April 23, 2024 / by 


Kash Patel’s Deep State: How Trump Trained the GOP to Hate Rule of Law 2

I realized after I wrote my first post on how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law that I didn’t lay out what I meant by that. After all, that first post showed that for decades before Trump ran for President, Republicans were already willing to gin up criminal investigations against people named Clinton for political gain.

If that’s the baseline, what did Trump change? And to what degree was that change driven by Russian interference, which I argued did little more than drop a match on an already raging bonfire in 2016?

So I want to show the trajectory, using this Politico piece about the concerns a bunch of spooks have about Trump’s plans to remake the Deep State in his image. The story is not all that new — there have been a bunch of stories that included Trump’s goal to remake the Deep State in his image, both during his Administration and in more recent descriptions of Trump’s plans for a second term. But it does certain things that make it helpful to explain what I mean.

The spooks described three concerns with Trump in a second term. He would:

  • Selectively ignore intelligence on certain issues [cough, Russia], blinding the Intelligence Community and weakening our collective alliances
  • Leak [more of] America’s secrets
  • Staff the agencies with loyalists

POLITICO talked to 18 former officials and analysts who worked in the Trump administration, including political appointees from both parties and career intelligence officers, some who still speak to the former president and his aides and had insight into conversations about his potential second term. A number of them were granted anonymity to avoid provoking backlash and to speak freely about their experience working with him. Others are now vocal Trump critics and spoke publicly.

“He wants to weaponize the intelligence community. And the fact is you need to look with a 360 degree perspective. He can’t just cherry pick what he wants to hear when there are so many U.S. adversaries and countries that don’t wish the U.S. well,” said Fiona Hill, a top Russia adviser on the National Security Council in Trump’s administration who has regularly criticized his policies. “If he guts the intel on one thing, he’ll be partially blinding us.”

Many of the former officials said they opted to speak to POLITICO because they believe the extent to which Trump could remake the intelligence community remains — despite the copious media coverage — underestimated.

Trump’s demands for “loyalty” — often read as a demand to skew findings to fit his political agenda — have not been limited to his spy agencies, but in the intelligence world, those demands carry particularly dire risks, they said.

If Trump is cavalier with his treatment of classified information or material — as alleged in a June 2023 indictment of the former president — it could endanger those who supply much-needed intelligence, said Dan Coats, who served as director of national intelligence early in Trump’s tenure.

Kash Patel gets special mention as someone who would both burn intelligence and spin fantasies by Politico.

Kash Patel, former top adviser to Devin Nunes, a former representative from California, and director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, served as an informal adviser to Grenell but was also considered for a top post at the CIA. He later became chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense in Trump’s final months. Patel also helped advise on an initiative to declassify material related to the origins of the Russia investigation.

Patel is likely to return to serve under Trump if he is elected, raising worries among current and former intelligence officials about the preservation of sources and methods of U.S. intelligence.

“There were often a lot of appointments that seemed designed to make sure that the intelligence assessments could be shaped to paint certain pictures that simply didn’t match up with what the intelligence community had come up with,” said one former Trump administration intelligence official.

The guy who rose to prominence by turning an investigation into a Russian attack on democracy into a counterattack on the FBI, the guy who spends his time writing children’s books in which he, Kash, protects his liege from imaginary threats from the Deep State, is presumed to be the future steward of Trump’s efforts to politicize the intelligence community.

You could argue that the replacement of civil servants with Trump partisans in the IC is little different than what Trump plans everywhere else in government, if he’s elected. That’s true with regards to the means — gutting civil service protections and replacing them with loyalty oaths to a person rather than the Constitution. But not the effect.

One reason Trump floated putting Kash in charge of the FBI, after all, was because efforts to punish Trump’s enemies weren’t producing the results he desired. The Durham investigation didn’t exact revenge on FBI figures like Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok; when it finished, Kash complained that it “failed” precisely because people who tried to protect the country from Russia weren’t prosecuted for doing so. Five years of investigating the Clinton Foundation failed to find a chargeable crime. After he left government, a Kash Patel charity started funding right wing FBI agents accused of the same thing McCabe and Comey were — improper disclosures — but did so to discredit investigations into the right wing.

An IC led by Kash Patel would not just be a politicized intelligence community, intentionally blinded to the threat from countries like Russia, and by degrading intelligence on certain adversaries corroding the alliances built on that shared intelligence.

But it would be an instrument for exacting loyalty.

That instrument can and would be targeted at disloyal Trump party members. Look at efforts by the GOP House to investigate Cassidy Hutchinson, for example.

It’s not just Jack Smith or Nancy Pelosi’s spouses who get targeted with threats for challenging Trump, but also Don Bacon’s.

This, then, is the trajectory along which Trump has coaxed Republicans. At first, a goodly many Republicans defended the integrity of the Mueller investigation, until they didn’t anymore. With the first impeachment, virtually all Republicans excused Trump’s defiance of their own appropriations choices. With the second, reportedly fearful Republicans made excuses for an attack that threatened their own lives rather than fulfill their constitutional duty to check Trump. Since then, Trump has used his legal woes not only as an electoral plank, but also as leverage to demand that the party continue to pay his bills, diverting funds that otherwise might help to reelect down-ticket candidates.

What used to be the Grand Old Party has become, literally, a criminal protection racket serving one man.

The fate of the party depends on that man defying the law.

In a post examining why Elise Stefanik might have parroted Trump’s assertion that January 6 felons were, instead, hostages, I laid out a taxonomy of potential motives that would convince Republicans to follow Trump down this path. Aside from ideological true believers, I think Republicans are motivated because they’ve fallen for Trump’s grift, they’re afraid, or they calculate they can stay on Trump’s good side long enough to advance their career.

One way or another, a series of individual choices brought Trump’s party to this point.

Moments ago, Mitch McConnell endorsed a man who launched a terrorist attack targeting, among others, McConnell himself.

A series of individual choices have brought the party that used to be Mitch McConnell’s to this point.

Update Mike “Moses” Johnson is bragging about defunding the FBI and DOJ.

SCOTUS Invites Jack Smith to Supersede Trump with Inciting Insurrection

The Supreme Court has not only held that states cannot enforce the 14th Amendment for Federal offices,

This case raises the question whether the States, in addition to Congress, may also enforce Section 3. We conclude that States may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But States have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the Presidency.

But it held that Congress must exclude insurrectionists from office.

The respondents nonetheless maintain that States may enforce Section 3 against candidates for federal office. But the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, on its face, does not affirmatively delegate such a power to the States. The terms of the Amendment speak only to enforcement by Congress, which enjoys power to enforce the Amendment through legislation pursuant to Section 5.

It points to the predecessor to 18 USC 2383 as means to exclude someone.

Instead, it is Congress that has long given effect to Section 3 with respect to would-be or existing federal officeholders. Shortly after ratification of the Amendment, Congress enacted the Enforcement Act of 1870. That Act authorized federal district attorneys to bring civil actions in federal court to remove anyone holding nonlegislative office—federal or state—in violation of Section 3, and made holding or attempting to hold office in violation of Section 3 a federal crime. §§14, 15, 16 Stat. 143–144 (repealed, 35 Stat. 1153–1154, 62 Stat. 992–993). In the years following ratification, the House and Senate exercised their unique powers under Article I to adjudicate challenges contending that certain prospective or sitting Members could not take or retain their seats due to Section 3. See Art. I, §5, cls. 1, 2; 1 A. Hinds, Precedents of the House of Representatives §§459–463, pp. 470–486 (1907). And the Confiscation Act of 1862, which predated Section 3, effectively provided an additional procedure for enforcing disqualification. That law made engaging in insurrection or rebellion, among other acts, a federal crime punishable by disqualification from holding office under the United States. See §§2, 3, 12 Stat. 590. A successor to those provisions remains on the books today. See 18 U. S. C. §2383. [my emphasis]

Taken in tandem with SCOTUS’ punt on Trump’s immunity bid, this seems like an invitation for Jack Smith to supersede Trump with inciting insurrection. After all, SCOTUS has now upheld the DC Circuit opinion that says there’s no double jeopardy problem with trying someone for something on which they were acquitted after impeachment.

Jack Smith could — today — charge Trump with inciting insurrection in response to this order. It is the one Constitutional means to disqualify him, according to this order.

Russia’s Flipping Focus: Alexander Smirnov Is No Exception

When I started spinning the Ball of Thread out of which I hoped to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law, this post was described, “The FBI keeps getting pwned.”

The bullet point was, perhaps, a misnomer.

What I had planned to talk about, two months ago and some forty days before David Weiss accused a 14-year FBI informant of framing Joe Biden in 2020, was the way that Russia has long exploited one-time FBI informants as part of their operations against the US.

Since then, we’ve learned that a guy who first established contact with Russian spies, way back in 2002, by helping another intelligence service (likely Israel’s) flip a low-level Russian spy, and who would therefore have been readily identifiable as an asset of intelligence services throughout that period, attempted to frame Joe Biden in 2020. If you can believe his reporting, Alexander Smirnov has since established contact with four to six high level Russian spies.

Russia’s focus on using informants was readily apparent in the results of the Mueller investigation. Key players in the Russian attack who were or had previously been informants include:

This was nothing new then. This Emma Best piece describes how a former FBI informant, Maxsim Popov, played a key role in Anonymous; they suggest Popov made have been a model for the Guccifer 2.0 persona.

Nor has Russia’s focus on informants diminished. In addition to Alexander Smirnov, informants dealing dirt on the Bidens leading up to 2020 include Ukrainians Rollie and The Economist and Peter Schweizer.

Sometimes, Russia’s identification of FBI informants may have been facilitated by hacking. In the lead-up to the 2016 operation, the Crackas with Attitude hackers — who got far more attention for hacking John Brennan’s AOL account — stole some lists of law enforcement partners and accessed FBI’s Joint Automated Booking System, which might provide a way to identify hackers the FBI was in the process of flipping. The Solar Winds hack compromised DOJ six months before the department figured out what was happening; it also targeted PACER, another source of information on sealed plea deals usually associated with cooperating witnesses. To this day, I’m furious that when DOJ IG discovered what amounts to a backdoor in the system used to archive texts sent on FBI devices — including those on which Peter Strzok and Lisa Page conducted an affair — there wasn’t a more focused effort to find out whether anyone had found and used that back door. And the reason US spooks changed their understanding of WikiLeaks is that, after burning State’s partners worldwide and DOD’s partners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010, WikiLeaks went on to make CIA’s local assets readily identifiable in 2017.

None of this is surprising or unique to Russia. It’s good spycraft.

But the targeting of informants, particularly FBI informants, has been a central part of Russia’s recent campaign against the US. There are all sorts of sound operational reasons for Russia to do that. It probably helps to evade certain kinds of counter-surveillance. It’s a good way to inject information directly into investigative hands.

Just as importantly, by making it clear how shoddy FBI’s management of informants is, it discredits the Bureau more generally.

The Still Unidentified “Big Guy[s]” in the Alexander Smirnov Saga

With a few weeks to work with, several outlets have done profiles of the shady financial life of Alexander Smirnov, the former FBI informant accused of framing Joe and Hunter Biden.

The AP examines a series of what it calls “duplicitous business schemes,” including a pump and dump scheme.

Even as Smirnov was being paid as a government informant, he participated in duplicitous business schemes, according to court records and interviews.

One example is his investment in an obscure penny-stock company called Eco-Trade Corp.

Such companies can yield a handsome return on a minimal investment. They are lightly regulated and often subject to financial scams and market manipulation.

In 2010, Smirnov purchased a stake in Eco-Trade valued at roughly $3 million as the company was on the verge of launching an advertising blitz that dramatically inflated its value. A crash three years later saddled investors with losses.

WSJ focuses on schemes with closer proximity to Donald Trump — or more importantly, Rudy Giuliani. Of note, WSJ describes several occasions that Smirnov pitched Sam Kislin, a fellow Ukrainian, who has long-standing ties to Rudy and Trump.

Around 2021, on the beach at a private club in Boca Raton, Smirnov pitched Kislin on founding a company together that would market electric-car batteries and capture federal subsidies, Kislin said.

Smirnov told him he also could use his FBI ties to help him unfreeze more than $21 million in infrastructure bonds that belonged to Kislin but which Ukrainian authorities deemed had been issued illegally, embroiling Kislin in a corruption probe, Kislin said.

Kislin had for years been seeking to unfreeze the funds, traveling to Ukraine and meeting with officials there. His travel there coincided with efforts by Giuliani and his associates to push the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden, and in 2019, Kislin was subpoenaed by House impeachment investigators who were looking into those efforts. Kislin’s lawyer said he didn’t have relevant information, and he didn’t ultimately testify.

Smirnov set his fee for recovering Kislin’s $21 million at $1 million, according to Kislin, who said he paid Smirnov $224,000—partially as an advance and partially as an investment in the car-battery company, incorporated in Nevada in May 2021 as Quantum Force.

After a little over a year, Quantum Force dissolved and registered by the same name in a different state—this time without Smirnov listed in the corporate records.

When a solution to Kislin’s problem in Ukraine failed to materialize, Kislin said he deduced that Smirnov had taken him for a ride.

And while WSJ notes that Smirnov was repeatedly admonished that he might have to testify at trial, neither story notes he was admonished at least five times that the “Otherwise Illegal Activity” that he engaged in to stay close to subjects of interest to the FBI could not include obstruction.

In addition, when the Defendant was authorized to engage in illegal activity for investigative purposes, he was further admonished that: “Under no circumstances may the CHS … Participate in an act that constitutes obstruction of justice (e.g., perjury, witness tampering, witness intimidation, entrapment, or fabrication, alteration, or destruction of evidence, unless such illegal activity has been authorized).” When the Defendant was given this admonishment, he signed an FBI form that contained this statement, including on 10/8/2014, 1/18/2017, 10/8/2018, 1/10/2019, and 8/7/2020.

These sketchy business schemes were presumably the point — they were the reason Smirnov was useful to the FBI, because they provided the FBI access to learn about suspected crooks of more interest.

But his larger network is of interest for two other reasons.

First, because Scott Brady’s explanation for how he came upon Smirnov’s 2017 FD-1023 mentioning Hunter Biden — first telling Republicans he simply searched on Hunter Biden and Burisma, then telling Democrats something much more squishy — is garbage. There is nothing about the mention of Hunter in a 2017 FD-1023 claimed as that link that should have led Brady to look further.

During this call, there was a brief, non-relevant discussion about [Public Official 1]’s son, [Businessperson 1], who is currently on the Board of Directors for Burisma Holdings [No Further Information].

One possible link is that the process of (per Chuck Grassley) shutting down an investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky created the possibility of a derogatory conversation in 2019, which Smirnov claimed in 2020 but disclaimed in an FBI interview last September.

But another is that someone knew that, if asked, Smirnov would be willing to fabricate bribery allegations on demand. That someone would presumably need to know both that Smirnov was an FBI informant and that he had met with Zlochevsky in the past, even if not in a period that was convenient for a story about Joe Biden’s imagined corruption.

In Jerry Nadler’s referral of Scott Brady to DOJ Inspector General for misleading the Committee, he included an email from someone — he describes it as one of the investigators — telling the lead AUSA on the project that, two days after his interview with Brady, Rudy was in Florida, speaking “to the original source [redacted].”

There are plenty of Ukrainians in Florida from whom Rudy might have been digging dirt (Smirnov’s cousin, for example, lives there and has ties to Trump world). If such sources also had reason to know about Smirnov’s work with the FBI, they might provide guidance to look for the innocuous 2017 informant report as a pretext to set up an interview with Smirnov.

But by description, Smirnov was trading on his ties to the FBI, so plenty of people might have been able to offer his name as a worthwhile source.

There’s one other reason Smirnov’s network is of some interest.

In the allegedly fraudulent FD-1023, Smirnov used a line that would become famous months later when Tony Bobulinski would pitch it: Big Guy.

CHS mentioned Zlochevsky might have difficulty explaining suspicious wire transfers that may evidence any (Illicit) payments to the Bidens. Zlochevsky responded he did not send any funds directly to the “Big Guy” (which CHS understood was a reference to Joe Biden). CHS asked Zloehevsky how many companies/bank accounts Zlochevsky controls; Zlochevsky responded it would take them (Investigators) 10 years to find the records (i.e. illicit payments to Joe Biden). CHS told Zlochevsky if he ever needed help in the future and wanted to speak to somebody in the US government about that matter, that CHS could Introduce him to someone. [my emphasis]

While it’s true that some of Hunter Biden’s associates would recognize (and dispute) the use of the term by others, Hunter told Congress he doesn’t use the term.

Q One final question, because our round is up, I know everyone’s disappointed by that.

But the reference to the big guy, you would agree, is a reference to your father?

A I truly don’t know what the hell that James was talking about. All I know is that what actually happened.


Mr. Raskin. Just, on the question of nicknames, I have not seen your father referred to as the big guy anywhere else in this record. Was that his nickname in your family, the big guy?

The Witness. No.

Mr. Raskin. Did you ever call him the big guy?

The Witness. No, I never called him that.

Hunter occasionally used “my guy” to refer to his father. Not The Big Guy.

When Smirnov’s FD-1023 was released last summer, the frothy right took this reference to the “Big Guy” not just that this allegation of corruption was true, but that Tony Bobulinski’s was too.

So it remains a fairly important question why — months before Tony Bobulinski went public with the “Big Guy” email, but months after he (described that he) started considering doing so, at a time Bobulinski was trying to navigate how to come forward, as he was being referred to a former Trump lawyer by someone whose identity he has protected jealously — why Smirnov would use the line that would become famous after Bobulinski made it public.

Smirnov’s shady financial ties are to be expected: that’s why he was useful to the FBI and some of those shady deals likely were negotiated with the FBI’s permission. What’s more interesting is whether any of those shady financial ties would explain why Smirnov told the specific story he did.

Update: I forgot, when I did this post, that I had already put the dates of Smirnov’s admonishments into a table.

Fridays with Nicole Sandler

Hunter Biden Claims All Zhaos Look the Same to Joseph Ziegler

From the time Gary Shapley provided Congress obviously flawed summaries of WhatsApp texts, stripped of their identifiers, from an iCloud backup of Hunter Biden’s, I’ve argued their treatment reflects badly on the IRS agents involved.

When Abbe Lowell claimed, before Hunter was charged, that the IRS agents had gotten the identify of Hunter’s interlocutor wrong, I noted that the summaries, lacking identifiers, prevented what should be easy adjudication of this dispute.

The summary matters, a lot. That’s because Lowell claims that Shapley — or whoever did these summaries — misidentified the Hunter Biden interlocutor whose last name begins with Z.

In one excerpt that has now gotten a great deal of media attention, Mr. Biden is alleged to have been sitting next to his father on July 30, 2017, when he allegedly sent a WhatsApp message, urging the completion of some business transaction. See Shapley Tr. at 14. The inference is that the referenced message was being sent to an official of CEFC (China Energy) to forward a false narrative about the Bidens’ involvement in that company. The facts, which some media has now reported, are that President Biden and our client were not together that day, the company being referenced was not CEFC but Harvest Financial Group (with a person who also had the initial “Z”), and that no transaction actually occurred. More important, your own actions call into question the authenticity of that communication and your subsequent use of it. In short, the images you circulated online are complete fakes. Many media articles confirm that data purported to have come from Mr. Biden’s devices has been altered or manipulated. You, or someone else, did that again. All of the misstatements about this communication and your use of a false text are good examples of how providing one-sided, untested, and slanted information leads to improper conclusions. [my emphasis]

This is a remarkable claim, because — if true — it suggests the IRS was investigating Hunter Biden based on wildly incorrect assumptions about the identity of his interlocutors.

Abbe Lowell claims that the IRS agents who investigated his client for five years — the son of the President!!! — didn’t know to whom he was talking! I’ve heard a lot of outlandish claims from defense attorneys (though Lowell is far more credible than the grifters who defend a lot of January 6 defendants), But this is an utterly inflammatory claim.

Had Shapley used responsible summaries, rather than the unprofessional script he did use, it might be possible to figure out who is right, here, because then we could compare the actual number or email account used.

When Luke Broadwater tried to manufacture a partisan both-sides dispute out of this discrepancy, I noted the real conflict came between Republicans, some of whom said the Zhao in question was Henry, others who said it was Raymond.

The summary and the fabrications of the text and Smith’s use of the initials “HZ” matter because there’s a dispute between Republicans and their IRS source about the identity of the person involved.

Shapley said the texts involved Henry Zhao, consistent with Smith’s fabrication.

But in a later release, James Comer described the interlocutor as Raymond Zhao — which is consistent with the interjection in the summary (and other communications regarding this business deal).

On July 30, 2017, Hunter Biden sent a WhatsApp message to Raymond Zhao—a CEFC associate—regarding the $10 million capital payment:

As we’ll see, Broadwater predictably “fact checks” this as a dispute between Democrats and Republicans. It’s not. Before you get there, you first have to adjudicate a conflict between the guy who led the IRS investigation for more than two years, Gary Shapley, and James Comer. It’s a conflict sustained by the shoddiness of the underlying IRS work.

This is a story showing not only that James Comer and Jason Smith don’t know what they’re talking about, but are willing to lie and fabricate nevertheless, but even the IRS agents may not know what they’re talking about, and if they don’t, it’s because the standard of diligence on the investigation of Joe Biden’s son was such that they didn’t even include the identifier of the person to whom Hunter was talking, which would make it easy or at least possible to adjudicate this dispute.

In Wednesday’s hearing, after such time as they had received discovery on this material, Hunter Biden and Abbe Lowell provided a new explanation for the discrepancy: That the first text (but only the first text) was accidentally sent to Henry Zhao, and the follow-up texts — which were therefore necessarily unrelated — came from Raymond Zhao.

Q This is a giant text pack prepared by the IRS investigators, summarizing, and in many cases, quoting WhatsApp message.

Mr. Lowell. Do you have the underlying message?

[Redacted] We have this document. This is what we have.

Mr. Lowell. I want to point out on the record that is all known to you that we have great reservations about the accuracy and completeness of what two IRS agents who have decided to go on television and try to promote what they believe should happen to Mr. Biden as having made a complete record.

And when there have been records, they have not been complete?

And when they make summaries, they are often quoting from texts or communications, which appear to have been altered by those other than themselves.

So with all that, you can certainly ask your questions. But I do not accept the premise that what you’re about to ask him is either an authentic or authenticated or a complete document.

[Redacted]: Okay.

Mr. Lowell. With that in mind, let’s go.

[Redacted] Okay.

BY [Redacted]:

Q Just to set expectations here, I’m going to refer to three. Okay? Then we’ll be done with this document for now.

A Page 3?

Q I’m going to refer to three sort of topics —

A Okay.

Q — within this giant document, not 148. We’re not going to go through every page. I’m sort of managing your expectations here.

A Thank you.

Q I’d like you to turn to page 4, and it’s a message dated July 30th, 2017. It’s about halfway down the page and it begins, “WA message with SM.” And that’s the — that stands for Sportsman, and that’s what they called you, and Zhao. Have you identified the one that I’m referring to?

Mr. Lowell. It’s down the page. It’s the only one for the 30th?

[Redacted]. Correct.

Mr. Lowell. Okay. Yes.

BY [Redacted]:

Q And so the text, according to the IRS, the Federal investigators, say, “Z, please have the director call me, moment James or Tony or Jim. Have him call me tonight. I’m sitting here with my father, and we would like to understand why the commitment made has not been fulfilled.

“I’m very concerned that the chairman has either changed his mind or broken our deal without telling me or that he’s unaware of the promises and assurances that have been made have not been kept.

“Tell the director I would like to resolve this now before it gets out of hand, and now means tonight. And, Z, if I get a call or text from anyone involved in this other than you, Zhang or the chairman, I will make certain that between the man sitting next to me and every person he knows and my ability to forever hold a grudge that you will regret  not following my direction.

All too often people make mistakes — sorry.

“All too often people mistake kindness for weakness, and all too often I’m standing over the top of them, saying, I warned you.

“From this moment until whenever he reaches me. It’s 9:45 a.m. here and I assume 9:45 p.m. there. So his night is running out.”

Zhao responds, “Copy. I will call you on WhatsApp.”

You respond, “Okay, my friend. I’m sitting here, waiting for the call, with my father. I sure hope whatever it is are you doing is very, very, very important.”

Then Zhao says, “Hi, Hunter. Is it a good time to call now? Hi, Hunter, Director did not answer my call, but he got the message you just mentioned.”

A Yeah.

Q Do you have any recollection of sending these?

A No, but I’ve seen this and —

Mr. Lowell. Is there a question?

[Redacted]. Yes. Does he have a recollection of sending the message?

The Witness. And I do not, but I do know this. I have now seen it, which it’s been presented. I would say two things about this message.

Mr. Nadler. Can you speak up?

The Witness. I would say two things about this message. The first thing is this.

Is that the Zhao that this is sent to is not the Zhao that was connected to CEFC.

BY [Redacted]:

Q Okay.

A Which I think is the best indication of how out of my mind I was at this moment in time.

Again, I don’t — my addiction is not an excuse, but I can tell you this: I am more embarrassed of this text message, if it actually did come from me, than any text message I’ve ever sent.

The fact of the matter is, is that there’s no other text message that you have in which I say anything remotely to this. And I was out of my mind. I can also tell you this: My father was not sitting next to me. My father had no awareness. My father had no awareness of the business that I was doing. My father never benefited from any of the business that I was doing.

And so, I take full responsibility for being an absolute ass and idiot when I sent this message, if I did send this message.

Q Okay.

[Redacted]. When you say it wasn’t Zhao from CEFC, who —

Mr. Nadler. Would you speak up, please?

[Redacted]. Which Zhao are you referring to if it wasn’t from CEFC?

The Witness. The number that I believe it went to was to Henry Zhao. Zhao is a very common — it’s not a surname — surname in China. I mean, obviously, very common surname. And I, like an idiot, directed it towards Henry Zhao who had no involvement, who had no understanding or even remotely knew what the hell I was even Goddamn talking about. Excuse my language

BY [Redacted]:

Q And he seems to —

A No, no, no, no, no, the Zhao — it’s a different — you’re conflating now.

Q Okay.

A And this why this report from the IRS is absolutely wrong. They’re two different messages.

The Zhao that calls me is not related to the message that was sent. I speak to him the next day. They’re two completely different sets of messages. One goes a number because, I made the Goddamn — excuse my language again — because I made like an idiot, and I was drunk and probably high, sent a — this ridiculous message to a Zhao, to a Henry Zhao.

But then the next day, I speak to a Raymond Zhao, who has never received the message that Henry Zhao got. And so that’s why this report is very misleading in many ways.

Mr. Lowell. That’s exactly why I raised the point before you decided to ask questions. The IRS agents —

The Witness. I gave —

Mr. Lowell. — took two different times and two different messages and conflated them. That’s what he’s explaining.

The Witness. And I can — and we can show you that.

And I also could show you that on that message, there was never a Chinese flag and a picture of it, as I think was shown in the Oversight Committee before. [my emphasis]

If I understand it correct, Henry Zhao was involved in an earlier business deal, Raymond Zhao is the one with ties to CEFC.

Here’s how Shapley presented the text in his first deposition.

And here’s the exhibit on which House Republicans are likely relying.

There are still a number of inconsistencies with this story, but it really doesn’t make sense to address them without full context (which Hunter presumably has).

In any case, the text string is still somewhat damning to Hunter; his conversations with CEFC continued the same thread, cutting Tony Bobulinski and the others out of the deal.

But I will say this: I already have questions about where WhatsApp texts got saved, not least because at the time, having access to one WhatsApp instance would give you access to the rest of it.

All the more so given that, if we can trust the warrant and Joseph Ziegler’s description of the source of these texts (Apple Backup 3, which the warrant describes as an Apple 6S backup), the timing is curious. Hunter used an iPhone 6S much earlier than 2017, and he initiated a new one on February 9, 2019, just as his devices were packed up for delivery to John Paul Mac Isaac.

Whatever the explanation, it seems that rather than work through a discrepancy, or just leaving out texts that couldn’t be explained, the IRS just blew through inconsistencies.

Like His Father, Hunter Biden Got Forgetful about Details Pertaining to Beau’s Illness

Predictably, after Republican staffers asked the expected questions in Wednesday’s Hunter Biden deposition (and Democratic staffers caught their colleagues leaving out pertinent pages, twice), individual members of Congress launched their gotcha questions, with Matt Gaetz trying to base bribery allegations in the fact that Hunter paid a shared cell phone bill 14 years ago.

There was one interesting gotcha question, though — because it demonstrated how Biden men peg events to things that happened with Beau’s cancer, and as a result get fuzzy about the timeline.

To set up a question about a business deal with a hedgie named Jonathan Li, a staffer asked Hunter to read a passage from his book describing a trip to China where then-Vice President Biden briefly met Li. While reading, Hunter observed that he might have the date of the trip wrong.

Q You can read the next full paragraph.

A Okay. “In 2013 –” I think it was 2014, but I’m not sure, because — I think this is a mistake because I’d learned of Beau’s tumor just months before, it would be 2014, and I went on this trip, I believe, it was in 2014.

“In 2014, Dad asked –” it says, in 2013, but it should say 2014 — “Dad asked my then teenage daughter, Finnegan, to join him on Air Force Two to Japan and then onto Beijing, where he was meeting with President Xi Jinping. Dad often asked his grandkids to accompany him on overseas trips. It was his chance to catch up. I jumped on the plane from Japan to China to spend time with them both. While we were in Beijing, Dad met with one of Devon’s Chinese partners, Jonathan Li, in the lobby of the American delegation’s hotel, just long enough to say hello and shake hands. I was meeting with Li as a courtesy call while I was in the country; the business deal had been signed more than a week earlier. Li and I then headed off for a cup of coffee.”

That was in the first hour.

Two hours later, after Andy Biggs attempted to claim that Devon Archer had testified that Hunter had called his father with Mykola Zlochevsky (Archer testified that he didn’t witness any call), Biggs tried to make a major deal about Hunter’s earlier uncertainty about this date.

Mr. Biggs. Right.

So you also testified that the book — that the book was wrong, your book was wrong, it’s printed with the wrong date. You testified that —

Mr. Lowell. No, no. Actually, it was right.

The Witness. Oh, it was right?

Mr. Biggs. But that’s not what he testified to, Mr. Lowell.

Mr. Lowell. He said he wasn’t sure.

The Witness. I wasn’t sure. I thought because —

Mr. Biggs. No, no. Well, we’ll have the transcript to look back. I mean, you like to rely on the transcript.

Mr. Lowell. Well, luckily we’re still here, so let’s ask the question: When is the date that is in his book in which he’s talking about? It’s either 2013 or 2014.

Is that the one you’re talking about?

Mr. Biggs. Yeah.

Mr. Lowell. Let’s go back to the book.

The Witness. Yeah.

Mr. Lowell. Can we go back to that exhibit?

The Witness. But regardless is this: is that, I’m sorry I missed, in a 270-page book, a typo of — if it is such a typo. I have no idea.

Mr. Lowell. What is the 2013 date?

Mr. Biggs. Unbelievable.

The Witness. How is it unbelievable, Mr. Biggs? I really don’t understand.

Mr. Biggs. Well, I’m not surprised you don’t understand, so —

The Witness. Why are you not surprised? I really — is that —

Mr. Biggs. So here we go. Do you have the book?

Mr. Lowell. Yeah, we do.

Mr. Biggs. Okay. What’s the right year?

Mr. Lowell. “In 2013, Dad asked my then-teenage daughter, Finnegan, to join him on Air Force Two to Japan” —

The Witness. So this isn’t even — we’re not even talking about the same time.

This is the — this is the transcript. I thought that that 2013 — I was confused. I thought that it happened in —

Mr. Biggs. So you’re —

The Witness. — 2014. But —

Mr. Biggs. I don’t want to interrupt you, but I’m going to. You are confused — you were confused earlier today —

The Witness. About your —

Mr. Biggs. — when you testified?

The Witness. By your questioning. You’re telling me — you were just talking about a board meeting with Burisma in Dubai.

Mr. Biggs. Yeah, and then we moved on to this.

The Witness. Oh. We hadn’t even moved on to it yet, though. What’s —

Mr. Biggs. Yeah, we had.

The Witness. — the question?

Mr. Biggs. You said this morning — I want to make this as clear as I possibly can.

This morning, you testified, my understanding, that your book was in error. In fact, I wrote it down when you said that, that the date was in error —

The Witness. No —

Mr. Biggs. — in your published book. Is that — was that wrong?

The Witness. If we — we will, I’m sure, have the transcript in 24 hours. But to clarify, I will make absolutely clear, we were doing questioning here. We were asking other questions related to other dates. There have been many, many dates thrown around today. I think probably a thousand times someone has asked me about a date, time, this, this, and the other.

Mr. Biggs. This was —

The Witness. When I was reading this, it said in 2013, and I said, “Is that right?”

Mr. Biggs. Okay.

The Witness. “I’m not sure if that’s right. I thought the trip to China occurred in 2014.”

Mr. Biggs. All right.

The Witness. I’m still not certain of exactly the date that it happened. But it’s not a —

Mr. Biggs. You don’t view it as materiality. I get it.

The Witness. Whether it happened in 2013 or 2014?

Mr. Biggs. So I want to — I want to ask you —

The Witness. Do you view that as materiality?

Mr. Lowell. I’m sorry. Now we have to tell you that you’re over your hour, and  I’ve given you 2 or 3 more minutes. And I’m just — according to Ms. Greene, rules matter.

Mr. Biggs. Thank you.

Mr. Lowell. We’re done.

They weren’t done, by the way. Biggs moved on to attempting to claim Hunter had vouched for Tony Bobulinski’s pictures of Blackberry messages, even though Abbe Lowell had specifically said they did not vouch for those messages. There was a lot of claiming that up was down from the members of Congress.

But the exchange about dates is instructive. Biggs thought he had scored a great big gotcha. He was (and probably will) attempt to use Hunter’s uncertainty about the date of the trip to China — uncertainty that stemmed from Hunter trying to map it onto Beau’s illness — to claim that Hunter’s certainty that he did not call his father on Zlochevsky’s behalf is unreliable because he couldn’t remember the date of the trip to China.

Biggs was attempting to use Hunter’s uncertainty about something that’s not material as a way to claim his certainty about something material cannot be trusted.

It looks pretty ridiculous on paper, doesn’t it?

But it sounds remarkably similar to what Robert Hur did with Hunter’s father — using Joe Biden’s uncertainty about the timing of Beau’s death to suggest Joe’s certainty that a reference to a 40-page handwritten memo could not be trusted, and that instead one must infer something more nefarious.

Of course, when Hur pulled this ploy, he concluded that Joe’s uncertainty about the date reflected not the stress of dealing with October 7 nor the muddiness created by pegging life events to grief, but that Joe is an old geezer who should not be President.

It turns out that both Biden men — 81-year old Joe and 54-year old Hunter — got similarly uncertain when they tied life events to Beau’s illness in a deposition.

Trump’s Other Immunity Claim: Stealing Boxes and Boxes of Classified Documents

Whatever else the SCOTUS grant of Trump’s immunity claim did, it provided the basis for scheduling clarity.

It seems likely SCOTUS has committed to deciding the immunity question by the end of term, in June.

That would present Tanya Chutkan with the decision of whether to try the January 6 case during the election season (it is her choice, not DOJ’s to make). She had been entertaining starting the trial in August, which would have bled into election season as it is, so she may decide to do this. If she does, it is unlikely a jury would reach a verdict before election day, but the trial would give voters opportunity to see the evidence before voting.

The decision to grant cert is as interesting for Trump’s other immunity claim — Trump’s even more frivolous claim that he can’t be prosecuted for stealing boxes and boxes of classified documents because his claimed decision to convert those government documents to his personal possession in violation of the Presidential Records Act is immune from prosecution, as well. I’ve seen some commentary that SCOTUS may have been trying to come up with a different solution but then decided to hear the case. If that’s true, the decision to hear the case came less than a week after Trump made that other claim of immunity, that he can steal classified documents with impunity. Who knows? It’s not before the court, but it may have affected their decision to hear the case.

The matter will be fully briefed by the time Jack Smith submits his brief to SCOTUS on April 8. So he can have two absurd claims of immunity to address, Trump’s claim he can steal the election with impunity, and Trump’s claim he can convert boxes and boxes of classified documents to do with as he pleases on the way out the door even if it violates the Presidential Records Act, a law passed specifically to apply to Presidents. One of the matters that had been hypothetical before the DC Circuit — that Trump might sell nuclear documents to our adversaries — has become concrete.

Given the question as posed by SCOTUS — Whether and if so to what extent does a former President enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office? — I think SCOTUS may have been uncomfortable with the DC Circuit’s thin treatment of Trump’s argument that, without immunity, former Presidents could be prosecuted for things like approving the drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki (note, when Trump raises this, he never mentions that he himself killed Awlaki’s daughter).

Former President Trump argues that criminal liability for former Presidents risks chilling Presidential action while in office and opening the floodgates to meritless and harassing prosecution. These risks do not overcome “the public interest in fair and accurate judicial proceedings,” which “is at its height in the criminal setting.” Vance, 140 S. Ct. at 2424.

Former President Trump first asserts that the prospect of potential post-Presidency criminal liability would inhibit a sitting President’s ability to act “fearlessly and impartially,” citing the “especially sensitive duties” of the President and the need for “bold and unhesitating action.”

There has to be something that distinguishes such actions from those charged against Trump. That something is likely the conversion of the Presidency to one’s own personal benefit. It’s not in the DC Circuit opinion and needs to be — all the more so given that, in Florida, Trump is claiming that he could legally simply convert boxes and boxes of classified documents to his personal property, even though the Presidential Records Act prohibits it.

It’s not in the DC Circuit opinion. But something like that has to be, some measure to distinguish the ordinary unlawful stuff Presidents are asked to authorize on behalf of the country and the venal stuff Trump did to benefit himself.

Tomorrow, Judge Cannon will hold a hearing to discuss how to schedule that trial. Her original schedule included six months of things after pretrial motions, which would put her schedule at September as well (though she’s obviously more likely to stall until after the election). But one thing she can expect is that, by June, Trump’s immunity claim will be resolved.

Update: Here’s the language from Trump’s brief that addresses this problem.

The panel opinion ignores the long history of real-world examples of Presidents engaging in actual behavior that political opponents viewed as egregious and “criminal.” Instead, keying on the Special Counsel’s arguments, the panel fretted about lurid hypotheticals that have never occurred in 234 years of history, almost certainly never will occur, and would virtually certainly result in impeachment and Senate conviction (thus authorizing criminal prosecution) if they did occur—such as a hypothetical President corruptly ordering the assassination of political rivals through “SEAL Team Six.” D.C. Cir. Oral Arg Tr. 10:19-21. Such hypotheticals provide fodder for histrionic media coverage, but they are a poor substitute for legal and historical analysis. Confronted with real-world hypotheticals—such as President Obama’s killing of U.S. citizens by drone strike—the Special Counsel conceded below that Presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts likely exists and would apply, directly contradicting the “categorical,” App’x 20A, holdings to the contrary of both the appellate panel and the trial court. D.C. Cir. Oral Arg Tr. 49:18-22 (Special Counsel admitting that a “drone strike” where “civilians were killed … might be the kind of place in which the Court would properly recognize some kind of immunity”). Further, the logical presupposition of such speculative hypotheticals—i.e., that the Founders supposedly must have intended that no alleged Presidential misdeed could ever escape prosecution—is plainly incorrect and contradicts the basic premises of a system of separated powers. “While the separation of powers may prevent us from righting every wrong, it does so in order to ensure that we do not lose liberty.” Morrison, 487 U.S. at 710 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

Jack Smith’s response doesn’t really deal with this issue in depth.

7 A sufficient basis for resolving this case would be that, whatever the rule in other contexts not presented here, no immunity attaches to a President’s commission of federal crimes to subvert the electoral process. See Amici Br. of John Danforth et al., at 7. The court of appeals’ analysis was “specific” to the allegations that applicant conspired to “overturn federal election results and unlawfully overstay his Presidential term,” Appl. App. 31A, and a stay can be denied on that basis alone, leaving for another day whether any immunity from criminal prosecution should be recognized in any circumstances. See Gov’t C.A. Br. 45-49 (explaining that foreign affairs are not implicated in this case); cf. Nixon, 418 U.S. at 707, 710, 712 n.19 (reserving whether an absolute presidential-communications privilege might exist for military, diplomatic, or national security secrets).

How Derek Hines Fooled Ken Dilanian into Making False Claims about the Hunter Biden Laptop

When I first read this passage in mid-January, it led me to suspect prosecutors in the Hunter Biden case were hiding real problems with the provenance of their digital data.

In August 2019, IRS and FBI investigators obtained a search warrant for tax violations for the defendant’s Apple iCloud account. 2 In response to that warrant, in September 2019, Apple produced backups of data from various of the defendant’s electronic devices that he had backed up to his iCloud account. 3 Investigators also later came into possession of the defendant’s Apple MacBook Pro, which he had left at a computer store. A search warrant was also obtained for his laptop and the results of the search were largely duplicative of information investigators had already obtained from Apple. 4 Law enforcement also later obtained a search warrant to search the defendant’s electronic evidence for evidence of federal firearms violations and to seize such data. 5

2 District of Delaware Case No. 19-234M and a follow up search warrant, District of Delaware Case Number 20-165M.

3 The electronic evidence referenced in this section was produced to the defendant in discovery in advance of the deadline to file motions.

4 District of Delaware Case No. 19-309M.

5 District of Delaware Case No. 23-507M.

Not so Ken Dilanian.

He read the same passage over five weeks and abundant new disclosures later, and claimed that rather than raise questions, it instead amounted to confirmation that prosecutors had authenticated material from the laptop.

Material from the laptop became evidence in the criminal investigation of Hunter Biden, which ultimately resulted in a pair of indictments accusing him of tax and gun crimes. He has pleaded not guilty. A recent court filing by the lead prosecutor in the case, special counsel David Weiss, says investigators authenticated the laptop material — and the fact that a computer had been left in a store.

He also claimed that this laptop evidence could have resulted in a gun indictment, when — as I confirmed as I was trying to chase down my suspicions — prosecutors didn’t get a warrant to search the laptop for gun crimes until after the gun indictment. If they used the laptop to get that gun crime indictment, they probably conducted an unlawful search.

Because people are quoting Dilanian’s claims as if they accurately report what we know about the laptop, I’d like to trace all the reasons why Dilanian should never have made either claim.

Let’s start with the reasons that passage raised suspicions in the first place.

I was suspicious partly because of the way Derek Hines used a showy claim about cocaine residue to distract from the issue he was litigating — whether prosecutors only decided to charge gun crimes in response to GOP pressure. Worse still, Hines hid the most important detail about that cocaine residue discovery, the date a lab tested for it, which would reveal whether that showy claim instead hurt his argument. In NBC’s case, three reporters suggested the late discovery of cocaine residue showed that prosecutors had obtained new evidence that led to indictment (though to NBC’s credit, they at least didn’t make the coke-in-gun their headline). Subsequent filings have revealed that the lab test was October 2023, after the indictment, and so proof instead that prosecutors didn’t seek evidence until after they charged. The showy residue claim actually supports Hunter’s side of this argument, not Weiss’: it suggests prosecutors never took basic investigative steps to support gun charges until Jim Jordan demanded it.

I was also suspicious because Hines had engaged in so much obvious prevarication in the same filing. He played with the timeline to suggest that evidence available two years before the indictment — Hunter’s book — was newly obtained. He selectively cited documentation about what led up to the plea deal: ignoring proof that David Weiss was personally involved, on June 6, in crafting language that protected against further charges; offering no contest to Chris Clark’s claim that on June 19, Weiss’ First AUSA assured Clark there was no ongoing investigation. Hines lumped Hunter’s lie on a gun form in with far more serious straw purchases in order to claim there were aggravating circumstances that merited charging (a detail that still doesn’t address why Weiss reneged on the plea deal). Hines outright lied about how much David Weiss had ratcheted up the potential sentence with the new charges.

No one should have uncritically accepted the language in this passage, because so much of the filing was obviously deceptive.

I was suspicious, too, because Hines’ claim that evidence obtained from the laptop was “largely duplicative” admits that it was not entirely duplicative. His choice of language made it clear there were things on the laptop that were not in the iCloud.

And he did so in a paragraph that tried to obscure how the provenance of the laptop affects the provenance of his other evidence. Notably, the structure of the passage misrepresented the temporal progression — a temporal progression that anyone who had covered Gary Shapley’s testimony should know. The body of the paragraph suggested that investigators got a warrant for Apple and only then accessed the laptop. The body of the paragraph provided no hint about when prosecutors obtained a warrant to search already obtained materials for gun crimes. The footnotes tell a different story. Hines hid in footnote 2 a follow-up warrant for backups of individual devices with a docket number, dating to 2020, showing that that follow-up warrant post-dated FBI’s receipt of the laptop (again, which was already clear from Gary Shapley’s testimony), and therefore may be poisoned fruit of the laptop. More shockingly, Hines hid the 2023 date of the gun crimes warrant in footnote 5. Those footnotes are what led me to ask more questions and ultimately to liberate the warrants in question.

When Dilanian quoted that passage as if it were reliable, he omitted the existence of those footnotes, as well as the reference to the belated warrant for gun crimes that explained why the laptop couldn’t have “resulted” in the gun indictment without a likely Fourth Amendment violation.

“In August 2019, IRS and FBI investigators obtained a search warrant for tax violations for the defendant [Hunter Biden]’s Apple iCloud account,” [omitted footnote 2] the filing said. “In response to that warrant, in September 2019, Apple produced backups of data from various of the defendant’s electronic devices that he had backed up to his iCloud account. [omitted footnote 3] Investigators also later came into possession of the defendant’s Apple MacBook Pro, which he had left at a computer store. A search warrant was also obtained for his laptop and the results of the search were largely duplicative of information investigators had already obtained from Apple.” [omitted footnote 4 and admission they did not originally get a warrant for gun crimes]

Even in January, that response filing should have led reporters to note that David Weiss didn’t even seek basic evidence needed to prove the gun case until after he charged it.

But much has happened since to raise further questions about the laptop, including:

  • January 17: I write Weiss’ spox asking, “Can you correct me on the date of that warrant, please?” because I thought there was no way it was really December 2023. He declined to further comment, which made me suspect maybe it was really December 2023.
  • January 22: I asked Judge Noreika to unseal the dockets. She did!
  • January 30: Those dockets confirmed Weiss did not seek a warrant to search Hunter’s Apple data for evidence of gun crimes until 81 days after the indictment; the warrant return also discloses that the FBI was still searching Hunter’s Apple data on January 16 when Hines first publicly disclosed it and claimed that the laptop was largely duplicative of what was in the iCloud.
  • January 30: Abbe Lowell announced he plans to file a motion to suppress.
  • January 30: Prosecutors had not provided material from the laptop with Bates stamp or in e-discovery format; they also had not provided expert reports on the laptop known (from Shapley’s testimony, among other places) to exist.
  • February 13: Almost 40 months after acknowledging that the FBI had never validated the laptop to check when files were added to it, they admitted that they still have no index of the laptop. They also claim they were seizing information relating to gun crimes under the plain view doctrine for four years.
  • February 13: The FBI understands the laptop so poorly that they presented a picture of sawdust from Keith Ablow that probably should have been treated as privileged and claimed it was a picture Hunter took of his own cocaine. (There’s likely another picture that Hines misattributed, too.)
  • February 20: The same day Hunter rejected Weiss’ demand for quick guilty pleas to felony charges, August 29, prosecutors told Abbe Lowell — still three months before they obtained a gun crime warrant for either Hunter’s iCloud or the laptop — they had “independent sources” for anything on the laptop.
  • February 20: By describing that key texts sent between Hallie and Hunter Biden in October 2018 were not found in the iCloud content, prosecutors were actually describing that they did not have “independent sources” for their most probative evidence (or of the picture of a picture of a table saw and sawdust they want to claim is cocaine).

Let me make this easy for NBC, because they seem to misunderstand this.

Over 1,500 days after receiving the laptop, the FBI has not done the things it would need to do to validate the laptop. They don’t have an index of what they have and they don’t know how all the embedded back-ups relate to one another. Without that, they cannot make representations that the laptop was not tampered with. Indeed, they’re making laughably false claims about what they have found uniquely on the laptop, a testament that they don’t have the most basic understanding about the laptop.

Additionally, Hines’ description of the source for the texts between Hallie and Hunter Biden makes it highly likely they came from a device backup that was protected by a password when the FBI got the laptop. Accessing that content without a follow-up warrant — which they did before they got the 2020 warrants that may rely on it — may be a Fourth Amendment violation under Riley. And particularly given that Hunter had just lost two phones in the days before such texts would have been sent, it raises real questions about both their provenance and the compilation of the laptop itself.

Since Derek Hines made dubious claims on January 16 that the laptop was “largely duplicative” of material found in Hunter Biden’s iCloud, we’ve since learned one reason he was so squirrelly when he made that claim: his most important evidence for the gun crime doesn’t appear to be duplicated in Hunter’s iCloud. And unless the FBI conducted an unlawful search of Hunter’s digital evidence — or unless they indicted based on what they had seen in Murdoch publications — they did not learn that until months after they charged the President’s son. And they didn’t learn that because four years after obtaining the laptop, the FBI has still never taken basic steps to understand what is on it.

After I reviewed the passage Dilanian quoted, I realized that it is even more misleading than I had previously understood. The full passage is below, with annotations. 

In August 2019, IRS and FBI investigators obtained a search warrant for tax violations for the defendant’s Apple iCloud account. 2 In response to that warrant, in September 2019, Apple produced backups of data from various of the defendant’s electronic devices that he had backed up to his iCloud account. [this obscures what happened: Apple sent the full content of Hunter’s iCloud account, including the backups, but DOJ obtained new warrants — possibly relying on the laptop — to obtain those backups in 2020] 3 Investigators also later came into possession [this “came into possession” will look comical after we see a motion to suppress, not least because by the time FBI obtained it, they had already told John Paul Mac Isaac’s father he may have had it illegally] of the defendant’s Apple MacBook Pro, which he had left at a computer store. [as I’ve shown, the only proof that Hunter left the laptop would be easily faked by anyone in possession of the laptop — and when they checked Hunter’s iCloud data, they should have realized there were too many devices associated with it for all to be legitimately his] A search warrant was also obtained for his laptop and the results of the search were largely [as subsequent filings made clear, Weiss’ most important evidence was not duplicated in Hunter’s iCloud] duplicative of information investigators had already obtained from Apple. 4 Law enforcement also later [by “later,” Hines means, they didn’t get a warrant until 81 days after indicting and were still searching the digital data] obtained a search warrant to search the defendant’s electronic evidence for evidence of federal firearms violations and to seize such data. 5

2 District of Delaware Case No. 19-234M [August 29, 2019: Original iCloud warrantwarrant return] and a follow up search warrant, District of Delaware Case Number 20-165M. [July 10, 2020 iCloud warrantwarrant return]

3 The electronic evidence referenced in this section was produced to the defendant in discovery in advance of the deadline to file motions.

4 District of Delaware Case No. 19-309M. [December 13, 2019: Original laptop warrantwarrant return]

5 District of Delaware Case No. 23-507M. [December 4, 2023: post-indictment warrantwarrant. return (less attachments) attachments AB]

The searches revealed incriminating evidence, including evidence of the defendant’s addiction to controlled substances and his possession of the firearm, such as:

– Prior to October 12, 2018 (the date of the gun purchase), the defendant took photos of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia on his phone. [as proof of this, Hines presented a single photo of someone weighing cocaine without proof Hunter took it (though he probably did)]

– Also prior to his gun purchase, the defendant routinely sent messages about purchasing drugs. [as shown in the table below, Hines provides three examples, one of which was conducted on an “unknown” phone, the most recent of which was in July 2018]

– On October 13, 2018, and October 14, 2018 (the day after and two days after he purchased the firearm), the defendant messaged his girlfriend about meeting a drug dealer and smoking crack. For example, on October 13, 2018, the defendant messaged her and stated, “. . . I’m now off MD Av behind blue rocks stadium waiting for a dealer named Mookie.” The next day, the defendant messaged her and stated, “I was sleeping on a car smoking crack on 4th street and Rodney.” [this is from content that Hines seems to concede only exists on the laptop and was sent during a period when Hunter was still replacing lost phones]

– On October 23, 2018 (the day his then-girlfriend discarded his firearm), the defendant messaged his girlfriend and asked, “Did you take that from me [girlfriend]?” Later that evening, after his interactions with law enforcement, he messaged her about the “[t]he fucking FBI” and asked her, “so what’s my fault here [girlfriend] that you speak of. Owning a gun that’s in a locked car hidden on another property? You say I invade your privacy. What more can I do than come back to you to try again. And you do this???? Who in their right mind would trust you would help me get sober.” In response, the girlfriend stated “I’m sorry, I just want you safe. That was not safe. And it was open unlocked and windows down and the kids search your car. You have lost your mind hunter. I’m sorry I handled it poorly today but you are in huge denial about yourself and about that reality that I just want you safe. You run away like a child and blame me for your shit . . .” [this is still content that may only be available on the laptop and therefore unreliable or inadmissible]

– After the firearm was taken from him and recovered by police, the defendant continued to send messages to various people about his use of drugs, including telling his girlfriend that he is an “addict” on November 8, 2018, and on November 21, 2018, telling Person 1, “. . . I’m a fucking better man than any man you know whether I’m smoking crack or not.” He also continued to send messages about purchasing drugs. He sent a message to his girlfriend on November 29, 2018, stating, in relevant part, “I DONT BLAME MY ADDICTION ON YOU . . .” and another message to Person 2 on December 18, 2018, acknowledging that he is “an addict.” On December 28, 2018, hemessaged Person 2 stating, “I’ll fuxking [sic] get sober when I want to get fucking sober.” [this content does exist in Hunter’s iCloud, but several things make it suspect: he was texting on at least one other device at the time — though that’s a device that appears to only be available on the laptop — and (as I describe here) this particular device may be one that has suspect provenance going back to 2016]

– During November and December 2018, the defendant took multiple photographs of videos apparent cocaine, crack cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. [Hines presented three photos to back this claim: a timer in a picture of a presumed sex worker, a picture Keith Ablow took of a picture of sawdust, and a picture that may have come from Hallie — to the extent that it represented drug use — could not be tied to Hunter as opposed to Hallie and was very dated in any case] These episodes of persistent drug usage, documented by the defendant, in the immediate time frame before, during, and after his possession of the gun were evidence that he lied during the background check and unlawfully possessed the gun in October 2018.



Lesley Wolf Vindicated by Alexander Smirnov Indictment

In the wake of the Alexander Smirnov indictment, the 51 former spooks who wrote a letter stating their opinion that the release of Hunter Biden emails to the NY Post is consistent with a Russian information operation have claimed vindication. That has led to this problematic Ken Dilanian report parroting David Weiss filings that deliberately obscured the evidence in the Hunter Biden case. And that, in turn, has led to a flood of people expressing opinions about the laptop turned over by John Paul Mac Isaac (Olivia Nuzzi, Reese Gorman) that exhibit no clue about how precarious that evidence is now.

In other words, that has renewed a debate consisting of misrepresenting the 51-spook letter, then misstating what the public evidence about the laptop shows.

I’ll return to the details about the laptop that these people are missing; hopefully until I get there, they’ll consider whether David Weiss’ claim that a Keith Ablow picture of a picture of a table saw with sawdust was instead Hunter Biden’s cocaine really validates the laptop, as they seem to believe it does.

But there is one person who has been vindicated: Lesley Wolf, the AUSA who aggressively pursued real charges against Hunter Biden, even while attempting to prevent repeated onslaughts of political garbage from tainting the case.

Among the many complaints the two disgruntled IRS agents aired, largely targeting her, one was that, “This investigation has been hampered and artificially slowed by various claims of potential election meddling.” That appeared in a memo submitted within the IRS in December 2020, probably written by Gary Shapley. The IRS agents believed they knew better than Lesley Wolf about efforts to interfere in the election.

The IRS agents and their allies in Congress bitched over and over that Wolf and others had not ingested politicized dirt into the investigation readily enough.

For example, Joseph Ziegler described that investigators asked to reinterview Tony Bobulinski after his October 23, 2020 meeting with the FBI, but were not permitted to do so because he “was not viewed as a credible witness” — and that was before Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony, now backed by video, about the sketchy meeting Bobulinski had with Mark Meadows.

I can recall that agents on the investigative team brought up on multiple occasions to the assigned prosecutors that they wanted to do an interview of Bobulinski with the assigned case agents. I can recall being told that they would think about it and then ultimately being told there was no need for the team to interview Bobulinski and that Bobulinski was not viewed as a credible witness.

In his House testimony, Bobulinski backed off all the most inflammatory claims — such as that he attended a key meeting in Miami and witnessed Hunter receive a large diamond as a gift –made to the FBI.

Republicans in Congress have repeatedly complained that Tim Thibault shut down Peter Schweizer as a confidential human source in September 2020. Thibault explained to Congress that the Supervisory Special Agent called him and asked him to stop sending Schweizer’s reporting, because doing so would give Hunter’s attorneys ammunition if the case ever went to trial.

A I understand you don’t need the reporting anymore. I understand that if this goes to trial, Hunter Biden’s attorney —

Q Uh-huh?

A — could have some ammunition.

And Shapley specifically complained that Lesley Wolf withheld a particular email about some anomalies in the the hard drive image obtained from John Paul Mac Isaac.

Prosecutors deliberately withheld that email from agents who might have to testify to avoid making it Jencks production that would have to be shared with Hunter’s lawyers. Thanks to Shapley, it will presumably play a role in any suppression and Brady complaints tied to the laptop.

None of this is particularly noble on Wolf’s part. It’s typical, among prosecutors, in that they watch out for any evidence that would harm a case at trial, and avoid ingesting it in ways that would give defendants access to it. Lesley Wolf was not withholding details about problems with the hard drive JPMI provided the FBI to protect Hunter Biden. She was doing it to protect her case. In fact, her treatment of the laptop may be the one thing that helps bollox the case, if Leo Wise ends up needing any assistance on that front.

But it seems quite clear that efforts Wolf made to preserve a case for trial were instead spun by the disgruntled IRS agents as attempts to thwart the investigation. Their efforts to sell that spin have not only endangered the case, but also resulted in death threats targeting Wolf and her family.

Particularly given the timing of Congress’ focus on the FD-1023, including Bill Barr’s public commentary, Alexander Smirnov’s attempt to frame Biden is an important example of an effort Wolf made to protect a viable case against Hunter.

Gary Shapley released a memo that will be central to Hunter Biden’s bid to obtain discovery on the treatment of the Smirnov tip and the Scott Brady back channel, generally. It shows that the FD-1023, “was ordered to be received by this prosecution team by [Richard Donoghue]. It is happening on 10/23/2020 at 3pm in the Delaware FBI office.” It is proof that days after Trump yelled at Barr about the Hunter Biden investigation, DOJ ordered Wolf to accept this briefing.

Yet in his testimony, Shapley said that “We never discussed the form,” seemingly a reference to the Smirnov allegation.

After Barr ran his mouth to Margot Cleveland, both Ziegler and Shapley submitted supplements complaining that they hadn’t gotten briefed on the allegation. Shapley’s testimony, that neither the IRS agents nor the FBI agents, had checked out the allegation seems inconsistent with his claim never to have spoken about it.

Neither I nor the line IRS-CI agents acting under my supervision, nor the FBI agents working with IRS-CI, were ever provided the CHS information that Attorney General Barr recently referenced was sent to Delaware to have it “checked out.” Prosecutors never provided such information to IRS-CI. As such, neither IRS-CI nor the FBI agents working with him were provided the opportunity to conduct proper investigation into the allegations presented by this CHS. I, long with other IRS-Cl investigators, requested 10 be apart of briefings that the Delaware USAO and DOJ were having with the Pittsburgh USAO during the investigation, but our requests were denied.

Both further elaborated their complaints about not getting access to the FD-1023 in their public July testimony.

Then, even more forthcoming testimony Shapley gave to House Ways and Means served as a cue during Scott Brady’s House Judiciary Committee testimony, in which Brady described Lesley Wolf’s skepticism about the material being funneled from Brady’s office.

Q And were you ever told that the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office did not want a briefing from your office?

A I believe I was. I don’t remember. But I know that we had trouble scheduling it.

Q Okay. And then, further down, it states AUSA Wolf’s comments made clear she did not want to cooperate with the Pittsburgh USAO, and that she had already concluded no information from that office could be credible stating her belief that it all came from Rudy Giuliani.

Were you ever made aware of Ms. Wolf’s processing and decisions regarding this briefing, and why she didn’t want the briefing?

A I was not. We did, however, make it clear that some of the information including this 1023 did not come from Mr. Giuliani.

Q And did your team ever tell you that they were receiving comments from Ms. Wolf that she didn’t find the information your office was receiving credible?

A I don’t remember that, no.

Q If those conversations took place, would those have been between a AUSA at your office and Ms. Wolf?

A If they would have shared that with us at all, yes, likely, and had I been made aware, I would have called Mr. Weiss directly.

Q When you would have called Mr. Weiss directly, would you have told him the information the 1023 wasn’t coming from Mr. Giuliani, is that accurate?

A Yes, I would have, and that was already communicated to their office, that the 1023 was from a credible CHS that had a history with the FBI, and that it was not derived from any of the information from Mr. Giuliani.

Side note: The publicly released HJC transcript redacts several references to David Weiss, perhaps in an effort to hide the degree to which he is a witness to and therefore hopelessly conflicted on the Smirnov prosecution.

I’m guessing that neither Smirnov nor Hunter’s attorneys are so stupid that they can’t figure out who is named behind that redaction! But if they have any questions: Yes, Jim Jordan’s people really did redact references that make it clear what David Weiss personally witnessed in this transcript!

Unsurprisingly, in her testimony, Lesley Wolf did a far, far better job than Shapley and Brady adhering to her ethical duty to avoid speaking of an ongoing investigation. She also suggestsed that a lot of the decisions that Shapley and Ziegler complained about were made for ethical reasons, even an unwillingness on her part to risk her law license to take more aggressive steps. “Hey, I like my law license, and I know this person has a lawyer, so we’re going to have to work through counsel to get that interview you want,” she characterized such discussions with the investigators.

As a result of her strict adherence to prohibitions on her speaking about the investigation, her explanation for her reluctance to accept information from Brady’s side channel was very general. In her general explanation for why she might want to keep the existing Hunter Biden investigation separate from whatever Brady was doing, though, she provided the same reason Thibault got explaining why Delaware didn’t want to receive tips involving Peter Schweizer.

Q And during the course of your career, have you ever had a situation where you were reluctant to cooperate with a different U.S. Attorney’s Office? And by cooperate, I mean have meetings, take telephone calls.

[Wolf attorney Jenny] Kramer. I know this is almost too formal for this process, but I’m going to object to form. What does that mean, unwilling to cooperate? I’m just not clear on what exactly you’re trying to ask.

Mr. Castor. Unwilling to take meetings?

Ms. Kramer. Generally?

Mr. Castor. With a different U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ms. Wolf. I can answer those questions, generally.


Q Sure, sure.

A I think as a general matter, the idea would be that you are coming from a place of cooperation and the common mission of the Department of Justice and what it is you’re trying to accomplish. But there may well be very, very valid means, reasons for a desire and an interest to keep investigations separate and apart. And in those circumstances, you would — and it wouldn’t be unusual to say, you know what, we’re not going to need to share information, we’re not going to do this. And it would just depend, again, on the particulars of an investigation and what the needs and what the various interests were at play.

Q Okay. Are you familiar with Supervisory Special Agent Gary Shapley’s testimony where he indicated you were unwilling to interact with Scott Brady?

A I’m generally familiar with Special Agent Shapley’s testimony, yes.

Q Okay. Are you familiar with that particular aspect of it?

A I mean, I’ve read his testimony.

Chairman Jordan. Would there be a reason not to interact and meet with Mr. Brady and his team?

Ms. Wolf. As that relates to a particular investigation, I’m not authorized to speak to that.

Chairman Jordan. You said there were some situations that — the general way of doing things is to, you know, “cooperate,” I think, is the word you used. And you said there are times that we’re not going to do that. Why would there be a reason not to do it in this situation?

Ms. Kramer. Chairman, respectfully, I think you had left the room when I had asked Mr. Castor earlier, please allow Ms. Wolf to finish her answers to the questions before —

Chairman Jordan. Okay, sure. I apologize.

Ms. Kramer. — and me as well, number one. And number two, I believe you mischaracterized her very recent answer. I don’t believe you said that there were times that you would refuse to cooperate, unless I misheard. So let’s break that down. I think your first question, Chairman Jordan, is what again, if you don’t mind repeating it?

Chairman Jordan. Would there be a reason not to cooperate with Mr. Brady’s office?

Ms. Wolf. As to this particular case, I’m not authorized to speak to that.

As a general matter, and I think to potentially recast and just reframe, the infusion on the point, there are valid investigative reasons in any given case that would need to be evaluated before joining, overlapping, even taking in information, and that would all be factored in, in any case, to deciding how to move forward in a matter, all in the spirit of advancing and the best interest of the investigation.


You know, to the extent that it then subsequently touches on an investigation or a matter in your district, I would expect that would be something that you would be aware of and usually the kind of thing that would probably take place above the line level. And that’s part of, you know, a sort of lack of clarity or understanding on how this sort of what is and isn’t typical. I hesitate to answer. And, quite frankly, I think in answering whether this was typical or atypical, it runs afoul of what I am authorized to discuss, because it essentially acknowledges or will be interpreted as acknowledging or denying or endorsing what may or may not have happened.

Wolf is being coy here.

But she’s also making it clear that she decided sharing information with Brady’s project would harm the investigation.

This is why I posted Leo Wise’s repeated, defensive rebuttals to David Chesnoff’s claim that the Smirnov indictment was “makeweight.”

It seems clear that Lesley Wolf left the Smirnov allegation well enough alone, knowing that the project generally was producing garbage that could only endanger the case.

Leo Wise seemingly used the Smirnov allegation as an excuse to reopen the case against the President’s son, only to discover it opened a nasty can of worms.  It gave Abbe Lowell the evidence to prove that the prosecution of Hunter Biden was infected by an effort by the Attorney General to accommodate the dirt that Trump’s lawyers picked up from Russian spies. And it gave Wise a real headache of a prosecution to deal with.

Lesley Wolf probably didn’t decline all the garbage from Scott Brady for noble reasons. She was just protecting her case. But having made the opposite decision, Wise may end up blowing that case.

You know who is vindicated by the Alexander Smirnov indictment? Lesley Wolf.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2020-presidential-election/page/4/