Two One-Time Devin Nunes Flunkies Under Investigation for Leaks

Michael Ellis, the Devin Nunes flunky who had been installed as NSA General Counsel over more qualified people, resigned from NSA after being placed on leave since Inauguration Day. I hadn’t realized until I read Ellen Nakashima’s report on Ellis’ resignation that he was being investigated for leaking classified information, though Catherine Herridge reported that investigation in real time, the very same day that Ellis’ attorney wrote NSA inquiring about the investigation.

Meanwhile, a long David Ignatius profile of another Nunes flunky, Kash Patel, mentions that he, too, is under investigation for leaking classified information.

Patel repeatedly pressed intelligence agencies to release secrets that, in his view, showed that the president was being persecuted unfairly by critics. Ironically, he is now facing Justice Department investigation for possible improper disclosure of classified information, according to two knowledgeable sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe. The sources said the investigation resulted from a complaint made this year by an intelligence agency, but wouldn’t provide additional details.

Both of these men (along with a third Nunes flunky, Derek Harvey) have been a real threat to national security and both have a history of writing crappy reports for Nunes (recent reporting reminds that Ellis was the author of an unnecessarily shitty Edward Snowden report, for example). There’s little doubt they have released the kinds of material that have never before been released, but much of that would either be legal and/or protected by Speech and Debate.

But the fact that both are being investigated for leaking classified information raises questions whether leak investigations are just being used as an easy way to take out intelligence community critics, whether they’re both suspected of leaking the same information, or whether there’s more there.

The Ignatius story, in particular, is of interest, not least because he’s the guy who first reported Mike Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak in a seemingly sanctioned leak, making this report a kind of book-end to the Trump Administration. All the more so given that Ignatius not only notes the sensitivity of the probe into Patel, but then tells a story that likely relies on classified information of how Patel’s incompetence almost blew up a SEAL rescue mission in Niger.

Anger toward Patel within the national security bureaucracy mounted after an Oct. 31, 2020, hostage rescue mission in Nigeria. The incident, never previously reported in detail, was described by four high-level sources.

It was a rescue mission that was nearly aborted partly because of inadequate coordination by Patel. SEAL Team Six had been assigned to rescue 27-year-old Philip Walton, a missionary’s son who had been kidnapped by gunmen in Niger, near the border with Nigeria. Patel, as a senior counterterrorism adviser, had assured colleagues that the mission had a green light, according to several sources. The SEALs were ready to parachute into the rescue site from high altitude (one source estimated 30,000 feet) when there was a last-minute hitch.

But as the SEALs were about to jump, military commanders and State Department officials realized that one necessary item hadn’t been completed: The Nigerian government hadn’t been informed prior to the operation inside their country, as required.

A frantic last-minute effort to obtain the necessary permission ensued. The SEAL team’s aircraft held over the target, flying in a racetrack pattern, for about 45 minutes while the State Department tried to locate a Nigerian national security official who could receive the official notice. Finally, just 15 minutes before the operational window closed, the Nigerians were given word, the SEALs parachuted down, and the hostage was rescued.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were angry that, in their view, Patel had prematurely said the operation was fully cleared, according to knowledgeable officials. One senior Pentagon official said he was “incensed” at Patel. A second senior Pentagon official described Patel’s actions as potentially “dangerous” for the SEALs.

The attack on Patel’s role in the hostage rescue may be a signal about what Patel is suspected of leaking.

While Ignatius provides no indication of what Patel is suspected of leaking, the WaPo columnist does link to an interview Patel did with Aaron Maté. The interview is about what you’d expect from a propagandist interviewing a propagandist.  Patel makes a slew of false claims that Maté encourages: the purpose of FISA, what normally goes in FISA applications, the intelligence against Carter Page, what servers the FBI obtained as part of its investigation into the hack (Maté still ascribes the single server fallacy!), what Crowdstrike actually had access to, what Bruce Ohr’s FBI interviews actually showed. Perhaps the most hysterical part of the interview is where Patel claimed that the way to conduct an investigation is to follow the money, but Maté never asked him why HPSCI didn’t follow the money on a single Trump associate, to say nothing of Trump’s role in money laundering for Russian oligarchs.

Nevertheless, in their discussion about the Russian investigation, Patel was quite careful to avoid revealing non-public information, not even for a report he authored claiming poor tradecraft on the Intelligence Community Assessment of the Russian attack that both SSCI and John Durham have investigated and dismissed.

Maté similarly let Patel dodge really answering questions about his conduct on January 6, even though some of the biggest questions about that day pertain to why DOD delayed for three hours before reinforcing the Capitol, including why it took over 30 minutes for an order to deploy to get from Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to Guard Commander General William Walker who had been waiting on stand-by. In response to Maté’s question, Patel first repeated his selective breach of Executive Privilege to claim that Trump had already authorized Guard deployments, then answered a totally different question than the one Maté asked — not why DOD let the attack continue for 3 hours, long after it had gotten repeated requests for help, but how quickly DOD deployed the Guard after they had allowed an attack to happen across town while they watched.

We activated, from a start, the fastest augmentation and mobilization of uniformed military troops in the DC area since World War II, and we put 24,000 boots on the ground in less than 48 hours. I don’t know who’s saying we slow-rolled anything, because these are Guardsmen, they’re not active duty military.

While Patel violated Executive Privilege, there’s nothing classified about the belated Guard deployment.

It’s in-between those two conversations, though, where Patel may have succumbed to Maté’s persistent questioning about the very same topic about which Ignatius’ sources attack Patal: hostage rescues. Maté asked about a report that Patel had tried to negotiate the release of Austin Tice. Patel first responded to Maté by saying that he wouldn’t address whether Tice is alive or not. But then Maté followed up, and Patel told a self-serving story about his role in an attempt to free Tice. In it, Patel provided non-public details about his meeting with Assad representatives in Syria and may have confirmed an intercept on Bashar al-Assad.

Maté: Can you tell us anything about your discussions with Syrian officials, what they were asking from you, their level of openness to having talks with the US government?

Patel: Sure, I mean, look, that didn’t happen overnight. You know, one of President Trump’s priorities was, “go get American hostages home,” and I think we got over 50 — 53ish, hostages, detainees back — from 20-some countries maybe. Maybe a little less. But Austin Tice had been missing for, going on eight years, and we had made no headway, really, on it, so we made it a priority. We started working with our counterparts in the region. That trip was almost 18 months in the making. And we finally were able to land a meeting in Damascus because I told them, I said, “I’ll come see you. You send someone who can represent President Assad directly, because I can represent President Trump directly on this matter. And let’s go sit down.” And they said, “okay, come to Damascus.” And I don’t know if they thought we would show up or not. We did. And we were very clear. We said, “look, I understand I’m not getting Austin home on this trip, but I would like a proof of life. What would you like in return for that?” We had very frank conversations. They said, we want X amount of movement for the United States military. Troops stuff, and this and that. And I said, “look, all of that’s on the table. We can discuss all those things. I need a proof of life.” And they said they would take it back to Assad. Which they did. I know they did that. And then, I think shortly thereafter, I switched over to the Department of Defense, and tried to continue that mission, but, um, that one was one I just, unfortunately, didn’t succeed on. [my emphasis]

The most likely way that Patel would come to learn, with certainty, that whatever go-betweens he met with in Damascus actually did report back to Assad would be via an NSA or CIA intercept. If that is how he learned, then confirming that he knew Assad got a report back might have burned the intercept. Doing so with Maté at the Grayzone, which personally and as an outlet produce a lot of Assad apology, might be particularly sensitive. And the ease with which Maté appealed to Patel’s ego to get him to reveal these details would raise real questions about whether Patel played a role in the earlier WSJ story about the meeting, which was published on October 18, days before Patel almost fucked up the October 31 Niger mission.

That is, this Ignatius story seems like an effort to undermine Patel’s self-interested stories of heroism on hostage rescues, after he disclosed non-public details about one of them.

Which would also suggest that, whatever the merit of the investigation into Ellis (and I think GOP concerns about it have some merit), the investigation into Patel may be substantive.

48 replies
  1. subtropolis says:

    Good catch on the Assad intercept slip. I hope that whatever investigation is afoot, though, is bigger than that. And, that it sucks in Nunes.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    Well, given how much the courtier press made a fuss about Durham’s one plea deal, the silence (so far) on these guys is rather deafening. Hmm…..

  3. TooLoose LeTruck says:

    “One-time Devin Nunes flunkie”…

    I have to say…

    That’s a phrase I’m really, really glad will never be linked to my name…

    Just sayin’…

      • TooLoose LeTruck says:

        True, that…

        Devin Nunces…

        A man who picked a legal fight w/ a non-existent cow…

        A COW…

        And LOST…

        The mind… it boggles… you could almost found a religion around that…

        A Confederacy of Nunces, indeed…

          • TooLoose LeTruck says:

            Right, right, right…

            Toonces, the driving cat!

            I remember that…

            That’s gotta suck… for Nunes…

            To be a punchline for not just one but two fictional animals…

            An honor truly deserved…

            • bmaz says:

              The jokes really do write themselves. Which is pretty unfortunate, because so much of this has been deadly serious and destructive.

              • TooLoose LeTruck says:

                Yes, it has been…

                Deadly, deadly serious, and truly destructive… I’m worried about the long term survival of the country… for all the problems this country has, we’re not going to be better off if it finally fails… and nothing’s unbreakable… nothing…

                I live in the East Bay (SF Bay Area) and there are now tents pitched on street corner after street corner when you drive across Berkeley… years ago, there were always some homeless around… I used to know some of them on a first name basis when I would go out to my usual haunts for coffee early in the morning… but now it’s gone from a few to dozens to hundreds and the homeless camps around here can go on for blocks… it is hideous and frightening, to see it happening.

                Certainly, this is a different problem that what Nunes was part of, but in terms of destructive, the country is not unbreakable. I see parts of it crumbling away bit by bit all the time… and of late I’ve been hearing a fucking machine gun at night, out in the E Oakland hills… a machine-fucking-gun, I kid you not.

                  • subtropolis says:

                    I’m not on the west coast, so I’ve only seen video of the situation in both cities. Yesterday, I happened to see a collection of shots of the state of Venice Beach, also. It is astonishing and heartbreaking, and likewise gives me a feeling of dread.

                    • TooLoose LeTruck says:

                      I worked down in Santa Cruz for a couple of months two years ago and I was horrified to see the numbers of totally destroyed zombies wandering the streets… truly sad and shocking…

                      I keep wondering… is there a political aspect to what’s happening out here on the WC… is/are someone/s deliberately flooding the state w/ really cheap, hideously addictive drugs like fetanyl or oxi just to hasten its demise?

                      Ship your poor out here, siphon off well paying jobs w/ favorable tax rates, and then destroy as many people as possible w/ drugs?

                      I know that sounds really paranoid… but look around you, if you live out here…

                • John Lehman says:

                  Yes things really seem to be “going to hell in a handbag” and they’ll likely get worse but also think it’s like an early morning thunderstorm just before a beautiful dawn.

                  … think there’s a lot of “third world”, “fourth world” peoples from ( what did DJT call them?… “s*** h*** countries?) who could teach us a lot about being part of the world and getting along with the rest of humanity.

                  Here in the Americas it is especially true how much the original inhabitants could teach us respect for and care of Mother Earth.

                  So it might take some more pain but we’ll learn.

  4. OldTulsaDude says:

    It is no longer enough to simply “follow the money”; now, one must also “follow the Kash”.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    DoD chiefs of staff (Patel’s job) are not normally associated with hands-on negotiating with foreign nationals about hostage releases, except to coordinate internal communications inside the DoD and with other agencies. Patel’s history suggests he has so little talent – other than as a gofer for his patrons – that he’s the last guy who should be negotiating with anyone.

    The tidbit about the SEAL team using a HALO jump – high altitude, low opening – sounds like an inside the Beltway desk jockey bragging about having tough-guy, military-insider information. But while the technique is well-known, in general, its use in a particular op would be revealing a method.

    The tale that Patel told those involved that a “friendly” SEAL team incursion into Nigerian territory was good to go – presumably, because he was too inexperienced to know it was also necessary to inform the host government – is a clusterfuck. Trump is also directly to blame for it, because he hired an obviously unqualified hack for a vital national security job. (One of many such hires. When you temporarily put a mob boss in charge of law enforcement, they work feverishly to undo its work.)

    As EW says, the Ignatius article seems to be based on the same sort of leaking that Patel may be accused of. It also seems designed to garner political support for payback, as it focuses on Trump and here, Patel, needlessly putting people in harm’s way. (One of Patel’s problems is that he’s easier to get at than Trump.) I agree with EW and hope there’s more to Patel’s malfeasance – a near certainty – and that this investigation is not just tit-for-tatting.

    • emptywheel says:

      Patel is a world class gate-keeper. He successfully got even purportedly independent minded Republicans to believe outright fantasies by ensuring all information would flow through him. Did the same in the White House, too (which is when he was on hostage rescue duty). But being a great gate-keeper does not amount to being a great Chief of Staff, no matter how well the master of the latter (Dick Cheney) learned his chops doing the former.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Admittedly, arranging to have your patrons put you in a job you’re not qualified for solely to channel information to them – and not to those whose jobs require it – is a talent, albeit a negative one. In that case, I would say the talent, rather, the power, is the patrons’.

        The nearly aborted SEAL team raid is a minor example of the costs that process incurs. It keeps the normal job from being done while protecting one’s patrons. Presumably, that’s the point for anarchists like Steven Bannon and those who do not want their profits regulated. Governments must be full of such talent, all the more so because Republicans have given up trying to govern, in favor of minority rule for the white wealthy. That would make Patel an avatar of decay.

    • BobCon says:

      It’s possible there is a mix of an investigation for serious violations of the law and motivations to get him based on grudges. Patel even seems like the kind of operator who goes out of his way to create personal friction as a way to create an alibi to deflect susbstantive criticism

      • BobCon says:

        To be clear, that’s not to downgrade any possible crimes. Being a jerk is no more of a defense for serious criming than being a nice guy.

    • subtropolis says:

      He wasn’t involved in negotiations for Tice while at DoD.

      “And then, I think shortly thereafter, I switched over to the Department of Defense, and tried to continue that mission, but, um, that one was one I just, unfortunately, didn’t succeed on.”

      Indeed, it looks as though he may have been swatted down when he attempted to resurrect his involvement once he was at the Pentagon.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Depends on what it was Patel did not succeed in doing: remaining involved with an op, once Trump made him CoS to the Acting SecDef, or failed in that involvement.

        But if Patel was involved in hostage negotiations as part of the NSC, it would illustrate how much Trump had corrupted its work, and how badly he wanted it not to succeed. As Dick Cheney was fond of saying, personnel is policy.

  6. Nord Dakota says:

    The level of detail the EW community is able to maintain is, to me, mind-boggling. I can’t do it myself. But Kash has been a neon-light *D*O*U*C*H*E* all along, that much even I can tell.

    The Nigerian mission sounds like a Madame Secretary plot and I would have LOVED to see Elizabeth McCord ream his ass.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      As EW suggests, Patel was Not there to do the job associated with his job title and responsibilities. He was there to do his master’s bidding. In Patel’s case, that was to sabotage normal communications and allow his patrons to obstruct DoD operations (directly or through Patel’s substantive incompetence).

      Patel is an example of the Trump version of the courtiers who walk through the corporate-government revolving door. More typical would be Eugene Scalia, Trump’s Sec’y of Labor. With his impeccable patrimony and credentials, he has long been the go to Republican operative to sabotage federal labor law and practice, so that they operate solely on behalf of employers. One of his notable earlier successes was to torpedo proposed workplace ergonomic rules, which could have prevented many thousands of workplace injuriies.

      Patel is a less credentialed, more dependent, more obviously disruptive example of the species. With him, Trump dispensed with appearances and promoted him from congressional gofer into the bottleneck through which all important DoD communications had to pass. Kash Patel has become a bellwether in the decaying field of Republican governance. The DoJ might also find him to be a useful divining rod in a search for Republican corruption.

  7. Jenny says:

    “What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco.”
    – Devin Nunes (Found on Fox News 1 year ago)

  8. Nord Dakota says:

    Patel was issued a rare “order of ineptitude” in 2016 by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, who faulted the lawyer’s handling of the prosecution of Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, who was accused of trying to support ISIS.

    “If the pretentious lawyers from ‘main’ justice knew what they were doing — or had the humility to ask for help from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas,” Hughes wrote, “it would not have taken three days, seven telephone calls, three voicemail messages and one snippy electronic message for them to indirectly ask the court for assistance in ordering a transcript.”

    The judge admonished Patel from the bench after he arrived in court, shortly after a flight, without proper attire.“You’re not a member of the trial team,” Hughes said. “It’s been going on for a month or so and you haven’t been here, have you?”

    “And where is your tie?” the judge said. “Where is your suit?”

    Hughes then demanded Patel’s passport to prove he’d just arrived from an overseas flight, and he asked why he had been chosen to participate if there were other prosecutors nearby in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

    “What is the utility to me and to the people of America to have you fly down here at their expense, eat at their expense and stay at their expense when there are plenty of capable people over there, in this room plus over there?” Hughes said. “You’re just one more nonessential employee from Washington.”

    “You don’t add a bit of value, do you?” the judge added.

    Other lawyers said they’d never an attorney slapped so hard from the bench.

    And to think before that he was a federal public defender. Would love to know how those went.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      And yet, as EW points out, Patel keeps failing upward. So, he has patrons with a lot of juice, for whom his incompetence is irrelevant or a boon and for whom, unlike the taxpayers, he does deliver the goods. I hope he’s been incompetent enough to leave a trail of tasty evidentiary morsels, suggestive of large illegal meals, that DoJ sleuths choose to follow.

      • subtropolis says:

        Competence has little to do with it. People like Kash Patel fall upward in the republican crime family due to their amorality and willingness to play along to get along.

    • TooLoose LeTruck says:

      Order of Ineptitude…

      Wow… sounds like the name of a really ‘outsider’ lodge… like the Odd Fellows, only odder… or E Clampus Vitus, only Clampier…

      The things you learn around here… I’m tellin’ ya…

      • Savage Librarian says:

        E Clampus Vitus! It was created to lampoon fraternal organizations. Are you related to Ephraim Bee, by any chance? He was my grandmother’s grandfather. A colorful character who debated his way into the first legislature of West Virginia. He named one of his daughters West Virginia because she was born the day after Lincoln authorized the bill to make it a separate state from Virginia. When she married, she was called Ginn Zinn.

  9. harpie says:

    Something else PATEL was involved in, with MILLER, [they were both at NSC], in October 2020:

    A little-known counterterrorism official named Christopher C. Miller flew to the Middle East [Qatar] last month [OCTOBER 2020] to pursue a diplomatic idea: asking Qatar to help devise plans to buy off or otherwise marginalize some senior leaders of the Shabab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, who are more committed to attacking the West.

    Mr. Miller had obtained a blessing from Kash Patel, then a senior official at the National Security Council. President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, was also aware of the trip, officials said. But they bypassed the nation’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and when he found out, he deemed the idea half-baked and shut it down.

    Now, control over American national security and foreign policy has been upended. Mr. Trump abruptly installed Mr. Miller as acting defense secretary this week — making him, at least on paper, Mr. Pompeo’s equal for the administration’s last two months. Mr. Patel is becoming Mr. Miller’s chief of staff. […]

    That plan has a whiff of the unofficial Rudy, Volker, Sondland channel Trump set up in Ukraine.

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