Merrick Garland Names War Crimes Prosecutor Jack Smith to Oversee Trump Investigations

To my mind, the best part of appointing war crimes and public corruption prosecutor Jack Smith as Special Counsel to oversee the twin investigations into Donald Trump is that it will be a cinch, now, to subpoena Ginni Thomas.

Otherwise I have mixed feelings about the decision. I think the letter of DOJ guidelines requires it. But I don’t think it will change how much of a clusterfuck Trump makes of it.

It does have certain other advantages, other than making it easier to subpoena Ginni. It might even make it easy to subpoena Mike Pence.

First, this will make it very easy to refuse Jim Jordan’s demands for information about the investigation.

It will ensure the continuity of any prosecution after 2025, no matter who is elected (neither hypothetical Trump prosecution — the stolen documents or the coup attempt — would be done by then, even if it were indicted on December 15, the earliest possible date for either).

I don’t think this will create much of a delay. The stolen documents case, which is the first that could be prosecuted (assuming the 11th Circuit overturns Judge Aileen Cannon’s special master order) is fairly self-contained, so would only take a day to be briefed into. The coup attempt is far, far more complex, but I think there was no way Trump himself would be indicted before February or March anyway, probably longer.

The jurisdictional boundary is of interest: Anyone who crimed at the Capitol will be prosecuted by DC US Attorney Matthew Graves. Anyone who was not physically present at the Capitol would fall under Smith’s investigation.

It’s unclear where Alex Jones would fit in that schema. Roger Stone, though, would be moved under Smith.

My favorite part of the order appointing Smith is this part:

The language authorizing a Special Counsel to investigate anything that “might arise directly from this investigation” is standard Special Counsel language. It generally covers efforts to obstruct the investigation.

Only, usually, it only appears in the subjunctive, covering matters that might arise, in the future.

This authorizes Smith to investigate things that already have. Which would only be necessary if such matters had already arisen.

The order also authorizes Smith to spin off prosecutions.

Again, that’s not boilerplate. It may suggest Garland has already seen evidence of criminality that could and should be spun off.

Mostly, I think this is an “Eh” decision. It doesn’t change Garland’s role in the process. I don’t think it delays things. I think it carries certain advantages, two of those named Ginni and Jim.

But otherwise, the investigation continues with — as Garland said — urgency.

Update: Overnight I thought of this: Garland said there were recent developments, plural, that led to this decision. One could be the GOP taking over control of Congress. After all, Scott Perry, head of the Freedom Caucus, must be a subject of this investigation. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the incoming House Judiciary Committee Chair is too. And depending on the final split in Congress, it’s also not outside the realm of possibility that enough members are under investigation — with Perry, Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and Matt Gaetz — that it could, briefly anyway, alter the majority in Congress.

Aileen Cannon’s Special Master Review Helped DOJ Prepare for a Key Witness Interview

My impression of DOJ’s reply brief in their 11th Circuit appeal of Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master to review the files seized from Mar-a-Lago is that they’ve gotten whatever benefit they could get from the Special Master review and now that the election pause has passed, they’re really impatient for the injunction on their investigation to be lifted so they can interview the last few witnesses. That probably includes Trump assistant Molly Michael.

The reply repeats the arguments DOJ made in their opening brief: Judge Cannon abused her authority by getting involved in a case where there was no evidence of callous disregard for Trump’s rights.

But even before that, it calls out Trump for totally changing his tack, no longer arguing that some privilege merits withholding documents from the government, but instead the Tom Fitton theory that Trump could simply convert Presidential Records into his own property by packing it in a box and shipping it to Mar-a-Lago. Since this is a new argument, it’s not proper.

None of those three filings cited Judicial Watch v. National Archives and Records Administration, 845 F. Supp. 2d 288 (D.D.C. 2012), upon which Plaintiff now relies (incorrectly) in claiming authority to convert Presidential records into “personal” records by removing them from the White House. And nowhere in those filings did Plaintiff suggest that he had exercised that purported authority with regard to the seized records—much less why that would warrant an injunction and special-master review. Rather, Plaintiff asserted that the case “center[s] around [Plaintiff’s] possession . . . of his own Presidential records,” DE.58:2 (emphasis added); see also DE.127:8 (transcript) (“What we are talking about here, in the main, are Presidential records in the hands of the 45th President of the United States.”); DE.127:9 (similar). Unsurprisingly, the district court did not rely on this novel PRA theory in issuing its injunction and appointing a special master.1 Because this argument has been “raised for the first time on appeal,” In re Dukes, 909 F.3d at 1322, it need not be considered here.

Importantly, even if the Fitton theory were true, it’d be irrelevant. DOJ had a warrant to obtain these records. Warrants authorize the seizure of personal records all the time. If Trump is lucky, DOJ suggests, he might be able to get some of these records back after DOJ closes the investigation.

Even if Plaintiff could have designated the seized records as “personal” records, that would provide no basis for an injunction or special-master review. A document’s categorization as a “personal” record does not preclude the government from obtaining it through a search warrant or using it in a criminal investigation. Law enforcement officials routinely conduct judicially authorized searches to seize evidence of crimes, see Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(c)(1), and that evidence routinely consists of personal effects, including personal papers. Nothing in the law prohibits the government from using documents recovered in a search if they are “personal,” and the search warrant here authorized the government to seize materials stored collectively with records bearing classification markings regardless of their status as “personal” or Presidential records.

[snip]

Simply put, the government can review and use materials obtained in its judicially authorized search regardless of whether they are Presidential or “personal” records. At most, a record’s categorization under the PRA speaks to whether that record would be provided to NARA or returned to Plaintiff after the government’s investigation concludes.

DOJ also talks about all the ways that the Special Master process has already mooted any legitimate demand Trump might have had. DOJ returned to Trump any legitimately privileged documents, as they tried to do before Judge Cannon prevented them from doing so as to create a harm she needed to fix.

The government’s filter team has also now returned to Plaintiff a limited set of documents segregated by the filter team—as it sought to do at the very outset, see U.S. Br. 25—thus mooting any hypothetical disputes about attorney-client privilege as to those documents. See DE.138:2.

He has copies of all the non-classified documents, which would be the outcome of any successful Rule 41(g) fight.

Moreover, Plaintiff has now had an opportunity to review all of the seized records except those bearing classification markings, and the government has no objection to Plaintiff retaining copies.

Trump has conceded three potentially privileged documents found during the initial scoping were not privileged. (See this post where I explained how DOJ got Raymond Dearie to put this detail into the public record.)

The government’s opening brief noted three instances in which the investigative team, following the filter protocol and applying broad criteria, subsequently ceased review of a document and provided it to the filter team for further review. U.S. Br. 39-40. The filter team concluded that none of the three documents is privileged; and—as the public record now reflects—Plaintiff agrees. See DE.138:2 (Plaintiff not asserting privilege as to document referred to as B076); DE.158-1:1 and DE 162 (same, as to “Document 21” and “Document 22”); see also DE.148 (sealed filter team filing describing these documents).

That leaves just one fragment of a document over which Trump has claimed attorney-client privilege.

The sole remaining dispute pertains to one portion of a one-page document, see DE.182-1:1, 7 and the filter protocols originally directed by the magistrate judge provide a mechanism to resolve such disputes, see MJDE.125:31-32

[snip]

Finally, Plaintiff states that after the special-master review, he “will be entitled to return of some of the seized items,” including “not only [the] privileged materials but also [] the seized materials (i.e., personal records) unrelated to the investigation.” Br. 61. That assertion is wholly unsupported. At most, Plaintiff is entitled to a single page of a single document if he prevails on a disputed claim of attorney-client privilege.

7 That document was identified by the investigative team during the special-master review and, consistent with the filter protocol, it was referred to the filter team. The filter team has filed a sealed letter to the Special Master regarding its position. DE.186.

Effectively, the Special Master process has mooted any legal claim of injury Trump might have so even if Cannon had properly intervened, there’d be no point in continuing.

Which brings us to DOJ’s response to Trump’s claim that DOJ has presented no proof that the injunction on using the unclassified documents is causing harm. In its original brief, DOJ talked about the significance of the unclassified documents that are “intermingled” or “comingled” with classified documents to establish possession or timeline. This reply repeats the emphasis on “comingled” documents, but also discusses the import of when materials were “compiled.”

Second, although this Court’s stay mitigated the injunction’s most severe harms to the government and the public, the rest of the injunction has impeded the government’s investigation in other ways. The sole purpose for which the government has been permitted to review the seized unclassified records is to participate in a prolonged dispute with Plaintiff about their categorization. The government has been enjoined from using unclassified records comingled with records bearing classification markings to (for example) piece together timelines related to when these materials might have been compiled or accessed, or to question witnesses who may be familiar with these documents’ contents. Beyond that, the government cannot be expected to disclose to Plaintiff specific investigative steps that it would take absent the injunction. [my emphasis]

Which brings me to my suspicion that DOJ is anxious to interview Molly Michael with these unclassified documents.

Molly Michael was, at the end of Trump’s Administration, his Executive Assistant; she moved with him to Mar-a-Lago. Here she is, being interviewed by the January 6 Committee.

As Maggie Haberman noted days after the search, the FBI had reached out to Michael for an interview.

It’s highly likely that Michael either used or had access to the drawer in Trump’s office from which 144 items, for a total of 989 pages, were seized. All of those documents went through the privilege review and it’s likely that many of the 60-some potentially privileged documents were from that desk. Indeed, these two documents, treated as potentially privileged, are most likely from a desk that was in active use.

These two documents are ones over which Trump is making some of the most remarkable claims. According to an October 20 filing, DOJ had agreed with Trump that these were personal documents (even in spite of their reference to “POTUS), yet Trump was claiming Executive Privilege over them.

Given the Presidential Record Act rules that if a document has been shown to the President, it becomes a Presidential Record, by far the best explanation for the agreement these are personal documents over which Trump is trying to claim privilege — as I noted here — is that they reflect the Mar-a-Lago office running like his White House office used to, with his assistant, Molly, providing meeting requests and questions for Trump to review. The reference to “POTUS” cannot be a reflection of his position if and when he did review them, because if he were still POTUS, they would be Presidential Records. Rather, the moniker likely reflects that all the sycophants at Mar-a-Lago still call him POTUS.

Over the course of the privilege dispute, then, Trump provided compelling evidence that these two documents were created after he left office. He probably also confirmed that Molly Michael was the one accessing these documents.

Thanks Don!

That’s important for the document I’ve called a mini smoking gun: the document that includes a Secret document, a Confidential document, messages from a pollster, a religious leader, and a book author, as well as one page (SM_MAL_00001190) over which Trump is claiming attorney-client privilege.

One potentially privileged document that had been scanned was removed from the database (SM_MAL_00001185 to SM_MAL_00001195). That document – excluding the one potentially privileged page (SM_MAL_00001190) – is discussed in the next section about the Filter Materials Log. The potentially privileged page is the subject of a separate letter from the Filter Team to Your Honor, which is sent today.

[snip]

This document is a compilation that includes three documents that post-date Plaintiff’s term in office and two classified cover sheets, one SECRET and the other CONFIDENTIAL. Because Plaintiff can only have received the documents bearing classification markings in his capacity as President, the entire mixed document is a Presidential record.

Besides the classified cover sheets, which were inserted by the FBI in lieu of the actual documents, none of the remaining communications in the document are confidential presidential communications that might be subject to a claim of executive privilege. Three communications are from a book author, a religious leader, and a pollster. The first two cannot be characterized as presidential advisers and all three are either dated or by content occurred after Plaintiff’s administration ended. [my emphasis]

This document as a whole is the one other one that Trump is trying to withhold entirely under an Executive Privilege claim over what he says is a personal document.

This is obviously a document Trump would badly like to claw back from the government — and for good reason: it is evidence that he was accessing classified records in conjunction with his business after leaving the White House.

Note the government calls it a “compilation,” the same word included in the Reply brief. The government wants to show unclassified documents to witnesses to find out when they might have been compiled.

If I’m right that this document comes from the same drawer as the Molly’s Questions for POTUS Approval documents, then she is likely the witness who can say when it was compiled. She would be the witness who could explain why Trump integrated a Secret document into his ongoing personal business. She might even testify that she saw the entire compilation, including the page over which Trump is claiming privilege, which would vitiate that privilege claim.

If I’m right, then the government is probably pretty anxious to put Molly Michael in front of a grand jury with these unclassified documents. They just need the 11th Circuit to proclaim all these Trump claims bullshit, as they’re likely to do after next week’s Tuesday hearing.

This would be a priority for another reason.

If the government is going to charge Trump, they need to find documents that are sufficiently damning to persuade the jury (and the public) that what Trump did was corrupt, but not so sensitive that agencies would refuse to declassify the documents for trial. This document, along with the Roger Stone clemency, is the sweet spot: They both include a Secret document. They both were stored in a readily accessible desk drawer. And they both reflect more personal business.

Indeed, the other most heated fight over designations, after this compilation document, pertains to a series of other clemency grants. Trump is trying to claim that documents that — by definition — could only exist in the context of his role as the President, are personal.

Filter Log Document 8 (portion) (A-023 to A-024) and

Filter Log Document 10 (A-031 to A-032)

Filter Log Document 12 (portion) (A-034 to A-035)

Filter Log Document 13 (portion) (A-041 to A-042)

The four bullet-pointed commutation analyses are Presidential records because they relate to the President’s “Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” U.S. CONST. Art. II, § 2, cl. 1. The four analyses were received by Plaintiff in his capacity as the official with authority to grant reprieves and pardons, not in his personal capacity. Plaintiff relies on Judicial Watch to “deem” the Presidential records to be personal records, but the dicta in that non-binding district court decision provide no authority to automagically recharacterize documents that are “Presidential records” within the meaning of the Presidential Records Act, 44 U.S.C. § 2201(2). See ECF 173, at 4-6 (global issues brief).

The four commutation analyses cannot be withheld from the Executive Branch on a claim of executive privilege because, among other reasons, Plaintiff may not assert the Executive Branch’s privilege to withhold documents from itself. See ECF 173, at 12-13 (global issues brief).

These are parts of the clemency packages for Ted Suhl, Rod Blagojevich, what are probably two Border Patrol agents convicted for shooting a drug smuggler, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, and Michael Behanna, a soldier courtmartialed for killing an Iraqi prisoner. While it’s certainly possible Trump may have had corrupt purpose to hide the internal deliberations over these pardons from prosecutors, meaning they’d be evidence of a crime — albeit a different crime — themselves, this fight may also be a proxy for a fight over the Stone clemency which, unlike these four documents, includes a document classified Secret.

Trump’s lawyers may have next to no experience on Espionage Act cases. But they’re not dummies. They can figure out which documents are most likely to get Trump charged. And the ones they’re fighting hardest to claw back are the clemency packages and the “compilation.”

In fact, they’ve just spent the last two months emphasizing to the government that they believe these are the most damning documents (at least thus far), going so far as confirming that several of them post-date the time when Trump (and maybe Molly Michael) would have legal access to classified documents.

When this Special Master process started, there was the possibility that Trump might confirm things that helped DOJ prosecute him, most notably by confirming the inventory (though DOJ has made another bid to get Dearie to force this issue or deem accuracy claims to be waived).

But they did get something: They got Trump to confirm certain details, including dates, about records that were likely in his desk drawer. Which means they’ve helped prepare DOJ to interview whoever had control of that desk drawer.

Welcome to the Jim Jordan and James Comer Look the Other Way Committees, Brought to You By Access Journalism

In an article published 112 days before the November election, Politico included this sentence about all the investigations Republicans planned to conduct if they won the House.

Republicans on the [Oversight] committee plan to hold high-profile probes into Hunter Biden’s dealings with overseas clients, but they also want to hone in on eliminating wasteful government spending in an effort to align the panel with the GOP’s broader agenda.

Politico’s Jordain Carney did not note the irony of planning, almost four months before the election, an investigation into foreign efforts to gain influence by paying the then Vice President’s son years ago, next to a claim to want to eliminate wasteful spending. He just described it as if yet another investigation into Hunter Biden, even as DOJ continued its own investigation, wasn’t an obvious waste of government resources.

Politico’s Olivia Beavers didn’t point that out either in a 1,400-word profile in August on James Comer entitled, “Meet the GOP’s future king of Biden investigations,” the kind of sycophantic profile designed to ensure future access, known as a “beat sweetener.” (Beaver is currently described as a Breaking News Reporter; this profile was posted 3 days after the search of Mar-a-Lago.) She did acknowledge that these investigations were, “directing the party’s pent-up frustration and aggression toward Democrats after years in the minority,” not any desire to make government work or eliminate wasteful spending. But she nevertheless allowed Comer and his colleagues to claim that an investigation into Joe Biden’s son could be credible — that it would somehow be more credible than the bullshit we expect from Marjorie Taylor Greene.

He’s long been known on both sides of the aisle as a sharp and affable colleague, and has the tendency to lean in with a hushed voice, almost conspiratorially, only to crack a well-timed joke that’s often at his own expense. Beyond that personal appeal, though, Comer emphasized it’s his priority to ensure the oversight panel’s work remains “credible.”

That’s a tricky path to tread, given his party’s investigative priorities are still subject to the whims of former President Donald Trump as well as an increasingly zealous conservative base and media apparatus. But Comer’s particularly well-suited to the task, according to more than two dozen House Republicans interviewed. And if he manages to do it right, it could provide a launching pad to higher office — Comer is not discounting a future bid for Senate or Kentucky governor, though that likely wouldn’t occur until after his four remaining years leading the panel.

“I’m not going to be chasing some of these right-wing blogs and some of their conspiracy theories,” Comer told POLITICO in an hour-long interview conducted in a rented RV trailer that his campaign had parked at the picnic. “We’ll look into anything, but we’re not going to declare a probe or an investigation unless we have proof.”

[snip]

And though Comer has said Hunter Biden would likely get subpoenaed in the event of a declined invitation to the committee next year, he doesn’t want to appear trigger-happy with issuing subpoenas, either.

“This isn’t a dog-and-pony show. This isn’t a committee where everybody’s gonna scream and be outraged and try to make the witnesses look like fools,” he said, before nodding at House Democrats’ past probes of the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. “Unlike Adam Schiff, we’re gonna have something concrete, substantive on Hunter Biden or I’m not going to talk about Hunter Biden.”

Beavers didn’t mention the platitudes she included in her August article when she reported, yesterday, on the press conference Comer and Jim Jordan have scheduled for today, less than 24 hours after the 218th House seat for Republicans was called, to talk about the investigation into Hunter Biden.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and James Comer (R-Ky.) discussed plans to investigate politicization in federal law enforcement and Hunter Biden’s business affairs.

“We are going to make it very clear that this is now an investigation of President Biden,” Comer said, referring to a planned Republican press conference Thursday about the president and his son’s business dealings.

Beavers has let Comer forget the claim, which she printed as good faith in August, that Comer was “not going to declare a probe or an investigation unless we have proof.”

Olivia. Comer lied to you in August. As a journalist, you might want to call that out.

There is no functioning democracy in which the opposition party’s first act after winning a majority should be investigating the private citizen son of the President for actions taken three to six years earlier, particularly not as a four year criminal investigation into Hunter Biden — still overseen by a Trump appointee — continues.

There is no sane argument for doing so. Sure, foreign countries paid Hunter lots of money as a means to access his father. But according to an October leak from FBI agents pressuring to charge the President’s son (one that Comer pitched on Fox News), which claimed there was enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden for tax and weapons charges but which made no mention of foreign influence peddling charges, that foreign influence peddling apparently doesn’t amount to a crime. Nothing foreign countries did with Hunter Biden is different from what Turkey did with Mike Flynn, Ukraine did with Paul Manafort, Israel did with George Papadopoulos, and multiple countries did with Elliot Broidy. Jim Jordan and James Comer not only had no problem with that foreign influence peddling, they attacked the FBI for investigating them.

If James Comer and Jim Jordan really cared about foreign influence peddling, they would care that, since leaving the White House, the Trump family has entered into more than $3.6 billion of deals with Saudi Arabia ($2 billion to Jared’s investment fund, a $1.6 billion real estate development in Oman announced the day before Trump’s re-election bid, and a golf deal of still-undisclosed value; Judd Legum has a good post summarizing what we know about this relationship). Given that the Oversight panel under Carolyn Maloney already launched an investigation into Jared’s fund — like Hunter Biden’s funding, notable because of the obvious inexperience of the recipient — Comer could treat himself and American taxpayers with respect by more generally investigating the adequacy of protection against foreign influence, made more acute in the wake of the opinion in the Steve Wynn case that guts DOJ’s ability to enforce FARA.

With today’s press conference, you will see a bunch of journalists like Olivia Beavers treating this as a serious pursuit rather than pointing out all the hypocrisy and waste it entails as well as the lies they credulously printed during the election about it. You will see Beavers rewarding politicians for squandering government resources to do this, rather than calling them out for the hypocrisy of their actions.

Maybe, if Comer becomes Governor of Kentucky, Beavers will have the inside track on access to him. I guess then it will have been worth it for her.

This Hunter Biden obsession has been allowed to continue already for three years not just because it has been Fox’s non-stop programming choice to distract from more important matters, but because journalists who consider themselves straight journalists, not Fox propagandists, choose not to call out the rank hypocrisy and waste of it all.

For any self-respecting journalist, the story going forward should be about how stupid and hypocritical all this is, what a waste of government resources.

We’re about to find out how few self-respecting journalists there are in DC.

Update: NBC journalist Scott Wong’s piece on the GOP plans for investigations was similarly supine. The funniest part of it is that it treated a 1,000 page “report,” consisting almost entirely of letters Jordan sent, as if it were substantive. I unpacked the details NBC could have disclosed to readers here.

Meanwhile, this Carl Hulse piece doesn’t disclose to readers that Marjory Taylor Greene’s investigation into the jail conditions of January 6 defendants, besides being an attempt to protect potential co-conspirators, also is falsely premised on claims that the January 6 defendants are treated worse (and not better) than other defendants as well as false claims that many of the pre-trial detainees are misdemeanants.

Spy Versus Spy Amid the Proud Boys, Again

In the plea hearing for Nicholas Ochs and DeCarlo, Chief Judge Beryl Howell asked prosecutor Alexis Loeb whether the defendants had sat for the interview required by the standard plea deals. Loeb explained that, Ochs had but, for reasons pertaining to the ongoing investigation, FBI did not do such an interview with DeCarlo. I wondered, then, whether DOJ wanted to avoid discovery obligations to other Proud Boy defendants.

It’s something I had in mind as I read the various filings (Zach Rehl, Ethan Nordean, Enrique Tarrio, Joe Biggs, Nordean reply) that — NYT reported the other day — pertain to discovery about informants that the FBI had or developed among the Proud Boys. The gist of the complaints (as noted in the Biggs filing), which treat this as a Brady violation that merits dismissing the case, is that the FBI had records relating to Proud Boys who said they did not know of a plan to attack the Capitol in advance.

Biggs notes here on the open record that the Brady violations the parties continue to dispute — beginning with the dispute triggered by the Government’s late disclosure of a significant cache of Brady materials on August 13, 2021, or fifteen months ago — consistently go to a structural feature in all three of the Department of Justice’s superseding indictments in 21-cr-175. That feature and overarching issue is whether a Proud Boy conspiracy plan to obstruct the Biden-Harris vote certification or to commit sedition ever existed or could have existed. The Brady materials and discussions most at play now and since mid-2021 point up the increasing doubtfulness and high unlikelihood of the existence of a conspiracy. That is troublesome, and glaring. It continues to be the ‘elephant in the room’ of 21-cr-175.

It’s hard to know how seriously to take this. Some of these defense attorneys have been crying wolf from the start, claiming something turned over in timely fashion is exculpatory when it in fact shows really damning information.

In the August instance cited by Biggs, which NYT also wrote about, the informant was low-level and claimed to have shown up to insurrection late. Except Statements of Offense from members of the Kansas City suggest that the informant falsely told the FBI that violence had not come up in a meeting the night before the attack.

In the evening on January 5, 2021, defendant attended a meeting with co-defendants William Chrestman, Kuehne, and Ashlock, and others during which group safety was discussed. At some point during the meeting, another individual said that he did not come to Washington, D.C., to just march around and asked, “do we have patriots here willing to take it by force?” Defendant was shocked by this and understood that the individual was referring to using force against the government. Co-defendant Kuehne responded to the question by saying that he had his guns with him and, in essence, that he was ready to go. The individual who posed the question said that they should “go in there and take over.” [my emphasis]

That said, the statements of offense making such claims — here from Enrique Colon — come from defendants receiving really sweet plea deals in hte process, in multiple cases avoiding weapons charges or enhancements as well.

In the case of the two Nicks, they definitely coordinated with each other and premeditated a plan to stop the vote certification. But they appear not to have been part of any larger plan (they even attended Trump’s rally, which most Proud Boys did not). In other words, one thing that may be going on is that Biggs and Nordean implemented a plan developed along with Tarrio and some senior Proud Boys who weren’t in DC (such as the cooperating Jeremy Bertino), but didn’t tell the greater number of Proud Boys what that plan is in advance, something that makes the testimony of others appear exculpatory only because the Proud Boy leaders had kept a close hold on their plans.

According to Nordean’s reply to DOJ’s entirely sealed 21-page response, the government believes it was justified in withholding the documents under Rule 16(a)(2), which only requires sharing the documents if the pertinent witnesses testify.

The government argues that the sensitive materials were exempt from its discovery obligations under Rule 16(a)(2). ECF No. 538, p. 11. That is false because (1) the records at issue were not made by a government agent or attorney for the government in connection with investigating or prosecuting “the case,” i.e., United States v. Nordean, 21-cr-175, and (2) it is not just “internal government documents” Nordean seeks but the underlying information merely reproduced in government documents.

Nordean seems to be playing games about the bounds of “this” investigation here, and if the documents genuinely are not exculpatory, that would probably be a reasonable response. It’s a matter of whether this is an investigation into just the Proud Boy leaders, all the Proud Boys, or everyone involved in attacking the Capitol.

Separately, these are the files that (in a recent hearing), the defense attorneys were complaining about the heightened security procedures to access the documents, as Nordean lays out in his original filing.

[T]he government has made the extraordinary argument that these exculpatory materials cannot be produced directly to defense counsel. It has argued, successfully, that counsel must comply with the following procedure in order to access Brady information in this case:

(1) counsel must travel to an FBI office to review the materials in person;

(2) counsel may not receive copies of the materials but must take handwritten notes;

(3) counsel must then move the Court to produce the materials to the defendants, based on summary descriptions of the materials in their handwritten notes; and

(4) counsel must then file additional motions to secure this evidence for trial.

The complaint would be more convincing if the details of the earlier informant had not been published by the NYT, making it easy for investigators (and presumably all the other Proud Boys) to identify the informant. In the Oath Keeper case, too, the government is trying to hunt down which attorney(s), if any, sourced a NYT story about an Oath Keeper informant. (h/t Kyle Cheney)

Meanwhile, all this question about who is informing on whom leads me to return to the question of what happened to

Whallon Wolkind in all this (he’s the one top Proud Boy leader not known to have been charged or flipped), not to mention why Dominic Pezzola, alone among the remaining defendants in this case, didn’t join the challenge to access the informant files.

The usual suspects are wailing about how long this investigation is taking. Meanwhile, cases like this reveal the complexity of trying to prosecute key defendants while processing through a thousand others.

Devlin Barrett’s “People Familiar with the Matter”

As Devlin Barrett’s sources would have it, a man whose business ties to the Saudis include a $2 billion investment in his son-in-law, a golf partnership of undisclosed value, and a new hotel development in Oman would have no business interest in stealing highly sensitive documents describing Iran’s missile systems.

I’ll let you decide whether the claim, made in Barrett’s latest report on the stolen documents case, means the FBI is considering the issue very narrowly or Barrett’s sources are bullshitting him.

That review has not found any apparent business advantage to the types of classified information in Trump’s possession, these people said. FBI interviews with witnesses so far, they said, also do not point to any nefarious effort by Trump to leverage, sell or use the government secrets. Instead, the former president seemed motivated by a more basic desire not to give up what he believed was his property, these people said.

Barrett has a history of credulously repeating what right wing FBI agents feed him for their own political goals, which means it’s unclear how seriously to take this report. Particularly given several critical details Barrett’s story does not mention:

  • Trump’s efforts, orchestrated in part by investigation witness Kash Patel, to release documents about the Russian investigation specifically to serve a political objective
  • The report, from multiple outlets, that Jay Bratt told Trump’s lawyers that DOJ believes Trump still has classified documents
  • Details about classified documents interspersed with a Roger Stone grant of clemency and messages — dated after Trump left the White House — from a pollster, a book author, and a religious leader; both sets of interspersed classified documents were found in Trump’s office
  • The way Trump’s legal exposure would expand if people like Boris Epshteyn conspired to help him hoard the documents or others like Molly Michael accessed the classified records

To be sure: I think a good many of the documents Trump stole — including the most sensitive ones — were stolen as trophies. We know that’s why Trump stole his love letters with Kim Jong Un. And the visible contents of the FBI’s search photograph show that the most highly classified documents were stored along with Time Magazine covers.

But this report, from sources described as “people familiar with the matter,” bespeaks a partial view of the investigation, one Barrett hasn’t bothered to supplement (or challenge) with public records.

That description, “people familiar with the matter,” is the same one Barrett uses to remind readers that he got the scoop on the Iranian missile documents that his sources don’t think the Saudis would have any interest in, and his scoop that Trump stole documents about some country’s defense system (which, if the country is Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Israel, would be of acute interest to Trump’s golf partners, too).

The Washington Post has previously reported that among the most sensitive classified documents recovered by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago were documents about Iran and China, according to people familiar with the matter.

At least one of the documents seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 describes Iran’s missile program, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation. Other documents described highly sensitive intelligence work aimed at China, they said. The Post has also reported that some of the material focuses on the defense systems of a foreign country, including its nuclear capabilities.

There’s no guarantee that these “people familiar with the matter” are the same sources for both the information about the most sensitive documents Trump stole and the current understanding about Trump’s motive. It could be that Barrett is using the same vague description to protect his source(s).

But they could be the same sources. Indeed, the blind spots in Barrett’s reporting may stem from having sources familiar with the national security review of the documents, but not necessarily the ongoing investigation into it. Some of the WaPo’s past reporting on this story seems to come from people who’ve seen the unredacted affidavit, but not necessarily the investigative files.

And that’s interesting, among other reasons, because the leak to Barrett about the most sensitive documents has formed the primary harm claimed by Trump’s lawyers in filing after filing after filing, starting literally the day after Judge Aileen Cannon cited leaks in her original order enjoining the criminal investigation.

The Government is apparently not concerned with unauthorized leaks regarding the contents of the purported “classified records,” see, e.g., Devlin Barrett and Carol D. Leonnig, Material on foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities seized at Trump’s Mara-Lago, WASH. POST (Sept. 6, 2022), https://www.washingtonpost.com/nationalsecurity/2022/09/06/trump-nuclear-documents/, and would presumably be prepared to share all such records publicly in any future jury trial. However, the Government advances the untenable position in its Motion that the secure review by a Court appointed and supervised special master under controlled access conditions is somehow problematic and poses a risk to national security.

Trump cites Barrett’s work right alongside EO 13526 as “Other Authorities” central to Trump’s argument:

In any case, given the precedent of Nghia Pho (which may still be the only 18 USC 793 case cited by DOJ in this proceeding), it may not matter if Trump stole all or only some of these documents because he’s a narcissist. Trump brought a stack of classified documents to a foreign intelligence target and left them unprotected as multiple suspect foreigners infiltrated his resort. He continued to hoard such documents even after it was publicly reported that he had brought classified documents home.

During Trump’s Administration two men were sent to prison because, by bringing highly classified documents home for motives that had nothing to do with leaking, they made the documents accessible to Russian-linked sources, actions that ultimately led to a devastating compromise of US intelligence resources. Under Donald Trump’s DOJ, Pho and Hal Martin were not given a pass because they were serving their own ego.

So there’s no reason Trump’s narcissism, alone, should be a basis not to charge him.

Government Asks Raymond Dearie to Recommend Judge Cannon Lift Injunction on 2,794 Documents

The global issues briefs from DOJ and Trump in the Special Master proceeding have been unsealed (DOJ, Trump).

The focus of both filings address what DOJ calls Trump’s gamesmanship but which is basically the kind of Calvinball that Judge Aileen Cannon appears to love. For many, if not most, of the 2,916 documents at issue, Trump’s argument appears to be:

  • If valuable then Tom Fitton (meaning, the misapplied argument that the President can designate anything “personal” and therefore effectively take possession of Presidential Records merely by sticking it in a box)
  • If not Tom Fitton, then Executive Privilege (meaning, if Raymond Dearie is not impressed by misapplied Tom Fitton logic, then he should allow Trump to withhold documents under a privilege claim)

DOJ provides a lot of reasons that’s nonsense, including that if Trump thinks something is personal then it obviously can’t be privileged.

A key part of the argument, however, is that even if Trump were able to invoke Executive Privilege against the government, DOJ would overcome that here because of the criminal investigation.

Plaintiff’s assertions of executive privilege fail under United States v. Nixon, because the government has a “demonstrated, specific need” for the seized records in its ongoing criminal investigation. 4

4 Because the government satisfies United States v. Nixon’s “demonstrated, specific need” test, which applies to a sitting President, the Court need not consider Plaintiff’s status as a former President for purposes of this analysis. [citations omitted]

Trump dodges addressing the Nixon standard by complaining that he hasn’t seen the unsealed affidavit that authorized the search, and so the government has failed to reach the Nixon standard.

Although crucial to the executive branch’s decision-making processes, executive privilege is neither absolute nor unqualified. Nixon, 418 U.S. at 706. Rather, the Supreme Court has recognized that the privilege must “yield to the demonstrated, specific needs for evidence in a pending criminal trial.” Id. at 713. In providing this standard, the Supreme Court clarified that in order to overcome an assertion of executive privilege, the party seeking the privileged material must “clear three hurdles: (1) relevancy; (2) admissibility; and (3) specificity.” Nixon, 418 U.S. at 700. The Supreme Court again affirmed this standard in Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for Dist. of Columbia, 542 U.S. 367, 386 (2004).

Currently, the affidavit in support of the search warrant which authorized the search of Mar-a-Lago is under seal, and, therefore, inaccessible to Plaintiff. Plaintiff is therefore unaware of the specific arguments relied upon by the Magistrate in issuing the warrant authorizing seizure of the documents at issue. Given that, Plaintiff must take the position that the Government has failed to clear the three hurdles articulated by the Court in Nixon.

In other words, in a civil challenge to a lawful warrant, Trump is saying he should be able to retain stuff by default until he has seen the warrant against him.

Which is one reason why something else the government does is so interesting. It asks Dearie to recommend that Judge Cannon lift the injunction on all the documents — 2,794 out of 2,916 — over which Trump has not invoked either Executive and/or Attorney-Client privilege.

Finally, as the government has noted previously, the categorization of the records at issue as Presidential or personal does not ultimately affect the government’s ability to use and review them for criminal investigative purposes. See D.E. 150 at 4 n.*. Plaintiff has asserted attorney-client privilege only as to one document out of 2,916 documents at issue here, and Plaintiff has asserted executive privilege as to only 121 documents. As to the remaining 2,794 documents, Plaintiff does not assert any privilege that would bar the government’s further review and use of these materials for purposes of the ongoing criminal investigation. Although Plaintiff and the government disagree as to the proper categorization of numerous records as “personal” or “Presidential” for the purposes of PRA, neither categorization would supply a basis to restrict the government’s review and use of those records. Indeed, personal records that are not Presidential records or government property are seized every day for use in criminal investigations. Thus, absent any specific justification from Plaintiff for continuing to restrict the government’s review and use of the 2,794 records for which Plaintiff has not asserted any privilege, there is no reason to maintain the Court’s injunction as those those records.

This takes Judge Cannon’s premise on its face, as if this is just a normal Special Master review to ensure that the government doesn’t access any privileged documents for an investigation. If that were the case, she would easily approve the sharing of all documents over which the plaintiff had not made any privilege claim.

It may or may not work. But if Dearie were to act on this request immediately, then Cannon would either have to override it or grant it before the 11th Circuit makes its final decision on the appeal. Judge Cannon’s intervention is inappropriate on its face. But if she refuses to release non-privileged documents to the government, it will become clear that she is doing nothing more than attempting to thwart the criminal investigation of Trump.

Merrick Garland Hasn’t Done the Specific Thing You Want because DOJ Has Been Busy Doing Things They Have to Do First

The passage of the election has set off the Merrick Garland whingers again, people who like displaying their ignorance by claiming there has been no sign of progress on the investigations into Trump when (often as not) there were signs of progress that the whingers are ignoring in the last few days.

Yes. It has been almost a week since the close of polls last Tuesday. No. Merrick Garland has not carted Trump away in a paddy wagon yet (nor would the FBI, if and when they ever did arrest him).

Yes. We actually know why Garland hasn’t done so — and it’s not for want of actions that might lead there.

There are still known steps that have to or probably will happen before Trump would be indicted in any of the known criminal investigations into him. For those demanding proof of life from the DOJ investigations into Trump, you need look no further than the public record to find that proof of life. The public record easily explains both what DOJ has been doing in the Trump investigations, and why there is likely to be at least a several month delay before any charges can be brought.

The reason is that DOJ is still pursuing the evidence they would need before charging a former President.

Here’s an update on the various investigations into Trump (I’ve bolded the two appellate deadlines below).

Stolen documents

The reason I’m particularly crabby about the Merrick Garland whinging is because people were accusing DOJ of inaction hours after DOJ’s most recent step in the investigation into Trump’s stolen documents. On November 3, for example, DOJ compelled Kash Patel to testify before a grand jury under grant of use immunity, testimony that would be necessary, one way or another, before charging Trump, because DOJ would need to rule out or at least account for any claim that Trump mass-declassified the documents he stole.

DOJ continues to fight to ensure it can keep the documents it seized on August 8, and to be permitted to use the unclassified documents it seized in the investigation. The most recent filings in that fight, as I wrote up here, were filings about the disputes Trump and DOJ have about the seized documents, which Special Master Raymond Dearie will use to rule on those designations by December 16. After Dearie does that, Trump will dispute some of Dearie’s decisions, and Judge Aileen Cannon will make her own decision de novo. She has not set her own deadline for how long that decision would take. But if the Special Master process is the means by which DOJ guarantees its access to the evidence against Trump, it won’t be resolved until after the New Year, even assuming DOJ won’t have to appeal some ridiculous Cannon ruling.

Short of doing a search on another Trump property, preferably in Virginia but possibly in New Jersey or New York, this case cannot be charged until DOJ can present documents the custody of which it has guaranteed to a grand jury. DOJ has to make sure they have the evidence they would use to charge Trump (though adjudicating these disputes now might make any prosecution quicker on the back end).

That said, DOJ may guarantee custody of the documents it seized in August more quickly, via its challenge to Cannon’s decision to appoint a Special Master in the first place, in the 11th Circuit. Trump’s response to that appeal, which he submitted on November 10, seemed desultory, as if Chris Kice knows they will lose this appeal (indeed, that seems likely given that both the 11th Circuit and SCOTUS have already declined to see the case in the way Trump would prefer). DOJ’s response is due on November 17. Because of the way the 11th Circuit has scheduled this appeal, the panel reviewing it will be prepared for oral argument on rather quick turnaround. Even so, DOJ is not likely to guarantee access to these documents via any favorable 11th Circuit decision (which Trump will undoubtedly appeal) before December 1, and it would take about a week to present any case to the grand jury. So the very earliest that DOJ could indict this case would be early- to mid- December.

Update: In a filing submitted on November 8 but only unsealed today, DOJ asked Raymond Dearie to recommend that Judge Cannon lift the injunction on the 2,794 out of 2,916 documents over which Trump is making no privilege claim.

Update: The 11th Circuit has set a hearing for November 22, so DOJ may actually have access to those files sooner than December 1, though not all that sooner.

January 6 investigation(s)

There are at least four ways that Trump might be charged in conjunction with January 6:

  • For asking Mike Pence to illegally overturn legal votes and then threatening him, including with violence, when he refused
  • For setting up fake electors to contest the election
  • For fundraising off false claims of voter fraud and using the money to benefit those who helped the attack
  • Via people like Roger Stone, in a networked conspiracy with those who attacked the Capitol

DOJ sent out subpoenas in the first three prongs of this just before the pre-election pause. This post summarizes who was included.

These are all (and have been) intersecting conspiracies (this CNN story describes how many areas the subpoenas cover). For example, since January, it has been clear that the top-down investigation most visible in the January 6 Committee work and the crime-scene investigation visible in ongoing prosecutions had converged on the pressure both Trump and the mob focused on Mike Pence. It’s unclear how DOJ will treat the intersection of these investigations, and whether DOJ will wait for all prongs to converge before charging.

The Mike Pence prong is where DOJ made its most obvious progress during the pre-election pause. On October 6, Mike Pence Counsel Greg Jacob testified before a grand jury. October 14, Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short testified. Also in October, DOJ asked Beryl Howell to compel Trump’s White House Counsels Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin as well. I’m not aware of the status of appeals on that (or whether Judge Howell compelled testimony from the two Pats in the meantime). We know that all four men would describe the debates over the extent of Pence’s authority to reject lawful electors, including the recognition from people like John Eastman that their legal theories were unsupported by law. The two Pats would also testify about Trump’s reaction to the mob, as he watched the attack on the Capitol from inside the White House dining room, including the tweet that specifically targeted Pence. These are all very credible first-hand witnesses to Trump’s words and actions both in advance of and during the attack. Obtaining their testimony would be necessary before charging a former President. But DOJ’s efforts (and success) at obtaining their testimony reflects the seriousness of the investigation.

The publication of Pence’s book, which relays his version about exchanges with Trump, would seem to invite a demand from DOJ that he testify about the same topics to the grand jury as well, particularly given the way he spun the story in ways that might help Trump. If I were a prosecutor contemplating charging the former President, I would want that potentially exculpatory (to Trump) locked in under oath. And any claim from Pence that he can’t share these details because of Executive Privilege seem ridiculous in the face of a book tour. But if DOJ decided they needed Pence’s testimony it might result in delay.

It’s unclear how much progress DOJ has made on the subpoenas issued before the pause. None of those subpoenaed have been spotted at grand jury appearances at Prettyman (though that may change this week). In particular, there are a bunch of senior Republicans involved in the fake elector plots from whom I expect DOJ to try to lock in testimony.

But two things may cause delay in any case. First, as I wrote here, subpoenas (generally served on people who might be expected to comply) are easy, because they require the person who received the subpoena to do the search for the subpoenaed materials. But it takes time to exploit phones, all the more so if the phone was seized without some way to open it. Here’s how long the communications of various high profile people have taken to exploit:

This is not indolence. It is physics and due process: it just takes time to crack phones, to filter the content, and to scope what is responsive to a warrant.

Among the steps taken before the pause, in early September, DOJ seized the phones of Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman. While it’s possible DOJ will be able to accelerate the process of exploiting these phones (they have done so with Oath Keeper lawyer Kellye SoRelle’s phone, as last week DOJ submitted material that had gone through a filter review from the phone seized from her in early September in the sedition case), you should not assume they can fully exploit these phones (with whatever Signal content is on them) in less than six months, so March. In Epshteyn’s case, his claims to be playing a legal role in the stolen document case may cause further delays because of a filter review.

As someone involved in vote fraud efforts, Latinos for Trump, and the Oath Keepers, SoRelle is one of the pivots from the White House and Willard focused activities to the crime scene. DOJ seems closer to moving against others at that pivot point. Roger Stone, for example, has been mentioned over and over in the Oath Keeper trial. But that’s probably several months off. Alex Jones sidekick Owen Shroyer has been given until the end of the month to decide whether he wants to plead or take his chances on further charges. And I expect DOJ will wait until the verdict at least in the Oath Keeper case (they might not even get through all the defense witnesses this week), and possibly in the more complex Proud Boy case (which would be February barring likely unforeseen changes), before going too much further.

There’s one more thing that may delay any more spectacular charges in January 6. The oral argument for DOJ’s appeal of Carl Nichols’ outlier decision on the application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to the insurrection won’t happen until December 12. It drew a pretty unfavorable panel for that hearing (listed as Joseph Fischer here): Trump appointees Greg Katsas (like Nichols, a former Clarence Thomas clerk, who also worked as Deputy White House Counsel in 2017) and Justin Walker (who is close to Mitch McConnell), and Biden appointee Florence Pan (who presided over January 6 cases before being promoted to the Circuit Court). It’s possible, but by no means certain, that the Trump appointees will do something nutty, in which case, DOJ would surely appeal first to the full DC Circuit panel; if they overturn Nichols, Garret Miller and the other January 6 defendants who got their obstruction charges thrown out will presumably appeal to SCOTUS.

Nichols’ decision, which ruled that January 6 did count as an official proceeding but ruled that any obstruction had to involve some kind of documents, probably wouldn’t stall any charges relating to the fake electors, which were after all about using fraudulent documents to overturn the vote certification. But it might lead DOJ to pause for other charges until the legal application is unquestioned. 18 USC 1512 is the charge on which DOJ has built its set of interlocking conspiracy charges, and so this decision is pretty important going forward.

Unlike the stolen document case, I can’t give you a date that would be the soonest possible date to expect indictments. But for a variety of reasons laid out here, unless DOJ were to indict on charges specifically focused on Mike Pence (with the possibility of superseding later), it probably would not be until March or April at the earliest.

Georgia investigation

The Georgia investigation, like the Federal one, was paused for a period leading up to the election (it’s unclear whether the run-off between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will further delay things). But during the pre-election period, DA Fani Willis won decisions for testimony from Lindsey Graham and Newt Gingrich. Those grand jury appearances were scheduled for the end of this month (though may be pushed back). In any case, Willis has indicated that any charges from this investigation may come before the end of the year.

To be clear, none of this is a guarantee that DOJ (or Willis) will indict Trump and/or his closest aides. It is, however, a summary of the reasons that are public that all these investigations have been taking steps that would have to happen before they could charge Trump, and that most have additional steps that would have to happen before prosecutors could even make a prosecutorial decision.

In the Wake of Trump’s Third Electoral Failure, NYTimes Boasts of Hiring a Third Trump-Whisperer

His sanction-worthy misrepresentations of the Igor Danchenko indictment notwithstanding, Jonathan Swan is a good reporter. Indeed, his move to the NYT, which frees him to write like a human being rather than a McKinsey consultant (AKA Axios style), will likely be a significant improvement on his coverage of DC politics.

But it is downright insane that, at a time the GOP and Fox News are at least making noise about ditching Trump, the NYT pitched this hire — and their own political reporting — in terms of Trump.

Our insightful, authoritative and addictive coverage of the election this year drove home an essential truth: The Times’s political team is simply the best in the business.

Take our coverage of Republicans and Donald J. Trump.

We have Maggie Haberman, the dominant reporter of the Trump era, whose prolific, revealing and exclusive coverage has become indispensable to millions of readers. We have Michael Bender, whom Maggie admired as her “fierce competitor” from his days at The Wall Street Journal, and who has delivered exclusives on everything from the former president’s plans to buy Greenland to examinations of how Trumpism remade the Republican party.

And today we are thrilled to tell you that Jonathan Swan, a gifted, dogged and high-impact reporter, will be joining The Times. Jonathan, a national political reporter at Axios, is one of the biggest news breakers and best-sourced reporters in Washington.

Even if you have never met Jonathan, you know his stories. He first reported that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate deal, that Steve Bannon would be fired and that Paul Ryan would retire from Congress.

Or perhaps you watched his riveting interview with then-President Trump in 2020, which won Jonathan an Emmy (and made his facial expressions famous.) Ben Smith, the former media columnist for The Times, wrote at the time that it was “perhaps the best interview of Mr. Trump’s term.’’

Jonathan’s nine-part written series on the final days of the Trump administration won broad acclaim, and the podcast on which it was based rose to No. 1 on the Apple charts. [my emphasis]

Again, I think the Swan hire is a net good for reporting — but aside from the degree to which Swan is an improvement over Jonathan Martin, who just moved to become Politico’s Politics Bureau Chief — that has nothing to do with the NYT.

Particularly accompanied as it is by Maggie’s multiple efforts to suggest Trump is still The One, the pitch of Swan as a Trump-whisperer — rather than simply as a very good reporter of right wing politics — this announcement commits to keeping Trump (as a politician, rather than, for example, a criminal suspect, something none of these three are very good at reporting) the center of attention.

And it comes in a piece that boasts of election reporting it calls, “insightful, authoritative and addictive,” but which had some rather spectacular failures — particularly with the Fettrman debate and a correct Kansas poll they downplay. While in August NYT acknowledged that a Red Wave might not come, their review of why it didn’t still seems to misunderstand what it means to vote to save democracy. If you wanted to understand the election, the NYT was generally unhelpful, and that’s before you consider its focus on horse race coverage rather than policy.

They think they did good a job, or at least are telling themselves they did!

Why would you boast that your political reporting is “addictive,” anyway? unless you’re proud of the way Trump used Maggie’s work to flood the zone with press clippings that had the effect of obscuring larger crimes.

The NYT’s pitch of a good reporter in terms of Trump comes as other outlets have made hires based on their shitty news judgment that there would be a Republican wave the outlet would want access into. Most famously, as early as March, CBS hired Mick Mulvaney in anticipation of a non-existent Red Wave still 8 months in the future.

[A] top network executive seemed to lay the groundwork for the decision in a staff meeting earlier this month, when he said the network needed to hire more Republicans to prepare for a “likely” Democratic midterm wipeout.

“If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” CBS News’s co-president Neeraj Khemlani told the staff of the network’s morning show, according to a recording of his comments obtained by The Washington Post. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

The thing is, these shitty expectations for a Republican landslide may distort coverage going forward, because multiple news outlets paid big money to invest in access to people who lost, most of all into a guy who lost fairly spectacularly three times now.

As they did in 2020, voters gave democracy another lifeline. They voted, affirmatively, for democracy. But it’s not clear the press view protecting democracy, as opposed to protecting access, with anywhere near the same urgency.

Update: Just as I published this piece, I saw this NYT column, which not only continues to make everything about Donald Trump, fails to account for how narrow margins in both houses change this calculus (particularly with regards to its facile claim that, “party leaders are asked to declare their allegiances to Mr. Trump or other potential rivals”), and has this incredible paragraph:

 First there was Mr. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and then the attacks on a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry, the “Access Hollywood” revelations late in the 2016 campaign, his public declaration that he trusted Vladimir Putin more than he did American intelligence agencies.More recently, Mr. Trump has waged a two-year misinformation campaign, claiming his 2020 defeat was “rigged.” His supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent attempt to disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He now faces investigations into efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia, into his company’s finances and into his handling of classified documents.

It gets the chronology of the first sentence wrong. It calls Trump’s lies about 2020 “misinformation,” not “disinformation.” It claims he tried to “disrupted” the peaceful transfer of power and not prevent it. It suggests any investigation into an attempt to overturn the election is limited to Georgia. The description of the stolen document investigation as one into “handling” of classified documents misstates the crime, but it par for the course in legacy media coverage of that investigation. (And it has a typeset — with the missing space after the period — and a tense error that suggests it was not edited, even ignoring the lack of Oxford comma.)

Trump no doubt wants to keep himself as the center of attention. He no doubt will demand loyalty oaths from people willing to bet he’ll succeed. But if he does succeed — with whatever catastrophic effect on the country — it will be significantly because of editorial decisions the NYT made.

Trump’s Secret Document, with the Post-Administration Pollster Communication, in His Desk Drawer

In Trump’s stolen document case, the two sides have submitted disputes to Special Master Raymond Dearie. Because some earlier documents remain sealed (because of the hurricane, DOJ says), the most descriptive document included is this one, laying out disputes.

The two sides are fighting over whether Trump’s notes on clippings and briefing books are presidential documents (both are squarely within the Presidential Records Act definition).

The most interesting description in the document pertains to one particular item over which the two sides are fighting: a “compilation” of two classified documents, with three communications that post-date when he left the White House.

This document is a compilation that includes three documents that post-date Plaintiff’s term in office and two classified cover sheets, one SECRET and the other CONFIDENTIAL. Because Plaintiff can only have received the documents bearing classification markings in his capacity as President, the entire mixed document is a Presidential record.

Besides the classified cover sheets, which were inserted by the FBI in lieu of the actual documents, none of the remaining communications in the document are confidential presidential communications that might be subject to a claim of executive privilege. Three communications are from a book author, a religious leader, and a pollster. The first two cannot be characterized as presidential advisers and all three are either dated or by content occurred after Plaintiff’s administration ended.

This passage explains something I was wondering from the inventory: how DOJ accounted for the classified documents in the Bates numbers. The answer is that FBI included cover sheets to mark where the classified documents were, so they count in the running Bates count.

This particular document (or “compilation”) was in a desk drawer in Trump’s office. (We know that because the Bates number appears in Item 4, the box of stuff from the desk drawer, in the main inventory. Aside from the Roger Stone clemency, this was the only document outside of the leatherbound box with classified documents in Trump’s office.

The compilation, as found in the desk drawer, includes:

  • A Secret document
  • A Confidential document
  • A communication that post-dates Trump’s administration, from a book author
  • A communication that post-dates Trump’s administration, from a religious leader
  • A communication that post-dates Trump’s administration, from a pollster

The secrets involved here are nowhere near as sensitive as the stuff in Trump’s leatherbound box, which stored the most sensitive documents. Confidential documents like the one in this compilation are often State Department cables.

But in some ways this document is more damning: because it shows he was commingling stolen classified documents with his ongoing affairs after leaving the White House. It gets far closer to showing that Trump was using government secrets for his own personal affairs even after he left the White House.

Yes, DOJ Is Reportedly Investigating the 2018 Election that Trump Just Invoked with Ron DeSantis

In the wake of Tuesday’s shellacking of Democrats in Florida and the losses of winnable seats by Trump endorsees, Republicans are explicitly discussing Ron DeSantis as if he is the head of the party, in lieu of Trump. That set off a temper tantrum on the second shittiest social media site run by a narcissistic billionaire [sic] in which Trump:

  • Accused Fox of fighting him and likened the focus on DeSantis to the 2016 election
  • Claimed his endorsement of DeSantis in 2018 was a “nuclear weapon” that took out Adam Putnam
  • Took credit for DeSantis’s victory over Andrew Gillum
  • Claimed he “sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended, just prior to them running out of the votes necessary to win”

This last bullet, which seems to claim that Trump deployed DOJ resources to help DeSantis win, has attracted a great of attention.

It would be utterly corrupt to imagine that Trump used DOJ resources to help in an election — though there is evidence he did in 2020: when Bill Barr’s efforts to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution released altered Peter Strzok notes that Trump used in an attack on Joe Biden. He of course tried to do far more, going so far as attempting to replace Jay Rosen with Jeffrey Clark to give DOJ sanction to frivolous lawsuits.

Plus, people are far too quickly suggesting this claim is made up entirely, and that there’s no evidence of misconduct in 2018. That’s true not just because Trump’s lies generally have some basis, albeit really tenuous, in reality.

Just ten days ago, after all, the NYT reported that prosecutors on at least two investigative teams (which might actually be prosecutors bringing together networked conspiracies as seemed likely for 14 months), implicitly boosted by cooperation from Joel Greenberg, are investigating the 2018 Stop the Steal effort in Broward County.

The NYT article focused on efforts by Trump’s rat-fucker and friends to shut down challenges to the vote count: a Jacob Engels/Proud Boy mob in Broward County.

President Donald J. Trump and other top Republicans were stoking claims that the election had been stolen, and their supporters were protesting in the streets. Members of the far-right group the Proud Boys and people close to Roger J. Stone Jr., including Representative Matt Gaetz, took part in the action as the crowd was chanting “Stop the Steal.”

The time was 2018, the setting was southern Florida, and the election in question was for governor and a hotly contested race that would help determine who controlled the United States Senate.

Now, four years later, the Justice Department is examining whether the tactics used then served as a model for the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In recent months, prosecutors overseeing the seditious conspiracy case of five members of the Proud Boys have expanded their investigation to examine the role that Jacob Engels — a Florida Proud Boy who accompanied Mr. Stone to Washington for Jan. 6 — played in the 2018 protests, according to a person briefed on the matter.

[snip]

The 2018 protests were triggered by the tight outcome of the races for United States Senate and Florida governor. On election night, the Republican Senate candidate, Rick Scott, declared victory over the Democrat, Bill Nelson, but the race was close enough that local officials were set to hold recounts in key locations like Broward County.

Prominent Republicans, including Mr. Trump and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, suggested on social media that the Democrats were trying to steal the election. Mr. Engels promoted an event in Broward County, writing on Twitter that he was headed there “to handle this situation” and was going to “STOP THE STEAL.”

On Nov. 9, a group of about 100 angry protesters, including members of the Proud Boys, descended on the Broward County elections office, carrying pro-Scott and pro-Trump signs and protesting the recount.

The event drew support from several far-right activists in Florida linked to Mr. Stone — among them, Ali Alexander, who later organized Stop the Steal events around the 2020 election, and Joseph Biggs, a leader of the Proud Boys who has since been charged alongside Mr. Tarrio in the Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy case.

Undoubtedly, the Proud Boys are not the FBI (though the FBI in this phase was far too credulous of the Proud Boys). But given the NYT report, it is nevertheless the case that Trump-related Broward County rat-fuckery in 2018 not only happened but is already under investigation.

It may even be the case that DOJ collected information about such things in near real time. DOJ obtained renewed warrants on three Roger Stone accounts on August 3, 2018. It continued to investigate Stone and associates at least through October 2018. And an investigation into the rat-fucker remained ongoing through his November 2019 trial and into at least April 2020.

Again, that doesn’t mean that Trump’s specific claim — that DOJ was involved in all this — is specifically true. It means that before you dismiss it out of hand, you should ask what bread crumbs of reality this probable lie is based on.

When Trump started threatening DeSantis, I immediately thought of Roger Stone, because collecting dirt with which to exert political pressure is what Trump’s rat-fucker does and because Stone was always active in these same circles. And the Broward County Stop the Steal effort may be the least of it.

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