vicinity has been telling reporters that he was playing a legal function, all the while billing Trump for the same old strategic consulting his firm, Georgetown Advisory, normally provides (though the two payments the campaign made to Epshteyn after Trump formalized his candidacy, totalling $30,000, were filed under “communications and legal consulting”).

NYT has, in various stories including Maggie in the byline, described Epshteyn’s role in the stolen documents case as “an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump’s legal efforts,” “in-house counsel for the former president who has become one of his most trusted advisers,” and “who has played a central role in coordinating lawyers on several of the investigations involving Mr. Trump.” Another even describes that Epshteyn “act[ed] as [a] lawyer [] for the Trump campaign.” The other day, Maggie described his role instead as “broader strategic consulting.”

All the time that NYT was describing Epshteyn as playing a legal role — and NYT is in no way alone in this — he was telling the Feds he wasn’t playing a legal function, he was instead playing a strategic consulting one. Many if not most of these stories also post-date the time, in September, when the FBI seized Epshteyn’s phone, which would give him a really good reason to try to claim to be a lawyer and not a political consultant.

According to Person 16, he “believed [Person 5] was now trying to create [redacted] to cover [him] for previous activities. [Person 16] believed [Person 49’s] records may reflect recent [redacted] that did not reflect what actually transpired.”

It was around the time of this interview, in November 2022, when Ephsteyn did start billing for legal services, even while the press was credulously reporting that he had always been serving in a legal role. That happened in the aftermath of Ephsteyn’s phone being seized, in September 2022.

Person 16 also thought that “total moron” Person 5 might have shifted the concern about witness tampering from the January 6 investigation[s] to the stolen document one.

[Person 16] could not recall where the information that the concern about witness tampering was related to the document investigation and not the January 6th Committee. [Person 16] commented that sounded like something [Person 5] would do.

That interview was in November 2022.

In January 2023, according to an exhibit submitted in support of a discovery request for records on all correspondence and/or communications regarding counsel, Jack Smith’s office asked the FBI to pull together the toll records between Person 49 — who may be Susie Wiles, the head of America First PAC — and both Person 5 and Stanley Woodward.

The contacts between Person 49 and Woodward are not that interesting — just four phone calls in fall 2022, when Woodward started representing Kash Patel.

The contacts between Person 5 (whom I suspect is Ephsteyn) and Person 49 (whom I suspect is Wiles) are more interesting.

The contacts started on April 20, 2021, when Person 5 called Person 49, with sustained contact for a few months and then a lapse.

The contacts resumed in September and October 2021 (when the January 6 Committee was ratcheting up).

There were four phone calls in one week in November 2021, and two longer calls in December 2021.

And then nothing, until when Ephsteyn started ingratiating himself in Trump’s orbit after the documents issue went public in February 2022. From that point forward they were “in contact almost daily.”

Of course, these SMS texts might not be that useful. The paragraph of the superseding stolen documents indictment that describes Wiles vetting Carlos De Oliveira’s loyalty before arranging legal representation of him describes that Nauta confirmed his now co-defendant’s loyalty on a Signal chat, not an SMS text.

Just over two weeks after the FBI discovered classified documents in the Storage Room and TRUMP’s office, on August 26, 2022, NAUTA called Trump Employee 5 and said words to the effect of, “someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good.” In response, Trump Employee 5 told NAUTA that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal and that DE OLIVEIRA would not do anything to affect his relationship with TRUMP. That same day, at NAUTA’s request, Trump Employee 5 confirmed in a Signal chat group with NAUTA and the PAC Representative that DE OLIVEIRA was loyal. That same day, TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and told DE OLIVEIRA that TRUMP would get DE OLIVEIRA an attorney. [my emphasis]

Among the exhibits included in this request for discovery is a fragment of an interview with Person 49 denying unequivocally that she had done such vetting (as well as an earlier interview in which she said Person 16 was at the forefront of finding lawyers). If this is Wiles, she denied conducting loyalty checks before agreeing to find legal representation for people.

Mind you, that’s not the only place Wiles shows up in the superseding indictment.

In August or September 2021, when he was no longer president, TRUMP met in his office at the Bedminster Club with a representative of his political action committee (the “PAC Representative”). During the meeting, TRUMP commented that an ongoing military operation in Country B was not going well. TRUMP showed the PAC Representative a classified map of Country B and told the PAC Representative that he should not be showing the map to the PAC Representative and to not get too close. The PAC Representative did not have a security clearance or any need-t0-know classified information about the military operation.

That was around the time when Person 49 resumed phone contact with Person 5 again.

This ABC piece talks about what a big deal it is that Wiles might have to testify at trial in the height of a campaign she’s leading (though Aileen Cannon seems dead set on preventing that from happening).

And this post describes how Wiles likely showed up in another Trump-related indictment as the Florida campaign official who interacted — unwittingly — with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

Mark Meadows’ Proffer

I continue to dig through the document dump Judge Aileen Cannon finally released the other day.

The dump included 70 exhibits (some FOIAed documents) submitted in conjunction with Trump’s motion to compel discovery and a few exhibits submitted with the government’s response.

The most titillating of the latter set is a November 2022 interview with Person 16 (whom I suspect to be Eric Herschmann, in part because Herschmann relishes giving titillating interviews in which he calls other lawyers morons).

But for the moment, I want to look at Person 27’s December 2022 proffer.

While the government is coy about the identity of Person 16, they’re not hiding Person 27’s identity: It is Mark Meadows.

The passages below, matched to the corresponding exhibits, makes it clear that Person 27 is Trump’s former Chief of Staff. Said Chief of Staff briefly got involved in the document recovery effort after NARA first threatened to make a referral to DOJ, then threatened to deem the boxes Trump had taken destroyed. Said Chief of Staff traveled to Mar-a-Lago in October 2021 (at a time when discussing the January 6 investigation would have been fruitful) and while there asked if Trump wanted help searching boxes, only to be told that Trump didn’t need help returning documents he wanted to keep.

A succession of Trump PRA representatives corresponded with NARA without ever resolving any of NARA’s concerns about the boxes of Presidential records that had been identified as missing in January 2021. By the end of June 2021, NARA had still received no update on the boxes, despite repeated inquiries, and it informed the PRA representatives that the Archivist had directed NARA personnel to seek assistance from the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), “which is the necessary recourse when we are unable to obtain the return of improperly removed government records that belong in our custody.” Exhibit B at USA-00383980; see 44 U.S.C. § 2905(a) (providing for the Archivist to request the Attorney General to institute an action for the recovery of records). That message precipitated the involvement of Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff, who engaged the Archivist directly at the end of July. See Exhibit 4 Additional weeks passed with no results, and by the end of August 2021, NARA still had received nothing from Trump or his PRA representatives. Id. Independently, the House of Representatives had requested Presidential records from NARA, further heightening the urgency of NARA obtaining access to the missing boxes. Id. On August 30, the Archivist notified Trump’s former Chief of Staff that he would assume the boxes had been destroyed and would be obligated to report that fact to Congress, DOJ, and the White House. Id. The former Chief of Staff promptly requested a phone call with the Archivist. Id.

[snip]

Fall passes with little progress in retrieving the missing records. In September 2021, one of Trump’s PRA representatives expressed puzzlement over the suggestion that there were 24 boxes missing, asserting that only 12 boxes had been found in Florida. Exhibit 7 at USA00383682, USA-00383684. In an effort to resolve “the dispute over whether there are 12 or 24 boxes,” NARA officials discussed with Su the possibility of convening a meeting with two of Trump’s PRA representatives—the former Chief of Staff and the former Deputy White House Counsel—and “possibly” Trump’s former White House Staff Secretary. Id. at USA-00383682. On October 19, 2021, a call took place among WHORM Official 1, another WHORM employee, Trump’s former Chief of Staff, the former Deputy White House Counsel, and Su about the continued failure to produce Presidential records, but the call did not lead to a resolution. See Exhibit A at USA-00815672. Again, there was no complaint from either of Trump’s PRA representatives about Su’s participation in the call. Later in October, the former Chief of Staff traveled to the Mar-a-Lago Club to meet with Trump for another reason, but while there brought up the missing records to Trump and offered to help look for or review any that were there. Exhibit C at USA-00820510. Trump, however, was not interested in any assistance. Id. On November 21, 2021, another former member of Trump’s Administration traveled to Mar-a-Lago to speak with him about the boxes. Exhibit D at USA-00818227–USA-00818228. That individual warned Trump that he faced possible criminal exposure if he failed to return his records to NARA. Id

[my emphasis, links added]

These passages, collectively, serve to rebut Trump’s claim that the involvement of Biden White House attorney Jonathan Su was in any way investigative or improper; the passage shows that Patrick Philbin involved Su, his successor as White House Deputy Counsel, and the White House had to further intervene when Meadows tried to reach out to a White House Office of Records and Management person, Person 40, directly.

This ABC story describing Meadows’ testimony, describing offering to help but being rebuffed, further corroborates that Person 27 is Meadows.

The former chief of staff also told investigators that shortly after the National Archives first requested the return of the official documents taken to Mar-a-Lago in 2021, he offered to Trump that he would go through the former president’s boxes to retrieve the official records and send them back to Washington. Meadows told investigators Trump did not accept his offer, according to sources.

So Government Exhibit C is a December 6, 2022 proffer from Mark Meadows.

I’m not so much interested in the content of that proffer. As ABC has reported, Meadows’ testimony was iterative, slowly evolving over at least three interviews as he was presented with more evidence of details that Jack Smith knew. Aside from a mostly redacted reference to Trump’s delegation of declassification authority (which may relate to the effort to declassify the Crossfire Hurricane binder and which might not be entirely true), the description of his trip to Mar-a-Lago to offer to help is the most interesting bit in this proffer.

But that’s the thing about proffers, offered by one of the best attorneys representing any Trumpster, George Terwilliger, offered before Beryl Howell overruled any Executive Privilege claims, and offered before the Georgia indictment made Meadows’ operative January 6 story told in DC less sustainable.

Proffers are the story you want to tell, not the full story.

As I wrote last August, after the first of ABC’s big scoops,

[T]his is not the testimony of a cooperating witness. It is the testimony of someone prosecutors have coaxed to tell the truth by collecting so much evidence there’s no longer room to do otherwise.

There are a number of things to which Meadows eventually testify, per ABC’s reporting, that are not in this proffer. The most notable pertains to his ghost writers, on which topic his testimony evolved to accept that they were probably right that Trump was sharing classified documents in 2021.

“On the couch in front of the President’s desk, there’s a four-page report typed up by Mark Milley himself,” the draft reads. “It shows the general’s own plan to attack Iran, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency. … When President Trump found this plan in his old files this morning, he pointed out that if he had been able to make this declassified, it would probably ‘win his case.'”

Sources told ABC News that Meadows was questioned by Smith’s investigators about the changes made to the language in the draft, and Meadows claimed, according to the sources, that he personally edited it out because he didn’t believe at the time that Trump would have possessed a document like that at Bedminster.

Meadows also said that if it were true Trump did indeed have such a document, it would be “problematic” and “concerning,” sources familiar with the exchange said. Meadows said his perspective changed on whether his ghostwriter’s recollection could have been accurate, given the later revelations about the classified materials recovered from Mar-a-Lago in the months since his book was published, the sources said.

According to ABC, where Meadows’ other testimony would evolve to is that he would have been more diligent than Trump returning stolen documents.

Meadows also told investigators that he would have responded differently than Trump when the National Archives first asked Trump to return all remaining presidential records in his possession, and would have been very diligent in his handling of the initial search for documents to return to NARA, sources familiar with the matter said.

It’s unclear if there’s an “if” involved in this conditional statement, such as “if he knew Trump was stealing classified documents.”

That’s interesting, because in that proffer, Meadows claimed not to believe Trump had Presidential Records at all.

In July 2021, [Philbin] informed [Meadows] that NARA had contacted [Philbin] regarding missing boxes of documents. [Meadows] was already planning to travel to Mar-a-Lago for an unrelated meeting and offered to look for the missing boxes while [he] was there. [Meadows] was skeptical there were any presidential records as [he] believed, based on [his] experience with FPOTUS at the White House, that the boxes likely only contained newspapers.

Again, there’s a pretty big chance that this particular claim evolved, just like Meadows’ explanation for why he edited a really damning description from his ghost writers. The proffer is a baseline, a place from which prosecutors could slowly coax testimony closer to the truth, all the while locking in useful testimony to rebut Trump’s most outlandish claims. In this case, after all, the testimony is critical to rebutting Trump’s complaints about the involvement of Su, whether or not the testimony was entirely forthcoming, even while not giving anything away.

And I’m interested in it for that reason as well.

This proffer doesn’t tell us how Meadows would later testify. It doesn’t give anything away.

Robert Mueller’s team tried to flip witnesses against Trump, only to find that Trump bought them off with pardons — something that Person 16 describes already got promised to Walt Nauta. Here, there’s a far larger cast of characters, including people like Meadows who are central to all of Trump’s suspected crimes and also likely to welcome an offer of a pardon in exchange for loyalty. This slow squeeze is a different approach.

And along the way, Jack Smith got useful testimony — testimony that will give him what he needs to go to trial — but testimony that also can be used to inch closer to the truth.

Trump’s Attorney-Client Leak Privilege

Pursuant to Judge Cannon’s order, her clerk has finally unsealed the substance of a complaint from Stan Woodward floated last summer: That, in a August 24, 2022 meeting, Jay Bratt insinuated that if Walt Nauta didn’t cooperate against Trump, then he’d lose his opportunity to be a Superior Court Judge. Here’s the letter presenting Woodward’s side of the story and here’s Jay Bratt’s explanation.

In his explanation of the dispute for Judge Cannon, Woodward repeatedly denied being the source for leaks to the press because “we litigate our cases in Court.” He even explained that multiple people got ahold of a longer letter including his complaint, but reporters, “agreed not to disclose defense counsel’s identity at defense counsel’s request because, we litigate our cases in Court.” That’s the same reason Woodward provided for not correcting Trump’s Truth Social attacks,

alleging prosecutors with the special counsel’s office had attempted to ‘bribe & intimidate’ a lawyer representing a witness in the case and claimed that the lawyer had been offered an, ‘”important judgship” in the Biden administration’ if the client ‘”flips” on President Trump.’

As Stan Woodward tells it, he spent a whole lot of time instructing journalists precisely how they should report on these allegations, but without correcting any false claims made by Trump.

It turns out, though, that Woodward’s complaint is not the only one Trump used in a bid to get grand jury testimony unsealed back in June 2023, after getting a target letter. Trump made a bunch of allegations:

  • Brett Reynolds was anxious to get Kash Patel to testify under the schedule when Beryl Howell had ordered it to occur even after Patel hired Stan Woodward just as the Oath Keeper trial tied up his schedule for months
  • Prosecutors asked Chamberlain Harris for a password to the laptop on which she had some classified information and she provided it
  • They gave Margo Martin somewhere between 72 hours and six days notice for a grand jury subpoena
  • They obtained a warrant for Carlos De Oliveira’s phone after having issued a subpoena for content because he hadn’t turned over a message from Nauta instructing him to cover up a July 10, 2022 return to Mar-a-Lago by Nauta and Trump
  • Tim Parlatore invoked attorney-client privilege 45 times during a grand jury appearance

It’s the last one that is the most remarkable. As Jack Smith explained — before even addressing the Woodward claims — the reason Parlatore was testifying before the grand jury in the first places was because Trump refused to have a real custodian of records attest to the thoroughness of the searches of Trump’s other properties for remaining stolen documents. As a result, Parlatore agreed to sit for a grand jury interview at which he would make item by item privilege claims about the thoroughness of the search he had overseen.

It was the same stunt Trump pulled with Christina Bobb in June 2022.

That part of Jack Smith’s response provides a ton more details about Parlatore’s efforts to string out prosecutors in fall 2022.

Trump made claims of abuse about one question in particular: whether Trump was the source for false claims Parlatore made about how cooperative Trump was during the June 2022 Jay Bratt visit, at which Parlatore was not present.

At one point, Parlatore ciaimed attorney-client privilege after being asked whether the former President was the source for Parlatore’s testimony about statements the former President purportedly made to government investigators about being cooperative. GJTr.40. The prosecutor then asked if a client could waive privilege and questioned why the former President had not allowed Parlatore to testify as to these conversations if he (the former President) meant to be cooperative, but the government prosecutor also quickly made clear that she was “absolutely not saying” that waiver of privilege is required to be cooperative and that, consistent with her earlier statement, she did not mean to “induce any waivers.”GJTr.40-43. Nonetheless, Parlatore on several occasions accused the government prosecutors of “trying to improperly invade the attorney/client privilege.”GJTr.45. see also GJTr.77. After one such accusation, a government prosecutor conveyed to Parlatore that “if [he] want[ed] to invoke the privilege, [he] can just say that” instead of casting aspersions about “what the people on this side of the table are and are not trying to do.”

In short, it was designed to create the opportunity to claim abuse, and Trump then claimed it.

What’s so interesting about the allegation — besides all the details of Parlatore stringing along prosecutors — is that shortly before this complaint, Parlatore loudly left Trump’s team and fairly routinely ran his mouth about details of Trump’s legal team. That is, Parlatore was more forthcoming with CNN than he was with the grand jury. And per a Hugo Lowell story, Parlatore shared a transcript of this grand jury appearance before Trump demanded a transcript of this grand jury appearance.

It’s all so predictable and obvious.

But … eight months later, it still seems to work wonders for Aileen Cannon.

Trump’s Nuclear Documents Were Mixed with Post-Presidential Press Clippings

Some of the most interesting documents from the exhibits released with Trump’s motion to compel discovery yesterday pertain to the review of the original 15 documents returned in January 2022. This email thread within NARA describes an initial review of the documents. And these tables describe what the FBI found on initial review.

Together, they go a long way to describing why FBI had to pursue a criminal, rather than just a countrintelligence, investigation.

The initial review was written on January 18, the same day the 15 boxes arrived in DC. That initial review and a follow-up confirmed that NARA had received the things they had originally asked for: the weather map that Trump had altered, plus an accordian folder including the other documents they were seeking.

There was one accordian folder in the mess so it stood out. It contained, among other things, the Obama letter and North Korea correspondence. We need to verify that all of the correspondence is in there. But I think we are in good shape.

But even before discovering that, the person who wrote the memo described how an initial glance revealed classified documents, and a closer look after moving the boxes to a SCIF revealed news clippings that post-dated Trump’s presidency.

My plan was to glance into each box before I shelved it so I could give y’all a high level overview. As I fanned through the pile of newspapers at the top of the first box, I found several unfoldered classified docs in between some of the newspapers. So I took all the boxes to the SCIF. The first box I picked up in the SCIF had a newspaper on top that was post 1/20/2021. At that point I decided to take a closer look in each box to see if there are other issues that you three, David, and Deb might want to know about sooner than later.

From the start then, NARA knew that someone else at Mar-a-Lago had been accessing classified information after the end of his presidency.

For comparison, the FBI found that there were post-VP folders in a box with the Afghan documents at the core of Robert Hur’s investigation into Biden’s classified documents, but those were separate folders.

The person described that most of those classified documents — as claimed by Trump’s lawyers — were “state briefing papers and briefing cards” prepping Trump to talk to foreign leaders. But they “saw several docs that I think are PDBs” and “also found an incredibly sensitive SAP [Special Access Program] document.”

The person also found several things that Congress had requested.

I did see some material related to 1/6 and COVID. And at close glance I believe one of the classified docs is responsive to a third Congressional request. So we will need to review all of these boxes.

In other words, from the start there were two reasons for NARA to look more closely: the classified documents, but also the documents that Congress had already requested.

The FBI report, done a month later, provides three tables categorizing the classified documents found in those boxes. The single SAP document found by the NARA person, for example, is a 6-page memo dated to 2019.

In box 3, the FBI found three FRD (Formerly Restricted, an Atomic Energy Act designation that Presidents cannot override by themselves) documents totalling 57 pages.

All the FRD documents date to November 12, 2019, so they may pertain to Iran’s decision to resume enrichment at their Fordow facility announced on November 6.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on Nov. 6 that 696 of the centrifuges allowed at Fordow would be used for enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent uranium-235, slightly above the 3.67 percent U-235 limit set by the deal. The remaining 348 machines will be used for medical isotope production, he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed in its Nov. 11 report that Iran began enrichment at the site on Nov. 9.

This is the fourth step Tehran has taken in breach of its JCPOA commitments over the past six months. In May 2019, Rouhani said Iran would “reduce compliance” with its nuclear obligations under the deal in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal in May 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions in violation of the accord. (See ACT, June 2019.)

The other parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union) criticized Iran’s decision, but said they remain committed to preserving the nuclear deal.

In a Nov. 11 joint statement, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, the UK and the EU foreign chief said the Fordow decision “represents a regrettable acceleration of Iran’s disengagement” from its commitments under the nuclear deal.

The FBI noted that the single NATO document, a slide dated two days after the FRD ones, would trigger treaty obligations.

I argued in October 2022 that Trump’s strategy with these 15 boxes curated personally by Trump appear to mirror Trump’s disinformation strategy generally: to bury his crimes behind literal and figurative press clippings. It sounds like these initial documents actually had a higher proportion of press clippings than the documents ultimately seized in the Mar-a-Lago search.

But he tripped up: By including post-presidential clippings amid his nuclear documents, Trump gave investigators more reason to look, rather than less.

Trump’s White House Didn’t Archive Twitter DMs

After a long wait, Judge Aileen Cannon has finally docketed the exhibits behind Trump’s motion to compel discovery in the Trump stolen documents case. Much of the dispute centers on claims that the Archives exhibited political bias because they wanted to archive Trump’s presidential materials.

As such, the exhibits include details about NARA’s efforts to archive the Twitter accounts Trump and others used during their tenure. NARA would later send Carol Maloney a version of this in 2022, which focused attention on tweets that people like Ivanka had deleted.

As that letter revealed, the exhibit reveals that Trump didn’t start automatically preserving tweets until 2018, but took quite some time to include everyone in the archiving process.

Whereas Ivanka’s deleted tweets seemed particularly important in 2022, Andrew Giuliani — who had contact with Kellye SoRelle — look more important from this vantage.

But the detail that takes on most new significance given what we’ve learned since is that the White House didn’t choose to archive DMs.

Again, this was in that 2022 letter to Maloney. But we now know that when Xitter tried to refuse to turn over material from Trump’s account, Jack Smith pointed to the incomplete nature of what NARA had as one of his bases for needing to go to Xitter directly.

I still doubt that was the most important item that Smith was looking for. But Trump’s earlier failures may have been part of what gave Smith cause to demand more important information on attribution from Elon Musk.

Trial Attention: Don’t Let a Pecker Distract from More Important Stories

In my opinion, Donald Trump’s criminal trial, which starts in earnest today, is no more than the third most important thing happening to him this week. While I think charging Trump for alleged crimes for which his co-conspirators have already been punished and in which Bill Barr’s DOJ tampered has merit, and while I don’t think you can separate the allegations here from his other attempts to cheat to win elections, I believe the Trump Organization fraud case and the outcome of the January 6 case (and his claim to absolute immunity generally) have far more impact on Trump’s ability to continue to wreak havoc.

So I think Tish James’ bid to have Knight Specialty Insurance disqualified for providing Trump’s appeal bond and SCOTUS’ review of Trump’s absolutely immunity claims are far more important events this week than the Alvin Bragg trial.

The same is true of last week. Jury tampering — abetted by Jesse Watters and other Trump allies — will be an urgent, ongoing concern. But there are a slew of events — the UAW’s election win in a southern VW plant, the House’s passage of Ukraine funding (and follow-on repercussions we’re likely to see from it), continuing Israeli and Iranian tensions and attacks on Palestinians, the likelihood SCOTUS will narrow the application of the obstruction statute in the context of January 6, even the planned withdrawal of US troops from Niger — will be far more important to the fate of the US and the world than whether Trump glowered or slept or farted in the courtroom.

All of which is my way of saying: beware of letting this trial drown out more important events. Yes, it is unprecedented to see Trump subjected to discipline. But this trial is sucking up far, far too much attention that might better be directed elsewhere — and all that attention is one of the reasons why jury and witness tampering are such a risk.

I will be monitoring it in passing, but will rely on the very good journalists who are in the courtroom rather than covering it myself. Adam Klasfeld (with support from Just Security) is, as always, one of the best journalists providing live trial coverage, Lawfare has a full trial team covering it, NBC’s Lisa Rubin and Katie Phang have been offering useful expectation setting.

David Pecker may testify as soon as today about how he conspired with Trump and Michael Cohen to manage media focus during the 2016 election. This trial may have very much the same effect.

image_print