December 17, 2018 / by 

 

Bumped! Rudy’s Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Strategy

I got an invitation to be on my first Sunday show this week. But — as usually happens when you’re talking to big media bookers — I got bumped. I got bumped to make way for this Rudy Giuliani appearance, which sets a new standard among his many media appearances for giving Trump cause to claim his lawyer screwed him over.

The interview starts with Trump’s blabbermouth lawyer assailing someone else for bad lawyering.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP’S LAWYER: Pathetic. The man is pathetic. That’s a lawyer you were interviewing and he says he — oh, he directed me to do it and, oh my goodness, he directed me. He’s a lawyer. He’s the guy you depend on to determine whether or not you should do it this way or that way, whether you’re Donald Trump or you are me or you, I have…

From there, Rudy pisses away one of the few benefits he offers Trump, his past service as US Attorney in the famously cliquish Southern District of NY. Rather than soft-pedaling any critique of SDNY, Rudy repeatedly pisses all over the office currently targeting his client, his client’s spawn, and his client’s eponymous corporation in at least one serious criminal investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you just said you ran that office. You know how the Southern District is run. You know exactly how the Southern District is run.

GIULIANI: No, I don’t know — actually, I don’t know how the Southern District —

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: They wouldn’t have put that in the statement of fact if they didn’t believe —

GIULIANI: I’m disgusted with the Southern District.

[snip]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Here’s the question I have for you. Why do you have so much trouble with the southern district? The southern district’s being run – this case being run by Robert Khuzami, a Republican appointed by the Trump administration, spoke at the Republican …

GIULIANI: His interpretation of the campaign finance law is completely erroneous. And to be – even if – and even if you want to make some argument that there’s some validity to it, you do not pursue a president of the United States for a questionable interpretation of the statute. That is completely wrong, it’s harassment.

After failing to respond to George Stephanopoulos’ descriptions of what distinguishes Trump’s hush payment case from that of John Edwards, Rudy fails to offer one piece of evidence that might back his arguments — that Trump had paid similar hush payments in the past, when winning the Presidential election wasn’t at stake.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did he ever make any payments like that in the past?

GIULIANI: Nobody else asked for — in the past, I can’t speak to. I wasn’t his lawyer in the past.

Rudy then tries to claim that Jerome Corsi (who, Stephanopoulos points out, claimed 9/11 was an inside job) and Mike Flynn were not lying, misstating that Peter Strzok had said something exonerating about Flynn in a text versus an FBI interview.

Peter Strzok wrote in one of his texts that he didn’t seem to be – he didn’t seem to be lying, wasn’t acting like a person …

This is where things start to go really haywire. Stephanopoulos asks Rudy about the reference to Michael Cohen’s ongoing contacts with the White House through 2018 — which, given the way multiple entities happened to tell the same false story about the Trump Tower deal, likely means a conspiracy to obstruct justice — and in response Rudy says “It was over by the time of the election.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, the special counsel went on to say that they found Cohen credible, provided valuable information about Russia-related matters for its investigation, also that his contacts with persons connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, they seem to be getting at, there, both collusion and obstruction.

GIULIANI: Isn’t that prosecution by innuendo? I have no idea what they’re talking about. Beyond what you just said, I have no idea what they’re talking about …

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me ask you a few specifics.

GIULIANI: I have no – I have no idea – I know that collusion is not a crime. It was over with by the time of the election. I don’t know what evidence … [my emphasis]

Admittedly, by this point in the interview, Rudy was blathering. But I’m particularly interested — given that Trump reportedly refused to answer any Mueller questions about the transition — that Rudy thinks in terms of the collusion he’s seemingly admitting his client engaged in ended “by the time of the election.” Trump’s legal team may be adopting a defensive strategy premised on the claim that certain activities (reaching out to Russians to tell them you’ll give them sanctions relief is just the most obvious) can be divorced from any context that implicates election season “collusion.”

That’s the form of Rudy’s most newsworthy statement is so interesting. He says that the answer Trump gave (in context, this must mean in response to Mueller’s questions) “would have covered all the way up to,” and here he corrects himself, “covered up to November, 2016.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did the president – did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

GIULIANI: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to – covered up to November, 2016. Said he had conversations with him but the president didn’t hide this. They know …

STEPHANOPOULOS: Earlier they had said those conversations stopped in January, 2016.

GIULIANI: I don’t — I mean, the date — I mean, until you actually sit down and you look at the questions, and you go back and you look at the papers and you look at the — the — you’re not going to know what happened. That’s why — that’s why lawyers, you know, prepare for those answers.

This is breaking news, of course: the last we had heard, the Trump Tower negotiations only went up through July. Here, Rudy seems to be confessing that they went through November.

Only, his reference to “why lawyers, you know, prepare for those answers” suggests that that’s not what Trump’s response to Mueller actually was. I would imagine the response he gave was deliberately left vague enough so that if Cohen (who was caught meeting with Mueller in the days when Trump was finalizing his answers) told Mueller the deal went through November, then Trump’s answer wouldn’t contradict that, even if he didn’t admit that the deal did go that long.

Rudy went on the teevee this morning, in part, to make an utterly damning statement that would nevertheless tell Mueller’s prosecutors that the answer (lawyers wrote but that) his client swore to was meant to cover a deal that continued all the way through November, even if he didn’t say that explicitly.

Remember, the day Cohen pled guilty on the Mueller false statements charge, Rudy gave an unbelievably hedged answer about whether that deal ever died.

“The president, as far as he knows, he remembers there was such a proposal for a hotel,” Giuliani said. “He talked it over with Cohen as Cohen said. There was a nonbinding letter of intent that was sent. As far as he knows it never came to fruition. That was kind of the end of it.”

Rudy seems confident that Cohen did not know about the continuation of this deal, but I’d bet money that it did continue.

Back to today’s interview, Rudy goes on to deny, then back off a categorical denial, that Stone communicated to Trump about WikiLeaks, working hard to suggest that Mueller might only charge a conspiracy to hack, not a conspiracy to defraud the United States (even while the public record makes it increasingly possible that Stone could get charged in a CFAA conspiracy).

STEPHANOPOULOS: And did Roger Stone ever give the president a heads-up on WikiLeaks’ leaks — leaks concerning Hillary Clinton, the DNC?

GIULIANI: No, he didn’t.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all?

GIULIANI: No. I don’t believe so. But again, if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads-up about WikiLeaks’ leaks, that’s not a crime. It would be like giving him a heads-up that the Times is going to print something. One the — the crime — this is why this thing is so weird, strange — the crime is conspiracy to hack; collusion is not a crime, it doesn’t exist.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No. Conspiracy to defraud the government, you’re right, conspiracy to hack that is the crime. We don’t know whether …

GIULIANI: Yes. Did Donald Trump engage in a conspiracy to hack with the Russians? They’ve been going at it. The counterintelligence investigation came to the conclusion no evidence.

Rudy seems to take wholly unjustified comfort in what I can only guess is that GRU indictment describing his client and Stone prominently, without charging them. Hell, Julian Assange hasn’t even been charged yet; why does Rudy think the counterintelligence investigation is done?

From there, Rudy admits he was in discussions with Cohen’s lawyers about pardons!!!! He then suggests that Cohen “double-crossed” — that is, told the truth — because of that discussion about pardons.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they’re also looking at obstruction. Did anyone connected to the president ever suggest in any way to Michael Cohen that he would get a pardon if he stayed on the team?

GIULIANI: I had this specific conversation with his lawyers and that liar can say what he wants, I told his lawyers there will be no discussion of a pardon. That doesn’t mean the president doesn’t have the — nobody’s giving away any power, but do not consider it in your thinking now. It has nothing about what you should decide about yourself. I think that’s one of the reasons why he double-crossed.

All this ends with Rudy stating, quite confidently, that Mueller is done, after having just said that conversations were ongoing about whether Trump might sit for an interview.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I do know that from my time in the White House. Final question: Mueller almost done?

GIULIANI: He is done. I don’t know what else — I told you. No, the only thing left are the parking tickets and jaywalking.

Maybe Rudy’s right. Maybe Mueller has told him they didn’t find any evidence against his client.

But even if that’s (improbably) true, if I’m Mueller I might be reopening things in light of this appearance by Rudy.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 


The Geography of Maria Butina’s Cooperation

The government had another embarrassing docket fail Friday, like the cut-and-paste release that disclosed charges filed in EDVA against Julian Assange.

Yesterday, a motion for permission to transport Maria Butina was briefly published to the docket, then withdrawn, but not before reporters who get automatic docket updates got copies. And the details in the filing suggest that Butina’s cooperation may be more limited than Mueller watchers would like.

The docket fail may stem from complaints that the judge in Butina’s case, Tanya Chutkan, made back on December 6, about how many details of Butina’s imminent plea deal attorneys were trying to keep sealed.

THE COURT: Why? Why is the fact that — you know, Mr. Driscoll, I have to tell you, I’m a little perplexed. In this case, you’ve filed several motions for transportation of your client to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and you asked that that information be placed under seal; and that was certainly appropriate, and the government joined in that request. And I placed those requests under seal because the possibility of a defendant’s cooperation is always something that is very sensitive.

Since Butina’s plea, those prior motions to transport her that Chutkan referenced in her complaint — one dated September 21 asking to move her for a September 26 interview but lasting through October 25, and one dated October 23 specifically authorizing transport on November 7 but lasting through December 6 — were unsealed. Presumably, that’s why Friday’s order got filed unsealed, as well.

The problem, per CNN’s report, is that the latest one reveals Butina may be transported to testify before a grand jury in DC.

Russian political conspirator Maria Butina is set to meet with federal prosecutors in Washington and Virginia over the next several weeks, according to a court filing that was posted and quickly removed from a federal docket Friday afternoon.

Butina pleaded guilty Thursday to one criminal count of acting as an illegal foreign agent in the United States.
US attorneys may want to interview Butina in their offices well into January, according to the filing. She may also be requested to appear at the grand jury in Washington, according to the filing, which is a request to a federal judge to allow the currently detained Russian to be transported by the FBI for cooperation interviews.

“The purpose of the transfer is to interview the Inmate concerning an ongoing federal investigation,” the filing says.

So in addition to providing details about Butina’s future travel (possibly even a date) that might pose a security risk or put her in physical danger, it includes grand jury information that is supposed to remain secret.

All the filings together, however, reveal something of more interest: Butina has been proffering information to the Feds, probably primarily against her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, since September 26.

She was submitting to interviews in this investigation at a time when Erickson was regularly visiting her in jail.

Despite the ongoing investigations and his reported ties to Butina’s activities, Erickson frequently visits her in jail, two individuals with knowledge of the meetings told The Daily Beast. Erickson apparently expressed frustration to friends over the fact that jail staff forced him to sign into the main visitor log, fearing the media would find out.

You know how everyone hopes that a cooperating witness might wear a wire? In Butina’s case that could, potentially, have happened during her meetings with Erickson (though in the context of a jail visit, would hardly be necessary to capture the couple’s conversations). The period of her cooperation also sort of matches the time when she got moved from protective custody into the general population in Alexandria (67 days after her arrest would be September 20); she was subsequently put back in solitary, possibly because (as was discussed at the December 6 hearing) she had been communicating with the outside world via other detainees and at least one journalist.

While those revelations are of interest, what’s equally notable is the geography described, at least in the public filings. As noted, CNN says she’s cooperating on a federal investigation, singular, which is what the past motions said as well. And the locales to which she can be transported in the public filings — an interview room attached to the Alexandria jail, the DC US Attorney’s office, and a DC grand jury — don’t include Robert Mueller’s office, which is a different location in DC. There may be some involvement of the EDVA US Attorney’s Office (which might bode ill for the NRA, which is headquartered in that district). But thus far, there’s no sign that she’s being transported to cooperate with Mueller’s office.

That’s consistent with her plea, which only describes cooperation with the DC US Attorney’s office.

The plea deal is in no way definitive — after all, Mike Flynn’s plea said he’d cooperate “with this Office,” meaning SCO, but he has recently told us about cooperating with “other components of the Government” and the addendum to the government’s sentencing memo seems to reflect at least one criminal investigation outside of Mueller’s mandate (which is widely believed to involve Turkey).

But Butina has already been in custody almost as long as she’s likely to be sentenced to, meaning to do much more would entail holding her in jail to get her to cooperate for no benefit, something her lawyers presumably would be unwilling to countenance. So it may well be that she has told investigators about her boss (who, of course, retired suddenly not long ago) and her boyfriend. She may well even had gotten Erickson to incriminate himself in a venue where prosecutors easily collected it.

There’s no evidence, however, that she’s cooperating with Mueller or expected to.


That Peter Strzok 302 Probably Comes from the Obstruction Case File

I’d like to provide a plausible explanation for questions about an FBI 302 released yesterday as part of the Mike Flynn sentencing.

As a reminder, after Flynn pled guilty, his case ultimately got assigned to Emmet Sullivan, who is laudably insistent on making sure defendants get any possible exonerating evidence, even if they’ve already pled guilty. On his orders, the government would have provided him everything early in 2018.

In Flynn’s sentencing memo submitted earlier this week, his lawyers quoted from an Andrew McCabe memo written the day of his interview and a 302 that they described to be dated August 22, 2017, a full 7 months after his interview. In predictable response, Sullivan instructed the government to provide that McCabe memo and the 302 cited by Flynn’s lawyers.

When the government submitted those two documents yesterday, they raised still more questions, because it became clear the 302 (which is what FBI calls their interview reports) in question was of an interview of Strzok conducted on July 19, 2017, drafted on July 20, and finalized on August 22. The 302 described that Strzok was the lead interviewer in Flynn’s interview, whereas his interviewing partner wrote up the 302.

This has raised questions about why we only got the Strzok 302, and not the original one cited by Strzok.

While I don’t have a full explanation, certain things are missing from the discussion.

Folks are misunderstanding what the 302 represents. It is not the 302 reporting the Flynn interview. Rather, it is a 302 “collect[ing] certain information regarding Strzok’s involvement in various aspects of what has become the Special Counsel’s investigation,” which he described to one Senior Assistant Special Counsel and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, presumably one assigned to SCO. The 302 notes that Strzok wasn’t just involved in the investigation of Mike Flynn. While it redacts the names, it also lists the other parts of the investigation he oversaw.

We know he was involved in the Papadopoulos investigation, and it appears likely he was involved in the Page investigation, as well. Both this passage and the next one describes the people at DOJ that Strzok interacted with in these investigations, which is further evidence the purpose of this 302 is not to capture the interview, but instead to capture details about internal workings surrounding the investigation itself.

The part of this 302 that is unredacted makes up maybe a third of the substance of the 302, and it appears between almost full page redactions before and after the part describing the Flynn interview. Again, the other stuff must be as pertinent to the purpose of this 302 as the Flynn interview itself.

had thought the interview might be an effort by SCO to capture Strzok’s institutional knowledge in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Lisa Page as a way to prepare some other FBI Agent to be able to testify at trial. But the timing appears wrong. DOJ’s IG first informed Mueller about the texts on July 27, and he was removed from the team the next day (though not processed out of that clearance, according to this report, until August 11).

Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in late July 2016. 197 Page also worked on the Russia investigation, and told us that she served the same liaison function as she did in the Midyear investigation. Both Page and Strzok accepted invitations to work on the Special Counsel staff in 2017. Page told the OIG that she accepted a 45-day temporary duty assignment but returned to work in the Deputy Director’s office at the FBI on or around July 15, 2017. Strzok was removed from the Special Counsel’s investigation on approximately July 28, 2017, and returned to the FBI in another position, after the OIG informed the DAG and Special Counsel of the text messages discussed in this report on July 27, 2017. [my emphasis]

But the interview does line up temporally with other known events: Around the time Strzok was interviewed, both Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates were interviewed in the obstruction case, interviews that would also result in 302s summarizing the interview. Jim Comey had already turned over his memos on meetings with Trump by that point; eventually he would be interviewed by Mueller as well, though it’s not clear when that interview (and correlating 302) was.

Yates and Comey are both among the people the 302 explicitly describes Strzok interacting with.

In other words, it seems likely that this 302 was designed to capture what Strzok knew about the internal workings of DOJ and FBI surrounding the Mike Flynn interview, and likely was focused on explaining the significance of Flynn’s lies and subsequent firing to the obstruction case. That is, this would have served to turn what Strzok learned as investigator into information Strzok had to offer as a witness, in the same way that Mueller would have had to turn what Comey and Rosenstein knew as supervisors into information relevant to their role as witnesses. It probably had the unintended benefit of capturing what Strzok knew about key parts of the investigation before he was indelibly tainted by the discovery of his text messages.

If this is the explanation, it raises questions about why we only got this 302, and not the original one.

There’s a very likely answer to that: that original 302 presumably didn’t include this detail, at least not in the easily quotable form that would serve Flynn’s political purposes.

Flynn has, as far as we know, gotten everything. His lawyers chose which of those documents to quote. And Judge Sullivan only ordered the government to produce these two (though invited them to submit anything else they wanted to, an invitation they did not take up).

But there’s another piece of evidence that there’s far less to this 302 than some are suggesting: because Republicans in Congress chased down this detail over the last year, and in their most recent incarnation of drumming up conspiracies about Flynn, in questioning Jim Comey just a week ago, Trey Gowdy did not focus on the question of the 302s produced, but instead tried to suggest that Flynn didn’t mean to lie.

Note that, contrary to what right wingers have suggested, Comey did not say anything inconsistent with the Strzok interview 302; rather, he said he wasn’t sure where his knowledge came from.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question. [my emphasis]

What may best explains this exchange is that, when it happened, Comey had never seen the Strzok 302, he had just seen the original one, but Gowdy had seen both. That would be consistent with Andrew McCabe’s testimony to HPSCI, which acknowledged that the Agents didn’t detect deception but knew Flynn’s statements did not match the FISA transcript.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

Gowdy may be suggesting that the original 302 was unfair because it did not admit how well Flynn snookered the FBI’s top Counterintelligence Agent. But that detail may not be something Comey is even aware  of, because it only got written down after he had been fired. That would explain why Flynn wouldn’t want that original one disclosed, because it might make clear that the FBI immediately recognized his claims to be false, even if they didn’t know (before doing the requisite follow-up) why he lied.

One thing we do know: there are two (related) criminal investigations that have come out of Mike Flynn’s interview. The first, into his lies, and the second, into Trump’s efforts to keep him on in spite of his lies by firing the FBI Director.

While we can’t say for sure (and Mueller’s office would not comment in response to my questions when I asked if something like this explained the 302), one possible explanation for why we’re seeing just this 302 is it’s the only one that makes Flynn look good.

Update: As JL notes, the Mueller filing makes it clear that the 302 is neither from the Flynn investigation nor from an investigation into Strzok’s conduct.

Strzok was interviewed on July 19, 2017, in relation to other matters, not as part of the investigation of the defendant or any investigation of Strzok’s conduct.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 


If the Government Obtains the Full Manafort Forfeiture, the Mueller Investigation Will Have Netted Almost $21 Million

The Special Counsel’s Office has released their latest expenditures report.

Thus far, here’s how the SCO spending breaks down (as the reports make clear, SCO is not legally obligated to track the indirect expenses that DOJ would spend otherwise, but they have been asked to do so).

Period

Direct

Indirect

Total

May 17, 2017 to September 30, 2017

$3,213,695

$3,546,000

$6,759,695

October 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018

$4,506,624

 $5,476,000

$9,982,624

April 1, 2018 through September 30, 2018

$4,567,533

 $3,906,000

$8,473,533

Total

$12,287,852

$12,928,000

$25,215,852

 

As a reminder, as part of his plea deal, Paul Manafort has to forfeit as much of the $46 million he can scrape together of the ill-gotten gains he earned from his crimes.

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of entities — most amazingly Steven Calk’s bank — contesting Manafort’s claims to actually own a number of the financial and real estate holdings that he said he did.

Still, if the US government can find enough assets to squeeze out of Manafort, the Mueller investigation will have — through October 1 — netted $20,784,148 million for the US Treasury. And that’s before the $500,000 Michael Cohen will have to pay, as well as any forfeiture Sam Patten will pay when he is sentenced for his sleazy influence peddling, in cases referred by Mueller to other US Attorney’s offices.


Did Jared Kushner Try to Preemptively Undercut Mike Flynn at the Enquirer?

One thing about the Mueller investigation I’ve gone back and forth on is the degree to which Jared Kushner is in legal trouble. While he left the June 9, 2016 meeting before any agreement to enter a conspiracy might be said to have been reached, his efforts to set up a back channel during the transition period — and the degree to which he appeared to be self-dealing rather than representing the interests of the United States — seemed to expose him to different legal problems.

Then there’s the record on Mike Flynn. A key CNN report dated November 30, the day before Flynn flipped, had suggested — given the then publicly known events — that Mueller interviewed Jared in advance of Flynn’s plea agreement, in what might have been a last ditch effort to allow Jared to exonerate Flynn.

Mueller’s team specifically asked Kushner about former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is under investigation by the special counsel, two sources said. Flynn was the dominant topic of the conversation, one of the sources said.

[snip]

The conversation lasted less than 90 minutes, one person familiar with the meeting said, adding that Mueller’s team asked Kushner to clear up some questions he was asked by lawmakers and details that emerged through media reports. One source said the nature of this conversation was principally to make sure Kushner doesn’t have information that exonerates Flynn.

But Flynn’s sentencing memo revealed that he had five proffer meetings before he signed the agreement.

He participated in five pre-plea proffer sessions with the Special Counsel’s Office and fourteen additional meetings with the Government pursuant to the Plea Agreement entered on December 1, 2017.

And, per CNN, Mueller was asking other witnesses about Jared at the time, too.

The meeting took place around the same time the special counsel asked witnesses about Kushner’s role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his relationship with Flynn, these people said.

That (plus reports that Flynn cooperated shortly after he was asked) suggests the meeting with Kushner may well have come after some of those proffer meetings involving Flynn, which would in turn suggest that Mueller was locking in Jared’s testimony with that short interview before revealing that Flynn was cooperating.

Still, Jared is one of the few people involved in this scandal with a very competent defense attorney, and after Abbe Lowell announced that Jared had had a much longer interview with Mueller in April and had gotten a (Trump-demanded) security clearance, I started to believe that Lowell had performed another master stroke as a defense attorney.

Then, in mid-April, Kushner sat for six to seven hours of questions that covered many topics, including his work on the Trump campaign, the transition and in the White House and about Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire Comey.

The special counsel’s questioning focused on Kushner’s work with Trump and did not include topics such as Kushner’s personal finances or those of his family business, Kushner Companies, according to the person familiar with the matter.

Which brings us to this story from the Daily Beast, revealing that Jared (who worked the press assiduously when he owned the Observer) took over Michael Cohen’s duties of planting stories in the National Enquirer after Cohen was denied a job in the Administration.

During the early months of the Trump era, Kushner performed the task admirably, discussing with Pecker various issues over the phone, including everything from international relations to media gossip, according to four sources familiar with the situation. Pecker, for his part, bragged to people that he was speaking to the president’s son-in-law and, more generally, about the level of access he had to the upper echelons of the West Wing, two sources with knowledge of the relationship recounted.

TDB focuses on Trump’s threat to deal dirt on Scarborough and Mika (I had been wondered who had orchestrated that threat) and, rightly, the big propaganda piece that Mohamed bin Salman’s unregistered assassination crisis repair agent, Jared, planted.

Starting in late 2016, AMI’s priorities shifted from a potential business deal with Kushner to one focused on access to political power. Shortly after the Trump presidency began, Kushner and Pecker talked repeatedly, on subjects ranging from relations with the Saudi regime, to possible dirt that the Enquirer had on Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, according to the four sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

AMI, like Kushner, cozied up to the despotic Saudi government, which included the production of a glossy propaganda magazine boosting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Last year, Brzezinski and Scarborough, who had increasingly become Trump critics, made the explosive allegation that three senior aides to President Trump “warned” the couple that the Enquirer would publish a negative story on them unless they “begged” Trump to intervene on their behalf. The couple’s account was disputed by White House officials, who said the conversations were far more cordial than the TV hosts described.

As The Daily Beast reported last year, Kushner was one of the senior officials who privately spoke to Scarborough about the matter. According to two White House officials, Scarborough had “calmly sought” advice from Kushner, who “recommended he speak with the president.” Scarborough did not know that Kushner had also been directly in touch with the Enquirer’s publisher at the time, according to a source familiar with the matter.

But I’m just as interested in the spread, from the same period as the Saudi propaganda, seemingly pre-empting a Flynn cooperation agreement with Mueller by attacking him as “the Russian spy in Trump’s midst.”

The claim that “Trump catches Russia’s White House spy” — clearly an attempt to smear Mike Flynn — actually got me to drop the $4.99 for a copy of the National Enquirer to read the hit job. And it’s actually more than a contrived effort to claim Flynn is a Russian spy: it’s a four-page spread, implicating Hillary and Mike Pence, too.

[snip]

While the Flynn story has been viewed — particularly alongside unsubstantiated claims that Flynn is cooperating with the FBI — as an attempt to damage him for snitching, it almost certainly dates to earlier than more recent attacks on Flynn, and in conjunction with stories of loyalty oaths from Pence appears tame by comparison.

If he did, the newly cooperative David Pecker has probably already made that clear to authorities.

If Jared — the guy whom Flynn witnessed trying to set up a back channel with Russia — planted a smear attempting to paint Flynn as a Russian infiltrator, it suggests he had reason all the way back in March to try to undercut Flynn. And then, in November, when he had chance to help Flynn out of his legal woes in November, he reportedly did not do so.

It still never pays to bet against the legal skills of Abbe Lowell. Jared is still likely to skate.

But these details sure change my understanding about which collusion egg Mueller cracked first.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 


After Replacing FBI Devices Two Times, the Bureau Still Fails to Collect 10% of Agent Text Messages

Today, DOJ’s Inspector General released its report on the efforts it made to restore all of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s text messages. The report is actually better used to illustrate how, three years into beginning to respond to its failures to collect all of the texts sent or received using FBI issued phones, and after twice upgrading the phones Agents get issued, it still fails to retain 10% of texts that Agents send and receive.

With regards to Strzok and Page, the report describes the efforts it made to obtain all their texts, which includes:

  • Obtaining both the Samsung (Galaxy 5, then Galaxy 7) phones they used during this period, as well the iPhones issued for their brief stint in Mueller’s office, the latter of which neither appears to have used
  • Using the existing collection tool, which included big gaps for key periods of interest
  • Asking DOD’s Computer Forensic Lab for help
  • Searching the Enterprise database, which found a bunch more texts, for reasons no one could explain
  • Hiring an outside Android consultant, who found 62 additional text messages

The upshot is, FBI doesn’t know whether they recovered all Strzok and Page’s texts, and doesn’t know why they didn’t, if in fact they didn’t.

And we’re only learning this because the two of them decided to conduct an extramarital affair on their FBI-issued devices while serving on the two most high profile investigations in recent FBI history.

Which raises the question: is this also true for Agents investigating defendants without the clout of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? If necessary, would the FBI be able to find their texts?

The answer is, maybe not.

Here’s what this report says about FBI’s retention rules, generally.

First, important texts are retained by policy, not (technologically-assisted) procedure. So the country’s premier law enforcement agency ensures that important law enforcement related texts are retained by saying anything covering these topics must be retained.

  • Factual information about investigative activity
  • Factual information obtained during interviews or interactions with witnesses (including victims), potential witnesses, experts, informants, or cooperators
  • Factual discussions related to the merits of evidence
  • Factual information or opinions relating to the credibility or bias of witnesses, informants and potential witnesses; and
  • Other factual information that is potentially discoverable under Brady, Giglio, Rule 16 or Rule 26.2 (Jencks Act)

But it’s up to the Agents to do that. And if they don’t for some reason, they’re instructed to ask the Enterprise Security Operations Center if they retained them. But the ESOC is not mandated to retain texts. They happen to, but it’s not tied to any mandate to retain substantive communications required to be saved by policy.

The ESOC has a tool, by a vendor whose name may not even appear in redacted form in this report, that “wirelessly collect[s] text messages sent to or from FBI-issued mobile devices.”

As the FBI’s response to this report reveals, the Bureau has known for some time that that tool didn’t collect everything, because they’ve told the OIG that on two prior occasions.

Prior to the OIG’s investigation into the FBI’s actions in advance of the 2016 election, during at least two unrelated investigations, one of which dates back to 2015, the FBI made the OIG aware of gaps in FBI text message collection capabilities.

As DOJ IG was trying to puzzle through why they couldn’t find all of Strzok and Page’s texts, the unnamed vendor got squirrelly when asked how the retention tool interacts with administrative privileges.

Upon OIG’s request, ESOC Information Technology Specialist [redacted] consulted with the FBl’s collection tool vendor, who informed the FBI that the collection application does not write to enterprise.db. [Redacted] further stated that ESOC’s mobile device team and the vendor believed enterprise.db is intended to track applications with administrative privileges and may have been collecting the logs from the collection tool or another source such as the Short Message Service (SMS) texting application. The collection tool vendor preferred not to share specific details regarding where it saves collected data, maintaining that such information was proprietary; however, [redacted] represented that he could revisit the issue with the vendor if deemed necessary.

Maybe it’s me, but I find it pretty sketchy that this unnamed collection tool vendor doesn’t want to tell the FBI precisely what they’re doing with all these FBI Agents’ texts. “Proprietary” doesn’t cut it, in my opinion.

In any case, the FBI started trying to fix the problem, starting in 2016. At the time they started, they were losing 20% of the texts sent and received. After two upgrades of Samsung phones and a fix to a “bug” later, they’re still not collecting 10%.

During calendar year 2017, the FBI phased out use of the Samsung Galaxy S5 devices by its employees and replaced them with Samsung Galaxy S7 devices because of software and other issues that prevented the data collection tool from reliably capturing text messages sent and received via FBI issued Samsung Galaxy SS mobile devices. According to FBl’s Information and Technology Branch, as of November 15, 2018, the data collection tool utilized by FBI was still not reliably collecting text messages from approximately IO percent of FBI issued mobile devices, which included Samsung S7s and subsequently issued S9s. By comparison, the estimated failure rate of the collection tool was 20 percent for the Samsung S5s.

The FBI’s tech folks provided these explanations for why the tool by the unnamed vendor still doesn’t work.

  • In calendar year 2016 the collection application vendor reported a “bug” in a version of the collection tool which caused the application to stop collecting text message or log data- This application version was replaced by a newer version that corrected the issue in March 2017.
  • Errors during the initial installation of the collection application, such as misconfiguration during setup.
  • Errors in the collection application’s ability to send text message data caused by software updates or operating system updates on the mobile device itself.
  • Hardware errors, such as the device not being powered on, being located in a poor cellular signal area, or being located in an area with no cellular service.

Among the other excuses FBI offers for implementing a fix to a 20% failure with one that still results in a 10% failure is to say, “complete collection of text messages is neither required nor necessary to meet the FBI’s legal preservation obligations” (which goes back to how they’re requiring retention via policy, but not technologically-assisted procedure). The FBI also says that it “is not aware of any solution that closes the collection gap entirely on its current mobile device platforms,” which makes me wonder why they keep buying new Samsungs if the Samsungs aren’t serving their needs? Aside from the question of why we’d ask FBI Agents to use less secure Korean phones rather than more secure American ones (note, Mueller’s team is using iPhones)?

This story, like so many with the hoaxes that Republicans have ginned up to try to delegitimize the Mueller investigation, seems to be the big story, not what Strzok and Page sent themselves two years ago (the IG Report concluded the non-discoverable texts did not cover one subject area, so weren’t by themselves suspect, and doubted either Strzok or Page had the technical capability to selectively destroy only incriminating texts).

The FBI is an agency that routinely demands that people respond to subpoenas by pulling all the relevant texts on a given subject. If you were to fail, they would be at least consider whether your failure to do so amounted to obstruction. But they don’t guarantee they would be able to meet that same standard — they’re happy with their 10% failure rate, apparently.

And while it is an interesting topic for Strzok and Page and Donald Trump’s attempts to claim Witch hunt! it’s the instances where criminal defendants are asking the FBI to search for relevant texts among agents (in just one example, MalwareTech asked the FBI for texts between Agents surveilling and then arresting him in Las Vegas, but got nothing) that I care about. Because if you only aspire to 90% retention, and if you attribute any failure to do better to an individual Agent’s failure to meet a policy (but how would you prove it, if the point is that a given text no longer exists to be discovered?), then you’re pretty much ensuring that you can’t fully comply with discovery requests from defendants.

Apparently, the FBI seems okay with that.


On Emmet Sullivan’s Order for Mike Flynn’s 302s: Be Careful What You Ask For

In his sentencing memorandum, Mike Flynn waved the following in front of Judge Emmet Sullivan, like a red cape before a bull.

There are, at the same time, some additional facts regarding the circumstances of the FBI interview of General Flynn on January 24, 2017, that are relevant to the Court’s consideration of a just punishment.

At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing.20 General Flynn had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security. He and Mr. McCabe briefly discussed a security training session the FBI had recently conducted at the White House before Mr. McCabe, by his own account, stated that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with General Flynn to talk about his communications with Russian representatives.21

Mr. McCabe’s account states: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [General Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”22

Less than two hours later, at 2:15 p.m., FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and a second FBI agent arrived at the White House to interview General Flynn.23 By the agents’ account, General Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered to give the agents “a little tour” of the area around his West Wing office. 24 The agents did not provide General Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 before, during, or after the interview. Prior to the FBI’s interview of General Flynn, Mr. McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” one of the agents reported.25 Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”26 One of the agents reported that General Flynn was “unguarded” during the interview and “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”27

He cited a memo that fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe wrote the day of Flynn’s interview and the interview report (called a “302”) that fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok had a hand in writing up in August 2017, some seven months after the interview.

In response, the judge in his case, Emmet Sullivan, issued an order asking not just for those two documents, but any documents related to the matters Flynn writes up, to be filed by tomorrow, along with the government’s reply to his memorandum.

And so it is that on the one year anniversary of the order Sullivan issued to ensure that Flynn got any exculpatory information relating to his plea, that the hopes among the frothy right that Flynn’s prosecution (including for lying about his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey) will be delegitimized and with it everything that happened subsequent to Flynn’s plea might be answered.

Or maybe not.

For those unfamiliar with his background, back in the waning years of the Bush Administration, Sullivan presided over the Ted Stevens’ prosecution. After Stevens was convicted, DOJ started ‘fessing up to a bunch of improprieties, which led Sullivan (on newly confirmed Eric Holder’s recommendation) to throw out the conviction. Sullivan demanded a report on the improprieties, which ended up being a scathing indictment of DOJ’s actions (that nevertheless didn’t lead to real consequences for those involved). Since that time, Sullivan has been wary of DOJ’s claims, which has led him to do things like routinely issue the order he did with Flynn’s case, making sure that defendants get any exculpatory evidence they should get.

Regardless of how this request works out, you should applaud Sullivan’s diligence. He’s one of just a few judges who approaches the government with the skepticism they deserve. And to the extent that problems with our criminal justice system only get noticed when famous people go through it, it’s important that this one be treated with such diligence.

Still, those problems include both abuse, like we saw in the Stevens case, and special treatment, like David Petraeus got, and it’s actually unclear whether Sullivan’s request will uncover one or the other (or neither). I say that for several reasons.

First, because the public evidence suggests that — if anything — Obama’s appointees demanded FBI proceed cautiously in their investigation of Trump’s people, delaying what in any other case would have been routine early collection. When FBI discovered Flynn making suspicious comments to Sergei Kislyak, concerns about how to proceed went all the way up to Obama.

Moreover, contrary to most reporting on this interview, the FBI’s suspicions about Flynn did not arise exclusively from his calls to Kislyak. The interview happened after a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn had been open for months, as laid out by the House Intelligence Committee Russia report.

Director Comey testified that he authorized the closure of the CI investigation into general Flynn by late December 2016; however, the investigation was kept open due to the public discrepancy surrounding General Flynn’s communications with Ambassador Kislyak. [redacted] Deputy Director McCabe stated that, “we really had not substantiated anything particularly significant against General Flynn,” but did not recall that a closure of the CI investigation was imminent.

If McCabe believed the CI investigation into Flynn had produced mostly fluff, it might explain why he would approach setting up an interview with him with less than the rigor that he might have (as arguably happened with Hillary in the analogous situation). He didn’t expect there to be a there there, but then there was (remember, Jim Comey has repeatedly said that the one thing that might have led the Hillary investigation to continue past her interview as if they caught her lying; the difference is that Flynn told obvious lies whereas Hillary did not).

Finally, there’s one other, major reason to think this ploy may not work out the way Flynn might like. That’s because the frothy right, its enablers in Congress, and the White House itself has pursued this line for most of a year. Particularly in the wake of Flynn’s cooperation agreement, claiming that Flynn was just confused or forgetful when he spoke to the FBI has been central to Trump’s serial cover stories for why he fired Flynn.

So Republicans hoping to find the smoking gun have looked and looked and looked and looked and looked at the circumstances of Mike Flynn’s interview. Already by March of last year, they had resorted only to misstating Comey’s testimony about what happened in the HPSCI report.

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

Nothing in the report — which now includes a section substantially declassified to reveal more purportedly incriminating details about Flynn — suggests real impropriety with his interview.

Even in that very same paragraph, they quote McCabe (the guy who wrote up a memo that same day, which is probably what Sally Yates relied on when she suggested to the White House they needed to fire Flynn) stating very clearly that the FBI agents recognized that Flynn had lied.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

The degree to which, after looking and looking and looking and looking for some smoking gun relating to the Flynn interview but finding very little is perhaps best indicated by where that search has gotten after looking and looking and looking and looking — as most recently exhibited in Jim Comey’s questioning from a week ago, by the Republicans’ best prosecutor, Trey Gowdy. After (apparently) hoping to catch Comey lying about what investigators thought when the lifetime intelligence officer managed to lie without any tells but instead leading him through a very cogent explanation of it, Gowdy then resorts to sophistry about what day of the week it is.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Then Gowdy tries a new tack: suggesting that Flynn should have gotten the agents’ finding that he lied without any physical tells provided as some kind of Brady evidence.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question.

I mean, maybe there are some irregularities explaining why it took seven months to write up Flynn’s 302 and how information about the interview was shared within DOJ in the interim; if there is I’d like to know what those are. But what everyone seems to agree is that there was no dispute, from the very beginning, that Flynn lied.

And Flynn’s statement actually makes things worse for himself (and, importantly, for one of the White House cover stories that his firing was immediately precipitated by Don McGahn confronting him with the transcript of his conversation with Kislyak). Flynn’s own sentencing memo makes it clear the FBI Agents were quoting directly from the transcript about what he said.

FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”

So Flynn would have known, way back when the White House was trying to find excuses to keep him on, precisely what he had been caught saying.

Finally, remember two more details. While we can’t read it, Sullivan (and Flynn’s team) know what’s behind this redaction:

That means Sullivan knows, even if we don’t, why Mueller thinks it so important that Flynn lied, and so may have a very different understanding about the import of those lies.

Finally, note that along with requiring the government to turn over all the filings relating to his interview (not just the two Flynn selectively quoted from), Sullivan also instructed the government to file their reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo by the same time.

DOJ has never had the opportunity to write its own explanation for what happened with Flynn’s interview. By inviting a reply specifically in the context of this Flynn claim, Sullivan has given DOJ the opportunity to do just that, finally.

DOJ may have a very interesting explanation for why they approached a counterintelligence interview with a guy they might have considered one of them with jocularity.

Sure, there may yet be damning details. As I’ve said, I really look forward to learning why it took seven months to formally memorialize this interview.

But the GOP has been looking for a smoking gun for a year and have not apparently found one. It’s quite possible we’ll learn something else tomorrow, that Mike Flynn actually got special treatment that none of us would get if we were suspected of being recruited by Russian intelligence.

At the very least, Sullivan’s order may result in documentation that reveals just how shoddy all the claims irregularity surrounding Flynn’s interview have been all this time.

Update: Elevating this from pinc’s comment. If DOJ chooses to tell a story that at all resembles Greg Miller’s account of the meeting (including that Flynn specifically said he didn’t want to have a lawyer of any type present), then this could spectacularly backfire.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 


Mike Flynn Doesn’t Want Drug-Testing to Interrupt His Return to Influence-Peddling

Last night, while I was blowing a wad of cash at Zingermans in Ann Arbor, MI, Mike Flynn submitted his sentencing memo. As a number of people have noted — especially the frothy right wing — Flynn makes a back-handed attack on the FBI’s treatment of his original questioning.

General Flynn does not take issue with the description of the nature and circumstances of the offense contained in the Government’s sentencing memorandum and the Presentence Investigation Report. See Government’s Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing (“Gov. Sent. Mem.”) at 2-5, United States v. Flynn, 17 CR 232 (D.D.C. Dec. 4, 2018) (Doc. 46); PSR ¶¶ 15- 22. As General Flynn has frankly acknowledged in his own words, he recognizes that his actions were wrong and he accepts full responsibility for them.19 There are, at the same time, some additional facts regarding the circumstances of the FBI interview of General Flynn on January 24, 2017, that are relevant to the Court’s consideration of a just punishment.

At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing.20 General Flynn had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security. He and Mr. McCabe briefly discussed a security training session the FBI had recently conducted at the White House before Mr. McCabe, by his own account, stated that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with General Flynn to talk about his communications with Russian representatives.21

Mr. McCabe’s account states: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [General Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”22

Less than two hours later, at 2:15 p.m., FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and a second FBI agent arrived at the White House to interview General Flynn.23 By the agents’ account, General Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered to give the agents “a little tour” of the area around his West Wing office. 24 The agents did not provide General Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 before, during, or after the interview. Prior to the FBI’s interview of General Flynn, Mr. McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” one of the agents reported.25 Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used, . . . to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said, . . . they would not confront him or talk him through it.”26 One of the agents reported that General Flynn was “unguarded” during the interview and “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”27

20 Certain information summarized or quoted in this Memorandum derives from documents furnished to Defendant’s counsel pursuant to the Protective Order, United States v. Flynn, 17 CR 232 (D.D.C. Feb. 21, 2018) (Doc. 22). Undersigned counsel conferred with the Government, which represented that disclosing the selected information does not constitute a violation of the Protective Order.

21 Memorandum dated Jan. 24, 2017.

22 Id.

23 FD-302 dated Aug. 22, 2017, at 3. 24 Id.

25 Id.

26 Id.

27 Id.

Flynn is right that it was a dickish move for the FBI not to warn him against lying. You won’t find me denying that the FBI can be dickish. But just as many of these details seem to suggest that the FBI guys were his allies going in and that Flynn honestly believed there was no way someone like him could be held accountable for lying as anything else. Maybe he lied because he has gotten away with lying and other misconduct in the past, and assumed he would continue to do so in the future?

Still, I am wondering why the FBI didn’t write up his 302 until August. This is a point the frothy right used to harp on. I wonder if they’ve discovered that the FBI wasn’t going to write it up until it became clear how material his lies were?

The focus on the circumstances of his FBI interview, however, should shift attention on what he doesn’t mention: His lies to DOJ about influence-peddling for Turkey. Having admitted his guilt, there’s no reason to address either of his lies. But since he did present a quasi excuse for his lies about Russia, his silence about Turkey is notable.

As always, I think the details of his cooperation are just as interesting. He doesn’t describe the topics of his cooperation — we’re stuck with that heavily redacted memo. But in addition to describing his 62 hours and 45 minutes of meetings with the government (but who’s counting?), he describes that he had five pre-plea proffer sessions, all apparently with Mueller’s office.

He participated in five pre-plea proffer sessions with the Special Counsel’s Office and fourteen additional meetings with the Government pursuant to the Plea Agreement entered on December 1, 2017. In total, he participated in nineteen meetings with the Special Counsel’s Office and other components of the Government, totaling approximately sixty-two hours and forty-five minutes.

That may pose some risks for Jared Kushner, given that Mueller first met with Jared in the weeks before Flynn flipped, and Jared seems to have stopped short of exonerating Flynn.

Mueller’s team specifically asked Kushner about former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is under investigation by the special counsel, two sources said. Flynn was the dominant topic of the conversation, one of the sources said.

[snip]

The conversation lasted less than 90 minutes, one person familiar with the meeting said, adding that Mueller’s team asked Kushner to clear up some questions he was asked by lawmakers and details that emerged through media reports. One source said the nature of this conversation was principally to make sure Kushner doesn’t have information that exonerates Flynn.

In addition to that detail, the memo also describes meeting with other government components, plural, suggesting his cooperation went beyond just a Turkish investigation in one US Attorney’s office.

Flynn’s lawyer, Rob Kelner, is equally specific when he asks that Flynn be excused from several normal conditions of probation.

We ask the Court to exercise its discretion by deleting conditions 2, 3, 6, and 7 of the standard conditions recommended under U.S.S.G. § 5B1.3(c). We also request that the Court conclude based on the Presentence Investigation Report that drug testing is not necessary, in accordance with U.S.S.G. § 5B1.3(a)(5) and 18 U.S.C. § 3563(a)(5). As noted above, we submit that a condition requiring community service would be appropriate under U.S.S.G. § 5B1.3(a)(2) and 18 U.S.C. §§ 3563(a)(2) and (b)(12).

Effectively, this request asks twice that Flynn be excused from drug testing, as the clauses he’s asking to be exempted from include those:

(2) For a felony, the defendant shall (A) make restitution, (B) work in community service, or (C) both, unless the court has imposed a fine, or unless the court finds on the record that extraordinary circumstances exist that would make such a condition plainly unreasonable, in which event the court shall impose one or more of the discretionary conditions set forth under 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b) (see 18 U.S.C. § 3563(a)(2)).

(3) For any offense, the defendant shall not unlawfully possess a controlled substance (see 18 U.S.C. § 3563(a)).

[snip]

(6) The defendant shall (A) make restitution in accordance with 18 U.S.C. §§ 2248, 2259, 2264, 2327, 3663, 3663A, and 3664; and (B) pay the assessment imposed in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 3013. If there is a court-established payment schedule for making restitution or paying the assessment (see 18 U.S.C. § 3572(d)), the defendant shall adhere to the schedule.

(7) The defendant shall notify the court of any material change in the defendant’s economic circumstances that might affect the defendant’s ability to pay restitution, fines, or special assessments (see 18 U.S.C. § 3563(a)).

Frankly, I don’t blame the General for wanting to avoid drug testing, and there are several legitimate explanations for wanting to avoid it (such as taking prescription pain killers, or living in state where marijuana has been decriminalized). Moreover, our criminal justice system imposes conditions like that largely to humiliate people (though if that’s the reason, it’s not clear why Flynn should be able to dodge the humiliation other felons undergo).

It’s the request that Flynn not be asked to make restitution and especially his request not to have to notify the court of any change in his economic circumstances that I find particularly notable.

Back in July, you’ll recall, influence peddling firm Stonington Strategies announced that Flynn would be its new Director of Global Strategy. But then his lawyers intervened, presumably hoping to avoid the appearance that their client was returning to influence peddling even before being sentenced for breaking the law while influence peddling.

Hours after a new lobbying firm aimed at domestic and global clients announced it was partnering with former national security adviser Mike Flynn, attorneys for the embattled Mr. Flynn said the deal was off and the notice had been released as a result of a “misunderstanding” among the participants in Stonington Global LLC.

“General Flynn has not joined Stonington and did not personally issue any public statement,” Mr. Flynn’s attorneys Robert Kelner and Stephen Anthony said in a statement Tuesday. “He was aware that a statement was being drafted, but he did not intend that it be issued at this time.”

Mr. Flynn is awaiting sentencing for lying to federal investigators. His December guilty plea grew out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and faces up to six months in jail.

Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that they had started their firm with Mr. Flynn. They also launched a Stonington website and promotional video Tuesday.

“We cannot comment on General Flynn’s considerations about the timing of the announcement, but we have faith in his patriotism and long history of service to our country,” Messrs. Muzin and Allaham said after Mr. Flynn’s lawyers issued their statement. “We look forward to working together.”

[snip]

Muzin and Allaham previously worked together helping a failed political candidate in Albania and on an influence campaign for the embattled Persian Gulf nation Qatar, according to foreign lobbying records. The pair ended their work with Qatar last month, after helping its royal family connect with U.S. Jewish leaders and associates of President Donald Trump to repair the country’s image, according to interviews with Messrs. Muzin and Allaham and foreign lobbying reports filed with the Justice Department.

Mind you, the corrections to the announcement generally said that the announcement was premature, not that it was inaccurate. So it seems that Flynn, like David Petraeus before him, will go from lying to the Feds to making lots of money selling access to them.

Can you blame him? The guy has to pay the bills for his very competent defense attorneys, after all.

Most of all, though, that very specific request — asking to have those clauses excised rather than asking for a community service only probation — seems to be as much about hiding his impending influence peddling riches as anything else.


The Moment Of Truth Comes For Cohen And Flynn

As you likely know by now, Trump fixer Michael Cohen is getting sentenced this morning. In fact, the proceeding is starting as I write this post, so I am going to get it up so that there is an appropriate place to discuss the events.

There are three sentencing memos in the Cohen matter
1) Cohen’s memo
2) The SDNY Memo
3) The Mueller SCO Memo

The sentencing guideline range is 51-63 months, but the government has already suggested a downward departure, i.e. a reduction for those that do not practice federal criminal law, to 41 months. Remember, he is being, technically, sentenced on two different pleas today, the original comprehensive plea, and the one count of lying to the Feds under 18 USC §1001. The latter is a tack on charge and is really not particularly pertinent for sentencing and, in fact, the government has recommended no additional time for that above and beyond whatever is imposed in the original SDNY case. The judge is William H. Pauley, and, for what it is worth, he is not known for overly lenient sentences, and that is likely exacerbated in this case by the fact that Cohen’s conduct impinged on government.

I will make no bets here, but at one point I thought Cohen would do a lot better at sentencing, but the SDNY sentencing memo was just brutal. Currently having a hard time seeing Cohen walking out with less than the 41 months SDNY recommended, but you never know, only Pauley gets to decide. Do note that, should Cohen wake up and fully cooperate in the future, he can still get relief in the next year under Rule 35 of the Federal Criminal Rules of Procedure. Who knows what is yet to come, but it is technically possible that his sentence is not written in stone.

One interesting question is whether Judge Pauley will remand Cohen into custody today, or allow him to go home and self report at a later date. The presumption is always remand, but Cohen’s wife Laura clearly has health issues from seeing her enter the court this morning. If I were Cohen’s lawyer, Guy Petrillo, I would ask for the courtesy on him taking her home and self reporting later. We shall see.

Also, if interested in the blow by blow in real time, follow Adam Klasfeld @KlasfeldReports on Twitter.

Will add in Some Flynn material in a bit.


It’s Not the Campaign Finance Violation or the Simple Private Transaction, It’s the Conspiracy to Commit Fraud

Andrew McCarthy has finally come around to the criminal behavior of the President, though he has found it in Trump’s hush payments rather than his conspiring with Russians. But, in typical fashion, McCarthy stops short of the hard-charging prosecutor he once was, and suggests Trump may have a way out of his crime because campaign finance law favors the candidate.

This is not to suggest that the president is without cards to play. Campaign finance violations have a high proof threshold for intent. President Trump could argue that because there was no spending limit on his contributions, he did not think about the campaign-finance implications, much less willfully violate them.

There is, furthermore, a significant legal question about whether the hush-money payments here qualify as “in-kind” campaign contributions.

McCarthy does this even while rightly emphasizing the language in Michael Cohen’s SDNY sentencing memo that focuses on transparency.

First, Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1. In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.

It is this type of harm that Congress sought to prevent when it imposed limits on individual contributions to candidates. To promote transparency and prevent wealthy individuals like Cohen from circumventing these limits, Congress prohibited individuals from making expenditures on behalf of and coordinated with candidates. Cohen clouded a process that Congress has painstakingly sought to keep transparent.

This language very clearly signals that SDNY believes those involved in this crime thwarted the transparency requirements imposed by campaign finance law. It’s not just the payment itself, it’s the fraud conducted on regulatory bodies designed to ensure transparency. And, equally clearly, SDNY lays out that Cohen did not act on his own.

So even while McCarthy notes that Trump was named personally, he deemphasizes how many players worked together to coordinate these hush payments: In addition to Trump, Cohen’s hush payment lawyer Keith Davidson, the National Enquirer, its Chairman David Pecker, its Editor Dylan Howard on the Karen McDougal payment:

With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. (PSR ¶ 51). In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. (PSR ¶¶ 41, 45)

And then Davidson, Howard, and Trump Organization, with the involvement of several of its executives (probably including one of Trump’s spawn) on the Stormy Daniels payment.

Executives of the Company agreed to reimburse Cohen by adding $130,000 and $50,000, “grossing up” that amount to $360,000 for tax purposes, and adding a $60,000 bonus, such that Cohen would be paid $420,000 in total. Executives of the Company decided to pay the $420,000 in monthly installments of $35,000 over the course of a year. (PSR ¶¶ 52-53). At the instruction of an executive for the Company, Cohen sent monthly invoices to the Company for these $35,000 payments, falsely indicating that the invoices were being sent pursuant to a “retainer agreement.” The Company then falsely accounted for these payments as “legal expenses.”

Importantly, the sentencing memo focuses on the “sophisticated means” that Cohen used — the shell companies and the structured repayments — pointing to fraud, not just campaign finance violations.

The “sophisticated means” enhancement is addressed to Cohen’s use of complex means to carry out and disguise his crimes. For example, Cohen created shell companies for his commission of the campaign finance crimes, including one shell entity (Resolution Consultants) for use in the transaction with Woman-1 and another shell entity (Essential Consultants) for use in the transaction with Woman-2. (PSR ¶¶ 43, 47.) Cohen also agreed to structure the reimbursement for his payment to Woman-2 in monthly installments, and to disguise those payments by creating fake invoices that referenced a non-existent “retainer.” (PSR ¶ 54.)

While it is true that Cohen pled guilty to campaign finance violations, that’s not what SDNY lays out in this memo. Rather, they lay out conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a five year prison sentence, on top of any campaign finance or money laundering prosecution to carry out that fraud. That’s the same charge that Trump appointee Dabney Friedrich just upheld for the Russian trolls that helped Trump win, the same charge that Rick Gates and Paul Manafort have pled guilty to, the same ConFraudUS that Mueller has built all his interlocking indictments around. And there, it’s not so much the intent or success of the attempt to thwart campaign finance oversight that matters, it’s the conspiracy to do it and the secrecy and sophisticated means by which you do it.

So Trump may want to claim this is a “simple private transaction,” just like all the other hush payments he has orchestrated with his buddy Pecker over the years.

But when you carry out such “simple private transactions” in the context of an election then it becomes conspiracy to commit fraud.

And to reiterate: it’s not just Trump himself that can be charged with ConFraudUS for this, it’s also The Company and whichever spawn served as The Executive seeking to hide the payback for Cohen’s hush payments.

Heck. Even the NYT is beginning to figure this out.

What it means is that both Trump (after he’s no longer President) and his company (as soon as SDNY gets around to charging it and its executives) are on the hook for cheating to get elected.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Copyright © 2018 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/category/2016-presidential-election/