Three Things: A Three-Ring Circus

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Under the enormous canvas tent of the United States, come see the mightiest extant amusement organization, superior in character, regal in appointment, magnificent in conception, omnipotent in strength, with hundreds of witnesses, a plethora of attorneys and paralegals, the promise of the wild beast-like Chansley, multiple frustrated judges…

And one orange-tinted slack-bottomed kack-handed clown unseen off the stage entantrumed in the wings.

Ladies, Gentlemen, and those of pronouns without and within, welcome to the American circus.

I can’t even begin to imagine what all of this looks like from abroad.

~ 3 ~

Arguments just wrapped up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit regarding former president Trump’s claim of executive privilege over testimony and materials subpoenaed by the House January 6 Committee. Twitter threads covering the hearing’s progress:

For BuzzFeed:


For DailyKos:

Stream the audio of the arguments on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/DcMnkpZOpxo

I have to admit this hearing is making me grit my teeth. No one is above the law; the executive’s job is to execute what Congress legislates, and Congress cannot do its job effectively without oversight of the executive’s work when its work product is not related to classified national security issues. There’s zero executive privilege for testimony and materials related to campaigning if performed in and by the White House.

~ 2 ~

Convicted shaman insurrectionist perp Jacob Chansley filed an appeal today.

Good luck with that, buddy. What a waste of a lengthy mea culpa in court.

Chansley wasn’t the only lower level perp on the agenda today — check Scott MacFarlane’s Twitter feed for more including another perp charged and another arraigned today.

~ 1 ~

Washington Post published an article today about Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, who until now has completely resisted compliance with a House January 6 Committee subpoena. Here’s the timeline of related events:

September 23, 2021 — House January 6 Committee issued a subpoena to Meadows;
October 7, 2021 — Due date for records subpoenaed;
October 15, 2021 — Deposition deadline;
November 11, 2021 — White House Deputy Counsel sent a letter to Meadow’s attorney advising that President Biden would not exert executive privilege over any testimony or records the House January 6 Committee subpoenaed;
November 11, 2021 — U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit blocked handover of National Archives’ presidential records responsive to a January 6 committee’s subpoena;
November 12, 2021 — Meadow’s attorney issued a statement which said Meadows would not cooperate with the committee until after the legality of the subpoenas was settled in court;
November 30, 2021 — See Thing 3 above, Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit hearing today regarding subpoena of testimony and records over which Trump claims executive privilege.

Hed and subhed of WaPo’s article today:

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows cooperating with Jan. 6 committee
Meadows has provided records to the committee investigating the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and will give a deposition.

“Cooperating” is rather broadly used. Committee chair Bennie Thompson issued a statement today about Meadows:

“Mr. Meadows has been engaging with the Select Committee through his attorney. He has produced records to the committee and will soon appear for an initial deposition. The Select Committee expects all witnesses, including Mr. Meadows, to provide all information requested and that the Select Committee is lawfully entitled to receive. The committee will continue to assess his degree of compliance with our subpoena after the deposition.”

“has been engaging” isn’t the same as cooperating; an “initial” deposition doesn’t mean anything until Meadows has actually answered questions put to him without prevarication.

As Marcy tweeted, “Meadows could invoke a bunch of things and avoid testifying and avoid contempt that way.

Betting this “cooperating” is a stall tactic which won’t end until the Department of Justice indicts Meadows for contempt of Congress as they did Steve Bannon.

But perhaps there will be more than two charges if Meadows “has been engaging” in a little light obstruction.

Sure hope for his own sake Meadows turned information related to his phone records.

~ 0 ~

What other hearing(s) did I miss? Share in comments.

Minority Report: Botheration Benefits Bannon

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

At the risk of annoying the rest of Team Emptywheel — especially our resident attorney and in part because I’m not a lawyer myself — let me offer a minority report and note we have a serious problem.

You’ll recall one-time Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to then-President Trump Steve Bannon refused to answer a subpoena issued by the House January 6 committee.

You’ll also recall that the House then debated and voted on a charge of contempt of Congress.

The House then referred the charge once passed to the Department of Justice.

Many Americans are disappointed that Bannon is still out walking around as if U.S. laws don’t apply to him. It doesn’t help matters that Trump pardoned Bannon for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering, a pardon which has the appearance that it may have been intended as payback and as advance compensation for helping to organize the January 6 insurrection.

And now those Americans are even more disappointed that Bannon has now blown off Congress without any repercussions so far. It’s not obvious to the public why it takes so long to bring the scruffy bucket of excess shirtage, whiskers, and pudge to answer their representatives’ questions.

Bannon is thumbing his nose at the American people and they know it.

~ ~ ~

Persons who’ve worked in federal law enforcement insist the Department of Justice is working on this and the rule of law simply takes time, chiding us not to be like those people, implying behavior like the “deplorables” who chant “Lock him up!”

Except the American people have seen justice work too rapidly and unfairly for those who aren’t privileged. They expect a reasonable effort to effect justice speedily; justice delayed is justice denied. The tick-tock has been annoyingly like water torture — drip, drip, drip wearing on stone:

July 1 — Six months after the insurrection the House January 6 committee was approved and formed.

September 23 — It took two and a half months to subpoena Bannon who had been an advocate if not an organizer for the rally on January 5 and 6.

October 8 — President Biden refused to exert executive privilege over documents requested from the National Archives by the committee.

October 8 — Bannon was supposed to testify October 14 but his lawyer communicated on October 8 to the committee Bannon would not comply with the subpoena because former president Trump exerted a claim of executive privilege.

October 14 — Bannon does not report to the House committee.

October 19 — The committee began the process to hold Bannon in criminal contempt on the date Bannon was supposed to testify; the committee voted unanimously on October 19 to hold Bannon in contempt.

October 21 — Congress approved the charge on October 21 so that the charge could be referred to the Department of Justice.

October 25 — President Biden again refused to exert executive privilege over documents requested from the National Archives by the committee. No privilege has been claimed by Biden with regard to Bannon.

The public has seen no concrete action by DOJ in response to the contempt charge against Congress — a charge which should result in arresting Bannon, taking him into custody, and charging him with contempt until he complies.

23 days later, what the public sees is Bannon still doing whatever he does on any average day besides shave.

And the folks who’ve worked in law enforcement continue to say this simply takes time.

~ ~ ~

Except Congress itself is irritated, if Rep. Connolly’s opinion is more widely shared among his colleagues:


Congress members have good reason to be irritated; if DOJ couldn’t see ahead from Day One of the Biden administration that some Trump administration officials, staffers, and other supporters would resist a Congressional investigation into any allegation of Trump or Trump-adjacent wrongdoing, they had to be naïve or grossly incompetent. The impeachment investigations gave ample examples of what would happen and hinted at worse.

DOJ could at least have made an effort to appear ready to deal with intransigent witnesses. It’s not as if DOJ is unaware the public is bombarded with messaging all day long and in the absence of official messages, poor messaging will embed in the public’s consciousness.

The DOJ also has no good excuse for failing to execute the contempt charge. Congressional Research Service has at least twice in the last decade examined Congress’s ability to execute subpoenas and inherent contempt — the research has been done, it’s all neatly spelled out. Vet it if necessary but it’s pretty straightforward.

The biggest single reason DOJ shouldn’t dally is that it cannot question Congress’s speech or debate. An attack on the Capitol Building while Congress was in session is the most obviously legitimate reason for the House to issue a subpoena. Congress must know as part of its necessary speech and debate what happened leading up to and during the attack in order to:

(2) identify, review, and evaluate the causes of and the lessons learned from the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol regarding—

(A) the command, control, and communications of the United States Capitol Police, the Armed Forces, the National Guard, the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in the National Capital Region on or before January 6, 2021;

(B) the structure, coordination, operational plans, policies, and procedures of the Federal Government, including as such relate to State and local governments and nongovernmental entities, and particularly with respect to detecting, preventing, preparing for, and responding to targeted violence and domestic terrorism;

(C) the structure, authorities, training, manpower utilization, equipment, operational planning, and use of force policies of the United States Capitol Police;

(D) the policies, protocols, processes, procedures, and systems for the sharing of intelligence and other information by Federal, State, and local agencies with the United States Capitol Police, the Sergeants at Arms of the House of Representatives and Senate, the Government of the District of Columbia, including the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, the National Guard, and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in the National Capital Region on or before January 6, 2021, and the related policies, protocols, processes, procedures, and systems for monitoring, assessing, disseminating, and acting on intelligence and other information, including elevating the security posture of the United States Capitol Complex, derived from instrumentalities of government, open sources, and online platforms; and

(E) the policies, protocols, processes, procedures, and systems for interoperability between the United States Capitol Police and the National Guard, the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in the National Capital Region on or before January 6, 2021; and

(3) issue a final report to the House containing such findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures described in subsection (c) as it may deem necessary.

All of which is part of Congress’s legislative purview.

Nor should the DOJ find a way to punt to the judiciary since the court has already repeatedly agreed that under Article I, Section 8, Clause 18, Congress’s implied powers of investigation are essential to its ability to legislate — and subpoenas are part of that power to investigate.

As for the excuse given by Bannon for not complying with the subpoena: executive privilege belongs to the office, not the person. The current executive has so far declined to exert privilege over anything Bannon provided to Trump during the eight months Bannon was a federal employee and adviser to Trump. There’s no executive privilege over any acts Bannon exerted as a private individual on behalf of candidate Trump’s campaign; Bannon can avail himself of his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned by the January 6 committee as he and his attorney feel appropriate.

~ ~ ~

The charge is dirt simple and obvious: Bannon didn’t comply with the subpoena, violating 2 USC 192 – Refusal of witness to testify or produce papers, and 2 USC 194 – Certification of failure to testify or produce; grand jury action. He’s not the executive, nor is Trump the executive, and the current executive has made no claim, making Bannon’s claim of executive privilege at Trump’s request invalid.

The January 6 committee is investigating a domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex, interfering with government operations. Though fewer deaths resulted, it’s a crime on par with 9/11 in that terrorists attacked the United States with intent to disrupt our government — or worse, since it was an attack directly on the people’s representatives with the intent to overthrow the government (through an autogolpe).

Should we really expect the public not to get antsy about the apparent lack of action given the seriousness of the crime and the persistent inability of the House to consistently obtain compliance from witnesses under both the 116th and 117th Congress?

Should we really expect the public not to be itchy when the current Attorney General admits to having been insulated by “the monastery of the judiciary” for years (an approximate paraphrase of an analogy Garland made during during an October 4 interview with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker)?

Should we really expect a majority of the American people not to be concerned about the length of time it takes to arrest and detain a white male investment banker and media executive who was Trump’s adviser, when they elected this administration to both undo the damage of the Trump years AND restore faith in their government?

Andrew McCabe Got His Pension and His Cufflinks — But Is that Adequate Recourse for the Country?

As part of a settlement DOJ entered into yesterday to avoid giving Andrew McCabe discovery on the full extent of the politicized campaign against him, DOJ agreed to give him his retirement — and the cufflinks he would normally have gotten upon retiring from Senior Executive Service.

The more substantive parts of the agreement reflect a total capitulation by DOJ: restoration of McCabe’s pension backdated to the time he was fired and partial award of his legal fees for representation from Arnold & Porter.

Defendants will complete all actions necessary to ensure that Plaintiff will be recorded as having entered the federal retirement system effective March 19, 2018, with an annuity commencement date of April 1, 2018, see 5 U.S.C. § 8464(a)(1)(A), 5 C.F.R. § 842.208(b), and will receive:

a. a payment of a lump sum representing all retirement annuity payments, including annuity supplement payments, that he would otherwise have received from the April 1, 2018 annuity commencement date until the day before he is paid his first regular monthly payment, which will be computed in accordance with all relevant statutory and regulatory provisions, and which will not deduct or withhold any amounts for benefits not received or for taxes not owed during the time period specified above, unless such deductions and/or withholdings are required by relevant statutory or regulatory provisions;

b. prospectively from the date of his first regular monthly payment, through the federal retirement system, all periodic annuity payments, including annuity supplement payments, consistent with his March 19, 2018 retirement date;

[snip]

Defendants agree to pay $539,348.15 to Plaintiff, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, and in full settlement and satisfaction of all attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses. Payment shall be made to Plaintiff via electronic funds transfer to Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, as promptly as practicable, consistent with the normal processing procedures followed by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, following the dismissal of the above-captioned civil action. This provision does not constitute an admission that Defendants’ position was not substantially justified under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

McCabe will get also an admission that “Executive Branch officials outside the Department” — otherwise known as The President —  “should not comment publicly on ongoing career civil service employee disciplinary matters.” [my emphasis]

WHEREAS, the Parties agree that Executive Branch officials outside the Department of Justice and its components should not comment publicly on ongoing career civil service employee disciplinary matters, except as provided by statute or regulation, so as not to create any appearance of improper political influence;

But McCabe won’t get a concession that numerous people within the chain of command at DOJ and FBI, including prosecutors who pursued a false statements charge against McCabe, bowed to that improper political influence. Nor, as noted, will McCabe get discovery to learn what documents — besides proof that Bill Barr’s DOJ altered McCabe’s notes in an effort to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution —  DOJ was so determined to avoid disclosing that they settled this case.

All this is being accomplished, legally, by a kind of reset. McCabe’s personnel records will be altered such that there’s no record of his firing.

1. Within 30 days of the execution of this Settlement Agreement, Defendants will rescind their removal of Plaintiff from the FBI and the civil service, and will rescind and vacate former Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions’s March 16, 2018 removal decision (“DOJ Removal Decision”), and the March 16, 2018 removal recommendation that was submitted to Attorney General Sessions (“DOJ Removal Recommendation”).

2. The Parties agree that Plaintiff’s electronic Official Personnel Folder will reflect that he was employed continuously by the FBI from July 1996 until his retirement on March 19, 2018, as the FBI Deputy Director and a member of the Senior Executive Service (“SES”), after becoming 50 years of age and completing over 20 years of service.

3. Within 30 days of the execution of this Settlement Agreement, the government will remove from Plaintiff’s electronic Official Personnel Folder all documents that reflect or reference his removal, and replace them with documents reflecting that Plaintiff was continuously employed by the FBI until his retirement on March 19, 2018. Defendants will then provide to Plaintiff a copy of his revised electronic Official Personnel Folder.

4. Plaintiff will be deemed to have retired from the FBI on March 19, 2018.

5. Plaintiff will be deemed to have separated from the FBI in good standing for the purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 926C(c)(1).

By my reading, this doesn’t force DOJ Inspector General to revise its report on McCabe to incorporate Michael Kortan’s testimony, one of the problems in the report identified in McCabe’s suit. It doesn’t negate the conflicting Office of Professional Responsibility review results. But it does legally remove the final effect of over a year of retaliation and public badgering by the President, eliminating all trace of Sessions’ last minute firing of McCabe.

I have no doubt this settlement makes a lot of sense for McCabe. He gets the money he earned over two decades of chasing terrorists, spies, and organized crime and the ability to be treated with the respect a former Deputy Director is normally accorded.

But this country is still fighting the aftereffects of a coup attempt that almost succeeded, in part, because the FBI backed off investigating those close to the President, including Proud Boys who played a key leadership role in the attack. We never got fully visibility into the President’s relationship with Russia because Trump throttled that investigation with firings and pardons. And an unrelenting flood of disinformation masks both of these facts.

We know, from the fact that DOJ entered into this settlement (among other things), that Trump badly politicized DOJ. But this settlement allows DOJ to avoid coming clean about all that happened.

Tea Leaves on the Garland-Monaco DOJ and the Stay in Andrew McCabe’s Lawsuit

The effort to figure out precisely why moderate Merrick Garland and career DOJ employee Lisa Monaco are having the Department of Justice sustain shitty positions adopted under Bill Barr has reached a fever pitch. In my piece on Monaco, I noted one thing — her presumed approval, on her first day in the job, of a raid on Rudy Giuliani — that suggests some people are mistaking a likely effort to sustain DOJ as an institution for an effort to protect Trump.

I’d like to point to another tea leaf — something that happened (perhaps coincidentally) on Monaco’s third full day on the job. That’s when the two sides in Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit moved to stay discovery pending an effort to settle the case.

The parties jointly move this Court to stay all discovery in this proceeding, for 45 days after this motion is granted, and to extend all previously set case deadlines and events by 45 days. The parties request this relief so that they may explore the possibility of settlement.

Good cause exists for the requested relief, because the stay and extension would allow the parties to focus their efforts on discussing settlement expeditiously, free from any competing obligations and ongoing disputes related to discovery, and without burdening the Court with potentially unnecessary discovery disputes. The parties propose to update the Court two business days before the stay’s expiration about whether a further stay and extension is warranted.

On its face, a settlement with McCabe would look like a stark reversal of a Trump policy. Top levels of Trump’s DOJ signed declarations swearing that McCabe’s firing was for cause. At that level, the interest in settling the lawsuit looks like a pretty serious reversal.

That said, depending on how broadly Judge Randolph Moss ruled discovery must extend (an issue that is still pending), McCabe’s lawsuit could seriously embarrass DOJ. Even just his case in chief, in which DOJ IG and OPR ignored the testimony of key witness, FBI press person Michael Kortan (with whom McCabe’s office worked on the story that DOJ claims he was trying to hide), full discovery could badly embarrass DOJ. Still more so if the extent to which DOJ pushed to indict McCabe, allegedly after the grand jury rejected charges against him, became public. By the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ had altered a McCabe document and submitted it to Emmet Sullivan, another potentially damaging revelation (though one probably outside any imaginable scope of discovery).

And that’s just what we know about. In the weeks leading up to McCabe’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, DOJ was refusing to share documents that McCabe needed to adequately prep for his appearance.

I’m not sure what this particular move suggests about DOJ. But I know that full exposure of the witch hunt against McCabe would badly damage DOJ, including some career employees who served Barr’s whims. But a settlement would also damage the Trump DOJ, because it would prove that Trump politicized his entire DOJ to take out perceived enemies.

That is, amid all the other tea leaves, what happens with the McCabe suit may indicate which damage to DOJ the Garland-Monaco DOJ seems most intent on avoiding.

Update: The two sides just filed an update: No settlement has been reached, but they remain in talks.

Consistent with their April 23, 2021 Joint Motion to Stay Discovery and Extend All Case Deadlines (Dkt. 56), the parties submit this joint notice regarding the current stay of litigation.

On April 27, 2021, this Court granted the parties’ joint motion for a 45-day stay of all discovery so that the Parties could focus on exploring the possibility of settlement. No settlement has been reached, but the parties are continuing their discussions. In the event that they agree that a further stay is warranted, they will so notify the Court by filing another joint motion to extend the stay and related deadlines.

Welcome to Lisa Monaco’s DOJ, E Jean Carroll Lawsuit Edition

During Lisa Monaco’s confirmation hearing, several people joked about how few questions she was getting. Because Vanita Gupta had been targeted by Republicans, Monaco was left for broad swaths of the hearing, a spectator to that effort.

There were some good exchanges. In addition to complaining about DOJ’s refusal to respond to questions from Democratic members of Congress, Sheldon Whitehouse asked about OLC, to which Monaco provided an anodyne answer that was enough for Whitehouse, who was going to vote for Monaco one way or another. Josh Hawley asked some legitimately good questions, including about end-to-end encryption. To those questions, Monaco hewed a middle ground and an adherence to the laws on the books. John Cornyn asked the same question Republicans harped on with Merrick Garland, whether she would let John Durham finish his work, to which she responded that her job is to make sure he has the resources to do so, which (while more nuanced that it sounded) shut down that line of questioning.

It was a testament to how shallowly Republican staffers interpreted Lisa Monaco’s long career that Chuck Grassley asked Monaco whether she had involvement in Crossfire Hurricane — the answer was obviously no, given her White House role at the time. But Grassley didn’t ask whether her position at the nexus of Mike Flynn’s efforts to obtain information from the Obama White House in advance of making calls with Sergey Kislyak that Flynn lied to hide would affect her view of the Russian investigation. Perhaps only Susan Rice was more personally betrayed by Mike Flynn’s outreach to Russia, and yet Republicans seemed to not even realize that Flynn and KT McFarland sent Tom Bossert to query Monaco in advance of Flynn’s covert call with Russia, making her the Obama person most directly victimized by Flynn’s underhandedness.

That blithe ignorance of how Monaco’s personal history might affect her tenure extended beyond the Senate Judiciary Committee. For example, while every Assange supporter has targeted Biden and Garland for their pleas to drop the Assange prosecution, none have thought about the fact that Monaco was in charge of the response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign that led even WikiLeaks sympathizers in the Obama Administration to completely reconsider Assange’s game and his longterm relationship with Russia (then again, Assange supporters, almost to a one, have convinced themselves to believe bullshit propaganda about that decision being made under Trump).

Most people have failed to ask these questions about Monaco’s career experiences, even though as Deputy Attorney General, Monaco runs DOJ on a day-to-day basis and makes a lot of these decisions and serves as a key advisor to Garland where she doesn’t.

As a result of the very surface approach to Monaco’s career, there were a whole slew of questions in her confirmation hearing that should have been asked (and should be asked before Monaco’s close associate Matt Olsen is confirmed as National Security Division head), but were not. When Lisa Monaco was Robert Mueller’s top advisor in 2006, for example, what role did she play legalizing the phone dragnet aspiring to collect the phone records of all Americans under FISA’s Section 215? Given her past failures to fulfill promises of transparency, specifically as it relates to FISA, what can she do to ensure she will deliver on such transparency as Deputy Attorney General? What was her role in the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, and what does that say about her willingness to support unfettered executive authority? With the value of hindsight, does Monaco believe that she was suckered into continuing John Brennan’s permissive approach to drone strikes as White House Homeland Security Advisor, and if so what would she do to give herself the leverage to actually change bad policies baked in by her predecessors?

Don’t get me wrong: Monaco has almost unparalleled qualifications to be Deputy Attorney General, she brings a lot of great qualities to the job, and I’m sure she’s a lovely person. But there was almost no consideration about what affect her long tenure at DOJ and in National Security roles would have on her view towards Presidential authority and DOJ institutional precedent before she was confirmed.

Indeed, in perhaps the question that got closest to asking how she would treat initiatives from career DOJ officials already in place, Monaco explained to Amy Klobuchar that she viewed her job as to empower the people at DOJ she believed operated from an inherently unpartisan stance.

Klobuchar: After the last four years where civil servants withstood political interference, what do you see your role is as restoring the trust in the Department of Justice?

Monaco: Well Senator, as I said in my opening remarks, I think that the career men and women of the Justice Department are its backbone. They’re the people that enforce the law independently, faithfully, fairly, impartially, without any consideration of improper motive. I think they simply want to do their job. They want to do their job with the resources and the tools to keep the American people safe, to prosecute violent crime, to administer justice with compassion, and with humility, as Judge Garland talked about before this committee. And they want to see equal justice under law, and they want to do the work that this Committee has done on a bipartisan basis to administer criminal justice reform. And so I think my role is to ensure that they’ve got the tools and resources to do their job and to protect them from improper influence, any partisan motive, because I think they just want to do their job.

This is the belief system that leads Monaco to respond to a question about career DOJ prosecutor John Durham’s clearly politicized investigation by saying that her job is to make sure he has the resources he wants to continue that investigation.

In her role at DOJ, Monaco has overseen some key wins: with the announcement yesterday that FBI had seized much of the ransomware payment that Colonial pipelines had paid Dark Side hackers, with her quiet presence on the public line listening as Paul Hodgkins made the first pure guilty plea of the January 6 investigation, with the decision — on her first full day in office — to let SDNY resume its investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s foreign influence peddling.

But also under her leadership, DOJ has delayed notice to NYT about an effort to get their Internet records in a clearly politicized investigation. DOJ has moved to hide the contents of a Bill Barr memo that clearly abused his authority and the role of OLC (and with that decision, protected career employees who were making similarly dubious claims when Monaco ran the National Security Division). DOJ has defended a lot of legal stances that were obviously political on their face, most recently and egregiously by sustaining DOJ support to give Trump immunity from suit in his attack on alleged rape survivor, E. Jean Carroll. That is, as she did before with Cheney’s Stellar Wind and Brennan’s drone program, Monaco seems to have chosen not to make a clean break from the horrible policies of her predecessors, choosing instead to ensure the continuity of the institution.

Again, Lisa Monaco oozes intelligence and competence; she’s undeniably qualified to be where she’s at. But she also got where she’s at by cleaning up the messes left by Stellar Wind, the torture program, and John Brennan’s drone program by improving those shitty policies without demanding any accountability for the abuse of DOJ and presidential authority they entailed. Plus, as a career DOJ official, she’s going to defend professionals who did stupid things on the orders of a deeply politicized boss.

Particularly in the wake of the decision to defend Trump against Carroll’s suit, people are wondering how Merrick Garland could make such a horrible decision. My suspicion is they would be better asking what Lisa Monaco’s role was in the decision.

DOJ Reaches a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the MCC Guards Bill Barr Used as Scapegoats for Jeffrey Epstein’s Death

Back when DOJ rolled out a draconian prosecution against two of the prison guards — Michael Thomas and Tova Noel — whose negligence created the opportunity for Jeffrey Epstein to kill himself, I noted all the ways they were being made scapegoats so Billy Barr could avoid admitting that his own system-wide failures to address staff shortages in the prison system played a far more important role in Epstein’s death.

That he calls these “screw-ups” didn’t prevent his DOJ from filing a six count indictment this week against the guards on duty the night Epstein died, Michael Thomas and Tova Noel, an overarching conspiracy charge along with false records charges for each of five prisoner checks one or both of them had claimed to have done that night, but did not.

It’s an odd indictment.

It shows that in addition to Thomas and Noel, two other guards filed false records, one — along with Noel, for a 4PM prisoner check during which Epstein wasn’t even on the floor — and another –again with Noel, for a 10PM check.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence that they failed to complete the checks because they were trying to facilitate suicide. Indeed, Thomas is described as one of the guards who had found Epstein before his earlier suicide attempt succeeded on July 23. More importantly, when Epstein was found dead (the indictment is very unclear about who first found him, though the implication is Thomas was), both defendants immediately admitted they hadn’t done their job.

NOEL told Supervisor-1 “we did not complete the 3 a.m. nor 5 a.m. rounds.” THOMAS stated, “we messed up,” and “I messed up, she’s not to blame, we didn’t do any rounds.”

Additionally, there’s no time of death in the indictment, leaving open the possibility that Epstein died before Thomas came on shift at midnight, meaning one of the other guards would be the other responsible party.

While the conspiracy charge relies, in part, on a ConFraudUs argument — effectively arguing that by making false records claiming they had done their rounds, they impaired the lawful function of the government, the indictment also alleges they intended to impair “the investigation or proper administration” of government.

Sure, they impaired their supervisor’s ability to bust them for slacking (and, for two hours, literally sleeping) on the job. Sure, they impaired an escalating bed check system that was unnecessary in any case to find Epstein.

It’s certainly possible that the government suspects there’s more to this, that Thomas, having been involved in thwarting Epstein’s first suicide, he got recruited to facilitate his second one. It’s possible the government is suspicious about the fact that Noel walked up to the door of Epstein’s unit around 10:30PM. Certainly, by larding on six charges, they’re holding an axe over the guards’ heads to make them plead out quickly. Though there’s no reason to believe either one of them was involved in the more important failure, to make sure Epstein had a cellmate who could have called guards right away.

But as presented, the evidence presented in this indictment suggests not so much a conspiracy to make it easier for Epstein to kill himself, but instead, a conspiracy — one involving other guards on the SHU that night — to cut corners to make their thankless job easier. Part of that seems driven the pay and understaffing leading guards to take taxing overtime shifts; both defendants were working an overtime shift that night, with Noel working 16 hours straight that day.

I don’t mean to apologize for the defendants for behavior that, with several other factors, created the opportunity for Epstein to kill himself.

Rather, I mean to highlight how the grunts in this story are being threatened with long prison sentences, while the guy (once again) watching videos himself rather than fixing the systemic problems gets away with calling it “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”

The government was pushing to take the two guards to trial last year.

Before COVID scotched that plan, Thomas’ lawyer, Montell Figgins, unsuccessfully tried to obtain documents that would show the guards’ misconduct was not only known to Bureau of Prisons management before Epstein’s death, but also required because of how badly prisons were understaffed.

The requested documents in this motion are essential to Mr. Thomas’ ability to prepare a defense. Mr. Thomas contends that the conduct with which he is being charged is: 1) rampant throughout the BOP; 2) made with knowledge and acquiescence by the leadership of the BOP; and 3) is the direct result ofBOP policies and mismanagement that forced the defendant to engage in conduct for which he is now being charged criminally.

Figgins also argued that there were necessarily other people — other guards and supervisors — who had to be complicit in their actions.

Additionally, Michael Thomas is charged with making false statements for signing certain count slips and round sheets. However, what the government has deliberately failed to clarifiy [sic] is that those documents have to be approved by supervisors and are signed and/or initialed by other BOP employees. If this is the case, why is Michael Thomas and Tova Noel the only two employees charged with making false statements.

The judge denied that request, accepting the government’s representation that, among other things, the prosecution had investigated this thoroughly and any IG Report showing a systemic problem at the Metropolitan Corrections Center and Bureau of Prisons more generally was far from completed and therefore anything that existed would be deliberative.

Since then, the trial has been delayed over and over because of COVID, and would not have taken place until sometime in October or later.

But now it’s almost certainly not going to happen at all.

Yesterday, the government moved to enter non-prosecution agreements against the two defendants, arguing that the investigation they had already said merited prosecution now merits no prosecution.

After a thorough investigation, and based on the facts of this case and the personal circumstances of the defendants, the Government has determined that the interests of justice will best be served by deferring prosecution in this District.

In addition to 100 hours of community service, Thomas and Noel are required to cooperate with the Inspector General’s investigation the drafts of which they had been denied in discovery last year.

The defendants will cooperate with a pending Department of Justice Office of Inspector General review by providing truthful information related to their employment by the Bureau of Prisons, including about the events and circumstances described in the Indictment;

This indicates that the IG Report still is nowhere near done. It may also indicate that the IG requires their cooperation to lay out an accurate chain of authority for the circumstances behind Epstein’s suicide, cooperation they would have been legally entitled to withhold under a Fifth Amendment claim pending trial.

Their prosecution, had it succeeded, would have made a full report by the IG impossible; now their punishment is to cooperate with the IG.

All this strongly suggests that Figgins was absolutely right, a year ago, when he argued that a full investigation of the events would show that Thomas and Noel were, in the least worst case scenario, just bit players in a larger system of incompetence and neglect that allowed Epstein to take his secrets to the grave. The evidence still strongly suggests that Epstein was allowed to kill himself by that neglect.

But given the seeming confirmation that Thomas and Noel were being scapegoated to short-circuit a larger investigation and given that DOJ IG did not complete its investigation while Bill Barr retained some ability to influence the investigation, there may be more to it.

It remains unclear whether Bill Barr’s refusal to staff prisons adequately led to Epstein’s death or something more malign happened. Whichever it is, these two prison guards very nearly became sacrifices in Barr’s effort to hide his own complicity.

On Merrick Garland’s Confirmation

As you may, or may not, have heard, Merrick Garland was confirmed, by a vote of 70-30, as the next Attorney General for the United States a few minutes ago. That is a good thing. Garland is a competent, and stabilizing, presence that will be very good for the Department of Justice. And, man can the DOJ use that about now.

But, before people do too many backflips, remember that Merrick Garland is no avenging liberal hero. He has a horrible record on criminal justice issues, and very long has. He is a built in stabilizer, but certainly not as the once and future cure for the ills of the justice system, which at his new job will be front and center.

Is Garland the cure? No. He is an admirable and good man that will restore some bit of normalcy and, hopefully, consistent competence to the DOJ. That alone means everything right now in the wake of the disastrous Jeff Sessions, Matt Whitaker and William Barr eras under Donald Trump. The resetting and stabilization is critical right now.

There are a bunch of just below the AG nominees Biden has made that are great. As Marcy noted previously, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke are excellent people. And, yes, even Lisa Monaco (as DAG) will likely be a competent and worthy person in leadership. Didn’t see me saying that ten years ago. There are also outstanding former DOJ people like Sam Bagenstos and Sasha Samberg-Champion returning to government, even if not at the DOJ, and they are taking pay hits to do so. Be thankful for those, and similar, people because that is also truly good stuff.

In short, all are tectonic shifts in the right direction from the disastrous Trump years. But, as to Garland, let’s wait and see. He was a good and stable choice. Before you place your hopes and dreams on him too much, however, let him show his work. On criminal justice, his history of work has been, shall we say, rather uneven. There were several warts when Obama nominated Garland for the Supreme Court, and there still are. For now though, great.

Congress versus the Constitution: Merrick Garland’s Second Reconstruction

Early morning Eastern Time on January 6, I wrote a post arguing that Merrick Garland was a better Attorney General pick than a lot of people assumed. By the end of the day, the January 6 insurrection made him look like an even better pick, based on his successful prosecution of right wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh. When he testified on Monday, Garland surpassed even those expectations, in large part because he described as his mission the same one DOJ had when originally founded 151 years ago: protecting the rights of people of color in the face of right wing terrorism.

Celebrating DOJ’s 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Almost a century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the Department’s Civil Rights Division, with the mission “to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice. Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change.

150 years after the Department’s founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission. From 1995 to 1997, I supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, who sought to spark a revolution that would topple the federal government. If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

This mission is all the more important — and optimistic — given the strains on Congress in the wake of January 6.

Given the delay caused by the former President’s attempted coup, impeachment, the delayed Senate organizing resolution, and a recess, this week, kicked off by Garland’s hearing, has been the first week where the 117th Congress has moved to account for the events of January 6. How Congress responds — and its effect on mid-term elections in 2022 — will have a key role in deciding whether the Republic survives Trump’s efforts to steal an election, or whether those events just harbor a decline into white supremacist authoritarianism.

How Congress responds to the events of January 6 is especially critical given disputes about the form of a 9/11 style commission to assess the event. Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell disagree on key details: whether Democrats should have more representatives on the commission, and how broad the scope will be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s draft proposal for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling it “partisan by design.”

The Kentucky Republican said he agrees the siege on the Capitol warrants a “serious and thorough review,” but said he thinks Pelosi’s proposal falls short of the standard set by the commission established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, upon which Pelosi said she would model this new panel.

“The 9/11 Commission was intentionally built to be bipartisan, 50-50 bipartisan split of the commissioners was a key feature,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “It both helped the effectiveness of the investigation itself, and help give the whole country confidence in its work, and its recommendations.”

It’s unclear whether the two sides can come up with a plan for a 9/11 type commission, both because there’s virtually no comity between the two parties and because Republicans have prioritized protecting Trump, their party, and the members of Congress who played a role (with another member implicated yesterday by her spouse’s Three Percenter truck decal). I suspect such a commission may have to wait until other events change the GOP’s current commitment to Donald Trump.

One thing that might change the GOP’s current capture by Trump is the DOJ investigation.

While there are some DOJ decisions that raise questions for me and while it is not yet clear how the courts will finally decide to treat January 6, Merrick Garland’s confirmation will presumably only raise confidence in DOJ’s actions. Virtually all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, praised his role in the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh during his confirmation hearing (see my live tweet here). Unless DOJ really bolloxes key cases — or unless they shy away from witnesses like James Sullivan, Ali Alexander, and Enrique Tarrio, who can tie the insurrection directly to Trump’s close associates — I expect the investigation and eventually prosecution of those responsible will make the GOP’s continued support of Trump far more toxic (as a few of the GOPers who’ve been censured for their vote to convict Trump have suggested will happen).

The prosecution of January 6 will be the easy part.

The real question, I think, is how Garland weathers GOP attempts to demand prosecutions that Billy Barr primed them to expect.

For example, numerous members (especially Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, whose shared staffer Barbara Ledeen and her spouse were implicated in the Russian investigation) demanded that Garland promise to keep John Durham on, citing Barr’s promise to keep Mueller on during his confirmation hearing, at a point when Barr had already made public statements about the investigation while admitted he knew fuckall about the actual facts.

Garland repeated, over and over, that he can’t make such a commitment until he speaks with Durham. No one knows what Durham continues to pursue that has made his investigation last as long as the Mueller investigation. What is known is that Durham hasn’t interviewed key witnesses and his public filings exhibit fundamental misconceptions about the Russian investigation and precisely the kind of bias he purports to be investigating. Garland repeatedly answered that he didn’t know of any reason to remove Durham early. But he also noted that precisely what Graham and others are demanding about Page — some kind of investigation — happened with the Horowitz report. Notably, Garland knew a detail Republicans refuse to acknowledge: that Horowitz’s ongoing investigation into FISA reveals that the problems in the Carter Page Woods file were no different than other FISA applications, and the more general problems may be a pattern as well.

Given Garland’s emphasis on civil rights, I was at least as interested in Republican attempts to undermine such an effort. Most pathetically, John Kennedy engaged in a colloquy about whether systematic racism exists, whether he, himself, can be racist if he doesn’t think he is, “who wins,” as if equality is a zero sum game. Tom Cotton tried to play games about the difference between racial equality and racial equity.

Finally, there will be GOP pressure to either both-sides political violence, equating actions they claim without evidence were perpetuated by Antifa with January 6, or to limit the extent of the prosecution. With regards to the latter, Garland argued that this investigation will proceed like all investigations, working their way up if the evidence dictates it. That is a position utterly consistent with support for prosecuting Trump’s associates, or maybe even Trump.

With regards to efforts to both-sides political violence — which was Trump’s defense to impeachment and has already played a key role in Republican efforts to dodge accountability for their role in January 6 — Garland gave the kind of judicious answer to Josh Hawley that every Democrat should be prepared to offer. The violence in Portland was criminal (and to the extent it was, it was prosecuted). But it was not an attempt to interrupt the processes of government, such as by interrupting trials.

The Republicans have for years successfully pressured DOJ to try to criminalize their political opponents. As DOJ continues its massive investigation into the insurrection, these efforts will grow more urgent.

Merrick Garland will be confirmed without cowing to Republican efforts to equate their own assault on the Constitution with Democratic politics. But such efforts will intensify after he assumes office, particularly if Durham fails to find the crimes that really don’t exist and as DOJ gets closer to Trump or members of Congress. DOJ has about 18 months to right itself after Bill Barr’s damage, and we shall see how long Garland continues to retain the goodwill of Republicans.

Merrick Garland Is Killing It

The SJC hearing is on the major cable channels and CSPAN. Streaming everywhere too I assume. It is really good viewing, as these things go. Yes, Ted Cruz came across as applicant to replace Sean Hannity. Yes Chris Coons preened for the cameras.

I generally have a fair amount of criticism for Ben Sasse, but he did extremely well today. Surprisingly so. Pat Leahy, despite a bit of rambling pontificating, did as well.

I would love to have a cross-examiner with a killer instinct like Katie Porter in the SJC.

Bottom line is that Merrick Garland is absolutely slaying this hearing.

On Conspiracy

In comments, Harpie went back to Elizabeth de la Vega’s summary of conspiracy.

Since Eureka brought this up above, I figured it might be timely to post it again:

Conspiracy Law – Eight Things You Need to Know.
One: Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree to conspire & there doesn’t need to be a written agreement; in fact, they almost never explicitly agree to conspire & it would be nuts to have a written agreement!
Two: Conspiracies can have more than one object- i.e. conspiracy to defraud U.S. and to obstruct justice. The object is the goal. Members could have completely different reasons (motives) for wanting to achieve that goal.
Three: All co-conspirators have to agree on at least one object of the conspiracy.
Four: Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy, i.e., releasing stolen emails, collaborating on fraudulent social media ops, laundering campaign contributions.
Five: Co-conspirators don’t have to know precisely what the others are doing, and, in large conspiracies, they rarely do.
Six: Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he/she is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators.
Seven: Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator.
Eight: Overt Acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal. A POTUS’ public statement that “Russia is a hoax,” e.g., might not be illegal (or even make any sense), but it could be an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

de la Vega has been consistently good on conspiracy going back to the first failed impeachment effort and the lead up to it. I posted this at least once before, think on a post I penned, but not sure, so am going to put this out here again.

At any rate, here are a set of model jury instructions (that I have previously patterned off of for real trials) for a conspiracy case. They are for a drug case, but conspiracy is conspiracy, and the law is pretty much the same, and has long been. What Harpie cited from de la Vega is correct. But to give you a look at how it actually goes down in a court, check out actual pattern jury instructions, because real instructions are always the guide in a real criminal trial. Substitute in the elements for 18 USC §373 and 18 USC §2101, or any of the other various putative crimes being discussed ad nauseam and you will get the picture.

As you read through them, keep in mind the question of “what holes could a competent criminal defense attorney drive a truck through here given a beyond a reasonable doubt burden?”

Now would Trump acquire an actually competent criminal defense attorney were, in the unlikely event he is really charged? Now there is a great question! But, if he were to, there are currently still a LOT of holes. People are getting ahead of themselves. Read the instructions, they scan pretty fast. But keep in mind that once you charge and put a defendant, any defendant, on trial, things are not as easy as they are here or on social media.

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