January 27, 2021 / by 

 

The DOD Flunkies’ Convenient Lapse of Executive Privilege

The first thing you should take away from this long Vanity Fair profile of the Trump loyalists who led DOD during the Transition period is that Kash Patel has a very selective approach to Executive Privilege. Deep in the story, when caught in a lie about a plot to have him replace CIA Director Gina Haspel, Patel invokes Executive Privilege to refuse to answer.

I asked Patel about an Axios story that broke just before we sat down to talk. It asserted that CIA director Gina Haspel threatened to resign after learning that Trump planned to install Patel as her deputy. “I’m not going to comment on what the president wanted to do or didn’t want to do, but there’s no conversations of that now or this week or this year,” he replied. But he seemed to be playing coy. The CIA gambit took place last year. In fact, when I had spoken with Cohen about the matter, he had told me, “The idea was to put Kash in as the deputy, which doesn’t require Senate approval, and then to fire Gina the next day, leaving Kash in charge…. Robert O’Brien, [Trump’s national security adviser], is the one who deep-sixed it.” When I pressed Patel further about these machinations, which had occurred in December, I saw him turn lawyerly: “That stuff is between me and the boss. That’s the only thing I don’t comment on. Ever. It’s executive privilege.”

But in the first lines of the profile, both he and former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller happily offer up a tale of how Trump not only claimed to know what an appropriate deployment of National Guard troops would be in preparation for January 6, but ordered DOD to have them deployed.

On the evening of January 5—the night before a white supremacist mob stormed Capitol Hill in a siege that would leave five dead—the acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, was at the White House with his chief of staff, Kash Patel. They were meeting with President Trump on “an Iran issue,” Miller told me. But then the conversation switched gears. The president, Miller recalled, asked how many troops the Pentagon planned to turn out the following day. “We’re like, ‘We’re going to provide any National Guard support that the District requests,’” Miller responded. “And [Trump] goes, ‘You’re going to need 10,000 people.’ No, I’m not talking bullshit. He said that. And we’re like, ‘Maybe. But you know, someone’s going to have to ask for it.’” At that point Miller remembered the president telling him, “‘You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do.’ He said, ‘You’re going to need 10,000.’ That’s what he said. Swear to God.”

I could not recall the last time a contingent that large had been called up to supplement law enforcement at all, much less at a demonstration—the Women’s March and the Million Man March sprang to mind—and so I asked the acting SECDEF why Trump threw out such a big number. “The president’s sometimes hyperbolic, as you’ve noticed. There were gonna be a million people in the street, I think was his expectation.” Miller maintained that initial reports on the anticipated crowd size were all over the map—anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000. “Park Police—everybody’s so hesitant to give numbers. So I think that was what was driving the president.”

There’s a lot of reason to believe this is bullshit. Trump wouldn’t ask for the Guard if he wanted a show of force, he’d ask for a helicopter flyover or something else inappropriate.  Trump isn’t a detail guy. Miller and Patel offered up a key (and dubious) excuse used elsewhere — that they hadn’t been told the Park Service had expanded the Trump rally to 30,000 attendees.

Most importantly, Patel demonstrated that he believes his actual conversations with Trump should be protected by Executive Privilege. Certainly, he would refuse to say anything bad about Trump.

Ezra Cohen[-Watnick], by contrast, isn’t prompted to. While he is permitted to claim that Trump threw everyone — the entire country — under the bus, he’s not asked about his mentor Mike Flynn’s role in the conspiracy.

Ezra Cohen, another of Miller’s top confidants, believes that his colleagues’ words and deeds may be well and good, but are beside the point: “The president threw us under the bus. And when I say ‘us,’ I don’t mean only us political appointees or only us Republicans. He threw America under the bus. He caused a lot of damage to the fabric of this country. Did he go and storm the Capitol himself? No. But he, I believe, had an opportunity to tamp things down and he chose not to. And that’s really the fatal flaw. I mean, he’s in charge. And when you’re in charge, you’re responsible for what goes wrong.”

[snip]

His promotion was fodder for trolls of every stripe. “To the left I became this horrible person that enabled the president, attacking [Obama officials] and all this other stuff like that,” Cohen contended as we sat in his kitchen and later drove through a Chick-fil-A before tooling around northern Virginia. “And then to the crazy people on the right—that are dangerous people that did the horrible, antidemocratic behavior with the Capitol—these nutjobs are saying that I am QAnon.”

The silence about Flynn’s call for martial law is all the more telling given Cohen’s nod to the way QAnon has worked him into their conspiracies. Flynn played a key role in mobilizing QAnon to serve as Trump’s army.

Also missing from this profile? Any mention of Flynn’s brother, Charles, who participated in a call with local DC officials calling for more help but whose role DOD hid until after Biden was inaugurated.

There are other silences as well, perhaps most notably Miller’s stubborn effort to burrow in a fourth ally, Mike Ellis, at NSA in the last hours of the Trump Administration.

So even before you get into the details, this profile should be regarded as an effort by three very slick dudes to recast their role as Trump flunkies in the wake of an inexcusable event.

With all that said, it appears to differ in key ways from the timeline DOD released days after the coup attempt. The Vanity Fair narrative makes several claims that are probably true: That Miller came to work expecting he might not get home that night (though didn’t stay in DC even as the National Guard did in advance of the inauguratoin), and that DOD was chastened given the gross abuse in response to June protests.

But it also suggests Muriel Bowser called for help 48 minutes after DOD’s timeline shows she did.

On the morning of January 6, as Miller recounted, he was hopeful that the day would prove uneventful. But decades in special operations and intelligence had honed his senses. “It was the first day I brought an overnight bag to work. My wife was like, ‘What are you doing there?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to be home.’” To hear Patel tell it, they were on autopilot for most of the day: “We had talked to [the president] in person the day before, on the phone the day before, and two days before that. We were given clear instructions. We had all our authorizations. We didn’t need to talk to the president. I was talking to [Trump’s chief of staff, Mark] Meadows, nonstop that day.”

The security posture and response on January 6 did not occur in a vacuum. June 1, 2020, had been a perilous precedent. On that day federal police had expelled peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square to facilitate the president’s saunter over to St. John’s Church for a publicity stunt. But the brute force displayed to clear out the area proved a national embarrassment and allegedly influenced Washington mayor Muriel Bowser’s view, come January, about how the capital should be policed—and by whom. On the day before all hell broke loose on the Hill, she made it clear the D.C. police (MPD) would be running the show on the 6th, though 340 unarmed National Guard troops had been requested to help with traffic: “The District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD.”

Miller told me that when Trump made him head of the Pentagon, in November, “the bar was pretty low.” He had three goals. “No military coup, no major war, and no troops in the street,” before observing dryly, “The ‘no troops in the street’ thing changed dramatically about 14:30…. So that one’s off [the list].”

The day began with a lull. “We had meetings upon meetings. We were monitoring it. And we’re just like, Please, God, please, God. Then the damn TV pops up and everybody converges on my office: [Joint Chiefs of Staff] chairman [Mark Milley], Secretary of the Army [Ryan] McCarthy, the crew just converges.” And as intelligence started cycling in, things went from watch and see to “a current op.” Miller recalled, “We had already decided we’re going to need to activate the National Guard, and that’s where the fog and friction comes in.”

“The D.C. mayor finally said, ‘Okay, I need more,’” Kash Patel would tell me. “Then the Capitol police—a federal agency and the Secret Service made the request. We can support them under Title 10, Title 32 authorities for [the] National Guard. So [they] collectively started making requests, and we did it. And then we just went to work.”

With his use of the word “finally,” Patel insinuates there was a delay before Bowser called and asked for help. Meanwhile, Miller suggests that DOD’s response took place at 2:30PM.

The timeline, however, shows that Bowser requested help 29 minutes after DOD says they got “open source reports” of demonstrators moving on the Capitol.

1305: A/SD receives open source reports of demonstrator movements to U.S. Capitol.

1326: USCP orders evacuation of Capitol complex.

1334: SECARMY phone call with Mayor Bowser in which Mayor Bowser communicates request for unspecified number of additional forces.

1349: Commanding General, DCNG, Walker phone call with USCP Chief Sund. Chief Sund communicates request for immediate assistance.

1422: SECARMY phone call with D.C. Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Dr. Rodriguez, and MPD leadership to discuss the current situation and to request additional DCNG support.

1430: A/SD, CJCS, and SECARMY meet to discuss USCP and Mayor Bowser’s requests. 1500: A/SD determines all available forces of the DCNG are required to reinforce MPD and USCP positions to support efforts to reestablish security of the Capitol complex.

1500: SECARMY directs DCNG to prepare available Guardsmen to move from the armory to the Capitol complex, while seeking formal approval from A/SD for deployment. DCNG prepares to move 150 personnel to support USCP, pending A/SD’s approval.

1504: A/SD, with advice from CJCS, DoD GC, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau (CNGB), SECARMY, and the Chief of Staff of the Army, provides verbal approval of the full activation of DCNG (1100 total) in support of the MPD. Immediately upon A/SD approval, Secretary McCarthy directs DCNG to initiate movement and full mobilization. In response, DCNG redeployed all soldiers from positions at Metro stations and all available non-support and non-C2 personnel to support MPD. DCNG begins full mobilization.

The Vanity Fair profile suggests DOD made the decision based off watching TV — presumably those open source reports — that reinforcements would be needed. But they didn’t even begin to “discuss” doing so until 2:30, and didn’t move to make that deployment until 3:04 (so 34 minutes after Miller describes).

Plus, Patel makes no mention of the call from Capitol Police at 1:49.

Ezra Cohen would like you to believe that he got thrown under the bus along with all the people supporting rule of law. Patel would like you to believe the failures of DOD under his watch were not attributable to the Chief of Staff. And Miller would like you to know his family doesn’t much like Donald Trump.

But the whole story reads like a fairy tale.


Now We Know Why Jeffrey Rosen Has Been Silent, How About Chris Wray?

Since the attempted coup, both Jeffrey Rosen and Chris Wray (and Wray’s then-Deputy David Bowdich) were almost silent about the attack. A week after the attack, Rosen  a video in the middle of the night, explaining what he had done during the coup.

The day after, Wray released a short statement. More than a week later, he spoke at a closed-press meeting on inauguration security. Neither provided the kind of daily updates one would expect after such an attack.

Last night (as Rayne laid out here), NYT reported on why Rosen was so silent: because he’s a witness in what should be a criminal investigation into how the attack relates to the effort to overturn the election.

As the NYT lays out, in the days leading up to the coup attempt, Trump already tried to replace Rosen with someone, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who would be willing to take steps to overturn the vote.

The effort to force Rosen to use DOJ resources to undermine a democratic election started on December 15, the day after Bill Barr resigned.

When Mr. Trump said on Dec. 14 that Attorney General William P. Barr was leaving the department, some officials thought that he might allow Mr. Rosen a short reprieve before pressing him about voter fraud. After all, Mr. Barr would be around for another week.

Instead, Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Rosen to the Oval Office the next day. He wanted the Justice Department to file legal briefs supporting his allies’ lawsuits seeking to overturn his election loss. And he urged Mr. Rosen to appoint special counsels to investigate not only unfounded accusations of widespread voter fraud, but also Dominion, the voting machines firm.

Then, over the weekend in advance of the certification, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark told Rosen Trump was going to make him Attorney General so he could chase Rudy Giuliani’s conspiracy theories.

On New Year’s Eve, the trio met to discuss Mr. Clark’s refusal to hew to the department’s conclusion that the election results were valid. Mr. Donoghue flatly told Mr. Clark that what he was doing was wrong. The next day, Mr. Clark told Mr. Rosen — who had mentored him while they worked together at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis — that he was going to discuss his strategy to the president early the next week, just before Congress was set to certify Mr. Biden’s electoral victory.

Unbeknown to the acting attorney general, Mr. Clark’s timeline moved up. He met with Mr. Trump over the weekend, then informed Mr. Rosen midday on Sunday that the president intended to replace him with Mr. Clark, who could then try to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results. He said that Mr. Rosen could stay on as his deputy attorney general, leaving Mr. Rosen speechless.

In a replay of the 2004 Hospital Hero moment, the others involved (including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone) agreed they’d resign en masse if Trump replaced Rosen, which led him to back off the plan.

NYT had four sources for this story, all of whom fear — even after Trump has been relegated to Florida — retaliation.

This account of the department’s final days under Mr. Trump’s leadership is based on interviews with four former Trump administration officials who asked not to be named because of fear of retaliation.

Clark claimed there were errors in this story, but ultimately he claimed Executive Privilege (his statement to WaPo on the topic, which I’ve used here, is more expansive).

In a statement that seemed to draw on language in the New York Times account, Clark said, “I categorically deny that I ‘devised a plan . . . to oust’ Jeff Rosen. . . . Nor did I formulate recommendations for action based on factual inaccuracies gleaned from the Internet.”

“My practice is to rely on sworn testimony to assess disputed factual claims,” Clark said. “There were no ‘maneuver[s].’ There was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the President. It is unfortunate that those who were part of a privileged legal conversation would comment in public about such internal deliberations, while also distorting any discussions. . . . Observing legal privileges, which I will adhere to even if others will not, prevent me from divulging specifics regarding the conversation.”

The WaPo version of this story names all who were involved in the confrontation with Trump (though the sources for the story are likely, in part, their aides).

At the meeting were Trump, Clark and Rosen, along with Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general; Steven A. Engel, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, the people familiar with the matter said. The people said Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and Cipollone pushed against the idea of replacing Rosen, and warned of a mass resignation.

Clark says he will only respond to a sworn statement. By all means, the impeachment managers should demand sworn testimony, from all involved.

Of course, that would mean Pat Cipollone, who led the former President’s defense in his first impeachment trial, would be asked about the second time Trump tried to use government resources to cheat. Steve Engel, who authorized the withholding of a whistleblower complaint describing Trump’s earlier attempt, would also testify. Rosen, who participated in having DOJ chase Sidney Powell’s conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn, would be asked to testify about why the conspiracy theories about Dominion machines were any less credible than the Flynn ones. And Donoghue, who served as a filter for some of the conspiracy theories Rudy Giuliani had been fed by men who have since been named Russian agents, would be asked to testify about why Rudy wasn’t a credible source.

Rosen was silent in his final two weeks, presumably, for fear he might get fired and replaced by someone who would be more pliant to a coup attempt. But he — and the three others — are also witnesses to a larger plot that ended up in violence and death.

I wonder if Chris Wray has similar evidence he’ll be asked to share.


“Stand Back and Stand By:” The Proud Boys Node of the January 6 Attack

As I and others have reported, a node of three people with ties to the Oath Keepers is, thus far, the first sign of a larger conspiracy charge in the government’s investigation of the January 6 insurrection.

It’s clear the government believes they can get there with the Proud Boys, either in conjunction with or parallel to the Oath Keepers. But they’re not there yet.

I want to lay out what they’ve shown about the Proud Boys operations thus far.

In addition to Enrique Tarrio (who was arrested before the riot for vandalizing a black church in December), the government has identified six people as Proud Boy adherents in affidavits (plus Robert Gieswein, who coordinated with them):

While some of these — notably, Bryan Bentancur, who lied to his parole officer about handing out bibles to excuse a trip to DC that day — were caught incidentally, it’s clear that Biggs and Pezzola were priorities, the former for his leadership role in the group and the latter for his appearance in videos breaking in a window with a police shield.

Between these affidavits, the government has provided evidence that the Proud Boys plan their operations in advance, with this quote from a Joe Biggs interview.

When we set out to do an event, we go alright, what is or main objective? And that’s the first thing we discuss. We take three months to plan an event. And we go, what’s our main objective? And then we plan around that, to achieve that main objective, that goal that we want.

In the case of the January 6 insurrection, that pre-planning involved creating a false flag to blame Antifa. The government showed this in a Tarrio message posted in December.

For example, on December 29, 2020, Tarrio posted a message on the social media site Parler1 about the demonstration planned for January 6, 2021. Among other things, Tarrio announced that the Proud Boys would “turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist… We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.” I believe the statement about dressing in “all BLACK” is a reference to dressing like the group known as “Antifa,” who the Proud Boys have identified as an enemy of their movement and are often depicted in the media wearing all black to demonstrations.

And the government showed agreement between Tarrio and Biggs with this similar message from Biggs.

On or around the same day, BIGGS posted a similar message to his followers on Parler in which he stated, among other things, “we will not be attending DC in colors. We will be blending in as one of you. You won’t see us. You’ll even think we are you . . .We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we’ll do that’s us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic.” I understand that BIGGS was directing these statements at “Antifa.”

Daniel Goldwyn, texting that day, addressed the claim of a false flag on texts.

The government provided evidence that members of the Proud Boys had followed the false flag plan, with pictures of the men marching through DC “incognito” before the insurrection.

On January 6, 2021, an individual that I have identified as BIGGS and a group of people that hold themselves out as Proud Boys were depicted on the east side of the U.S. Capitol. Consistent with the directive issued by organizers of the Proud Boys, including Tarrio and BIGGS, none of the men pictured are wearing Proud Boys colors of black and yellow, but are instead dressed “incognito.” Indeed, BIGGS, wearing glasses and a dark knit hat, is dressed in a blue and grey plaid shirt.

In Biggs’ affidavit (the most recent of the six), the government also provided evidence of communications between members during the attack.

Your affiant has reviewed additional footage from the events inside the U.S. Capitol. In one image, shown below, Pezzola appears to have what I believe to be an earpiece or communication device in his right ear. In my experience, such a device could be used to receive communications from others in real time. Your affiant also notes that multiple individuals were photographed or depicted on videos with earpieces, including other individuals believed to be associated with the Proud Boys. For instance, in the picture of the Proud Boys referenced above in Paragraph 13, an individual believed to be part of the group is pictured wearing a similar earpiece.

Your affiant has also identified certain Proud Boys at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, who appear to have walkie-talkie style communication devices. For instance, in the picture of the Proud Boys referenced above in Paragraph 13, both BIGGS and the individual next to him have such devices on their chests.

Gabriel Garcia is described as captain by another of the men (though it’s unclear whether thank rank was replicated in the group).

Additionally, on January 8, 2021, the FBI received information from the public regarding a separate subject (“S-1”). S-1 uploaded to Facebook pictures of himself inside of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. As FBI Agents reviewed the evidence related to that report, they discovered that S-1 posted a status on Facebook tagging GARCIA and calling him “El Capitan.” The caption reads, “El Capitan doing his duty. Gabriel Garcia.” Systems checks reveal that GARCIA is a former captain in the United States Army. GARCIA also uses the handle “Captain” as his display name on the social media platform Telegram

Affidavits provide two different descriptions of Pezzola being among the first to break into the Capitol.

One such video depicts an individual, now identified as Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola, breaking the window of the U.S. Capitol Building with a clear plastic shield at approximately 2:13 p.m.3 Shortly after the glass in the window is broken, an unidentified individual can be heard yelling words to the effect of, “Go, Go, Go!” Several individuals enter the building through the broken window, including Pezzola. A nearby door was opened and a crowd of people began to enter the U.S. Capitol.

This one comes from the Pezzola affidavit.

On January 8, 2021, FBI received a lead depicting publicly available photographs and videos of an unknown individual breaking the window of the U.S. Capitol Building, which is located in Washington, D.C., with a clear plastic shield, and then entering the Capitol building. According to time and date stamps, this occurred on January 6, 2021, at approximately 2:39 p.m.. Below are screen shots from one such video. In the video, soon after the glass in the window is broken, an unidentified individual can be heard yelling words to the effect of, “Go, Go, Go!” The individual with the shield is depicted in the video as entering the Capitol building, while still holding the shield. The screen shot on the left shows the individual breaking the window, and the screen shot on the right, which is taken seconds after the other screenshot, shows his face.

The government has provided some (albeit thus far, scant) evidence that one plan was to target members of Congress, which Garcia calling Pelosi out personally.

Approximately 35 seconds into the video, GARCIA says loudly, “Nancy come out and play.”

There is a witness (who may not be entirely reliable) describing the group to be armed.

W-1 stated that other members of the group talked about things they had done during the day, and they said that anyone they got their hands on they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi. W-1 further stated that members of this group, which included “Spaz,” said that they would have killed [Vice President] Mike Pence if given the chance. According to W-1, the group said it would be returning on the “20th,” which your affiant takes to mean the Presidential Inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2021, and that they plan to kill every single “m-fer” they can.1 W-1 stated the men said they all had firearms or access to firearms.

In Biggs’ affidavit, the government describes Biggs disclaiming having any advance plan.

On or about January 18, 2021, BIGGS spoke with agents of the FBI after video emerged online of him inside the U.S. Capitol. BIGGS stated, in substance and in part, that he was present in Washington, D.C. for the demonstration on January 6, 2021. BIGGS admitted to entering the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, without forcing entry. BIGGS informed the interviewing agent that the doors of the Capitol were wide open when he made entry into the building. BIGGS denied having any knowledge of any pre-planning of storming the Capitol, and had no idea who planned it.

And in two cases, the government has provided evidence that the group was responding to Trump’s orders.

On November 16, 2020, OCHS made a post to the social media site Parler, in which he forwarded a Tweet by President Trump declaring, “I WON THE ELECTION!” and OCHS stated, “Show this tweet to leftists and say they won’t do shit when he just keeps being president. Don’t say it was stolen or rigged. Just say we’re doing it and they won’t fight back. They are getting scared, and they don’t function when they’re scared.

In Goodwyn’s case, the government shows him adopting Trump’s avatar on Twitter and repeating Trump’s own line from the debate, “Stand back and stand by.”

Again, this is just what’s public two weeks after the attack, and just those whom the government identified as members. There are others (notably John Sullivan, whose brother has not been arrested but who has ties to the group), who would be obvious candidates to flip to learn more about the group, and there are some tangential figures not included here.

This route is one of the most likely ones via which the government will tie the violence to those close to Trump trying to undermine the election and — with Trump’s “Stand back and stand by” comment — possibly even Trump.

Update: Corrected how Pezzola broke in.

Update: Tarrio was also offering to pay for lawyers for people.

Update, 1/26: I’ve added Robert Gieswein to this list, based on this WSJ video showing him involved throughout the day with the Proud Boys.

Update, 1/27: I’ve added Andrew Bennett, who was described as wearing a Proud Boy hat in his affidavit.


In November, Emmet Sullivan Suggested He Might Not Be Done with DOJ and Mike Flynn

I’d like to return to Judge Emmet Sullivan’s opinion dismissing the Mike Flynn case. This post was written at the time of the opinion.

As I noted at the time, Sullivan did several things in conjunction with the opinion.

The first thing he did was to strike some documents which the government had not authenticated in response to his order that they do so. That may be mere housekeeping, but at a time when it was effectively too late for the government to try to withdraw any of the other documents, it left those exhibits it had authenticated — with at times dodgy claims of authentication and in one case no claim (some Lisa Page and Peter Strzok texts, a significant portion of which were entirely off-topic, which the government admitted it had submitted for shits and giggles) — in his docket.

Then, he issued his order. In it, he granted one of the government’s two requests, to dismiss the case as moot. But in the same order, he denied the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a), denying it as moot.

This step may have more significance that most at first realized. That’s because by mooting DOJ’s effort to dismiss the prosecution pursuant to Rule 48(a), Sullivan refused to sanction the effort DOJ had been pursuing since May to undo the Flynn prosecution.

Once Sullivan issued the order mooting the case, DOJ was left with very little ground to further intervene, not least because they themselves declared the case moot.

Then Sullivan issued his opinion explaining how the case became moot. As I noted at the time, in the opinion he:

  • Affirmed the authority of a District Court to review whether a motion to dismiss serves the public good (but stopped short of doing so on mootness grounds)
  • Laid out evidence that the motion to dismiss was pretextual and corrupt (but stopped short of making that finding on mootness grounds)
  • Along the way, made judicial findings of fact regarding the propriety of the Mike Flynn investigation; effectively this was a ruling that the new reality Bill Barr attempted to create in Sullivan’s docket did not replace the prior reality DOJ had presented

I’ll elaborate on that below.

After having issued his opinion, Sullivan then denied as moot a number of other pending requests. With that order he mooted:

  • The government’s request that Flynn get a downward departure on sentencing
  • Flynn’s request to withdraw his guilty plea
  • Flynn’s request to dismiss the case based on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct
  • A Flynn request to force Covington & Burling to turn over an expansive set of documents, including their own internal discussions about ethics or about the case itself
  • A Flynn request to withdraw those three earlier requests
  • A really belated Flynn demand that Sullivan recuse from the case
  • Amicus John Gleeson’s request for clarification about what should happen given Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus
  • Flynn’s demand that Judge Sullivan strike the communications from Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe about the alterations made to their documents submitted in the docket

Mostly, this is housekeeping, the mooting of all pending issues in the case. Except it has the effect of removing any claim that Flynn might have an interest in Sullivan’s recusal. Indeed, that’s a step Sullivan noted explicitly in the opinion.

In that motion Mr. Flynn requested, among other things, that the Court grant the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a) and that, upon dismissal of the case, the Court recuse itself from further proceedings. After the Court dismisses the case as moot pursuant to the presidential pardon, the Court will deny the motion for recusal as moot.

By mooting the motion to strike, Sullivan similarly moved any claim Flynn had in the Strzok and McCabe interventions going forward.

Of particular interest, that means that not only do DOJ’s dubiously authenticated documents remain before Sullivan, but so does the correspondence from Strzok and McCabe making it clear that their documents were altered (though their assertions that Jocelyn Ballantine lied to the court are not in the docket).

To sum up then: DOJ’s altered documents and evidence that they were altered remains before Sullivan, and any interest that DOJ or Flynn have in this docket — including a claim that Sullivan is biased and so must recuse — has been officially mooted.

With that background laid out, I want to look at a few more things that Sullivan did with his order.

  • Reaffirmed Flynn’s guilt as a legal question
  • Laid out the President’s interest in the pardon
  • Set the operative time of Flynn’s pardon
  • Did not address Flynn’s false statements before him
  • Observed the scope of the pardon but agreed that it covered Flynn’s false statements crime

Reaffirmed Flynn’s guilt as a legal question

First, Sullivan made it clear in several different ways that Flynn’s guilty verdict remains.

In the section laying out the posture of the case, Sullivan described how Flynn pled guilty twice.

Under oath and with the advice of counsel, Mr. Flynn pled guilty to the crime on December 1, 2017.

[snip]

On November 30, 2017, Mr. Flynn entered into a plea agreement with the government upon the advice of counsel. See Plea Agreement, ECF No. 3 at 10. Judge Rudolph Contreras accepted Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea on December 1, 2017, finding that Mr. Flynn entered the plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently with the advice of counsel.

[snip]

On December 18, 2018, this Court accepted Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea a second time. Sentencing Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 103 at 5, 16. During that hearing, the Court extended the plea colloquy in view of Mr. Flynn’s statements in his sentencing memorandum, which raised questions as to whether Mr. Flynn sought to challenge the conditions of the FBI interview. See generally Def.’s Mem. in Aid of Sentencing, ECF No. 50 at 6-18. Under oath, Mr. Flynn confirmed that his rights were not violated as a result of the circumstances of his January 24, 2017 FBI interview and the allegations of misconduct against FBI officials. Id. at 11-12. And Mr. Flynn declined the Court’s invitation for the appointment of independent counsel to advise him. Id. at 9-10.

He also noted that when Flynn moved to dismiss his guilty plea, DOJ never got as far as responding (he doesn’t note that, rather than doing so, they moved to dismiss the prosecution).

The government did not file a response to Mr. Flynn’s motions to withdraw his guilty pleas due to its incomplete review of Mr. Flynn’s former counsel’s productions relevant to Mr. Flynn’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, as well as a dispute between Mr. Flynn and his former counsel.

Then, in the section on the legal status of a pardon, Sullivan emphasized that accepting a pardon may be an admission of guilt. Note the emphasis is Judge Sullivan’s.

On the other hand, a pardon does not necessarily render “innocent” a defendant of any alleged violation of the law. Indeed, the Supreme Court has recognized that the acceptance of a pardon implies a “confession” of guilt. See Burdick, 236 U.S. at 94 (“[A pardon] carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.”); see also United States v. Schaffer, 240 F.3d 35, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (“[A]cceptance of a pardon may imply a confession of guilt.” (citing In re North, 62 F.3d 1434, 1437 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). As Chief Justice Marshall wrote, “[a] pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power intrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.” United States v. Wilson, 32 U.S. 150, 150 (1833) (emphasis added). In other words, “a pardon does not blot out guilt or expunge a judgment of conviction.” In re North, 62 F.3d at 1437. Furthermore, a pardon cannot “erase a judgment of conviction, or its underlying legal and factual findings.” Arpaio, 2017 WL 4839072, at *1 (citing United States v. Crowell, 374 F.3d 790, 794 (9th Cir. 2004)); but see Schaffer, 240 F.3d at 38 (vacating “all opinions, judgments, and verdicts of this court and the District Court” where “[f]inality was never reached on the legal question of [the defendant’s] guilt” (emphasis added)).

After citing the Arpaio precedent, where the corrupt sheriff tried to expunge his guilty status, Sullivan then cited the Schaffer precedent in the DC Circuit treating the question of a defendant’s guilt as a legal question, not a political one. Sullivan added emphasis to four things in this opinion. Two of them, appearing in this passage, focus on two circumstances that mean Flynn is still guilty of his crimes. By giving Flynn a pardon, Trump excused the consequences for his crimes, but he didn’t change the legal fact that Flynn was guilty, and Flynn’s own acceptance of the pardon imputes that he committed the crime.

Note, I don’t think Sullivan was making a general comment about pardons generally (and I also think it a mistake to read his citation to Burdick as a general comment about accepting pardons amounting to an admission of guilty; he instead seems to be saying it might be). He was making a comment about this one, the legal question before him. Sullivan issued a ruling, then, that circuit and Supreme Court precedent mean that Flynn’s guilty verdict remains and that by accepting a pardon, he confessed to his guilt.

Laid out Trump’s interest in the pardon

Before the sections in which Sullivan analyzes why DOJ’s claims in moving to dismiss the prosecution are bunk, Sullivan first described how interested Trump was in Flynn’s prosecution. Along the way, he notes Sidney Powell’s admission at a September hearing that she had spoken with Trump and asked Trump not to pardon Flynn.

For example, Mr. Flynn was serving as an adviser to President Trump’s transition team during the events that gave rise to the conviction here, and, as this case has progressed, President Trump has not hidden the extent of his interest in this case. According to Mr. Gleeson, between March 2017 and June 2020, President Trump tweeted or retweeted about Mr. Flynn “at least 100 times.” Amicus Br., ECF No. 225 at 66. This commentary has “made clear that the President has been closely following the proceedings, is personally invested in ensuring that [Mr.] Flynn’s prosecution ends, and has deep animosity toward those who investigated and prosecuted [Mr.] Flynn.” Id.

At the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, Mr. Flynn’s counsel, in response to the Court’s question, stated that she had, within weeks of the proceeding, provided the President with a brief update on the status of the litigation. Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 56:18-20. Counsel further stated that she requested that the President not issue a pardon. Id. at 56:23-24. However, the President has now pardoned Mr. Flynn for the actions that instigated this case, among other things. Ex. 1 to Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308-1 at 1. And simultaneous to the President’s “running commentary,” many of the President’s remarks have also been viewed as suggesting a breakdown in the “traditional independence of the Justice Department from the President.” See, e.g., Amicus Br., ECF No. 225 at 67-68; id. at 68 (quoting Excerpts from Trump’s Interview with the Times, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/us/politics/trumpinterview-excerpts.html) (reporting President Trump’s statement that he enjoys the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department”).

Given this context, the new legal positions the government took in its Rule 48(a) motion and at the motion hearing raise questions regarding its motives in moving to dismiss.

That is, it was in light of Trump’s claimed “absolute right to do what [he wants with DOJ],” that Sullivan reviewed DOJ’s claimed excuses for blowing up the prosecution and found them pretextual.

Set the operative time of Flynn’s pardon

Perhaps most curiously, Sullivan went to some lengths to mark the precise time of Flynn’s pardon: November 25, 2020, at 4:08PM ET.

Rather than treating the filing of the notice of appeal or the appeal itself (the time of which is suspect) as operative, Sullivan instead treated Trump’s tweet announcing the pardon as definitive, going so far as including a legal basis to depend on Trump’s Tweets as operative.

On November 25, 2020, President Trump granted Mr. Flynn a “full and unconditional pardon” for: (1) “the charge of making false statements to Federal investigators,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, as charged in the Information in this case; (2) “any and all possible offenses arising from the facts set forth in the Information and Statement of Offense” filed in this case “or that might arise, or be charged, claimed, or asserted, in connection with the proceedings” in this case; (3) “any and all possible offenses within the investigatory authority or jurisdiction of the Special Counsel appointed on May 17, 2017, including the initial Appointment Order No. 3915-2017 and subsequent memoranda regarding the Special Counsel’s investigatory authority”; and (4) “any and all possible offenses arising out of facts and circumstances known to, identified by, or in any manner related to the investigation of the Special Counsel, including, but not limited to, any grand jury proceedings” in this District or in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Ex. 1 to Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308-1 at 1; see also Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (Nov. 25, 2020, 4:08 PM), https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1331706255212228608.6

6 The Court takes judicial notice of President Trump’s tweet as the veracity of this statement “can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(2); see Hawaii v. Trump, 859 F.3d 741, 773 n.14 (9th Cir. 2017), vacated on other grounds, 138 S. Ct. 377 (2017).

Only after pointing to Trump’s tweet of 4:08PM on November 25, 2020 as the operative moment of Trump’s pardon of Flynn did Sullivan mention the filings in his docket as basis for the proof that Flynn had accepted the pardon.

Mr. Flynn accepted the pardon, and Mr. Flynn and the government subsequently moved to dismiss this case as moot. See Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308 at 2.

I don’t know why Sullivan did this. But he did. He set a time — 4:08 PM ET on November 25, 2020 — when Trump’s pardon of Flynn went into effect, based on the legal authority of Trump’s Tweet, and then made it clear that after the time of the pardon, Flynn accepted it.

Did not address Flynn’s false statements before him

Almost as interesting as the way Sullivan set the precise time when Trump issued a pardon for Flynn is what Sullivan did with the lies Flynn told in his own court. As a reminder, Flynn submitted a declaration that materially conflicted with sworn statements he had made before two judges and the grand jury. When he appointed John Gleeson, Judge Sullivan asked Gleeson to review whether he should consider holding Flynn in criminal contempt. When he reviewed that in his history of the case, Sullivan stated that Gleeson had convinced him that holding Flynn in contempt would be an atypical way of dealing with the issue.

On May 13, 2020, the Court appointed John Gleeson (“Mr. Gleeson”) as amicus curiae to present arguments in opposition to the government’s Rule 48(a) motion and to address whether Mr. Flynn should be held in criminal contempt for perjury pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 401; Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42; the Court’s inherent authority; and any other applicable statutes, rules, or controlling law.3

3 The Court is persuaded by the arguments presented that issuing an Order to Show Cause would amount to an atypical action and so does not address this issue in this Memorandum Opinion.

Gleeson had favored taking Flynn’s further perjury into account at sentencing, but now Sullivan won’t be sentencing Flynn. DOJ had said that the proper way to deal with such perjury is to refer it to DOJ for prosecution.

Sullivan’s language here didn’t say he’s not going to deal with Flynn’s perjury; rather, he just said he’s not dealing with it in this particular opinion.

Observed the scope of the pardon but agreed that it covered the issues in this docket

That’s important for Sullivan’s discussion of the power of Trump’s pardon. Sullivan laid out the awesome scope of the pardon power. Before he did so, though, he first laid out the power of the courts to interpret the law, including the scope of the pardon power specifically, tying the pardon power to Marbury versus Madison.

Though the Constitution confers the pardoning power on the President generally, it is well-established that “the judiciary has served as the supreme interpreter of the scope of the constitutional powers since Marbury v. Madison.” See William F. Duker, The President’s Power to Pardon: A Constitutional History, 18 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 475, 506 (1977); see also Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177 (1803) (“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”).

[snip]

Thus, the Supreme Court in Marbury laid the foundation for the view that the President has a “general, unqualified grant of power to pardon offenses against the United States.” The Laura, 114 U.S. 411, 413 (1885).

Among the judgements he relies on showing the Supreme Court exercising judicial review and finding the pardon power unlimited, however, Sullivan cites language noting that pardons can only be issued after their commission.

In view of the principles set out in Marbury, the Supreme Court thereafter instructed that the President’s power to pardon is “granted without limit.” United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. 128, 147 (1871); see also Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. 333, 380 (1866) (“This power of the President is not subject to legislative control. Congress can neither limit the effect of his pardon, nor exclude from its exercise any class of offenders.”). The “executive can reprieve or pardon all offenses after their commission, either before trial, during trial or after trial, by individuals, or by classes, conditionally or absolutely, and this without modification or regulation by Congress.” Ex parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87, 120 (1925) (emphasis added).

This was the third of four things to which Sullivan added emphasis in his opinion — that according to Supreme Court precedent, pardons can only issue after the offense has been committed.

And that’s interesting, in an opinion that marked the exact moment when this pardon was granted, in the language Sullivan used to apply the precedent he reviews on pardons to the pardon before him.

Sullivan observed that the pardon itself is very broad, observing as I did that the pardon “purports to apply to “any and all possible offenses” that he might be charged with in the future in relation to this case and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.” But then Sullivan said the only decision before him was just the crime Flynn twice pled guilty to.

Here, the scope of the pardon is extraordinarily broad – it applies not only to the false statements offense to which Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty in this case, but also purports to apply to “any and all possible offenses” that he might be charged with in the future in relation to this case and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation. Ex. 1 to Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308-1 at 1. However, the Court need only consider the pardon insofar as it applies to the offense to which Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty in this case. Mr. Flynn has accepted President Trump’s “full and unconditional pardon.” See Consent Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 308 at 2. The history of the Constitution, its structure, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the pardon power make clear that President Trump’s decision to pardon Mr. Flynn is a political decision, not a legal one. Because the law recognizes the President’s political power to pardon, the appropriate course is to dismiss this case as moot. However, the pardon “does not, standing alone, render [Mr. Flynn] innocent of the alleged violation” of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). Schaffer, 240 F.3d at 38. Accordingly, in view of the Supreme Court’s expansive view of the presidential pardon power, the Court grants the consent motion to dismiss this case as moot. See, e.g., id. [my emphasis]

Of course, that’s not all that DOJ had asserted were before Sullivan. It had also included the Turkey FARA crimes (which were a benefit of Flynn’s guilty plea) and the lies Flynn told before Sullivan and the grand jury. This opinion is silent on the pardon’s applicability to them, even though both crimes were committed before the pardon.

The language at the end here may become important in the future. As noted above, DOJ had asked Sullivan both to dismiss the prosecution and to moot it. Sullivan did only the latter, asserting that the pardon only extends to political questions, not legal ones. Even as he made that distinction, he reemphasized that Flynn was guilty of the crime he was being pardoned for.

Whatever else he did, Sullivan made it clear that, under pressure from the President, DOJ went to some lengths to try to exonerate a guilty man.

Update, January 21: In a media lawsuit asking for the declassification of documents pertaining to Flynn’s sentencing as well as the one for his warrants, Judge Sullivan issued an order on Tuesday (the day before inauguration), for a status update on remaining sealed language to be submitted on January 26. I don’t expect much new to be declassified. There’s one passage about Flynn’s cooperation that DOJ might be able to unseal; given the focus of questions in Flynn’s early interviews, I wonder if it pertained to Flynn’s involvement in the fall 2016 Egyptian discussions that Mueller suspected ended up in a $10 million bribe, an investigation that was closed by Bill Barr since the last unsealing. But I do expect it will reveal whether Jocelyn Ballantine under whose discretion altered documents were submitted to the main Flynn docket, remains the AUSA in control of this case.

Update: This post seems rather quaint given how Mike Flynn called for martial law twice in the lead up to his QAnon followers attacking the Capitol. And as WaPo reported last night, Mike Flynn’s brother, Lieutenant General Charles Flynn, was part of the DOD call that responded slowly to deploying the National Guard as the insurgents overran the Capitol.


Bannon Turned Out to Be the Irreplaceable One

All outlets are reporting that after equivocating all day and all week, Trump has decided to pardon Steve Bannon (along with Eliot Broidy and Paul Erickson). Here’s the WaPo version:

President Trump has pardoned Stephen K. Bannon, the firebrand architect of his 2016 campaign who was charged last year with defrauding donors to a private fundraising effort for construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a senior White House official involved in the process.

Trump approved Bannon’s pardon late Tuesday, after days of frantic deliberations. Some aides said as recently as Monday night that the move appeared unlikely. Trump vacillated throughout the day Tuesday, and even after he said he was going to sign off on the pardon, it remained unclear for some time that he would actually do so, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

WaPo correctly notes, it won’t be clear what this really means until we see how broadly it is written. The White House language seems to suggest it covers just the already charged crimes for fraud, though.

Stephen K. Bannon – President Trump granted a full pardon to Stephen Bannon. Prosecutors pursued Mr. Bannon with charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project. Mr. Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen.

If it just excuses his fraud charges in SDNY, it’ll end that federal prosecution, leave him open for state prosecution on the same crimes plus civil suits, and/or make him the star witness against his co-defendants.

If it is broader, it will cover some of Bannon’s activities leading up to the insurrection, something that is likely to make a Trump conviction in the Senate more likely (as the Bannon pardon may all by itself).

One way or another, it probably doesn’t end Bannon’s legal woes (there’s also an investigation into his foreign influence peddling). Plus, there’s still the matter of his grand jury testimony in the Mueller investigation, just some of which was unsealed for the Roger Stone trial.

But Bannon, alone among Trump’s closest associates, got a pardon after the coup attempt made such pardons more risky.

Which makes the reasons for the pardon all the more interesting.

Update: There’s been some chatter that Trump might issue his spawn or himself “pocket pardons,” which I think was irresponsible speculation. There’s no way a Trump pardon that is not formally lodged with DOJ by noon will be deemed valid.

That said, the means by which he pardoned Bannon (and others) would allow room for Trump to have pardoned Bannon for more than the existing fraud charges against him. While some of the pardons Trump signed last night enumerated the crimes, Bannon and Broidy were pardoned

It’s possible that DOJ “enumerated” other crimes for Bannon which would then be covered under this language.

I doubt it though — and in any case, everything will be lodged in the next day or so, presumably in time to be included in impeachment considerations in the Senate.


The First Node of the Insurrection Conspiracy: The Oath Keepers

With a fairly steady drumbeat since the day of the attempted coup pm January 6, the government has been charging one after another person involved, most based off evidence obtained via social media and tips from those who know them. But that has left the picture surrounding the event rather formless, probably (given that almost all the affidavits were written by different FBI Agents) intentionally so.

That began to change in the last two days with charges against Jessica Watkins, retired Marine Donovan Ray Crowl, and Edward Caldwell, with the former two members of an Ohio militia and Caldwell coordinating their efforts as part of a larger Oath Keepers effort.

These Affidavits describes that Watkins and Crowl were in the disciplined unit that entered the Capitol in formation.

I have reviewed footage of the January 6, 2021, incursion of the U.S. Capitol, including a video that, at the approximate 3 minute and 8 second mark, shows 8 to 10 individuals in paramilitary equipment aggressively approaching an entrance to the Capitol building.1 These individuals, who are wearing helmets, reinforced vests, and clothing with Oath Keepers paraphernalia, move in an organized and practiced fashion and force their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the U.S. Capitol.

It relies for that claim on Parler postings from Watkins describing using force to get into the Capitol and entering the Senate, not to mention IDing her compatriots.

Crowl also did an interview with Ronan Farrow.

The Caldwell affidavit describes that, after returning home to Ohio after the initial riot, Watkins then went back to the DC area to stay with Caldwell.

During the course of this investigation, law-enforcement authorities spoke with Witness-1 (W-1). W-1 informed that although WATKINS returned to Ohio after the January 6, 2021 incursion, she subsequently left Ohio on or about January 14, 2021, to stay with a friend and fellow Oath Keeper whom W-1 knew as “Tom” or “Commander Tom.” As described below, your affiant believes this individual is CALDWELL. WATKINS also provided W-1 with instructions on how to contact her, including by providing a phone number at the location where she would be staying, 540-XXX-XXXX. A database check for this phone number reveals that it is a phone on CALDWELL’s property, the PREMISES. [number substituted]

The Caldwell affidavit then describes him, before the January 6 insurgency, recommending they pile into one or two rooms at the Comfort Inn in Ballston. It describes Crowl messaging Caldwell that he’d be seeing him soon and calling him Commander.

It also cites Caldwell’s own social media posts from the riot, including his report of what the Proud Boys had done to push the cops out of the way.

Caldwell also sent a Facebook message (this may be private, which, since there’s no mention of a warrant, would suggest another witness shared it with the FBI) saying,

We need to do this at the local level. Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!

Watkins and Crowl were charged with the two trespassing-based charges virtually everyone gets charged with, along with 18 USC 1512(c)(2), tampering with a proceeding, which carries a 20 year sentence.

Caldwell is charged with the two trespassing charges, the tampering one, along with conspiracy to tamper, and abetting.

Presumably, the FBI has been obtaining search warrants to identify the other people involved in this node of activity, including the common communication between (for example) Caldwell and the Proud Boys, as well as the Ohio Militia and the Oath Keepers more generally. Likewise, the FBI is likely using location data from within the Capitol to understand precisely what these people were doing.

This is not the first use of a conspiracy charge (the zip tie guy and his mom were charged with conspiracy, too, but that was probably because there was less direct social media evidence of her inside the Capitol and also as a means to get her son to cooperate), but it is one that is likely to be fleshed out as a way to force people to confess what the larger plan, if any, was.

Update: Corrected how zip tie guy and mom were charged.

Update: DOJ has released a more detailed conspiracy charge against these dirtbags. This Facebook message is one of the most chilling:

On January 6, 2021, while at the Capitol, CALDWELL received the following Facebook message: “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in . Turn on gas”. When CALDWELL posted a Facebook message that read, “Inside,” he received the following messages, among others: “Tom take that bitch over”; “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down”; “Do like we had to do when I was in the core start tearing oit florrs go from top to bottom”; and “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps.”


Trump’s Second Impeachment Has Already Had a Beneficial Effect

After Billy Barr spent eight months dedicating DOJ resources to supporting Sidney Powell’s conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn, Trump pardoned his short-lived National Security Advisor for everything associated with the Mueller investigation. Within weeks, Flynn called for martial law, a three-star General with an avid QAnon following inciting an insurrection.

After Billy Barr dismissed the seriousness of threats against Randy Credico and Amy Berman Jackson backed by Proud Boy associates of Roger Stone, Trump first ensured that Stone would do no prison time and then pardoned him for his cover-up of the Trump campaign’s efforts to optimize the release of stolen John Podesta files. While Roger Stone claims to have had no role, the key organization behind the riot, Stop the Steal, adopted the name and the methods he used in 2016. And thus far five members of the Proud Boys have been arrested in association with the coup attempt.

It seems that Trump’s belief in his own invincibility — one he got, in significant part, by successfully obstructing the Mueller investigation by buying silence with promised pardons, then hiring an Attorney General who would and did repeatedly protect him from consequences — not only led him to believe he could incite a riot, but led key bridges between him and the foot soldiers in this coup attempt to believe they had impunity too.

But according to stories in virtually all major outlets (here’s the CNN version), in the wake of both the coup attempt and impeachment for it, Trump has backed off plans to complete that act of impunity by pardoning his spawn and himself.

Initially, two major batches had been ready to roll out, one at the end of last week and one on Tuesday. Now, officials expect the last batch to be the only one — unless Trump decides at the last minute to grant pardons to controversial allies, members of his family or himself.

[snip]

The January 6 riots that led to Trump’s second impeachment have complicated his desire to pardon himself, his kids and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. At this point, aides do not think he will do so, but caution only Trump knows what he will do with his last bit of presidential power before he is officially out of office at noon on January 20.

After the riots, advisers encouraged Trump to forgo a self-pardon because it would appear like he was guilty of something, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Several of Trump’s closest advisers have also urged him not to grant clemency to anyone involved in the siege on the US Capitol, despite Trump’s initial stance that those involved had done nothing wrong.

I predicted this would happen here.

To be clear, I don’t think Trump’s moderated plans come from any remorse or sense of contrition. Rather, after the riot Pat Cipollone apparently refused to be a part of such plans anymore (though I also think the Stone and Paul Manafort pardons were far more modest than they might have been). Lindsey Graham’s efforts to minimize the impeachment trial in the Senate also helped, as Lindsey knows any attempt to prevent conviction in the Senate is premised on Trump avoiding any further abuse.

None of this changes the fact that Trump has abused the pardon power far more than any president before him. Nor will it prevent a great many other abusive pardons today.

But to restore legitimacy and belief in the rule of law, the story of Trump’s crimes needs to be told, and told in a way that makes the damage he caused and the betrayal of his supporters clear. If, indeed, Trump decides not to pardon his lawyer, his spawn, and himself, it will be one important step in that process.

Update: This CNN story reports on precisely this phenomenon.

The decision to not pardon any Republican lawmakers or his family members was a last minute one. After initially defending the idea that he may pardon himself or his family members out of concern they would be targeted once he’s out of office, Trump decided Saturday night that he would not pardon anyone in his family or himself.

Trump agreed with the attorneys and other advisers that doing so would increase the appearance of guilt and could make them more vulnerable, but was disappointed at the outcome, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump, according to people he’d spoken to, appeared more taken with the message of unchecked power it might send to his naysayers than actual protection from liability. His pardon power was among his favorite perks of the job.

The newfound concerns about actually exercising this favorite perk of the job extends to members of Congress worried about their own legal exposure and Ed Snowden and Julian Assange.

Several Republican lawmakers who are alleged to have been involved in the rally that preceded the deadly riot on the US Capitol have sought clemency from Trump before he leaves office, but after meeting with his legal advisers for several hours on Saturday, the President decided he would not grant them, according to two people familiar with his plans.

[snip]

Trump is also not expected to pardon Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, whose roles in revealing US secrets infuriated official Washington.

While he had once entertained the idea, Trump decided against it because he did not want to anger Senate Republicans who will soon determine whether he’s convicted during his Senate trial. Multiple GOP lawmakers had sent messages through aides that they felt strongly about not granting clemency to Assange or Snowden.


But His Emails! Kushner’s Unique Exposure under the Presidential Records Act

The focus on what Trump will burn down in his final days as President has brought renewed focus on whether Trump will manage to destroy evidence on his way out. For example, Trump’s refusal to concede defeat may have delayed the normal archiving process, not to mention the instructions to White House employee that there needed to be an archiving process.

When Trump lost the November election, records staffers were in position to transfer electronic records, pack up the paper ones and move them to the National Archives by Jan. 20, as required by law. But Trump’s reluctance to concede has meant they will miss the deadline.

“Necessary funding from the (White House) Office of Management and Budget was delayed for many weeks after the election, which has caused delays in arranging for the transfer of the Trump presidential records into the National Archives’ custody,” the National Archives said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Even though the transfer of these records will not be completed until after Jan. 20, the National Archives will assume legal custody of them on Jan. 20 in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Saturday that contesting the election did not cause the delay in getting the president’s records transferred to the archives and that guidance was available to staffers on how to pack up their materials.

One person familiar with the transition said guidance typically emailed to executive branch employees explaining how to turn in equipment and pack up their offices was sent out in December, but quickly rescinded because Trump insisted on contesting the election.

With little guidance, some staffers in the White House started quietly calling records workers to find out what to do.

In early December, CREW and the National Security Archive tried to sue to preserve records, requesting a Temporary Restraining Order. While a key part of that suit — which the parties may be moving to novel litigation over — pertains to whether it’s enough to take a screen shot of an electronic communication, the suit also focuses on Jared Kushner’s well-documented habit of using private communications.

72. Notwithstanding these requests and the preservation directive, Mr. Kushner and his wife and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump reportedly re-routed their personal email accounts to Trump Organization computers within one to two days of receiving the September 25, 2017 letters. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 3.

73. In a December 2018 interview with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Gowdy and Ranking Member Cummings, Mr. Kushner’s counsel “confirmed that Mr. Kushner has used—and continues to use—WhatsApp” to create or send Presidential records, including to communicate “with people outside the United States.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6. When asked by Rep. Cummings if “Mr. Kushner has ever used WhatsApp to discuss classified information,” his counsel replied, “That’s above my pay grade.” Id.

74. WhatsApp is a non-official, encrypted electronic messaging application.

75. Mr. Kushner’s lawyer further explained that Mr. Kushner preserves Presidential records created or sent from his WhatsApp account by “tak[ing] ‘screenshots’ of these communications and forward[ing] them to his official White House email account or to the National Security Council.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6 (emphasis added).

76. Mr. Kushner’s attorney also admitted that between January and August 2017, Mr. Kushner used his personal email account to send and receive official emails. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 2-3.

The government is trying to make all this go away quickly though, arguing, in part, that the NGOs suing have no private right of action under the Presidential Records Act (meaning there’s no way for them to demand more diligent treatment of records).

Here, Plaintiffs cannot make such a showing; not only does the PRA lack any private right of action, see Judicial Watch, Inc. v. NARA, 845 F. Supp. 2d 288, 299 n.5 (D.D.C. 2012), but, as discussed above, the D.C. Circuit has concluded that it affirmatively precludes judicial review.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in what happened in the last week in another lawsuit, Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ for being fired as a result of Trump’s personal retaliation against him.

Whereas CREW and NSA sued in December, McCabe instead submitted a document subpoena to the Executive Office of the President on November 4 asking for materials relating to McCabe and his firing. Since then, the parties have been squabbling over how to deal with the subpoena and, specifically, how to make sure that relevant records stored on private accounts would be preserved.

In a mid-December hearing, Judge Randolph Moss endorsed, in principle, that such records should be preserved both by those who’ve already left government and those who remained at the White House.

That’s when things got interesting.

According to a status report submitted the day of the insurrection, even though this dispute was primarily about those still in the White House, the government tried to claim it would be too onerous to ask current White House employees — McCabe focused specifically on Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, Stephen Miller, and Jared Kushner — to simply ask these four specifically whether they have archived their private server emails and WhatsApp chats properly and if not, to both do so and tell McCabe’s team if they haven’t.

Defendants’ position is as follows: Plaintiff asks that Defendants apply the procedure outlined in paragraph five above to four current EOP employees (Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and Daniel Scavino) to ensure that the individuals have copied any PRA records to an official EOP account before the end of their service at the White House. The White House has reminded all employees since the November election of their existing obligation to do just that—ensure that any official communications conducted on personal devices have been preserved on an official EOP account before the transition. Thus, there is no need to provide additional reminders to these individuals, particularly where there is no reason to presume that they have not complied with their obligations to preserve records. The benefit, if any, of requiring another reminder is outweighed by the burden on the EOP and its employees, especially given the deference owed to the White House in matters of discovery, see Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 542 U.S. 367, 387 (2004), and the alleged peripheral, at best, role of the four EOP employees in this litigation, as to which the White House is not even a defendant.

As McCabe’s team pointed out, it’s not enough to say these White House employees have a general obligation under the toothless PRA; these employees should also know they have a specific obligation under a lawsuit in which discovery has already been granted.

Moreover, a general post-election reminder to preserve documents does not suffice to inform the four current EOP employees of their obligation, specific to this litigation, to preserve relevant documents.

There’s no reason for DOJ to react in the way they did unless they had reason to believe the simple document retention request would cause problems. That’s particularly true given that, over the course of the Mueller investigation, DOJ has learned over and over that Jared (and people like Steve Bannon) weren’t archiving official records on specifically this topic. They already know details about what Jared (and Bannon) destroyed, which may explain why they responded in this fashion.

On January 8, Judge Moss sided with McCabe on this dispute, and ordered DOJ to give the four people specific warnings.

I assume, like everyone else, that Trump and his spawn have been lighting bonfires on their way out.

But in Jared’s case, he will now be asked, legally, whether he has done so.

The PRA still doesn’t have any teeth. But we may learn whether DOJ has been covering for Jared’s past document destruction, including on matters pertaining to the Mueller investigation and Trump’s vengeance for the investigation.


The Recent Radicalization of the Woman Who Allegedly Stole the Pelosi Laptop

A number of outlets (Politico may have been the first) are reporting on the story of Riley June Williams, who was charged (but not arrested) yesterday in crimes related to the January 6 insurrection. The paragraph of her arrest affidavit that has gotten the most attention describes how a witness (Witness 1) told the FBI that he or she had seen a video depicting Williams stealing a laptop or hard drive from Pelosi’s office with the intent of selling it, via a third person, to Russian intelligence.

W1 also claimed to have spoken to friends of WILLIAMS, who showed W1 a video of WILLIAMS taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi’s office. W1 stated that WILLIAMS intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. According to W1, the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and WILLIAMS still has the computer device or destroyed it. This matter remains under investigation.

I wanted to look at the background to that story.

First, the investigation into Williams may have started when Witness 1 called into FBI tip lines “in the days following” the insurrection.

In the days following the January 6, 2021, events, a witness (“W1”) made several phone calls into the FBI’s telephone tip line related to the U.S. Capitol attacks.

Witness 1 presented as Williams’ former romantic partner, of unspecified sex.

In them, the caller stated that he/she was the former romantic partner of RILEY JUNE WILLIAMS (“WILLIAMS”), that he/she saw WILLIAMS depicted in video footage taken on January 6, 2021, from inside the U.S. Capitol Building

The affidavit doesn’t say, but it is possible that Witness 1 first saw Williams in videos posted of that day, and then started calling Williams’ friends, which led to the discovery of the Pelosi laptop story. There’s no mention in the affidavit of a more extensive interview with Witness 1– just multiple tips pointing to online videos and the claim that “friends” of Williams showed Witness 1 a video. The laptop video does not appear in the affidavit (nor is there any indication it has been posted publicly). Its existence, then, is all filtered through the credibility — or not — of Witness 1.

The affidavit also reveals that Williams’ mom made a suspicious persons report about Witness 1 on or before January 11, so probably after Witness 1 first called into tips about Williams. When Harrisburg-based FBI agents responded to that suspicious person report, Williams’ mom was still able to reach Williams by phone.

I have spoken with local law enforcement agents in Harrisburg about their recent interactions with WILLIAMS’ parents. According to those officers, on January 11, 2021, local law enforcement received a suspicious persons report filed by WILLIAMS’ mother. Officers arrived at the address that WILLIAMS shares with her mother and interviewed her mother. WILLIAMS was not present. According to WILLIAMS’ mother, the suspicious person was assumed to be W1. WILLIAMS’ mother, with officers present, used her cell phone to place a video-enabled phone call to WILLIAMS. Officers observed WILLIAMS on her mother’s cell phone screen and noted that WILLIAMS was wearing a brown-colored jacket, consistent with the screenshots above.

Williams’ mom told reporters — but not, apparently, the FBI — that her daughter had just recently gotten involved in “far right message boards.”

The reporter then interviewed a woman who identified herself as WILLIAMS’ mother and showed her some type of video footage. WILLIAMS’ mother then stated that she recognized her daughter inside the U.S. Capitol Building and that her daughter had taken a sudden interest in President Trump’s politics and “far right message boards.” She claimed that WILLIAMS “took off,” “is gone,” and is waiting for law enforcement to come to WILLIAMS and ask her about her activities in the Capitol .

Even though this affidavit suggests Williams’ mom called the FBI about former partner Witness 1, it seems that on some date not described in the affidavit, Williams skipped town and took precautionary measures.

It appears that WILLIAMS has fled. According to local law enforcement officers in Harrisburg, WILLIAMS’ mother stated that that WILLIAMS packed a bag and left her home and told her mother she would be gone for a couple of weeks. WILLIAMS did not provide her mother any information about her intended destination. Sometime after January 6, 2021, WILLIAMS changed her telephone number and deleted what I believe were her social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Telegram, and Parler.

Williams’ dad, who doesn’t live with her mom (though he does live in the Harrisburg area), drove to and from the rally with her, but was not with her during the day.

According to the Harrisburg officers, on or about January 16, 2021, officers called WILLIAMS’ father who resides in Camp Hill, PA. He stated that he drove to Washington, D.C., with WILLIAMS for the protests on January 6, 2021. He stated that his daughter and he did not stay together throughout the day and that WILLIAMS was meeting up with other individuals she knew at the protests. WILLIAMS later met up with her father outside of the U.S. Capitol Building, and they returned home to Harrisburg together.

I raise all this to suggest that there are at least two narrators here — the mom, who called the FBI about the former partner and not the far right friends, knew where her daughter was but now says she’s gone, and the former partner, who claims to have known what friends Williams was with but who also might have been recently dumped — who should not be trusted unquestioningly. And the dad appears to have his own ties to this world.

All that’s particularly important background for what is likely the more important detail in the affidavit: Williams was directing traffic inside the Capitol, and directing mobs up a staircase to Pelosi’s office.

She has brown shoulder length hair and wears eyeglasses. She is wearing a black face mask below her chin, around her neck. She can be heard in the video repeatedly yelling, “Upstairs, upstairs, upstairs,” and can be seen physically directing other intruders to proceed up a staircase.

[snip]

I have also reviewed maps of the interior areas of the U.S. Capitol and confirmed the subject appears to have been in an area near “the crypt,” sometimes referred to as the “Small House Rotunda.” In the audio of the ITV News video, the reporter states that the recording took place near the U.S. Capitol Building area called “the crypt.” In the background of the top screenshot above, a bust of Winston Churchill is visible behind the subject, which is also consistent with the location in the “Small House Rotunda.” The maps confirm that there is a nearby staircase, which leads to the office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

Here’s a video of a clip included in the affidavit. It shows her rushing out while others are still coming in, and gives a better view of her zebra striped back described in the affidavit.

The stolen laptop may or may not exist (though, as Peterr notes below, Pelosi told Lesly Stahl one was stolen). It may or may not be headed to Russian intelligence (though it did make me think of reports on a Russian tie to far right activists in Lancaster, PA leading up to the election).

But a far better documented part of this story is that this woman, whose mother claims is new to this scene, was already in a position to be briefed on and directing traffic the day of the attack.

Updated with the clip to replace the video.

Update: This video appears to show a Pelosi laptop being taken. And this tweet shows “Riley” claiming to have Pelosi’s hard drives.


The Press Continues to Help Billy Barr Whitewash His Complicity in January 6

Among the things Bill Barr did in his second tour as Attorney General were to:

In short, over an extended period, Bill Barr laid the groundwork for the two-month effort to undermine the election that culminated in a coup attempt. The outcome of Barr’s actions — the disparate treatment by the department of Trump supporters, the empowerment of right wing terrorists, the continued influence of Powell and Rudy —  was foreseeable. Nevertheless, Barr persisted with those policies that laid the groundwork for the January 6 insurrection.

In spite of that record, Barr continues to find journalists willing to spin a fairytale completely inconsistent with this record, one of Barr standing up to Trump as he pursued this path.

Consider this account of Bill Barr’s decision to quit from Jonathan Swan.

It provides a dramatic account of how Barr denounced Trump’s conspiracy theories — all rooted in claims about the delayed counting of mail-in ballots that Barr had stoked for months.

The president’s theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were “bullshit.”

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and a few other aides in the room were shocked Barr had come out and said it — although they knew it was true.

It describes Barr’s frustration with Trump’s demands about the Durham investigation without mentioning that Barr repeatedly fed those expectations.

He was sick of Trump making public statements and having others do so to whip up pressure against U.S. Attorney John Durham to bring more prosecutions or to put out a report on the Russia investigation before the election.

It also allows Barr to call Rudy and Sidney “clownish,” without mentioning that those very same clowns had gotten Barr to squander the credibility of DOJ on similarly outlandish conspiracy theories, including but not limited to the Mike Flynn prosecution.

For good measure, the attorney general threw in a warning that the new legal team Trump was betting his future on was “clownish.”

[snip]

The president had become too manic for even his most loyal allies, listening increasingly to the conspiracy theorists who echoed his own views and offered an illusion, an alternate reality.

[snip]

But Barr’s respite ended after Election Day, as Trump teamed up with an array of conspiracy theorists to amplify preposterous theories of election interference, arguing that Biden and the Chinese Communist Party, among others, had stolen the election from him.

It presents the conflict over using the military to quell summer protests, without mentioning Barr’s own role in militarizing the response (to say nothing of treating BLM more harshly than right wing terrorists).

By the late summer of 2020, Trump and Barr were regularly skirmishing over how to handle the rising Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody. As the national movement unfurled, some protests had given way to violence and looting. Trump wanted the U.S. government to crack down hard on the unrest.

The president wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act and send the military into U.S. cities. He wanted troops in the street.

[snip]

Besides, Barr asked, what was the endgame for adding the military to the mix? Federal forces could end up stranded in a city like Portland indefinitely.

Trump grew more and more frustrated, but Barr pushed back harder, standing his ground in front of everyone in the room. He was ready, willing and able to be strong, he said. But, he added, we also have to be thoughtful.

In short, this dramatic profile presents a fictional character, wise old Attorney General Bill Barr, who stood up against the President’s worst instincts, wisely resisting the urge to politicize investigations, trump up claims of voter fraud, chase the theories of Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, and back a violent crackdown against Trump’s opponents.

Except that profile is entirely fictional. That Bill Barr is a myth carefully crafted with the help of obliging reporters.

The reality is that over two years of not just tolerating these efforts, but usually taking affirmative steps to foster them, Billy Barr helped to create this monster, even though he was one of the people with the obligation to stop it.

With his corruption as Attorney General Bill Barr fostered this monster. He should get no credit for skipping out before the predictable outcomes of his own actions blew up on January 6.

Copyright © 2021 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/author/emptywheel/page/2/