January 28, 2023 / by 

 

Billy B and Johnny D Drank Whiskey before the Special Counsel Appointment

I’ll have more to say about the NYT piece on the corrupt Durham investigation, though probably not till next week. But many people are commenting about how close Billy Barr was to Durham, as depicted by the way they sipped whiskey together.

While attorneys general overseeing politically sensitive inquiries tend to keep their distance from the investigators, Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together, people familiar with their work said.

In some ways, they were an odd match. Taciturn and media-averse, the goateed Mr. Durham had spent more than three decades as a prosecutor before Mr. Trump appointed him the U.S. attorney for Connecticut. Administrations of both parties had assigned him to investigate potential official wrongdoing, like allegations of corrupt ties between mafia informants and F.B.I. agents, and the C.I.A.’s torture of terrorism detainees and destruction of evidence.

By contrast, the vocal and domineering Mr. Barr has never prosecuted a case and is known for using his law enforcement platform to opine on culture-war issues and politics. He had effectively auditioned to be Mr. Trump’s attorney general by asserting to a New York Times reporter that there was more basis to investigate Mrs. Clinton than Mr. Trump’s “so-called ‘collusion’” with Russia, and by writing a memo suggesting a way to shield Mr. Trump from scrutiny for obstruction of justice.

But the two shared a worldview: They are both Catholic conservatives and Republicans, born two months apart in 1950. As a career federal prosecutor, Mr. Durham already revered the office of the attorney general, people who know him say. And as he was drawn into Mr. Barr’s personal orbit, Mr. Durham came to embrace that particular attorney general’s intense feelings about the Russia investigation.

It is true that Special Counsels, under the regulations, are supposed to have more independence from the Attorney General than this.

But keep in mind that 17 months of whiskey sipping happened before Barr made Durham Special Counsel.

And Barr intervened this closely in many of the other investigations he orchestrated. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sipped whiskey with Scott Brady and Jeffrey Jensen, when they were conducting corrupt projects (accepting Russian-tied dirt on Joe Biden and undermining the Mike Flynn case, respectively) for him, as well.

The timing is significant in another way.

As NYT describes, when Billy and Johnny went to Italy chasing George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories, the Italians instead shared alarming information about suspected financial crimes with the two men. Rather than providing the tip to a normal investigator, Barr instead had Durham chase it down.

On one of Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham’s trips to Europe, according to people familiar with the matter, Italian officials — while denying any role in setting off the Russia investigation — unexpectedly offered a potentially explosive tip linking Mr. Trump to certain suspected financial crimes.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham decided that the tip was too serious and credible to ignore. But rather than assign it to another prosecutor, Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham investigate the matter himself — giving him criminal prosecution powers for the first time — even though the possible wrongdoing by Mr. Trump did not fall squarely within Mr. Durham’s assignment to scrutinize the origins of the Russia inquiry, the people said.

Mr. Durham never filed charges, and it remains unclear what level of an investigation it was, what steps he took, what he learned and whether anyone at the White House ever found out. The extraordinary fact that Mr. Durham opened a criminal investigation that included scrutinizing Mr. Trump has remained secret.

But in October 2019, a garbled echo became public. The Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

By description, this tip too appears to precede the time when Durham was appointed Special Counsel. That’s important because, with every other investigation into Trump, Barr attempted to ensure it was shut down during the summer of 2020. If Barr succeeded here, too, then it would mean that it would not fall into the scope of Durham’s Special Counsel activities.

That’s important, because Durham is, by regulation, required to write a report about his prosecution and declination decisions. If Durham wants to see his report made public, we should fairly expect to see this criminal tip on Trump included.

There are a lot of questions about why Durham remains at DOJ. But one potential reasons is that Lisa Monaco believes his report could be a worthwhile thing: basically a long list of conspiracy theories that Barr had Durham chase that turned out to be conspiracy theories.

And this story may put some pressure on DOJ to make sure that happens.


The Trump-Biden-Pence Documents Story Is Not (Yet) about Overclassification

It is my belief that had Eric Holder appointed a Special Counsel to investigate David Petraeus’ hoarding of classified information, the retired General might have been charged with 18 USC 793(e) and maybe even 793(d).

That’s true, first of all, because the facts he admitted to as part of his wrist-slap plea largely cover the elements of the offense. That’s true, too, because everyone but Holder seemed to support charging Obama’s CIA Director. Ultimately, the decision would have remained Holder’s. Holder might have overruled a Special Counsel even still, as he is reported to have overruled prosecutors. Holder may have calculated that Petraeus’ years-long cultivation of Congress would mitigate any blowback for overriding the recommendation to prosecute.

Certainly Holder paid no price for making the decision he did make: Congress believed that Petraeus could do no wrong.

Instead, Petraeus is (with Sandy Berger) one of the two poster children for the premise that the powerful will never be held accountable for mishandling classified information the way lower ranking personnel will be. That could change with at least two Special Counsels involved.

Yet even as powerful as he was during the period he was leaking to his biographer, David Petraeus is still differently situated than Trump, Biden, and Pence, starting with the fact that even in his case, DOJ relied on his clearance and nondisclosure agreements to prosecute him.

By comparison, all three of the men currently under investigation were Original Classification Authorities under EO 13526, the Executive Order governing classification during the period in question. None of those men would ever have been required to get any security clearance beyond the courtesy clearance given to formers after their tenure (of which Trump was stripped). And so all of these men went from a status of near immunity while in office, instantly — at 12:00PM on January 20 — to having to sort through files in boxes to decide what he was permitted to take home and what he was obligated to turn over to the Archives.

That process was at least part of what went wrong in all three cases, even Biden’s possession of documents from when he was a powerful Senate Chair. One minute, they were virtually immune from rules pertaining to classification, and literally the next minute — before they had finished that sorting process! — they were subject to the rule of law again.

Indeed, because all three are explicitly subject to the Presidential Records Act, the basis by which they lack authorization to possess the documents in question stems, in significant part, from an entirely different basis than it does for other people, which arises from the clearances they were never required to get.

And that’s one reason why all the punditry (here, here, here, here) — almost all from people who haven’t followed the details even of the Trump case, where we’ve got the most facts available — claiming that this is a problem with overclassification is, at best, wildly premature.

Indeed, with Trump, we can say with some certainty that this is not about overclassification. The classification markings from the subpoena DOJ served on him, understood to be based in part on what they had already found in the boxes he turned over, are not trivial. Nor are the likely contents of the documents we see in the FBI picture of his stolen documents. Even some of the documents from the Russian investigation that Trump wanted to declassify and disseminate rely on either human source and/or intelligence collection targeting Russia’s spy service, and the reporting was just five years old at the time (a brand new must read from the NYT also reveals the intelligence came from the Dutch, so it wasn’t our intelligence to declassify).

These men were the President and Vice President. They had access to highly sensitive information, and Trump, at least, had a well-established history of releasing it with abandon.

Until we have evidence that the documents in question were simply materials that some agency was bigfooting (as was the case in most of the classification pertaining to Hillary’s emails), we should not assume this is about overclassification. There’s no evidence of that.

Chuck Rosenberg argues that it also should not matter.

One place we might see overclassification is in classification reviews of the hand-written notes that both Trump and Biden took, though even there, Trump was reportedly waving around his private love letters with a nuclear-armed dictator as a party trick, and that probably did have the ability to make it harder to manage a very difficult threat. But with Trump, at least, the possibility that some of his hand-written notes won’t turn out to be as sensitive as the spooks will declare them doesn’t mitigate that he had documents that are almost certainly unbelievably sensitive sitting in a beach resort known to be targeted by intelligence services.

Thus far, we have no evidence that this is about overclassification. We do have abundant evidence that these three specific compromises have to do with the wacky way Presidents and Vice Presidents (and to a lesser degree, Members of Congress) operate outside the system of clearances that leads virtually everyone else with access to classified information to exercise a great deal of caution when handling it. One day they’re immune, the next day they’re sorting documents to try to sort out what needs to go to the Archives.

That’s a different problem than overclassification.

Crazier still, most of the people who are out there claiming this about overclassification are using (at least partly) as their examples people who sought out documents that were not part of their work and then leaked those documents. Those cases are also not about overclassification.

And amid all the talk of overclassification, none of the pundits have mentioned a case that is a far more apt example of overclassification and the way the Executive uses classification to punish people: Jeremy Brown, the Oath Keeper recently found guilty of unlawfully retaining — right next to some grenades for which he was also convicted — one document that Brown wrote himself in 2011, classified Secret, believed to be about the Bowe Bergdahl case.

Brown was acquitted on 793 charges for four other documents, also classified Secret, that were even older.

Brown’s case in many ways parallels Trump’s. Like Trump, the Feds showed up and asked him to return the document and he lied to hide it. Like Trump, the FBI found the documents with a warrant.

But it’s far more likely these documents, all of which were at least ten years old, are overclassified.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Brown is a dangerous shithole. I’m not unhappy he’s going to prison.

I also think DOJ believed, correctly, they could use these classified documents (along with the grenades) as a way to neutralize a dangerous loose canon.

Want to make a case about overclassification? Jeremy Brown is the dangerous shithole you should be defending. Want to prevent the grave disparities in how powerful people are treated, as compared to dangerous shitholes like Jeremy Brown?

You need to address that magic process by which Presidents are treated with immunity and then — in an instant!! — purportedly subjected to the same rules as everyone else.


More on Brandon Straka’s So-Called Cooperation

There was a funny moment in Brandon Straka’s February 24, 2022 January 6 Committee interview.

Close to the beginning of the interview, he provided a description of how, he claimed, the idea for Stop the Steal came about: someone, probably Ali Alexander, simply renamed a pre-existing MAGAt Twitter DM list sometime after the election.

A So there was a Twitter DM thread, which s to say, like, a private message thread that somebody had created — I have no idea who because in all likelihood it was probably created significantly before I was added to it. It was called MAGA Verified, which essentially means anybody who is a MAGA or, you know, Donald Trump supporter, who has a blue checkmark next to their name, so as in verified on Twitter.

And so somebody had created a group, a direct message group, and so I don’t know if anyone here maybe does or does not understand how Twitter works, but with a Twitter DM group, somebody can create a group and just add people. They don’t have to have your permission. Then it’s up to you to either leave the group or decide if you  want to stay in the group. 1) So, like, as right now as we speak, I’m probably added to hundreds of groups because I don’t really check my DMs that thoroughly, and I don’t make it an effort to go through and remove myself from every group that I’m added to.

But this particular group was called MAGA Verified, and it was a collection of people who are verified, you know, Republicans or Donald Trump supporters.

And then as (he claims) results started changing, people on the group decided to adopt the hashtag #StopTheSteal.

And at after the election, so I guess around November 5th, I would say, of 2020, 6several of us were in that group just sort of expressing confusion, exasperation, sadness about how the election results had suddenly changed during the night on November 4th going into November 5th.

And thenI think over the course I mean, I’d have to go back and look, but it was over the course of, I think, a day or two that plans started getting made to kind of deploy to swing States and host these First Amendment-protected events to encourage people to keep their spirits up and encourage their State legislators to hold a thorough forensic audit of the votes in theirStates, because people were very concerned about irregularities. So I’m going to go out on a limb and assume it was probably Ali Alexander who started using the Stop the Steal hashtag.

According to the cooperation memo the government filed in advance of Straka’s sentencing last year, which just got unsealed, it’s the same story he told to the FBI.

The “Stop the Steal” effort was formed through a private Twitter group of which Straka was a member. The group was formed “long before” the 2020 election and referred to itself as the “MAGA Verified” group because it was comprised of MAGA followers who were verified on Twitter. The members of the group used Twitter to exchange private direct messages with one another. Straka provided information about an individual, Ali Alexander, who was part of the MAGA Verified group.

There are a few problems with the story. First, as J6C pointed out to Straka, he was already organizing a vote fraud event, to take place after the election, before the election.

So we’ll give you time to look at this document, but it is it looks like it’s a permit 3 application filed by WalkAway Campaign. ~The date is October 28 of 2020. It’s for John 4 Marshall Park, and it’s scheduled — the proposed scheduled date is for November 15th.

If we go down to the second, page, the purpose of the event is a demonstration for free and fair elections. So help us understand, why did you –what were you thinking about on October 28th to want to have an event on November 15th about free: and fair elections?

In response to this observation, Straka bullshitted for a while and then gave up.

It just didn’t make sense, he said.

A Julie Hanson is an event planner that we’ve worked with over – for years on various events that we’ve done. I can’t answer this question, because this doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know if she made a mistake when she put the date on the application, or if I don’t want to speculate why Julie put that date on the application, but I can tell you this doesn’t make sense to me, because I thought that Donald Trump was going to win the election, and my reaction to how the election turned out began on November 5th. So it makes no sense to me that I would’ve done – I would’ve asked to submit an application a week before the election. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Q So it’s your just want to make sure we have your testimony clear. You don’t recall instructing Ms. Hanson or approving an application in October for this event after the election on November 15th?

A Not in October, I don’t recall that. I — again, it just doesn’t make sense.

Right: This story doesn’t make sense. That’s the problem.

Plus, as J6C pointed out, the hash tag was actually in use well before the election. After Straka engaged in a really long spiel about how he didn’t much care of Ali Alexander registered the hash tag — “I just want[] to be told where to show up, what time, and where’s the microphone” — (as he said about January 6), J6C asked about the timing again.

Q Got it. That brings me back thank you, that was helpful. That brings me back, though, to the permit application from October 28th. It looks like Stop the Steal, the hashtag, I mean, was really starting to get traction early as September 7th of 2020.

We’ve seen tweets of Jack Posobiec doing it.

So do you recall maybe filing this application in October, for November 15th, to advance the Stop the Steal messaging that was starting to percolate in September, October, and November of 2020?

A Again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. That – because I believed wholeheartedly that Donald Trump was going to win the election. ~ So it ~ it just doesn’t make sense to me that I would’ve decided a week before the election to submit a permit under the assumption that we’re going to lose the election. It just – that just doesn’t add up inmy mind.

In fact, J6C already knew that the hashtag had been in use even longer than that.

Though Ali Alexander, in his December 9, 2021 testimony, had tried to distinguish the hashtag from everything else, when asked why he suggested he should sue the Kremers after Roger Stone was denied a speaking slot on January 6, Alexander explained,

And there was all this pretense that, you know, Roger Stone is the gentleman who came up with the phrase Stop the Steal. I have, you know, this gentleman’s agreement with him that I  have a perpetual use of the license.

And the FBI would know that Stop the Steal went back to 2016, because abundant evidence about it would have been collected by Robert Mueller’s team.

So no one should have believed Straka’s explanation.

I have long raised questions about whether DOJ allowed itself to be snookered in giving Straka a sweet plea, when instead they should have charged him with obstruction. There’s nothing in the filings unsealed in recent days to alleviate my concerns.

That’s true, first of all, because two of the things he threw at prosecutors seem to have been chum, waste material thrown out to distract predators. Straka provided second-hand information from someone who may have been in Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Information that Elijah Schaffer was inside of Nancy Pelosi’s office that is currently being investigated. It is unknown whether any other information has been discovered by the Government concerning this lead.

The government still had not verified the tip a year later.

On March 5, 2021, Straka was interviewed by the FBI a second time. Sometime after his first interview, Straka recalled that an individual, David Leatherwood, told him that an individual, Elijah Schaffer, was inside of Nancy Pelosi’s office on January 6. This information is being investigated for its accuracy.

And Straka, just before sentencing, provided the name of a guy he lived close to in Nebraska (but had not previously known), an identification he claimed came from someone he didn’t even know on Twitter.

On information and belief, Mr. Straka positively identified Gavin Crowl as an individual who participated in January 6. Mr. Crowl’s identity had not been previously provided by anyone to Law Enforcement for almost eleven months. Mr. Crowl is a convicted Sex Offender who has been placed on the Sex Offender Registry in Nebraska. His identity was confirmed by using information provided on the Sex Offender Registry, and by cross-referencing public information from his LinkedIn profile with information he provided in an Internet interview with Bobby Powell, a Government-identified “insurrectionist advocate”. This individual can be heard encouraging the crowd to take the shield of the officer in the video recorded by Mr. Straka. Other video information provided by Mr. Straka shows this individual moving toward entering the Capitol before he was stopped. It is unknown whether this individual actually did enter the Capitol Building; and what other criminal activity he participated in.

His J6C interview makes it clear Straka shared this guy’s name for the purpose of floating conspiracy theories about Antifa.

A Okay. So I — it had been brought to my attention by somebody on social media who I  don’t know, a complete stranger, had essentially reached out to me to tell me that they had identified somebody in a video who was at the Capitol who they said this person told me that they identified a person who they said was a member of antifa.

This person told me, I watched this person dressed entirely in black from head to toe, and they said, then he went away for 10, 15 minutes or whatever, and he came back dressed asa Trump supporter. And he was causing agitation, you know, et cetera.

I engaged in a conversation with this person, because the person said to me, I have this on video, or something like that, and I said, Okay. So I looked at the video that the person was talking about, just because it sounded interesting to me, and I was shocked when I discovered that recognized this person as being somebody who was standing directly beside me in my video when I was on the Capitol steps.

Now, you know, I know for a fact that one of the crimes I’m — I was accused of committing was being in a restricted area. So this person had certainly committed the same crime that I committed, and I was also very curious if this person might’ve been encouraging the crowd in ways that it was alleged that I was encouraging the crowd.

And so, I asked this person if they knew the identity of this individual, and this person said, Yes. And so he gave me the name of this individual. I googled this individual and discovered that this individual has a violent criminal record.

At that point – and –and I also discovered that this person lives, coincidentally, very close by where I live.

According to the government sentencing memo, they did open an investigation into Crowl; it was new information for them.

On December 8, 2021, counsel for Straka provided the government with information regarding a United Capitol rioter who was at the U.S. Capitol. Straka recalled observing the individual while he was standing outside on the steps outside of the East Rotunda Doors. This individual stood nearby as a U.S. Capitol Police Officer’s protective shield was taken away from him. Straka believes that the individual joined in with the crowd yelling “take it, take it,” as rioters struggled with the officer to take his shield. After January 6, the individual, identified by Straka as Gavin Crowl, participated in an interview with insurrectionist advocate, Bobby Powell. Crowl recounted what he observed at the U.S. Capitol. Straka and Crowl reside in Nebraska and live within a short distance of each other. Straka’s information is beneficial in that Crowl was not previously identified by the FBI prior to Straka’s identification of Crowl.

[snip]

Based in the information provided by Straka, the FBI has opened an investigation into Crowl and his conduct at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Crowl is the one, notably, that Straka claimed to be afraid of, not Trump people threatening to retaliate (though DOJ submitted exhibits of texts from someone else demanding that Straka recant his testimony).

This violent sex offender, if he learns of Mr. Straka’s cooperation in identifying him (which would be the primary reason for any subsequent arrest and prosecution) has a predatory and aggressive history, which could easily result in retaliation against Mr. Straka or his family.

Crowl has not yet — publicly, anyway — been arrested, and even if he was, it’s not clear he ever did anything more than trespass outside the building.

While the tip may have been helpful, it was not cooperation about things that Straka was uniquely positioned to know.

The single prosecution on which Straka’s cooperation was said to help (usually the standard for credit at sentencing) was Simone Gold, the anti-vax activist who was arrested even before Straka was in January 2021, and who had already been charged with felony obstruction six days before the February 11 Straka interview where he first provided the information. In its sentencing memo, the government said Straka provided a voice mail that might help get Gold to plead.

Straka provided the government with voicemail messages that he received from Gold, whom he met in Washington D.C. on either January 5 or 6. The information contained in the voicemail messages is valuable in the government’s prosecution of Gold and may assist in a plea resolution of the Gold prosecution.

After further delay, Gold did plead out, not to the felony obstruction count, but to the more serious trespassing count. Her plea agreement had the standard cooperation paragraph in it, which sometimes suggests that the person had not yet sat for the further FBI interview required by virtually all misdemeanor pleas. The government sentencing memo in her case laid out several ways she continued to delegitimize her prosecution — and fundraise, to the tune of $430,000 — off it. In short, there’s absolutely no evidence that DOJ used the information Straka provided on Gold to advance the overall investigation. It made a misdemeanor plea easier to get, but not much more than that.

Gold is more likely to be held accountable in a lawsuit by her anti-vax group, which has split into factions over how she grifted the fundraising from it (though the failed attempt by Gold’s attorney, Kira West, to drop her as a client may suggest there might be legal accountability for the grift, as well).

The combined memos make it clear that the government viewed Straka’s cooperation to be most valuable for his insight into Stop the Steal, especially Alexander. Straka himself describes identifying people on one of the Stop the Steal threads (though this sounds like the known Twitter DM list; in his J6C transcript, he described a Signal thread as well).

Contact information regarding the following members of the Stop the Steal text thread, to include: Ali Alexander, Michael Coudrey, Scott Presler, Ashley St. Clair, Nathan Martin, Courtney Holland, Megan Barth, CJ Pearson, Ryan Fournier, and another telephone number unknown to Mr. Straka.

There’s a non-zero chance that the tenth number is either that of Paul Gosar or one of his staffers, because he was on that Twitter thread (and Straka filibustered about him when asked by J6C).

There are reasons for concern, though. None of the documents pertaining to Straka — from either J6C or DOJ — mention Mike Flynn, next to whom Straka sat at the Ellipse rally, which is particularly important given Straka’s description that he went back to the Willard after the rally.

And in the discussion of Straka’s information on the organizers of Stop the Steal (Straka did not mention Caroline Wren, though he may not have understood her role), DOJ adopts the same misspelling of the Kremers’ name as Straka did: “Kremmer” rather than “Kremer.”

Straka provided information about “Stop the Steal” members Amy Kremmer, Kylie Kremmer, Cindy Chafian. This information was useful in that it identified members of “Stop the Steal.” Neither the Kremmers nor Chafian are being prosecuted by the government at this time.

Note that J6C seemed not to have communications between Straka and Chafian that should have been in his production.

How aggressively must prosecutors be following this if, over a year into an investigation of January 6, they’re still not clear on who the Kremers are, whether or not their actions are deemed suspect?

And Straka’s memo seems to confirm my fear that DOJ had not yet turned to the earlier incitement from Stop the Steal — which was a key threat to state lawmakers are they were considering whether to support Trump’s coup attempt — until his third interview, in January 2022.

Additional information concerning Michael Coudrey, Scott Presler, Ashley St. Clair, Courtney Holland, Megan Barth, CJ Pearson, and Ryan Fournier, Amy and Kylie Kremmer, Cindy Chafian, Alex “Bruisewitz” (spelling unknown), Crystal (LNU) (an organizer and logistics person involved in rallies for President Trump), and Jenny Beth Martin; as well as information about specific rallies held in the months prior to January 6, was provided during Brandon’s third interview. [my emphasis]

Brandon Straka played a central role in intimidating election workers in my state of Michigan in 2020, and the government got all the way to sentencing before asking him about that process. That pisses me off and raises real questions about how thoroughly they investigated Straka before agreeing to a misdemeanor plea.

In his J6C interview, almost seven weeks after that third interview, Straka revealed that FBI at that point still retained all his devices except his phone. Three months after his third interview, DOJ subpoenaed Alexander. DOJ may not be done with Straka.

It may be that the trade-off — of getting immediate access to his devices rather than waiting to crack whatever security he had — still made the plea worth it. It may be that that early cooperation, and more importantly, the follow-up in January 2022, provided DOJ information they couldn’t have gotten without a lot more effort.

But J6C, without warrants, was able to poke a key hole in Straka’s story. At least on the public record, it seems that FBI was not so thorough, even with warrants and seized devices in hand.

Links

Timeline

January 11, 2021: Tip on Straka’s post to Twitter

January 13, 2021: Interview with Straka relative

By January 13, 2021: Straka removes January 5 video from Twitter; last view date for December 19, 2020 video cited in sentencing memo but not arrest affidavit

January 20, 2021: Straka charged by complaint

January 25, 2021: Straka arrest

February 17, 2021: First FBI interview

February 18, 2021: First continuance

March 25, 2021: Second FBI interview

June 3, 2021: Second continuance

July 2, 2021: Protective order

August 25, 2021: Third continuance

August 31, 2021: Date of plea offer

September 14, 2021: Deadline to accept plea

September 15, 2021: Straka charged by information

September 30, 2021: Stuart Dornan files notice of appearance for Straka

October 5, 2021: Updated information

October 6, 2021: Change of plea hearing (plea agreementstatement of offense); sentencing scheduled for December 17, with initial memo due December 10 and response due by December 15

Between October 7 and November 19, 2021: Pretrial services interview (sealed docket #28)

November 19, 2021: Brittany Reed substitutes for April Russo

December 8, 2021: Sentencing reset for December 22; sentencing memo due by December 15; Straka “provide[s] counsel for the government with information that may impact the government’s sentencing recommendation”

December 9, 2021: Ali Alexander J6C testimony

December 10, 2021: Straka shares sentencing position (possibly filed under seal)

December 11, 2021: Government tells defendants it seeks to continue, tells Straka it will consider request to dismiss case

December 16, 2021: Last view date for 2018 Straka video, Walkaway Foundation website, WalkAway Campaign PAC website, WalkAway Campaign YouTube Channel; ProPublica article on Michael Courdrey message (and attempts to distance Alex Jones and Ali Alexander)

December 17, 2021: Motion to continue (presented as joint) 30 days

By December 23, 2021: Sealed motion attempting to seal publicly filed motion to continue, denied by Judge Friedrich

January 5, 2022: Third FBI interview, this time including prosecutors (plural)

January 13, 2022: Government sentencing memo (sealed addendum at docket #37); government denies Straka request to dismiss case

January 14, 2022: Bilal Essayli files notice of appearance for Straka

January 20, 2022: Straka sentencing

February 22, 2022: Brandon Straka J6C testimony

April 8, 2022: Ali Alexander reports receiving a subpoena

June 24, 2022: Ali Alexander grand jury appearance


About Your Pence Special Counsel Complaint: On the Missing Coverage of Section 600.2(b)

I’m seeing people ask why Merrick Garland hasn’t appointed a Special Counsel yet to investigate Mike Pence when (the claim is) he did for President Biden.

The answer is … that’s not what happened.

DOJ learned about the documents at Pence’s house no earlier than January 18 (probably on January 19), so seven or eight business days ago.

At this stage of the Biden review (seven days after DOJ learned about the documents from the Archives), Garland hadn’t appointed US Attorney for Chicago John Lausch yet. As Attorney General Garland explained when he announced the appointment of Robert Hur, ten days after DOJ learned about the documents at Biden’s office, he asked Lausch to investigate:

  • November 4: DOJ learns of the Biden documents
  • November 9: FBI starts an assessment
  • November 14: Garland appoints John Lausch

More importantly, Lausch wasn’t appointed as a full Special Counsel under 28 CFR 600.4, which is what Jack Smith was appointed under. Rather, Garland appointed Lausch under 600.2(b).

On November 14, pursuant to Section 600.2(b) of the Special Counsel regulations, I assigned U.S. Attorney Lausch to conduct an initial investigation to inform my decision whether to appoint a Special Counsel.

Section 600.2(b) permits the Attorney General to appoint someone to conduct an “initial investigation” to better inform the decision whether to appoint a full-blown Special Counsel.

Importantly, Garland didn’t reveal that he had appointed Lausch until the day he appointed Hur, this time under 600.4.

So Garland could well have appointed someone — could be Lausch, could be Hur, could be someone who wasn’t appointed under the Trump-Pence Administration, as both Lausch and Hur were — to conduct an initial assessment regarding Pence’s documents without telling the public, just as he did with Biden. If he followed the same approach he did with Biden, he might not reveal that step unless and until he appointed a full Special Counsel.

Check back on March 17 to see where DOJ is with a Pence review, which would be the same almost two months out as it took to appoint a Special Counsel with Biden.

Maybe by then someone will have been appointed to review the classified holdings of all former Presidents and Vice Presidents.

To anticipate one more complaint, about why Garland waited nine months after the discovery of classified documents in boxes that had been at Mar-a-Lago before appointing Jack Smith: DOJ started using a grand jury no later than May 11 in Trump’s case, which is when they sent a subpoena for all documents with classification markings (I believe the subpoena reflects a grand jury seated on April 27). The subpoena came just over two months after FBI received the NARA referral on February 9. The timing of the Special Counsel appointment pivoted on the fact that Trump announced his his run for President, not the intensity of the investigation.

In fact, Garland might not appoint a Special Counsel if Pence doesn’t formally announce (if even there’s cause to do so).

It’s not at all clear that these investigations should follow a parallel track. But even if they should, Pence has not yet been treated differently than Biden.


“Why Did Mike Pence Wait So Long to Reveal His Stash of Classified Documents?”

At a press availability yesterday, Merrick Garland repeated a line he often uses, that DOJ applies the law the same for everyone.

“We do not have different rules for Democrats or Republicans, different rules for the powerful or the powerless, different rules for the rich and for the poor, we apply the facts, and the law in each case in a neutral, non-partisan manner,” Garland told reporters during a press availability at Justice Department headquarters. “That is what we always do.”

Many of the reporters covering it treated it as a comment about DOJ’s handling of the Trump and Biden classified document inquiries. Maybe it was.

Little did anyone know, though, that Garland might well have had the FBI’s collection of about a dozen documents with classified markings from Mike Pence’s home in mind.

Greg Jacob first told the Archives about the documents on January 18, six days ago and two days after the search. The next day, the FBI arrived in Indiana to collect the documents, which Jacob complained was against standard protocol. Yesterday Pence’s staff delivered several boxes to the Archives to check for adherence to the Presidential Records Act.

I don’t much care that Pence didn’t immediately run to the press to announce the documents, but it is the kind of thing that journalists who are good at horse race coverage, unaware of many of the thus-far distinguishing details about the Trump documents, and ill-equipped to cover classified documents stories latched onto with Biden.

So in an effort to provide some structure for the kids-chasing-a-soccer-ball-like coverage we’re already seeing, here’s a table that summarizes what we know and don’t know about all three cases.

Until we have answers about some of the details that currently distinguish Biden and Pence from Trump — like whether they knew of the documents (both claim they did not), whether they ever accessed the documents after leaving office, whether we have reason to believe they’re harboring more — this should not be a story.

And the key difference, one that should be included in every story that tries to make such a comparison, is that Trump refused to give documents back, whereas Biden and Pence freely offered them up.

The reason that’s important, aside from the both sides drama of it, is that it is an element of the offense that would be most likely to be used if DOJ took the unprecedented step of charging a former Original Classification Authority with harboring classified documents.

As we can now see, it happens that men who have aides pack them up at the end of their tenure go home with documents they didn’t know they had. It happens. (By the time Kamala Harris leaves, there’s likely to be a new protocol in place, so Harris can set a perfect record as the first woman being packed up.) What matters — what distinguishes a mistake from a potential crime — is what you do with the documents when you become aware you have them.

It’s possible we’ll learn details that suggest Biden knowingly stashed classified documents. But thus far, we don’t have any such details. And that should — but thus far has often not — show up in any competent coverage.


No, Charles McGonigal Likely Isn’t Responsible for that Part of the Russian Investigation You Hate

Everyone — whether from a left, right, or frothy perspective — has seized on the arrest of former FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles McGonigal to assume he was responsible for something they don’t like about the Russian investigation: the leaks (attributed to but not exclusively from SDNY) about the Clinton Foundation investigation; the problems on the Carter Page applications and vetting of the Steele dossier; the tanking of the Alfa Bank allegations; some later sabotage of the Mueller investigation.

There’s no reason to believe he was primarily responsible for most of that, and good reason to believe he was not. But he was in a place where he could have tampered in other really serious cases. So I want to lay out what his timeline is, with some comment on how it intersects with key investigations.

Here’s an excerpt from the bio sent out with the October 4, 2016 announcement of his promotion to SAC in NY Field Office.

FBI Director James B. Comey has named Charles McGonigal as the special agent in charge of the Counterintelligence Division for the New York Field Office. Mr. McGonigal most recently served as the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI Headquarters.

[snip]

In 2014, Mr. McGonigal was promoted to assistant special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office’s cyber, counterintelligence, counterespionage, and counterproliferation programs.

[snip]

McGonigal will assume this new role at the end of October.

This 2016 promotion would have put him in New York too late to be a key 2016 leaker; the damage to Hillary had already been done by the time he would have arrived in New York.

He should have had a role in the Alfa Bank investigation, which included both a cyber and a counterintelligence component, though the latter was in Chicago. But his name did not show up (in unredacted form, anyway) in the Michael Sussmann files. Plus, we know what bolloxed that investigation: two cyber agents, Nate Batty and Scott Hellman, who decided the anomaly was nothing even before they had looked at all the data, then kept telling the counterintelligence investigators that too.

McGonigal was in the loop on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. He had a hand in forwarding the tip from the Australians to DC headquarters. And he was in the vicinity of the Carter Page investigation after it got moved back to New York in January 2017 (in which context he shows up in communications with Jennifer Boone). But at least per the Horowitz Report, he wasn’t a key player.

Because McGonigal was tangential to the above matters — including the successful effort, aided by Sussmann and Rodney Joffe — to kill the early NYT story on the Alfa Bank allegations, he’s probably not the most important player in the October 2016 NYT story every Democrat hates (though his expertise could have made him a source for several of the journalists involved).

He likely was involved in coordination in the early parts of the investigation into the DNC hack (which was investigated in Pittsburgh and San Francisco), including a decision not to open an investigation on Roger Stone, and there were steps not taken in those early days that probably should have been. Perhaps McGonigal is to blame for the fact that, when Jeannie Rhee asked for a briefing on the investigation into the hack-and-leak in 2017, nothing had been done. Ultimately, it did get done though. He was no longer in a position to interfere with the investigation during the key part of it in 2018 (though he likely knew important details about it).

One thing that’s absolutely certain, though: He was in a position to sabotage investigations into Oleg Deripaska, and with him, Paul Manafort. And he would have greatly facilitated Deripaska’s campaign to undermine the Russian investigation with disinformation, which continued beyond 2018. Just as one measure of timing, Deripaska’s column in the Daily Caller was at the beginning of the time when Shestkov was reaching out to McGonigal.

The materials on the SDNY indictment pertaining to Deripaska make it clear that he had accessed sanctions packages pertaining to Deripaska before he left the FBI in 2018.

As SAC, McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska. Among other things, in 2018, McGONIGAL, while acting as SAC, received and reviewed a then-classified list of Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin who would be considered for sanctions to be imposed as a result of Russia’s 2014 conflict with Ukraine.

He appears to have leaked that information with the daughter of Agent 1 (believed to be Yevgenyi Fokin).

An NYPD Sergeant assigned to brief Agent-1’s daughter subsequently reported the event to the NYPD and FBI, because, among other reasons, Agent-1’s daughter claimed to have an unusually close relationship to “an FBI agent” who had given her access to confidential FBI files, and it was unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the NYPD and FBI.

It seems likely, then, Manafort got visibility onto what the FBI knew about him. And he got it around the same time Konstantin Kilimnik was included in a conspiracy indictment with Paul Manafort in June 2018. He almost certainly got it before the Mueller investigation was over, which hypothetically could have influenced or facilitated Manafort’s effort to thwart DOJ’s investigation.

I have reason to suspect that people associated with McGonigal, if not he himself, have seeded disinformation about Deripaska-related investigations.

McGonigal’s tie to Deripaska and the trajectory of his career would have put him in a position to tamper in other investigations. As noted above, he moved from Baltimore (overseeing matters involving the NSA during years when the materials that would be leaked as part of the Shadow Brokers operation were stolen), to a cyber/CI role in DC, to NYC. The overt acts described in his two indictments (SDNY, DC) only start in 2017, which would suggest he may not have sold out until then.

Except there’s a problem with that: The first overt act in the DC indictment is him asking for money. So it’s not clear when he got started.

August 2017: McGonigal first asks Albanian for money.

September 7, 2017: McGonigal travels to Albania.

October 5, 2017: McGonigal receives $80,000 in a parked car from the Albanian.

November 18, 2017: McGonigal conducts an interview in Vienna with the Albanian acting as translator; the FBI has no record of the interview. Then McGonigal flies to Albania and discusses business with the same witness.

November 25, 2017: McGonigal predicates an investigation into the lobbyist for a rival Albanian politician.

February 28, 2018: McGonigal formally opens investigation into rival Albanian relying on witnesses whose expenses were paid by his source.

March 4, 2018: McGonigal dines with Prime Minister of Albania.

April 27, 2018: McGonigal pitched by two people in Germany to get involved in Bosnian affairs, facilitates an introduction to US Ambassador to UN.

June to August 2018: McGonigal sets up arrangement whereby Bosnian-tied pharma company would pay Albanian $500K to broker UN ties.

Spring-Summer 2018: At Sergey Shestakov’s request, McGonigal sets up Deripaska’s agent’s daughter with an NYPD internship.

September 2018: McGonigal retires from the FBI.

There are a number of key investigations, including some in which Deripaska had tangential interest, on which McGonigal would have had complete visibility. Their compromise would present a grave threat to the country.

They’re not the ones left, right, and frothers are most concerned about though.

Given how DOJ has charged these two indictments (and given the charges they have yet to file), I suspect they will try to get McGonigal to plead to one side and cooperate in the other — in part to unpack everything he did before and after he left the FBI. But even if they do, they’re not going to tell us what he was up to.


Former FBI SAC Charles McGonigal Indicted for Crimes Spanning from 2017 to 2021

When I said on Saturday that, “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few stray indictments [relating to Oleg Deripaska] we haven’t seen yet,” I wasn’t specifically thinking of former Special Agent in Charge of FBI’s New York Counterintelligence Office, Charles McGonigal, who was arrested that same day in SDNY for conspiring to hide that he was working for Deripaska.

Though I had noted Scott Stedman’s report, which itself piggybacked on a Wendy Siegelman catch of a FARA filing from McGonigal’s alleged co-conspirator, Sergey Shestakov, which laid out the relationship.

In fact, DOJ seems to be treating this case — and a DC indictment given less prominence in DOJ’s releases today — as a public integrity prosecution first, and only after that the kind of national security case that the other Deripaska cases have been. That is, this is about how Deripaska and his associates used McGonigal’s alleged corruption to harm national security, and not the way McGonigal made a corrupt decision to work with Deripaska.

DC US Attorney Matthew Graves even suggested that’s the trajectory by which McGonigal came to be working for one of the Russians he should have been hunting. “Covering up your contacts with foreign nationals and hiding your personal financial relationships is a gateway to corruption.”

The DC charges pertain to $225,000 in payments McGonigal took from a former Albanian security official while he was still at the FBI. After taking the payments, McGonigal initiated an investigation into someone lobbying for competing Albanian interests.

According to the nine-count indictment, unsealed today, from August 2017, and continuing through and beyond his retirement from the FBI in September 2018, McGonigal concealed from the FBI the nature of his relationship with a former foreign security officer and businessperson who had ongoing business interests in foreign countries and before foreign governments.  Specifically, McGonigal requested and received at least $225,000 in cash from the individual and traveled abroad with the individual and met with foreign nationals.  The individual later served as an FBI source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying over which McGonigal had official supervisory responsibility.  McGonigal is accused of engaging in other conduct in his official capacity as an FBI Special Agent in Charge that he believed would benefit the businessperson financially.

Effectively, a top CI official was on the take from someone who then used that influence to take out a rival.

The charges in DC include a bunch of false statements and obstruction counts (though the obstruction could amount to twenty years in prison).

The NY charges accuse McGonigal and Shestakov of working with someone else in an attempt to get Oleg Deripaska’s sanctions lifted.

Even before McGonigal left the FBI, he was doing favors for someone listed as Deripaska’s agent (I’ll come back to him, but I believe his identity, too, is public). Then starting in 2018, McGonigal and Shestakov started working with a law firm, which earlier reporting identified as Kobre & Kim, in an attempt to help Deripaska get his sanctions lifted. Then after K&K stopped pursuing that effort in 2020, McGonigal and Shestakov continued to work for Deripaska, laundering the funds through a Friend (who may be the Albanian, in which case that may be where they discovered the tie to him).

Because of the money laundering in the SDNY indictment, it may in practice include a stiffer sentence than the DC one.

As I said above, on paper (based, in part, on the prosecutors assigned) this is being treated as a public integrity problem that led to a huge counterintelligence one. There’s not even any mention of the KleptoCapture initiative started in response to the Russian war.

But like the Deripaska investigations, I expect this one will continue for a while.

Update: I want to talk a bit about what I mean that these are Public Integrity indictments with a CI twist.

The DC prosecution team consists of two DC USAO attorneys, with the assistance of a senior NSD executive.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Elizabeth Aloi and Michael Friedman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, with assistance from Acting Deputy Chief Evan Turgeon of the DOJ’s National Security Division Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.

In addition to a bunch of January 6 cases in the last two years, Aloi is on the Navarro team and the case against two guys who pretended to be DHS agents to get close to some FBI agents. Most if not all of her January 6 cases included cooperation agreements. Michael Friedman’s January 6 cases included two involving threats, and two involving movement right wingers, including Zeeker Bozell, the scion of the family.

The DC team seems like one you’d use to try to get McGonigal to cooperate to unwind whatever other fuckery he did at the FBI.

The SDNY prosecution team consists of three public integrity prosecutors and an NSD one.

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hagan Scotten, Rebecca T. Dell, and Derek Wikstrom are in charge of the prosecution with assistance from Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

All the SDNY prosecutors have been involved with very large multi-defendant conspiracies. Hagan Scotten was involved in the Rudy Giuliani and Parnas Fruman investigation. Derek Wikstrom was on the Build the Wall (Steve Bannon) team.

Scott Claffee has been involved in some of the highest profile Chinese counterintelligence prosecutions. But he’s also involved in at least one of the other Deripaska-related cases, the one involving dual use sourcing.

But by far the most interesting lawyer involved in this case is McGonigal’s defense attorney: Seth DuCharme, a top Billy Barr aide who was at the center of numerous Barr efforts to protect Trump associates.

Including Rudy.

Especially Rudy.

Finally, a word about timing.

The SDNY indictment came first. That indictment is dated January 12.

That press release hails the Border Patrol, and given that the arrest happened at JFK, that may be why SDNY went first.

DC got its indictment on January 18. That same day there was a sealed document placed in the SDNY docket, perhaps related to the other case

Update: Here’s his bio from when he was promoted to the NY position.

Charles McGonigal Named Special Agent in Charge of the Counterintelligence Division for the New York Field Office

FBI Director James B. Comey has named Charles McGonigal as the special agent in charge of the Counterintelligence Division for the New York Field Office. Mr. McGonigal most recently served as the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI Headquarters.

Mr. McGonigal entered on duty with the FBI in 1996. He was first assigned to the New York Field Office, where he worked Russian foreign counterintelligence and organized crime matters. During his tenure in New York, Mr. McGonigal worked on the TWA Flight 800 investigation, was assigned to the task force investigating Wen Ho Lee, investigated the 1998 terrorist bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and investigated the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Mr. McGonigal was assigned to an investigative response squad, which focused on pending international terrorist threats in the New York City area.

Mr. McGonigal was assigned to the Cleveland Division where he investigated white-collar and violent crime matters. In 2002, Mr. McGonigal was promoted to a supervisory special agent in the Counter-Espionage Section at FBI Headquarters, where he handled several high-profile espionage investigations. In April 2004, Mr. McGonigal was promoted to chief of the Asia-Near East Counterintelligence Unit.

In 2006, Mr. McGonigal was promoted to field supervisor of a counter-espionage squad at the Washington Field Office. In this capacity, Mr. McGonigal was in charge of many high-profile espionage, economic espionage and media leak investigations resulting in criminal prosecution. In 2014, Mr. McGonigal was promoted to assistant special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office’s cyber, counterintelligence, counterespionage, and counterproliferation programs. Mr. McGonigal earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1990 and completed a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. McGonigal will assume this new role at the end of October.

For those trying to assess whether he was a part of the Russian investigation, he largely missed it. I think he would have been in the loop after he moved to NY, but he didn’t show up in the Sussmann trial.


Johnny McEntee: Enforcer of Trump’s Authority to Invoke the Insurrection Act

CNN’s ace Prettyman stakeout reporters spied John McEntee, Trump’s body man turned personnel enforcer, going into a grand jury appearance Friday.

That led me to spend quality time with his January 6 Committee transcript this weekend; I was trying to get a sense of whether this interview — one of the first that would have been scheduled after DOJ had an opportunity to read J6C transcripts turned over in early December — gave a sense of why Jack Smith prioritized McEntee.

I agree with CNN, this is likely part of it:

When testifying to the House committee, McEntee recalled a meeting in the Oval Office on Vice President Mike Pence’s role in certifying the election, in which he said he was asked to look into precedent. McEntee also recounted in-person exchanges between Trump and Pence, in which he heard Trump say, “Michael, do the right thing,” and “Do what you think is right, Mike.”

Here’s how it appears in the transcript.

Q Did you ever witness any conversations between the President and the Vice President about the Vice President’s role?

A No. No.

Q Or any phone calls? Anything like that?

A I remember the President saying, “Michael, do the right thing.” You know, “Do what you think is right, Mike.” That’s all I heard him say.

Q You heard him say that to Vice President Pence?

A Yeah.

Q Was it over the phone or in person?

A In person.

Q Okay. And was that in the Oval Office?

A Yeah.

Q Was anybody else there?

A I think Short was there, yeah.

Q Do you remember when that was?

A I don’t. It was, like, when he was going up for the evening, the President, and they were just finishing something up, so I came in to, like, grab all his stuff, and then he said that to him.

Q Okay.

A At the conclusion of the day at some point.

Q And did the Vice President say anything in response?

A No. He just nodded.

If credible, it would be exculpatory. DOJ needs to interview anyone who might have exculpatory information before they make a decision to charge Trump.

They may also be trying to get all testimony about Trump’s comments to Mike Pence before they move to interview Mike Pence, because they’d need to make a case they couldn’t get his testimony anywhere else.

But McEntee was not particularly credible, and I would imagine with call records and other testimony, DOJ would be able to prove that.

Indeed, even in the J6C testimony, McEntee got caught providing a dubious explanation for a call he had with Trump after the attack on January 6. At first, he claimed most of his conversation with Trump consisted of “colorful” comments about the people who resigned on January 6.

Q Did President Trump ever talk to you about the events of January 6th even after the fact?

A Just vaguely that night when we spoke.

Q Okay. Tell us about that conversation.

A I called, and I just went down the list of all the people who had resigned.

And then we discussed a little bit about each just colorfully. And then he just said this is a crazy day and, you know, I’ll see you tomorrow. But he didn’t go into many details.

Q Okay. Can you remember anything else he said about the events of that day?

A I can’t, other than he acknowledged that it was, like, wild, and we would talk tomorrow, you know, or next — we’ll see you in the morning, or something like that.

Q Okay.

A We were mostly going through all these people that resigned, and then kind of talked about them. And I was just relaying, because O’Brien called me and said you got to let him know I’m not resigning. So then I called, and he said, well, who has resigned? And then, like, I went through the list of the ones I knew at the time. And then the next day some more came out.

Q When the President said it was a crazy day, or something to that effect, what was his tone?

Q A Kind of like a little disbelief. Like, wow, like, can you believe this shit, you know?

A  Did he express any sadness over the violence?

Q No. I mean, I think he was shocked by, you know, it getting a little out of control, but I don’t remember sadness, specifically.

But in a final question, J6C pointed out the problem with that. Trump didn’t know any of the people who resigned on January 6; the people he knew who resigned only resigned on January 7.

Q I just want to ask, that conversation that January 6th evening, I think from the — the diary indicates it’s a 20-minute-long conversation. And you described it.

Many of the people who resigned that day Mr. Trump didn’t even know. In fact, the ones that he did know didn’t resign till the next day.

So 20 minutes is a long conversation, Mr. McEntee, and I’m wondering if you could just describe, when you say “disbelief” and “day is crazy,” what more color can you add to the feelings of that day as expressed to you?

A You know, it’s hard to remember, honestly. I don’t remember any details we went into about it. I know we went through each person, and I had to explain who each person was, so that took a minute or two on each –

There are other parts of McEntee’s testimony that strain credulity. He has little explanation for how he spent his day on January 6. He claimed not to understand most of what he was doing as he served as a go-between, between Steve Bannon and the White House via Bannon’s Chief of Staff Alexandra Preate. His response to being asked about a rumor that he slept at the White House for several days after the attack was weak — “not that I’m aware of.”

McEntee also described Trump using his (McEntee’s) phone — and he was a bit squishy about whether it was just his White House phone, or also his personal one — from time to time. McEntee likely learned this habit from working with Keith Schiller, who offered the same service as a body man.

But there’s an aspect of McEntee’s testimony that is far more alarming.

Shortly after returning to the White House in 2020, he was elevated to run personnel. He was wildly unqualified for the task, as intended for a government bureaucracy, but he was quite adept at politicizing every bit of the political appointment process, and demanding absolutely loyalty in the process.

And in that role, McEntee served as a means to drive the policy of the entire Pentagon.

The committee first reviewed McEntee’s role in firing Mark Esper for refusing to invoke the Insurrection Act during the summer of 2020. Then it turned to how, after simply interviewing Douglas MacGregor for an advisory role at the Pentagon, McEntee sent a memo to DOD ordering them, days after the election was called for Biden, to withdraw from Afghanistan and Somalia.

The exchange led his attorney, David Warrington, who at the time was paid by Trump’s PAC and who still represents a slew of January 6 witnesses, to go on an extended complaint about the scope of questions.

McEntee’s role in enforcing policy came up again in an exchange about the response to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy saying, on December 18, that the military would play no role in determining the outcome of the election.

On December 18th, the Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, and the Army Chief of Staff issued a statement that there was no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.

Do you remember what impact, if any, that had on the White House?

A I don’t remember that being brought up.

Q Do you remember conveying a message to Secretary Miller about the White House’s frustration that DOD, particularly the Secretary of Army, had issued such a  statement?

A No, I don’t remember. I don’t remember that.

Q Secretary Miller told the committee that he was contacted by you soon after the statement was made and you asked why McCarthy made the statement and, quote, “wanted me,” meaning Mr. Miller, “to remind McCarthy that the President was not going to — it was — I know this sounds kind of wonky, but it was an authorities issue. He,” meaning you, “said the President is not going to invoke the Insurrection Act but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t, which I thought was an interesting comment because it dealt with the authority, not so much — the concern was not with what McCarthy said, was the way I interpreted it. It was the fact that the Secretary of Army was saying he had authorities that actually resided with the President.”

This was a response to Mike Flynn’s call for martial law, but it also came after Stewart Rhodes had already called for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act several times. And it also came as Flynn and others were advising Trump to seize the voting machines.

After getting McEntee to deny remembering this and claiming any interference at DOD was simply in his role as Assistant to the President, J6C then brought out a note, written by McEntee, that Trump or someone else had ripped up before it was preserved by the Archives.

It showed that McEntee had intervened in this response in a personnel, not an assistant, function — because he got Miller to agree to fire McCarthy and others if they ever made comments about DOD’s role in the election again.

McEntee claimed he remembers none of that.

Q One second. Sorry.

These are handwritten notes that have been produced to us from the National Archives.

Is that your handwriting, Mr. McEntee?

A It looks like it, yes.

Q And it looks like the page has been torn. But it says, “Chris Miller spoke to both of them and anticipates no more statements coming out.” And then in parentheses, “If another happens, he will fire them.”

Do you remember writing this?

A No, I don’t remember writing this.

Q But this is your handwriting?

A Yes.

Q So, just want to be clear. This is your handwriting, but you have no memory of calling Secretary Miller and requesting him to call Secretary McCarthy to express the President’s disappointment with the statement regarding there’s no role of military in the United States election?

This is important background to McCarthy’s indolent response to the attack on January 6. Trump’s chief enforcer had already intervened to make sure he didn’t do anything to fall afoul of Trump’s whims.

But it’s also important background to another comment in the interview.

As I suggested in this post, the J6C transcripts make it clear that a long-public reference to Trump requesting 10,000 National Guard on January 3 was misrepresented, no doubt deliberately so. Trump made the request not, as reported, in the interest of keeping his followers safe. Rather, he first floated having 10,000 Guard after it became clear the National Park Service would not approve a permit for a march to the Capitol, out of security concerns.

Effectively, Trump floated having 10,000 Guard present on January 6 to enable his march to the Capitol.

And that, plus McEntee’s role in firing Esper because he refused to invoke the Insurrection Act and his threats of firing McCarthy because he said DOD would not intervene in the election, makes this reference all the more chilling. When asked about his role in the rally, McEntee described that he intervened to ask Christopher Miller to involve the Guard.

Q Did you have any conversations with the President that day?

A Only that night.

Q Okay. We’ll get to that in a minute. Did you go to the rally on the Ellipse?

A No.

Q Were you involved in any conversations about planning the rally?

A No.

Q Were you aware of any discussions about groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, or anybody else being involved in the protests?

A I was not. The only thing I had to do that even remotely dealt with the rally was the President wanted to make sure it was safe. And either a day or two or three before, he had me call Chris Miller and ask if we could bring the National Guard in.

Q Okay. What did Mr. Miller say?

A I think he said he would look into it.

Q And do you know if anything happened after that?

A I don’t know if anything happened or came of it, no.

Q Did you report back to the President on what Secretary Miller said?

A I just let him know that I relayed his message to Chris, yeah.

Having earlier claimed not to recall using threats of firing to make demands on DOD and having earlier disclaimed any knowledge of Trump’s plan to walk to the Capitol, here’s the bullshit explanation McEntee offered for why Trump wanted to involve the Guard.

Q And did the President say anything about why he wanted the National Guard there?

A I think because that summer we had the Republican Convention. And if you remember, like, Rand Paul was getting attacked in the street. And, I don’t know, it just got kind of crazy. So this time he thought we’re going to have so many people, like, you know, we need to make sure that this city is safe. That kind of a thing.

Q Do you know why he said it to you?

A No, I think it was just on his mind and I just happened to be next to him. So he said call Chris and let him know. So I just called Chris.

Q Were you traveling at the time?

A We could have been, like, golfing, yeah, or something. You know, we could have been at his golf course maybe.

As I said above, I agree with CNN that one thing Jack Smith’s team would have wanted to ask McEntee about was his claim to have heard, alone among all known witnesses, Trump say something exculpatory.

DOJ would also want to see whether McEntee wanted to reiterate some of the more fantastic claims he made to J6C, especially knowing that DOJ would have the legal means to disprove some of them.

DOJ likely would want to ask about a conversation McEntee had with Trump, along with Dan Scavino (who has definitely appeared before the grand jury) and Molly Michael (who has definitely been interviewed in the stolen document case and likely interviewed in J6C), about testifying to J6C.

But depending on what other witnesses DOJ has already interviewed, DOJ may want to know more about McEntee’s role in arranging an ostensible Praetorian Guard for the President as he walked to the Capitol as they moved to certify his loss.

McEntee was among the people referred to, publicly at least, in the mix for a pardon after January 6. In his interview, McEntee only discussed that pardon, if it happened, in the context of a blanket pardon for staffers involved in January 6.

It was never entirely clear why McEntee might need one.

Unless he has knowledge of Trump’s attempt to use the National Guard as a Praetorian Guard to accompany his own march on the Capitol.


“Several Work and Storage Areas:” Why DOJ Likely Doesn’t Trust Biden’s Personal Attorneys

Charlie Savage has a story that — while he doesn’t say it — likely explains why DOJ doesn’t entirely trust Biden’s attorneys on the classified documents and so appointed a Special Counsel.

The currently operative story, as told by Savage, is the following:

  • Biden’s lawyers found the Penn Biden documents and interviewed the people who packed the documents
  • Based on those interviews, they told DOJ other documents would only be at Penn Biden
  • Without telling DOJ (though after they learned that DOJ had started to investigate), “and not because of any new information,” they decided to check that premise by looking at the boxes in Biden’s garage
  • On December 20, they told DOJ about the documents marked classified in the garage
  • They then decided to search other office areas, this time telling DOJ they were doing so
  • When, on January 11, they found a page with classification marks inside one of those office areas, they stopped their searches; FBI would find 5 more pages when they came to secure that single page

But look at this timeline with other dates added:

  • Biden’s lawyers found the Penn Biden documents and interviewed the people who packed the documents
  • November 4: NARA told DOJ about the classified documents
  • November 9: FBI started its assessment
  • November 14: Garland appointed John Lausch
  • Based on Biden’s lawyers’ interviews of those who packed Biden’s boxes, they told DOJ other documents would only be at Penn Biden
  • Lausch interviewed some of the people who packed the boxes
  • Without telling DOJ, “and not because of any new information,” Biden’s lawyers decided to check that premise by looking at the boxes in the garage
  • On December 20, they told DOJ about the documents marked classified in the garage
  • On January 5, Lausch recommended Garland appoint a Special Counsel
  • At some point not IDed in Savage’s story, Biden’s lawyers decided to search other office areas, this time telling DOJ they were doing so
  • On January 11, they told DOJ about another classified page, possibly inside an office, then stopped their searches
  • On January 21, FBI did a thorough search of Biden’s Wilmington home and found 6 additional documents

Biden’s lawyers probably didn’t decide to do further searches until after Lausch started interviewing people. Already, if I were DOJ, I would want to know whether Biden consulted with the people being interviewed, and based on that, realized they needed to do further searches.

But we still don’t know two other things. Savage describes the second space in Biden’s home, which heretofore had been described as the room adjacent to the garage, as “several work and storage areas inside the living area of the house.” Which is to say, we still don’t know whether the January 11 document was found inside a storage space or an office, where documents would be used rather than just stored. Or rather, John Lausch knows that, Savage’s sources know that, but we don’t.

We also don’t know if Biden found out that Garland was going to appoint a full Special Counsel and only then decided to search the interior of the home.

Something led Biden’s lawyers to take more seriously the possibility that documents weren’t just stored at Biden’s home, but used there. And while this all still could be lawyers stepping on their own toes as they try to be helpful, even just based on what we know, from DOJ’s perspective, that toe-stepping would be indistinguishable from Biden’s lawyers responding to learning things they should have been told from the start, which is different from — but not that different from — Trump moving boxes to prevent Evan Corcoran from finding classified documents.

One more detail that is actually fairly damning. Savage describes that the documents at Penn Biden were copies; the originals are stored at the Archives.

One set was believed to be material that might be useful to Mr. Biden for his post-vice-presidential career in public life or teaching, like his speeches and unclassified policy memos about topics he was interested in. Those materials were initially shipped to two transition offices and then on to his office at the Penn Biden Center when it opened in 2018. (The National Archives and Records Administration would keep original copies of the official records.)

If Biden’s office sent originals of the classified documents found at Penn Biden to NARA, it makes their inclusion in documents sent to the policy office far less attributable to a mistake.

Biden’s lawyers have been feeding the press a story about how cooperative they’ve been. But so did Trump’s lawyers. Trump’s story was far more obviously bullshit — in part for the way they spun a claim that by adding a lock to Trump’s storage room, they had made it secure.

Though this line about the Biden search — offered up as proof of extreme cooperation — gets close to lock-on-door levels of spinning.

[T]he Biden legal team invited the F.B.I. to also search every room in the residence — including bathrooms, bedrooms and the utility room, the people said.

There are still key parts of Biden’s story that aren’t being explained, most importantly whether the documents discovered this month inside Biden’s house were discovered in storage or in an actively-used office. If DOJ knows that the difference between the two would be critical information for the public to know, then this story would only further degrade confidence in Biden’s lawyer on the part of DOJ.

This is not about the reliability of lawyers like Bauer. Rather, it’s about whether Biden’s lawyers got information at the start they needed. But if they did not, it means that DOJ can’t just trust, but must verify, everything Biden’s lawyers tell them.


What We Can’t Rule Out with Biden’s Classified Documents

The FBI did a consensual, almost 13-hour search of President Biden’s Wilmington home yesterday. The FBI found and seized six more classified documents “with surrounding materials” (some of which date from Biden’s time in the Senate) as well as hand-written notes from his time as Vice President.

Note that after Biden’s lawyer’s found a document in the room adjoining his garage, they stopped searching. DOJ came to fetch that document and took 5 more pages, all of which may have been in the same place. It’s possible (though in no way certain) that these additional documents were simply stored in the same place, the obvious outcome of DOJ’s effort to return and do a more thorough search.

The voluntary nature with which Biden has given information back to DOJ still starkly distinguishes him from Trump. And that comparison may give DOJ leverage to try to obtain the records it believes Trump still has.

But at this point, we can’t rule out several of the most damning details that are known to be present with Trump to also be present with Biden.

There are, as far as we know, at least three things that make Trump’s retention of classified records particularly damning:

  • The existence of a leatherbound trophy box in his office storing the most classified documents (alongside Time Magazine covers, which is one piece of evidence these are trophies)
  • The existence of 46 empty classified folders, which may be one reason DOJ suspects not all of Trump’s documents are accounted for yet
  • Two compiled documents integrating classified records with other materials, one dating from Trump’s presidency (the grant of clemency for Roger Stone) and one that includes at least 3 messages that post-date his presidency

I’ll review that last document, because it hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention yet.

One of the last filings released in Trump’s Special Master process, summarizing the disputes, described a “compilation” of two classified records (one Confidential, one Secret), and what appears to be four other documents: messages from a book author, a religious leader, and a pollster, as well as what appears to be a fourth document involving a lawyer. The messages all post-date January 20, 2021.

One potentially privileged document that had been scanned was removed from the database (SM_MAL_00001185 to SM_MAL_00001195). That document – excluding the one potentially privileged page (SM_MAL_00001190) – is discussed in the next section about the Filter Materials Log. The potentially privileged page is the subject of a separate letter from the Filter Team to Your Honor, which is sent today.

[snip]

This document is a compilation that includes three documents that post-date Plaintiff’s term in office and two classified cover sheets, one SECRET and the other CONFIDENTIAL. Because Plaintiff can only have received the documents bearing classification markings in his capacity as President, the entire mixed document is a Presidential record.

Besides the classified cover sheets, which were inserted by the FBI in lieu of the actual documents, none of the remaining communications in the document are confidential presidential communications that might be subject to a claim of executive privilege. Three communications are from a book author, a religious leader, and a pollster. The first two cannot be characterized as presidential advisers and all three are either dated or by content occurred after Plaintiff’s administration ended. [my emphasis]

In other words, this document, which was stored in a desk drawer, suggests that Trump used classified documents at least once after he left the White House.

While there are press reports that Trump otherwise accessed documents after DOJ started looking for them — in part, by curating the ones he was willing to send back in January 2022 and hiding some from Evan Corcoran so they wouldn’t be turned over in the June 2022 search — this compilation seems to show that Trump not only knew the classified records were in his home, but he used them, at least once, after he left the White House.

Given the discoveries in yesterday’s Biden search, we can’t rule that out in his case, either. Bauer’s statement described the FBI taking, “documents with classified markings and surrounding material,” which doesn’t rule out a compiled document — though it also could describe documents and the other contents of the folder or box they were found in, which would be consistent with how DOJ approached the search of Trump’s home.

And the seizure of hand-written notes from the time Biden was Vice President means we can’t rule out the equivalent of the letters from Kim Jung Un that Trump took, memorabilia that, because it pertains to foreign policy, should also be treated as classified (and would be covered by the Presidential Records Act).

Both both-sides journalists and hopeful lefties are jumping to conclusions about what the Biden seizures mean. The truth is, we simply don’t know yet. We know the most damning details about documents Trump had largely because of his legal challenges, not because they would otherwise be available from this kind of report on the investigation.

Here’s a comparison of what we know of the two cases:

The obstruction is still what distinguishes Trump from Biden, because DOJ would most likely charge a Constitutional officer only with 18 USC 793(e), refusing to given classified documents back. Biden has made multiple efforts to give documents back: Trump has made multiple efforts to refuse to give documents back.

But as for the other damning details we know exist with Trump? We can’t rule them out with Biden.

Update: I’ve changed the number of Biden docs, to allow for some uncertainty about these are being referenced. We don’t have the FBI inventory, like we do for Trump.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/author/emptywheel/