It’s Not the Four Year Old Counterintelligence Investigation intro Trump We Need to Be Most Worried About — It’s the Ones Bill Barr May Have Killed

The other day, Mike Schmidt advertised a book by claiming that FBI never did any kind of counterintelligence investigation of Trump in parallel with the Mueller investigation. On Twitter, Andrew Weissmann debunked a key part (though not all) of that claim.

The aftermath has led to ongoing debates about what really happened. My guess is that Schmidt’s sources did not have visibility on the full scope of the Mueller investigation, and he didn’t read the Mueller Report, which would have helped him realize that. And while credible reports say Mueller didn’t investigate Trump’s historical financial ties to Russia (while I’ve read neither book yet, the excerpts of Jeff Toobin’s book adhere more closely to the public record than Schmidt’s), the public record also suggests Mueller obtained Trump-related records that most people don’t realize he obtained.

I reiterate that it is far more troubling that a co-equal branch of government — the one with impeachment power — chose not to pursue the same questions about Trump’s financial vulnerabilities to Russia. If you want to express outrage that no one has investigated whether Trump is beholden to Russia, focus some of it on Richard Burr, who suggested Trump’s financial vulnerability to Russia was irrelevant to a report specifically focused on counterintelligence threats.

Still, there’s something still more urgent, one that is getting lost in the debate about what happened three or four years ago.

There were, as of at least April, at least one and probably several investigations implicating counterintelligence tied to Trump, through his top associates. But they tie to the same cases that Billy Barr has undermined in systematic and unprecedented fashion in recent months. It is a far more pressing question whether Barr has undermined counterintelligence investigations implicating Trump’s ties to Russia by ensuring those who lied to protect him during the Mueller investigation face no consequences than what Rod Rosenstein did forty months ago.

Consider Mike Flynn. The most newsworthy thing Robert Mueller said — under oath — over the course of two congressional hearings is that “many elements of the FBI” were looking into the counterintelligence risks created by Mike Flynn’s lies about his communications with Russia.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.


MUELLER: Currently.

As part of Mueller’s analysis about whether Trump fired Jim Comey to stop the investigation into Flynn, he weighed whether the Flynn investigation implicated Trump personally. But he found — largely because Flynn and KT McFarland, after first telling similar lies to investigators, later professed no memory that Trump was in the loop regarding Flynn’s efforts to undercut sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, and Steve Bannon repeated a White House script saying he wasn’t — that the evidence was inconclusive.

As part of our investigation, we examined whether the President had a personal stake in the outcome of an investigation into Flynn-for example, whether the President was aware of Flynn’s communications with Kislyak close in time to when they occurred, such that the President knew that Flynn had lied to senior White House officials and that those lies had been passed on to the public. Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.


But McFarland did not recall providing the President-Elect with Flynn’s read-out of his calls with Kislyak, and Flynn does not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect directly about the calls. Bannon also said he did not recall hearing about the calls from Flynn. And in February 2017, the President asked Flynn what was discussed on the calls and whether he had lied to the Vice President, suggesting that he did not already know. Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

We’ve since seen transcripts that show Mike Flynn telling Sergey Kislyak in real time that Trump was aware of the communications between the two (and John Ratcliffe is withholding at least one transcript of a call between the men).

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

Certainly, Russia would have reason to believe that Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions were directed by Trump.

In January, a sentencing memo that was delayed so it could be approved by the entire chain of command at DOJ, explained why all this was significant.

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.


It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

Flynn’s forgetfulness about whether Trump ordered him to undermine sanctions went to the core question of whether Trump worked with Russia in their efforts to throw him the election.

And that sentencing memo was the moment when Billy Barr threw two different lawyers — one a lifetime associate of his — into the project of creating a false excuse to undermine the prosecution of Flynn. More recently, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the DC Circuit that Barr had secret reasons for overturning the prosecution.

The Attorney General of course sees this in a context of non-public information from other investigations.


I just want to make clear that it may be possible that the Attorney General had before him information that he was not able to share with the court and so what we put in front of the court were the reasons that we could, but it may not be the whole picture available to the Executive Branch.


It’s just we gave three reasons; one of them was that the interests of justice were not longer served, in the Attorney General’s judgment, by the prosecution. The Attorney General made that decision, or that judgment, on the basis of lots of information, some of it is public and fleshed out in the motion, some of it is not.

This secret reason is why, Wall suggested, it would cause irreparable harm for DOJ to have to show up before Judge Emmet Sullivan and explain why DOJ blew up the prosecution.

Then there’s Roger Stone. Stone very loudly claimed (improbably) that he could have avoided prison had he not lied to protect Donald Trump. And Trump rewarded him for it, commuting his sentence to ensure he didn’t spend a day in prison.

But at least as of April, an investigation into whether Stone was part of a conspiracy with Russia and/or was a Russian agent — implicating 18 USC 951, not just FARA — was ongoing. Among the things Stone was involved in that Trump refused to answer Mueller questions about was a pardon for Julian Assange, one Stone started pursuing at least as early as November 15. While no sentencing memo has explained this (as it did with Mike Flynn), whether Trump and Stone used promises of a pardon to get Assange to optimize the WikiLeaks releases goes to the core question of whether there was a quid pro quo as part of 2016.

Finally, there’s Paul Manafort, whose close associates, the SSCI Report makes clear, were part of GRU and appear to have had a role in the hack-and-leak. After securing a cooperation deal, Manafort changed his story, and then shared details of what Mueller’s team knew with the President.

Yet, even with Manafort’s ties to the effort to steal our election, the Attorney General used COVID relief to ensure that Manafort would escape prison.

While it’s not clear whether John Ratcliffe, Barr, or the IC made the decision, the redaction process of the SSCI report denied voters the ability to know how closely tied Trump’s campaign manager is with the people who helped steal the election. What we do know is the effort Manafort started continues in Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine and spew Russian disinformation.

For all three of the Trump associates where we know Barr intervened (there’s good reason to suspect he intervened in an Erik Prince prosecution, too), those people implicate Trump directly in counterintelligence investigations that were, fairly recently, ongoing.

Whether or not there was a counterintelligence investigation implicating Trump on May 20, 2017, after Rod Rosenstein scoped the Mueller investigation, we know counterintelligence investigations have implicated him since. What we don’t know is whether, in an effort to help Trump get reelected, his fixer Billy Barr squelched those, too.

Update: In an appearance for his book, Schmidt said he considered writing it (in 2020) about just the first 26 days of his presidency. It’s a telling comment given that his description of what happened with counterintelligence doesn’t accord with what the Mueller Report itself said happened around 500 days into Trump’s presidency.

55 replies
  1. SaltinWound says:

    It’s interesting that Flynn told Sergey Kislyak Trump was aware, but I’ve never taken it as proof. Is the assumption that Flynn is capable of lying to Americans but not to Russians?

    • canucklehead says:

      Trump and Barr’s massive multi-year campaign for Flynn suggests he wasn’t lying to the Russians about what Trump wanted.

      • SaltinWound says:

        I can see Trump and Barr’s machinations for Flynn being taken as evidence Trump was aware, but that would be true no matter what Flynn said to the Russians. Flynn is a liar. I don’t take his assurances seriously, to Russia or anyone.

  2. OldTulsaDude says:

    It seems to me the critical two questions regarding this point in history are: 1, can we do anything to force accountability, and 2, assuming we can, will we?

    • BobCon says:

      One key line in this post is this:

      “I reiterate that it is far more troubling that a co-equal branch of government — the one with impeachment power — chose not to pursue the same questions about Trump’s financial vulnerabilities to Russia.”

      What this touches on is that congressional investigations have atrophied all across the board.

      Up until the Gingrich takeover of the House in 1994, the House used to do enormous amounts of oversight. If you troll through congressional records for the Government Operations Committee and its subcommittees under Jack Brooks, you will see that they held hundreds of days of hearings every year.

      If you look at the committee’s record now, it’s not a surprise that they had to be prodded by a national uproar into holding a single day’s hearing on the USPS which has largely faded from memory.

      A similar change happened in the Senate, although the timeline doesn’t exactly match up due to different periods of Democratic control.

      I could write a long essay on what changed and why this happened. The shorthand is that Congress isn’t investigating because McConnell and Pelosi have heavily centralized control in their leadership offices and see independent investigations as a threat to their control.

      2021 is potentially an opportunity for massive change, especially in the Senate — all of this is contingent on a major Democratic victory, which of course is far from clear. I suspect the real politicking for the House will be 2022, as the Democrats look for a replacement for Pelosi, who said she will step down. There will be a lot of post-census redistricting, a likely continued growth in progressive, activist members, and the possibility of a lot of reform in the House. Of course, as 2010 showed, things can turn sour fast, so there will be a lot of fights to get to that point which have to be won.

  3. John Forde says:

    I thought Mueller had an FBI counter intelligence team embedded in his office who extracted CI evidence and sent it to FBI HQ. Doesn’t congress have right to know the names of those agents? Schiff should subpoena them ASAP and ask where those reports went. Follow the names.

    • drouse says:

      There were agents forwarding information but that doesn’t mean anything if the info was shitcanned as soon as it arrived.

        • P J Evans says:

          Does it? All we need to know, really, is not Mueller’s people, but al;most certainly someone getting orders, indirectly, from Trmp.

      • OldTulsaDude says:

        What good exactly would a House subpoena do? This administration has made it clear it considers itself off-limits to any oversight, and who is there to tell them differently? A subpoena would simply be ignored.

        I fear we are placing our faith in a law book when the risk is Liberty’s Balance and there’s no Tom Doniphon in the shadows to bail us out.

        • BobCon says:

          It’s still too early to say how the election will go, but if Biden looks more certain, it becomes much more likely key players start memorializing everything a la Comey.

          To touch on MW’s point about the co-equal branch’s lack of pursuit, this would be a great time for the House to start signalling that 2021 is not going to be a repeat of 2019 and that blowing off subpoenas now will have consequences next year.

        • EricB says:

          An ignored subpoena would add to the history that shows the character of the government. It is valuable for future Congressional action (e.g. impeachment), and provides a clearer history for archaeologists digging through the rubble. It also allows the possibility that the subpoena will get results. Just because it’s hopeless is no reason to give up.

          Sometimes all you can do is your job.

    • BobCon says:

      Also disturbing is who has not read even the redacted version. This post suggests Schmidt didn’t read it for his book; at a minimum, he didn’t understand it.

      One of the chronic problems of the NY Times DC and politics desks is how bad they are at engaging with actual evidence. So many of their unforced errors stem from this fault.

      Their entire reporting model is based on synthesizing the views of their sources. But because reporters tend to have a paper thin understanding of the underlying facts and issues, it is extremely for sources to mislead them, and it is easy for the biases of reporters to emerge in their writing.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Terry Gross is interviewing Schmidt right now. I want to see value in his work, but for all that he rightfully credits himself for the fruits of his access (initial reporting on the Comey memos, for example), I have heard nothing new come out from this book tour. I wish I could quit you, NYTimes. At least I don’t have to buy your reporters’ books.

        • BobCon says:

          It’s not all bad — some of it is very good. Even the political coverage, which is awful, has a couple of bright spots, like Astead Herndon.

          But he is a rare exception who actually interviews real people and does research before coming to conclusions and writing. Overwhelmingly, the political coverage is by rudderless, disconnected types like Schmidt, Peter Baker, Jeremy Peters and Sabrina Tavernise

          • MattyG says:

            So true. The NTY’s grand Iraq invasion/Judith Miller mea culpa didn’t foreshadow a reinvigorated dedication to hard investigative work – at least on the front page – but a more nebulous backwards drift into vague irrelevance.

      • Pacific says:

        In reporting on Trump, Russia, the Mueller Investigation, Ukraine, impeachment et al, NYTs reporters have, many times, inaccurately reported facts and/or reached faulty conclusions, which facts/conclusions are contradicted by available public information (Mueller report, Exhibits, Transcripts of congressional hearings and trials etc., other public records etc.). Often, this inaccurate reporting benefits Trump and serves to enable Trump’s ongoing illegal conduct/ actions that damage our democratic institutions, and threaten our national security. This reporting has infuriated me insofar I assumed that that NYTs faulty reporting was purposeful and somehow also benefited the reporters (continued access) and the NYTs. I presumed a minimally competent reporter who regularly reported on Trump would be familiar with available public information. Maybe I am wrong?

        • BobCon says:

          It’s the sme phenomenon as when Microsoft launches a new operating system with fanfare about integration with the internet or something long those lines.

          Reporters will cover what Microsoft says. They may go to a few analysts for comment. But they lack the ability, or even interest, in actually digging in to the OS to see what it actually does, and they lack the context to talk to users and see whether or not the system meets their needs.

          • Desert Dave says:

            Concerned citizens: Did you just try to strongarm the slavic language pack into a quid pro quo?

            Clippy: You have no legitimate claim to usage. I’m deleting your login credentials and corrupting all your documents. I’m gonna burn it all down! See you in hell shitbirds!!!

            White Ethno Nationalists: Hail Clippy!

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If Flynn’s efforts to undermine Russian sanctions were not approved of by Trump, it would have been reason to fire him on the spot. Instead, Trump kept Flynn long after he should have let him go. He’s still protecting him. Rather, he’s protecting himself from what Flynn knows. One might consider that a continuing conspiracy to obstruct justice, for which the statute of limitation has not started to run. So, sure, Donald, pardon Mike Flynn.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Per Jeffrey Wall’s concern, doing irreparable harm to Bill Barr’s Department of Justice would be a good thing. It might start the process of restoring it and putting it back on track.

    • P J Evans says:

      It’s a good start. Every appointee currently in this maladministration seems to be a criminal.
      (I can think of some other targets for irreparable harm, but I don’t want to get banned.)

  6. Flatulus says:

    As a non-lawyer it appears to me that Bill Barr has successfully defeated the entire “legal establishment” and left all of us holding our dicks in our hands.
    The Rule of Law seems to be limp.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah? You understand that the rule of law is democracy and that each of us are responsible for it, right? You want to do something more than lament on a blog, find a way to address it at your local and state level. That is where the “rule of law” is primarily played out. Go to work on it. Talk to your local representatives. If you can’t do that and make a difference, don’t talk about being limp.

      • Flatulus says:

        Yeah, that sounds effective.
        Who will stop Bill Barr, my Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, or Senator Diane Feinstein and their Gang of Eight?

        • John Lehman says:

          There’s been countless times in history when the fate of a people, nation or even the World hinged on seemingly “small” events in politics and wars.
          The tide in the Civil War changed with the Battle of Gettysburg and the tide of Gettysburg changed with the super heroes of Little Round Top.
          Everyone can help.
          Don’t give up.

          • Flatulus says:

            Well “Bmaz” which attitude do you favor?
            Let this all play out in court? I am too old to wait for that shit.
            Jesus fucking Christ

              • Epicurus says:

                Law and politics derive their power from legitimacy. The essential political problem of the current United States, if not the world, is the true divisiveness between opposing parties. Each party considers the other party socially irresponsible and illegitimate in its approach to law and politics. Each party seeks to disenfranchise members of the other party. Access to social media exacerbates that divisiveness at every opportunity. We heard it expressed in the conventions from Biden, Trump, Harris, and Pence. As one example, blacks have been fighting for freedom and the rights expressed under the DoI and the Constitution for 400 years. Republicans still piss on those beliefs and ideas. A President who in a former life refused to rent shelter to blacks has unfettered support from core Republicans.

                I don’t have a solution. I do know that the great overlooked unalienable right, why I am self-titled Epicurus, is the pursuit of happiness. Few understand it or more importantly are willing to observe it. The day each party says to each his own and gives up the attempt to control everyone else’s life is the day we start to heal. I would look to Ferguson, MO has a starting point with the election of a black mayor.

              • Flatulus says:

                Yes, I am full of it, thusly the name Flatulus.
                However, most of my digestive disorder can be traced to the disgraceful performance of the Orange Ignoramus currently shitting on our golden toilet.
                No need for the Mr.

  7. klynn says:

    A little ot.

    At any point, does Rick Davis figure into the Manafort picture with Trump? Especially considering their past work together?

  8. Jenny says:

    Terry Gross NPR interview with Michael Schmidt.
    ‘People Around The President Are Trying To Stop Him,’ ‘Times’ Journalist Says

    The last minutes of the interview are about Don McGahn’s uncle Patrick (Paddy) McGahn known as the lawyers to the casinos. Paddy was once Trump’s lawyer until they had a falling out. Interesting parallel to his nephew. Interesting Don was White House counsel. There are no accidents.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Schmidt and McGahn claim that, but I doubt whether it’s true. It fits the NYT and NPR’s usual emphasis on normalizing largely Republican excess. But it seems more designed to be self-serving and an attempt by partisans – like McGahn – to distance themselves from a growing tragedy.

      It was clear very early on that Trump was a “fucking moron,” who adamantly refused to learn or be handled, and that he would never “grow into” his responsibilities. Arguably, Putin – who gains the most from American dysfunction – finds Trump useful for those very reasons.

    • BobCon says:

      Schmidt is not appearing to be on the level, whether he’s carrying water for McGahn or just got rolled.

      “[McGahn]’s been at the game of sort of taming Trump for over a year now, and he figures out a way to stop that, a way to slow walk the president at the same time that he’s protecting himself. And he writes these memos to the president that lay out how this is a terrible idea and how he’s advising that he not do this and the president probably doesn’t even have the power to do this.”

      On what planet is Trump reading memos?

      “So I found these memos, uncovered these memos.”

      Did Schmidt follow a treasure map and dig them up? Or did McGahn leave a folder on the table and wink and say “whatever you do, don’t open that folder and definitely don’t read what’s inside” and then wink some more?

    • Marinela says:

      About McGahn and others, this is not a good enough explanation. People around Trump can easily stop him, by resigning in mass, and volunteer to testify in front of the House Congress, under oath, with what they know about the illegalities of the Trump administration.
      Instead, they are acting as Trump enablers, promoting GOP narratives, and lying to the American public to protect Trump and GOP.
      They are making money now, and they want to keep making money in the future by starting parallel excuses after Trump is out.
      Not going to buy what they are selling.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        People around Trump can easily stop him, by resigning in mass, and volunteer to testify in front of the House Congress, under oath, with what they know about the illegalities of the Trump administration.

        You have not been following the fate of whistleblowers. Lt. Col. Vindman and others, for example, had stuff over which Trump was impeached, and it went nowhere. After that, I would not trust the current crop of establishment Dems to do something worthwhile about the information I would be committing career and political suicide to disclose.

        • Rayne says:

          That, and former DHS assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention Elizabeth Neumann says that everybody who had been trying to keep Trump in check to protect the country has already left. There’s no one to resign en masse in protest.

        • BobCon says:

          I think Marinela’s point is that the people we always hear about — add McGahn to the list — who are secret resisters are liars.

          If McGahn, Kelly, Bolton, Mattis, Spicer, Cohen, Coats, Tillerson, McMaster, Priebus and everyone else who will be writing a book had thrown down the gauntlet together (and the myth is that there are many who feel that way), Trump would have been neutered. If Sasse and Collins and McCain and Corker decided to demand enforcement of the law as a precondition for movement on tax cuts and judges, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

          The reason none of them did anything is because they aren’t secret good guys.

          It’s true the House Dems bumbled, but all of these guys had the option to act while Ryan was still in charge. There was no secret on January 22 2017 who Trump was. They didn’t care about America.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            “I think Marinela’s point is that the people we always hear about…who are secret resisters [like McGahn] are liars.” Agree. I don’t think anyone is arguing the contrary. But this proposal goes nowhere:

            “People around Trump can easily stop him, by resigning in mass, and volunteer to testify in front of the House Congress, under oath, with what they know about the illegalities of the Trump administration.”

            Those likely to do that are never hired or are quickly weeded out. Movers and shakers who tried to work with Trump quickly determined he was unteachable, and too stubborn to use for any constructive purpose. He could be used only to dismantle the parts of government he could reach, for fun and profit. (That’s the primary result of packing the courts with FedSoc clones.)

            Those lower down the ladder discovered it themselves or read it in the behavior of their patrons. As Rayne remarked, there’s no one left whose departure would make a headline. If it did, the observation underestimates the power of Trump and his patrons – e.g., Fox – to label the departures as those of common or garden variety disgruntled employees – and enemies of Trump.

            • BobCon says:

              I think it’s true that there is nobody left who would resign and testify to criminal and impeachable behavior, but I believe if Barr, for example, laid every single thing on the table and started issuing sworn statements to the FBI, it would absolutely make a difference.

              Of course, Barr won’t do that, and neither would any other of the so called opponents like Kelly. There is a ton of hidden dirt, to the point of crimes, on Trump as president. None of them want to spill. It sounds like Michael Cohen may be the only one to do anything of substance.

              I think the odds are at least 50-50 that a decade after Trump dies, Ivanka will write a book about all of the times she was secretly against Daddy. If she legitimately quit the family and turned on him September 4 2020 and made public everything she knows — financials, sexual assault, national security — it would make a big difference.

              But what she would do in the future, and may well be doing now off the record, is the same kind of penny ante junk that the rest of them have done. They can’t imagine actually doing what they have had the power to do.

  9. Rugger9 says:

    OT but rather important: it seems POTUS was inciting voter fraud to “test” the safeguards but that’s a felony in many states. Ask Crystal Mason who lost her appeal of a 5-year sentence. What I find interesting is that AG Barr as part of his CNN interview said the same thing but lamely tried to wriggle off by claiming he didn’t know the law. However, he wasn’t done yet…

    AG Barr not only tossed out garden variety red meat lies about Blake being armed, but chased that with the claim that a case in TX had 1,700 fraudulent ballots that decided a race there. Everyone was mystified, but it seems Barr referred to Dallas city council race where the margin was 1700 votes and maybe 1200 ballot requests (not ballots) were intially considered “suspicious” as noted by Propublica reporter Jessica Huseman.

    So, it seems Jared and Ivanka have cooked up a new secret plan (a “cunning and subtle one” a la Baldrick) which is now being test-driven. However, IMHO AG Barr is losing his touch because each one of these outbursts from him makes it harder for him and his DOJ minions to convinces judges of his impartiality, and really makes it harder to have anyone believe the October Surprise involving Biden. It’s really too soon to lose his message, but he has and only Chuckles Todd is a wimpier interview host than Wolf.

  10. Molly Pitcher says:

    So Barr has been squelching the IC investigations. Can they be resurrected under a new administration ? Obviously next to nothing can be done until Trump and the gang are out of the way.

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