November 26, 2020 / by 

 

Mike Flynn’s Son Invoked His Fifth Amendment Privilege Early in the Investigation into His Father

In the wake of the Flynn pardon (the details of which remain uncertain), the frothers are repeating the fictions about the investigation into Flynn that were obviously false in May, when they first started, and have been affirmatively debunked since. Flynn’s son is central to those stories. As a reminder, the claim is that Flynn Sr took a plea deal not because his very credible defense attorneys had counseled him he faced up to 15 years for hiding that he was on Turkey’s payroll during the campaign, but because Mueller threatened his son. Implicit in that claim is that Mike Jr didn’t have any real criminal exposure of his own, but Mueller was nevertheless threatening to trump up an investigation into the failson in November, when his dad took the deal.

Even in General Flynn’s sworn declaration, though, the claim is only that Flynn’s son would be indicted.

  • “I agreed to plead guilty that next day, December 1, 2017, because of the intense pressure from the Special Counsel’s Office, which included a threat to indict my son, Michael, and the lack of crucial information from my counsel.”
  • “My former lawyers from Covington also assured me on November 30, 2017, that if I accepted the plea, my son Michael would be left in peace.”

But a warrant recently unsealed in the case suggests that from the start of the investigation, Mike Jr was a focus of the investigation. Along with Flynn himself and Flynn’s partner Bijan Kian, Flynn Jr was subpoenaed for the devices he used in his Flynn Intelligence Group work in July 2017. We know this warrant is his because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the son, because it refers to the father as Michael T. Flynn throughout (which is necessary to distinguish Michael G from his father), and describes the target of the warrant as Flynn’s chief of staff, a role the son played.

Like his father and Kian, Flynn Jr had refused to comply with a subpoena for his devices, and had given his phone to his attorney for safe-keeping. Mueller’s team got warrants for all three as a way to force the attorneys to turn over the phones of their clients.

Unlike the others though, Flynn Jr also got subpoenaed for testimony. His attorney responded by proffering that Flynn Jr would invoke the Fifth Amendment. Among the questions Flynn Jr’s lawyer at least said he’d refuse to answer were:

  1. Are you aware of whether Michael T. Flynn has ever traveled outside of the United States?
  2. Please describe each instance when Michael T. Flynn traveled outside of the United States since August 1, 2014.
  3. Are you aware of whether Michael T. Flynn has ever communicated with a foreign government official?
  4. Please describe each instance when Michael T. Flynn communicated with a foreign government official since August 1, 2014.

Prosecutors seemed to be pushing Flynn Jr to appear before the grand jury and invoke the Fifth question by question — but it’s unclear what did happen.

One way or another, however, General Flynn’s son’s lawyer was telling Mueller’s prosecutors as early as July that answering questions that would cover his trip to Russia for the RT gala would incriminate him.

That suggests it wasn’t just Flynn’s lawyers at Covington who believed, four months later, that Flynn Jr might be at risk of prosecution.


White House Statement Suggests Flynn Has Been Pardoned ONLY For the Charge He Pled Guilty To

The White House statement on the Flynn pardon tells a lot of lies (which I’ll return to). But the important detail is its reference to a “full pardon” only references the charges Flynn pled guilty to and only his prosecution.

In fact, the Department of Justice has firmly concluded that the charges against General Flynn should be dropped.  This Full Pardon achieves that objective, finally bringing to an end the relentless, partisan pursuit of an innocent man.

If that’s right, then Flynn is still at risk of charges for both secretly working as an agent of Turkey and his lies to Judge Sullivan.

In which case, Judge Sullivan’s job is very much not over, and the DC Circuit’s order that he proceed with dispatch about the existing charges presumably no longer applies.


Even Bill Barr (in His Confirmation Hearing) Agreed that Trump Just Committed a Crime

Three different times during Bill Barr’s confirmation to be Attorney General, he agreed that agreeing to pardon someone for false testimony — as Donald Trump just did for Mike Flynn — would be a crime.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

Thanks to records made available by Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell, we know that Trump was personally involved with Mike Flynn’s negotiations with Russia about the UN statement on Israel. We also know that within two days after Flynn intervened to undermine Obama’s sanctions, Trump knew of Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn lied to cover that up with the FBI, and lied about his knowledge of Trump’s involvement with Mueller.

According to Bill Barr’s own testimony to Congress then, Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn is obstruction of justice.


Trump Pardons an Undisclosed Agent of Turkey Along with a Thanksgiving Bird

Update: Trump has indeed pardoned the Agent of Turkey along with a farmyard turkey.

The significance of this, however, will depend on the wording of the pardon. 

At least three outlets (CNN, Axios, NYT) have reported the entirely unsurprising news that Trump is considering pardoning admitted liar and undisclosed Agent of Turkey, Mike Flynn. Only the NYT provides a reasonable account of what has happened since DOJ moved to dismiss the case, and only after repeating Trump’s false claims about the investigation.

None of the outlets reviewed how complex successfully pardoning Flynn will be, without making Trump’s — or Flynn’s son’s — fate worse. That’s true because the posture of the Flynn case before Judge Emmet Sullivan is such that Sullivan has multiple possible options for holding Flynn accountable, depending on when Sullivan moves and when Trump does.

If Trump pardoned Flynn for the crimes to which Flynn pled guilty, false statements, today, a Foreign Agent of Turkey pardoned right alongside a Thanksgiving turkey — then DOJ’s motion to dismiss the prosecution for Flynn’s false statements charges would likely be mooted. But there’s still a pending motion to withdraw Flynn’s plea before Judge Sullivan, which by itself mooted DOJ’s promises not to prosecute Flynn for hiding that he was working for the government of Turkey rather than just a foreign business in a FARA filing in March 2017. Plus, when Flynn pled, it was understood that would end the investigation, but given that he reneged on his plea, there’s nothing stopping DOJ from investigating Mike Jr for his involvement with Turkey, if Flynn were pardoned.

So to get Flynn out of immediate legal jeopardy, Trump would need to pardon Flynn for crimes to which he pled guilty — the false statements to hide Trump’s involvement in “colluding” with Russian to undermine US policy — but also the crime to which Flynn didn’t plead guilty, hiding that he was an Agent of Turkey while getting classified briefings during the 2016 campaign. That’s all the more true given that DOJ’s appeal of the Bijan Kian case is still unresolved (it is scheduled for oral argument on December 11), and trying Kian along with Mike Flynn, charged as a co-conspirator, would eliminate many of the legal difficulties from the first trial.

Trump might even have to pardon Flynn Jr.

But that’s still not adequate. Flynn made multiple materially conflicting statements before Judge Sullivan and the grand jury. When directing amicus John Gleeson on what he should consider, Sullivan asked whether he should hold Flynn in contempt. Gleeson said that, instead, he should consider those additional lies when sentencing him on the charged crimes. DOJ argued that Sullivan should, instead, refer the charges to DOJ. Even if Sullivan referred those charges today and Bill Barr declined prosecution (as DOJ made clear in hearings they would), Biden’s DOJ could reopen the case. So to get Flynn out of trouble for his efforts to blow up his own prosecution, Trump would have to pardon those crimes as well. But if Trump pardoned Flynn today, Sullivan could wait and ultimately hold Flynn in contempt; while Trump succeeded in freeing Joe Arpaio of criminal contempt with a pardon, it’s not clear whether that could work preemptively.

Assuming Trump does pardon Flynn for some or all of these crimes, it would add several overt actions to obstruction charges against himself. So unless he’s sure that Mike Pence would give him a last minute pardon (or certain that his own self-pardon would withstand legal review), then pardoning all Flynn’s crimes would pile up his own exposure.

Then, if Trump does pardon Flynn, it will surely become a matter for a hearing before one or the other of the Judiciary Committees into Trump’s abuse of the pardon power. Flynn will have no Fifth Amendment privilege and Biden’s DOJ will have the ability to enforce contempt motions from Congress. As I have noted, in the process of attempting to blow up Flynn’s prosecution, Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell and DOJ have released documents that will make it far harder for Mike Flynn to sustain his claim not to remember what Trump’s involvement in the “collusion” with Russia was. Public testimony (or even depositions run by staffers) might elicit evidence that would subject Trump himself to conspiracy charges or might result in new false statements charges.

Finally, there’s the matter of the documents that got altered as part of DOJ’s effort to blow up Flynn’s prosecution. There, Flynn is probably totally safe from legal jeopardy. But the lawyers might not be, at least at DOJ and possibly including Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis. Importantly, at the time of that effort, there was no conceivable privilege protecting discussions between Flynn’s defense attorney and Trump’s campaign lawyer, nor between Powell and Trump. Since then, Powell’s involvement in Trump’s attempts to lie about the election have been contested (and Trump and Powell could both face consequences for their lies on that front). So Trump’s decision to pardon Flynn now after being told by Powell before September that Flynn didn’t want a pardon would raise questions about its tie to the election.

Don’t get me wrong: The pardon power is awesome, and assuming a competent lawyer like Pat Cipollone is involved in the process, Trump might manage to negotiate all these risks and successfully ensure that Flynn does no prison time for his crimes. But this is the kind of complexity that Trump will face as he tries to pay off those who protected him.


Roger Stone Takes Georgia, and the Senate, Hostage

As far as I know, virtually no one else has accurately reported on the significance of this footnote in the Mueller Report, liberated by BuzzFeed hours before election day.

1279 Some of the factual uncertainties are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The footnote explains why, on March 22, 2019, the Mueller team had not yet charged Roger Stone for conspiring with Russian intelligence officers to steal files from Democrats that could be leaked to help Donald Trump get elected President: because DOJ was still investigating it. The footnote — and the entire public record since then — make it clear that that investigation into Stone on CFAA conspiracy charges was ongoing. Indeed, I have shown that the Stone trial for lying to Congress to cover up the identity of his claimed go-between with WikiLeaks strongly suggests that his go-between was neither Jerome Corsi nor Randy Credico, but Guccifer 2.0, quite possibly an American cut-out working with the Russians.

While there are signs that Bill Barr effectively shut down that ongoing investigation by forcing the four Stone prosecutors to withdraw from the case, an investigation into whether Stone conspired with Russia would neither be tolled nor precluded on double jeopardy grounds. Nor would such crimes be covered by Trump’s commutation of Stone’s sentence for covering up who his go-between with WikiLeaks was, which appears to have been an effort to distract from his ties directly to the Russian operation. They are entirely different crimes. To pardon Stone for conspiring with Russia, Trump might well have to specify that Stone did conspire with Russia, something that would not only create legal jeopardy for himself, but would require admitting what he has tried to deny for four straight years, that his campaign “colluded” — conspired even! — with Russia to win.

It would be uncontroversial for Joe Biden’s Attorney General to reopen a case against Roger Stone for conspiring with Russia.

That may be useful background to the news that, after remaining relatively quiet for much of the 2020 election (or at least fronted by Steve Bannon), Stone is now threatening to hold Georgia’s Senate seats — and with it, GOP control of the Senate — hostage.

Conservative operatives and a super PAC with ties to infamous GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone are calling for Trump supporters to punish Republicans by sitting out Georgia’s crucial Senate runoffs or writing in Trump’s name instead. And though their efforts remains on the party’s fringes, the trajectory of the movement has Republicans fearful that it could cost the GOP control of the Senate.

The most aggressive call to boycott or cast protest ballots in the two runoff races has, so far, come from a dormant pro-Trump super PAC with ties to Stone, which unveiled a new initiative to retaliate against the Republican Party’s supposed turncoats by handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

The group, dubbed the Committee for American Sovereignty, unveiled a new website encouraging Georgia Republicans to write in Trump’s name in both of the upcoming Senate runoff elections, which could determine the party that controls the upper chamber during President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office. The PAC argued that doing so will show support for the president in addition to forcing Republicans to address the wild election-fraud conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters and members of his own legal team.

The effort uses some of the same infrastructure that the Mueller team scrutinized as part of its investigation of Stone.

The Committee for American Sovereignty and a sister nonprofit group were set up in 2016 as vehicles for prominent pro-Trump operatives—most notably Stone and former Blackwater chief Erik Prince—to attempt to suppress the Black vote by amplifying claims that Bill Clinton had an illegitimate biracial son. It’s been mostly quiet since then. The PAC’s recent filings with the Federal Election Commission disclose nothing but outstanding federal and state tax liabilities, and its new effort in Georgia doesn’t appear to have received much pickup yet.

A request for comment sent to the Committee for American Sovereignty email address on file with the FEC was not returned. Efforts to reach Pamela Jensen, a California political activist who leads the group, were not successful. Her husband, an attorney named Paul Jensen who describes Stone as a “long time client,” told The Daily Beast in an email his wife “has no comment, and nor do I.” Stone did not respond to inquiries about his present involvement with the group.

Stone made fairly naked threats in the days leading up to Trump’s commutation of his sentence, in that case to share information with prosecutors about Trump’s knowledge of his 2016 activities. The threats worked. This time around, Trump may not have the power to respond to Stone’s threats.

But Stone has proven in the past he’s willing to take reckless actions when he is cornered.


Shirkey and Chatfield: No One Else Was in the Room Where It Happened

Yesterday, Michigan certified its vote, declaring Joe Biden the winner of its 16 Electoral College votes.

That should not be surprising. After all, Biden won by a sound margin, and there were no credible claims of irregularities. Nevertheless it was treated as big news, with tens of thousands glued to the live feed of the certification meeting.

After the certification, per AP’s David Eggert, the Dick and Betsy DeVos backed Michigan Freedom Fund issued a statement backing the certification.

The Board of State Canvassers did the right thing today. We believe the vote to certify should have been 4-0. The election is over, & the person with the most legal votes – & in this election that person is Joe Biden – must prevail. Period.

Not long after the certification, Trump’s GSA Administrator, Emily Murphy, released a letter announcing she was going to let the President-Elect begin the transition process, even while she bitched about the pressure she had been put under and stopped short of using the word, “ascertainment,” that gives the letter full legal weight.

I wonder whether there’s not more to how it happened that Trump began the process of conceding.

All this happened just days after DeVos machine politicians Mike Shirkey and Lee Chatfield flew to DC and sat for a meeting with the President, at his request. It’s not clear who, from the White House, attended, but none of Trump’s competent lawyers were planning on it.

Within the White House, a number of the president’s top aides were expected to skip the late-afternoon huddle, including representatives from the White House Counsel’s Office. Also not attending was Ronna McDaniel, a former head of the Michigan Republican Party who chairs the Republican National Committee, according to an RNC spokesperson.

Already in the post-election period, Trump had the GOP Republican Senate candidates and Lindsey Graham pressure election officials in Georgia, in Lindsey’s case, arguably aggressively enough to break the law. The meeting with MI’s legislators came at an even more desperate moment for Trump.

After the meeting, the MI politicians released a statement offering an explanation of their own actions that would provide legal cover — they delivered a letter asking the President for COVID relief. More interestingly, they insisted that MI’s vote be free of threats and intimidation.

Michigan’s certification process should be a deliberate process free from threats and intimidation. Allegations of fraudulent behavior should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if proven, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And the candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes. These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections.

If Trump did do something inappropriate in that meeting — as he has done over and over and over before and during his presidency — it would mean multiple people, all with close ties to the DeVos political machine, were witnesses. Given how easy it has been for grifters like Lev Parnas to record sensitive meetings, it would be a cinch for these politicians to do so as well. If they did, that would put a good deal of leverage into the hands of that DeVos machine, a machine that prefers organized raping and pillaging of the public good to the kind of chaotic looting Trump has been pursuing.

The DeVos machine would greatly like to ensure that its brand of corporatist, Christian ideology reclaim dominance in the Republican party over the unreliable Trump frothers.

Given how poorly Trump has hidden his bribes and threats in the past, it would be fairly easy to anticipate more of the same, and to exploit them if they happened during an in-person meeting with more witnesses from Michigan than from the White House. One could do so while pretending to give a fuck about good governance (as Shirkey et al did pretend after they left the meeting). And legal exposure in the State of Michigan, with a fearless Democratic Attorney General, Dana Nessel, is not the kind of risk that Trump has any power over.

Something happened over the last several days that led Trump to grudgingly start ceding power. And no one else was in the room where that something may have happened.

Update: Eggert has a thread reporting out an interview with Shirkey. In it, Shirkey claims that “only half” of the meeting talked about the election.

Shirkey estimated that in the 60- to 90-minute meeting with Trump, ‘less than half’ was devoted to discussions on the election – ‘especially if you take out the dialogue we had with Giuliani, it was far less than that.’

“Less than half” doesn’t really help Trump here.


How Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell Have Made It Easier to Prosecute Donald Trump for Conspiring with Russia

In a Mike Flynn sentencing memo submitted in January delayed twice to secure all necessary approvals, Bill Barr’s DOJ asserted that Flynn’s lies were material because they hid, in part, who directed that he call up the Russian Ambassador and undermine sanctions.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That makes sense. After all, Don Jr took a meeting in June with envoys for Aras Agalarov and — at a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — said his father would reconsider Magnitsky sanctions after the election. Both after that meeting and on October 7 — two of three days that stolen emails were released — Aras Agalarov provided elaborate gifts to Trump, the latter one personally couriered from Russia by Ike Kaveladze. When Agalarov didn’t succeed in revisiting his conversations about sanctions directly after the election, Jared Kushner sought out a back channel. Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak arose directly out of the meeting at which Kushner made that request, and Kushner ordered Flynn to pursue the discussions with Kislyak. Flynn, Kushner, and KT McFarland made efforts to keep those conversations secret, even from other members of the Administration. At the same time, Flynn and McFarland were explicitly talking about sending secret messages between Putin and Trump.

So it would make sense that Flynn’s effort to undermine sanctions might be proof that Trump had entered into a quid pro quo back in June, rewarding Russia’s help for getting elected with sanctions relief.

But the Mueller Report did not find adequate proof that Trump directed this effort to charge it.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The Report relies on some, but not the most damning, of the exchanges back and forth between Flynn, McFarland and others released in an affidavit targeting them in 2017, as well as Flynn and McFarland’s testimony.

Since that time, several other pieces of evidence have become available — thanks to the interventions of former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and Flynn (and recently fired Trump) attorney Sidney Powell, among others — that might tip the balance on this evidentiary question.

Bill Barnett’s interview report claims he pursued a desired outcome in the interviews of Flynn and KT McFarland

One of those things is the testimony of Bill Barnett, one of the key FBI agents who investigated Flynn. Barnett was interviewed by Jeffrey Jensen in the review of Flynn’s prosecution that Sidney Powell demanded in June 2019 and Bill Barr gave Powell in January 2020, just after DOJ filed a sentencing memo calling for prison time.

Barnett’s testimony is, by itself, remarkable for all the ways it materially conflicts with the actions he took in the case. Effectively, he claims to have treated the investigation as a criminal investigation when documents he drafted clearly treat it as a counterintelligence investigation (thereby undermining all the claims that this was just about the Logan Act).

Barnett also claims that, after expressing disinterest in conducting this investigation four different times but ultimately relenting only so he could serve as a counter-weight to other investigators on the team, he single-handedly prevented the Mueller team from concluding that KT McFarland was lying when she told a story about coordinating with Mar-A-Lago that exactly paralleled the lies that Flynn originally told.

Barnett describes that he was the only one who believed that KT McFarland was telling the truth when she said that she did not remember Trump directing Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions. Significantly, he describes this question as — in Mueller’s view — “key to everything.”

Many at the SCO had the opinion that MCFARLAND had knowledge TRUMP was directing [sanction discussions] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. When MCFARLAND did not provide the information sought, it was assumed she was lying. When BARNETT suggested it was very possible MCFARLAND was providing truthful information, one of the SCO attorneys participating in the interview said BARNETT was the only person who believed MCFARLAND was not holding back the information about TRUMP’s knowledge of [the sanction discussions]. MUELLER described MCFARLAND as the “key to everything” because MCFARLAND was the link between TRUMP, who was at Mar-a-Lago with MCFARLAND, and FLYNN, who was in the Dominican Republic on vacation, when [the calls] were made.

Again, it is stunning that Barnett was permitted to give this answer without being asked about the call records, which showed Flynn lied about consulting with Mar-a-Lago, to say nothing about the way that McFarland’s forgetfulness matched Flynn’s and then her unforgetting similarly matched Flynn’s. It’s not a credible answer, but Jeffrey Jensen doesn’t need credible answers.

Then, having made it clear that he believed that Mueller treated McFarland as the “key to everything,” BARNETT described how he single-handedly managed to prevent the entire team from concluding that Trump was in the loop.

BARNETT was told at one point he was being taken off the MCFARLAND proffer interview because SCO attorneys thought would be easier for MCFARLAND to talk without BARNETT there, due to her attitude toward BARNETT during past interviews.

McFarland has complained publicly about being caught in a perjury trap by the FBI agents who first interviewed her (and the 302s show a continuity among the FBI agents), so Fox viewers have actually seen evidence that McFarland had a gripe with Barnett.

BARNETT insisted he be on the interview. When BARNETT was told he would not be allowed on the interview, BARNETT suggested he might take the matter to the Inspectors General or to “11.” BARNETT believed some at SCO were trying to get MCFARLAND to change her story to fit the TRUMP collusion [sic] theory. [Probably Van Grack] later contacted BARNETT and said BARNETT would be part of the MCFARLAND interview.

During the proffer interview with MCFARLAND, the “obstruction team” was leading the interview. BARNETT described the “obstruction team’s” questions as general. They did not ask follow-up or clarifying questions. BARNETT was perplexed by their lack of asking follow-up questions. BARNETT began asking MCFARLAND follow-up questions and direct questions. BARNETT was trying to “cut to the chase” and obtain the facts. BARNETT asked questions such as “Do you know that as a fact or are you speculating?” and “Did you pass information from TRUMP to FLYNN?” Andrew Goldstein (GOLDSTEIN), a SCO Attorney, called “time-out” and cautioned BARNETT by saying, “If you keep asking these questions, we will be here all day.”

It’s unclear whether Barnett’s depiction is correct or not. The 302 of that interview is heavily redacted, but doesn’t show a “time out” in it. What matters for the purposes of this post is that Barnett is claiming he singlehandedly prevented McFarland from implicating the President.

You would never get this kind of admission from an FBI Agent, that he single-handedly undermined the questioning of a witness to get an outcome he believed in, all the while undermining his previously untainted credibility. But Sidney Powell’s demands led to DOJ producing it, nevertheless.

And that’s before any further scrutiny of Barnett’s role and the material inconsistencies here. Such scrutiny might come from the Strzok and Page lawsuits, which would have reason to use his pro-Trump tweets as proof that they were selectively disciplined for expressing political views on FBI-issued devices. Or, particularly given his efforts to blame investigative decisions on Andrew McCabe in ways that conflict with the public record, the McCabe lawsuit might have cause to inquire whether he was the agent who sourced a false story that Sara Carter published, alleging that McCabe said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump,” which ended up leading to the investigation into McCabe itself and ultimately to his firing. Or, DOJ IG might have cause to investigate the Jensen investigation itself, given how it submitted altered documents packaged up for publication, and the circumstances of the Barnett interview in particular, given how DOJ withheld material information from Judge Emmet Sullivan by redacting references to Brandon Van Grack in the interview report.

Interviewing Barnett in such an obviously biased way provides an easy hook for more scrutiny.

For the first time in history we can compare NSLs to warrants obtained

Then there’s another unprecedented thing that Powell’s demands produced: A report of (some of) the NSL’s that DOJ used against Flynn in early 2017. In an effort — almost certainly deliberately misleading — to suggest that McCabe and Strzok inappropriately got NSLs targeting Flynn in 2017 that they chose not to get in 2016 (there’s reason to believe they did get NSLs, only financial rather than communication ones), the government summarized what NSLs FBI obtained in February and March 2017. Those were:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present.

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.”

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn.

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017.

The government has only recently permitted NSL recipients to inform targets, but just targets, and only after a significant delay. Here, however, you have the government listing out the seven different communication records publicly, in a case where there was already a pending request and precedent to release the warrant applications publicly.

That not only allows us (again, for the first time I know of) to see how the FBI launders information learned in an NSL for use in a potential criminal prosecution, but it also tells us something about the communications devices the government had reason to find relevant when it did obtain warrants.

Warrant applications for Flynn’s iPhone 6 and a computer (first filed on July 7, 2017, then refiled on July 27, 2017) rely on toll records obtained in June 2017 and “other materials in the government’s possession” (which surely include those NSLs) to determine that Flynn had used the same phone from March 2015 until at least June 8, 2017. That said, Flynn changed the number three times, including after he learned he was under criminal investigation in January 2017. After Flynn refused to turn the phone over in response to a subpoena, the government obtained a warrant that would have permitted it to search Covington & Burling, where Flynn was storing it, if they didn’t otherwise produce the phone.

The warrant application and a parallel one targeting Flynn’s son* were focused on FIG, but written in a way such that any communications with foreign officials like Kislyak would still be responsive, and could be used in a False Statements or Foreign Agent prosecution.

By the time of the July 27 warrant that presumably successfully obtained Flynn’s phone, the government already had his Flynn Intelligence Group emails (there are two EDVA warrants that have not yet been unsealed, and some of those emails were turned over pursuant to a subpoena).

Also by that time, the government had confirmed that Flynn’s FIG email was provided by Google. This was the period prior to the time when DOJ agreed to let enterprise clients know when warrants were served on their facilities, meaning the government could have independently obtained FIG emails from Google, as they obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Org emails from Microsoft in the same period.

On August 25, 2017 — the same day that Mueller asked GSA to turn over related devices and email accounts — Mueller obtained a warrant for Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Flynn assistant Daniel Gelbinovich’s devices and emails. GSA had provided Flynn one email account, three phones, and three computers, which would be consistent with devices hardened to three levels of classification — unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret (Flynn had renewed his clearance earlier in 2016). The government had already used a d-order to obtain the header information for the email accounts and obtained toll records by undisclosed means (of which there would be several possible, but the NSLs would have provided that information as well). In addition to sender and recipient information, the header information would have shown what IP any emails were sent from, using what devices (this would have built on information obtained via NSL), which can help to identify the location of someone. The August 25 affidavit referenced FIG emails obtained via subpoena to demonstrate that the Russians contacted Flynn at his Transition account (as well as via Gelbinovich and, apparently, Flynn’s son); though because the Russian side of the conversation would have already been targeted under FISA, the FBI also would have had their side of the communication, which the Russians surely knew.

Then on September 27, 2017, Mueller obtained a warrant targeting the email accounts and devices of Keith Kellogg, McFarland assistant Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner. These two posts show how damning the content relayed in this warrant is. For the purposes of this post, however, the affidavit is useful because it identifies whether the emails Flynn and McFarland were using to communicate with the others were Transition accounts or not. While it appears Kellogg always used his Transition account, Flaherty, Spicer, and Priebus occasionally did, most of the rest did not, except in cases where they were writing cover emails. But her emails! (Numerous communications from Tom Bossert are included in this batch, as well, but that must come from an interview and subpoena he complied with.)

In addition, the affidavit explains that regarding the sanctions coordination, McFarland was consistently calling Flynn on his personal cell phone (the implication may be that earlier calls were on one of his GSA devices). He was responding to her and calling Kislyak from the hotel phone where he was staying in the Dominican Republic (the latter calls and their content, the FBI would know from FISA intercepts). The December 31 follow-up from Kislyak was placed to Flynn’s personal cell.  The affidavit does not, however, describe which phones Flynn used for other calls.

There are many details about these records that are interesting. Among the most interesting, however, is that the FBI would have known before they obtained the first warrants on Flynn’s devices and emails that almost none of the key calls with Russia, nor even the key calls coordinating the Russian sanctions call with McFarland and others, involved Flynn’s GSA devices. Additionally, there appear to be extra phones, not identified by the known warrants. These might be the possible targets of the NSLs:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present. [Flynn personal phone]

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.” [Flynn Intelligence Group email and another phone (possibly his son’s?)]

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn. [GSA accounts]

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017. [unidentified account]

At a minimum, the NSL report suggests that even though none of the calls identified in the warrants were to Flynn’s presumably more secure phones (indeed, only Spicer appears to have had a second phone at that point, probably in part because, of the others, only Kellogg and Flaherty had clearance), the government chose to obtain those phones as well. The government knew, when it obtained the August 2017 warrant, that there was something interesting on those second and third GSA lines Flynn was using.

If it weren’t for Sidney Powell’s attempts to frame Andy McCabe, these details would be totally classified. But because she demanded the “review,” it shows that there are parallel phone communications via which Flynn could have kept Trump in the loop on his calls to Russia (remember, translators believed the key December 29 one, which Flynn made from his hotel phone, sounded like he was using a speaker phone).

Ric Grenell releases really damning transcripts but withholds the potentially most damning one

Finally, in yet another unprecedented release, while he was Acting Director of National Intelligence, Twitter troll Ric Grenell prepared the release of the actual transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak, purportedly to show there was nothing untoward about the calls. (Current DNI John Ratcliffe approved the actual release as one of his first acts on the job.)

Even by itself, the transcripts were far more damning than the gaslighters suggested. Of particular note, on the December 31 call that Kislyak placed to tell Flynn that Putin had held off on retaliating because of his request, Flynn told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of one thing — a proposed Syrian “peace” conference — that Kislyak had raised just two days before.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

This evidence would have been inadmissible without Grenell’s intervention. There would have literally no way in hell Mueller would have been permitted to rely on it, a raw transcript of a FISA intercept targeting a foreign power. With it, however, you have Flynn saying in real time that Trump was aware of these conversations with Russia, well before they were made public. That’s precisely what Mueller concluded they couldn’t prove.

The transcripts make evidence obtained using criminal process still more damning, too.

For example, the transcripts and the affidavits make it clear that Flynn, McFarland, and the Russians were explicitly messaging back and forth. First Flynn explicitly told Kislyak that if Russia did not escalate in response to Obama’s sanctions, “we,” which would have to include Trump, would recognize that as a message.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

When Putin announced he would not retaliate, KT McFarland sent two emails explicitly labeling the move as a signal.

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

[snip]

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

But then Trump thanked Putin for the move, suggesting he was in on the signaling.

After he did so, McFarland sent Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon — the latter of whom almost never used their official accounts but did here — and laid out a cover story, describing Flynn’s call without mentioning that he had raised sanctions. She offered,

a summary of FLYNN’s conversation the day before with the Russian “AMBO,” which I believe to be shorthand for “Ambassador.” McFarland appears to recite a summary of information she received from FLYNN in this email; she provides a summary of FLYNN’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador, but does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions imposed against Russia that had been announced earlier that day.

Flynn would admit to Mueller’s team that he, and therefore McFarland, who knew the truth, deliberately hid his discussions of sanctions with Kislyak.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267

But the Russians — who may have monitored some of the traffic that went on between these unsecure personal accounts — made damn well sure that the US intelligence community had a record that all this signaling was intentional. Kislyak called Flynn on his unsecure personal cell phone and told him he had a message, too. The message was that Flynn’s request was the reason Putin had not acted. The message was also that Russia recognized (or claimed to, to play to the Americans’ paranoia) to be pitted against the same hostile entities together.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

This messaging all ended up with Russia and the incoming President aligned on the same side, against the US government.

Still, that’s not direct proof that Trump was involved in real time (though I suspect the government obtained that from its NSLs).

But that may be why Mueller charged Flynn’s lies about the UN vote. In that case (in part because McFarland wasn’t hiding her actions as much), it’s clear that Jared Kushner ordered the effort (and the Americans initiated the calls).

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

When the Trump crowd succeeded in delaying a vote, McFarland made it clear that Flynn was at Mar-a-Lago working directly with Trump on this effort.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

And in spite of the fact that he himself initiated the effort, Kushner sought to release a public cover story, to hide that he and his father-in-law initiated the effort.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie — a lie designed to cover up that he and Trump and Flynn had worked with Egypt (which had allegedly bribed Trump to get him through the election) and Russia (which had conducted an elaborate operation to help him) to thwart the vote and with it the official US policy not to protect Israel’s illegal settlements.

As it turns out, the transcript from Flynn’s call to Russia that day isn’t among those Grenell released because they were so helpful to Trump. Even the one-line summary of the call, released for all other substantive calls, remains redacted.

But there, too, Kislyak may have been performing for the FBI intercepts he knew would catch these calls.

First, on the December 23 call — the one after the call for which the transcript hasn’t been released — Kislyak assures Flynn that whatever happened on it was considered by Putin.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia.

Then on the December 29 call, when Flynn asks Kislyak that Russia not box in the new Administration, Kislyak says that message has already been conveyed.

FLYNN: do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

KISLYAK: We have conveyed it.

That request wasn’t in the December 23 call, so it must have been in one of the communications that preceded it, possibly even the face-to-face with Kushner in Trump Tower.

In his December 22 call — the one the content of which Grenell hid — Flynn made an ask of Russia, an ask that went beyond a vote at the UN. That was a call made from Mar-a-Lago, possibly even made with Trump on the call. That was a call that McFarland bragged Trump was involved with personally.

The Mueller Report, relying on evidence that would be admissible in court, said it was unclear how involved Trump was in any of this. But thanks to Ric Grenell, we now have solid evidence he was personally involved, if not on the phone for the call.

And even Bill Barr’s DOJ says that kind of personal involvement from Trump might amount to the kind of coordination that Bill Barr claimed didn’t exist.

When Mueller closed up shop, his team decided that they couldn’t make this case in court. Now, thanks to Sidney Powell and Ric Grenell, the Biden Administration may have a much easier time making that case.


*We know this warrant targeted Michael G. Flynn because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the failson, because the warrant always refers to Flynn père as Michael T. Flynn (as an affidavit referencing both would necessitate), and the target of the third warrant tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment for questions about Flynn Sr.


We Need a New Common American Story

Back during the 24 hours surrounding election day, we had as big a spat as we’ve had on these pages, ever.

The night before the election, Quinn wrote a piece envisioning What Comes After America (Quinn has both the gift and the curse of writing necessary things at uncomfortable times and this piece, on the eve of an election in which large swaths of America came out in droves to support Trump’s white supremacy, almost giving him an Electoral College win again, is no exception). Quinn’s piece spoke explicitly about the Constitution (though to my mind didn’t focus enough on the specific aspects of it that pose such problems).

The flaw is our Constitution. As there is no politically possible path to rewriting the it, the Constitution can only fall further into entropy and catastrophe.

The longer this goes on, the worse the end will be. This is why it’s the duty of people who are in and of, or love, America the culture, Americans the people, the land it spans and the diversity it holds, to imagine what comes next and the easiest way to get there. We’ve been running what was essentially the broken beta of the first representative democracy for almost 250 years, and it was built to not be upgradable. It doesn’t work right, it never did, and it is awful. It was a compromise of rich and frightened men whose imaginations (understandably) didn’t reach far beyond the 18th century.

Even while talking about the flaws of the Constitution, Quinn nevertheless endorsed the idea of America as a culture.

The successes of America, and there have been many, came not because of our form of governance but despite it. The culture – for good and ill – isn’t the constitution or the legal regime or the nation-state as recognized by other nation-states. It’s the people. It’s what we choose, believe, and imagine.

Rayne responded by insisting We’re So Not Through Here, paying tribute to the tireless fight of America’s people of color.

Take a hard look at what the Black Americans of this country have been doing since voting began last month as a commitment to form a more perfect Union. Ask them if the Union is done.

Take a hard look at what Native Americans have had to do — forced to change their lifestyle, assigning addresses to places which to them are simply Home — in order to vote, otherwise invalidated and erased if they don’t. Ask them, too, if the Union is done.

And take note of the naturalized immigrants who are worried they and their kin will be harassed by ICE and potentially incarcerated or deported while trying to vote simply because they aren’t white and have come to this country too recently. Ask them if the Union to which they emigrated, many as refugees, is done.

My Chinese family members weren’t permitted to emigrate here or own land until 1943, when it suddenly became convenient to have China side with the U.S. against Japan. I tell you this Union is not done, from the house I own under a hyphenated Chinese name.

Rayne ended by pointing to both activism and voting as a way to salvage our union.

[T]his union is by no means done and over. It’s there in the lines we have seen in the streets for weeks, snaking out the doors of polling places across this country. It’s in the cars lined up in a drive-through campaign rally, queued hopefully, trustingly in a drive-through foodbank.

It was there in the streets after George Floyd was murdered.

From goose quill pen’s first ink on parchment 244 years ago, this union has always been aspirational, a nation in a state of becoming, a people who must occasionally check themselves and listen to their better angels.

From the speech before a battlefield of nearly 50,000 American dead 157 years ago, we re-consecrated ourselves,

that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The union is not over. The dream still lives, its work goes on; we will not yield.

It’s simply time once again to rededicate ourselves to forming a more perfect union.

We can begin this day of all days by exercising and protecting our right to vote.

Since Rayne wrote that, of course, Biden accrued 6 million more votes than Trump, but with only the same Electoral College outcome that Trump got in losing the popular vote in 2016.

And Trump — abetted by a goodly chunk of his party — has implemented a slow-motion coup in an attempt to hold onto power by thwarting the will of the electorate. A key part of this effort, unsurprisingly, has been exploiting a growing Republican certainty that the votes of Californians like Quinn and Michigan voters of color like Rayne are not legitimate votes, and therefore can just be discounted with impunity. The effort will probably fail, this time. But not before Trump and Republicans do untold damage to America and Americans

Perhaps what I am about to say will be discounted as an effort to protect the site, but I think both Quinn and Rayne had important and not inconsistent things to say. Importantly, both focus on the idea of America, pointing to its culture and diversity as something that needs salvaging. Both point to things that need to happen — committed activism and legal changes — for this country to survive.

Which is why I want to talk about something that we can try to do, and very much need to do, for that to work.

We need a new story about America.

Back in 2016 and 2017, I repeatedly argued that the fracture of the myth of American Exceptionalism made Trump possible. For example, in May 2016, I argued that both Dick Cheney’s anti-racist imperialism and Pat Buchanan’s nativism bespoke a crisis in the myth of American Exceptionalism that made Trump possible.

Trump’s lies, Buchanan suggests, permit these white men to believe their myth again, the myth of white American exceptionalism.

Here’s the thing. A lot of people are linking Buchanan’s post are pointing just to those far right nutjobs whose enthusiasm has fueled Trump’s rise this year.

But — as the example of Dick Cheney perpetuating the very same myths, even while criticizing Trump’s overt racism — that underlying myth extends well beyond the far right nutjobs, well into mainstream Republican and even Democratic ideology.

America has a Donald Trump problem — one that its diversity will probably defeat, at least in the short term. But underlying that Donald Trump problem is a desperate insistence on clinging to the myth of American exceptionalism, with its more offensive parts even embraced in the mainstream. For the sake of the white men who’ve relied on those myths for their sense of dignity, but also to prevent future Trumps, it is time to start replacing that exceptionalist myth with something else.

Even in April 2016, I thought a malaise created by the failures of American Exceptionalism was the recipe for a Trump disaster.

My real point, however, is that the Trump effect is secondary. It is absolutely true that American workers and middle class, generally, have been losing ground. And it absolutely true that whites may perceive themselves to be losing more ground as people of color equalize outcomes, however little that is really going on. It is, further, absolutely true that large swaths of flyover country whites are killing themselves, often through addiction, at increasing rates, which seems to reflect a deep malaise.

But I also think the effect of the Trump side of the equation — the thing that’s driving rabid adherence to an orange boob promising a big wall and domestic investment as well as promising to treat other countries with utter disdain — is secondary malaise, the loss of the self-belief that America actually is exceptional.

(White) America needs to stop believing its superior[ity] stems from the ability to lord over much of the rest of the world and start investing in actually living with the rest of the world.

For years, American Exceptionalism got many but not all Americans to buy into a common story, and that common story served to keep the country running. That story has, for better and worse, largely failed, at least in its original incarnation.

We’ve been overdue for this reckoning for a very very long time.

Think of this blessing and curse: America was founded — with that very imperfect Constitution Quinn focused on — before the flourishing of nationalism, without a history of a sovereign out of whose dead body we could carve a founding story. All we had is that document and some fanciful notions about reason and Enlightenment.

Nevertheless, out of that document and a whole bunch of myth-making, we created a story that has worked to get Americans to believe in common cause for two and a half centuries. The process of that myth-making is critically important: It involved a belief in a virgin land that disappeared native people. It involved a belief in self-determination that disappeared the slaves. It came to include a notion of Manifest Destiny that excused our own imperialism.

Why that process worked is critically important too: All those disappeared people — Native Americans, Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, women — never held enough sway, collectively, to unpack the lies that our collective imagination relied on. That was why Barack Hussein Obama, seemingly the embodiment of American Exceptionalism, posed such a threat to it. And having failed to radically alter the means of power that exploited that founding myth, Obama left the ground ripe for a resurgence of white supremacy, the reality that long masqueraded as exceptionalism though its process of disappearance.

Today, in significant part as a result of four years of Trump, any premise of a common cause, of a shared American story, is utterly shattered.

Huge numbers of Republicans either believe or claim to believe that the only way to save the nation is to ensure, at all costs, that Democrats are not permitted to effectively govern. Those Republicans are willing to do real damage to this country — they’re willing to see a quarter of a million Americans die, many deaths of which were preventable, they’re willing to discount the votes of their neighbors and co-workers based on the most outrageous legal hoaxes — rather than joining together with their Democratic neighbors for a common good.

In days ahead, if we are to save the idea of America and prevent it from becoming an authoritarian behemoth, we need to find a new common story.

I’m not sure what that story is, but from one thing I take solace in the Trump presidency. He was competitive in 2020 in part because he integrated the lesson of 2018, that misinformation about immigrant caravans affirmatively turned off key voters. He still is an unashamed white supremacist; just the other day he appointed white supremacists to a Holocaust commission. But he didn’t run against immigrants in 2020, and it worked to attract surprising numbers of non-whites to embrace Trump’s story of victimization. Meanwhile, Trump’s relentless attacks on immigrants from the first days of his term actually reversed polling on views towards legal immigration in this country. Trump attacked one way that this country really is exceptional, the degree to which immigrants have thrived and often lead, and caused a fairly widespread backlash.

That’s certainly not enough to find common cause and common story again. But it is one yarn we can start knitting.

Trump has done one more thing to create this opportunity, if we take it. By embracing other pariahs on the world stage, Trump has irrevocably ended our claim to be exceptional. President Joe Biden, if and when he takes power, will be forced to adopt a humble new face for America. Remarkably, that may present a useful opportunity for us to rethink America’s role in the world, one where we’ll have to earn any claim to lead, much less to lead from some vision of exceptionalism.


The DeVoses and a Pence Pardon for Trump

WaPo wrote a long story about how two DeVos machine Republicans, Mike Shirkey and Lee Chatfield, went to the White House and declined to join in Donald Trump’s coup attempt. The story either chose not to mention or simply preceded the reports that the lawmakers spent the night at Trump Hotel, running up big bills for Dom Perignon, which doesn’t seem like the thing you’d do if you had just turned down a bribe to steal the election.

Presumably because it was written for a national audience, the story didn’t get into what ruthless shitholes these men are. These are men who’ve presided over attempts to undermine Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID response and refused to prohibit guns from the capitol building. And while Chatfield knocked down an effort to impeach Whitmer, Shirkey has largely facilitated the kind of eliminationist rhetoric that led to an assassination plot against Whitmer (both condemned the plot after it was thwarted).

MI journalist Susan Demas did a thread on what awful untrustworthy men they are.

Amid reports that Ronna not-Romney McDaniel is the favorite to become RNC Chair again — which stalwarts view as Trump’s attempt to run the RNC as his own operation, undercutting any challengers in 2024 — I find this quote in the WaPo story particularly interesting.

A fresh indication that Trump’s options are dwindling came Friday from an organization with close ties to his education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, which the DeVos family finances, issued the following statement Friday: “The election is over. The results are in, and here in Michigan, they’re not going to change.”

There have been hints that Betsy and Dick were tiring of Trump already. Betsy’s former Chief of Staff, Josh Venable, even joined one of the anti-Trump groups during the election.

That has interesting implications for the fate of two men — Betsy’s brother Erik Prince and Trump himself.

To my mind, Erik Prince is one of Trump’s easiest pardons, both for his exposure for false statements to Congress about his back channel with Russia and for his efforts to sell mercenary services to China. That’s true because, unlike some others (like Roger Stone), Prince successfully lied his way through testimony without generating any other known legal exposure. He told his lies, did his service to Trump, and so couldn’t be forced to testify differently once his Fifth Amendment privileges disappeared. And his exposure on China — to the extent that Billy Barr hasn’t already killed this investigation beyond repair — doesn’t implicate Trump, and so is easy and clean for a President seeking to pay back loyalty. Plus, Prince is a big donor. What’s not to like?!?!

But the DeVoses are also very close to Mike Pence (he got Betsy hired, not Trump). And many of Trump’s other pardons — of people that could implicate Trump himself in crimes if they lost their Fifth Amendment protections — require that he also limit his own legal exposure (and of course, he can only do this on federal cases). He may well be planning a self-pardon, but a safer legal option would be an early resignation followed by a pardon from Pence.

In my opinion, Pence has a real incentive against such a pardon. That’s true, in part, because giving a far less controversial pardon to Richard Nixon really doomed Gerald Ford’s otherwise reasonable legacy. Pence spends a lot of time in Grand Rapids, where Ford’s tainted history is palpable.

That’s also true because Pence has further political ambitions. They may not be real ambitions, but a former Vice President would always consider himself a candidate for the Presidency. And counterintuitively, pardoning Trump would actually hurt those ambitions. That’s true because he’s not the most obvious inheritor of Trump’s legacy. Mike Pompeo has a higher profile and the same cachet among the Evangelical right. Don Jr has even suggested he might run, and if he did he could tap right into the furor his father created. Unlike both of them, Pence has mostly been a background figurehead, one who will be blamed for Trump’s biggest failing, on COVID. So if Pence pardoned Trump, it would only serve to allow one of the other Trump flunkies from capitalizing on his brand to become the presumptive 2024 nominee; it would hurt his own chances.

Still, unlike Pompeo, Pence is not inextricably linked to Trump’s crimes. Indeed, one of the bravest witnesses during impeachment, Jennifer Williams, was his aide. She even corrected her testimony to provide damning details after the fact. Everything we’ve seen from the Mueller Report also makes it clear that Pence was not in the loop of some of the most devious efforts to undermine America.

But Pence likely knows of some of that crime. He has heard some of the details of the Russian “collusion.” More importantly, he surely knows how a series of Trump campaign managers have engaged in grift that pursue ever more outrageous ways of getting rich off the process of pitching Trump, with Brad Parscale’s version only the most recent. Assuming he’s as insulated from this potentially criminal behavior as I think he he is, refusing to pardon Trump would be a way to undercut Trump’s legacy without lifting a finger. Even if Joe Biden’s Attorney General didn’t aggressively pursue new investigations, there are so many known open ones as to make Trump’s ongoing criminal exposure hard to contain.

That puts Pence — and with him, his close allies the DeVoses — in a remarkable position. To be clear, they are every bit as evil as Trump. We should assume however they wield that power will do little to help average Americans. But (caveats about Erik aside), they are differently evil than Trump.

And if they’ve decided Trump’s time is up, they have leverage that others don’t.


“Normal Transitions:” KT McFarland Sent Tom Bossert to “Spy” on Lisa Monaco

Trump is excusing his refusal to transition power by claiming he never got a real transition.

The President’s refusal to concede, as CNN has previously reported, stems in part from his perceived grievance that Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama undermined his own presidency by saying Russia interfered in the 2016 election and could have impacted the outcome, people around him have said.

Trump continues to hold a grudge against those who he claims undercut his election by pointing to Russian interference efforts, and he has suggested it is fair game to not recognize Joe Biden as the President-elect, even though Clinton conceded on election night in 2016 and the Trump transition was able to begin immediately.

That’s not true, but it’s also not new that he’s blaming others for his own mistakes and obstinance.

Because he’s ignoring the many efforts the Obama Administration made to ease the transition (many of which were rebuffed), it bears making something implicit in this post more explicit.

KT McFarland sent someone — almost certainly Tom Bossert — to learn what Obama’s Homeland Security Czar, Lisa Monaco, knew of Russias’ response to Obama’s sanctions. Only after Flynn got Bossert’s response did he call Sergey Kislyak.

And Kislyak exploited Trump’s insecurities as a result.

It’s not public precisely when Flynn (or his assistant) told McFarland that Ambassador Kislyak had reached out to the incoming National Security Advisor. It seems likely that Flynn forwarded the text he received from Kislyak on December 28 to McFarland and her assistant, however, because Kislyak’s text to Flynn is sourced to the subpoena production of that assistant, Sarah Flaherty, in the Mueller Report.

According to KT McFarland’s own testimony, however, she believes she told Steve Bannon about the upcoming call before it happened. The Mueller Report places this conversation shortly after McFarland called Flynn on his personal cell phone at 2:29PM on December 29 but did not reach him. That would confirm McFarland knew Flynn was going to speak to the Russian Ambassador before Flynn texted Flaherty to see if McFarland was available for a call at 3:14PM. Flaherty told Flynn that McFarland was unavailable because she was speaking with Homeland Security Czar designee Tom Bossert.

So at 3:14PM, McFarland already knew Flynn was preparing to talk to Kislyak and she was talking with Bossert.

Sometime in between 3:14PM and 3:50PM, based on Flynn’s representation that this call happened before he spoke with McFarland, Flynn called the spouse of the SJC staffer currently leading the pushback on this investigation, Michael Ledeen. Flynn and Ledeen spoke for 20 minutes.

At 3:50PM, McFarland called Flynn on his personal cell phone. They spoke for 6:39 minutes.

At 4:01PM, Bossert emailed a group including Flynn, McFarland, Bannon (at a private email), Keith Kellogg, and Reince Priebus, relaying what he had learned speaking with Lisa Monaco.

[Monaco] confirms the Russiand [sic] have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate. [She] characterized the Russian response as bellicose. My thoughts, sans the Russia angle, on which I defer to Mike and KT: [redacted] : Cyber attacks by forcing governments or anyone else are unacceptable and must be taken seriously. The alleged Russian hack of US entities involved in the US political process is a problem. Of course we must separate their attempts to influence our election from the rash conclusion that they succeeded in altering the views of any American voter. We must be wary of escalatory retaliation to follow.

At 4:01PM, just as he would have received that email, Flynn called McFarland using his hotel phone. They discussed highly sensitive foreign policy issues on that unsecure phone for 11 minutes.

At 4:20PM, shortly but not immediately after speaking to McFarland about what surely included what Bossert had learned from Monaco’s representation of real time intelligence collection on and conversations with Russia, Flynn called the Ambassador to Russia, again from his hotel phone.

Even though Kislyak initiated the outreach after Obama had announced sanctions, Russia’s Ambassador feigned having called for other reasons, reasons that pre-dated the imposition of the sanctions. He went through them one-by-one:

  • He reassures Flynn that Russia won’t take any actions on the Middle East (notably Israel), particularly because it might change under the Trump Administration. He tells Flynn he has told Obama that.
  • He invites Flynn to send representatives to a Russian-Turkish conference on Syrian peace in Astana that will take place after Trump is inaugurated.
  • He proposes that Trump and Putin speak by secure videoconference on January 21, they day after the inauguration.

Flynn all but interrupted Kislyak and asked him to make sure that Obama not box Trump in (the fact that Flynn raised sanctions himself is one reason DOJ and FBI were so certain Flynn was lying when he claimed to the FBI that he never spoke about sanctions with Kislyak).

Flynn: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I understand. Okay, um, okay. Listen, uh, a couple of things. Number one, what I would ask you guys to do — and make sure you, make sure that you convey this, okay? — do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

Kislyak: We have conveyed it. And–

Note: By saying “we have conveyed it,” Kislyak seems to suggest he has already gotten and fielded this request. That suggests that may be something that Flynn raised during their December 22 conversation, the transcript of which Ric Grenell has kept hidden.

Flynn continued, barreling through his request on sanctions.

Flynn: Yeah.

Kislyak: It’s, uh, it’s uh, very very specifically and transparently, openly.

Flynn: So, you know, depending on, depending on what uh, actions they take over this current issue of the cyber stuff, you know, where they’re looking like they’re gonna, they’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that and I understand that, that, you know, the information. that they have and all that, but what I would ask Russia to do is to not — is — is — if anything — because I know you have to have some sort of action — to, to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. Don’t — don’t make it — don’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat. You follow me, Ambassador?

Kislyak sounded hesitant, noting that FSB and GRU couldn’t very well partner with the US on terrorism if they were under sanctions and Flynn agrees. Kislyak then agreed that he will try to “get the people in Moscow to understand it,” obviously a reference to Putin.

Then Flynn specifically framed Russia’s response as a kind of message to Trump.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

And Russia’s response was viewed as a signal. KT McFarland said as much in two sets of emails, the first to Flynn, Kellogg, Spicer, Priebus, Bannon, and others (all at their official accounts):

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

Then, hours later, she sent an email to Flynn, Kellogg (on his official account), Kushner, Priebus, and Spicer (at least some of whom were on on personal accounts), adding:

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

Shortly thereafter, Trump thanked Putin for his restraint — the action that Flynn said would be interpreted by Trump as a message — publicly on Twitter, shortly after which McFarland wrote a cover email to hide that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.

But Russia, knowing well that Kislyak was tapped, didn’t leave this implicit signaling to chance.

On December 31, Kislyak reached out to Flynn again, emphasizing that he had a message on top of what Putin’s decision said publicly. A key part of that message was that Trump and Russia were on the same side, pitted against the US government.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

This exchange was, transparently and successfully, an attempt to convince the paranoid Flynn and his insecure boss that Russia was on the same side as them, against all their detractors. Even when this transcript was released, it was clearly an attempt to play on the resentments of Flynn and his boss. Every single thing that has happened since suggests it worked, presumably with similar massaging along the way to reinforce that sentiment.

But with the release of the warrant applications targeting Flynn, we now know that these exchanges, with McFarland and Flynn holding off on a response until they learned what the Obama Administration knew about the Russian response, were conducted in significant part on totally unsecure devices — Flynn’s cell phone, his hotel phone, and at least Bannon and apparently several others using their private email to discuss how to respond to sanctions.

Thus, it’s likely that by the time Kislyak called Flynn back, Russian intelligence had picked up at least some of this back and forth. It’s likely he knew that Trump’s closest advisors were effectively treating Russia as a more trusted partner than the Obama Administration, and even using one of their only civil relationships with the Obama Administration, Bossert, to better counteract Obama’s actions in order to establish closer ties with Russia.

For years, Trump has falsely claimed that the Obama Administration spied on the Trump campaign. This exchange suggests the opposite happened: Trump used one of the only civil relationships his Transition team had with Obama not to ensure a smooth transition, but instead to use Obama’s information to more closely align with Russia.

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