Treasury Threatens to Prosecute Reporters Trying to Reveal What Rod Rosenstein and Richard Burr Would Not

WikiLeaks supporters like to claim the May 2019 superseding indictment against Assange uniquely threatens journalism by treating routine journalistic activities — such as requesting sensitive information — as part of a conspiracy to leak.* That’s not entirely true.

As I’ve noted, well before Assange’s superseding indictment, in October 2018, DOJ charged Natalie Sours Edwards — one of several presumed sources for a series of BuzzFeed stories on Suspicious Activities Reports pertaining to those investigated for their ties to Russia — in such a way to treat Jason Leopold as a co-conspirator. Both the complaint justifying her arrest and the indictment include a conspiracy charge that describes how Edwards (and another unindicted co-conspirator) worked with Reporter-1, including one request pertaining to Prevezon captured on Signal.

c. As noted above, the October 2018 Article regarded, among other things, Prevezon and the Investment Company. As recently as September 2018, EDWARDS and Reporter-1 engaged in the following conversation, via the Encrypted Application, in relevant part:

EDWARDS: I am not getting any hits on [the CEO of the Investment Company] do you have any idea what the association is if I had more information i could search in different areas

Reporter-1: If not on his name it would be [the Investment Company]. That’s the only other one [The CEO] is associated with Prevezon Well not associated His company is [the Investment Company]

On January 13, Edwards pled guilty to one charge, the conspiracy one, though without any sign of cooperation.

In fact, Edwards is not the only case charged like this. While he was charged after Assange’s superseding indictment, Henry Frese, a DIA analyst who leaked reports on China to some NBC reporters, was not just charged in a similar conspiracy charge, but was wiretapped to collect evidence implicating the reporters. Because he cooperated, there’s little to prevent Trump’s DOJ from charging the journalists after the election except Trump’s well-established support for an adversarial press.

The way in which DOJ charged Edwards has become newly critical given an announcement Treasury made yesterday, in the wake of reports about how Donald Trump was never investigated for his financial vulnerability to Russia. The unit of Treasury that collects and analyzes Suspicious Activity Reports released a statement threatening “various media outlets” who were planning to publish stories on SARs.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is aware that various media outlets intend to publish a series of articles based on unlawfully disclosed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), as well as other sensitive government documents, from several years ago.  As FinCEN has stated previously, the unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States, compromise law enforcement investigations, and threaten the safety and security of the institutions and individuals who file such reports.  FinCEN has referred this matter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General.

BuzzFeed has always treated their source for the Treasury story as a whistleblower, reporting not just a dispute over access to reports for intelligence reports, but also on the damning Russian information that got ignored.

As Edwards has moved closer to sentencing, she developed irreconcilable differences with her original attorneys over what she called a coerced guilty plea. And documents filed in the case provide some explanation why.

While the substance of her appeal is not entirely clear, it’s clear that she claimed legal access to certain documents — presumably SARs — as a whistleblower.

In the appellants “official capacity” as a government employee from 2015-Jan 2020 and as a whistleblower from 2015 to current, the specific documents were used during the Congressional Request Inquires & Letters from 2015-2018, the Office of Special Counsel’s investigations from 2017-2020 and the appellants legal access to the exculpatory material from 2018 to current per 31 C.F.R. § 103 “official disclosures responsive to a request from an appropriate Congressional committee or subcommittees; and prosecutorial disclosures mandated by statute or the Constitution, in connection with the statement of a government witness to be called at trial, the impeachment of a government witness, or as material exculpatory of a criminal defendant.1

As a government employee I could disclose any information in a SAR (including information in supporting documentation) to anyone, up to and including the person who is the subject of the SAR, so long as the disclosure was “necessary to fulfill the official duties of such officer or employee”2 which I did as a whistleblower and as an employee; however, once I medically resigned, 31 C.F.R. § 103 provided the legal exculpatory material as a whistleblower, administrative appellate and criminal defendant to disclose the information in court proceedings. Furthermore, the appellant was adhering to the courts upholding that disclosures must be specific and detailed, not vague allegations of wrongdoing regarding broad or imprecise matters. Linder v. Department of Justice, 122 M.S.P.R. 14, 14 (2014); Keefer v. Department of Agriculture, 82 M.S.P.R. 687, 10 (1999); Padilla v. Department of the Air Force, 55 M.S.P.R. 540, 543– 44 (1992).

After she tried to use the documents in her appeal of a whistleblower complaint, the Treasury Department Inspector General shared them with the prosecutors in her case, who in turn cited them in her presentencing report.

The agency has argued throughout the appellant no longer is an employee of the agency, the pro se appellant agrees. The agency Inspector General should not have been notified of the administrative proceedings of the court because the appellant is not an employee of the agency. There is no statue or policy that gives the agency the right to notify the agency IG of the “procedural motion” prior “to notify the other party”. Regulation 5 C.F.R. § 1201.55(a) does not state “notify Inspector General” rather it does state “to notify the other party”. The pro se appellant argues notifying the Inspector General prior to “the other party” is a violation of the pro se appellants fifth amendment.

[snip]

[T]he agency/agency IG notified the appellants criminal prosecutors of the disclosures in the IRA case. As explained above, the disclosures are permissible per 31 C.F.R. § 103. Due to the agency/agency IG notification to the government prosecutors, the prosecution requested increased sentencing in the sentencing report for the appellant/defendant thus violating the defendants fifth amendment in the criminal proceeding.

Edwards further claimed that the government withheld her original complaint to coerce her to plead guilty.

The Federal Judge found merit and significant concerns in the “letter and substantial documentation” the whistleblower defendant/appellant provided to the court concerning violation of fifth amendment, conflict of interests pertaining to the prosecution/counsel, coercion of the plea deal, criminal referral submitted against agency IG, the letter defendant sent to Attorney General Sessions and Special Counsel Mueller, etc., all elements withheld from the Federal court by both the prosecution and defense counsel.

Edwards has been assigned a new attorney (who may have convinced her not to submit this complaint as part of sentencing), and her sentencing has been pushed out to October.

There’s no way to assess the validity of her complaint or even her representation of what happened with the judge in her case, Gregory Woods. What her complaint shows, however, is that there’s a packet of information she sent to Mueller and Sessions (possibly implicating and/or also sent to Congress), summarizing some reports she believes got ignored.

If those reports show what Rod Rosenstein and Richard Burr worked so hard not to investigate, it might explain why Treasury is threatening legal consequences for reporting on them. And given how DOJ already structured this prosecution, they might well be threatening to treat reporting on the President’s vulnerabilities as a conspiracy to leak SARs protected by statute.


*WikiLeaks supporters also cite the risk of Assange being subjected to US Espionage Act prosecution. While that risk is real, in his case, the most dangerous charges (for leaking the names of US and Coalition informants) would likely be far easier to prosecute under the UK’s Official Secrets Act, which still could happen if he’s not extradited. The actions described in his indictment are arguably more explicitly criminalized in the UK than the US, even if their sentences are not as draconian.

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37 replies
    • emptywheel says:

      She’s not trying to. At least I don’t think so. She’s just trying to get her whistleblower efforts included as exculpatory information for sentencing rather than exculpatory.

        • emptywheel says:

          I think her new counsel, Stephanie Carvlin, has talked her off the ledge of plans which would make her plight worse, because (as you point out) she’s not Mike Flynn and Carvlin is not Sidney Powell.

  1. CD54 says:

    Hey man, anybody else in the mood to reject anything whatsoever that these skeeziks say — I mean just stop acknowledging anything they say as valid. Absent BAD FAITH! I mean, what are the FREAKIN’ odds???

  2. skua says:

    “… well-established support for an adversarial press.”

    LOL

    The air of Ireland seems to be producing some levity.
    This is good.

    • jessef says:

      Are you sure this is a joke?

      He clearly thinks the press should be adversarial (like lawyer) as opposed to neutral (like judges), i.e., journalists and media organizations that are on his side should do puff pieces and bury stories that portray him in a negative light

      When neutrally presented facts show that you are terrible, it makes sense to support an adversarial system

      • skua says:

        And how would Trump’s support of a shit-fight news environment act to “prevent Trump’s DOJ from charging the journalists after the election”?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Exactly. It seems ironic, until you consider that an adversarial, opinion-not-fact-driven press – Faux Noise – is what gives Trump life and breath. A contest of opinions can be won by whomever is most emotional and shouts the loudest. A fact-driven process depends on who has the better facts and arguments. Trump is capable at one, and hopeless at the other.

      • skua says:

        I extended the term “adversarial” from the system used in American and British courts to journalism.

        A google shows that “adversarial journalism” is a thing.
        “A model of reporting in which the journalist’s role involves adopting a stance of opposition and a combative style in order to expose perceived wrongdoings. This style is sometimes criticized as being aggressively antagonistic or cynically divisive.” From Oxford Reference webpage.

        Trump does not support adversarial journalism. As evidenced by his free use of the phrase “fake news” to journalism which attacks him.
        He does support adversarial journalism that covers up his corruption, as well as everything else that covers up his corruption.

        • jessef says:

          No one said he supports all adversarial journalists. The point is that because neutral reporting about him would necessarily be so negative he benefits from a news environment that assumes all reporting is adversarial

          In the first place, he gets positive stories from the adversarial news that is on his side and in the second place he gets to muddy the waters on the neutral journalism by claiming it is fake news

          • skua says:

            So far I’m still sure it was intended as a joke because I don’t see how Trump’s support for shit-fight journalism would protect the journalists in question from being charged.

            As to the relevant value to America of Fox News/OAN compared to the psuedo-neutral, pseudo-rational output of WSJ, NYT and the US Spectator, I agree that Trump benefits more from Fox/OAN. But I’m not seeing much market appetite for more truly neutral news and less adversarial news.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Yes, adversarial journalism is a thing. It’s more openly practiced in the UK. In the US, the advocacy is often more subtle and disingenuous. It is promoted via bent headlines, burying the lede, covering a perverse perspective on a legit story, and not covering an important one. All in the interest of promoting the MSM’s self-serving and false notion of objectivity.

          But it’s key feature is advocacy, which is not limited to correcting perceived wrongs. It can advocate for more of them as much as correcting them. As an equally lazy journalist, for example, Boris Johnson outrageously advocated for the wrong things all the time.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Treasury cites a litany of reasons why – in the ordinary course of business – disclosure of SARs and other closely held financial information reported to the government could be harmful. But coming from Steve Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s mini-me, in the run-up to his re-election, it has no credibility. That is, it is a credible threat to prosecute under Bill Barr – and most Democratic administrations – but it is not remotely credible for any reason other than to protect and serve the personal interests of Donald Trump.

  4. Silly but True says:

    The root problem is fundamental lack of clarity or teeth in our whistleblower laws. Until then, always expect the government committing apparent wrongdoing to always come swinging at those criticizing its conduct, and continue to have disagreement over even what constitutes bad conduct.

    In any case if we accept need for confidential natsec, then sending it to reporters while not even to Congress (first) has to be reserved for the most egregious offenses.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Any whistleblower legislation depends less on its text than the political will to enforce it and to protect those who sometimes give their all to make government less harmful and more accountable.

      • Silly but True says:

        I agree to extent that by virtue nearly of luck that it seems the right people have to be in right place at right time, which is too limiting an oversight or protective system. We’re counting on the composite of many years worth of GS employees of all political persuasions to exist as that “political will,” and I think that’s usually too much to ask of the system.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          It’s the political will of those in Congress and their patrons outside of it that count. It is the measure of whether statutes would be sufficiently enforced to protect WB.

        • Savage Librarian says:

          Similar shenanigans occur on the local and state levels. Systemic structural corruption is exceedingly difficult to subdue.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    (We discussed this the other day. I count thirteen comments on this post, but the home page still says there are zero.)

  6. Geoguy says:

    I see what eoh noted above at 12:34 pm. The Recent Comments and Tweets sections aren’t updating either. (not complaining, just thought you would like to know.)

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        As noted I think yesterday, and below, the site’s front page lists each recent post and the number of comments about it. Those numbers do not match the actual number of comments.

        • ducktree says:

          Something weird is afoot on the intertoobs, generally. When I scroll through both WaPo comments and linked twitter feeds, lately the text dissolves right before my eyes and becomes unreadable.

          As for EW, for a while I have checked in throughout the day until about 7 pm PDT . . . returning the next morning I often find posts that originated well before my checking out but were not previously displayed in that time frame. Curiouser…

  7. Ollie says:

    Wow this is very interesting EW. The corruption is so entangled w/in the system and that’s the part that really gives me worry: Are there enough good people…….who are willing to endure prison or whatever to save our Republic?
    I get so tied up inside every day, several times a day something else breaks……or trump does it himself like the NC=vote twice. I mean wtf? Barr saying yesterday he doesn’t know if you can’t vote twice. again, wtf? It’s exhausting reading about evil.

    Great report Marcy. Many thanks! I’ve been coming by but no talkie……..I’ve been acting the maggot!

    content in your current surroundings!

  8. Rugger9 says:

    The punditocracy is all over themselves deciding what the worst part of AG Barr’s unhinged interview was for America. Was it the rehash of the thousands of foreign ballots schtick that would be used to undermine the mail-in voting (how about that TX case number. Bill?), or perhaps the vote-twice trial balloon. It’s not like there haven’t already been GOP voters “testing” the safeguards in KS, for example.

    Then, we have “Acting DHS Secretary” Chad Wolf (who is still well past his expiration date) talking about using RICO to prosecute ANTIFA and BLM to much derision from actual lawyers and prosecutors. What it does show is the playbook to confuse, sow chaos and put dissenters in jail to prevent them from voting and organizing.

    So, vote as early as you can to limit the ability of DJT and his minions to interfere.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Digby has a nice take down – https://digbysblog.net/2020/09/bill-barr-has-a-hissy-fit/ – of Bill Barr’s reality-searing interview yesterday. https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/02/politics/william-barr-cnn-interview/index.html She concludes that Barr is both stupid and malevolent:

    He sounded nuts in this interview in many ways, for instance his insistence that there’s no such thing as systemic racism and that it’s not racism isn’t the reason Black men are treated differently, it’s “stereotyping.” The man thinks he’s a lot smarter than he is.

    I agree, in part. Bill Barr is a devotee of Faux Noise and a committed zealot. He thinks that the only part of the Constitution worth enforcing is Article II – except for the parts that limit executive power. I also think that Bill Barr is a good corporate general counsel – he was one for nearly 20 years. He knows the ego of his CEO, and he is cynical enough to believe that catering to it is his only mission. Enabling his winning is all that counts. Facts are wrong if they get in the way.

    That doesn’t mean Bill Barr isn’t a racist or misogynist. I think he is devoutly both. But it is his cynicism that allows him to say that there is no “systemic racism” in policing (or elsewhere) and that if there is systemic bias, it is a bias against discrimination. Those comments are outrageously anti-factual. [They have to be, to distract from 186,000 dead.] But Barr is parroting Trump and everyone who has ever felt aggrieved that a person of color, a woman, or an immigrant got something they think should have been theirs. Bill Barr would be pathetic relic of Jim Crow, were he not the president’s right hand man.

    • ducktree says:

      I gave Barr a 9.1 on that Triple Salchow flip-flop when he claimed to paraphrase* Jesse Jackson in a “quote” that suggested even a Black dude sees other Black dudes out-and-about as a presumed menace… because not racist something something.

      *lie about

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I detect the fragrance of vintage 2020 sour grapes from among Joe Kennedy III’s supporters. Either that, or the quotes are from speechwriters for Donald Trump. Stephanie Murray reports that one anonymous “Dem strategist” thinks it was the Markey campaign that did a “masterful job convincing voters Ed was something he’s not.” Another thought that Markey handily won his Democratic primary against a Kennedy princeling only because “the left” – hint, hint, nudge, nudge – is “easily won over by bright shiny objects.” LOL is right.

    https://twitter.com/stephanie_murr/status/1301348759843074048

    • Epicurus says:

      I am a MA ex-pat. I am not a Kennedy supporter. They all seem vacuous. Markey was my Congressman, however, before he became Senator. He is best described as a Democrat sailboat. Whatever way the prevailing Democrat faction wind is blowing that’s where the sailboat is going. He hasn’t had an original thought in probably thirty years, if ever. Just full of wind but a special kind of Democratic wind MA Democrats particularly love.

  11. MB says:

    Echoing what EOH @ 12:34 and Geoguy @ 12:48 are saying above. Main page still says “0 comments” even though at this moment are there are 19 of them. In addition to the comments count not updating on the main page, each page needs a browser refresh to show the newest comments. Therefore, I’m acquiring new habits to keep up now, but it’s more cumbersome than it should (and used to) be! Hopefully this can be fixed?!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I was observing something about which Rayne had earlier asked for comments, and confirming that it still seems to exist. The site is aware of the issue. If it’s fixable, they’ll get to it. Thanks.

  12. noromo says:

    Slightly OT (and, geek alert):
    The binary numbers in the seal heading the post are the ascii for “FinCEN”

    From their press release in 2018:
    Binary numbers, spell out FinCEN in binary code, and represent the financial data FinCEN uses to keep our country strong and prosperous, our financial system secure, and our communities and families safe from harm.

    (I have posted a couple times previously as one of the Tim’s. But to avoid a scolding, I’m renaming myself noromo, which is my domain name.)

  13. x174 says:

    mt–thanks for this update of Natalie Sours Edwards. i’m quite intrigued by the fincen system of compiling secret suspicious activity reports that no one but treasury knows about. it reminds me of the system that epstein devised: have compromising information that could be use to blackmail his clients. until the need may arise, the evidence of crimes stays hidden. what a system. what a racket.

Comments are closed.