February 28, 2024 / by 

 

Gary Shapley’s Goosey Gander: When Investigators Want Treatment They Don’t Accord Others

Update, July 10: In a letter to Lindsey Graham, David Weiss has even more explicitly debunked Gary Shapley’s claims. (Jordain Carney first reported the letter.)

To clarify an apparent misperception and to avoid future confusion, I wish to make one point clear: in this case, I have not requested Special Counsel designation pursuant to 28 CFR § 600 et seq. Rather, I had discussions with Departmental officials regarding potential appointment under 28 U.S.C. § 515, which would have allowed me to file charges in a district outside my own without the partnership of the local U.S. Attorney. I was assured that I would be granted this authority if it proved necessary. And this assurance came months before the October 7, 2022, meeting referenced throughout the whistleblowers’ allegations. In this case, I’ve followed the process outlined in my June 30 letter and have never been denied the authority to bring charges in any jurisdiction.

It was over four-fifths of the way through the interview of purported IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley — at least four hours in, if you include lunch — before the discussion turned to the October 6, 2022 leak about the investigation to Devlin Barrett.

Q In No. 1 on this email you prepared, says: “Discussion about the agent leak — requested the sphere stay as small as possible…DOJ IG will be notified. FBI — HQ is notified.” What was the specific leak?

A So there was a leak, I’m not sure what outlet, on October 6th of 2022 — it appeared to come from the agent’s level, who was critical of the prosecutors for not charging the case.

Q Okay. Talking about the Hunter Biden case?

A Yes, not charging the Hunter Biden case. So, obviously that was part of the discussion at the beginning. And there have been multiple leaks in this case going back, and this one was handled a lot differently because I guess it was purportedly from the agent’s level. So this drastic — you know, they used that as an excuse to kind of — to do what they were doing to us after this meeting on the 7th, they kind of used that leak as an excuse to exclude us.

The October 7 meeting, at which the leak was agenda item number one, was mentioned during the interview as Shapley’s line in the sand with what he claimed was DOJ misconduct over twenty times before anyone discussed the leak.

The reverse order congressional interview

And so before the actual leak was discussed, Shapley described two different instances where DOJ asked for his emails, as discovery in advance of trial, he described.

The first was in March 2022, the same month as details of the Hunter Biden investigation — including a discussion of the Hunter Biden laptop — appeared in this NYT story.

But, even though he was one of two people who had attempted to interview Hunter Biden in December 2020, Shapley didn’t provide his emails, because — he said — managers’ emails aren’t discoverable to a defendant.

It is common practice for DOJ to ask for the case agents’ communications in discovery, as they might have to testify in court. However, it’s much more unusual to ask for management communications, because it is simply not discoverable.

In March of 2022, DOJ requested of the IRS and FBI all management-level emails and documents on this case. I didn’t produce my emails, but I provided them with my sensitive case reports and memorandums that included contemporaneous documentation of DOJ’s continued unethical conduct. [my emphasis]

Shapley’s discussion of the second request that he turn over his emails appears in conjunction with a discussion of an email he sent in December 2022, which I’ll get to in a sec.

That request for his emails was in October, like the March request, in the same month as a major leak.

[T]his was the culmination of an October 24th communication from Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office and — well, it was really Lesley Wolf and Mark Daly who called the case agent, [redacted], on the telephone and said, hey, we need — we need Shapley’s emails and his — these sensitive case reports that he’s authored back to May.

And they didn’t ask for discovery for anybody else. They didn’t ask for, from the — mind you, the agents had provided discovery March-April timeframe, so there was 6 months or so of additional discovery, and they’re not asking for that, right? They’re only asking for mine.

So [redacted] sends me an email with Wolf and Daly on it that says, hey, you know, they asked for this, you got to talk to Shapley. I respond, hey, yeah, I’m available 9:15, let’s chat. And she sends that, she forwards my email to Shawn Weede, number [two] — a senior level at Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office.

And then he contacts me about this discovery, and he’s kind of putting a lot of pressure on me. So even Weiss called up, the deputy chief, to complain about timing of the emails that got turned over from me at that request.

Presented this way, before any discussion of the October 6 leak (to say nothing of the March 2022 leak, which was never explicitly mentioned), Shapley explained that DOJ was only asking for his email because in March he had shared memos critical of their actions, and they wanted to see all the criticism he had memorialized.

That’s important theater behind the way he was able to appear before the House Ways and Means Committee as someone making protected disclosures. DOJ was retaliating against him, he claimed, because he had documented misconduct about the investigation.

Shapley’s thin protected disclosures

There’s something funny about Shapley’s claim to be making protected disclosures, though, and about the documents he shared with the committee that he claimed documented misconduct.

A few things, actually.

You’d think that if his memorialization of misconduct were so damning that DOJ was retaliating against him, he’d have some pretty damning documents to share with Congress.

But none of the documents he shared about the investigation were documents from 2021, and no document memorializing misconduct from 2022 predated October 7:

Even recreated versions of some WhatsApp messages obtained in August 2020– the big GOP takeaway of the interview — investigatively date to Bill Barr’s tenure at DOJ, as does the transcript excerpt from the December 2020 interview of a Hunter Biden business associate, another complaint about 2020 that Shapley was making.

Crazier still, when Minority Counsel asked Shapley for details of whether he had shared some of the exhibits he presented in the hearing as protected disclosures, he admitted he didn’t share them.

Okay. Now I want to talk about exhibit 6, which is your memo about the laptop and the hard drive. Was this memo provided to anyone?

A This memo was discussed in length with the case agent and co-case agent, but to protect the record, these I couldn’t send to them.

Q Okay.

A So after each time we had calls like this, I would have conversations with them. There was even a document that I produced where they were like, well, there was this problem, this problem, this problem. So I was like, I’ll record it, because we don’t want this to potentially be discoverable and have any issues in the future. So this is an example of that, where if there are at least two people that will say that we talked about this right after, and most of the conversation is to discuss what happened during that, to make sure that it was accurate.

Q But you don’t provide a copy to your supervisor or Mr. Fort or anyone else in your chain of command?

A No.

Q It just stays with you?

A That’s correct.

[snip]

Now I’m going to look at exhibit 7. And the question is the same as the one before it. Was this memorandum provided to anyone or copied to anybody?

A It was not. Just to reiterate again, that this was discussed right after — I can’t even think of a time when we didn’t have a discussion immediately after these meetings with just me, case agent, co-case agent, and sometimes with FBI agents on the phone to discuss this.

I’ll return to the document about the laptop, but it doesn’t really document misconduct; it documents investigators trying to cover their ass after they discovered that a problematic piece of evidence that they had spent a year reviewing got turned into an election season political hit job. All the more so given that both so-called whistleblowers made clear they replicated the evidence with an August 2020 warrant for Hunter Biden’s iCloud account, obtaining the WhatsApp messages mentioned above.

That said, the document about the laptop would be useful proof for journalists for stories like the March 2022 one.

Minority Counsel asked why Shapley didn’t share his 2020 complaints — the only documents that he claimed described misconduct shared in the interview that predate his October 7 email — during Bill Barr’s tenure.

Q Okay. When we were talking about this exhibit 7, you mentioned that, at the time, Bill Barr was the AG. Why did you not take your concerns up the chain in 2020 at that time?

A Well, as I said before, there is a healthy tension between investigators and prosecutors, right? And there are sometimes when I don’t agree with a prosecutor, but every time I don’t agree with a prosecutor, I’m not going to run to Bill Barr or to senior leadership to — to blow the whistle or make a protected disclosure. The whole focus was to do what we had to do, even if it meant dealing with obstructions from prosecutors to get this case across the finish line, if it was worthy of it. And, that’s what we did. Every single time something happened wrong in this investigation, I couldn’t bring it to Bill Barr or anyone else, so —

Q And did you think about, in 2020 at all, coming to the committee at that point in time? Because I know that you mentioned that there were irregularities that you saw in the summer of 2020. Did you think about coming to the committee or coming forward at that time or making a report to TIGTA in 2020?

A Like I said, we are trained and we work with these prosecutors hours and hours, trips, and spend all this time. We are just trained to trust them, and it was an incredibly high burden. If I wasn’t in the October 7th meeting, my red line might not have been crossed. [my emphasis]

All that led to this weird exchange with Majority Counsel. Shapley claimed to have made protected disclosures without making protected disclosures.

Q Okay. And would it be correct to say that you sought to state your opinion and impact decision making short of protected disclosures before the October 7th meeting?

A Well, I think I reached a level of protected disclosure internally to IRS senior leadership before that.

Q And at what point was that first protected disclosure?

A I believe it was June of 2020. You got to understand, at the time, I wasn’t making a protected disclosure. I was just working a case raising issues, right? It’s not until we’re down the road a hundred miles that that was a protect[ed disclosure] — you know?

Q Yeah. Understood

A But it seems like the October 7th meeting, after that, after I raised issues directly to them, I explained to them the risk of not charging ’14, ’15. I explained to them how we had no mechanism to ever recoup that money, and I went like kind of like point by point how the elements were met.

And, it was that meeting where I think DOJ started to look into the discovery that I had provided back to March, because I was like, this is not right, there’s a big, huge problem here. And it switched from me raising just concerns, hoping that they’d be remedied, to now I’m like, no, this is a problem. And I think because of that, they went and looked at all my documents that I contemporaneously documented over the years. And then I think they started attacking me. And I think I read a part in my opening statement, the email that I sent to my director of field operations exactly on that topic. [my emphasis]

This is what led me to look back at the letter Shapley’s lawyer sent to Congress in April, which was the subject of a great deal of press attention at the time. It explained that his client — Shapley — had already made protected disclosures.

My client has already made legally protected disclosures internally at the IRS, through counsel to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and to the Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General.

I remember at the time thinking that the Inspectors General must not have been very impressed with those disclosures, if the anonymous whistleblower — who we now know was Shapley — was going to Congress with them.

And when Minority Counsel invited him to explain why he hadn’t brought his concerns to Treasury’s Inspector General, his attorney piped in to say that his attorneys have made such disclosures.

MINORITY COUNSEL 1. But if you’d like to answer about the inspector general that is fine, too, but I was asking about Main Treasury.

Mr. Lytle. Just to clarify, his attorneys have made some disclosures to all of these entities so —

MINORITY COUNSEL 1. That is fine. But I am not asking about those. I was asking more at the time —

Mr. Lytle. Got it.

But by timeline, none of these occurred before DOJ was already demanding his emails in the wake of a second major leak about the investigation (because he didn’t lawyer up until still later).

All of which suggests that Gary Shapley didn’t start claiming to be making protected disclosures of any substance until after he started worrying he was under investigation for leaks, and his lawyers’ contact, by that point, would have been with two Inspectors General investigating those leaks.

Gary Shapley’s Investigative Priorities

Which is why some of Shapley’s purported protected disclosures are so interesting. He complains, over and over, that his team wasn’t permitted to take steps that might leak or would be really showy. IRS wasn’t permitted to send out subpoenas using Hunter Biden’s own name in advance of the election because those might leak. IRS wasn’t permitted to interview Hunter Biden’s children. IRS wasn’t permitted to conduct physical surveillance — 14 days before a Presidential election!! — of Hunter Biden.

Shapley was really angry, in fact, that Delaware US Attorney David Weiss congratulated the team in December 2020, as they prepared to take their first overt steps, that the investigation had remained secret up to that point (though the very next day, a December 9, 2020 story confirming the investigation, which included Barrett’s byline, did provide non-public details about the investigation).

A I think that she wasn’t worried about that part. She was worried about blow-back from doing a search warrant that was related to Hunter Biden. I think all of these things that they didn’t allow us to do, even back in June of 2020, was because their primary goal was to keep this investigation secret, right?

And even on December 3rd of 2020, when we’re in Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office prepping for the day of action on December 8, Weiss came in and was like — congratulations for keeping it secret. And I was like, well, I thought that we were conducting an investigation here. I didn’t think that what we were doing was trying to keep a secret.

But Shapley’s complaint about emphasizing secrecy, which in addition to avoiding political blowback would have protected the investigation, is wholly inconsistent with his claimed reason to be concerned that the Secret Service got tipped off the day before he tried to interview Hunter Biden on December 8, 2020, or that, days later, Hunter Biden’s lawyers were asked to comply with a subpoena of a storage facility rather than permitting a search.

On December 10th, 2020, the prosecutorial team met again to discuss the next steps. One piece of information that came out of the day of action was that Hunter Biden vacated the Washington, D.C., office of Owasco. His documents all went into a storage unit in northern Virginia. The IRS prepared an affidavit in support of a search warrant for the unit, but AUSA Wolf once again objected.

My special agent in charge and I scheduled a call with United States Attorney Weiss on December 14th just to talk about that specific issue. United States Attorney Weiss agreed that if the storage unit wasn’t accessed for 30 days we could execute a search warrant on it.

No sooner had we gotten off the call then we heard AUSA Wolf had simply reached out to Hunter Biden’s defense counsel and told him about the storage unit, once again ruining our chance to get to evidence before being destroyed, manipulated, or concealed.

Gary Shapley didn’t want any of the subjects of the investigation to get advance notice, because they might obstruct the investigation.

However, the night before, December 7th, 2020, I was informed that FBI headquarters had notified Secret Service headquarters and the transition team about the planned actions the following day. This essentially tipped off a group of people very close to President Biden and Hunter Biden and gave this group an opportunity to obstruct the approach on the witnesses.

It’s a fair consideration! Most investigators are going to feel the same!

But that’s why that December 2022 Shapley email sent to FBI Special Agent Darrell Waldon and cc’ed to Michael Bartoff is so interesting.

Waldon was part of the case team, but also the guy who referred the Barrett leak to IRS’ Inspector General. Bartoff is the guy to whom Shapley claimed to have made protected disclosures.

It turns out that Shapley was on vacation as DOJ was reviewing his emails. He sent the email to ask Waldon to let him explain any emails before they got shared with anyone else.

If you have questions about any emails I would ask you share it in advance so I can look at them and be prepared to put them into context. The USAO was so eager to got my emails (which they already had 95% of) … then surprise … they “might” have a problem with a few of them that memorialized their conduct. If the content of what I documented, in report or email is the cause of their consternation I would direct them to consider their actions instead of who documented them.

I have done nothing wrong. Instead of constant battles with the USAO/DOJ Tax, I chose to be politically savvy. I documented issues, that I would have normally addressed as they occurred, because of the USAO and DOJ Tax’s continued visceral reactions to any dissenting opinions or ideas. Every single day was a battle to do our job. I continually reported these issues up to IRS-CI leadership beginning in the summer of 2020. Now, because they realized I documented their conduct they separate me out, cease all communication and are not attempting to salvage their own conduct by attacking mind. This is an attempt by the USAO to tarnish my good standing and position within IRS-CI … and I expect IRS-CI leadership to understand that. As recent as the October 7 meeting, the Delaware USAO had nothing but good things to say about me/us. Then they finally read “discovery” items (provided 6 months previous — that are not discoverable) and they are beginning to defend their own unethical actions.

Consider the below:

  1. I am not a witness — therefor Jencks/impeachment is not an issue.
  2. I am not the receiver of original evidence nor engaged i any negative exculpatory language against the subject … My documentation only shows the USAO/DOJ Tax’s preferential treatment of this subject. [bold underline original, italics mine]

This was an email asking — at a minimum — for the kind of advance notice that Shapley believed Hunter Biden should not get. And given that Shapley’s other testimony (in which he said he didn’t turn over any of his email) seems to conflict with his claim here that DOJ already had 95% of them, it might be more than that.

Just before the end of the interview, Shapely implored the committee to help him, because, “My life’s on the line here, so do what you can.” He repeated Whistleblower X’s complaint that the IRS and DOJ aren’t considering the human cost of their actions after the October 2022 leak.

But the document which Shapley points to as documentation that he raised such concerns made a request — an opportunity to participate in an investigation — that he himself complains Hunter Biden started getting over two years into the investigation. That’s his complaint: That Hunter Biden got to look at stuff in advance, starting two years into an investigation.

And in response to that, he ran to Congress and, with Whistleblower X, made disclosures that didn’t consider the impact they’d have on the equally human life of Hunter Biden.

Timeline

2007: Shapley at NSA IG

2010: Whistleblower X starts at IRS

July 2009: Shapley starts at IRS

April 12, 2016: Mesires email (from laptop)

January 16, 2017: Schwerin email to Hunter

July 30, 2017: Date of suspect WhatsApp message

November 2018: Whistleblower X moves to International Tax and Financial Crimes; opens criminal investigation into Hunter Biden (after prior civil action)

March to April 2019: DOJ Tax reviews Whistleblower X’s lead

2019: IRS supervisor documents Sixth Amendment problems with case, collects Trump’s tweets

October 16, 2019: First lead on laptop

December 9, 2019: FBI takes property of laptop

December 13, 2019: Search warrant for laptop

January 2020: Shapley becomes supervisor over Sportsman Case

March 6, 2020: Request for physical search warrants in CA, AR, NY, DC

April 2020: Latest date on laptop timeline

June 16, 2020: Call about search warrants

June 16, 2020: Meeting with DFO about foot-dragging

August 2020: iCloud returns with WhatsApp messages

September 3, 2020: Donoghoe imposes halt on pre-election activities (Lesly Wolf denies SW, also warrant for Blue Star Strategies — but it was OEO that denied that)

September 21, 2020: FBI tries to limit number of interviews

October 19, 2020: We need to talk about the computer (mention of Durham)

October 22, 2020: Meeting about laptop

October 2020: Shapley IRS CI Manager interacting with Weiss’ office

November 17, 2020: Original plan to go overt delayed

December 3, 2020: Wolf objects to questions about Joe Biden; Weiss congratulates on keeping investigation secret

December 7, 2020: Notice to Secret Service and transition team

December 8, 2020: Day of action, attempted interview of Hunter Biden, interview of Rob Walker

December 9, 2020: Article confirming investigation includes inside details

December 31, 2020: Don Fort leaves as Chief of CI, replaced by Jim Lee

March 2, 2021: Mention of blowing whistle about DOJ handling of the case

May 3, 2021: Wolf chooses not to examine campaign finance (loan to Hunter), which Shapley documents to chain of command (not shared in interview)

August 18, 2021: Plan to interview Hunter’s children

October 21, 2021: Wolf nixes plan to interview Hunter’s children

January 27, 2022: Prosecution memo

February 9, 2022: Christy Steinbrunner sends prosecution plan forward with concur

February 11, 2022: CT responds with non-concur

March 2022: DOJ presents prosecution plan to DC USAO, DC rejects prosecution, Hunter Biden extends SOLs first of two times

March 16, 2022: NYT story including inside information

March 2022: DOJ asks for all management-level emails (Shapley doesn’t produce)

May 2022: Joe Gordon asks why IRS doesn’t ask for Special Counsel

April 26, 2022: Garland response to Bill Hagerty promises independence

June 15, 2022: Bigger meeting at DOJ, explaining why they couldn’t charge the case

July 29, 2022: Wolf says Weiss sets September as indictment for 2014, 2015 charges

August 12, 2022: Prosecutors claim Chris Clark said charging Hunter Biden would be career suicide

August 16, 2022: Prosecutorial meeting, discussion of CT’s nonconcur memo

August 25, 2022: FBI Supervisor Curley complains about missed communication between meetings

September 2022: IRS presents case in CDCA

September 22, 2022: Wolf says no action until after midterms

October 6, 2022: Devlin Barrett leak

October 7, 2022: Meeting about leak, and DC approval

October 12, 2022: Final interview in case

October 17, 2022: Investigators told no grand jury available

October 24, 2022: DOJ renews request for Shapley emails

November 2022: DOJ lets statutes of limitation on 2014, 2015 expire

November 7, 2022: SA Mike Dzielak says DOJ requests management and senior management documents pertaining to case

December 8, 2022: Waldon and Weiss cancel meeting about case

December 12, 2022: Claims concern about emails about documentation of misconduct

February 2023: Batdorf pauses ongoing investigation

March 1, 2023: Grassley asks Garland about case

March 16, 2023: DOJ Tax Mark Daley stated they would give approvals for charge (overheard)

April 13, 2023: Whistleblower X emails Lola Watson

April 19, 2023: Mark Lytle letter to Congress

May 15, 2023: DOJ requests new IRS team


Paul Manafort Remains a Bigger Scandal than Hunter Biden

I haven’t had the time to dig into Gary Shapley’s purported whistleblower claims about the case against Hunter Biden, which several US Attorneys have already disputed.

My read, thus far, matches Andrew Prokop’s: after IRS investigators tried to take steps during a pre-election prohibition period last year, someone in their vicinity leaked to Devlin Barrett, as right-wingers do every pre-election period. That led Delaware US Attorney David Weiss to (justifiably) remove the suspected leakers from the case. As other right wing officials have before, they then ran to Congress and belatedly claimed whistleblower status.

The purported whistleblowers claim that investigative steps — pertaining to allegations about conduct after Biden left the Obama White House — were slow-walked in 2020, during Bill Barr’s tenure as Attorney General. The most serious claim made by the purported whistleblowers is that US Attorneys appointed by Joe Biden refused to file charges against Hunter in the venues where they occurred — MDCA and DC. Merrick Garland, David Weiss, and Matthew Graves have all denied that.

But even if that allegation is true, even if Weiss continues to investigate and substantiates some foreign influence peddling (at this point, limited to 2017, a time when Biden was not in office), the allegations against Hunter Biden would still be far less scandalous than the Paul Manafort case. That’s true because the scale of Manafort’s tax crimes were far worse. That’s true because Manafort has confessed to his foreign influence crime. And that’s true because Trump pardoned Manafort after his former campaign manager lied to investigators about what he did with (since confirmed) Russian agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, during and after the 2016 campaign.

Here’s my understanding of the comparison. The claims against Hunter, in bold, reflect the two Informations docketed as part of the plea deal. All but the pardon TBDs in his case reflect allegations from the so-called whistleblowers that remain unresolved.

Note: I have not listed “lied to protect the president” for Hunter because, as far as I am aware, the President’s son has not made sworn statements to law enforcement — true or false — about matters affecting his father. Manafort did make false statements about matters implicating Trump during his breached cooperation with Robert Mueller’s prosecutors.

A whole pack of DC journalists have chased the IRS allegations, like six year olds do a soccer ball, but with perhaps less consideration of what they’re chasing. They’re doing that even as Trump’s pardons remain largely unreviewed since he announced his run. This manic response to contested IRS claims reflects a choice. Just not a justifiable journalistic one, given the contested allegations to date.

Paul Manafort sources

Millions in tax avoidance: On August 21, 2018, an EDVA jury convicted Manafort of filing false tax returns each year from 2010 to 2014. On September 14, 2018, Manafort pled guilty to tax crimes spanning from 2006 through 2015. Between 2010 and 2014, he failed to report over $15M in income on FBAR.

FARA component: On September 14, 2018, Manafort pled guilty to serving as an unregistered foreign agent from 2006 through 2015.

Money laundering: On September 14, 2018, Manafort pled guilty to laundering over $6.5M in payments, from 2006 through 2016, as part of his FARA scheme.

Bank fraud: In August 21, 2018, an EDVA jury convicted Manafort of two counts of bank fraud, totalling $4.4M. On September 14, 2018, Manafort admitted to over $25M more in bank fraud.

Conspiracy with foreign spy: On September 14, 2018, Manafort pled guilty to a conspiracy to witness tamper with Konstantin Kilimnik. In a 2021 sanctions filing, Treasury stated as fact that Kilimnik is a Russian Intelligence Services agent.

Joint Defense Agreement with President: Before Manafort pled guilty, Rudy Giuliani confirmed that Manafort was part of a Joint Defense Agreement with the President.

Lied to protect President: On February 13, 2019, Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort had breached his plea agreement by — among other things — lying about what he did in an August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which he described how the campaign planned to win swing states.

Intervention from Attorney General: On May 13, 2020, Manafort was given COVID release to home confinement, even though his prison was at that point low risk and his case did not meet the criteria laid out by Bureau of Prisons. He served less than two years of an over seven year sentence in prison.

Pardoned: On December 23, 2020, Trump pardoned Manafort.

Hunter Biden sources

Hundreds of thousands in tax avoidance: In both 2017 and 2018, Hunter failed to pay full taxes on $1.5M in income ($3M total).

Gun possession: For 11 days in 2018, Hunter possessed a gun in violation of a prohibition on gun ownership by an addict.

Update: Just to give a sense of scale, in his Ways and Means interview, Whistleblower X tried to explain how big the scale of Hunter Biden’s graft was by noting that he and his associates, over five years, got $17.3M.

But Manafort was doing more than that himself.


Some of George Santos’ Alleged Crimes Resemble Trump’s Suspected Crimes

DOJ has released the indictment against George Santos.

The charges are:

1-5: Fraudulent political contribution scheme

6-8: Money laundering of false donations

9: Theft of public money

10-11: Wire fraud tied to unemployment payments

12-13: False statements in Congressional disclosure report

The most interesting charges are 1-5:

Effectively, DOJ accuses Santos of telling two donors their money would support his candidacy when instead he was pocketing the money.

This is the same theory behind the Build the Wall fraud, where Bannon et al raised money promising to build a wall and instead spent it on their own personal expenses. Bannon et al were charged with conspiracy to violate 18 USC 1343, whereas Santos was charged with 1343 himself. And Santos was charged on a different money laundering statute (18 USC 1957(a) and (b) versus 1956). But the theory is the same.

The scam — directing political donations to a private company — is the same scam that Daily Beast recently reported Herschel Walker to have engaged in.

More interesting, though, given the speed with which some Republicans have denounced Santos, this is close to the same theory behind the financial part of the investigation into Trump. He is suspected of soliciting funds for use on voter security and instead spent it on his legal fees and other expenses.

There’s at least one obvious difference though: Santos falsely claimed that “Company #1” was a 501(c)(4). It was no such thing. There’s no reason to doubt that Trump’s PACs are what they say they are.

But for that significant difference, a bunch of Republicans are condemning the same kind of solicitation fraud for which Trump is currently being investigated.


On emptywheel’s Continued Obsession with Oligarch Real Estate Seizures

DOJ rolled out another sanctions-related action targeting those who allegedly managed sanctioned Russian oligarchs’ real estate the other day. It charged Vladimir Voronchenko with making payments to maintain four properties, amounting to $75 million in value, owned by Viktor Vekselsberg. The properties include a big home in Southhampton, a condo on Park Avenue, a Penthouse on Miami’s Fisher Island, and a smaller apartment just around the corner from the Penthouse.

The story told in the indictment is simple. Between 2008 and 2017, Vekselberg purchased the properties via some shell companies. Voronchenko managed the properties through an IOLTA account funded by Vekselberg.  Then, after Vekselberg was first sanctioned in April 2018, Voronchenko started making the payments into the IOLTA fund himself. Both those payments, and attempts to sell the Southampton House in 2020 and the Park Avenue condo in 2021, required an OFAC license, the indictment alleges.

Two days after DOJ subpoenaed Voronchenko on May 13, 2022, he fled, first to Dubai and, from there, to Russia.

I’m interested in how and whom the indictment charges, as compared to two earlier actions against Russian oligarchs. The indictment against Oleg Deripaska, his girlfriend, and two women who managed his US-based properties charges only conspiracy to violate IEEPA (plus some obstruction-related charges). The EDNY indictment against Andrii Derkach charges conspiracy to violate IEEPA and conspiracy to commit money laundering, as well as bank fraud and some other financial crimes. Both of those were charged last September (though Derkach’s indictment wasn’t unsealed until they took action to secure the LA properties they’re attempting to seize).

Like those earlier indictments, this one also charges a conspiracy to violate IEEPA. Like the Derkach indictment, it also charges conspiracy to commit money laundering. But it also charges Voronchenko with those crimes individually, violation of IEEPA and money laundering, along with contempt for fleeing after receiving the subpoena.

I’m interested in the timing — the charges against Deripaska (which was actually a superseding indictment) and Derkach were September. For some reason, DOJ waited to charge this one (perhaps they were waiting to see if Voronchenko would return to the scene of his alleged crime).

More curiously, they charge Vorochenko alone.

Admittedly, that’s how DOJ initially charged Derkach, too. They superseded the indictment in January to include his spouse, Oksana Terkhova.

Which is why I’m interested in some other people described in his indictment.

Obviously, there’s Vekselberg himself, who unlike Deripaska and Derkach, was not charged for dodging sanctions to sustain his properties.

There are three Voronchenko family members, each treated a bit differently. Family member-1 applied, with Voronchenko, for membership in the club at Fisher Island.

Family member-2 lived in Russia, where he or she was helping to transfer funds for the upkeep of the properties.

A third family member, Family member-3, was involved in efforts to sell the Park Avenue property starting in December 2021.

A different Vorochenko relative in Russia, described as Individual-2, controlled a bank account in Russia from which the IOLTA was funded after Vekselberg was sanctioned. As described, Individual-2 seems to have more legal liability than Vorochenko’s other family members (because he or she would have been involved in any alleged money laundering).

The fact that Individual-2, who would seem to be implicated in money laundering, is described differently than the other family members is of interest because there is an Individual-1. As described, that person is only in the indictment to substantiate that Voronchenko was aware of the sanctions against Vekselberg.

[O]n or about May 9, 2018, approximately one month after Vekselberg’s designation, VORONCHENKO sent a WhatsApp message to an associate (“Individual-1”) with a link to the website of a law firm in Washington, D.C. that specialized only in OFAC sanctions. On or about December 8, 2018, VORONCHENKO sent a WhatsApp message to Individual-1 containing a link to an article that discussed Vekselberg’s designation as an SDN.

It’s not criminal at all for Individual-1 to receive texts about sanctions against Vekselberg. This person may only be in the indictment, described as such, for that substantiation of Voronchenko’s knowledge of the sanctions.

But I’m interested in that second WhatsApp text.

The day before Voronchenko sent the text, Bloomberg published a long story about Vekselberg. It’s not exclusively about sanctions.

Rather, it’s the story about how Vekselberg’s effort to cultivate Michael Cohen — his payment of vast sums starting in 2017 to, basically, do nothing — ultimately led to his questioning by Mueller and then, a month later, his sanctioning.

Not long after Michael Cohen stopped pursuing a Trump-branded property project in Moscow, another Russian connection to the future U.S. president’s entourage started to form.

Like the real estate plan, it didn’t end well—particularly for Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg. His effort to engage in statecraft at the highest level unraveled spectacularly, costing him billions, cleaving his family and severing the extensive ties to the U.S. elite that turned him into what one Moscow newspaper called the “most American” of Vladimir Putin’s plutocrats.

This saga, much of it previously unreported, began with a chance encounter between Cohen, Trump’s now-disgraced former lawyer, and Vekselberg’s American cousin, Andrew Intrater, in the fall of 2016. Soon, Trump would be in the White House and Vekselberg would be privately boasting of having the pull needed to help achieve the sanctions relief the Kremlin was craving, people familiar with the matter said. Instead, he became the richest victim of the most dangerous standoff between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War.

[snip]

Through much of 2017, as the nascent Trump administration navigated controversies of its own making, Vekselberg was giving Russian officials and fellow businessmen vague yet certain assurances about his influence in the White House, according to six people who interacted with him at the time. He’d attended Trump’s swearing-in ceremony in Washington as a guest of Intrater, who’d donated $250,000 to the inaugural committee, and come back with a newfound sense of clout, they said.

As the story describes, Mueller was quite interested in whether Intrater was serving as a front for donations from Vekselberg.

In March, during one of his last trips to the U.S., he was stopped and questioned by Mueller’s team at an airport in the New York area. They asked about his ties to Cohen, who faces sentencing on Dec. 12 for confessed crimes that include violating campaign-finance rules. Investigators also asked why he attended Trump’s inauguration and if Intrater’s $250,000 gift was actually his money.

[snip]

Mueller’s interest in Intrater, who’s been questioned twice, is telling. One area his team is known to be exploring is whether wealthy Russians funneled cash into Trump’s campaign or inauguration through U.S. citizens to bypass rules barring foreign donations. Federal Elections Commission data show Intrater had never made a political donation of more than $2,600 prior to Trump.

I was reviewing all this just the other day (I link the affidavit showing how the payments from Renova to Cohen led to the investigation against him in my last post on Jeff Gerth, which I’ll post later today or tomorrow). Remarkably, Mueller never did anything with the Vekselberg’s outreach to Cohen. Neither Vekselberg nor Andrew Intrater show up in the Mueller Report.

Of course, the question of whether Intrater is laundering donations for Vekselberg has become urgently important again. As the WaPo and NYT have both covered, Intrater claims he was duped by Santos to invest in the Ponzi scheme for which he was working.

A month after the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit in 2021 accusing a Florida-based company of operating a Ponzi scheme, one of the firm’s account managers assured an anxious client that his money was safe.

The client, a wealthy investor named Andrew Intrater, had been lured by annual returns of 16 percent and had invested $625,000 in a fund offered by the company, Harbor City Capital — in part because he trusted and admired the account manager, an aspiring politician named George Santos.

Admiration aside, Mr. Intrater wanted to know about his investment and a promised letter of credit that secured it. Mr. Santos said that it was already on the way.

“All issued and sent over,” Mr. Santos assured him in a text message sent in May 2021.

The letter of credit did not exist, the S.E.C. would later tell a court. The $100 million that Mr. Santos told Mr. Intrater that he had personally raised for Harbor City did not exist either, the commission said. Nor, seemingly, did the close to $4 million that Mr. Santos claimed he and his family had invested in Harbor City.

Mr. Santos’s representations form the basis of a sworn declaration that Mr. Intrater gave the S.E.C. in May 2022, as part of its Harbor City investigation. Mr. Intrater’s interactions with the S.E.C. are the first indication the commission might be interested in Mr. Santos.

Mr. Intrater told the S.E.C. that the representations influenced his decision to invest in Mr. Santos’s business and political endeavors — an allegation that could leave Mr. Santos vulnerable to criminal charges.

Intrater’s claim to have been duped makes it all the more curious that he donated heavily to Santos, including after he was purportedly duped.

Santos received contributions in multiple installments from Intrater between 2020 and 2022. The financier made two donations to Santos’ joint fundraising committees in 2022; $12,200 to the Devolder Santos Nassau Victory Committee and $10,800 to the DeVolder Santos Victory Committee. These, along with additional donations from Intrater, were bucketed into Santos’ leadership PAC, Gads PAC, which received a total of $12,100 between 2021 and 2022, the Nassau County Republican Committee received $10,000 in 2022, and to Santos’ campaign directly, who received a total of $12,200 in four installments between 2020 and 2022.

So I’m sure DOJ has an acute, renewed interest in the propriety of Intrater’s political donations.

Vorochenko got indicted, in a conspiracy, all by himself.

But he was speaking to someone about matters covered by the conspiracy that quickly lead into far more suspicious matters.

Update: I’m down so many different rabbit holes I forgot to link the Vekselberg action charged last month against the guys maintaining Vekselberg’s yacht in Mallorca. It describes the front companies Vekselberg used for the yacht, which may be the same shown above in the graphic.

As I noted there, one interesting aspect of the charge was venue: DC instead of one of the places where foreigners would be flown into (like EDNY, for JFK, or EDVA, for any of the VA airports), which is how venue is often assigned. The venue is all the weirder now that we see this indictment charged in SDNY. The SDNY press release thanks the FBI, but doesn’t say whether this case was (like the yacht charges) investigated by MN FBI agents.

Update, February 23: SDNY is now moving to seize the properties.


Trump Is a Mob Boss Whose Omertà Has Started to Fail

In the opening paragraph of Ruth Marcus’ latest column about Donald Trump, she admits that on July 21, 2015, she assured readers, “Do not worry about Donald Trump becoming president.”

It’s only fair, I guess, for me to start a response to Marcus’ column by noting that on July 30, 2015, I told people to worry.

[S]o long as the base continues to eat up Trump’s schtick –the Republicans are going to be stuck with him, because they have few means of controlling him and even fewer to limit any damage he might do if provoked.

[snip]

If all proceeds as things appear to be proceeding — although, yes, it is far too early to say for certain that it will — Republicans will ultimately be applauding the prospect of President Trump.

Marcus’ 2015 column wasn’t all embarrassingly wrong. She correctly noted that slightly over half of Republicans still recognized that Trump did not ideologically match the Republican party, then observed that Trump provided one to replace Republican ideology: Trumpism.

56 percent of all those surveyed, and 54 percent of Republicans, said Trump does not reflect the “core values” of the Republican Party.

[snip]

Trump’s appeal will, hopefully, be fleeting, but it feels different from the flavor-of-the-month parade of GOP front-runners — Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum — four years ago. His prominence cannot be attributed to simple celebrity and name recognition.

More than any of those predecessors, it taps into a fundamental anger among a portion of the electorate. Trump is the un-Reagan — unsmiling and unmoored to any ideology other than Trumpism — but his surly message matches the times.

In this week’s column, Marcus cited several other of her columns about Trump. A December 2020 one in response to a long video sowing the Big Lie that would, a month later, incite an attack on the nation’s Capitol, observed that Trump will say what he needs to, even while Marcus hoped that Trump would just melt away.

He will say whatever he needs at the time he needs to say it.

Deluded or evil — in the end, it makes little difference. What matters is the impact of Trump’s words. Perhaps we are in the final, most florid throes of Trump and Trumpism. No doubt it will be far harder to play the bully without the bully pulpit. I have always thought of the Republican Party — Republican elected officials, especially — under the thumb of Trump like the flying monkeys under the Wicked Witch of the West. Once Dorothy throws water on the witch and she melts, the monkeys rejoice in her demise — and their liberation.

What’s worrisome is that Trump isn’t melting — not fast enough, anyway.

An August 2022 one, which doesn’t mention the January 6er who, weeks earlier, had responded to Trump’s incitement and tried to breach the Cincinnati FBI office before dying in a standoff with cops, describes that Trump and Lindsey Graham were promising violence if Trump were charged.

Donald Trump and his defenders are using a version of that gambit to deter the Justice Department from prosecuting the former president, arguing that going after Trump would dangerously incite his already angry followers.

From there, Marcus engages in a factual analysis of the differences between Hillary’s use of a private server and Trump’s theft of highly classified documents, as if that would dissuade anyone from political violence.

This most recent column spends a lot of time reflecting on her — Ruth Marcus’ — thought process when deciding whether to write about Trump. Before July 2015, it was beneath her dignity.

There was a time, in the naive spring and summer of 2015, when I deemed Donald Trump beneath my notice and refused to write about him:

Then she tried calling him out for a while.

There was a time, in the increasingly appalling months and years that followed, that I deemed Trump too dangerous to disregard and I could not stop calling out his never-ending, ever-escalating outrages against American democracy.

Then, until he started riling up mobs in December 2020, she got bored and ignored him.

[D]uring his final stretch in office, and in the years since, I mostly averted my gaze.

As to this particular column, written over six years after telling us not to worry, Marcus says that, even though, “no minds will be changed,” Trump’s latest embrace of authoritarianism must be denounced. Passive voice.

But I mostly thought: Why bother? Shaming targets and convincing readers are the columnist’s goals. With Trump, no minds will be changed, and neither will his behavior.

And yet, there are times when attention must be paid — if only to lay down a marker, if only (grandiose as this may sound) so historians will understand: This went too far. This cannot be allowed to stand without being denounced.

Having decided Donald Trump will be denounced, Ruth Marcus then quotes him.

In full.

The entire Tweet that Marcus found required denouncing, she reproduces in full, and only then starts scolding: “deranged,” “hijacked,” “megalomania,” “bluster,” with each scold reinforcing the tribalism that Trump has always deployed when he’s at risk. In so doing, she has voluntarily become a bit player in Trump’s reality TV show, reinforcement to the mob that Trump retains the power to earn Ruth Marcus’ scolds.

Like Marcus, I don’t think Trump’s desperate wails should be ignored. But I think there is an alternative to “giv[ing] him oxygen.” There’s certainly an alternative to disseminating his screed, which always reinforces the tribalism that Trump uses to survive. Disseminating Trump’s words unbroken, I’m convinced, only serves to signal to his supporters where the dividing lines lay, while heightening the import of that tribalism and Trump’s role in it. Trump is powerful because the liberals he has trained people to despise say he is by disseminating Trump’s words for him.

I prefer to talk about why Trump continues to ratchet up his screeds, with each new week, using increasingly violent rhetoric to ensure he’ll go viral on Twitter. He has to. Or rather, as Marcus herself recognized, “He will say whatever he needs at the time he needs to say it.”

He’s contractually stuck on his loser social media platform, which means the quickest way to get attention is to invite the scolding of people like Marcus. He’s well aware that others — Elmo, Ron DeSantis, even Kanye West — have easier means to command people’s attention. Indeed, at this point, Trump was a mere prop in the reality show that Kanye’s handlers orchestrated.

And most importantly, Trump can no longer promise to wield the tools that led others to believe they could respond to Trump’s calls with impunity — the power to corrupt the FBI and DOJ, the increasing stranglehold on the Republican party, perhaps most importantly, the power of clemency. Trump’s latest wails came on a day when, after having been smacked down by two of his own Appellate appointees, even his most reckless and ill-suited attorneys were probably explaining to Trump that he has almost no options left but to try to minimize the consequences for stealing classified documents. His wails came on a day when the two Pats, Cipollone and Philbin, men who know how he used pardons to pay off coup-conspirators and how he incited a mob to assassinate his Vice President and how he refused to use the power of the Presidency to protect Mike Pence, testified for a combined ten hours to one or more grand juries. Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino, and two others of Trump’s close aides also testified against their former boss last week. Trump even interspersed his calls for a coup with feeble attempts to discount any verdict a jury might soon — today, perhaps! — deliver against his eponymous corporate person.

Trump’s a mob boss whose omertà has started to fail.

Don’t get me wrong. Trump is dangerous as hell, and his mob will continue to pursue political violence whether or not Trump faces accountability. Trump will not melt away and even if he did those liberated from his control may prove to be more dangerous without even something as squalid as Trump to believe in.

But he is also, at this moment, as vulnerable as he has been in at least a decade.

And to a significant extent, his increasingly shrill wails are an attempt to hide that.

Yes, they are also an attempt to mobilize political violence to reverse that vulnerability. But we would do far better to describe all the ways he can no longer deliver his part of the bargain — impunity — than to willfully serve as content mules for his words of incitement.


How Richard Barnett Could Delay Resourcing of the Trump Investigation

In the rush to have something to say about what Special Counsel Jack Smith will do going forward, the chattering class has glommed onto this letter, signed by US Attorney for Southern Florida Juan Gonzalez under Jack Smith’s name, responding to a letter Jim Trusty sent to the 11th Circuit a day earlier. Trusty had claimed that the Special Master appointed to review the contents of Rudy Giuliani’s phones was a precedent for an instance where a judge used equitable jurisdiction to enjoin an investigation pending review by a Special Master.

The question raised was whether a court has previously asserted equitable jurisdiction to enjoin the government from using seized materials in an investigation pending review by a special master. The answer is yes. The United States agreed to this approach – and the existence of jurisdiction – in In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 28, 2021, No. 21-MC-425-JPO (S.D.N.Y.) (involving property seized from Hon. Rudolph W. Giuliani) – and, under mutual agreement of the parties, no materials were utilized in the investigation until the special master process was completed. 1 See, e.g., Exhibit A. The process worked. On November 14, 2022, the United States filed a letter brief notifying the District Court that criminal charges were not forthcoming and requested the termination of the appointment of the special master. See Exhibit B. On November 16, 2022, the matter was closed. See Exhibit C.

As the government noted, none of what Trusty claimed was true: the government itself had sought a Special Master in Rudy’s case and Judge Paul Oetken had long been assigned the criminal case.

That is incorrect. As plaintiff recognizes, the court did not “enjoin the government,” id.; instead, the government itself volunteered that approach. Moreover, the records there were seized from an attorney’s office, the review was conducted on a rolling basis, and the case did not involve a separate civil proceeding invoking a district court’s anomalous jurisdiction. Cf. In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 9, 2018, No. 18-mj-3161 (S.D.N.Y.) (involving similar circumstances). None of those is true here.

The government could have gone further than it did. The big difference between the Special Master appointed for Rudy and this one is that Aileen Cannon interfered in an ongoing investigation even though there was no cause shown even for a Special Master review, and indeed all the things that would normally be covered by such a review (the attorney-client privileged documents) were handled in the way the government was planning to handle them in the first place.

Josh Gerstein had first pointed to the letter to note that both Gonzalez, the US Attorney, and Smith, the Special Counsel, had submitted a document on Thanksgiving. The claim made by others that this letter showed particular toughness — or that that toughness was a sign of Smith’s approach — was pure silliness. DOJ has been debunking false claims made about the Special Master reviews of Trump’s lawyers since August. That they continue to do so is a continuation of what has gone before, not any new direction from Smith. Indeed, the most interesting thing about the letter, in my opinion, is that a US Attorney signed a letter under the authority of a Special Counsel, the equivalent of a US Attorney in seniority. If anything, it’s a testament that DOJ has not yet decided where such a case would be prosecuted, which would leave the decision to Smith.

A more useful place to look for tea leaves for Jack Smith’s approach going forward is in Mary Dohrmann’s workload — and overnight decisions about it.

Thomas Windom is the prosecutor usually cited when tracking the multiple strands of investigation into Trump’s culpability for January 6. But at least since the John Eastman warrant in August, Dohrmann has also been overtly involved. She’s been involved even as she continued to work on a bunch of other cases.

With two other prosecutors, for example, she tried Michael Riley, the Capitol Police cop convicted on one count of obstructing the investigation into January 6. In addition to Jacob Hiles (the January 6 defendant tied to Riley’s case), she has prosecuted a range of other January 6 defendants, ranging in apparent levels of import:

She has also been involved in several non-January 6 prosecutions:

In other words, on the day Smith was appointed, Dorhman was prosecuting several January 6 defendants for trespassing, several for assault, and a cop convicted of obstructing the investigation, even as she was investigating the former President. Though she hasn’t been involved in any of the conspiracy cases, Dohrmann’s view of January 6 must look dramatically different than what you’ll see reported on cable news.

As laid out above, Dorhmann has been juggling cases since January 6; this is typical of the resource allocation that DOJ has had to do on virtually all January 6 cases. That makes it hard to tell when she started handing off cases to free up time for the Trump investigation. That said, there have been more signs she’s handing off cases — both the Vaughn Gordon and Sean McHugh cases — in the days since Smith was named.

But something that happened in the Richard Barnett case revealed how her reassignments on account of Smith’s appointment have been going day-to-day.

Back on November 21 — three days after Garland appointed Jack Smith — Richard Barnett’s attorneys filed a motion asking to delay his trial, currently scheduled for December 12. Their reasons were largely specious. They want to delay until after the DC Circuit decides whether to reverse Carl Nichols’ outlier decision that threw out obstruction charges in the context of January 6; even Nichols hasn’t allowed defendants awaiting that decision to entirely delay their prosecution. They also want to delay in hopes the conspiracy theories that the incoming Republican House majority will chase provide some basis to challenge Barnett’s prosecution.

On November 4, 2022, a Congressional report from members of the House Judiciary Committee released a one thousand page report based on whistleblowers documenting the politicization and anti-conservative bias in the FBI and the Department of Justice. This historic report will no doubt serve as a road map for probes of the agencies now that the Republicans have gained control of the House of Representatives. Included among the many allegations is the recent revelation that the FBI fabricated schemes to entrap American citizens as false flag operations for political purposes. This devastating report was compounded ten days later on November 14, 2022, by revelations that the FBI was involved in infiltrating other groups of January 6th defendants.

As a third reason, Barrnett’s team noted that one of his lawyers, Joseph McBride (who famously said he didn’t “give a shit about being wrong” when floating conspiracy theories about January 6) had to reschedule a medical procedure for the day of the pretrial conference.

Mr. Barnett’s attorney, Mr. Joseph McBride, was scheduled to have a necessary medical procedure on November 17, 2022, but due to unforeseen complication, the procedure could not be performed and must be rescheduled for December 9, 2022, the day of the pretrial conference and a few days before trial.

Per Barnett’s filing, the government objected to the delay.

Counsel for the Government stated that they will oppose this motion, however, they agreed to stay the deadline for Exhibits, due Monday November 21, 2022, until this motion is resolved. The Government also requested that a status conference be scheduled for that purpose.

According to the government response, Barnett’s attorneys first requested this delay on November 17, the day before Smith was appointed. That’s the day Barnett’s team asked the government whether they objected to a delay.

The government has diligently been preparing for trial. Under the Court’s Amended Pretrial Order, the parties were due to exchange exhibit lists on November 21, 2022. ECF No. 63. On November 17, 2022, however, defense counsel Gross contacted the government to state that the defense again wanted to continue the trial. Defense counsel also indicated that the defense was not prepared to exchange exhibit lists on November 21.

By the time the government filed their response on November 22, four days after Smiths’ appointment, DOJ had changed its mind. DOJ still thinks Barnett’s reasons for delay are bullshit (and they are). But the government cited an imminent change in the prosecution team and suggested a trial a month or so out.

As reflected in the Defendant’s motion, the government initially opposed the Defendant’s request for a continuance. Def.’s Mot. at 1. As discussed below, the government maintains that certain of the Defendant’s proffered reasons do not support a continuance of the trial. Nevertheless, the government has considered all the attendant circumstances and no longer opposes the motion. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, the government submits that the Defendant’s motion should be granted without a hearing, the trial date vacated, and a status hearing set to discuss new trial dates.

[snip]

Finally, the government notes that while it is diligently preparing for trial, an imminent change in government counsel is anticipated. Thus, given the government’s strong interest in ensuring continuity in its trial team, coupled with the defendant’s lack of readiness, the government, in good faith, will not oppose the defendant’s continuance. Under such unique time constraints, the government therefore requests that the Court vacate the trial date, without need for a hearing, and set a new trial date and extend the remaining pretrial deadlines by 30 to 45 days. [my emphasis]

The judge in the case, Christopher Cooper, ruled on Wednesday that he will only delay the trial if both sides can fit in his schedule. In his order, he mostly trashed the defense excuses. But he noted that the government, too, should have planned prosecutorial changes accordingly.

The Court will reserve judgment on the Defendant’s 88 Motion to Continue the December 12, 2022 trial date pending receipt of a joint notice, to be filed by November 28, 2022, indicating specific dates on which the parties would be available for trial following a brief continuance. If the parties cannot offer a date that also conforms with the Court’s schedule, the Court will deny the motion and proceed with the scheduled trial. The Court finds that none of the reasons advanced in the Defendant’s motion are grounds for a continuance. This case was charged nearly two years ago, one trial date has already been vacated at the defense’s request, and the present date was set over four months ago. Defense counsel, which now number at least three, have had more than ample time to prepare for trial. The defense has not identified any material evidence that it is lacking, either from the government’s voluminous production of both case-specific and global discovery, or from other public sources. Nor is the pendency of the appeal in U.S. v. Miller an impediment to trial. This and other courts have proceeded with numerous January 6th trials involving the charge at issue in Miller. If the Circuit decides the issue in the defense’s favor, then Mr. Barnett will receive the benefit of that ruling. There is no good reason to halt the trial in the meantime. As for any anticipated change in government trial counsel, the government has been aware of the current trial date for months and should have planned accordingly. That said, the Court would be willing to exercise its discretion and grant a brief continuance should a mutually agreeable date be available. The Court notes, however, that it has a busy docket of both January 6th cases and other matters and therefore may not be able to accommodate the parties’ request. [my emphasis]

Unless and until Dorhmann spins off all her other cases, it won’t be clear whether a change in Barnett’s case indicated she expected to focus more time on Trump or that DOJ wanted to create single reporting lines through Smith (or even whether the change in prosecutorial team involved one of several other prosecutors assigned to the case).

Lisa Monaco has been micro-managing the approach to January 6 from the moment she was confirmed in April 2021. Sure, it’s certainly possible that DOJ didn’t make the final decision on whether to appoint a Special Counsel, and if so, whom, until after Trump announced he was running or until after the GOP won the House. Maybe they delayed any resource discussions until after finalizing a pick.

But depending on the reasons why DOJ changed its mind on Barnett’s case, it’s possible that his still-scheduled December 12 trial could delay the time until Smith has his team in place, by several weeks. It’s also possible DOJ will just go to trial, a high profile one that poses some evidentiary complexities, with the two other prosecutors.

As I’ve suggested above, managing the workload created by the January 6 attack has been unbelievably complex, with rolling reassignments among virtually all prosecution teams from the start. Dohrmann’s caseload is of interest only because the mix of cases she has carried range from trespassers to the former President.

But at this moment, as Smith decides how he’ll staff the investigation he is now overseeing, that caseload may create some avoidable complexities and potentially even a short delay, one that could have been avoided.

Update: In a filing not signed by Mary Dohrmann, the two sides offered January 9 as a possible trial date.


What If the Special Counsel Is about Scott Perry, not Just Donald Trump?

When he announced the appointment of a Special Counsel yesterday, Merrick Garland described that “recent developments,” plural, led him to conclude that he should appoint Jack Smith as Special Counsel to oversee the investigations into Donald Trump.

The Department of Justice has long recognized that in certain extraordinary cases, it is in the public interest to appoint a special prosecutor to independently manage an investigation and prosecution.

Based on recent developments, including the former President’s announcement that he is a candidate for President in the next election, and the sitting President’s stated intention to be a candidate as well, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint a Special Counsel.

The recent developments he focused on were presidential: Trump’s announcement he’d run again and Joe Biden’s stated plan to run for reelection. But he also described the basis for the appointment not as a conflict (as Republicans and Trump are describing the investigation by a Biden appointee by his chief rival), but as an extraordinary circumstance.

Unsurprisingly, Garland never named Trump as the reason for the appointment. The only time he referenced Trump, he referred to him as the former President. That’s DOJ policy.

When he described the subjects of the January 6 investigation, he included both “any person” but also any “entity” that interfered in the transfer of power.

The first, as described in court filings in the District of Columbia, is the investigation into whether any person or entity unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the Electoral College vote held on or about January 6, 2021.

The scope of the January 6 investigation that Smith will oversee is far broader than Trump and will almost certainly lead to the indictment of multiple people in addition to Trump, if it does include Trump — people like Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, possibly Mark Meadows.

But if we assume that everyone who has had their phone seized in that investigation is a subject of it, then Scott Perry, the Chair of the House Freedom [sic] Caucus, would also be included. Perry was the one who suggested that Trump replace Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark so DOJ would endorse Trump’s challenges to the election outcome. He pushed a number of conspiracy theories at the White House and DOJ (including the whack Italian one). Along with Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, Perry was putting together plans for Trump to come to the Capitol on January 6. After one meeting with Perry, Meadows burned some papers.

Perry isn’t even the only one who was closely involved in the plot to steal the election. Jim Jordan, the incoming Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was closely involved as well and is very close to likely subject Mark Meadows.

Indeed, if you include all the members of Congress who discussed or asked for pardons, the number grows longer, in addition to Perry, including at least Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Jordan, Perry, Gaetz, Biggs, Gohmert, and Marge would amount to most of the probable seven person majority in the House.

Marge, as it turns out, is already dreaming up ways to defund this investigation (the means by which she wants to do this, the Holman Rule, probably wouldn’t work; I believe there’s a preauthorized fund from which Special Counsel expenses come from).

To be clear, thus far, Perry is the only one whose actions have overtly been the focus of legal process, when the FBI seized his phone back in August. It’s certainly possible DOJ did so only to get content, such as Signal texts, that implicate someone else, like Clark.

But given how close the majority in Congress is, any prosecution of a Republican member would threaten to disrupt that majority. Which means any investigation into Republican members of Congress would pose a more immediate threat to the current status quo than a Trump prosecution would.

Jack Smith’s background — including a stint heading DOJ’s Public Integrity Division during the period when Congressman Rick Renzi was prosecuted — is more suited for the January 6 investigation than the stolen document one. Including, as it turns out, the difficulties of prosecuting someone protected by the Speech and Debate clause.


What that Report Purportedly Authenticating the “Hunter Biden” “Laptop” Really Said

I’ve reported on the WaPo story on the security review of the disk drive commonly referred to as the “Hunter Biden” “laptop” a bunch of times.

But in advance of ripping apart this James Comer fan-fiction about Hunter Biden and before the Twitter thread I did disappears into the Elmo dumpster fire, I wanted to repeat it here. The WaPo asked security experts Matt Green (who worked with his Johns Hopkins students) and Jake Williams to review the drive to see what they could authenticate.

They discovered that people had kept adding content to the “laptop,” making it impossible to say what was on the “laptop” when it was provided to the blind computer repairman.

In their examinations, Green and Williams found evidence that people other than Hunter Biden had accessed the drive and written files to it, both before and after the initial stories in the New York Post and long after the laptop itself had been turned over to the FBI.

Maxey had alerted The Washington Post to this issue in advance, saying that others had accessed the data to examine its contents and make copies of files. But the lack of what experts call a “clean chain of custody” undermined Green’s and Williams’s ability to determine the authenticity of most of the drive’s contents.

“The drive is a mess,” Green said.

He compared the portable drive he received from The Post to a crime scene in which detectives arrive to find Big Mac wrappers carelessly left behind by police officers who were there before them, contaminating the evidence.

That assessment was echoed by Williams.

“From a forensics standpoint, it’s a disaster,” Williams said.

Still more important: some of the forensic data that would be necessary to authenticate the drive itself had been deleted.

Analysis was made significantly more difficult, both experts said, because the data had been handled repeatedly in a manner that deleted logs and other files that forensic experts use to establish a file’s authenticity.

“No evidence of tampering was discovered, but as noted throughout, several key pieces of evidence useful in discovering tampering were not available,” Williams’ reports concluded.

Williams was able to authenticate fewer than 10% of the files on the drive, though that included some emails involving CEFC China Energy.

The portable drive provided to The Post contains 286,000 individual user files, including documents, photos, videos and chat logs. Of those, Green and Williams concluded that nearly 22,000 emails among those files carried cryptographic signatures that could be verified using technology that would be difficult for even the most sophisticated hackers to fake.

[snip]

In particular, there are verified emails illuminating a deal Hunter Biden developed with a fast-growing Chinese energy conglomerate, CEFC China Energy, for which he was paid nearly $5 million, and other business relationships. Those business dealings are the subject of a separate Washington Post story published at the same time as this one on the forensic examinations of the drive.

The “Big Guy” email could not be authenticated.

Some other emails on the drive that have been the foundation for previous news reports could not be verified because the messages lacked verifiable cryptographic signatures. One such email was widely described as referring to Joe Biden as “the big guy” and suggesting the elder Biden would receive a cut of a business deal.

There were authenticated emails from Burisma, but if Burisma was hacked (as a security company, Area 1 Security, said it was before the laptop was disclosed), hackers could have faked cryptographic signatures, including on those from Burisma advisor Vadym Pozharskyi that have been the focus of a lot of attention.

The drive also includes some verified emails from Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company for which he was a board member. President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie Joe Biden to the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating Burisma led to Trump’s first impeachment trial, which ended in acquittal in February 2020.

The Post’s review of these emails found that most were routine communications that provided little new insight into Hunter Biden’s work for the company.

[snip]

Both Green and Williams said the Burisma emails they verified cryptographically were likely to be authentic, but they cautioned that if the company was hacked, it would be possible to fake cryptographic signatures — something much less likely to happen with Google.

Note, as I understand the timing, these emails could have been altered only if the laptop reaccessed the Burisma server after the hack.

In any case, the “laptop” is a completely unreliable shitshow precisely because Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon were in such a rush to make it a political scandal.

And yet the new Republican majority in Congress is sure it is “real.”

James Comer has kicked off his tenure as Oversight Chair by proclaiming that the forensic mess left behind by frothy conspiracy-mongers is, instead, “REAL.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Parliamentary Congress or a Batshit One?

With the call of two Arizona and one California House race yesterday, it seems clear the Republicans will hold a majority in the House next year — though it’s not yet clear whether the Congress will start with a 219-216 split or a 221-214 split. Sometime today, Kevin McCarthy will win a majority of votes in the GOP caucus to be the presumptive Speaker next year, though not before defeating Andy Biggs, in what will be a test vote of conservative votes.

That’s when things get interesting.

To win today, McCarthy only needs a majority. To win in January, McCarthy needs a majority of the votes cast, presumably 218. So if the final count is 219-216, he can’t afford any defections.

Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan have already endorsed McCarthy. Marge — one of the shrewder wingnuts — explained why she would support McCarthy.

If we don’t unify behind Kevin McCarthy, we’re opening up the door for the Democrats to be able to recruit some of our Republicans and they may only need one or two since we don’t know what we will have in the majority.

Since then, Don Bacon has announced that — if Republicans don’t get 218 votes on January 3 — he would consider backing a moderate Democrat as Speaker.

Even newly elected Long Island Republican George Santos, who is a fire-breathing MAGAt but who will be one of the most vulnerable Republicans in 2024, has said he wants the GOP to wait six months before they start launching witch hunts into Biden.

I know maybe four people (aside from Nancy Pelosi) who understand enough about rules of Congress to comprehend the full implications of such a close Congress. For some reason — possibly because they’ve spent the last six months writing beat sweeteners — the press seems to think the Freedom Caucus (led by Scott Perry, whose phone was seized as part of the January 6 investigation) will be in the driver’s seat going forward. In the short term, it’s just as likely that people like Don Bacon will be.

There are several possibilities: One is that McCarthy does get the votes on January 3 and presides over a Congress that reels from day-to-day, serially held hostage by the worse instincts, legal challenges, and health concerns of the members of both parties (the current Congress has lost 16 members over the last two years, six to death, and McCarthy has already said he’ll end proxy voting even as COVID continues to recur in new variants).

If that happens, expect many if not most things to get done via Discharge Petition, in which members can bypass the Speaker if they get 218 votes on something.

Also expect the most vulnerable Republicans to be susceptible to flipping parties if the fire-breathers in the party demand too much, particularly if the margin gets close to even.

Another possibility is that McCarthy doesn’t get the votes, giving Democrats a chance to cobble together a majority of the solid middle, led by someone other than Nancy Pelosi (non-members like Tim Ryan or Adam Kinzinger could be options, though Bacon has said that Liz Cheney is not one). Such a majority would need to command the votes of a larger number of people — probably closer to 240 — but it would also be more sustainable over the Congress.

And all this will be happening as the GOP fights among itself about whether it will continue down a Trumpist cult or become a political party again.

Copyright © 2024 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/2022-mid-term-election/page/2/