July 25, 2021 / by 

 

The Viral Twitter Thread in Which Darrell Cooper Confesses Republicans Were Pawns of Russian Disinformation

For some reason, this Twitter thread by a guy named Darrell Cooper, purporting to explain why Trumpsters came to attack the US Capitol, went viral.

I resisted several requests to fact check it. Now, after it has gone even more viral (including on Tucker Carlson’s show), Phil Bump has done a good fact check. As Bump notes, while Cooper accurately lays out that Trump supporters have lost confidence in institutions, Cooper offers an explanation that relies on a series of false claims so as to put the blame on Democrats.

It is indisputably the case that Trump supporters accept claims about election fraud in part because of their diminished confidence in institutions such as government and the media. What is subject to dispute, though, is the cause of that lack of confidence. While Cooper suggests that it’s emergent, it isn’t. While Cooper argues that it’s a function of investigations into Trump, it’s actually a function of partisan responses — largely but not entirely on the right — driven by Trump himself. And, most important, what Cooper presents as the indisputable facts undergirding his argument are often misleading or false and a function of partisan defenses of Trump that are common in conservative media.

Bump then debunks Cooper’s claims that:

  • The FBI spied on the Trump campaign using evidence manufactured by the Clinton campaign
  • We now know that all involved knew it was fake from Day 1 (see: Brennan’s July 2016 memo, etc)
  • The Steele dossier was the sole evidence used to justify spying on the Trump campaign
  • The entire Russian investigation stemmed from the Page investigation and not George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort
  • Protests planned in case Trump overturned the election were a plan for violence
  • There were legitimate concerns about the election

Bump is absolutely right that Cooper makes false claims to be able to blame Democrats and Bump’s fact checks are sound (and really exhausting that they’re still required). Bump is likewise correct that a false claim about the Steele dossier is central to Cooper’s story.

I’d add that Cooper doesn’t mention that his claims about the problems with the Steele dossier matter primarily to the third and fourth FISA orders against Carter Page, and so happened under the Trump Administration and in three cases, were signed by people Trump either kept (in the case of Jim Comey) or put in place (in the case of Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein).

But according to Cooper’s logic, if the dossier hadn’t existed, a series of events that followed wouldn’t have happened, and so Republicans wouldn’t have attacked their own government. Thus far it’s a typical right wing attempt to disclaim responsibility for their own actions.

What Bump doesn’t mention, though, is that it is now almost universally agreed upon on among Trumpsters that the dossier was the product of Russian disinformation. Lindsey Graham — who conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the Carter Page FISA — thinks it is. Chuck Grassley — who led the investigation into the dossier — thinks it is. Ron Johnson — who also made a show of investigating these things — thinks it is. Chuck Ross — the chief scribe of the dossier on the right — thinks it is. The high gaslighter Catherine Herridge thinks it is. Fox News and all their favorite sources think it is. WSJ’s editorial page thinks it is. None of these people have thought through the implications of that, but they do all appear to believe that the Russians fed disinformation through the Democratic-funded dossier to the FBI.

So, even setting aside the implications of the possibility that the dossier was Russian disinformation, according to Cooper’s narrative, Trump’s supporters wouldn’t have attacked their own government if it weren’t for Russian disinformation that set off a chain of events that led them to lose confidence in American institutions.

But consider the implications of the dossier as disinformation, implications that are evident largely thanks to sources that right wing figures have made great effort to liberate.

In response to a Trey Gowdy question at an interview by a GOP-led investigation into the dossier, Bruce Ohr explained that on July 30, 2016, Christopher Steele shared three pieces of information with him (later in his interview he would add a fourth, Russian doping): Two details from what we now know to be the dossier, as well as a third — that Oleg Deripaska’s attorney had information about Paul Manafort stealing money from Deripaska.

And then the third item he mentioned was that Paul Hauser, who was an attorney working for Oleg Deripaska, had information about Paul Manafort, that Paul Manafort had entered into some kind of business deal with Oleg Deripaska, had stolen a large amount of money from Oleg Deripaska, and that Paul Hauser was trying to gather information that would show that, you know, or give more detail about what Paul Manafort had done with respect to Deripaska.

Byron York provided more background on Steele’s efforts to share information from Deripaska with Bruce Ohr. The IG Report done in response to GOP requests provided still more. For example, the IG Report revealed that Steele had set up a meeting between Ohr and Oligarch 1, whom we know to be Deripaska, in September 2015 (these claims are consistent with the heavily redacted Ohr 302s liberated by Judicial Watch).

Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that Steele facilitated meetings in a European city that included Handling Agent 1, Ohr, an attorney of Russian Oligarch 1, and a representative of another Russian oligarch. 209 Russian Oligarch 1 subsequently met with Ohr as well as other representatives of the U.S. government at a different location.

[snip]

Ohr and Steele also communicated frequently over the years regarding Russian Oligarch 1, including in 2016 during the time period before and after Steele was closed as an FBI CHS.409 Steele told us his communications with Ohr concerning Russian Oligarch 1 were the result of an outreach effort started in 2014 with Ohr and Handling Agent 1, to approach oligarchs about cooperating with the U.S. government. Ohr confirmed that he and Handling Agent 1 asked Steele to contact Russian oligarchs for this purpose. This effort resulted in Ohr meeting with Russian Oligarch 1 and an FBI agent in September 2015.

The IG Report also revealed that in September 23 (around the same time Deripaska was interviewed by the FBI), Steele passed on a claim that Deripaska wanted to share information about Manafort.

On September 23, 2016, at Steele’s request, Steele met with Ohr in Washington, D.C. Ohr told us they spoke about various topics related to Russia, including information regarding Russian Oligarch 1 ‘s willingness to talk with the U.S. government about Manafort.

Far more consistently than using Ohr as a channel for dossier reports (and for a longer period of time), Steele used his ties with Ohr to advance Oleg Deripaska’s interests. And for the entirety of the time that Steele was feeding the FBI dossier reports, that meant Steele was feeding Ohr claims that not only presented Deripaska as a trustworthy actor, but did so in part by promising Deripaska’s cooperation in a criminal investigation of Paul Manafort. The FBI (and Mueller after that) didn’t investigate Manafort primarily for the stuff Deripaska was trying to feed the FBI, but Deripaska was making great efforts to ensure that the FBI would investigate Manafort. In the aftermath of all this, Trump and Manafort blamed Democrats for all this, but in fact, Deripaska was at least as responsible.

According to footnotes that Graham, Grassley, and Johnson had declassified, before Deripaska first started offering to help DOJ criminally investigate Manafort — before that July 30, 2016 meeting between Steele and Ohr — a Deripaska associate likely learned about the dossier project (the same declassification revealed that two Russian intelligence officers had learned of the project before that meeting which, given the belief that several of Deripaska’s associates were Russian intelligence officers, may be the same report).

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

In fact, the IG Report completed in response to Republicans’ requests makes it clear: if the dossier was disinformation, that disinformation most likely involved Oleg Deripaska, with whom Manafort was using his position on the Trump campaign in an attempt to patch up financial and legal relations.

Priestap told us that the FBI “didn’t have any indication whatsoever” by May 2017 that the Russians were running a disinformation campaign through the Steele election reporting. Priestap explained, however, that if the Russians, in fact, were attempting to funnel disinformation through Steele to the FBI using Russian Oligarch 1, he did not understand the goal. Priestap told us that

what he has tried to explain to anybody who will listen is if that’s the theory [that Russian Oligarch 1 ran a disinformation campaign through [Steele] to the FBI], then I’m struggling with what the goal was. So, because, obviously, what [Steele] reported was not helpful, you could argue, to then [candidate] Trump. And if you guys recall, nobody thought then candidate Trump was going to win the election. Why the Russians, and [Russian Oligarch 1] is supposed to be close, very close to the Kremlin, why the Russians would try to denigrate an opponent that the intel community later said they were in favor of who didn’t really have a chance at winning, I’m struggling, with, when you know the Russians, and this I know from my Intelligence Community work: they favored Trump, they’re trying to denigrate Clinton, and they wanted to sow chaos. I don’t know why you’d run a disinformation campaign to denigrate Trump on the side. [brackets original]

Of course, for months before Deripaska first started offering (through Steele) to cooperate with the FBI against Manafort, Manafort had been trying to exploit his position on Trump’s campaign to ingratiate himself with (among others) Deripaska, in part in hopes to paper over precisely the financial dispute that Deripaska was, through Steele, trying to use to increase Manafort’s legal exposure. Weeks before the July 30 Steele-Ohr meeting, for example, Manafort had offered to brief Deripaska on the Trump campaign.

Immediately upon joining the Campaign, Manafort directed Gates to prepare for his review separate memoranda addressed to Deripaska, Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kolesnikov,879 the last three being Ukrainian oligarchs who were senior Opposition Bloc officials. 880 The memoranda described Manafort’ s appointment to the Trump Campaign and indicated his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future. On March 30, 2016, Gates emailed the memoranda and a press release announcing Manafort’ s appointment to Kilimnik for translation and dissemination.881 Manafort later followed up with Kilimnik to ensure his messages had been delivered, emailing on April 11, 2016 to ask whether Kilimnik had shown “our friends” the media coverage of his new role. 882 Kilimnik replied, “Absolutely. Every article.” Manafort further asked: “How do we use to get whole. Has Ovd [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?” Kilimnik wrote back the same day, “Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin, Deripaska’s deputy], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.”883

[snip]

The Office also obtained contemporaneous emails that shed light on the purpose of the communications with Deripaska and that are consistent with Gates’s account. For example, in response to a July 7, 20 I 6, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaskabacked investment, Manafort asked Kilimnik whether there had been any movement on “this issue with our friend.”897 Gates stated that “our friend” likely referred to Deripaska,898 and Manafort told the Office that the “issue” (and “our biggest interest,” as stated below) was a solution to the Deripaska-Pericles issue.899 Kilimnik replied:

I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest. Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska].900

Eight minutes later, Manafort replied that Kilimnik should tell Boyarkin’s “boss,” a reference to Deripaska, “that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”901

That is, per both Rick Gates and Manafort himself, how Manafort came to meet with Deripaska aide Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, just three days after Deripaska tried to increase Manafort’s legal exposure via Steele. That’s how — and why! — he provided a briefing on campaign strategy amid a discussion of resolving the debt to Deripaska (as well as a plan to carve up Ukraine), as described by the SSCI Report completed under Chairs Richard Burr and Marco Rubio.

(U) At the meeting, Manafort walked Kilimnik through the internal polling data from Fabrizio in detail.453 According to Gates, Kilimnik wanted to know how Trump could win.454 Manafort explained his strategy in the battleground states and told Kilimnik about polls that identified voter bases in blue-collar, democratic-leaning states which Trump could swing.455 Manafort said these voters could be reached by Trump on issues like economics, but the Campaign needed to implement a ground game.456 Gates recalled that Manafort further discussed the “battleground” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.457 (U) The Committee sought to determine with specificity what information Kilimnik actually gleaned from Manafort on August 2, 2016. Information suggests Kilimnik understood that some of the polling data showed that Clinton’s negatives were particularly high; that Manafort’s plan for victory called for focusing on Clinton’s negatives as much as possible; and that given Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance that Trump could win. (U) Patten’s debriefing with the SCO provides the most granular account of what information Kilimnik obtained at the August 2, 2016 meeting:

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio ‘s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll,’ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. 458

(U) Patten relayed similar information to the Committee. In particular, he told the Committee that Kilimnik mentioned Manafort’s belief that “because or Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance, only because her negatives were so astronomically high, that it was possible . to win.”459

[snip]

(U) In addition to Campaign strategy involving polling data and the Ukraine plan, Manafort and Kilimnik also discussed two financial disputes and debts at the meeting. (U) The first dispute involved Deripaska and Pericles.477 Gates recalled that Kilimnik relayed at the meeting that Deripaska’s lawsuit ha’d been dismissed.478 Gates also recalled that Kilimnik was trying to obtain documentation showing the dismissal.479

In short, even without confirmation the dossier was disinformation, it’s clear that Deripaska was playing a vicious double game, using Steele as a channel to increase Manafort’s legal exposure even while using that legal exposure as a way to get an inside track to Trump’s campaign. But if the dossier is disinformation (as Trumpsters seem to universally agree now), it might help explain the dodgy content of the dossier in ways that aren’t important to this post (for example, it might explain why Steele’s sources falsely claimed that Carter Page was Manafort’s liaison with Russia in the same days when Kilimnik flew to the US to offer a pitch to Manafort on Ukraine involving senior Russians).

Now consider one more detail, given that Trumpsters seem to universally agree the dossier was disinformation and the IG Report’s suggestion that the most likely architect of that disinformation was Oleg Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, Manafort flew to Madrid to meet with a different Deripaska deputy, Georgiy Oganov. As the SSCI Report explained, while Manafort told investigators they discussed the Pericles lawsuit — the same lawsuit Deripaska was using to make Manafort legally insecure — they also discussed stuff that remains almost entirely redacted, but stuff that includes recreating their “old friendship” which (also per the SSCI Report) involved Manafort conducting influence campaigns for Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, hours after returning to the United States from a trip to ~ to Madrid, Spain.598 Manafort met with Oganov in Madrid during what he claimed was a one-hour breakfast meeting.599 Manafort told the FBI that, at the meeting, Oganov told him that he needed to meet with Deripaska in person to resolve the Pericles matter.600 Manafort agreed but said he would not travel to Ukraine or Russia for the meeting.601

(U) Manafort provided false and misleading information about the purpose, content, and follow-up to the meeting with Oganov to both the Committee and the SCO. In particular, Manafort told the Committee in a written response through counsel that he attended a meeting on or around January 17, 2017, in Madrid with “Georgy Organov.”602 The written response claimed that the meeting was “regarding a private litigation matter involving Oleg Deripaska.”603 Despite admitting his attendance at the meeting to the Committee in May 2017, Manafort initially denied attending the meeting in his interviews with the SCO in the fall of 2018.604 He eventually admitted to attending the meeting with Oganov, and then repeated what he described in his letter to the Committee-that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.605

Manafort’s claims about the meeting were false. As the above messages show, the meeting was not designed to be about Pericles, but was also about recreating the “old friendship” and “global politics.”

Manafort returned to the US on January 12 and, three days later, tried to set up an in-person meeting with KT McFarland.

She checked with Mike Flynn, who told her that the “perception” of meeting with Manafort, “especially now” (this was after Flynn’s own back channels with Russia were beginning to become public) would not be good, so to hold off until they were in the hot seats.

Manafort didn’t meet with Trump’s national security team, but around the same time, per reporting from Ken Vogel, he reached out to Reince Priebus and suggested the errors in the dossier not only discredited it, but also the FBI investigation.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a person close to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whom he alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative. [my emphasis]

According to Rick Gates, at some point Manafort asked Kilimnik to obtain more information from his sources about it, including from Deripaska.

Since that suggestion to Priebus — which he made days after his return from a meeting with Deripaska’s associate — Trump has pursued precisely the strategy laid out by Manafort, using the errors in the dossier — the dossier that all Trumpsters now seem to believe was filled with errors by Russian intelligence and possibly by Deripaska associates — to discredit it and with it, the Russian investigation.

That’s the strategy that led Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller to report on the dossier full time — including forcing the opinion editor at the time to publish a Deripaska column attacking the dossier.

Fusion GPS’s Simpson, in a New York Times op-ed describing his own Judiciary Committee testimony, claimed a neoconservative website “and the Clinton campaign” were “the Republican and Democratic funders of our Trump research.” The Judiciary Committee’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then unilaterally released, over the objection of committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Simpson’s testimony to “set the record straight.” Fusion GPS “commended Senator Feinstein for her courage.”

Yet on March 16, 2017, Daniel Jones — himself a team member of Fusion GPS, self-described former FBI agent and, as we now know from the media, an ex-Feinstein staffer — met with my lawyer, Adam Waldman, and described Fusion as a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.” My lawyer testified these facts to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 3. Mr. Soros is, not coincidentally, also the funder of two “ethics watchdog” NGOs (Democracy 21 and CREW) attacking Rep. Nunes’ committee memo.

A former Obama State Department official, Nuland, has been recently outed as another shadow player, reviewing and disseminating Fusion’s dossier, and reportedly, hundreds of other dossiers over a period of years. “Deep State-proud loyalists” apparently was a Freudian slip, not a joke.

Invented narratives — not “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but rather just from a couple of people, cloaked in the very same hypocritical rhetoric of “freedom” and “democracy” that those are actively undermining — impede internationally shared efforts on the world’s most pressing, real issues, like global health, climate change and the future of energy. My own “Mother Russia” has many problems and challenges, and my country is still in transition from the Soviet regime — a transition some clearly wish us to remain in indefinitely.

And that’s the strategy that led Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson to spend their time discrediting the dossier rather than conducting oversight of Donald Trump.

That’s the strategy that led Darrell Cooper to believe (or claim to believe) several false claims about the dossier and then use those false claims to excuse the way Trumpsters lost faith in institutions and so attacked the Capitol. In short, the likelihood that the dossier is disinformation — indeed, the likelihood that the guy twisting the nuts of Trump’s campaign manager fed the dossier full of disinformation even while using that pressure to obtain his cooperation — means that (at least if you believe Cooper’s narrative) that disinformation led, through a series of steps, Americans to attack the American Capitol.

Trumpsters appear to love Cooper’s narrative, I guess because it doesn’t hold them responsible for their own gullibility or betrayal of the country. There are other problems with it (including the replication of other claims that Republicans have agreed is Russian disinformation). But ultimately, even with Cooper’s errors, what his narrative amounts to (at least for all the Trumpsters who believe the dossier was disinformation) is a claim that Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign led Trump supporters to attack the US Capitol.

Update: After I posted some folks in the thread questioned what the point of the disinformation would be. This post lays out a possible logic to it all.


The Odd Projection by the Steele Dosser’s Claimed Alfa Bank Source

Way back in March 2017, I noted that there was a clear feedback loop behind the Steele dossier. As part of that post, I noted how weird the single report on Alfa Bank in the dossier was. Rather than writing damning information about Trump — which was the entire point of the dossier — it instead described the relationship between Putin and a guy named Oleg Govorun, who the dossier claimed worked for Alfa in the 1990s (that date was wrong but not the affiliation).

Consider report 112, dated September 14. It pertains to “Kremlin-Alpha Group Cooperation.” It doesn’t have much point in a dossier aiming to hurt Trump. None of his associates nor the Russian DNC hack are mentioned. It does suggest that that Alfa Group had a “bag carrier … to deliver large amounts of illicit cash to” Putin when he was Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, though describes the current relationship as “both carrot and stick,” relying in part on kompromat pertaining to Putin’s activities while Deputy Mayor. It makes no allegations of current bribery, though says mutual leverage helps Putin “do his political bidding.”

As I said, there’s no point to have that Alfa Bank passage in a dossier on Trump. But it does serve, in its disclosure, to add a data point (albeit not a very interesting one) to the Alfa Server story that (we now know) FBI was already reviewing but which hadn’t been pitched to the press yet. In Corn’s piece, he mentions the Alfa Bank story but not the report on Putin’s ties to it. It may be in there because someone — perhaps already in possession of the Alfa Bank allegations — asked Steele to lay out more about Alfa’s ties with Putin.

Here’s one reason that’s interesting, though. Even aside from all the other reasons the Alfa story is dodgy, it was deliberately packaged for press consumption. Rather than the at least 19 servers that Trump’s spam email was pinging, it revealed just two: Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health (the latter of which got spun, anachronistically, as a DeVos organization that thus had to be tight with Trump). Which is to say, the Alfa story was dodgy and packaged by yet unknown people.

Even though the report didn’t say anything really damning about current Alfa bank personnel, the oligarchs who own the bank have nevertheless engaged in protracted lawfare that seems set on ruining those behind the dossier. As part of the lawsuit against Fusion GPS, the Alfa oligarchs recently submitted declarations from the presumed sources of Igor Danchenko, Steele’s primary subsource. (And yes, two of these declarations claim to be Subsource 4, in both English and Russian.)

Subsource 1: Sergey Vladimirovich Abyshev

Subsource 2: Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov

Subsource 3: Olga Aleksandrovna Galkina

Subsource 4: Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich

Subsource 4: Ivan Ivanovich Kurilla

Subsource 5: Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova

With the exception of Galkina, all of these purported subsources state that they have not read the dossier except for the Alfa Bank report, and then assert that they were not a source for the dossier. For example, this is how Dundich disclaimed being a source for the dossier as a whole, which he is sure is low-quality, while admitting he only read one report from it.

I am aware of the Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”).

[snip]

In contrast to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of information for the Dossier. I never gave Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) any information associated with the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko framed me as Sub-Source 4 to add credibility to his low-quality work, which is not based on real information or in-depth analysis.

Even Galkina, who stated that she had read the dossier when it was published by BuzzFeed, issues a non-denial denial, stating only that when she traveled to the US in 2016 she and Danchenko did not discuss anything about the dossier (the FBI interviewed her in August 2017, which she doesn’t mention here, and she does travel to the States, so she’d be at risk of prosecution if she said anything conflicting with her prior statements or material known to have been obtained from her via FISA 702).

Mr. Danchenko and I met once in 2016. In connection with my job at Servers.com, I traveled to the United States in the spring of 2016 to participate in the Game Developers Conference event and investigate the prospects of running a public relations campaign for the company in the United States. I asked Mr. Danchenko to assist those efforts, and he introduced me to a third party, Charles Dolan, whom he thought could help. Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during this meeting.

But she doesn’t describe her communications with Danchenko via phone and text, which is how Danchenko said he got some of the most important stories sourced to her. And a later denial in her declaration seems to be a (poorly translated) denial limited to providing information specific to the Alfa Bank materials, not a denial of providing other information in it.

I did not provide Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information mentioned in the Dossier and that was connected to Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko identified me as Sub-Source 3 to create more authoritativeness for his work.

In short, none of these declarations could be denials they provided Danchenko information in the dossier, because the one person who has actually read it doesn’t deny she did provide information (that said, her information was some of the most likely to be deliberate disinformation).

These declarations, then, don’t do what a filing attempting to use them to force Danchenko to set for a deposition claims they do, making general denials of being a source for the dossier.

Even more importantly, Mr. Danchenko’s claimed sub-sources have now denied, under penalty of perjury, providing Mr. Danchenko with information related to the contents of the dossier generally or with respect to CIR 112 and Plaintiffs specifically.7

Galkina’s the only one who’d be able to make such a denial, and she doesn’t do so in her declaration.

But I find Abyshev’s denials of interest for other reasons. He admits that he and Vorontsov met with Danchenko on June 15, 2016 and claims that Danchenko got very drunk (earlier he claimed that Danchenko had a drinking problem for a year or two after the compilation of the dossier).

I met with Mr. Danchenko once in 2016, the year that, as I understand, the Dossier was prepared. On June 15, 2016, Mr. Danchenko, Ivan Vorontsov, and I met in Moscow. I recall that Mr. Danchenko appeared very intoxicated and was not able to maintain a conversation. During the meeting, I spoke with Mr. Vorontsov about investments and finance. I do not recall any conversation related to the contents of the Dossier, including allegations related to CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. This was my last meeting with Mr. Danchenko.

He further admits that Danchenko raised Alfa on a phone call with him at some time that year, but claims he told Danchenko the subject was inappropriate and he should go find out the answers to the question himself.

On one occasion, during a phone call in 2016, Mr. Danchenko asked me how close Mr. Fridman is to President Putin and whether Mr. Fridman had met with President Putin in 2016. I did not respond to Mr. Danchenko’s questions. Instead, I made it clear that the questions were inappropriate and that Mr. Danchenko should seek out answers to them himself.

This denial comes on top of Abyshev’s more general denial about being a source for the report in question.

Contrary to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of the Dossier. I never provided Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information related to the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa.

On this point, Abyshev’s denial is the only one that is really pertinent, because he’s the only one that Danchenko mentioned in his FBI interview in conjunction with this report (the FBI interviewed Danchenko two more times after this, but those interviews must not be helpful for Trump, because Republicans have never demanded those reports be declassified).

While Danchenko seems to suggest that Source 1, Abyshev, was involved in this story, he doesn’t actually say that. Instead, he explained that he had been working on this story for ten years and that Source 1 had provided him other information on corruption unrelated to Alfa.

That’s interesting, not least because Vorontsov actually said that if you wanted information about the oligarchs running Alfa, you’d look outside of Russia (probably London).

I do not believe that Mr. Danchenko asked anyone inside Russia about Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, or Mr. Khan. If Mr. Danchenko were interested in those individuals, he would have sought information from people living outside Russia who would have greater knowledge of Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, and Mr. Khan.

In Vorontsov’s opinion, this is the part of the dossier for which Danchenko wouldn’t need a source in Russia.

Here’s where things get interesting. Like everyone save Galkina, Abyshev says the only part of the dossier he read was the Alfa Bank report.

I am aware of the so-called Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for the Russian translation of Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”), which raises various allegations about Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan, and Alfa.

Having not read the dossier, however, Abyshev claims that Danchenko’s job was to substantiate stories his clients want him to tell.

My understanding of Mr. Danchenko’s information-gathering process is that he first receives a story from his clients that he then must substantiate in any manner possible

This actually conflicts with Danchenko’s FBI interview, at least part of which Abyshev claims to have read, in which he says he tried to find information on Paul Manafort but failed to find much.

More interesting still, Abyshev offers up this explanation for what Danchenko was doing.

I infer from my interactions with Mr. Danchenko, from that 2016 telephone conversation, and from the content of what was ultimately published in CIR 112, that Mr. Danchenko had a working theory regarding the relationship between Alfa and its shareholders on the one hand, and President Putin on the other, and that Mr. Danchenko was fishing for information that would fit that preconceived narrative.

I believe it is likely that someone ensured that CIR 112 was included in the Dossier in an effort to persuade U.S. authorities to sanction Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, and Alfa.

I find that interesting — first, because decades old allegations of corruption would not substantiate a sanctions designation. Abyshev’s claims make no sense given the content that ended up in the report.

More interesting still is how closely Abyshev’s claims match Petr Aven’s testimony to Mueller’s team about how Putin pressured him to try to set up a back channel with Trump’s team during the transition by warning that Alfa would be sanctioned in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Aven told the Office that he is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin; these 50 men are often referred to as “oligarchs.”977 Aven told the Office that he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.978 Aven said that he took these meetings seriously and understood that any suggestions or critiques that Putin made during these meetings were implicit directives, and that there would be consequences for A ven if he did not follow through.979 As was typical, the 2016 Q4 meeting with Putin was preceded by a preparatory meeting with Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino.980

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,981 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aven [grand jury redaction] told Putin he would take steps to protect himself and the Alfa-Bank shareholders from potential sanctions, and one of those steps would be to try to reach out to the incoming Administration to establish a line of communication.986

[snip]

In December 2016, weeks after the one-on-one meeting with Putin described in Volume I, Section IV.B.1.b, supra, Petr Aven attended what he described as a separate “all-hands” oligarch meeting between Putin and Russia’s most prominent businessmen. 1167 As in Aven’s one-on-one meeting, a main topic of discussion at the oligarch meeting in December 2016 was the prospect of forthcoming U.S. economic sanctions. 1168

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

I’ve always believed the Trump Tower server story to be an elaborate disinformation effort, which had the added benefit of drawing attention to Erik Prince but not the things that Prince was doing that were key to the Russian operation (his communications about which were done via garden variety encrypted apps). I likewise always believed that Aven’s testimony might explain why Russia would craft such disinformation: not only to distract from the things that Prince and others really were doing, but to present a way to recruit Alfa’s oligarchs more centrally into Russia’s efforts to push back on sanctions, as oligarchs who weren’t as western-focused had long been.

Here, a filing in a lawsuit attempting to make maximal advantage of whatever success Russia had feeding an old nemesis of theirs disinformation as part of the larger 2016 operation makes the same argument that (according to Aven’s own testimony) Putin made to Aven, only insinuating that the argument would have come from Danchenko, not a Russian disinformation source.

Abyshev is, in addition to Danchenko’s source on the pee tape (at that meeting where Abyshev says Danchenko was badly drunk), also someone Danchenko understood to have close ties to Russian intelligence who appears to have known of Danchenko’s tie to Steele.


Meet Johnny Pollock: The Anti-Social [Media] Cell Leader of January 6 Lakeland Insurrectionists

On January 17, I wrote a post warning that while many January 6 insurrectionists would be easy to find because they boasted on Facebook or other social media sites, the most dangerous insurrectionists would be harder to find.

I get the sense of schadenfreude that the seeming certainty among insurrectionists that they would not only be victorious but their victory celebrations would be risk-free has instead led to their arrests. I’m especially sympathetic to communities of color for whom similar behavior might have gotten them killed.

But with a few exceptions, notably the identification of “zip tie guys” Larry Rendall Brock (by his ex-wife) and Eric Munschel, as well as the identification of Proud Boys member, “Spaz,” as the retired Marine Dominic Pezzola (the latter of whom was arrested with the help of two seeming insider cooperating witnesses), few of the arrests so far have been of the most dangerous insurrectionists.

Four days after that, according to an arrest affidavit for Jonathan (Johnny) Pollock and other members of a group that assaulted multiple cops on January 6, the FBI first released a Be On the LookOut for photo of Pollock.

Days later, Pollock stopped coming to work, citing a “family emergency.” When a co-worker went to his home to pick up keys and other items belonging to their employer, Pollock’s father claimed he didn’t know where his son was.

Pollock allegedly committed the following crimes on January 6 [because the affidavit explicitly uses just a male gender, I’m using “their” here rather than he or her]:

At 1:56, he attacked cops with a pole, then charged them, dragging officers AM and ML to the ground. He then kneed ML close to their face, then attempted to choke another officer:

At 2:04, Pollock grabbed the riot shield from an officer at the next set of barricades, then charged the line.

At 2:11, he took a swing at officer BR, then seized another riot shield, shoving it into officer JG.

At 2:58, he Jumped AS and attempted to pull them over the barricade:

At 4:29, he used a stolen riot shield to pin officers within the tunnel for about 15 minutes so they couldn’t defend against attacks (this may also have prevented them from assisting Roseanne Boyland).

Altogether, Pollock has been indicted for 7 counts of assault and 3 counts of stealing shields. And yet he remains at large, even after his sister Olivia and three other associates charged along with him were arrested last week.

These people were not charged with conspiracy or even attempting to obstruct the election.

A detention memo for his co-defendant, Michael Perkins, suggests Pollock’s group walked to the Capitol as part of a larger group that assembled at the Washington Monument, suggesting there may be some tie to the Proud Boys.

Perkins, his codefendants, and others who engaged in the attacks were part of a larger group of individuals who appear to have traveled together from the Washington Monument to the Capitol grounds on the afternoon of January 6, 2021. Many members of this group are related and/or from the same area of Florida and likely planned their travel both to and from Washington, D.C. and within the district in concert with each other.

Yet there’s no mention of any Proud Boy affiliation either.

Perhaps the government hasn’t charged these five as a conspiracy because they’re hiding their case from Pollock. But the arrest affidavit suggests the group left relatively few digital tracks for investigators (or had thoroughly scrubbed them by March 17, when the FBI conducted its first overt interview relating to Pollock). Of the five arrested, only Olivia gets mentioned as carrying a cell phone that placed her at the Capitol. The arrest affidavit describes Johnny boasting and sharing cell phone pictures of his role in the insurrection with co-workers, but it describes no social media use by him (and the affidavit may suggest that Pollock left his phone at his home before he left). Two of the other defendants, Joseph Hutchison and Josh Doolin, were tied to the Pollocks in part by their tie to the Pollock family gun shop, but also through a social media post that a Pollock family member (perhaps a sibling that also attended the riot) had posted. A different Pollock relative posted images of Jonathan and Olivia on social media. Perkins’ wife, who also attended the riot, also appears in social media.

Mostly, though, the FBI suggests that this is a case built off the Body Worn Cameras of the cops the group assaulted and surveillance footage, not social media clues so typical of other insurrectionists.

And that was all before Johnny managed to avoid FBI capture during at least three months on the lam.

Update: One of the online researchers who tracked this group told me that Pollock had an iPhone 8 with him and the group did little more than nod at the Proud Boys. It was a much larger group, and included Pollock’s father.


Blind Spots in the Ashli Babbitt Panopticon

In a status hearing for Thomas Baranyi yesterday, AUSA Candice Wong explained why she hadn’t finished discovery for Baranyi, who stood right behind Ashli Babbitt when she was shot: because new discovery from “other investigations” keeps coming in. By “other investigations,” she likely means content recorded by other defendants when they were storming the Capitol.

For example, in the most recent (laudably detailed) discovery notice to Baranyi’s attorney, Wong included 17 files, six sets of which were designated by “D” — probably defendants — and three sets of which designated by “W” — probably uncharged witnesses.

MARKED SENSITIVE: Videos obtained via legal process and otherwise from other Capitol investigations (17 files):

a. D-2 – 3 photographs, 1 video

b. D-3 – 3 videos

c. D-4 – 1 video

d. D-5 – 1 video

e. D-6 – 1 video

f. D-7 – 1 video

g. W-4 – 2 videos

h. W-5 – 1 video

i. W-6 – 3 videos

In the hearing, Wong explained that incoming discovery might be important for either the defense or the government. It significantly consisted of activity that CCTV hadn’t captured. Wong also explained that as important as the video itself, new discovery has recorded the words of rioters that weren’t otherwise recorded.

Wong’s comments confirm something I’ve pointed out before. Even with the flood of video that captured the events of January 6, there are gaps in that coverage, gaps that the government has seemingly attempted to fill by targeting the arrests of those known to have taken their own video.

That there are gaps in the case against Baranyi, who was in one of the most important locations of the entire riot, suggests something else: that there may be limited CCTV coverage from that hallway. Certainly, Wong seems to be saying that prosecutors are relying, in part, on other defendants’ footage to understand what the key defendants were doing.

Here are all the discovery notices for Baranyi, with a description of the types of material provided:

  • February 24: Arrest materials and 302s, T-Mobile and WhatsApp subpoena returns, plus ten open-source videos.
  • April 19: Extracts of Baranyi’s phone, social media posts about Baranyi, two more open-source videos, plus 20 zipped USCP surveillance videos
  • June 1: MPD body cam footage
  • June 24: Bates-stamped discovery, probably significantly replicating earlier discovery
  • July 1: MPD footage from “Upper House Door exit,” CCTV from Crypt East, two officer interview transcripts, four open-source videos described as, “CSPAN; Storyful; two of shooting,” plus, the 17 files described above.

As noted below, Wong gave the four other defendants who were also at the door — Zach Alam, Chad Jones, Christopher Grider, and John Sullivan –a similar discovery notice in the last week or so. That suggests the MPD footage and the “D” and “W” videos cover that confrontation that is common to all five cases.

Some of the USCP video provided to those four defendants may be common. But Alam, the most boisterous of the lot, only received eight of them (and most of these defendants were all over the Capitol). For most of these defendants, then, the government seems to be relying on open-source video and, increasingly, on the video taken by other defendants.


Zach Alam (one, two, three, four): Eight files from USCP surveillance and ten open-source videos. Many of the same files disclosed to Baranyi.

Chad Jones (one, two, three, four, five): Ten open source, 22 USCP videos, MPD body cam, many of the same files as disclosed to Baranyi on July 1, as well as an extra YouTube of Jones outside.

Christopher Grider (one, two, three, four, five): 20 USCP videos, ten open-source videos, two of his own videos, many of the same filings disclosed to Baranyi.

Brian Bingham: No discovery docketed.

Alex Sheppard No discovery docketed.

Kurt Peterson: CCTV footage of the building exit and some BWC, as well as 17 open-source videos.

Ryan Bennett (one, two): only his own videos from Facebook and his phone.

Phillip Bromley: Unclear whether all discovery docketed, though a set of files marked Highly Sensitive (as CCTV would be), including four videos and two images, are included.

David Mish: Discovery mentions video clips but does not detail them.

Brian McCreary: No discovery docketed.

Sam Montoya: 20 USCP videos, 16 MPD BWC videos, nine open-source videos

John Sullivan (one, two, three): Sullivan’s own video, 24 USCP videos plus 2 screenshots, 17 MPD BWC videos.


Proud Boy UCC-1’s Work Ethic Saved Him from a Felony Charge

The other day the government released Powerpoint presentations (Zach Rehl, Charles Donohoe) from detention hearings for the two Proud Boys, as well as the Telegram chats one or the other side used as part of those detention disputes. (The times on the chats are UTC-8, probably because they came from Ethan Nordean’s phone after it was seized in Washington; add three hours to get the time in DC.)

January 4 5:17 to 5:42PM

January 4 5:50 to 7:06PM

January 5 8:58PM to January 6 12:03AM

January 6 1:00 to 4:07PM

January 30 to February 1, Nordean and Donohoe

In general, the texts show how, in the wake of Enrique Tarrio’s arrest on January 4, Donohoe took the lead in attempting to set up two new Telegram chats — New MOSD, with just a few leaders, and Boots on the Ground, with around 60 Proud Boys (not all of whom were present, it seems) — so the Feds wouldn’t have access to their organizational efforts via Tarrio’s phone, which they correctly assumed the government had seized (though it’s not clear when the phone was exploited). The Proud Boys struggled to figure out what to do with Tarrio, with Donohoe seemingly warning not to add Tarrio back into a chat until they had confirmed he was free and using an uncompromised phone, to prevent the FBI from logging on under Tarrio’s credentials.

They seem to know that Tarrio also spoke with someone outside their circle about his flag-burning, and considered warning that person. They interspersed that conversation with discussions about how to get more Proud Boys to the riot, perhaps picking them up in Philadelphia or Greensboro. For several hours, Donohoe kept adding names, begging for help, explaining what he was doing as he went.

Because of the time crunch, Donohoe added everyone as Admins (I’m not familiar enough with Telegram to understand potential repercussions of that, with regards to FBI’s ability to get more of these chats as they arrested more Proud Boys).

On January 5, their communication plans were still in flux, with one apparent cell leader — who, on account of the redaction, appears not to have been arrested yet — communicating with his cell separately.

Nordean was supposed to be in charge, but he was AWOL for several hours leading up to 9PM (rather interesting hours on January 5 to be unreachable).

There are texts about adding someone to the MOSD leadership channel that might be consistent with Tarrio rejoining the chats after his release (the government redacted his name in some places but not all of them).

Whether or not they added Tarrio to the thread, Biggs — who was with the AWOL Nordean — seems to have been in contact with Tarrio.

Great swaths of the texts from January 6 — almost 10 full pages — are redacted. What’s left are seemingly one after another Proud Boy (not all present) claiming to be storming the Capitol right at 1:02 PM.

At 3:38 PM Donohoe says the Proud Boys will regroup, only to express shock that Trump[‘s Administration] would call out the National Guard against rioters.

The exhibits with just texts are actually far more redacted than the Donohoe Powerpoint — the latter of which includes damning details like Donohoe acknowledging, in advance, that they could face gang charges.

In addition, in the Donohoe Powerpoint, the government lays out a discussion from after the insurrection where someone — perhaps Biggs — expresses some kind of regret, something to make Donohoe push back.

REHL: Ah shit forgot you [Biggs] had to roll, was hoping to have some celebratory beers with yall after this epic fuckin day, I’ll drink one for ya

BIGGS: We will one day. This day lives in infamy or [sic] the ages

DONOHOE: Yeah I feel like a complete warrior. . . .I stood on that front line the entire time and pushed it twice . . . Thank God we were not wearing colors . . . We should never wear colors ever again for any event . . . Only for meetups . . .

[Approximately 12 Minute Gap with No Messages in Message Thread]

DONOHOE: Stop right there . . . All of what you said doesn’t matter . . . We stormed the capitol unarmed . . . And took it over unarmed . . . The people are fucking done . . . Wait when joe biden tells us we are all criminls [sic] [emphasis original]

The gap is interesting, however, because every Telegram text involving Nordean from the key days amounted to a deleted attachment to a text.

We know Nordean would text, though, because he did later in January, when he and Donohoe were discussing Nordean’s plan for a temporary move to North Carolina.

Note, if texts involving Nordean were deleted, they may not be deleted in phones seized from other participants.

Which leads me an obscure detail revealed in that Powerpoint that nevertheless explains something that has been out there for some time: the logic behind an unindicted Proud Boy co-conspirator’s status.

By March 1, prosecutors had details about all these Telegram texts. Yet in a detention hearing for Nordean on March 3, they backed off providing proof, leading to claims that prosecutors had gotten over their skis on Nordean’s prosecution. But the government rolled out the texts themselves — as well as the existence of an unindicted co-conspirator, referred to as UCC-1, in the Proud Boy Leadership conspiracy indictment on March 15. In a sealed filing before unsealing the indictment, the government had asked Judge Tim Kelly to hide all that until Rehl and Donohoe could be arrested. At the time, it seemed that UCC-1 was the likely source for the Telegram texts.

It turns out that was wrong, however. At a hearing on May 4, Nordean’s attorney Nick Smith revealed that the government had obtained all the texts from Nordean’s phone, a password for which his wife shared with the FBI (which explains the time zone and may explain why Nordean’s content was deleted when his that of co-conspirators was not).

Texts from early on January 6, not replicated (or left redacted) in the full exhibits explain that UCC-1 was not at the insurrection because he had just gotten a new job that he didn’t want to fuck up, yet.

DONOHOE: Are you here? …

UCC-1: No I started a new job, don’t want to fuck it up yet

DONOHOE: Well fuck man

UCC-1: There will be plenty more I’m sure lol

UCC-1: I want to see thousands of normies burn that city to ash today

Person-2: Would be epic

UCC-1: The state is the enemy of the people

That provides a ready explanation for why DOJ might seek to get UCC-1 to cooperate: he wasn’t present, and any role had had in decision-making leading up to the insurrection pales in comparison to Tarrio’s role. Plus, maybe he was telling the truth about trying to keep that new job. As soon as investigators saw why this guy didn’t show, they would understand a motive he might have to cooperate.

If that’s right, that not only would provide a direct witness to these leadership chats, but it might provide an even fuller set of Telegram chats than what the charged co-conspirators know about.


Tucker Carlson Burns FBI or NSA Intercepts Regarding His 30-Month Pursuit of Face-Time with Vladimir Putin

Last week, I suggested that one possible explanation for Tucker Carlson’s claim to have been spied on by NSA is that he had a back channel with Russian operatives and was trying to get ahead of allegations that he was coordinating with Russian agents.

Particularly if the communications implicating Carlson were damning and potentially illegal, leaking them to him would be an easy way to flip the story, and accuse NSA of spying rather than Carlson of coordinating with Russian agents. Again, that’s all just a hypothetical that might explain Carlson’s claims.

Overnight, Jonathan Swan — who’s a political reporter, not a surveillance reporter — described that sources claimed authorities had obtained communications from Tucker Carlson’s efforts to get an interview with Vladimir Putin. Swan describes that Tucker had two intermediaries with Russia, but they live in the US. (I had hypothesized these might be Ukrainian sources, but Swan suggests they’re Russians.)

Two sources familiar with Carlson’s communications said his two Kremlin intermediaries live in the United States, but the sources could not confirm whether both are American citizens or whether both were on U.S. soil at the time they communicated with Carlson.

Swan doesn’t note that if the surveillance happened in the US, it would have formally been an FBI intercept, not an NSA one (just as the intercepts showing Mike Flynn’s secret back channel with Russia were collected by the FBI). But he does a good job of laying out the most likely ways this happened, which is that the NSA or FBI were surveilling the kind of people they’re supposed to surveil: Russian agents, whether overt or covert.

  • The first — and least likely — scenario is that the U.S. government submitted a request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Carlson to protect national security.
  • A more plausible scenario is that one of the people Carlson was talking to as an intermediary to help him get the Putin interview was under surveillance as a foreign agent.
  • In that scenario, Carlson’s emails or text messages could have been incidentally collected as part of monitoring this person, but Carlson’s identity would have been masked in any intelligence reports.
  • In order to know that the texts and emails were Carlson’s, a U.S. government official would likely have to request his identity be unmasked, something that’s only permitted if the unmasking is necessary to understand the intelligence.

The import of the agency involved — FBI or NSA — is that “unmasking” works quite differently for the FBI, which has a duty to guard against spying in this country. FBI agents tracking a known Russian agent might review such communications to find out if a high profile US journalist was being recruited by a known Russia spy. And if this was the FBI, it might explain how it recently became known: because Merrick Garland’s DOJ is trying to disclose all the tracking of journalists that took place under the Trump Administration.

This entire faux scandal feels just like ones that Devin Nunes has twice sown, first when Republican members of Congress got picked up undermining US policy with Bibi Netanyahu, and then again when Trump’s Transition team set up a secret back channel meeting with UAE. Each time Nunes has done this, it was with the seeming intent of flipping the scandalous efforts of Republicans to undermine US policy.

That’s consistent with Tucker’s claim that his source is “in a position to know.”

The whistleblower, who’s in a position to know, repeated back to us information about a story we are working from that could have only come directly from my texts and emails. There’s no other possible source for that information, period. The NSA captured that information without our knowledge and did it for political reasons.

But it also means that, if true, then Tucker and his source — whom Tucker himself suggests had a need to know — just burned intercepts on legitimate surveillance targets from a hostile country.

Plus, there’s a far bigger problem with Tucker’s currently operative story. Jason Leopold liberated Tucker’s FOIA request to obtain what he claims would be proof of this spying. Whether intentionally or because of incompetence, the FOIA was written in such a way that it is guaranteed to fail to find anything, because it uses language that NSA would understand to mean communications targeting Tucker (and, specifically, communications obtained from physical possession of Tucker’s phone).

More interesting than the failure by design is the scope. Tucker believes these sensitive communications — ostensibly a recent effort to set up an interview with Vladimir Putin — extend from January 1, 2019 until June 28, 2021, the date he first revealed this.

That’s thirty months he has been working with Russian back channels, purportedly to set up a meeting with Putin.

That, by itself, may explain why the communications generated further attention (if indeed they did). Thirty months isn’t the pursuit of an interview, it’s a long term relationship. This would look like a recruitment effort, not journalism.

It also explains why, even though Tucker himself is the person who leaked these details (again, burning what by all accounts are legitimate intercept targets), he claims it was an effort to take him off the air. If the FBI believes that Tucker really was pursuing a long-term relationship with Russian agents, then even Fox News might rethink giving him a platform. But that wouldn’t be the content of the communications, per se, but the fact that they appear to have been going on for thirty months.


“Stand Back and Stand By:” John Pierce’s Plan for a Public Authority or — More Likely — a MyPillow Defense

In a Friday hearing in the omnibus Oath Keeper conspiracy case, John Pierce — who only just filed an appearance for Kenneth Harrelson in that case — warned that he’s going to mount a very vigorous public authority defense. He claimed that such a defense would require reviewing all video.

Pierce is a Harvard-trained civil litigator involved in the more conspiratorial side of Trumpist politics. Last year he filed a lawsuit for Carter Page that didn’t understand who (Rod Rosenstein, among others) needed to be included to make the suit hold up, much less very basic things about FISA. As someone who’d like to see the unprecedented example of Page amount to something, I find that lawsuit a horrible missed opportunity.

John Pierce got fired by Kyle Rittenhouse

Of late, he has made news for a number of controversial steps purportedly in defense of accused Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse. A recent New Yorker article on Rittenhouse’s case, for example, described that Pierce got the Rittenhouses to agree to a wildly inflated hourly rate and sat on donations in support of Rittenhouse’s bail for a month after those funds had been raised. Then, when Kyle’s mother Wendy tried to get Pierce to turn over money raised for their living expenses, he instead claimed they owed him.

Pierce met with the Rittenhouses on the night of August 27th. Pierce Bainbridge drew up an agreement calling for a retainer of a hundred thousand dollars and an hourly billing rate of twelve hundred and seventy-five dollars—more than twice the average partner billing rate at top U.S. firms. Pierce would be paid through #FightBack, which, soliciting donations through its Web site, called the charges against Rittenhouse “a reactionary rush to appease the divisive, destructive forces currently roiling this country.”

Wisconsin’s ethics laws restrict pretrial publicity, but Pierce began making media appearances on Rittenhouse’s behalf. He called Kenosha a “war zone” and claimed that a “mob” had been “relentlessly hunting him as prey.” He explicitly associated Rittenhouse with the militia movement, tweeting, “The unorganized ‘militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least seventeen years of age,’ ” and “Kyle was a Minuteman protecting his community when the government would not.”

[snip]

In mid-November, Wood reported that Mike Lindell, the C.E.O. of MyPillow, had “committed $50K to Kyle Rittenhouse Defense Fund.” Lindell says that he thought his donation was going toward fighting “election fraud.” The actor Ricky Schroder contributed a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Pierce finally paid Rittenhouse’s bail, with a check from Pierce Bainbridge, on November 20th—well over a month after #FightBack’s Web site indicated that the foundation had the necessary funds.

[snip]

Wendy said of the Rittenhouses’ decision to break with Pierce, “Kyle was John’s ticket out of debt.” She was pressing Pierce to return forty thousand dollars in donated living expenses that she believed belonged to the family, and told me that Pierce had refused: “He said we owed him millions—he ‘freed Kyle.’ ”

Possibly in response to the New Yorker piece, Pierce has been tweeting what might be veiled threats to breach attorney-client privilege.

Pierce assembles a collection of characters for his screen play

Even as that has been going on, however, Pierce has been convincing one after another January 6 defendant to let him represent them. The following list is organized by the date — in bold — when Pierce first filed an appearance for that defendant (I’ll probably update this list as Pierce adds more defendants):

1. Christopher Worrell: Christopher Worrell is a Proud Boy from Florida arrested on March 12. Worrell traveled to DC for the December MAGA protest, where he engaged in confrontational behavior targeting a journalist. He and his girlfriend traveled to DC for January 6 in vans full of Proud Boys paid for by someone else. He was filmed spraying pepper spray at cops during a key confrontation before the police line broke down and the initial assault surged past. Worrell was originally charged for obstruction and trespassing, but later indicted for assault and civil disorder and trespassing (dropping the obstruction charge). He was deemed a danger, in part, because of a 2009 arrest for impersonating a cop involving “intimidating conduct towards a total stranger in service of taking the law into his own hands.” Pierce first attempted to file a notice of appearance on March 18. Robert Jenkins (along with John Kelly, from Pierce’s firm) is co-counsel on the case. Since Pierce joined the team, he has indulged Worrell’s claims that he should not be punished for assaulting a cop, but neither that indulgence nor a focus on Worrell’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma nor an appeal succeeded at winning his client release from pre-trial detention.

2. William Pepe: William Pepe is a Proud Boy charged in a conspiracy with Dominic Pezzola and Matthew Greene for breaching the initial lines of defense and, ultimately, the first broken window of the Capitol. Pepe was originally arrested on January 11, though is out on bail. Pierce joined Robert Jenkins on William Pepe’s defense team on March 25. By April, Pierce was planning on filing some non-frivolous motions (to sever his case from Pezzola, to move it out of DC, and to dismiss the obstruction count).

3. Paul Rae: Rae is another of Pierce’s Proud Boy defendants and his initial complaint suggested Rae could have been (and could still be) added to the conspiracy indictments against the Proud Boys already charged. He was indicted along with Arthur Jackman for obstruction and trespassing; both tailed Joe Biggs on January 6, entering the building from the East side after the initial breach. Pierce filed to join Robert Jenkins in defending Rae on March 30.

4. Stephanie Baez: On June 9, Pierce filed his appearance for Stephanie Baez. Pierce’s interest in Baez’ case makes a lot of sense. Baez, who was arrested on trespassing charges on June 4, seems to have treated the January 6 insurrection as an opportunity to shop for her own Proud Boy boyfriend. Plus, she’s attractive, unrepentant, and willing to claim there was no violence on January 6. Baez has not yet been formally charged (though that should happen any day).

5. Victoria White: If I were prosecutors, I’d be taking a closer look at White to try to figure out why John Pierce decided to represent her (if it’s not already clear to them; given the timing, it may simply be because he believed he needed a few women defendants to tell the story he wants to tell). White was detained briefly on January 6 then released, and then arrested on April 8 on civil disorder and trespassing charges. At one point on January 6, she was filmed trying to dissuade other rioters from breaking windows, but then she was filmed close to and then in the Tunnel cheering on some of the worst assault. Pierce filed his notice of appearance in White’s case on June 10.

6. Ryan Samsel: After consulting with Joe Biggs, Ryan Samsel kicked off the riot by approaching the first barriers and — with several other defendants — knocking over a female cop, giving her a concussion. He was arrested on January 30 and is still being held on his original complaint charging him with assault and civil disorder. He’s obviously a key piece to the investigation and for some time it appeared the government might have been trying to persuade him that the way to minimize his significant exposure (he has an extensive criminal record) would be to cooperate against people like Biggs. But then he was brutally assaulted in jail. Detainees have claimed a guard did it, and given that Samsel injured a cop, that wouldn’t be unheard of. But Samsel seemed to say in a recent hearing that the FBI had concluded it was another detainee. In any case, the assault set off a feeding frenzy among trial attorneys seeking to get a piece of what they imagine will be a huge lawsuit against BOP (as it should be if a guard really did assault him). Samsel is now focused on getting medical care for eye and arm injuries arising from the assault. And if a guard did do this, then it would be a key part of any story Pierce wanted to tell. After that feeding frenzy passed, Pierce filed an appearance on June 14, with Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui releasing his prior counsel on June 25. Samsel is a perfect defendant for Pierce, though (like Rittenhouse), the man badly needs a serious defense attorney.

7. James McGrew: McGrew was arrested on May 28 for assault, civil disorder, obstruction, and trespassing, largely for some fighting with cops inside the Rotunda. His arrest documents show no ties to militias, though his arrest affidavit did reference a 2012 booking photo. Pierce filed his appearance to represent McGrew on June 16.

8. Alan Hostetter: John Pierce filed as Hostetter’s attorney on June 24, not long after Hostetter was indicted with five other Three Percenters in a conspiracy indictment paralleling those charging the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Hostetter was also active in Southern California’s anti-mask activist community, a key network of January 6 participants. Hostetter and his defendants spoke more explicitly about bringing arms to the riot, and his co-defendant Russell Taylor spoke at the January 5 rally.

9, 10, 11. On June 30, Pierce filed to represent David Lesperance, and James and Casey Cusick. As I laid out here, the FBI arrested the Cusicks, a father and son that run a church, largely via information obtained from Lesperance, their parishioner. They are separately charged (Lesperance, James Cusick, Casey Cusick), all with just trespassing. The night before the riot, father and son posed in front of the Trump Hotel with a fourth person besides Lesperance (though Lesperance likely took the photo).

12. Kenneth Harrelson: On July 1, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Harrelson, who was first arrested on March 10. Leading up to January 6, Harrelson played a key role in Oath Keepers’ organizing in Florida, particularly meetings organized on GoToMeeting. On the day of the riot, Kelly Meggs had put him in charge of coordinating with state teams. Harrelson was on the East steps of the Capitol with Jason Dolan during the riot, as if waiting for the door to open and The Stack to arrive; with whom he entered the Capitol. With Meggs, Harrelson moved first towards the Senate, then towards Nancy Pelosi’s office. When the FBI searched his house upon his arrest, they found an AR-15 and a handgun, as well as a go-bag with a semi-automatic handgun and survivalist books, including Ted Kaczynski’s writings. Harrelson attempted to delete a slew of his Signal texts, including a video he sent Meggs showing the breach of the East door. Harrelson had previously been represented by Nina Ginsberg and Jeffrey Zimmerman, who are making quite sure to get removed from Harrelson’s team before Pierce gets too involved.

13. Leo Brent Bozell IV: It was, perhaps, predictable that Pierce would add Bozell to his stable of defendants. “Zeeker” Bozell is the scion of a right wing movement family including his father who has made a killing by attacking the so-called liberal media, and his grandfather, who was a speech writer for Joseph McCarthy. Because Bozell was released on personal recognizance there are details of his actions on January 6 that remain unexplained. But he made it to the Senate chamber, and while there, made efforts to prevent CSPAN cameras from continuing to record the proceedings. He was originally arrested on obstruction and trespassing charges on February 12; his indictment added an abetting the destruction of government property charge, the likes of which have been used to threaten a terrorism enhancement against militia members. Pierce joined Bozell’s defense team (thus far it seems David B. Deitch will remain on the team) on July 6.

14. Nate DeGrave: The night before DeGrave’s quasi co-conspirator Josiah Colt pled guilty, July 13, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nate DeGrave. DeGrave helped ensure both the East Door and the Senate door remained open.

15. Nathaniel Tuck: On July 19, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Nathaniel Tuck, the Florida former cop Proud Boy.

16. Kevin Tuck: On July 20, Pierce filed a notice of appearance for Kevin Tuck, Nathaniel’s father and still an active duty cop when he was charged.

As you can see, Pierce has assembled as cast of defendants as if writing a screenplay, with Proud Boys from key breach points, leading members of the other conspiracies, and other movement conservatives. There are just a few more scenes he would need to fill out to not only be able to write his screenplay, but also to be able to get broad discovery from the government.

This feat is all the more interesting given a detail from the New Yorker article: at one point, Pierce seemed to be claiming to represent Enrique Tarrio and part of his “defense” of Rittenhouse was linking the boy to the Proud Boys.

Six days after the Capitol assault, Rittenhouse and his mother flew with Pierce to Miami for three days. The person who picked them up at the airport was Enrique Tarrio—the Proud Boys leader. Tarrio was Pierce’s purported client, and not long after the shootings in Kenosha he had donated a hundred dollars or so to Rittenhouse’s legal-defense fund. They all went to a Cuban restaurant, for lunch.

Enrique Tarrio would be part of any coordinated Florida-based plan in advance of January 6 and if he wanted to, could well bring down whatever conspiracy there was. More likely, though, he’s attempting to protect any larger conspiracy.

A public authority defense claims the defendant thought they had authority to commit a crime

And with his ties to Tarrio, Pierce claims (to think) he’s going to mount a public authority defense. A public authority defense involves claiming that the defendant had reason to believe he had authority to commit the crimes he did. According to the Justice Manual, there are three possible arguments a defendant might make. The first is that the defendant honestly believed they were authorized to do what they did.

First, the defendant may offer evidence that he/she honestly, albeit mistakenly, believed he/she was performing the crimes charged in the indictment in cooperation with the government. More than an affirmative defense, this is a defense strategy relying on a “mistake of fact” to undermine the government’s proof of criminal intent, the mens rea element of the crime. United States v. Baptista-Rodriguez, 17 F.3d 1354, 1363-68 (11th Cir. 1994); United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d 1508, 1517-18 & n.4 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1004 (1989); United States v. Juan, 776 F.2d 256, 258 (11th Cir. 1985). The defendant must be allowed to offer evidence that negates his/her criminal intent, id., and, if that evidence is admitted, to a jury instruction on the issue of his/her intent, id., and if that evidence is admitted, he is entitled to a jury instruction on the issue of intent. United States v. Abcasis, 45 F.3d 39, 44 (2d Cir. 1995); United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d at 1517-1518 & n. In Anderson, the Eleventh Circuit approved the district court’s instruction to the jury that the defendants should be found not guilty if the jury had a reasonable doubt whether the defendants acted in good faith under the sincere belief that their activities were exempt from the law.

There are some defendants among Pierce’s stable for whom this might work. But taken as a whole and individually, most allegedly did things (including obstruction or lying to the FBI) that would seem to evince consciousness of guilt.

The second defense works best (and is invoked most often) for people — such as informants or CIA officers — who are sometimes allowed to commit crimes by the Federal government.

The second type of government authority defense is the affirmative defense of public authority, i.e., that the defendant knowingly committed a criminal act but did so in reasonable reliance upon a grant of authority from a government official to engage in illegal activity. This defense may lie, however, only when the government official in question had actual authority, as opposed to merely apparent authority, to empower the defendant to commit the criminal acts with which he is charged. United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d at 1513-15; United States v. Rosenthal, 793 F.2d 1214, 1236, modified on other grounds, 801 F.2d 378 (11th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 919 (1987). The genesis of the “apparent authority” defense was the decision in United States v. Barker, 546 F. 2d 940 (D.C. Cir. 1976). Barker involved defendants who had been recruited to participate in a national security operation led by Howard Hunt, whom the defendants had known before as a CIA agent but who was then working in the White House. In reversing the defendants’ convictions, the appellate court tried to carve out an exception to the mistake of law rule that would allow exoneration of a defendant who relied on authority that was merely apparent, not real. Due perhaps to the unique intent requirement involved in the charges at issue in the Barker case, the courts have generally not followed its “apparent authority” defense. E.g., United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d 59, 83-84 (2d Cir. 1984); United States v. Rosenthal, 793 F.2d at 1235-36. If the government official lacked actual or real authority, however, the defendant will be deemed to have made a mistake of law, which generally does not excuse criminal conduct. United States v. Anderson, 872 F.2d at 1515; United States v. Rosenthal, 793 F.2d at 1236; United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d at 83-84. But see discussion on “entrapment by estoppel,” infra.

Often, spooked up defendants try this as a way to launch a graymail defense, to make such broad requests for classified information to push the government to drop its case. Usually, this effort fails.

I could see someone claiming that Trump really did order the defendants to march on the Capitol and assassinate Mike Pence. Some of the defendants’ co-conspirators (especially Harrelson’s) even suggested they expected Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act. But to make that case would require not extensive review of Capitol video, as Pierce says he wants, but review of Trump’s actions, which would seem to be the opposite of what this crowd might want. Indeed, attempting such a defense might allow prosecutors a way to introduce damning information on Trump that wouldn’t help the defense cause.

The final defense is when a defendant claims that a Federal officer misled them into thinking their crime was sanctioned.

The last of the possible government authority defenses is “entrapment by estoppel,” which is somewhat similar to public authority. In the defense of public authority, it is the defendant whose mistake leads to the commission of the crime; with “entrapment by estoppel,” a government official commits an error and, in reliance thereon, the defendant thereby violates the law. United States v. Burrows, 36 F.3d 875, 882 (9th Cir. 1994); United States v. Hedges, 912 F.2d 1397, 1405 (11th Cir. 1990); United States v. Clegg, 846 F.2d 1221, 1222 (9th Cir. 1988); United States v. Tallmadge, 829 F.2d 767, 773-75 (9th Cir. 1987). Such a defense has been recognized as an exception to the mistake of law rule. In Tallmadge, for example, a Federally licensed gun dealer sold a gun to the defendant after informing him that his circumstances fit into an exception to the prohibition against felons owning firearms. After finding that licensed firearms dealers were Federal agents for gathering and dispensing information on the purchase of firearms, the Court held that a buyer has the right to rely on the representations made by them. Id. at 774. See United States v. Duggan, 743 F.2d at 83 (citations omitted); but, to assert such a defense, the defendant bears the burden of proving that he\she was reasonable in believing that his/her conduct was sanctioned by the government. United States v. Lansing, 424 F.2d 225, 226-27 (9th Cir. 1970). See United States v . Burrows, 36 F.3d at 882 (citing United States v. Lansing, 424 F.2d at 225-27).

This is an extreme form of what defendants have already argued. And in fact, Chief Judge Beryl Howell already addressed this defense in denying Billy Chrestman (a Proud Boy from whose cell Pierce doesn’t yet have a representative) bail. After reviewing the precedents where such a defense had been successful, Howell then explained why it wouldn’t work here. First, because where it has worked, it involved a narrow misstatement of the law that led defendants to unknowingly break the law, whereas here, defendants would have known they were breaking the law because of the efforts from police to prevent their actions. Howell then suggested that a belief that Trump had authorized this behavior would not have been rational. And she concludes by noting that this defense requires that the person leading the defendant to misunderstand the law must have the authority over such law. But Trump doesn’t have the authority, Howell continued, to authorize an assault on the Constitution itself.

Together, this trilogy of cases gives rise to an entrapment by estoppel defense under the Due Process Clause. That defense, however, is far more restricted than the capacious interpretation suggested by defendant, that “[i]f a federal official directs or permits a citizen to perform an act, the federal government cannot punish that act under the Due Process Clause.” Def.’s Mem. at 7. The few courts of appeals decisions to have addressed the reach of this trilogy of cases beyond their facts have distilled the limitations inherent in the facts of Raley, Cox, and PICCO into a fairly restrictive definition of the entrapment by estoppel defense that sets a high bar for defendants seeking to invoke it. Thus, “[t]o win an entrapment-by-estoppel claim, a defendant criminally prosecuted for an offense must prove (1) that a government agent actively misled him about the state of the law defining the offense; (2) that the government agent was responsible for interpreting, administering, or enforcing the law defining the offense; (3) that the defendant actually relied on the agent’s misleading pronouncement in committing the offense; and (4) that the defendant’s reliance was reasonable in light of the identity of the agent, the point of law misrepresented, and the substance of the misrepresentation.” Cox, 906 F.3d at 1191 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The Court need not dally over the particulars of the defense to observe that, as applied generally to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, an entrapment by estoppel defense is likely to fail. Central to Raley, Cox, and PICCO is the fact that the government actors in question provided relatively narrow misstatements of the law that bore directly on a defendant’s specific conduct. Each case involved either a misunderstanding of the controlling law or an effort by a government actor to answer to complex or ambiguous legal questions defining the scope of prohibited conduct under a given statute. Though the impact of the misrepresentations in these cases was ultimately to “forgive a breach of the criminal laws,” Cox, 379 U.S. at 588 (Clark, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), none of the statements made by these actors implicated the potential “waiver of law,” or indeed, any intention to encourage the defendants to circumvent the law, that the Cox majority suggested would fall beyond the reach of the entrapment by estoppel defense, id. at 569. Moreover, in all three cases, the government actors’ statements were made in the specific exercise of the powers lawfully entrusted to them, of examining witnesses at Commission hearings, monitoring the location of demonstrations, and issuing technical regulations under a particular statute, respectively.

In contrast, January 6 defendants asserting the entrapment by estoppel defense could not argue that they were at all uncertain as to whether their conduct ran afoul of the criminal law, given the obvious police barricades, police lines, and police orders restricting entry at the Capitol. Rather, they would contend, as defendant does here, that “[t]he former President gave th[e] permission and privilege to the assembled mob on January 6” to violate the law. Def.’s Mem. at 11. The defense would not be premised, as it was in Raley, Cox, and PICCO, on a defendant’s confusion about the state of the law and a government official’s clarifying, if inaccurate, representations. It would instead rely on the premise that a defendant, though aware that his intended conduct was illegal, acted under the belief President Trump had waived the entire corpus of criminal law as it applied to the mob.

Setting aside the question of whether such a belief was reasonable or rational, as the entrapment by estoppel defense requires, Cox unambiguously forecloses the availability of the defense in cases where a government actor’s statements constitute “a waiver of law” beyond his or her lawful authority. 379 U.S. at 569. Defendant argues that former President Trump’s position on January 6 as “[t]he American head of state” clothed his statements to the mob with authority. Def.’s Mem. at 11. No American President holds the power to sanction unlawful actions because this would make a farce of the rule of law. Just as the Supreme Court made clear in Cox that no Chief of Police could sanction “murder[] or robbery,” 379 U.S. at 569, notwithstanding this position of authority, no President may unilaterally abrogate criminal laws duly enacted by Congress as they apply to a subgroup of his most vehement supporters. Accepting that premise, even for the limited purpose of immunizing defendant and others similarly situated from criminal liability, would require this Court to accept that the President may prospectively shield whomever he pleases from prosecution simply by advising them that their conduct is lawful, in dereliction of his constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” U.S. Const. art. II, § 3. That proposition is beyond the constitutional pale, and thus beyond the lawful powers of the President.

Even more troubling than the implication that the President can waive statutory law is the suggestion that the President can sanction conduct that strikes at the very heart of the Constitution and thus immunize from criminal liability those who seek to destabilize or even topple the constitutional order. [my emphasis]

In spite of Howell’s warning, we’re bound to see some defense attorneys trying to make this defense anyway. But for various reasons, most of the specific clients that Pierce has collected will have a problem making such claims because of public admissions they’ve already made, specific interactions they had with cops the day of the insurrection, or comments about Trump himself they or their co-conspirators made.

And those problems will grow more acute as the defendants’ co-conspirators continue to enter into cooperation agreements against them.

Or maybe this is a MyPillow defense?

But I’m not sure that Pierce — who, remember, is a civil litigator, not a defense attorney — really intends to mount a public authority defense. His Twitter feed of late suggests he plans, instead, to mount a conspiracy theory defense that the entire thing was a big set-up: the kind of conspiracy theory floated by Tucker Carlson but with the panache of people that Pierce has worked with, like Lin Wood (though even Lin Wood has soured on Pierce).

For example, the other day Pierce asserted that defense attorneys need to see every minute of Capitol Police footage for a week before and after.

And one of his absurd number of Twitter polls suggests he doesn’t believe that January 6 was a Trump inspired [armed] insurrection.

I asked on twitter which he was going to wage, a public authority defense or one based on a claim that this was all informants.

He responded by saying he doesn’t know what the question means.

I asked if he really meant he didn’t know what a public authority defense is, given that he told Judge Mehta he’d be waging one for his clients (or at least Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson).

He instead tried to change the subject with an attack on me.

In other words, rather than trying to claim that Trump ordered these people to assault the Capitol, Pierce seems to be suggesting it was all a big attempt to frame Trump and Pierce’s clients.

Don’t get me wrong, a well-planned defense claiming that Trump had authorized all this, one integrating details of what Enrique Tarrio might know about pre-meditation and coordination with Trump and his handlers, might be effective. Certainly, having the kind of broad view into discovery that Pierce is now getting would help (one thing he has done well — with the exception of Lesperance and the Cusicks, if it ever turns into felony charges, as well as Pepe and Samsel (depending on Samsel’s ultimate charges) — is pick his clients so as to avoid obvious conflict problems And never forget that there’s a history of right wing terrorists going free based on the kind of screenplays, complete with engaging female characters, that Pierce seems to be planning.

But some of the stuff that Pierce has already done is undermining both of these goals, and the difficulty of juggling actual criminal procedure (as a civil litigator) while trying to write a screenplay could backfire


“One if By Land, Two if By Sea:” What We Know of the Oath Keepers’ January 6 Quick Reaction Force

On Twitter yesterday, some folks asked me whether there’s any credibility to the government’s claims that the Oath Keepers had an armed Quick Reaction Force ready to rush to DC in case things devolved to armed battles on January 6.

At first, it appeared that the government might just be unduly crediting the wild boasts of Thomas Caldwell, who spoke repeatedly of arranging such a force in the days leading up to January 6. But over the course of a series of filings, the government has shown that after a sustained discussion about whether Oath Keepers should come armed to DC for the insurrection, it was decided to instead amass guns in (at a minimum) the Ballston, VA Comfort Inn. The evidence thus far submitted shows that multiple participants knew of the stash, called it the QRF, and deposited their own weapons at the stash. The record is less certain about what plans the Oath Keepers had to transport that arsenal to DC, but in a remarkable comment on January 3, Kelly Meggs — who appears to have played a key role in organizing security for Roger Stone, inter-militia negotiations, and The Stack that pushed into the Rotunda on January 6, and who may have paid for two rooms to use for the QRF — suggested two rally points to receive the weapons: “1 if by land North side of Lincoln Memorial 2 if by sea Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !!”

This post will pull together the evidence shown to date.

On December 25, according to the Fourth Superseding indictment and other filings, Kelly Meggs noted on Facebook what a lot of other militia members were at the time: guns are prohibited in DC. “We are all staying in DC near the Capitol we are at the Hilton garden inn but I think it’s full. Dc is no guns. So mace and gas masks, some batons. If you have armor that’s good.”

But within days, on December 30, Thomas Caldwell (who is not a member of the Oath Keepers but who coordinated closely with, at least, contingents from Ohio and North Carolina) told Jessica Watkins that an Oath Keeper from North Carolina had committed to serve as the Quick Reaction Force in Virginia — he was aiming to get reservations at the Comfort Inn in Ballston. The idea was he’d bring weapons into Virginia in his truck.

As we speak he is trying to book a room at Comfort Inn Ballston/Arlington because of its close-in location and easy access to downtown because he feels 1) he’s too broken down to be on the ground all day and 2) he is committed to being the quick reaction force anf bringing the tools if something goes to hell. That way the boys don’t have to try to schlep weps on the bus. He’ll bring them in his truck day before

Over the course of that same conversation, Caldwell updated Watkins that the North Carolina Oath Keeper had indeed gotten reservations at the Ballston Comfort Inn. “Just got a text from him he WAS able to book a room in that hotel I recommended which is on Glebe Road in Arlington.”

The next day, Meggs seems to have come to the same understanding. On December 31, he asked someone else if they were bringing weapons to DC. “You guys Gonna carry?” After the other person said, “No,” they weren’t, Meggs explained that the Oath Keepers had a Quick Reaction Force 10 minutes away. “Ok we aren’t either, we have a heavy QRF 10 Min out though.”

The Comfort Inn in Ballston would be a 7-minute drive without traffic.

That same day, December 31, someone offered up to Joshua James assistance from friends close to DC if the Oath Keepers got in trouble. “i have friends not far from DC with a lot of weapons and ammo if you get un trouble i ca. Coordinate help.” James suggested they might not need it on account of the QRF, “That might be helpful, but we have a shitload of QRF on standby with an arsenal.” The next day an Oath Keeper asked James how to get the guns to VA if the Alabaman Oath Keepers were staying in DC. “Hey we told to bring guns and maybe stage them in VA?? But you are showing hotels in DC for Alabama. Are we bring guns or no if so how will that work?” James suggested a farm might still be in play. “Were working on a Farm location Some are bringing long rifles some sidearms… I’m bringing sidearm.” By that point, then, it appears the Oath Keepers had committed to keeping weapons in VA with a QRF. But the logistics of it remained uncertain.

On January 2, Kelly Meggs texted a Leadership Signal chat with those two proposed meeting points for the QRF in DC: the Lincoln Memorial if the bridge was still open, and south of there at Ohio and West Basin if the bridges did get shut. “1 if by land North side of Lincoln Memorial 2 if by sea Corner of west basin and Ohio is a water transport landing !! QRF rally points Water of the bridges get closed.” The next day, Caldwell sent out a text message to a Three Percenter looking for a boat to ferry weapons.

Can’t believe I just thought of this: how many people either in the militia or not (who are still supportive of our efforts to save the Republic) have a boat on a trailer that could handle a Potomac crossing? If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms. I’m not talking about a bass boat. Anyone who would be interested in supporting the team this way? I will buy the fuel. More or less be hanging around sipping coffee and maybe scooting on the river a bit and pretending to fish, then if it all went to shit, our guy loads our weps AND Blue Ridge Militia weps and ferries them across. Dude! If we had 2 boats, we could ferry across and never drive into D.C. at all!!!!

But the next day, January 3, Caldwell sent an email with maps to the person in charge of the QRF with the subject line, “NEW MAPS RELATIVE TO HOTEL AND INGRESS FOR QRF,” that seemed to assume he would drive from the hotel to “the target area,” via a route that went nowhere near the Lincoln Memorial. “These maps walk you from the hotel into D.C. and east toward the target area on multiple roads running west to east including M street and P street, two of my favorites . . . .”

Similarly, it remained unsettled whether or not individual participants would contribute their own weapons to the stash. On January 2, for example, Mark Grods asked Joshua James if he should bring weapons to insurrection. “So, I guess I am taking full gear less weapons? Just reading through all the posts. Would rather have it and not need it.” James instructed him to leave his weapons home, because the QRF would have weapons. “Yeah full gear… QRF will have weapons Just leave em home.”

On January 3, Jessica Watkins told Bennie Parker that they didn’t need to bring weapons because the QRF would be there. “We are not bringing firearms. QRF will be our Law Enforcement members of Oathkeepers.”  But then that same day she reversed the instruction. “Weapons are ok now as well. Sorry for the confusion.”

On January 4, Stewart Rhodes made the Oath Keepers’ plan to have a QRF nearby public.

As we have done on all recent DC Ops, we will also have well armed and equipped QRF1 teams on standby, outside DC, in the event of a worst case scenario, where the President calls us up as part of the militia to to assist him inside DC. We don’t expect a need for him to call on us for that at this time, but we stand ready if he does (and we also stand ready to answer the call to serve as militia anytime in the future, and anywhere in our nation, if he does invoke the Insurrection Act).

Both Watkins and Grods appear to have brought their own weapons. On January 4, before she got to the Comfort Inn, Watkins asked the Florida Signal list where to drop weapons off before any operations. “Where can we drop off weapons to the QRF team? I’d like to have the weapons secured prior to the Op tomorrow.” According to Mark Grods’ Information, he “brought firearms to Washington, D.C.” — which may have exposed him to further criminal liability — “and eventually provided them to another individual to store in a Virginia hotel.”

Kenneth Harrelson also appears to have dropped guns at the Ballston Comfort Inn. On the 5th, Harrelson asked for the location of the “QRF hotel.” Kelly Meggs responded by asking for a DM. Three hours later, Harrelson showed up at the Comfort Inn for an hour.

Caldwell, too, appears to have dropped off a weapon to the QRF room, as this surveillance video from mid-afternoon on January 5 suggests (the government alleges he is holding the long sheet-wrapped item).

After Caldwell returned from the Capitol on January 6, the North Carolina Oath Keeper brought a similarly blanket-wrapped long item to Caldwell’s room.

The newly accused alleged Stack participant David Moerschel also appears to have left a gun at the Comfort Inn. Early on January 7, according to his complaint, Moerschel made two comments on the Oath Keepers’ “OK FL DC OP Jan 6″ Signal chat about leaving stuff for others at the QRF — the Ballston Comfort Inn.

“We have your bag, We will leave it with Kane at the QRF. We are en route there now.”

“Anyone else leave anything in the white van? We can leave it for you at QRF.”

Moerschel sent the first text, saying “we are en route” at 6:35AM. Twenty-four minutes later, a person that the government alleges is Moerschel appeared in Comfort Inn surveillance video carting a gun case around.

Kenneth Harrelson got a later start than Moerschel. At 8:55 on January 7, he texted to the Florida Signal chat, asking where his “shit” was at.

So we’re just leaving DC and I would like to know where my shits at since it seems everyone’s gone already.

In response, someone replied,

We are headed out now. Did you leave it [his shit] at Comfort Inn in that room?

Starting twenty minutes later, Harrelson was at the Comfort Inn along with Jason Dolan, with whom Harrelson drove in a rental car.

In Moerschel’s complaint, the North Carolinians alleged to have watched this QRF room while others were at insurrection are described without comment as co-conspirators. None have been charged (at least not publicly). But if and when they are, I imagine we’ll see still more video of weapons being moved around the Ballston Quality Inn.

Again, the precise plan for all these weapons remains unclear. But the government has provided evidence that at least six people already charged (Caldwell, Watkins, Moerschel, Harrelson, Grods, and Dolan) dropped off weapons. Given that Kelly Meggs paid for two hotel rooms there even though he stayed in DC, the implication may be that the same guy planning, “1 if by land, 2 if by sea,” paid for the rooms in question.


The Oath Keepers Dilemma: The Government Has Threatened Yet Another Indictment

The remaining 15 Oath Keeper conspiracy defendants have a status hearing today.

A lot has happened since the last status hearing the bulk of them had on June 1, 2021. Most notably, Graydon Young — co-defendant Laura Steele’s brother — pled guilty on June 23, just over a week ago. His cooperation with prosecutors will implicate the entire Stack, especially Joseph Hackett, Jessica Watkins, his sister, as well as the participants on a OK FL DC OP Jan 6 listserv (in addition to Watkins and Hackett, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jason Dolan, and William Isaacs).

Then, on Wednesday, Mark Grods pled guilty. His cooperation will implicate fellow Alabaman Joshua James (who got Grods to delete some files), Meggs, Watkins, Robert Minuta, Stewart Rhodes, and others who were on chats Grods was part of, as well as everyone involved in the Golf Cart chase and prior events at the Willard Hotel, adding Jonathan Walden to the mix.

Yesterday (or today, depending on which defendant you ask) was a deadline that Judge Amit Mehta set on June 1 for all motions unrelated to discovery (with the expectation that the late added defendants would probably need more time).

Thomas Caldwell (who can be implicated primarily by the Ohioans, the still unindicted Person Three, Grods, and possibly some other VA militia members not charged in this conspiracy) has been filing motions. He filed a marginally serious motion to dismiss everything on June 15, and filed a frivolous motion to transfer venue yesterday.

Yesterday, the deadline, both Joshua James and Kenneth Harrelson filed some motions. The former filed a motion to dismiss an assault charge and an obstruction charge against himself, as well as for a Bill of Particulars. The latter filed a motion to dismiss the counts of the indictment charged against him. The Meggses had earlier filed a motion for a Bill of Particulars.

But thus far, almost everyone is asking for an extension to file their own motions. Here’s a summary of what’s on the books thus far (Dolan, Hackett, Isaacs, and Walden would have an extension in any case, on account of their late addition):

  1. Thomas Caldwell: Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Change Venue, Motion for Extension
  2. Dominick Crowl: Motion for 60 Day Extension, Motion to Adopt
  3. Jason Dolan: Motion for Extension
  4. Joseph Hackett
  5. Kenneth Harrelson: Motion to Adopt Caldwell and James Motions, Motion for Extension, Motion to Dismiss Charges against Him
  6. William Isaacs
  7. Joshua James: Motion to Adopt, Motion to Dismiss Counts 8 and 13, Motion for Bill of Particulars, Motion for Extension
  8. Connie Meggs: Motion to Join Caldwell’s Motion, Motion for 60 Day Extension
  9. Kelly Meggs: Motion to Adopt Caldwell’s Motion (including a cursory adoption of his obstruction charge)
  10. Roberto Minuta (Minuta’s attorney has had some health limitations so would need an extension anyway): Motion for 30 Day Extension
  11. Benny Parker: Motion for at least 60 Day Extension, Motion to Adopt Harrelson and Caldwell, though not adopting Caldwell’s “partisan surplusage”
  12. Sandi Parker: Motion to Join Caldwell Motion, Motion for Extension
  13. Laura Steele: Motion to be able to go on vacation, Motion to Join Caldwell, Motion for at least 60-Day Extension
  14. Jonathan Walden
  15. Jessica Watkins: Motion to Join Caldwell’s Dismissal, Motion for 60 Day Extension

Between these requests, the government has gotten defendants to waive Speedy Trial for at least 30 more days as they contemplate the legal dilemma they’re facing.

It’s true that most defendants cite the voluminous discovery before them. A few claim they have not yet had an adequate tour of the Capitol. Harrelson’s motion quotes several paragraphs of boilerplate from the government.

But a comment from James’ Motion for Extension is perhaps the most telling. It asserts that defendants have been told there’s still yet another indictment on the way.

Because the government has made clear that an additional indictment (which could include more charges or more defendants) is possible, and because Mr. James is unaware of which, if any, currently charged defendant will be proceeding to trial, it is impossible to assess, prepare, and file motions regarding severance of counts or defendants at this time.

It also suggests that it’s possible none of the currently charged defendants will actually proceed to trial.

Short of adding Stewart Rhodes, there are few places this indictment will go except to make the terrorism or insurrection claims more explicit.

Which may explain why James, one of the remaining key players who would be able to trade a lesser sentence for a cooperation deal, suggests no one may go to trial.


Why Would Allen Weisselberg Tolerate Having to Cheat on His Taxes Rather than Getting a Raise?

I want to pull several salient facts out of the indictment against Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and Trump Organization rolled out yesterday. The indictment alleges that the Trump Organization paid Weisselberg and other Trump Org executives off the books in such a way that allowed them to underpay their taxes.

The purpose of the scheme was to compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was “off the books”: the beneficiaries of the scheme received substantial portions of their income through indirect and disguised means, with compensation that was unreported or misreported by the Trump Corporation or Trump Payroll Corp. to the tax authorities. The scheme was intended to allow certain employees to substantially understate their compensation from the Trump Organization, so that they could and did pay federal, state, and local taxes in amounts that were significantly less than the amounts that should have been paid. The scheme also enabled Weisselberg to obtain tax refunds of amounts previously withheld.

It goes through one after another way that Weisselberg was paid in this way:

  • A lease on a Riverside apartment that was Weisselberg’s full time residence (which, scandalously, was not owned by Trump)
  • For some years in which he lived in the Riverside apartment, the ability to claim he was not a resident of New York City and so avoid taxes there
  • Private school tuition payments for his grand-kids
  • Use of two Mercedes
  • Cash to pay his holiday gratuities
  • Some compensation paid by the Mar-a-Lago Club and Wollman Rink Operations LLC as non-employee compensation that he dumped into a Keogh plan (this appears to be the same scheme that the NYT described Ivanka being paid as a consultant under)

It makes it clear he was in charge of this system — the entire system, just not the part that benefitted him, but also the parts that benefitted his own kid and Donald Trump’s kids.

At all relevant times, Weisselberg had authority over the Trump Organization’s accounting functions, including its payroll administration procedures. He supervised the Comptroller of the Trump Organization, who managed the day-to-day affairs of the accounting department, including payroll administration, and who reported to Weisselberg. At all relevant times, Weisselberg was authorized to act on behalf of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corp, to formulate corporate policy, and to supervise subordinate employees in a managerial capacity.

Thus far I get how this is supposed to work: Weisselberg has thus far been charged only for the tax fraud that benefitted him. If he doesn’t cooperate, his kid will be charged for the tax fraud that benefitted him, and Weisselberg will also be charged for the tax fraud that didn’t benefit him but over which he was in charge anyway.

What I don’t understand is this. Before the indictment was revealed, some well-informed people had assumed that all the fringe benefits — the free tuition, the free car, the free apartment, the free tips — were on top of Weisselberg’s compensation. But they weren’t. The indictment reveals that from 2011 to 2018, Weisselberg’s compensation remained fixed at $940,000, with $540,000 in base and $400,000 in bonuses that could be paid via one or another of these slushy tax dodges.

For example, from 2011 through 2018, his compensation was fixed at $940,000, to be comprised of $540,000 in base salary and $400,000 in end-of-year bonus. However, at Weisselberg’s direction, the Trump Organization excluded from his reported gross income the amounts that were paid to him indirectly in the form of rent paid on his New York City apartment, tuition paid on his behalf to his family members” private school, the automobile expenses paid in connection with his and his wife’s personal cars, and the other items described above. Weisselberg, received the benefit of these payments, and the Trump Organization internally tracked and treated ‘many of them as part of his authorized annual compensation, ensuring that he was not paid more than his pre-authorized, fixed amount of gross compensation. However, the corporate defendants falsified other compensation records so that the indirect compensation payments were not reflected in Weisselberg’s reported gross income. Therefore, the W-2 forms and other compensation records reported to federal, state, and local tax authorities fraudulently understated the income that the ‘Trump Organization had paid Weisselberg. Weisselberg included the falsified information set forth on his W-2 forms when he filed his personal income tax returns.

So while the benefit to Weisselberg of all this alleged tax cheating was $1.76 million, he really wasn’t pocketing all that as a result (probably no more than $100,000 benefit per year). Effectively, the Federal Government, New York State and New York City were paying Weisselberg’s raises every year rather than Donald Trump — with one notable exception, explained below.

Here’s how it looks with each benefit over the years that Weisselberg received that benefit.

The table suggests two things (though someone smarter than me would have to do the math to prove it). First, starting in 2013, after he sold his house on Long Island, Weisselberg lost a significant tax dodge, the ability to claim he didn’t live in NYC, so at that point, his compensation would have effectively been cut $23,000 in the yearly tax dodge not paying NYC taxes had given him to that point. Then, in the period when Donald Trump was too cheap (or, importantly, too broke) to just give Weisselberg a raise like normal people, Weisselberg was just adding on the tax dodges: first, the paltry holiday gratuities, then the 1099 payments and the tuition payments.

In that period — which stretched roughly from the period when Trump first entertained running for President through his first year as president — Weisselberg was doing more and more tax cheating just to get paid the same (or adding roughly $100,000 a year income in the best scenario, but again, someone smarter than me needs to do that math).

And for at least two years, Trump didn’t even benefit from this scheme. For the first two years Trump Organization was paying Weisselberg’s grand-kids’ tuition, he was paying it out of his own pocket.

Beginning in 2012, one of Weisselberg’s family members began attending a private school in Manhattan. Beginning in 2014, second Weisselberg family member began attending the same private school. From 2012 through 2017, and as part of the scheme to defraud, Trump Corporation personnel, including Weisselberg, arranged for tuition expenses for Weisselberg’s family members to be paid by personal checks drawn on the account of and signed by Donald J. ‘Trump, and later drawn on the account of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust dated April 7, 2014.

As far as we know, Donald Trump has only made this kind of payment out of his own pocket when trying to buy off former sex partners. But for two years, he was paying part of Weisselberg’s compensation — the tuition of one grand-kid — out of his own pocket.

What I don’t understand is why — aside from loyalty — Weisselberg was allegedly willing to commit new kinds of tax fraud just to retain the same salary. Michael Cohen went along with these kinds of games, but when it came time, he tried (unsuccessfully) to cash in on all his years of being a loyal Trump crook. Did Weisselberg take on all this legal exposure out of loyalty?

Or was there something about Trump’s business that required them to squeeze more and more out of unpaid taxes just to stay afloat?

Update: This piece from Jennifer Taub is one of the most helpful pieces I’ve seen on why this was valuable for Trump.

It’s easy to see what was in it for Weisselberg and the employees getting the equivalent of tax-free income. But how would Trump and his businesses benefit from these give-a-ways? It’s a way to give employees higher pay at a lower cost to the company. Here’s a simple, but not precise example for a New York employee. If the company pays an extra $100,000 in cash compensation the net pay for that extra is around $72,000 after withholding and payroll taxes. Then the employee can use that money to pay expenses like private school tuition or car leases. But, if instead, the company directly pays $72,000 worth of the employee’s school and car expenses off-the-books, and the employee and company hide that, it only costs the company the $72,000 (which it can still finagle a deduction as some kind of business expense).

By hiding that fringe benefit income, by pretending that he was not a New York City resident, and by claiming tax refunds to which he was not entitled, as the indictment alleges, he deprived city, state, and federal tax authorities of approximately $1,034,236 all together. A large sum, to be sure, but one that’s probably already been or soon will be dwarfed by Weisselberg’s legal bills. Weisselberg allegedly owes more than half of that cool million in federal taxes.

She also notes that Trump knew about the apartment.

There is a section of the indictment accusing Trump Corporation, Trump Payroll Corp., and Weisselberg with conspiracy in the fourth degree. Allegedly they agreed with “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1” (who appears to be someone who works for Weisselberg (so it’s not The Donald) to implement the off-the-books compensation scheme. This part of the indictment goes on to enumerate twelve separate overt acts that were carried out by the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy.

[snip]

The very first overt act that seems to indicate the ex-president’s involvement was Donald Trump on behalf of the corporation entering into a lease around March 31, 2005 for an apartment in Manhattan on Riverside Boulevard (the Trump Place building). That lease had a rider that permitted only Allen Weisselberg and his wife to occupy the apartment and to use it as their primary residence.

Why is this lease rider important? Well, it communicates that the grand jury knows that Donald Trump knew Weisselberg was living in the apartment on the company’s dime. It also means that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance does not yet have enough evidence to bring to the grand jury to show probable cause that Trump was part of the underlying agreement that formed the conspiracy.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/author/emptywheel/page/2/