FBI Finally Moves to Fix Its Text Retention Problem — and Mobile Phone Security

Back when DOJ IG released a report explaining its efforts to ensure it had reconstructed all of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page’s text messages, I pointed out that most people were missing the really important part of the story: FBI was making do with a vendor who — even after that scandal — still missed 10% of texts.

And in trying to invent an obstruction claim out of normal bureaucratic thriftiness, they are ignoring the really damning part of the IG Report. The government contractor whose “bug” was responsible for the text messages that weren’t originally archived (but which were later recovered) still can’t ensure more than 90% of FBI’s texts are recovered.

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 is a huge problem in discovery in criminal prosecutions. Just as an example, DOJ claims it didn’t have texts between the Agents who were officially staking MalwareTech out in Las Vegas before they arrested him in 2017 and … other Agents. But if FBI doesn’t actually competently archive those texts, how can they make that claim?

More troubling still, FBI didn’t have a handle on what privileges their unnamed and squirrely data retention vendor had onto FBI Agents’ phones.

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.

DOJ IG has now done what I was hoping they would: use the Strzok-Page incident as an opportunity to identify recommendations to fix the problem more generally. Most alarmingly, it says that the Subject Matter Expert it consulted in this process identified security vulnerabilities in its collection process.

[D]uring the OIG’s forensic examination of FBI mobile devices that were used by the two employees, the OIG discovered a database on the mobile devices containing a plain text repository of a substantial number of text messages sent and received by those devices.

Neither ESOC nor the vendor of the application was aware of the existence, origin, or purpose of this database. OIG analysis of the text messages in the database compared to ESOC productions of text messages during the same time periods when the collection tool was functional identified a significant number of text messages found in the database that were missing from the ESOC production. Furthermore, the Subject Matter Expert with whom the OIG consulted in connection with its forensic analysis of the devices identified additional potential security vulnerabilities regarding the collection application. The OIG has provided these findings to the FBI.

Remember: these phones were used by people read into the most sensitive counterintelligence investigations. They weren’t texting a lot about those investigations on those phones, but they were texting unclassified information about the investigations.

So now, two years after these texts were identified, DOJ’s Inspector General is recommending that FBI fix what even I recognized was a security vulnerability — as well as the other, unnamed ones their SME identified.

Coordinate with the collection tool vendor to ensure that data collected by the tool and stored on the device is saved to a secure or encrypted location.

Verify and address the security vulnerabilities identified by the Subject Matter Expert with whom the OIG consulted, which have been provided to the FBI. Current and future mobile devices and data collection and preservation tools should be tested for security vulnerabilities in order to ensure the security of the devices and the safekeeping of the sensitive data therein.

Accused defendants should not have to guess whether or not the FBI Agents investigating them discussed their case via texts that have disappeared forever. And the country, generally, should not have to worry that the phone of its top counterintelligence Agent might be compromised because of a dodgy vendor FBI hired to collect (some of) his texts.

Sadly, DOJ IG doesn’t include another recommendation that seems like a no-brainer: that FBI switch to iPhones over the Samsungs they currently issue, both because iPhones have better security, but also because there is better visibility on the supply chain.

Statement on Using “Big Dick Toilet Salesman”

In just a few minutes, Matt Whitaker will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. I will be live-tweeting it. Before I do, I want to explain why I use the term Big Dick Toilet Salesman to refer to him, in part because some have rightly pointed out that it is disrespectful.

During the Bush Administration, I used a lot of the common monikers for the President. In retrospect, I regret using some of those phrases. The exceptions are “W” (because it’s an easy way to distinguish him from Poppy) and “PapaDick” and “BabyDick” for Cheney and his daughter (because it emphasizes their continued corruption). I regretted using other derogatory terms because ultimately, the focus on coverage should be about someone’s actions, not their appearance or stupidity.

For that reason I’ve tried to avoid any of the monikers for Trump that similarly focus on his character flaws rather than the actions those flaws lead to.

But the entire point of Matt Whitaker’s appointment, the only reason he is a national figure, is about Trump deliberately choosing a fraudster to lead the Department of Justice in hopes of manipulating the rule of law. Whitaker is not qualified in any normal sense of the word. He is there exclusively because he managed to pitch himself to Trump using the very same skills he used to sell whacky patents for things like Big Dick Toilets. He should not have accepted the position, but did so because he was selling yet another oversold novelty.

That should always be at the forefront of discussions about Whitaker to emphasize how illegitimate his appointment was. And so I use the term.

Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker Crams for His Open Book Test

My goodness does Matt Whitaker seem worried about his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. Between CNN last night and Daily Beast today, there are two DOJ sourced stories claiming that he has been working hard to prepare for his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. The Daily Beast story notes something I noted last night: DOJ is already late for a Jerry Nadler-imposed 48 hour deadline to invoke executive privilege for tomorrow’s testimony.

On Jan. 22, Nadler sent Whitaker a letter listing questions he plans to ask, including about his talks with President Donald Trump before he fired Jeff Sessions and his role supervising Mueller’s Russia investigation. And, importantly, Nadler also asked Whitaker to tell him at least 48 hours before the hearing if he planned to invoke executive privilege in response to any of those questions. Executive privilege refers to the president’s legal right to have private conversations with his staff about his presidential duties. Though the Constitution doesn’t use the term, the Supreme Court has ruled that this right exists.

The Justice Department did not make Nadler’s 48-hour deadline.

“We’re not aware of any rules that govern a set amount of time when one needs to invoke executive privilege,” one senior DOJ official involved in Whitaker’s preparation told The Daily Beast. “We do intend to respond, fulsomely addressing the executive-privilege issue in a letter before the hearing.”

In spite of DOJ’s effort to make it look as if the Big Dick Toilet Salesman running the joint has been preparing for this, I’ve heard differently.

HJC just pre-authorized a subpoena on a party line vote for Whitaker’s appearance tomorrow, so they can hold him in contempt when he refuses to answer questions.

In response (and after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance William Barr’s confirmation, also on a party line vote, virtually ensuring DOJ will have a new, qualified Attorney General sometime next week), DOJ said the Big Dick Toilet Salesman won’t show up tomorrow unless he is given assurances he won’t be served with that subpoena.

The Justice Department told the House Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon that acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will not appear at Friday’s closely-watched oversight hearing unless he receives a written assurance by 6 p.m. ET Thursday that he will not be served with the subpoena the committee pre-emptively authorized to use if he avoids questions.

I suspect the reason DOJ is making this threat is because these questions that Whitaker is prepared to answer do not address all the questions that Nadler posed in advance.

The Acting Attorney General will testify that at not time did the White House ask for, or did the Acting Attorney General provide, any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel’s investigation. He will explain that, since he became Acting Attorney General, the Department has continued to make its law enforcement decisions based upon the facts and law of each individual case, in accordance with established Department practices, and independent of any outside interference. With respect to the Special Counsel investigation, the Department has complied with Special Counsel regulations, and the Acting Attorney General will make it clear that there has been no change in how the Department has worked with the Special Counsel’s office. The Acting Attorney General is also prepared to discuss the process and the conclusions of the ethics review by which he concluded that there was no need for him to recuse himself rom supervising the Special Counsel investigation.

We do not believe, however, that the Committee may legitimately expect the Acting Attorney General to discuss his communications with the President. If there are questions at the hearing that the Acting Attorney General does not answer to the satisfaction of the Committee, then the appropriate next step would be for the Committee to contact this office to initiate a joint effort by the Committee and the Department to negotiate a mutually acceptable accommodation under which the Department can satisfy the Committee’s legitimate oversight needs to the fullest extent, consistent with the Executive Branch’s confidentiality and other institutional interests. Should the branches be unable to reach an acceptable agreement, only then would it be time for the Committee to issue a subpoena and, if necessary and appropriate, for the President to determine whether to invoke executive privilege.

Those answers don’t address the majority of the questions Nadler posed in his January 22 letter.

  • President Trump fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions November 7, 2018.  On or before that date, did you have any communication with any White House official, including but not limited to President Trump, about the possibility of your appointment as Acting Attorney General?  If so, when and with whom?  Did any of those communications discuss the possibility of your recusal from oversight of the Special Counsel’s investigation?
  • You announced your decision not to recuse yourself from the Special Counsel’s investigation on December 19, 2018.  Did you consult with the White House about that decision, before or after it was announced?  If so, with whom?
  • My understanding is that you consulted with a four-person team of advisors for guidance on the question of your recusal.  Who are these four individuals?  Did any of them consult with the White House about your decision not recuse yourself from the Special Counsel’s investigation?
  • Have you ever received a briefing on the status of the Special Counsel’s investigation?  If so, have you communicated any information you learned in that briefing to any White House official, including but not limited to President Trump, or any member of President Trump’s private legal team? 
  • It has been reported that President Trump “lashed out” at you on at least two occasions: after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on November 29, 2018, and after federal prosecutors identified President Trump as “Individual 1” in a court filing on December 8, 2018.[1]
    • Did President Trump contact you after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty?  What did he say?  Did you take any action as a result of that conversation?
    • Did President Trump contact you after he was identified as “Individual 1” in documents related to the criminal sentencing of Michael Cohen?  What did he say?  Did you take any action as a result of that conversation?
    • In any of these conversations, did President Trump express concern, anger, or similar frustration with the actions of the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York?
    • In any of these conversations, did President Trump discuss the possibility of firing or reassigning certain personnel who work for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York?
    • In any of these conversations, did the President discuss the recusal of Geoffrey Berman, the current U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, from the Michael Cohen case and other matters related to the work of the Special Counsel?
  • Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions tasked John Huber, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, with reviewing a wide range of issues related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Have you ever received a briefing on the status of Mr. Huber’s work?  If so, have you communicated any information you learned in such a briefing to any White House official, including but not limited to President Trump, or any member of President Trump’s private legal team? 
  • On January 17, 2018, BuzzFeed News reported that federal prosecutors have evidence, in the form of witness interviews and internal communications, suggesting that President Trump had directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.  On January 18, the Special Counsel issued a rare statement describing some aspects of the BuzzFeed story as inaccurate.  Did you have any communication with the White House about the BuzzFeed report or the decision of the Special Counsel’s office to issue its subsequent statement?  If so, with whom?  What was discussed?

In other words, DOJ seems to be using the fact that Nadler will insist on answers to the questions to refuse to show up.

The SCO Statement and Why Cohen Should Not Testify Feb. 7

Marcy wrote a great post this morning titled “Peter Carr Speaks“. I agree with almost all of it, if not all of it, but feel compelled to add a couple of things.

As to what the motivation of Carr and Mueller was, it is, at this date, unclear, despite the high handed and dismissive sudden reactive reportage of Devlin Barrett, Zapotsky and Demerjian at WaPo and Ken Dilanian of NBC/MSNBC. They have shown even less sources and credibility than Buzzfeed that they now conveniently and eagerly dismiss. Maybe the Mueller statement is a tad more nuanced and unknown than that.

As to what the target of the Mueller/Carr statement was, when Marcy says:

But I suspect Carr took this step, even more, as a message to SDNY and any other Agents working tangents of this case. Because of the way Mueller is spinning off parts of this case, he has less control over some aspects of it, like Cohen’s plea. And in this specific case (again, presuming I’m right about the SDNY sourcing), Buzzfeed’s sources just jeopardized Mueller’s hard-earned reputation, built over 20 months, for not leaking. By emphasizing in his statement what happened in “the special counsel’s office,” “testimony obtained by this office,” Carr strongly suggests that the people who served as sources had nothing to do with the office.

Yes, this looks almost certain from where I stand. Wasn’t the only aim of Carr’s arrow on behalf of Mueller, but was a rather large one.

Secondly, and since many media outlets and commenters are clacking about how the proof of Trump directly telling Cohen to lie is the end all and be all as to necessity for discussion, that is just wrong.

The record before the Buzzfeed article already established, through signed and accepted court filings, that Cohen indeed lied to Congress with the express intent of supporting the lies Trump was fostering.

That is not in dispute at this point. As to whether Trump personally ordered Cohen to do so, face to face, (and there is still a decent shot of that being true, but we do not know), that is not the end of the discussion legally.

First off, if those around Trump, (think lawyers and family, if not Trump himself), discussed and encouraged Cohen to lie to Congress, that is a huge problem for Trump. Let me remind people of one of the most basic definitional provisions in the criminal code, 18 USC §2:

(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.

(b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.

So,  all of the nonsense by Rudy Guliliani is simply nonsense. That is without even considering conspiracy law and implications thereof.

So, sure, the SCO hit on Buzzfeed hurt the narrative in the press. Did it really hurt the narrative legally? No, not so much.

Lastly, I would like to address the upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing Cohen is scheduled for on February 7. He was voluntarily appearing after restrictions Cummings and the Committee agreed to, purportedly, with Mueller. The ground has changed. Frankly,  I think the hearing this quickly was ill considered and premature grandstanding to start with, but now strikes me as nuts given the changed circumstances after the Buzzfeed piece, SCO brushback and Trump’s direct threats to Cohen’s extended family.

Given the aggressive nature of Trump’s followers, there is a credible threat to Cohen and his family. But, more than that, there is a threat to his credibility and usability as a witness in the future. The ranking member on the House Oversight Committee is the odious Jim Jordan. His other GOP minority members will undoubtedly fall in line to attack Cohen, especially after the vague pushback comment of Carr/Mueller last night. It is set up now as a clown show.

The hearing should either be affirmatively postponed by Cummings or withdrawn from by Cohen personally. There is nowhere near enough good that can come from Cohen’s appearance, and a lot to lose for both him and Mueller given the shitshow that the GOP members will bring to the affair. Cancel that February 7 hearing and testimony. Just do not do it.

[For the record, I originally lodged this as a comment on Marcy’s post, but for unrelated reasons, thought the points about criminal liability and conspiracy needed to be included in a separate post, and did not wish to step on hers at the time.]

Into Shutdown Day 28: Is the GOP Senate Obstructing Justice?

[NB: Always check the byline, folks. /~Rayne]

As we roll through the afternoon into the 28th day of the longest-ever government shutdown, let’s revisit Senator Amy Klobuchar’s questions to Attorney General nominee Bill Barr before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

She asked him about his opinion on obstruction of justice. Barr discussed in his June 2018 memo addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel, focusing on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “‘Obstruction’ Theory.”

Four key points give pause:

  • Deliberately impaired integrity or availability of evidence;
  • Knowing destruction or alteration of evidence;
  • Ordering witness/es not to cooperate with investigation;
  • Misleading statements to conceal purposes.

Klobuchar asked Barr about each of these during the hearing:

(3:17) KLOBUCHAR: You wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay.

BARR: Or any, any, well, you know, or any person who persuades another, yeah.

(3:31) KLOBUCHAR: Okay. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay.

(3:42) KLOBUCHAR: And on page 2 you said that a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an instruction*. Is that correct?

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay, and um, so what if the president told the witness not to cooperate with an investigation, or hinted at a pardon?

BARR: You know, I, I’d have to know the specific, I’d have to know the specific facts.

(4:03) KLOBUCHAR: And you wrote on page one that if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction.

BARR: Yes.

(4:13) KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Um, so what if a president drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

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

KLOBUCHAR: All right.

(* Not clear if she said “instruction” or “obstruction”; she was referring to the discussion obstruction in Barr’s memo.)

So what does this have to do with the shutdown? Regardless of the genesis and distribution of Barr’s memo or his opinion, these forms of obstruction are exactly what the government shutdown accomplishes.

Evidence to be gathered by and from some government resources may be limited by the furlough. IRS staff, for example, may have been called back to handle refunds but are there IRS staff on duty who may respond to subpoenas for tax returns? What of so-called “non-essential” personnel who might handle document requests in other departments? Have furloughed federal employees who are not yet called back indirectly ordered not to cooperate with investigations by virtue of their locked out status?

We already know that Trump avoided creating and processing records of his discussions with Putin, a likely violation of the Presidential Records Act. Has he further destroyed or altered evidence subject to the PRA but prevented staff responsible for handling and recovering destroyed/altered evidence from doing so with the shutdown? (Recall the archivist-records managers who had been taping together Trump’s documents but were fired by second quarter 2018.)

Has the demand for the wall itself, in any statements or writings demanding this wall, been an attempt to conceal the true intent of the shutdown as an act of obstruction? Recall how upset Trump was with Mick Mulvaney when Mulvaney tried to offer a number lower than Trump’s demanded $5.7B and higher than House Democrat’s offered $1.3B; Trump yelled at him in front of members of Congress and told him, “You just fucked it up!

Was it not the wall’s funding but obstruction by shutdown Mulvaney interfered with by trying to offer a means to reopen the government?

If there is any doubt at all about these points, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is obligated to permit bills through which would end the shutdown or at least extend temporary funding, so that obstruction by shutdown is at an end.

The GOP Senate caucus is likewise obligated to take measures to end the shutdown, including replacement of their Senate Majority Leader if he continues to obstruct government’s operation.

Neither McConnell nor the GOP Senate caucus appear to be acting in good faith about this shutdown. At least Mulvaney made a reasonable, good faith effort before being sworn at and shot down by Trump.

If we thought the GOP Senate was compromised before by Russian-furnished NRA money, they deepen their compromise by refusing to address the obstructive shutdown. Is their “lack of alarm” about the lengthening shutdown due not to their ideology but their resignation to this obstruction?

Why is Mitch McConnell still Senate Majority Leader at this point? Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was asked to step down for supporting a noted racist, and McConnell know this because he was instrumental to Lott’s removal.

Why is the GOP Senate aiding and abetting this obstruction of justice at scale?

#WhyMitch

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Judge Sullivan Was Prepared For Potential Flynn Perjury and Fraud On The Court

Okay, that was quite a morning at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in DC in regard to the Flynn plea and sentencing. In the windup this morning, well before the proceeding began, I cautioned that Flynn and his attorney Rob Kelner would have to back off the right wing Fox News Trumpian nonsense they stupidly included in their sentencing memo. See this report from Marcy on the sentencing memo, and this one as to how the FBI 302’s the Flynn team stupidly demanded be made public ate them alive. And, they really did.

There is already simply a ton of discussion on the Flynn proceeding today, I will leave that to others. But there was one little nugget I say from, I think, Glenn Kirshner, as almost a throwaway comment, on MSNBC that Judge Sullivan insisted Mike Flynn be sworn in before proceeding today. I was not really ready to write about this until confirming it from others in the courtroom this morning. I have now received that corroboration from multiple sources. In fact, Judge Sullivan directly said he was doing so because “he was doing basically an extension of the plea colloquy”. Wow!!

This is fairly notable. Defendants get sworn in for their plea allocution, but not their sentencing. Judge Emmet Sullivan was laying in the weeds for Flynn from moment one. To be specific, here is what I said in a tweet well before the sentencing began regarding Flynn and Kelner having included the right wing nonsense about Flynn being innocent and tricked by the FBI in their sentencing memo:

“Keep in mind that this argument, if pursued to success, then makes his plea allocution effectively a fraud on the court.”

Well, apparently Judge Sullivan was on to the problem that such a direct repudiation by Flynn of his underlying guilt, and the previously sworn voluntariness of his plea, would pose if he was stupid enough to continue down that path. Sullivan was ready, because continuing down that path would have directly undermined everything Flynn swore to in his plea allocution on December 1, 2017.

What Judge Sullivan effectively did was set the first real “perjury trap” to date in the greater Mueller investigation (despite the idiocy purveyed relentlessly on Fox News and by Rudy Giuliani). And it was a federal court and judge that did it, not Mueller or his deputies. Emmet Sullivan was loaded for bear today on multiple fronts, but this is one the media does not seem to have caught on to yet.

Flynn and his attorneys were ready for it after the searing followup sentencing memo filed by the government, but clearly were not ready for just how seething Judge Sullivan really was. Frankly, I think the canard, as suggested by Sullivan himself, that “further cooperation” by Flynn really will change the dynamics for sentencing at this point is absurd. That said, assuming they can keep their client from doing further stupid things in the interim, giving Emmet Sullivan 90 days to calm down is not a bad idea for the defense I guess. What a mess. I remain convinced, however, that Flynn could have walked out of court sentenced to probation today if he had not included that right wing Fox News nonsense in his sentencing memo. Oh well!

Leo’s Lane: Balls and Strikes versus Checks and Balances

Last week, a group of Federalist Society members kicked off the annual meeting by announcing a new group, calling itself Checks and Balances, led by Kellyanne Conway’s spouse, George.

On its face, it’s not clear what function the group will have, aside from focusing even more attention on George and Kellyanne’s differing views on the President. I assume, however, the statement the 14 lawyers signed is meant to embarrass other conservative lawyers into remembering the principles they lay out in their statement.

We believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the independence of the criminal justice system, the imperative of individual rights, and the necessity of civil discourse. We believe these principles apply regardless of the part of persons in power. We believe in a “a government of laws, not of men.”

We believe in the Constitution. We believe in free speech, a free press, separation of powers, and limited government. We have faith in the resiliency of the American experiment.

That said, I want to look at a few details of timing and intent.

The WaPo has an article that describes why some of the signers joined the group. Attacks on DOJ, Trump’s cultivation of racists, and attacks on the free press.

As to Conway, though, it focuses on the appointment of Matt Whitaker (though also includes Trump’s claim to want to end birthright citizenship).

Other members have pointed to Trump’s ouster of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and installation of Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general.

Conway, the group organizer, said, “There wasn’t any one thing; it’s a long series of events that made me think that a group like this could do some good.”

Conway has authored a series of articles attacking Trump’s politics, most recently an opinion piece in the New York Times that called Whitaker’s appointment unconstitutional.

“It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid,” Conway wrote. He similarly called the president’s plan to end birthright citizenship unconstitutional.

That’s interesting given the role multiple NYT stories have described Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo had in the hiring of Whitaker. After the NYT almost got Rod Rosenstein fired (probably relying at least in part on Whitaker as a source), it described Leo recommending Whitaker to be Sessions’ Chief of Staff back in 2017.

Leonard Leo, the influential head of the conservative legal organization the Federalist Society who has taken leaves from the role to periodically advise the president since the transition, recommended Mr. Whitaker for his job with Mr. Sessions, according to a person briefed on the job search.

[snip]

“He has the trust and confidence of any number of people within the Justice Department and within the law enforcement community, but also the White House,” Mr. Leo said of Mr. Whitaker.

Installing Whitaker as Chief of Staff last year is one of the reasons Whitaker’s appointment would be legal under the Vacancies Reform Act (though the appointment’s legality is still very much under debate), because it meant he had been in a senior position at DOJ long enough to qualify. And hyping Whitaker at that moment was a key step in prepping his installation after Sessions’ eventual firing.

NYT emphasized again, once Whitaker had been installed, Leo’s role in his installation.

At this point, let me take a detour. Most of the lawyers who signed onto Checks and Balances are thrilled with the way Trump has been packing the court with conservative judges. Which would mean, by extension, they’re thrilled with Leo’s role in the Administration (indeed, in all recent Republican administrations) for the way he has provided the Executive branch a steady supply of vetted conservatives to get approved for lifetime appointments. Conway himself has said Trump “deserves a tremendous amount of credit for that. I’ll be the first to clap my hands for it.”

Yet, in the NYT story on the group, Conway suggested that Republicans were so happy with Trump’s success in packing the courts that they overlooked other things like rule of law.

Mr. Conway, who has long been a member of and contributor to the Federalist Society, said he had nothing but admiration for its work. But he added that some conservative lawyers, pleased with Mr. Trump’s record on judicial nominations and deregulation, have been wary of criticizing him in other areas, as when he attacks the Justice Department and the news media.

“There’s a perception out there that conservative lawyers have essentially sold their souls for judges and regulatory reform,” Mr. Conway said. “We just want to be a voice speaking out, and to encourage others to speak out.”

In championing Whitaker, Leo has stepped beyond his traditional role — vetting and supporting judicial candidates — into a different one, which might either be judged as interfering in DOJ’s operations or, more alarmingly and accurately, helping the President (who has succeeded so well at packing the courts) undermine a criminal investigation into his own conduct.

Leonard Leo has stepped outside his lane. And George Conway, at least, is pushing back.

And that’s why I find Leo’s response to the group so interesting. He gave Axios a screed of bullet points talking about how offended he is by the move.

  • “I find the underlying premise of the group rather offensive,” Leo told me. “The idea that somehow they need to have this voice because conservatives are somehow afraid to talk about the rule of law during the Trump administration.”
  • “And my response to that is, no, people aren’t afraid, many people just don’t agree that there’s a constitutional crisis and don’t agree with the people who have signed up with this group.”

Several of those bullet point screeds focused on the Jeff Sessions’ firing.

  • “I measure a president’s sensitivity to the rule of law by his actions, not his off-the-cuff comments, tweets or statements. And the president has obviously had lots of criticisms about former Attorney General Sessions and about the department, but at the end of the day, he hasn’t acted upon those criticisms.
  • “He’s allowed the department to have an awful lot of freedom and independence. … He can say what he wants to say, but at the end of the day, words don’t threaten the rule of law, actions do. I’ve been to 48 countries around the world. I know a constitutional crisis, and I know what a rule of law crisis is. Lots of countries have them. This country doesn’t right now.”

Leo seems to be having fun playing DOJ kingmaker, on top of the great success he has had playing judicial kingmaker under Trump. But it seems at least some conservatives don’t believe that’s his role to play.

Update: I asked Conway about this and got a response after the post was published. He says this is not about Leo at all.

It’s a response to Trump and the need for conservative lawyers generally to say something about him. It’s got nothing to do with Leonard.

Jeff Flake’s “Investigation” Is A Predicable Trumpian Sham

This was about the easiest thing in the world to predict. Jeff Flake issues some hollow self indulgent bullshit to make himself look like the last great reasonable man, and it is all garbage being run as cover for a complicit Trump White House and weak Senate Republicans (and at least one faux Democrat) desperately and cowardly seeking any fig leaf possible to allow them to put a craven, partisan, angry and drunkard historical sex offender on the United States Supreme Court for the next three to four decades.

If you thought that was just hyperbole previously, read this from NBC News and chew on it:

Instead of investigating Swetnick’s claims, the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview, according to several people who discussed the parameters on the condition of anonymity. They characterized the White House instructions as a significant constraint on the FBI investigation and caution that such a limited scope, while not unusual in normal circumstances, may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.

The limited scope seems to be at odds with what some members of the Senate judiciary seemed to expect when they agreed to give the FBI as much as a week to investigate allegations against Kavanaugh, a federal judge who grew up in the Washington DC area and attended an elite all-boys high school before going on to Yale.

Yes, of course Trump and McGahn are limiting the scope and time of this “investigation”. It was always going to be a sham, and that is why it was always so absurd that the SJC Minority, and other Dems, not to mention the ridiculously ever gullible national press, bought off on this idiocy. It was an own goal that they set themselves up for and are now being collared by.

This is a fraud being perpetrated on the American public. The media needs to take the time and do their own investigation, the “FBI” one is a sham being manipulated by the sex criminal led and protecting, White House.

I honestly don’t know who is more clueless in what was up with this ruse….the national media as to the forever sucker play of “the last honest Republican, Jeff Flake”….or the Democratic cheerleaders that thought this was anything other than a sham fig leaf cover play. Both are pathetic. This was obvious from the first second Flake uttered the words “limited” and “one week or less”.

PT Barnum said that a sucker is born even minute. A LOT of them were born yesterday. Didn’t have to be that way, but that is the stupidity of DC politics, and press coverage thereof.

Brett Kavanaugh Thinks Using Stolen Emails Is Acceptable Behavior

There’s something that is missing from the debates back and forth about whether Brett Kavanaugh lied during any or all of the three Senate confirmation processes he has undergone. I’m of the opinion Kavanaugh lied skillfully, but because he’s a lawyer he managed to do so without committing perjury.

But on one issue — Kavanaugh’s use of emails stolen from Democrats — we don’t need to determine whether he lied or not, because he irrefutably did something that should make him unacceptable to be confirmed.

Even those that argue Kavanaugh didn’t lie and those that argue that, because Manny Miranda wasn’t prosecuted (during a GOP Administration and benefitting from speech and debate protection) or because it wasn’t a technical hack but rather a permissions violation, these emails weren’t “stolen,” do agree that using them was wrong. Here’s David Lat, for example, who wrote most of a book’s worth of Twitter threads defending Kavanaugh this week, admitting that using the emails was “unethical and wrong.”

And whatever you believe about whether Kavanaugh lied in any of these confirmation processes, what is irrefutable is that last week he was told, from the people involved, that he had, in fact, received and used stolen emails. For example, Patrick Leahy told him, repeatedly, that a document of his that got forwarded in draft form, that the document was not public at the time Kavanaugh received it.

Given such a circumstance, there is one natural, decent response. You apologize. Upon learning, allegedly for the first time, that you had indeed used stolen emails, you apologize to the people they were stolen from. “Gosh, I’m sorry. I had no idea. I’m sorry.” That’s what you say when you discover you used emails stolen from someone.

Brett Kavanaugh didn’t do that. He sat in front of his entire Catholic school girl’s basketball team, and instead of apologizing, he defended himself.

So no matter whether he was lying, one thing is crystal clear: he doesn’t think it was wrong to use stolen emails. He had no moral or ethical regret upon learning, definitively, that he had used stolen emails.

There may be several reasons that explain his lack of remorse for using stolen emails.

Obviously, he’s trying very hard not to offend the guy who appointed him before he’s confirmed, and pointing out that it is unethical to use stolen emails might be a sore subject for Donald Trump, who got elected by exploiting stolen emails.

Perhaps, too, he’s just an unethical person, the kind of guy whose Catholicism serves as a sanctimonious self-justification to engage in really unholy behavior.

But the biggest reason why Brett Kavanaugh might be reluctant to apologize for a clear ethical injury, even if he claims it was unwitting, is that it would taint his actions confirming judges. That is, it would make it clear he cheated — even if unwittingly — to push lifetime appointments through Congress. Those judges were confirmed illegitimately. And Kavanaugh, bidding for the third of three lifetime appointments, doesn’t want to do anything to highlight that illegitimately confirmed judges are, themselves, tainted.

Reality Gets A Harsh Sentence

With Update Below!

As many of you may already know, this morning was the sentencing for Reality Winner. She was sentenced to 63 months of incarceration and three years of supervised release upon completion of her term. The supervised release term is rather standard. She will be housed at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. The stated reason was because she is bulimic, but it seems more like a nod to her, and her family, who requested a Texas posting so they would be near. There is no pecuniary fine. I have not seen the official sentencing order yet, but have little to no doubt she will be credited with the time served in pre-trial detention since her arrest on June 3, 2017; i.e. nearly 15 months. So, assuming that, she should be released in about 4 years.

Okay, that is the hard nuts and bolts of Ms. Winner’s sentencing. If you want some more background, please see our old friend Kevin Gosztola at Shadowproof, who has been covering all the Reality Winner court appearances.

All that said, let me address a couple of things. First, the sentence was not unexpected, indeed it was stipulated to in the plea agreement Ms. Winner both signed and allocuted to in open court. While the court technically “could” have deviated downward, there was little to no chance it would given the plea language. Anybody shocked by today’s sentencing has not been paying attention.

Secondly, the government did not “block” Winner’s defenses. I had a discussion on this point with a good friend, Will Bunch, who has admirably written extensively on, and in favor of, Reality. Sadly, the law here is what it is, and not what Will and I would like it to be. Winner’s attorneys filed every motion they could, both to try to win and to protect the record. But those motions were never going to work, they never do, and they did not here.

Jeffrey Sterling also tried all of that. It did not work then, for him, either. Sterling got 42 months in prison. It is hard to compare disparate cases, but in the long run, I personally have a hard time seeing why Reality Winner was worse or more damaging than Jeff Sterling, and yet she got 1.5 times as much incarceration as Sterling. Different DOJ’s, different times and the Trump Administration was already on the record as head hunting for leakers when Winner fell into their lap. So, I guess it is not shocking. They were looking to make an example and there she was.

Now to the after show doings. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Bobby L. Christine (never trust a man with two first names), cravenly issued a pompous press release on the sentencing. This is just a taste of the Christine hyperbolic:

The document Winner compromised did, in fact, contain TOP SECRET information about the sources and methods used to acquire the intelligence described in the report. That means it revealed how U.S. Intelligence Agencies obtained information. U.S. Government subject matter experts have determined that Winner’s willful, purposeful disclosure caused exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security. That harm included, but was not limited to, impairing the ability of the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information similar to the information the defendant disclosed. This was, by no means, a victimless crime.

What’s more, Winner’s exceptionally damaging disclosure was not a spontaneous, unplanned event, but was the calculated culmination of a series of acts. She researched whether it was possible to insert a thumb drive into a Top Secret computer without being detected, and then inserted a thumb drive, WHICH THE GOVERNMENT NEVER RECOVERED, into a Top Secret computer. She researched job opportunities that would provide her access to classified information. At the same time, she searched for information about anti-secrecy organizations, and she celebrated claimed compromises in U.S. classified information.

Note the Trump like raging capital letters? Ooof. It was an unnecessary and prickish public release by somebody that had won and driven the vanquished into the ground. And while Bobby L. Christine took all the glory, he did not do diddly squat himself, the matter was handled by a team of career AUSA’s that he did not even have the common courtesy to mention. Very Trump like.

Okay, so why did Ms. Winner end up here? There are a lot of reasons. First off, while Winner would have pretty clearly been discovered anyway, she disclosed her material to The Intercept, which was far from the only cause of her discovery, but did her no favors either. And the Government, especially the NSA, hates, with a capital H, The Intercept. But again, Reality’s discovery was inevitable even despite that, but it is a factor.

Secondly, the Government has thought all along that she had more material than what The Intercept and Matt Cole received and published. In its sentencing memorandum, the government addressed other areas of concern as to Winner including: her insertion of flash drive into a TS/SCI NSA computer at Fort Meade; her Internet history (which other filings make clear included details on Anonymous, Vault 7, Hal Martin, Assange, and Snowden); her download of Tor; her seeking out employment at Pluribus; and her screenshots of secure drop information.

These bases were generally also why she was detained without bail. That does not make it right, and it is, and remains true, that there is far too much secrecy and cheap classification in the face of the American public’s interest. This is a textbook example of just that. But Reality Winner tried to be a whistleblower and fell into the lurch where there are no such protections for the acts she did. She paid an overly, and draconian, price for what she did because the Trump Administration needed a head on a pike. They got hers. And this morning’s sentencing was the ugly culmination of that.

UPDATE: alright, Trevor Timm at The Intercept, has posted an interesting coda to the Reality Winner goings on today.

WHEN THE INTERCEPT first published the top-secret document, reporters and editors went to the government — as they do every time The Intercept publishes classified documents — to hear the NSA’s views about any information that might truly harm national security. After listening to the agency’s arguments, and out of an abundance of caution, The Intercept redacted a few pieces of information from the document before publishing it.

A key phrase that the government wanted withheld was the specific name of the Russian unit identified in the document. The government was particularly insistent on that point. Since it wasn’t vital to the story that the unit’s name be revealed, nor was it clear — at least at the time — that revealing the unit’s name was in the public interest, The Intercept agreed to withhold it.

But in the indictment of alleged Russian military intelligence operatives that Mueller’s office released last month, the Justice Department revealed the same name: GRU unit 74455. (The unit is also known as the Main Center for Special Technology or GTsST.) The indictment went on to reveal information almost identical to that contained in the document Winner admits to disclosing:

In or around June 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators researched domains used by U.S. state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and other election-related entities for website vulnerabilities. KOVALEV and his co-conspirators also searched for state political party email addresses, including filtered queries for email addresses listed on state Republican Party websites.

In or around July 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators hacked the website of a state board of elections (“SBOE 1”) and stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers

In or around August 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators hacked into the computers of a U.S. vendor (“Vendor 1”) that supplied software used to verify voter registration information for the 2016 U.S. elections. KOVALEV and his co-conspirators used some of the same infrastructure to hack into Vendor 1 that they had used to hack into SBOE 1.

The Justice Department is trying to have it both ways: It’s OK for Mueller to publicly release this information in an attempt to prosecute alleged Russian hackers because it’s in the public interest. But at the exact same time, the government is also claiming that a document including very similar information causes grave harm to national security when disclosed to the public by someone else.

There is a lot more there at Trevor’s post. Without doubling the size of this post, I would like to second the expert opinions submitted by Bill Leonard that Trevor Timm describes and have been long a staple here. There literally is no greater expert on classification than Bill Leonard. That said, it is like the discussion in the main original post. The fight is against archaic, authoritarian and totalitarian laws and legal precedent. Until those are changed, there is reality, and then there is the regrettable case of Reality Winner.

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