February 18, 2020 / by 

 

ABC Conducts an “Exclusive” “Interview” about Sentencing Guidelines without Asking about Sentencing Guidelines

Update: Overnight ABC posted the full interview. It does discuss sentencing guidelines without talking about the significance of Barr overriding them. As laid out here, Barr provides three inconsistent explanations for why he intervened.

In its story writing up its “exclusive” “interview” with Attorney General Bill Barr, ABC gets to the core of the issue: The Attorney General not only intervened to override the sentencing recommendation of career prosecutors, but he did so in defiance of the sentencing guidelines recommended by the Probation Office.

In a stunning reversal, the Justice Department overruled a recommendation by its own prosecution team that Stone spend seven to nine years in jail and told a judge that such a punishment – which was in line with sentencing guidelines – “would not be appropriate.”

Yet ABC didn’t ask Barr about the sentencing guidelines, at least not in the clip posted. Nor did Pierre Thomas ask any of the follow-up questions about that:

  • How he could ever justify overriding line prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation that deviated from guidelines.
  • Whether he had ever done so in the past.
  • How he could be–as he claimed to be–surprised that prosecutors resigned given that this action is unprecedented and not justified by sentencing guidelines.
  • Whether he believed sentencing guidelines were too harsh and should be amended downward, even while he maligns District Attorneys around the country for advocated lesser sentences.

In short, in this “interview” ABC didn’t ask Barr the first question that needs to be answered. As a result, Thomas waltzed through this interview to its typical Bill Barr conclusion, where others are at fault for asking why guidelines designed to prevent precisely this kind of politicized tampering were overridden, where Bill Barr has a right to be “irritated” for being called out for engaging in such a naked political act.

Instead of asking that basic question, ABC allowed the Attorney General to claim that the problem was not Barr’s actions, which have rightly been described as unprecedented, but instead the President’s tweets.


Lev Parnas Wouldn’t Reveal Whether He Has Receipts on Bill Barr

I suggested in this post that Lev Parnas appears to believe that how and when he was arrested was an attempt to silence him and force him to take the fall for Trump.

With that in mind, I want to reexamine why he might believe that coming forward now might help his defense.

Obviously, one thing he is trying to do — thus far unsuccessfully — is make it clear that in his actions regarding Ukraine, he is a co-conspirator with the President, Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and, of course, Rudy Giuliani. That doesn’t mean he didn’t insert himself into that role — by all appearances he did; that’s what his existing indictment is about, how he spent big money to insinuate himself into Trump’s immediate circle.

But since that time, Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova took actions that might be deemed an overt act of a conspiracy. So did Trump, not least on July 25, 2019, on a call with President Zelensky. Implicating powerful Americans in his influence-peddling is particularly important because, if he can’t do that, he may be exposed to further charges. WSJ reports that, late last year, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy tried to convince prosecutors that Parnas did not “push[] for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.” If Parnas can claim that anything he did after some point in 2018 — which otherwise might be deemed to be FARA violations, suborning perjury, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, bribery, and more — he did with the approval of the President of the United States, he might be able to claim that those actions were the official foreign policy of the United States, which would basically be the same claim Trump is using to defend against impeachment.

None of that may matter, however, depending on what SDNY plans or is allowed to do.

After all, Barr had been briefed on this investigation since shortly after he was confirmed, probably indicating that SDNY deemed it a significant matter reflecting the sensitivities of an investigation into political figures including Pete Sessions, some Las Vegas politicians, Ron DeSantis, and the President’s SuperPAC. As such, Barr would receive advance notice before SDNY took steps against any of these political figures (and it would have to happen before pre-election blackouts kick in in August). The Criminal Division would need to approve any search or prosecution of an attorney, covering Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova. Barr would have to approve any legal process targeting media figures like John Solomon or Sean Hannity, as he would have to approve their treatment as subjects of the investigation. And, just on Monday, Barr stated he will require Attorney General approval before DOJ or FBI can open a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign (and Trump started his reelection campaign almost immediately upon inauguration).

In short, for SDNY to go after any of Parnas’ other known potential co-conspirators, aside from Fruman, Bill Barr or Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski would have to approve.

That gives Barr veto power over including most of Parnas’ potential co-conspirators in an indictment with him. And he has made no secret that he was brought in to protect Trump from facing any legal consequences for his crimes.

For a time, it looked like Barr believed he couldn’t protect Rudy. But then Rudy loudly announced he had insurance.

“I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus,” Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry about the characterizations and comments made in the media about him and his relationship with the president. “When they say that, I say he isn’t, but I have insurance.”

And if Rudy’s actions are beyond legal sanction, then Parnas is left holding the bag, just like Michael Cohen appears to have been for hush payments he made on the orders of Trump. Indeed, while Parnas expressed some interest in cooperating with prosecutors, if prosecutors are barred from pursuing anyone more senior than Parnas, then there’s little for Parnas to offer.

Which brings us to Parnas’ expressed fear of Barr.

In the second installment of his Maddow interview, Parnas claimed he was doing all of this because he fears Barr — or deems Trump too powerful when he is protected by Barr.

PARNAS: The only reason – if you’ll take a look, and you know very well because you have been following, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, and he wasn’t as powerful in ’16 and ’17 –

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: – he became that powerful when he got William Barr.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: People are scared. Am I scared? Yes, and because I think I`m more scared of our own Justice Department than of these criminals right now, because, you know, the scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong and – or when you’re not, you know, and that’s the tool they’re using.

I mean, just – because they’re trying (ph) to scare me into not talking and with God’s help, and with my lawyer next to me that I know will go bat for me no matter what, with the truth –

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: – and I’m taking a chance.

That comment makes sense whether he believes Barr had him arrested to silence him or even just worries that Barr will protect everyone else. It would even make sense if — as is quite possible — Parnas is working for powerful Russians or Ukrainians who’ve been trying to control Trump by making him vulnerable.

There’s no doubt that abundant evidence can be shown that Barr is not just covering up, but actively obstructing any investigation into Trump’s actions. As I’ve noted repeatedly, Barr or one of his subordinates:

  • Scoped the assessment of the whistleblower complaint to ensure it wasn’t tied to the ongoing investigation of Parnas and Fruman in SDNY
  • Failed to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC, which (if it were functional) could have imposed civil penalties for the illegal solicitation of campaign help
  • Had OLC invent a bullshit reason to withhold the complaint from Congress
  • Had Kerri Kupec exonerate Trump publicly, reportedly in response to a demand from Trump

Mind you, I’m the only one harping on this obstruction, but they’re still details that deserve more attention.

But that’s not how Parnas is focusing on Barr.

In his interview with Maddow, Parnas twice alleged that he had seen Barr receiving calls from Rudy and others on this stuff. First, he said that Rudy and Toensing and DiGenova had told him they were engaging Barr on this project.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

He then expanded on that to say, first, that he witnessed conversations between the lawyers and Barr, and then, less convincingly, claimed that “Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.”

PARNAS:  I personally did not speak to him, but I was involved in lots of conversations that Joe diGenova had with him in front of me, Rudy had with him in front of me, and setting up meetings with Dmytro Firtash’s team. I was involved in that.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Rudy Giuliani was ever in contact with Mr. Barr, specifically about the fact that he was trying to get Ukraine to announce these investigations into Joe Biden?

PARNAS:  Oh, absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Barr knew about it?

PARNAS:  Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr – Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

Claiming “Barr had to have known everything,” while seemingly consistent with the public actions of Barr’s DOJ, is not going to be strong enough to get Barr, personally, in trouble.

Though it is worth noting that (in the same way that Devin Nunes unforgot speaking to Parnas as Parnas started rolling out receipts), CNN reported that Barr had attended a meeting where Rudy pitched the case of the Venezuelan paying for the grift long after he had to have known Rudy was under criminal investigation.

The Giuliani meeting at the Justice Department in September became public months ago in the wake of the arrest of two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were working on Giuliani’s Ukraine mission for the President.

Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, issued a public statement at the time expressing regret for holding the meeting and saying he wouldn’t have met with Trump’s personal lawyer had he known about Giuliani’s role in the ongoing investigation.

But department officials didn’t mention then that Barr was also in the meeting. Barr was at the meeting for about 10 minutes and had dropped in to greet other lawyers who worked alongside Giuliani to represent the Venezuelan businessman, according to a Justice Department official. His presence is also notable because Justice officials have said he was briefed after taking office in February on the investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into Parnas and Fruman, and the connections with Giuliani.

There’s almost certain to be more, though. When Maddow asked Parnas whether he knew whether Barr ever spoke with any of the Ukrainians that Parnas was grifting (the question I’ve been asking for some time), he claimed not to recall, even though the entire point of his interview was to talk about how he had come forward out of fear of Bill Barr.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Attorney General William Barr every [sic] spoke with any Ukrainian officials?

PARNAS:  I don’t recall at this moment. I’d have to look at my text messages and see.

There is absolutely no way that Parnas did not know, when he gave this answer, whether he has proof that Barr was personally involved with the three Ukrainians who have spoken to John Durham. None.

Which likely means Parnas does have proof that, contrary to every denial DOJ has issued since they started issuing very carefully crafted denials since September 25, Barr did interact with the corrupt Ukrainians Rudy was teeing up.

Parnas kept receipts, for just the moment when his grifting on behalf of Trump and his associates can do damage. Those receipts might, conservatively, make additional charges from SDNY more difficult. They might even make a cooperation deal possible.

But it sure sounds like something even crazier. Parnas apparently believes Barr makes Trump something he hadn’t been before, protecting Trump in a way he hadn’t been. But that’s only true if Parnas can’t produce proof that Barr is part of this conspiracy.

In other words, whatever the reality, Parnas appears to be dribbling out the receipts implicating the people that SDNY prosecutors work for in an attempt to either increase the chances of cooperating out of his indictment or at least raising the costs of any further charges.

Perhaps a more interesting question is why SDNY prosecutors permitted Parnas to launch this media campaign. They didn’t have to: Parnas got permission to modify the protective order on this stuff so he could release it, and they may have had to question Robert Hyde earlier than they otherwise intended to because of the publicity surrounding Parnas’ texts with Hyde. SDNY might be doing it to encourage a criminal target to run his mouth and say something incriminating. They might have done it for counterintelligence reasons, to see who responded to this media campaign. But it’s also possible that SDNY is happy for Parnas to expand the possible scope of their own investigation by making it harder for Barr to protect Rudy and others.

The suspense, though, has to do with that non-committal answer Parnas gave about whether he has any texts directly implicating the Attorney General of the United States. A defendant being prosecuted by the Department of Justice was asked whether he had proof that the top law enforcement officer in the country was personally implicated in his corrupt influence peddling.

And Parnas is not telling. Yet.


The Government’s Coy Dance on FISA and Rudy’s Grifters

As I noted last month, one of the guys indicted along with Rudy’s grifters, Andrey Kukushkin, asked the government for notice of any of several kinds of surveillance, including FISA. The government responded today with the kind of non-denial that all-but confirms that one of the grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, their co-conspirators, or their funders were implicated in a FISA order.

It starts by stating, “the Government has repeatedly informed the defendants, it does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from FISA or other forms of surveillance identified by Kukushkin,” meaning under FISA they have no obligation to notify defendants of its use. It then reviews the requirements of statute, which state that the government only has to provide notice if it plans to use evidence obtained via FISA. It asserts it has met the requirements of FISA.

The Government has complied with its discovery and disclosure obligations, and Kukushkin’s motion fails to set forth any legal basis to require anything more.

With respect to FISA, the Government has complied with its obligations under Section 1806 in this case. On December 1, 2019, the Government notified defense counsel that it did not intend to use any FISA-obtained or FISA-derived information against the defendants at trial.

It’s basically a legalistic way of saying, “yes, yes, yes, but no.” All the more so given that the government corrects a Kukushkin claim that the government had stated they had not obtained FISA collection.

Kukushkin incorrectly states that the Government has “denied procuring evidence pursuant to Title III or FISA warrants.” Dkt. 45 at n.1. The Government has told the defense that it did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in this investigation. The Government has not made any representations about the use of FISA warrants.

And the government  provided Judge Oetken an ex parte filing, which is the kind of thing you’d do to be very transparent to the judge when asked about FISA.

The Government is separately submitting a supplemental letter to the Court ex parte and under seal.

Again, all this is legally uninteresting but factually intriguing given how open the government is about the likelihood they did use FISA in this case.

Especially given how they note that the representations the government makes in this letter apply to all the defendants, including Fruman and Parnas.

The Government writes in response to defendant Andrey Kukushkin’s December 12, 2019 letter motion, which is made “on behalf of all defendants,” seeking the Court to direct the Government to affirm or deny, under 18 U.S.C. § 3504, whether the defendants were the subject of any Government surveillance, including under Executive Order 12333 or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). [my emphasis]

If Kukushkin were targeted with a FISA order, it would mostly implicate some Nevada Republicans — that’s the side of the grift Kukushkin got charged under.

But if Parnas or Fruman were targeted, it might implicate Pete Sessions, Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, the other members of Congress Adam Schiff intimated were also included in the Parnas call records obtained by HPSCI, the President’s lawyer, and possibly even the President himself.

And if any of the grifters were personally targeted, it would probably mean that Bill Barr (who has been personally involved in the case since early last year) had agreed that someone in direct communication with all these Republicans was or is probably an Agent of a Foreign power.


Crossfire Hurricane Glossary

Even before it went live yesterday, I was looking through Marcy’s incredibly awesome timeline on Crossfire Hurricane. It is a stunningly important and good thing, not only for those here, but those everywhere. I read things day and night, and have seen many timelines on this subject, but none that approach that which Marcy has produced. That said, if even I have to do double takes on what some of the names and acronyms are, I thought a guide was in order.

So, I thought an enduring glossary would help not even now, but going forward. What follows will be what appears appropriate now, and this post may be supplemented lated as necessary. I hope it helps. Maybe at some point I’ll come back an make it alphabetical, but for now I am just going from front to back in order of appearance.

Some are patently obvious and need no explanation, e.g. “CIA” for instance. As to the rest though, away we go:

ASAC: Assistant Agent In Charge, typically of an FBI Field Office.

Zainab Ahmad: Is a seriously kick ass former member of DOJ. Ahmad was a prosecutor with the DOJ who long specialized in investigating and prosecuting terrorism. She served as an AUSA in the Eastern District of New York until 2017, successfully prosecuting several high-profile terrorism cases. In 2017, she was reassigned to the Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice team. After Mueller closed up shop, Zainab landed as a white collar and cyber security specialist at the NY office of Gibson Dunn.

Evgeny Burykov: A convicted Russian spy. He was arrested on January 26, 2015, charged with, and pleading guilty to, spying on the United States for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Buryakov was a New York-based Deputy Representative of Vnesheconombank, Russia’s state-owned national development bank.

CHS-3: In addition to Steele (CHS-1) and Halper (CHS-2) there was another FBI informant who spoken on a number of occasions with George Papadopoulos. The person’s identity is unknown. Papadopoulos told him a version of the Joseph Mifsud in fall 2016.

Anne Conway: Conway is a GHW Bush nominated judge to the Middle District of Florida, and who serves on the FISC, since being do designated by John Roberts in 2016. Judge Conway approved a 2017 FISA Court warrant for Carter Page, a former adviser to the 2016 Trump Campaign.

Raymond Dearie: Is a well respected Senior United States District Court Judge from EDNY originally nominated by Reagan, and served on FISX between July 2012 and July 2019, after appointment by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Oleg Deripaska (Oligarch 1): Paul Manafort’s one-time paymaster, and also the client of a lawyer employing Christopher Steele in 2016. In that role, Steele repeatedly offered to broker a meeting at which Deripaska could provide derogatory information on Manafort. FBI belatedly considered whether Deripaska was a source of disinformation for the dossier.

Alexander Downer: Former Australian High Commissioner (ambassador) to the UK (2014-18), former leader of the Australian Liberal Party (1994-95), and former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs (1996-2007). Definitely not a coffee boy, but met with one over a few drinks in London.

For bmaz, I note that he is a fan of V8 motor racing and has a CMAS racing license. (h/t EH)

Stu Evans: Stuart Evans, deputy assistant attorney general of DOJ’s National Security Division. He’s the person who insisted on adding a footnote alerting the FISC of Steele’s potential bias.

FIFA: The international governing body of soccer. A body Chris Steele gave work and information on to not just US authorities but worldwide ones too.

Michael Gaeta (Handling Agent 1): An FBI agent, previously an attache in Rome and one time handler of Christopher Steele. A specialist in Eastern European organized crime including in the Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine.

Taushina Gauhar: Is a (former) Deputy Assistant Attorney General (DAAG) in the Department of Justice National Security Division (NSD) and FISA lawyer specialist.

JD Gordan: Gordan is an American communications and foreign policy advisor, who served as a Pentagon spokesman during the Bush Administration and later a National Security Advisor to Donald Trump. He is also a crackpot gadabout on forums such as One America News Network, Fox News, Sky News, The Daily Caller, The Hill, and The Washington Times. He’s the guy who ensured that the Republican platform did not incorporate lethal aid to Ukraine.

Stefan Halper (Source 2): Ooof, this could go on even longer, but per Wiki, Halper is an American foreign policy spy and Senior Fellow at the University of Cambridge where he is a Life Fellow at Magdalene College. He served as a White House official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, and was reportedly in charge of the spying operation by the 1980 Ronald Reagan presidential campaign that became known as “Debategate”. Through his decades of work for the CIA, Halper has had extensive ties to the Bush family. Through his work with Sir Richard Dearlove he also has ties to the British Secret Intelligence Service MI6. For purposes here, Halper acted as an FBI informant for its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.

Kathleen Kavalec: Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State who met with Chris Steele in October 2016.

Mary McCord: McCord was the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2016 to 2017 and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division from 2014 to 2016. She now teaches at Georgetown and contributes at Lawfare.

Sergei Millian (Person 1): A Belarus born businessman knee deep in everything Russia and a putative source for Chris Steele. He was also the subject of a counterintelligence investigation during 2016-17. Much still not necessarily clear about Millian.

NYFO: New York Field Office of the FBI.

OGC: Office Of General Counsel at the Department of Justice.

OI: The Office of Intelligence at DOJ. They’re in charge of writing FISA applications.

Bruce and Nellie Ohr: Bruce Ohr is a United States Department of Justice official. A former Associate Deputy Attorney General and former director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). He is an expert on transnational organized crime and has spent most of his career overseeing gang and racketeering-related prosecutions, including Russian organized crime. Nellie is Bruce’s wife, and a longtime expert on all things Russian. She worked at one point for Fusion GPS as a contractor between October 2015 and September 2016.

Victor Podobnyy: An Russian SVR (foreign intelligence) officer worked under the cover as a banker who was recruiting Carter Page in 2013.

SSA: Supervisory Special Agent.

Scott Schools: Scott Schools was the “highest-ranking career civil servant at the United States Department of Justice”, serving as Associate Deputy Attorney General. For those who have been around long enough, he was, for a while, the “new” David Margolis. Schools, a putatively decent chap, is gone now, having been replaces by a Jeff Sessions designated mope named Bradley Weinsheimer.

Glenn Simpson: Former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and co-founder of Fusion GPS.

Paul Singer: An American billionaire hedge fund manager, activist, investor, vulture capitalist, and philanthropist. A hard line Republican promoter and shill, but also a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.

Bruce Swartz: Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs. Key to the story because of a purported effort by Kurt Volker to get Swartz to officially ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He would have been in the loop in any normal requests between the US and Ukraine. Still a lot of questions open as to Swartz.

UCE: An FBI employee working undercover. A woman working under the pseudonym Azra Turk accompanied Stefan Halper on his interviews with George Papadopoulos.

Sally Yates: Former US Attorney for Northern District of Georgia, Deputy Attorney General, and Acting AG.


Bill Barr Moves from Treating Understaffing at BOP as a “SNAFU” to a “Perfect Storm of Screw-Ups”

In its annual review of management and performance challenges, DOJ’s IG listed “Managing a safe, secure, and human prison system” first among all challenges, bumped up two positions and significantly expanded from where challenges running the Bureau of Prisons occupied in that report last year.

After listing contraband — including phones like the one Joshua Schulte allegedly used to leak more CIA secrets from MCC or the one an inmate used to arrange a guard’s murder — the report then focuses on BOP’s outdated cameras, inadequate monitoring, and insufficient staffing. While all three factored in Jeffrey Epstein’s ability to kill himself, the inmate monitoring section mentions the deaths in custody of both Epstein and Whitey Bulger, while showing that those two famous prisoners were part of a trend of less notorious prisoners.

In addition to the issues relating to security cameras, the BOP also faces challenges ensuring that its correctional officers monitor inmates at required frequencies and in accordance with policies to protect inmates, including reducing the risk of inmate homicides and suicides. From FY 2015 through July 2019, the BOP has experienced 46 inmate deaths by homicide and 107 inmate deaths by suicide, including the deaths of high-profile inmates, James “Whitey” Bulger and Jeffrey Epstein. Inmate deaths by suicide in BOP facilities have increased from 8.1 per 100,000 federal inmates in FY 2016 to 14.7 per 100,000 inmates in FY 2018. The OIG is currently investigating several recent inmate homicide and suicide deaths, including those of Bulger and Epstein, to assess any systemic issues that they present, and to ensure that BOP staff are conducting consistent and appropriate monitoring of the inmates in BOP custody to ensure their physical safety.

In short, the IG identified several of the factors that contributed to Epstein’s death to be among the most urgent problems facing DOJ.

Of course, all that was not just knowable, but known, months before Epstein’s death. As I noted at the time, four months before Epstein’s death, Republican Senators Shelly Capito raised concerns about BOP staffing levels, citing several deaths in West Virginia’s Hazelton prison, where Bulger was killed. At the time, Barr brushed off Capito’s question about budget cuts by calling it a SNAFU.

In response to a question from a Republican Senator about these issues, the Attorney General admitted failure. “I think this is an area where we have stumbled.” Rather than answering Senator Capito’s question about the budget, though (again, this was an Appropriations hearing), he instead explained that the problem wasn’t budget, it’s that the BOP doesn’t have all its assigned slots full because of how it hires.

I’ve been looking into this because it’s been very frustrating to me because I’ve always supported Bureau of Prisons in the past and think it’s a great organization and if we’re going to have people incarcerated we have to make sure they’re incarcerated under proper conditions. We are  — The way I look at it our authorized level is good and adequate. It’s that we’re four to five thousand people short of our authorized level.

Barr went on to provide evidence of a systematic underlying problem. “Every year we lose 2,600 of these correctional officers.” Without considering why turnover in the BOP is so high, he instead offered this solution. “My view is we just have to turn on the spigot and just keep these new entry level people coming in at a rate where we’re going to be able to get up to and maintain our enacted level. So I think this is largely a SNAFU by the department.”

Today, the AP has an interview (conducted on a flight to Montana) with Barr, in which he tries to assure the public that Epstein really did just kill himself by explaining that he, personally, reviewed the security footage, just like he claimed to have read the Mueller Report.

The attorney general also sought to dampen conspiracy theories by people who have questioned whether Epstein really took his own life, saying the evidence proves Epstein killed himself. He added that he personally reviewed security footage that confirmed that no one entered the area where Epstein was housed on the night he died.

He calls the several known factors that contributed to Epstein’s ability to kill himself “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”

Attorney General William Barr said he initially had his own suspicions about financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death while behind bars at one of the most secure jails in America but came to conclude that his suicide was the result of “a perfect storm of screw-ups.”

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.”


Commuting Blago’s Wildly Excessive Sentence Would Be Right For Trump To Do

Another poster at the Emptywheel blog, okay, it may be Emptywheel herself, has today posted a very interesting take, and I think a good one, on the intersection of Jim Comey, Pat Fitzgerald and Rod Blagojevich.

If Trump were to commute Blago’s sentence…..it would be one of the few pardon power actions he has taken that would be justified.

The other was, obviously, the woman Kim Kardashian talked him into commuting.

Don’t get me started about governance by reality show/sex tape idiots like Kimye, but still that was good.

Here is the thing though. Hate on Rod Blagojevich all you want. Laugh at him all you want. Sure, all that is good and proper.

What was not, however, was his sentence. Judge James Zagel got a bug up his ass and sentenced Blago to twice as much time as was possibly appropriate for his purported offenses. There is a long history of Illinois Governors, criminal charges, and prison. But no sentence remotely like Zagel gave Blago.

Then there was Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who ended up not ever serving a day on things that were, mostly, more obvious pay to play corruption than Blago. Also, there was Don Siegelman, who arguably met potential charging elements, even if they were mostly innocuous acts, and who was only ever charged because of a Rove/Cheney effort to insure the same. Siegelman got just over six years.

Don’t get me started about Bob Menendez. The point being, even if Blago was corrupt, needed to be found guilty, and needed to be sentenced…..The sentence of 14 years Zagel gave Mr. Blagojevich was insane and ludicrous.

As big of a narcissistic and useless asshole as Trump is, he would be right to commute the insanely over sentenced punishment Zagel gave to Rod Blagojevich.

People, especially the more liberal than not among us, constantly scream for criminal justice reform. Abolish cash bail (a good thought, but one with far different and deeper implications than you think as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice has noted), less incarceration, shorter sentences, better programs for those incarcerated. End the death penalty. Less solitary confinement. Etc. All good things.

But part and parcel of all of it is recognizing crazy stupid sentences too. Blago is pretty much a joke of a historical character. Fine. He was never Public Enemy Number One either. His sentence from Zagel was outrageous. If Trump is willing to commute it, he should, and that should be cheered.

But, because of pushback from the very same people that usually scream and squawk, and rightfully so, about criminal justice reform when it is not one of their pet pariahs, i.e. people on the left and, here, Blago, Trump will certainly chicken out from doing the right thing. Because Trump doesn’t know the facts, and he is a pussy that is too easily grabbed by Republicans and, in this case, bullshit liberals too.

Free Blago. It needs to be done.


In Epstein’s Wake: MIT Media Lab, Dirty Money, and Swartz [UPDATE]

[NB: This is definitely not by Marcy; contains some speculative content. Update at bottom. /~Rayne]

MIT Media Lab is in upheaval after the disclosure that its organization accepted financial support from now-deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Ethan Zuckerman announced Tuesday he was moving his work out of the MIT Media Lab by the end of May 2020. He’s been a highly-respected director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, a subset of the Media Lab. Zuckerman explained his decision in a post on Medium:

… My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view. It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship. …

His moral and ethical clarity deserves applause; Zuckerman stands out against the highly compromised tech sector, in both academia and the private sector.

While his announcement was as upbeat as it could possibly be considering the circumstances, a faint sense of betrayal leaks through. It must have been painful to learn one’s boss has undermined their work so badly they have no choice but to leave, even if one enjoys their workplace and their boss.

Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, offered his apology for his having accepted funding from Epstein through organizations Epstein controlled.

The explanation in Ito’s statement and his apology sound banal and will likely be accepted by the wider technology community given how little reaction there’s been from Silicon Valley.

One glaring problem: Ito is an lawyer, a visiting professor at Harvard. There’s little defense he can offer for taking  dirty money from a convicted human trafficker. It matters not if the money was ‘laundered’ through funds if they were under Epstein’s control. The money mattered more than the appearance, more than Media Lab’s ethics.

Ito still has considerable explaining to do. It won’t be enough fast enough to stem the tide, though.

J. Nathan Mathias, visiting scholar working on the CivilServant project at the Lab, has also announced he is leaving:

As part of our work, CivilServant does research on protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment. I cannot with integrity do that from a place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein. It’s that simple.

Epstein’s money didn’t directly fund CivilServant yet any of his dirty money funded the Media Lab it supported the infrastructure for CivilServant.

There will be more departures. Worse, there will be people who can’t leave, trapped by circumstance. Epstein’s poisonous reach continues beyond the grave.

~ ~ ~

When I read that Zuckerman was leaving MIT Media Lab, it occurred to me there was a possible intersection between MIT, law enforcement, and another activist who lived their values defending the public’s interest.

Aaron Swartz.

The government was ridiculously ham fisted in its prosecution of Swartz for downloading material from MIT for the purpose of liberating taxpayer-funded information. The excessive prosecution is believed to have pushed Swartz to commit suicide.

What could possibly have driven the federal government to react so intensely to Swartz’s efforts? One might even say the prosecution was in diametric intensity to the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein a few years earlier.

Why was Swartz hammered by the feds for attempting to release publicly-funded material while Epstein got a slap on the hands — besides the obvious fact women and girls are not valued in this society as much as information is?

At the time I wondered whether it was research materials that might pose a threat to the existing stranglehold of fossil fuel industries. There was certainly enough money in that.

But in retrospect, seeing how Epstein made a concerted effort to inveigle himself into science and technology by way of investment, noting that researchers were among the compromised serviced by Epstein’s underage sex slaves, was it really research that Epstein tried to access?

What might be the overlap between Epstein’s outreach and the DOJ with regard to MIT and to Swartz’s activism?

Is it possible that something else besides scientific research might have interested both Epstein and the federal government, incurring the wrath of the latter?

I can’t help but wonder if Swartz’s work to liberate federal court archive Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) documents might have been that something else.

In 2008, Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.org worked with Swartz, receiving what PACER documents had been downloaded from behind PACER’s pricey paywall.

Upon reading the downloaded content they found court documents rife with privacy violations, including

“names of minor children, names of informants, medical records, mental health records, financial records, tens of thousands of social security numbers.”

Malamud said they contacted

“Chief Judges of 31 District Courts … They redacted those documents and they yelled at the lawyers that filed them … The Judicial Conference changed their privacy rules. … [To] the bureaucrats who ran the Administrative Office of the United States Courts … we were thieves that took $1.6 million of their property. So they called the FBI … [The FBI] found nothing wrong …”

Was the harassment-by-excessive-prosecution intended to stop Swartz and Malamud from exposing any more confidential information exposed in federal prosecutions, shielded from the public by nothing more than a cost-prohibitive per page charge of eight cents?

Would politically-toxic sweetheart deals like the DOJ offered Epstein have been among those with privacy violations and poorly-/non-redacted confidential information?

Or given Epstein’s long relationship with senior members of MIT Media Lab, was Swartz cutting into someone’s turf by liberating data which might otherwise be salable — legally or illegally — if closely held?

~ ~ ~

Putting aside speculation, several things need to be dealt with immediately to remedy the mess post-Epstein.

First, all entities receiving public funding which also received contributions from Epstein-controlled funds must make full disclosure — ditto nonprofits which operate as 501(c)3 entities paying no taxes, like Epstein’s shady Gratitude America, Ltd. Who in each organization was approached, when, how did Epstein communicate his interest in funding their work, how were contributions made, and did any persons affiliated with the entities travel with, to/from an Epstein-controlled venue or Epstein-funded event? Everything these entities do is suspect until they are fully transparent.

It would be in the best interest of affected entities to make disclosures immediately; the court-ordered release of sealed documents from Virginia Giuffre’s defamation lawsuit against Epstein’s alleged procurer Ghislaine Maxwell is not yet complete. Only a portion has been published; failing to make disclosures ahead of the release has not helped Media Lab’s credibility. Nor has this:

MIT declined to comment on the money it received. “While donors, including foundations, may confirm their contributions to the Institute, MIT does not typically comment on the details of gifts or gift agreements,” MIT spokesperson Kimberly Allen told BuzzFeed News by email.

Second, in the case of MIT Media Labs in particular, a  complete narrative history and timeline of the Lab’s origin, work, and funding since it was launched is necessary. There isn’t one that I can find right now — not at the organization’s website, not even on Wikipedia. This lack of transparency is wretched hypocrisy considering the grief members of the Lab expressed upon Swartz’s death. Media Lab’s site Search feature offering content by range or years is inadequate and must be supplemented.

It’s not clear based on publicly available information what Marvin Minsky‘s exact role was and when with the Lab though he is referred to as a founder. Minsky, who died in 2016, is among those Virginia Giuffre has accused of sexual abuse. What effect including financial contributions did Epstein have on MIT Media Lab through his relationship with Minsky?

As Evgeny Morozov found when combing through papers, Epstein’s money could have been present as early as the Lab’s inception. Why can’t the public see this history readily, let alone the researchers, staff, students working in the Media Lab?

Even the work MIT Media Lab encompasses is not shared openly with the public. Mathias’ project CivilServant isn’t listed under Research — it can only be found through the Lab’s Search feature. How can the public learn what may have been shaped by Epstein’s funding if they can’t even see what the Lab is working on?

Third, Swartz’s work toward an Open Access Movement outlined in his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto remains undone.

The effect of closed/limited access to publicly-funded information may be killing us and our planet. This can’t be stressed enough, based on one example from Malamud’s recollection:

… The last time Aaron had downloaded large numbers of journal articles was in 2008, when he downloaded 441,170 law review articles from Westlaw, a legal search service. He was trying to expose the practice of corporations such as Exxon funding a practice known as “for-litigation research,” which consisted of lucrative stipends given to law professors who in turn produced articles penned specifically so they could be cited in ongoing litigation. In the case of Exxon, they were trying to reduce their $5 billion in punitive damages from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Aaron didn’t release any of the articles he downloaded, but the research he did was published in 2010 in a seminal article in the Stanford Law Review that exposed these ethically questionable practices in the legal academy. …

If Exxon did this for the Valdez Oil Spill, have they also done this with regard to climate change-related documents since the late 1980s?

Why isn’t this kind of work protecting the public’s interest against the malign use of corruptly-controlled data one of the Lab’s research programs?

Open access, too, must apply to MIT Media Labs. It must be as transparent as Swartz would have wished it to be.

You have to wonder how different the course of technology would have been as well as history had open access been baked into publicly-funded research at MIT Media Lab from the beginning.

UPDATE — 9:00 AM EDT 23-AUG-2019 —

Keep an eye on Evgeny Morozov’s Twitter feed as he’s been sharing more material on MIT Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein.

Like this thread in progress by Media Lab fellow Sarah Szalavitz, who had warned against taking Epstein’s money. Alan Dershowitz pops up in that thread.

Note also community member foggycoast’s comment in which they share quite a few resources to help flesh out MIT Media Lab’s early years as well as Aaron Swartz’s papers.

I’d like to hear from more women who worked at Media Lab because I’m sure they won’t be as blind to predatory behavior as men have been. But then this asks people with less social capital, including some potential victims, to do the work of exposing this hidden form of corruption.


Bill Barr Refuses to “Comply First, Complain Later” with Congressional Oversight

A number of people have talked about how dangerous — and how outdated — is much of what Attorney General Bill Barr said to a police organization the other day. I’d like to take another approach with his speech: to show what it looks like when you replace “police” with a co-equal branch of government constitutionally empowered to police the Executive. The italicized words below have swapped out the original. I’ve underlined my own additions.

The anti-oversight narrative is fanning disrespect for the law.  In recent years, we have witnessed increasing toleration of the notion that it is somehow okay to resist oversight.

Previously, it was well understood that, regardless of the circumstances, legal resistance is unacceptable because it necessarily leads to a spiral of escalating resistance that endangers the ability of Congress to oversee the Executive.  For that reason, virtually all jurisdictions have made resistance a serious crime.

Not too long ago influential public voices — whether in the media or among community and civic leaders — stressed the need to comply with oversight commands, even if one thinks they are unjust.  “Comply first” and, if you think you have been wronged, “complain later.”

But we don’t hear this much anymore.  Instead, when an incident escalates due to a suspect’s legal resistance to oversight, that fact is usually ignored by the commentary.  Congress’ every action is dissected, but the suspect’s resistance, and the danger it posed, frequently goes without mention.

We need to get back to basics.  We need public voices, in the media and elsewhere, to underscore the need to “Comply first, and, if warranted, complain later.”  This will make everyone safe – the police, suspects, and the community at large.  And those who resist must be prosecuted for that crime.  We must have zero tolerance for resisting police.  This will save lives.

[snip]

These anti-oversight Attorneys General have tended to emerge in jurisdictions where the nomination process is undermined by an abuse of Vacancy Reform Act.  Frequently, these candidates get rushed through because the incumbent is an entirely unqualified flunky and their confirmations are sometimes accompanied by large infusions of money from outside groups.

Once in office, they have been announcing their refusal to enforce broad swathes of the criminal law.  Most disturbing is that some are refusing to prosecute cases of resisting oversight.

Bill Barr doesn’t believe any average American should ask questions before complying with those empowered to force them to abide by the law.

But his view is entirely different when it comes to his boss complying with the only body — given the OLC memos Barr has reinforced — with the authority to police Executive branch abuses. Indeed, he has (unsurprisingly) refused to enforce contempt citations, and has instead fostered the kind of disrespect for the law he claims to believe in.


Four Months Ago Attorney General Bill Barr Called BOP Staff Shortages that Led to Whitey Bulger Murder “a SNAFU”

At an Appropriations hearing in April, Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito premised a question about cuts to Bureau of Prison staffing budgets by reminding, “We’ve had several murders at Hazelton,” the federal Maximum Security facility in her state of West Virginia. (The WaPo noted this exchange in one of their early stories on Jeffrey Epstein’s death, though without this context.)

She doesn’t mean just any murders. In addition to some inmates from DC that Eleanor Holmes Norton had raised concerns about last fall, Hazelton was the site of Whitey Bulger’s murder, a death in BOP custody of an inmate every bit as worthy of close attention as Jeffrey Epstein, a death that was every bit as predictable as Epstein’s.

Capito went on to list several of the same problems that appear to have permitted Epstein’s death in the Metropolitan Correctional Center: staffing shortages and people assigned to perform duties they’re not trained for.

We’ve had complaints from staffing that there’s staffing shortages, it’s not safe for our correctional officers, they’re being asked to perform different duties maybe than what they’re originally assigned for, and in the budget, there’s a funding reduction for correctional officer staffing and salaries in the budget. Could you help me square with that, and is this a national problem that you’re finding across the BOP?

After Bulger’s murder, correctional officer union representatives cited the same problems: severe understaffing and people hired for other functions filling in for guards.

“(The) reported death at USP Hazelton, while concerning, is unsurprising,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Federal prisons across the country are suffering from severe understaffing, and the situation is perhaps no more dire than at Hazelton.”

The union reported that one in five positions authorized two years ago is vacant, and teachers, administrative assistants and accountants have had to fill in shifts as officers and first responders to violent incidents.

In response to a question from a Republican Senator about these issues, the Attorney General admitted failure. “I think this is an area where we have stumbled.” Rather than answering Senator Capito’s question about the budget, though (again, this was an Appropriations hearing), he instead explained that the problem wasn’t budget, it’s that the BOP doesn’t have all its assigned slots full because of how it hires.

I’ve been looking into this because it’s been very frustrating to me because I’ve always supported Bureau of Prisons in the past and think it’s a great organization and if we’re going to have people incarcerated we have to make sure they’re incarcerated under proper conditions. We are  — The way I look at it our authorized level is good and adequate. It’s that we’re four to five thousand people short of our authorized level.

Barr went on to provide evidence of a systematic underlying problem. “Every year we lose 2,600 of these correctional officers.” Without considering why turnover in the BOP is so high, he instead offered this solution. “My view is we just have to turn on the spigot and just keep these new entry level people coming in at a rate where we’re going to be able to get up to and maintain our enacted level. So I think this is largely a SNAFU by the department.”

Senator Capito warned once more about staffing levels and noted that those staffing levels are one of the reasons why people — even in West Virginia — don’t want the jobs.

I’m glad to hear what you’ve said in terms of getting more people in because the ratios are going up and in certain situations can be very dangerous for the officers that are working there, and then it discourages people from wanting to stay. It’s a tough job.

In a statement the other day, Barr claimed that some of the things that led to Epstein’s death (whether murder or suicide) — the same understaffing leading to people playing roles they weren’t hired for that Capito warned of in April — were “severe irregularities.”

I was appalled – indeed, the entire Department was – and frankly angry, to learn of the MCC’s failure to adequately secure this prisoner.  We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and that demand a thorough investigation.  The FBI and the Office of Inspector General are already doing just that.  We will get to the bottom of what happened at the MCC and we will hold people accountable for this failure.

This afternoon, Barr took action against the MCC warden and the two staffers on whose watch Epstein died, temporarily reassigning the warden and putting the officers on leave, effectively blaming them for conditions he called a SNAFU back in April.

On Tuesday, Barr “directed the Bureau of Prisons to temporarily assign” warden Lamine N’Diaye to a regional office, pending the outcome of internal investigations into Epstein’s death, the Justice Department said in a statement. Two staffers who were assigned to Epstein’s unit at the time of his death were placed on administrative leave, the department said.

Back in April, Barr called staffing shortages in prisons “a SNAFU.” Now, having been warned and having acknowledged the problem, he’s claiming some of the same problems were not regular, but instead severely irregular, and he’s blaming the people on the front lines rather than those in charge of the “SNAFU.”


DOJ Should Just Give Andrew McCabe What He Wants, But They Won’t

185 paragraphs into his complaint against Bill Barr, Christopher Wray, and DOJ and FBI for unlawful termination, Andrew McCabe makes what is probably an untrue statement.

Had Plaintiff pledged his personal loyalty to Trump, voted for Trump in the 2016 election (or falsely told Trump that he had), not worn a T-shirt supporting Dr. McCabe’s campaign, and not been married to Dr. McCabe, Defendants would not have reached the decisions to demote him and terminate him, nor would they have proceeded on the accelerated schedule that deprived him of his full vested pension and related benefits.

The statement is true, insofar as they’re the issues that Trump bitched about for the year leading up to McCabe’s firing in part to discredit the Mueller investigation. They’re true because Trump has claimed they’re true, so there will be abundant evidence to submit to prove they are true. But they’re not true insofar as the Russian investigation is what led Trump to hunt down his perceived enemies, and the DOJ IG investigation is the claimed reason for McCabe’s firing.

But the claims nevertheless assert the principle that FBI employees can’t be forced to take a loyalty oath. And as such, the lawsuit seeks to uphold a principle at the core of our judicial system.

That’s not the only complaint McCabe makes. Along another First Amendment claim, he also makes two due process claims and one mandamus claim that gets into the legal fine print of the way that, in response to pressure from Trump, top DOJ officials fast-tracked an effort to get rid of McCabe.

The legal details are actually of real interest, given that Wray, then Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools, and Jeff Sessions, among others, bolloxed the firing of McCabe. As Schools told McCabe while he was trying to accelerate the review of his termination in March 2018, “We’re making it up as we go along.” DOJ fucked up in two significant ways.

First, they didn’t get around to “firing” McCabe until 10:00 pm on March 16, 2018, after FBI clocked the final day McCabe had to put in before qualifying for retirement at 5:00 pm that same day. FBI registered that day as a full vacation day. By the time Sessions fired McCabe late at night, he claims, he was already legally retired. (Note, there’s a real tragicomic section describing Sessions’ role, including that the firing did not come with any of the official details like time of termination needed for such a firing, that are very similar to the way that Sessions himself would be fired 8 months later).

The other way they bolloxed McCabe’s firing is by demoting him on January 28, 2018. On that day, Wray gave McCabe a choice: to remain at FBI in a demoted role of his picking if he lied and said the demotion was voluntary, or remain in a lesser role of Wray’s choice if he refused to lie. Instead, McCabe took terminal leave, meaning he was no longer one of the positions that the Attorney General or Acting Attorney General could terminate directly. As McCabe described it, Sessions didn’t have the authority to fire McCabe.

Sessions publicly announced that he had terminated Plaintiff “[p]ursuant to [DOJ] Order 1202,”but that did not give Sessions the authority to terminate employees in Plaintiff’s position. DOJ Order 1202, promulgated pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 3151, provides that the FBI Director alone has authority to terminate career FBI senior executives, except that the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General retain authority to remove those who serve in certain enumerated “key positions.” After Defendant Wray removed Plaintiff from the role of Deputy Director in January 2018 and replaced him with Bowdich, Plaintiff remained a career FBI senior executive but did not serve in any of the “key positions” listed in DOJ Order 1202. Defendant Wray, as FBI Director, did not authorize Plaintiff’s termination and in fact previously refused Sessions’ request to terminate Plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff was not, in fact, terminated before his retirement.

[snip]

Additionally, Sessions lacked any authority to terminate Plaintiff due to conflicts of interest and recusals, including Sessions’ March 2017 recusal from “investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” Defendants’ pretextual basis for Plaintiff’s termination arose from the OIG investigation of Plaintiff’s actions related to the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, specifically his actions regarding campaign-related articles published in October 2016 by the Wall Street Journal. Sessions’ recusal, on its face, extended to the OIG investigation. Sessions’ recusal was therefore a “disability” under 28 U.S.C §508(a), meaning that he lacked qualification to participate in Plaintiff’s termination. As a result, Sessions had no authority to terminate Plaintiff.

The entire complaint is (as one would expect for a suit filed by four Arnold & Porter lawyers on behalf of a lawyer who happens to be a former top FBI official) very well lawyered in such a way that the legal issues are very narrow, even while invoking the entirety of Trump’s obstructive behavior along the way.

The easiest way DOJ could make this go away would be to grant McCabe’s request, to find that he had retired before he was fired, with the benefits accruing accordingly (McCabe refutes the findings of the DOJ IG investigation against him in more cursory fashion, though it’s key to his due process claims and his allegations reflect badly on the well-respected Michael Horowitz). But to do that, DOJ would rob Trump of one of his favorite petty wins.

So they probably won’t.

Copyright © 2018 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/department-of-justice/