Trophy Documents: The Entire Point Was to Make FBI Obedient

Those who didn’t follow John Durham’s trials closely undoubtedly missed the parade of scarred FBI personnel whose post-Crossfire Hurricane vulnerability Durham attempted to exploit to support his invented claims of a Clinton conspiracy.

Sure, lots of people wrote about Jim Baker’s inability to provide credible answers about the meeting he had with Michael Sussmann in September 2016. Fewer wrote about the credible case that Sussmann’s attorneys made that a prior Durham-led investigation into Baker — for sharing arguably classified information with a reporter in an attempt to forestall publication of a story — made Baker especially quick to cooperate with Durham in 2020. Fewer wrote about Baker’s description of the stress of Jim Jordan’s congressional witch hunts.

It sucked because the experience itself, sitting in the room being questioned the way that I was questioned, was, as a citizen of the United States, upsetting and appalling, to see members of Congress behaving the way that they were behaving. It was very upsetting to me.

[snip]

It sucked because my friends had been pilloried in public, my friends and colleagues had been pilloried in public, improperly in my view; that we were accused of being traitors and coup plotters. All of this was totally false and wrong.

Such a circus was the kind of thing that might lead someone like Baker to prefer the “order” of a prosecutor chasing conspiracy theories, someone whose memory was seared by the firing of Jim Comey.

[Sean Berkowitz]. And this is a pretty terrible experience as well. Right?

A. It’s more orderly.

Q. (Gestured with hand to ear.)

A. This is more orderly. It’s terrible but orderly.

Q. And you’re doing the best you can. Right, sir?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. But it’s hard to remember events from a long time ago, 1snre sez

A. It depends on what the event is. I remember Jim Comey being fired, for example. That’s a long time ago and I have a clear recollection of that. So it depends on what you’re talking about.

But Baker wasn’t the only one who discussed the years of scrutiny. Counterintelligence Special Agent Ryan Gaynor, who worked in DC on the Russian investigations during 2016, described how in October 2020, after he revealed to Durham’s team that he knew a DNC lawyer had brought in the Alfa Bank tip, Durham’s team told him they were no longer treating him as a witness, but as a subject of the investigation.

A. Yeah. There were two thoughts. The first one was that I felt like I had woefully ill prepared for the meeting, because I didn’t know what the meeting was honestly going to be about with this investigation.

The second thought was that I was in significant peril, and it was very concerning as a DOJ employee to be told that now the Department of Justice is interested in looking at you as a subject instead of a witness.

Sussmann lawyer Michael Bosworth got Gaynor to explain that after he told a story more to Durham’s liking, he was moved back to the status of witness.

During his testimony, Curtis Heide (who played a key role in the George Papadopoulos investigation) explained how the FBI Inspection Division investigation into Crossfire Hurricane Agents, including him, remained pending, 6 years after the events in question. He noted that, three years after the DOJ IG Report, he was still being investigated even though he, “didn’t author any of the affidavits or any of the materials related to the applications in question.”

The same was true in the Danchenko case. Brian Auten, a key intelligence analyst on Crossfire Hurricane, described how, after having met with agents from DOJ IG four times, having done a long report for FBI’s Internal Affairs Division, and having met with the Senate Judiciary Committee — all with no concerns raised about his own conduct — the first time he met with Durham’s team, he was told he was a subject of the investigation. After Auten gave testimony that confirmed Danchenko’s reliability — seriously damaging his case — Durham himself raised investigations that undermined his own witness’ testimony.

Q. Do you recall that there was a reporter that the OIG had written concerning the Carter Page FISAs?

A. Yes.

Q. And how would you characterize that report?

A. The report was quite extensive and it discussed characterizing a number of errors and omissions.

Q. And with respect to the errors and omissions, were they tick-tacky kinds of omissions or were they significant omissions and errors that had been committed?

A. I believe the OIG described them as significant.

Q. And then with respect to the investigation done by the OIG, separate and apart from that, would it be a fair statement that you and your colleagues were under investigation by the inspection division by the FBI?

A. Yes.

Q. And would it be a fair statement that your conduct in connection with that is, you, yourself, based on the investigation done by the inspection division of the FBI, have some issues, correct?

A. I — be a little bit more specific. I’m sorry. I don’t — I have issues?

Q. Isn’t it, in fact, true that you’ve been recommended for suspension as the result of the conduct?

A. It is currently under appeal.

That line of testimony immediately preceded a hilarious failed attempt from Durham to get Auten to agree that George Papadopoulos was simply a young man with no contact to Trump who was only investigated for his suspect Israeli ties, not for his Russian ties. But it was a palpable example of the way that Trump’s minions used criminalizing FBI investigations into Trump as a way to create a makebelieve world that negates real evidence of Trump’s corruption.

About the only two FBI agents who weren’t portrayed as somehow tainted by the events of 2016 in Durham’s two failed prosecutions were two agents who fucked up investigations: Scott Hellman, who correctly told a junior agent that she would face zero repercussions of she botched the Alfa Bank investigation, and Ryan James, an FBI agent who started his career in Connecticut, who nevertheless failed to pull the evidence necessary to test Sergei Millian’s claims.

Durham rewarded the incompetence that served his purpose and attempted to criminalize what he considered the wrong answers or at least to use the threat of adverse consequences to invent a false record exonerating Trump.

And Durham came in after Jim Comey, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, and Bruce Ohr had already been fired, and Lisa Page, with Strzok, deliberately humiliated on a global stage serially. He came in and exploited the uncertain status — the Inspection Division review left pending while Durham worked — of everyone involved. Such efforts didn’t end with the conclusive acquittals debunking Durham’s theories of conspiracy. Since then, Jim Baker has been dragged back through the mud — publicly and in Congress — as part of Twitter Files, Chuck Grassley passed on “whistleblower” complaints about Auten identifying Russian disinformation as such, and Timothy Thibault was publicly berated because some of the same so-called whistleblowers feeding Jim Jordan shit had complained to Chuck Grassley he was discouraging GOP conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden.

It was never just Strzok and McCabe. The entire Republican Party has relentlessly focused on punishing anyone involved in the Trump investigation, using both unofficial and official channels. When Trump promised “retribution” the other day at CPAC, this kind of relentless effort to criminalize any check on Trump’s behavior is what he was talking about.

That kind of background really helps to understand the WaPo story that described Washington Field Office FBI agents quaking at the prospect of searching Donald Trump’s beach resort.

[P]rosecutors learned FBI agents were still loath to conduct a surprise search. They also heard from top FBIofficials that some agents were simply afraid: They worried takingaggressive steps investigatingTrump could blemish or even end their careers, according to somepeople with knowledge of the discussions. One official dubbed it “the hangover of Crossfire Hurricane,” a reference to the FBI investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections to the Trump campaign, the people said. As president, Trump repeatedly targeted some FBI officials involved in the Russiacase.

[snip]

FBI agents on the case worried the prosecutors were being overly aggressive. They found it worrisome, too, that Bratt did not seem to think it mattered whether Trump was the official subject of the probe. They feared any of these features might not stand up to scrutiny if an inspector general or congressional committee chose to retrace the investigators’ steps, according to the people.

Since I wrote my piece wondering whether the FBI hesitation gave Trump the chance to steal 47 documents, Strzok himself, Joyce Vance, and Jennifer Rubin have weighed in.

Rubin, I think, adopts the position of someone who hasn’t followed the plight of all the people not named Strzok who were targeted for investigating Donald Trump. She attributes the reluctance to investigate Trump (and the intelligence failures leading up to January 6, which I’ll return to) to Wray.

After a debacle of this magnitude, that sort of passivity should alarm all Americans. Imagine if, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the national security community did not evaluate how it missed the telltale signs of an imminent attack. The failure of leadership in the Jan. 6 case is inexcusable. Yet Wray has never been held to account for this delinquency.

[snip]

[O]ne is left wondering why the FBI seems disinclined to stand up to right-wing authoritarian movements and figures. Whatever the reason, the pattern reveals an unmistakable lack of effective leadership. And that in turn raises the question:Why is Wray still there?

It is absolutely the case that Wray did far too little to protect FBI agents in the face of Trump’s attacks. Wray created the opportunity for pro-Trump FBI agents and Durham to criminalize investigating Trump. I think Wray attempted to avoid rocking the boat at all times, which led the FBI to fail in other areas (including the investigation of Brett Kavanaugh). Though I’m also cognizant that if Wray had been fired during the Trump administration, he might have been replaced by someone like Kash Patel, and having a Trump appointee in charge right now may provide cover for the ongoing investigations into Trump.

But you could fire Wray tomorrow and not eliminate the effects of this bureaucratic discipline, the five year process to teach everyone in the FBI that investigating Trump can only lead to career disaster, if not criminal charges.

Also under Wray, though, the Bureau had already increased its focus on domestic terrorism, with key successes both before and after January 6. Steven D’Antuono, the chief voice of reluctance to search Mar-a-Lago, presided over the really troubled but ultimately successful effort to prevent a kidnapping attempt targeting Gretchen Whitmer, a plot that arose out of anti-lockdown protests stoked by Trump (though unusually, D’Antuono let a subordinate take credit for the arrests).

I think the specific failures in advance of January 6 lay elsewhere. Wray has not done enough in the aftermath to understand the FBI’s failures, but FBI has also been overwhelmed with the case load created by the attack. But, as I hope to return to, I think the specific failure in advance of January 6 lies elsewhere.

Whatever the merit in blaming Wray for FBI’s failure to prepare for January 6, there’s a bigger problem with Rubin’s attempt to blame him on the MAL search. Strzok sketched out in great detail something I had seen, too. The dispute about searching Trump’s house wasn’t between the FBI and DOJ. It wasn’t just what Vance and Strzok both describe as a fairly normal dispute between the FBI and DOJ with the former pushing the latter to be more aggressive.

It was between the WFO on one side and DOJ and FBI HQ on the other.

[A] careful reading of the Post’s reporting (insofar as the reporting is complete) reveals this was not so much a conflict between DOJ and the FBI as much as a conflict between DOJ and FBI headquarters, on the one hand, and the management of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, on the other.

Indeed, a key part of the drama surrounding the pre-August search meeting described by the WaPo involved the conflict between FBI General Counsel Jason Jones — whom WaPo makes a point of IDing as a Wray confidant, thereby marking him as Wray’s surrogate in this fight — and WFO Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono.

Jason Jones, the FBI’s general counsel who isconsidered a confidant of FBI Director Christopher A.Wray, agreed the team had sufficient probable cause to justify a searchwarrant.

[snip]

Jones, the FBI’s general counsel, said he planned to recommend to Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate that the FBI seek a warrant for the search, the people said. D’Antuono replied that he would recommend that they not.

This, then, was partly a fight within FBI, one in which Wray’s surrogate sided with prosecutors.

Strzok makes a compelling argument that this story may have come from pushback necessitated by people at WFO floating bullshit claims, not dissimilar from — Strzok doesn’t say this, but I will — the leak by right wing agents to Devlin Barrett about the Clinton Foundation investigation in advance of the 2016 election, which led Andrew McCabe to respond in a way that ultimately gave Trump the excuse he wanted to fire him.

Indeed, Strzok’s post includes a well-deserved dig on the WaPo’s claim about, “the fact that mistakes in prior probes of Hillary Clinton … had proved damaging to the FBI,” an unsubstantiated claim I also called out.

[E]ven journalists can be imprecise or inaccurate. The Post’s article isn’t, for example, the type of comprehensive accounting you’d get in a report produced by an Inspector General, who can compile the statements of everyone involved and review and compare those statements to the written record in all its various forms.

Strzok right suggests that DOJ IG’s Report disproved WaPo’s claim about the Hillary investigation, but he seems to have forgotten that the DOJ IG Report into McCabe’s response on the Clinton Foundation didn’t fully air the FBI spox’s exculpatory testimony.

All of which is to say that, in the same way that WFO agents have an understandable visceral concern about getting involved in an investigation targeting Trump, people at HQ might have an equally visceral concern about stories seeded to Devlin Barrett alleging internal conflict that might create some flimsy excuse for firing.

But there’s something still unexplained about the WaPo story. Vance notes, as I did, that D’Antuono may have given Trump the opportunity to steal 47 documents.

[T]he delay couldn’t be undone. We still don’t know whether that resulted in the permanent loss of classified material. It did result in a delay in the timeline for making prosecutive decisions, ultimately extending the investigation into the period where Trump announced his 2024 candidacy, leading to the appointment of a special counsel to continue the investigation and determine whether to prosecute.

But Vance still accepts WaPo’s specious claim about timing, the claim that the delay (from June to August) in searching Trump’s resort led the investigation to bump up against a Trump campaign announcement that would surely have happened earlier had Trump not gotten an injunction. There’s nothing to support that temporal argument, and the public record on the injunction (which, again, lasted until almost a month after Jack Smith’s appointment) disproves it.

The timing issue is one of many reasons why I keep thinking about this earlier Devlin Barrett story, one that did bump up against the appointment of a Special Counsel. On November 14, the day before Trump formalized his 2024 run and so four days before the appointment of Jack Smith, Barrett and WaPo’s Mar-a-Lago Trump whisperer, Josh Dawsey, published a story suggesting that maybe Trump shouldn’t be charged because he just stole a bunch of highly classified documents to keep as trophies.

Federal agents and prosecutors have come to believe former president Donald Trump’s motive for allegedly taking and keeping classified documents was largely his ego and a desire to hold on to the materials as trophies or mementos, according to people familiar with the matter.

As part of the investigation, federal authorities reviewed the classified documents that were recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and private club, looking to see if the types of information contained in them pointed to any kind of pattern or similarities, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

That review has not found any apparent business advantage to the types of classified information in Trump’s possession, these people said. FBI interviews with witnesses so far, they said, also do not point to any nefarious effort by Trump to leverage, sell or use the government secrets. Instead, the former president seemed motivated by a more basic desire not to give up what he believed was his property, these people said.

[snip]

The analysis of Trump’s likely motive in allegedly keeping the documents is not, strictly speaking, an element of determining whether he or anyone around him committed a crime or should be charged with one. Justice Department policy dictates that prosecutors file criminal charges in cases in which they believe a crime was committed and the evidence is strong enough to lead to a conviction that will hold up on appeal. But as a practical matter, motive is an important part of how prosecutors assess cases and decide whether to file criminal charges.

As I showed, that story, like this one, simply ignored stuff in the public record, including:

  • Trump’s efforts, orchestrated in part by investigation witness Kash Patel, to release documents about the Russian investigation specifically to serve a political objective
  • The report, from multiple outlets, that Jay Bratt told Trump’s lawyers that DOJ believes Trump still has classified documents
  • Details about classified documents interspersed with a Roger Stone grant of clemency and messages — dated after Trump left the White House — from a pollster, a book author, and a religious leader; both sets of interspersed classified documents were found in Trump’s office
  • The way Trump’s legal exposure would expand if people like Boris Epshteyn conspired to help him hoard the documents or others like Molly Michael accessed the classified records

Since then, other details have become clear. Not only was that story written after DOJ told Trump they believed he still had some classified documents, but it was written in the period between the time Trump considered letting the FBI do a consensual search and the time he hired people to do the search for him, a debate inside the Trump camp that parallels the earlier investigative fight between WFO and DOJ. Indeed, when DOJ alerted Trump’s lawyers in October that they believed Trump still had classified documents, that may have reflected WFO winning the debate they had lost before the August search: to let Trump voluntarily comply.

That’s important background to where we are now. Trump’s team has misrepresented to the press how cooperative they have been since. First, Trump’s people misleadingly claimed that Beryl Howell had decided not to hold Trump in contempt (rather than just deferred the decision) and Trump lied to the press for several months, hiding the box with documents marked classified and the additional empty classified folder. Those public lies should only make investigators wonder what Trump continues to hide.

We know Trump blew off the subpoena that WFO agents were sure would work in June, and there’s good reason to believe DOJ finds Trump’s more recent claims of cooperation to be suspect as well.

So let’s go back to that earlier Devlin story. As I noted at the time, I don’t dispute that the most classified documents have the appearance of trophies, but that’s because of the Time Magazine covers they were stored with, not because of any halfway serious scrutiny of Trump’s potential financial goals. Particularly given the presence of 43 empty classified folders in the leatherbound box along with the most sensitive documents, no thorough investigator could rule out Trump already monetizing certain documents, particularly given Trump and Jared Kushner’s financial windfalls from the Saudi government, particularly given the way that Trump’s Bedminster departure coincided with Evan Corcoran’s turnover of classified documents, particularly given that the woman who carted a box including some marked classified around various offices had been in Bedminster with Trump during the summer. I don’t dispute that’s still a likely explanation for some — but in no way all — of the documents, but no competent investigator could have made that conclusion by November 14, when Devlin published the story.

Unless Devlin’s sources — perhaps the same or similar to the sources who know that WFO agents were cowed by the treatment of Crossfire Hurricane agents — were working hard to avoid investigating those potential financial ties.

Unless the timing of the story reflected an attempt to win that dispute, only to be preempted by the appointment of Jack Smith. The earlier dispute could not have been impacted by the appointment of Jack Smith. If there was a later dispute about how to make sure Trump wasn’t still hoarding classified documents, though, it almost certainly was.

Someone decided to leak a story to Devlin Barrett suggesting that investigators had already reached a conclusion about Trump’s motive, even though as the story acknowledged, “even the nonclassified documents” — better described as documents without classification marks that not only hadn’t been reviewed yet, which could have included unmarked classified information — “taken in the search may include relevant evidence.” (Note, these are the same unclassified documents that, the recent story  describes D’Antuono, insanely from an investigative standpoint, scoffing at collecting because, “We are not the presidential records police.”) Devlin’s sources decided to leak that story at a time when DOJ was trying to figure out how to get the remaining documents from Trump, and yet his sources presented a working conclusion that it didn’t matter if DOJ got the remaining documents: it had already been decided, Devlin’s sources told him, that Trump was just a narcissist fighting to keep his trophies from time as President and probably that shouldn’t be prosecuted anyway.

The story of the earlier dispute is alarming because it confirms that WFO agents remain cowed in the face of the prospect of investigating Trump, as some did even six years ago. The later story, though, is alarming because leaks to Devlin have a habit of creating political firestorms that are convenient for Trump. But it is alarming because it suggests even after the August search proved the WFO agents’ efforts to draw premature conclusions wrong, someone still decided to make — and force, by leaking to Devlin Barrett — some premature conclusions in November, an effort that genuinely was thwarted by the appointment of Jack Smith.

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68 replies
  1. Sue Sanders says:

    The thing I just don’t get is why his motivation is relevant to deciding to not filing any charges. The subpoena was clear – all classified markings. Then all the gymnastics he went through to not comply and claw back those very same docs. Moreover, if his motive was trophies, why does that make it not a crime that should be charged? And who doesn’t showoff or display trophies? It’s not like a private porn stash. I just don’t get the press coverage….

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      For starters, intent is a factor in most crimes.

      As for Trump, a probable lifelong felon, he views compliance with the law and cooperation with law enforcement the way Starbucks”s Howard Schultz views unionization. Then there’s the hole in the dam problem: once stuff begins to leak from the Trump orbit, who knows how long before the gap widens and the dam fails completely.

      As for the press, it’s is not calling balls and strikes any more than is the Supreme Court’s radical right majority. It’s taking sides. Much of it is conservative and tends to agree with and promote Republican views and acts to foreclose attacks on them. It wants to maintain its insider status. With an administration as errant as Trump’s, that poses irreconcilable conflicts.

    • bmaz says:

      Intent, perhaps more specifically scienter. And, yes, it kind of is like a private porn stash if it is child porn.

      • Troutwaxer says:

        “Intent, perhaps more specifically scienter.”

        Are you alluding to some scientific issue, or is this a legal term of art, or did you mean “sinister.” (Autocorrect is an awesome servant and a terrible master!)

        • P J Evans says:

          It’s a term of art – I think it refers to knowing that what you’re trying to do is a crime.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Duckduckgo is your friend. Try doing a little homework before coming to class. An internet search would answer your question in about three seconds.

        • jsrtheta says:

          “Scienter” is a legal term, not (to my knowledge) used by scientists. It refers to the mental state required to prove fraud, though it can be applied in other offenses.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Scienter is more general, and means intent or knowledge of wrongdoing, both civil and criminal. Intent with regard to crimes of fraud is an application of the principle.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Trump’s team was injecting the “motive” question into the discourse (via Devlin Barrett) as a deflection tactic–keeping trophies could be seen as so true to type as to be almost endearing–at the same time Alex Murdaugh’s prosecution team seems to have been struggling to come up with a motive to argue at his trial.

      I thought the Murdaugh prosecutors’ conjectures regarding the defendant’s motive(s) were the weakest part of the case; the fact that they dispensed with most of them in closing arguments may have won the jury over. Researching this country’s relationship to crime I have encountered the truism that juries expect motive to be explained, but the Murdaugh trial suggests a re-evaluation might be in order. Were Trump’s lawyers offering up his “trophy-hoarding” as a shiny object? Doesn’t sound like an affirmative defense.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    D’Antuono’s comment, “We are not the presidential records police,” would be hilarious in another context. That is precisely one of the jobs it does for the National Archives. It’s just that, before Trump, it was rarely necessary for it to do it. The comment reeks of desperation, which suggests how much dysfunction Trump, Barr, Durham, et al., were able to generate in a short time.

    • emptywheel says:

      It’s just astounding, though, that he claims not to understand that some of the unmarked docs will be classified (and that has been the premise of both the Biden and Pence investigations, too), or that understanding how the pollster messaging compiled with the 2 classified documents or the Roger Stone pardon compiled with the Secret doc is important.

      It’s one of the things that really suggest his reluctance goes well beyond fear of consequences.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Stephen Friend claimed to have been on one of the tactical teams involved with the FBI Detroit office’s investigation of the militia that planned to harm Gretchen Whitmer. So, I wonder if he knows and/or has had any direct interactions with Steven D’Antuono.

  3. stancat says:

    ” someone still decided to make — and force, by leaking to Devlin Barrett — some premature conclusions in November”
    I understand how leaks to Barrett assist in cultivating of a narrative for the mass media. It’s less clear to me how those leaks and the resulting media chatter can abet a Field Office mutiny or affect prosecutorial decisions. Comey’s biggest misstep, and later the Admin’s stated reason for going after McCabe, both arose out of concern about the FBI’s public image rather than its core investigatory function. Is it reasonable to expect that the good guys just do their jobs without trying to outdo the leakers? Or is that a naïve way to think about how DC works?

  4. Fancy Chicken says:

    Ok. After your last two posts Dr. wheeler I am super glad that Jack Smith got put on as special counsel. I’ve always thought it smart that he’s been in Europe a while, but I think than Garland may have witnessed the fear of his agents in being involved with investigating Trump and decided to get himself a guy who’s got a career at the International Court and isn’t traumatized like it appears a chunk of FBI are from Trump.

    I mean I thought it was just the citizens, but Trump has managed to terrorize our own justice department and agents. He needs to never come back and I bet Smith is smart enough to recognize the trauma in the agents he’s working with and I hope that makes him mad as hell.

  5. jecojeco says:

    OK, Against a backdrop of an institutionally GOP biased FBI that had GOP oriented heads for all 115 or so years we have the spectacle of trump firing Comey for not going to his knees and pledging personal loyalty to trump over his oath. Then on to getting McCabe and denying his pension (a message sure to be received clearly by all pension loving US employees). Then perverting IRS into performing hit job audits on both of these men AFTER they were out of government service. Firing at least 5 IGs. His continuing frantic attempts to totally corrupt DOJ. Hit continuing attacks on GOP brahmin and FBI homie Mueller. It’s understandable that trump’s efforts to corrupt US law enforcement to serve him continues even beyond his term in office. He has turned the term “without fear or favor” on it’s head. Whether by fear or favor, he has largely bent FBI to his will and impaired their ability to do their jobs faithfully as D’Antuono and his minions demonstrated. And the Secret Service (with their mass deletions of possible Jan6 evidence) is arguably worse. I believe this mentality exists thruout US law enforcement. I know a half dozen retired US agents (not FBI) and their adoration of trump approaches mental illness. To them he is Horatio at the Bridge repelling waves of barbarians: black,brown,muslim, female,gay,liberal,democrats. Like the Blues Brothers, trump is on a Mission from God.

    Of course he couldn’t do this single handedly and the GOP that he has totally cowed and corrupted has come out of the closet and is supporting his efforts openly, especially in acting Speaker McCarthy’s nuthouse. Now trump is taking aim at state law enforcement and the Georgia GOP is dutifully going after Fani Willis for otentially enforcing state laws against him.

    I think the Biden administration has been too trusting of institutional safeguards and needs to aggressively address the hidden rot trump has left in the system, it’s like we’re dealing with sleeper cells in US law enforcement.It’s obvious that trump and GOP are committed to gaining power at any cost, wecome to Revenge ’24, the trump sequel.

    I have no idea why MSM writers would spin storylines like the documents being “trophies” apparently coming from agents who are soft on trump crime. Writers gotta write.

    • bmaz says:

      “I think the Biden administration has been too trusting of institutional safeguards and needs to aggressively address the hidden rot trump has left in the system, it’s like we’re dealing with sleeper cells in US law enforcement.”

      So, you want the Biden Administration to engage in the same type of tactics you vociferously complain of?

      • jecojeco says:

        Hi,
        Not exactly.

        I don’t think the Biden administration should be frozen with fear recognizing and acting to correct some of the situations trump created in federal law enforcement. Anything Biden admin does to address possible trump criminality and perversion of US services is going to be attacked as “Weaponization” anyway. Projection is one of his favoite tools. He spent 4 years weaponizing and corrupting federal law enforcement and if it isn’t rolled back it becomes the starting point for his 4 years of revenge if, heaven forbid, he finds a way back into the White House.

        trump claims he’s already developing a list of toadies to replace 50,000(?) protected civil servants en masse, he’s given fair warning that he intens to own the US government. For years we’ve laughed off and underestimated his brazen malevolence.

        • esqTJE@23 says:

          not just a ‘claim,’ but several organizations are already taking resumes, conducting interviews, and compliling lists of candidates who have committed their loyalty and agreed to be available to start work in the Trump admnistration within 100 days of Jan. 20, 2025. They expect to have up to 50,000 people in place by then.

          Go halfway down this article or search for “conservative partnership institute” https://www.axios.com/2022/07/22/trump-2025-radical-plan-second-term .
          You can also search it for “vought,” “patel” and “grenell” to read up on the empowered ‘loyalty vetters’ and ‘list compliers’ who are getting the Trump-loyal workforce ready to take over. I’ve actually read several articles on this, perhaps even here at EW (?) but also at conservative sites — can’t recall which, but National Review and Washington Examiner are my best guess. I also think NPR did a story on this and there is a conservative website, maybe Heritage Foundation’s, that openly discusses the plan.

          There are many conservative and ‘American First’ or ‘isolationist’ organizations that are working together on this; some founded for only this purpose. Basically, the plan is to have a bigger “Ginni Thomas machine” with 50,000 names ready on day 1. They are even discussing housing market and relocation with these folks. This is DEAD SERIOUS!

          The orgs are also keeping DeSantis in the loop, I had also read….in case he’s the nominee. And if it’s neither, they plan to forge ahead by linking candidate funding for the presidential race (through RNC???) to the pledge that any republican who would be elected president would do the same purge… altho, I’ve only read that once, and don’t know if I haven’t seen it corroborated because it can’t be, or if it’s simply not being discussed much because it would piss off trump to know alternate plans are being made to have a loyal ‘maga’-workforce running the government, but without trump in the executive office.

          Neither of which would be ideal, IMHO.

    • John Lehman says:

      “When Trump promised “retribution” the other day at CPAC, this kind of relentless effort to criminalize any check on Trump’s behavior is what he was talking about.”

      …gives a better understanding why tear the whole building down anarchists (Steve Bannon) loves their TFG so much…that kind of rot, unchecked, could bring the building down.

    • LaMissy! says:

      I don’t appreciate the comparison to the Blues Brothers. To quote the prescient Jake back in 1980, “I hate Illinois Nazis”. Then they run them off the bridge.

  6. earthworm says:

    This is a rant. Maybe the good lawyers and idealists on this site can disabuse me of my cynical POV.

    With the debate about how to approach prosecuting the former president, and the lawyering thrown up to use contending, conceivable realities, it looks as though the United States as we know it will be destroyed by the very democratic principles it is founded upon.

    Criminally minded administrations create their own reality, while law- abiding ones are hobbled. Hands are tied on initiative after initiative by adherence to law, statutes of limitations, the ‘appearance of impropriety’ (which never seems to tie the hands of ACTUAL impropriety), and the vast rumor mill paid for by the money-laundered gains of mafia state(s), which always has access to funds, unlike DOJ and government, always starve-able and drown-able.

    Dr EW provides a unique service for those visiting emptywheel, as long as they are competent readers, which apparently is asking a lot these days!
    “Just tell me, I haven’t got time to read all that…” is typical response to touting this site, even by Mr Terrific (spouse didn’t receive quality reading, grammar, and spelling instruction equal to mine).
    This leads to the SoundBits truthiness of YouTube: an unregulated and unsupported cascade of opinion and disinformation, mainlined directly into the visual cortex, put up by almost anyone, seemingly un-vetted.

    It is terribly consequential that the majority of Americans either has “mentalities” barring it from reading comprehension, or no longer has been schooled well enough to read compound sentences, or even get meaning from the written word at all. The consequences are monumental and echo Jefferson’s opinion about the informed civic body being essential to society in a democracy.

    The FBI must be like Caesar’s wife, above reproach! — but probably has never been. We have entered the hall of mirrors where “no matter how thin, every pancake has two sides” — used to construct or refute intricate plotting, endlessly. The Constitution is “venerated” by those shamelessly abusing it and its freedoms to undermine its succinctly stated principles.

    • bmaz says:

      “The FBI must be like Caesar’s wife, above reproach! — but probably has never been.”

      No, it never has been. Nor has any other part of American governance.

    • Cheez Whiz says:

      Your rant is symptomatic of being immersed in media, social media in particular. Our monkey brains love stories around the fire, and searching for patterns in those stories. Media tells us stories, and social media shows us stories with patterns to manipulate us. My go-to example is when you take a dog’s face in your hands and start panting, and the dog gets very excited and starts barking and jumping around.

      As for hands being tied, insert the quote by Thomas Moore about chopping down the forest of laws to get the Devil here. Law & Order is not a documentary on our criminal justice system, no matter how “obvious” Trump’s crimes are. Be outrages and fear for our democracy all you want, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you can bend reality to your desires if you want it bad enough. That’s what’s given us Trump and DeSantis and Jordan and on and on.

    • John Lehman says:

      “When Trump promised “retribution” the other day at CPAC, this kind of relentless effort to criminalize any check on Trump’s behavior is what he was talking about.”

      …gives a better understanding why tear the whole building down anarchists (Steve Bannon) loves their TFG so much…that kind of rot, unchecked, could bring the building down.

      Hope this helped a little with the …” disabuse me of my cynical POV.”

      • gmoke says:

        I’d characterize Steve Bannon as more of a nihilist than an anarchist. Nihilism, the belief in nothing but power, is what the whole Republican Party is devolving into, and seems to be Bannon’s only real goal.

        • John Lehman says:

          Bannon has claimed to be a follower of the historian Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee’s vision, simplified, is that human history is a cycle of repeating rising and falling of civilizations.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_J._Toynbee

          Anarchists, nihilists if not brothers, are at least cousins both elements in achieving the falling part in the cycles of human history.

    • Mart7890 says:

      “no matter how thin, every pancake has two sides”
      Your full of Crepes!
      (Sorry, trying to make a joke.)

  7. Savage Librarian says:

    Although I could read the twitter feed earlier this morning, now I can’t. In fact, even the ones I could read before are no longer available. I’m wondering if the problem is on my end or yours. This is the message I get:

    {“errors”:[{“message”:”Your current API plan does not include access to this endpoint, please see https://developer.twitter.com/en/docs/twitter-api for more information”,”code”:467}]}

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Ah, thanks, bmaz. Seems fixed now.

        But I thought I deleted that comment. I got worried it might be a worm or virus. Hope not.

        • Rayne says:

          All of Twitter was down. They made a change and it crashed the entire platform. Now they’ve reversed the change.

          Heckuva way to run a social media platform. Imagine letting its owner stick some brain implant in your head. ~smh~

          • bmaz says:

            Imagine being strung out over thousands of cheap ass crappy “servers”, barely related, across the globe.

            • Rayne says:

              You mean like the internet? You just described the internet.

              You just published that on one of the “thousands of cheap ass crappy ‘servers’, barely related, across the globe.”

                • Rayne says:

                  That’s your personal opinion which we have discussed numerous times. I’m perfectly fine with Mastodon across multiple accounts.

                    • Rayne says:

                      I need more than one account on Mastodon just as I did on Twitter — one is dedicated to stuff I discuss here, the other contains stuff I don’t. My other account went viral today on stuff I didn’t share at @raynetoday, met some lovely people discussing that topic.

                      And you have had more than one account at Twitter, or don’t you recall Betting the Shit Square?

    • Shadowalker says:

      They broke twitter again.


      Twitter Support
      @TwitterSupport
      ·
      52m
      Some parts of Twitter may not be working as expected right now. We made an internal change that had some unintended consequences. We’re working on this now and will share an update when it’s fixed.”

  8. Doctor My Eyes says:

    Gathering facts and placing them in context of the most likely narrative without pretending to know things not proven—it seems basic but is vanishingly rare. One way these disturbing recent posts affect me is that all mainstream reporting, even when seemingly well-intentioned, is hopelessly naive. It is unsettling that this far into foreign assaults on our society and our government, most of the country is blithely unaware that we are at war. Probably unnecessary to say so here, but I keep feeling the need to point it out: we don’t know which side is going to win. They have had years to further corrupt a perennially corrupt FBI to their advantage. Interesting times. Deepest thanks for the clear analyses.

  9. Peterr says:

    Another layer to the stories above about FBI agents being cowed by Trump is the way in which Trump not only fired McCabe in March 2018 but also went after McCabe’s pension. Per The Hill, McCabe missed out on $200,000 in pension payments and spent more that $500,000 in legal fees before winning his lawsuit through a settlement agreement — reached in October 2021! — under which the US govt agreed to repay the missed payments and cover his legal fees, though without admitting any wrongdoing.

    If I’m an FBI agent approaching retirement, this 3.5 year drama would be on my mind a great deal every day I went to work. Do I want to risk my pension by doing something that would piss off someone who could take it away with a snap of his fingers?

    • Troutwaxer says:

      In retrospect, the best way to handle all that EW alludes to above would have been for the Biden administration to overrule the Trump findings and give McCabe both his job and pension back.

      • Shadowalker says:

        McCabe was hours away from qualifying full retirement. Trump’s action meant he couldn’t collect a pension until he was 65. DOJ decided to settle and agreed to correct the record removing any reference to the wrongful termination, paying any backpay and pension payments that he was due, as well as paying his legal fees. Garland testified to a Senate Committee that DOJ lawyers reasoned that his suit was very likely to win in court and that settlement was the logical course of action.

      • Rayne says:

        No. McCabe’s termination was a retaliatory firing of a federal employee which is unlawful. The lawsuit was the correct manner to address this though the federal government should have been forced to admit wrongdoing.

        Biden administration stepping in would have been an abuse of power just as the Trump admin’s termination of McCabe was an abuse of power.

        • Shadowalker says:

          Perhaps his 20 years of service had something to do with not pressing the issue of admitting fault. It’s not like those responsible are still in their positions.

          Besides, he even got the Senior Executive Service cufflinks.

          d. the following additional benefits:
          i. Plaintiffs official FBI credentials, badge, and time-in-service award keys
          mounted in the format typically provided to retiring FBI Deputy Directors
          and other senior executives;
          ii. retired FBI credentials, as are typically provided to retiring FBI Deputy
          Directors and other senior executives;
          iii. the identification card defined in 18 U.S.C. § 926C(d)(2)(A); and
          iv. Senior Executive Service cufflinks.

          • Rayne says:

            This was about the government admitting fault wrt retaliatory firing, which looked rather obvious since Trump actually fucking tweeted about his termination more than once, and Sessions terminated him *after* McCabe had been investigating Sessions.

            As a federal employee over 39 years of age, McCabe was also in a protected class. He wasn’t treated like it.

            Cufflinks. Bah.

            • Shadowalker says:

              Sorry it took so long to get back to this.

              McCabe didn’t claim his “unconstitutional” firing was related to his investigation of AG Sessions. Instead it was founded only in Trump’s obsession with removing anyone in both the DOJ and FBI he deemed disloyal to him.

              From the suit.
              “ Trump, acting in an official capacity as President of the United States, is responsible and accountable for Defendants’ actions. Trump purposefully and intentionally caused the unlawful actions of Defendants and other Executive Branch subordinates that led to Plaintiff’s demotion and purported termination. It was Trump’s unconstitutional plan and scheme to discredit and remove DOJ and FBI employees who were deemed to be his partisan opponents because they were not politically loyal to him. Plaintiff’s termination was a critical element of Trump’s plan and scheme.”

              A view reinforced in a response of a motion to dismiss filing,

              From the Judge’s Memorandum and Opinion Order
              “Plaintiff does not contend that Attorney General Sessions was personally biased against him but, rather, alleges that the President wanted Plaintiff gone before his retirement benefits vested, and the Attorney General followed what he would have understood to be an unmistakable direction from his boss.“

              The cufflinks matter only as a symbol that McCabe retired honorably without blemish.

  10. Peterr says:

    Someone decided to leak a story to Devlin Barrett suggesting that investigators had already reached a conclusion about Trump’s motive, even though as the story acknowledged, “even the nonclassified documents” — better described as documents without classification marks that not only hadn’t been reviewed yet, which could have included unmarked classified information — “taken in the search may include relevant evidence.”

    Has there been any corroboration of the story leaked to Barrett from independent sources (official or off-the-record)? As I read this, my first thought upon reading the word “suggested” in Marcy’s description was not that a decision had been made, but that someone sure wanted Barrett to get that idea and spin it like that. If Barrett comes back later and says “you lied to me,” the reply is “no, you misunderstood me.” That’s walking a fine line for a source, but given Trump’s increasing desperation, it seems very much in character to ask/demand that it be done.

    Trump clearly operates as if he can put himself beyond the reach of investigations not just by being the president (per the infamous OLC memo), but also by being a candidate. If Trump feared he would be indicted before he could announce his candidacy, luring a reporting into floating a story that a decision had already been made to drop the documents case would then plant that image in the public consciousness. If DOJ later says it is false and/or charges him with something, Trump would then scream “but you already said it was NBD, so this is nothing but a political witchhunt to keep me from returning to my rightful place in the White House!”

    And the Proud Boys, 3%ers, Oathkeepers, and the various stripes of Qanoners would be right there, foaming at the mouth in Trump’s defense, ready to go with Insurrection 2.

    The story Barrett wrote doesn’t have to be true to be effective from Trump’s POV. He’s poisoning the media in service of his desire to remain immune from both any consequences for his actions and also any interference with his future plans.

    • emptywheel says:

      The story is couched plenty well enough to say that that’s what the discussion was before getting access to the presumptively unclassified documents, but that could change.

      Mostly though it’s confirmation they didn’t consider whether he was selling docs to the Saudis.

  11. David F. Snyder says:

    I noticed that curious timing back in November as well. Garland has so far made some masterful moves in preventing dickhead from wriggling out of responsibility.

    Smith no doubt has noticed these odd moves by D’Antuono, too. Not taking credit for the MI bust could be him just keeping a low profile (avoid the attention of higher ups)? But his Great Hesitation on executing the search reveals there is more to the picture. Perhaps Trump has kompromat on D’Antuono. Or perhaps D’Antuono was complicit. It’s not clear. I do have trust that Smith has the skills to sniff out any dirt that is findable in this regard.

  12. Silly but True says:

    I have little sympathy for at least Strzok and Page, whom we are reminded texted each other over 50,000 times using their FBI cellphones, none of those about work and mostly throughout the regular workday, when they were being paid to actually work. That’s not even getting into time secretly spent doing “other things” besides texting.

    There is a reason why guidelines against fraternization exist, why guidelines for use of company-issued devices exist, and why communicatons policies exist and these two individuals flagrantly abused all of it, and in doing so did significant damage to the image of the FBI.

    Now, the extent of their sanction should have been administrative, and not as becoming household names on the national stage. But perhaps their experience can serve as caution to others in the FBI who might also be contemplating screwing around on their government devices and with their coworkers, as opposed to say doing your job well yet still get drug through the same mud. So one’s expecting perfection. But, 50,000!?! It’s clear the FBI has had and continues to have a morale problem. They didn’t cause it, but all of their other inappropriate texts aside, their choice of relief valves to mostly snark at each other about their FBI HQ bosses sure didn’t help it.

    • emptywheel says:

      Wow. Do you have proof for the claims in your first paragraph? MOST of it was work. And MOST of the personal comments were off hour.

      They have active lawsuits to test your views on what was appropriate, including whether the organized release of their texts was, with Strzok getting 2 hours to depose Trump. It is 100% certain they were treated differently than other FBI Agents who made political tweets on their phones, with those tweeting pro-Trump facing no consequences.

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