April 18, 2019 / by 

 

It’s Plane to See: A Plane with Assange or Another One? [Updated]

[NB: Check the byline – this isn’t bmaz (who beat me to publishing a post about Assange. LOL) Update is at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

A couple weeks ago Politico’s Jake Sherman tweeted about the USDOJ’s plane:

The plane left from Manassas Regional Airport which observers note is where the DOJ stations their detail which handles extraditions.

As you can see it returned days later on Saturday, March 23. It was about this time frame that WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange became jittery about possible extradition to the U.S.

It was hard to tell if Assange was right; every time WikiLeaks tweeted since the plane left UK’s London Luton Airport — where MI5 has a hangar — that extradition was imminent, nothing happened. Many folks had a chuckle watching the night-long tweet stream by journalists covering the Ecuadoran embassy in London, watching pro-Assange activists setting up camp but not seeing any resulting arrest and seizure.

Until this morning at roughly 10:00 a.m. local time London.

Assange was charged by the UK with breaching bail after he failed to report for Sweden’s extradition order; Assange plead Not Guilty. The Crown Court found him guilty; he may face 12 months in jail at a later date.

Read bmaz’s take on Assange’s extradition to the U.S. and the DOJ’s charges against him.

Now here’s where it gets interesting for me, given how upset many of us were with Attorney General Bill Barr’s appearance before Congress in which he hedged about the Special Counsel’s Report except to say it would be released next week:

Emphasis mine. Was the plane Barr mentioned a figurative one or a literal one?

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 2:50 PM EDT —

AFP tweeted a graphic with a timeline of events preceding Assange’s removal from the Ecuadoran embassy:

It’s thin on entries, missing a date when the sexual assault charges were filed in Sweden for example. But it does give a feel for the manner in which events led up to Assange’s trip to Metropolitan Police station today.

Via Twitter, Marcy re-upped her post from last year related to prosecuting Assange:

Worth a re-read; in my opinion, Marcy’s November 2 post is also worth a re-read:

US Government Reveals It Has Video Evidence of Joshua Schulte Sharing Classified Information as Ecuador Restricts Assange’s Legal Visits

I don’t think Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion (18 USC 371, 1030(a)(1), 1030(a)(2), 1030(c)(2)(B)(ii)) is enough to warrant extradition alone.

Otherwise a Leicestershire 18-year-old would have been looking extradition for his attempted hacking of U.S. officials in October 2015, instead of eight charges of “performing a function with intent to secure unauthorised access,” and two of “unauthorised modification of computer material.”

The waiting game continues.


The Assange Indictment and The Rule of Specialty

Alright, as most of you have discovered, Julian Assange had his asylum status revoked by Ecuador, and officers of the Met (and presumably Scotland Yard too) were allowed into the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to effectuate arrest of Assange. Don’t be fooled by the breathless cable news coverage, the primary arrest warrant was the UK one from Assange’s 2012 jumping of bail conditions, not the extradition request by the US. In short, Assange would still be in custody right now irrespective of the US extradition request.

To flesh out the rest of Assange’s status, to the extent we currently know it, I will pilfer some of the reportage of the excellent Daniel Sandford of the BBC. Assange was presented immediately to Court One at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court where it was made clear that there were two warrants he was arrested on, not just the US request. Assange pled not guilty. He was NOT ordered to present evidence on his failure to surrender (which is appropriate if he declines). The judge presiding, Michael Snow nevertheless, and quite properly, found Assange guilty of the bail offense. Assange will appear in the higher level Southwark Crown Court for sentencing on the bail offense at a future date not yet specified. He will be back in the Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as of now by video link from his detention facility, on May 2nd regarding the extradition matter.

With that background out of the way, let’s look at the more significant US extradition case. First off, here is the EDVA indictment that was unsealed this morning. As you can see, it is for a single count of computer hacking conspiracy. I think most people expected all kinds of different counts, up to and including espionage crimes. Those were not included, nor were the issues from the Vault 7 case, that easily could have been indicted on outside of any real First Amendment issues.

So, while the indictment could have encompassed far many more charges and issues, it does not and is just this one count.

Why is that important?

Because legal commentators like Jeff Toobin on CNN are having a field day noting that there may be more charges forthcoming. And Shimon Prokupecz of CNN reports DOJ is indeed going to seek “additional charges” against Assange. And why is that important? Because of the Rule of Specialty.

I noted this from almost the first second on Twitter, but few other than Ken White (aka Popehat) seem to have caught on to how this doctrine will come into play in the case of Assange. It is a real issue, though we do not know how it will play out at this early stage of the extradition process.

The Doctrine of Specialty is a principle of International law that is included in most extradition treaties, whereby a person who is extradited to a country to stand trial for certain criminal offenses may be tried only for those offenses and not for any other pre-extradition offenses. Long ago and far away I argued this successfully, but that was in relation to the treaty between the US and Mexico. The Assange case obviously involves a different treaty, the US/UK Extradition treaty of 2003.

So, what does the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Treaty of 2003 provide? Well, that is contained in Article 18, which reads as follows:

Rule of Specialty

1. A person extradited under this Treaty may not be detained, tried, or punished in the Requesting State except for:
(a) any offense for which extradition was granted, or a differently denominated offense based on the same facts as the offense on which extradition was granted, provided such offense is extraditable, or is a lesser included offense;
(b) any offense committed after the extradition of the person; or
(c) any offense for which the executive authority of the Requested State waives the rule of specialty and thereby consents to the person’s detention, trial, or punishment. For the purpose ofthis subparagraph:
(i) the executive authority of the Requested State may require the submission of the documentation called for in Article 8; and
(ii) the person extradited may be detained by the Requesting State for 90 days, or for such longer period of time as the Requested State may authorize, while the request for consent is being processed.

2. A person extradited under this Treaty may not be the subject of onward extradition or surrender for any offense committed prior to extradition to the Requesting State unless the Requested State consents.
3. Paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article shall not prevent the detention, trial, or punishment of an extradited person, or the extradition of the person to a third State, if the person:
(a) leaves the territory ofthe Requesting State after extradition and voluntarily returns to it; or
(b) does not leave the territory ofthe Requesting State within 20 days of the day on which that person is free to leave.
4. I f the person sought waives extradition pursuant to Article 17, the specialty provisions in this Article shall not apply.

It is early, but Assange has specifically NOT waived extradition, and I do not expect that will change. In fact, he would be nuts to waive it. But look out for the US requesting the UK to waive the issue pursuant to Article 18(1)(c). I have no idea how the UK would treat such a request (nor whether it may have already been made). But give the UK credit, they take extradition conditions seriously and will not extradite where the death penalty is in play.

The death penalty could be an issue were Assange to be subsequently charged under 18 USC §794 (Espionage Act), which reads:

(a) Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicates, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to communicate, deliver, or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, note, instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defense, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life, except that the sentence of death shall not be imposed unless the jury or, if there is no jury, the court, further finds that the offense resulted in the identification by a foreign power (as defined in section 101(a) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) of an individual acting as an agent of the United States and consequently in the death of that individual, or directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack; war plans; communications intelligence or cryptographic information; or any other major weapons system or major element of defense strategy.

Now, frankly, I think the US, through the DOJ, would have no problem whatsoever stipulating that the death penalty is off the table for Assange. It is almost a given.

The real question is what becomes of the Assange case in light of the Rule of Specialty. Suppose any superseding indictment does not go into charges outside of the “computer offenses” specified in the current indictment, but seeks to add additional computer offenses in an attempt to increase the sentencing range? Does that violate the spirit of the Rule of Specialty?

There is a lot we simply do not know yet. But this doctrine, and how the US proceeds in light of it, needs to be watched closely as the Assange extradition matter proceeds, both in the UK, and once he is remanded to US custody.


Three Things: Hey You, Mr./Ms./Mx. Pissed-Off

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

I get it. You’re furious, en fuego, royally pissed off. You’ve traveled through shock and traversed anger, raging for days now since Attorney General Bill Barr issue that POS four-page letter chock full of holes big enough to drive a 40-foot dry van through again and again.

And now you’ve hit bottom, burned out and blue having reached another stage in the grieving process.

We all know this isn’t the end of it, no matter how much gaslighting and abuse the White House, its proxies, the right-wing horde, and asshats like David fucking Brooks spew. You know what you saw in the speaking indictments, plea agreements, and sentencing memos produced over the last two years.

We all know who ‘Individual 1’ is no matter how much he and his myriad minions and handlers would like us to forget his role as an unindicted co-conspirator who denied the public the right to know the truth about his past during the 2016 election.

At least one conspiracy to defraud the American public is right there spelled in black and white under our noses, and again in congressional records as part of Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House. Trump worked with Cohen to lie to the voting American public, violating campaign finance laws in doing so.

“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work,” as Judge Amy Berman Jackson told former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort during his sentencing hearing, another liar Trump brought into his team, allowing Manafort to change the Republican’s platform on Ukraine without a wide and open discussion among conservatives about it.

Trust your eyes and ears. You’re right to be angry and disappointed. Take a deep cleansing breath in and center yourself, feel that righteous burn of indignation, then let out the poison.

And then take another deep breath, roll up your sleeves, grab your phone, and let’s kick some ass.

~ 3 ~
What: Barr didn’t confine himself to his four-page POS summary on Sunday. Oh no. He had to make it really fucking personal for a huge swath of Americans by refusing to allow the DOJ to defend the Affordable Care Act. From the ABA Journal:

The DOJ’s new stance would strike down additional provisions that allow children to have coverage on their parents’ policies until age 26 and that guarantee “essential health benefits” such as mental health, maternity and drug coverage. The stance also would eliminate an expansion of Medicaid and free preventive services for people on Medicare.

Quite literally Americans could die because of this move.

Needed:
— Call your representatives and tell them you support the current ACA legislation in the absence of a better, Medicare for All replacement.
— Ask your reps to do what’s necessary to ensure the DOJ fulfills its mission to enforce the laws of this country, which at this time includes ACA.

You can see Barr is now setting a precedent for a unilateral executive branch which can pick and choose the laws it will enforce in spite of precedent backing existing laws. This can’t go any further.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 2 ~
What: Betsy ‘Multi-Yacht’ Devos decided disabled Americans do not merit an opportunity to achieve; she’s proposed ending funding for Special Olympics.

That shallow, stupid wretch has no real idea what Special Olympics means to the disabled, especially children and their parents. One of my family members has worked for more than a decade at a Special Olympics camp, spending weeks with children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to camp like abled children. The kids meet other kids like themselves, make new friends, learn new skills, hone their physical abilities, begin to see themselves as capable of so much more. And their parents get a much-needed respite from caring for children who may need around-the-clock monitoring.

But as the former director of the Office of Government Ethics says, the cruelty is the point. Devos is Cruella De Ville who will kill puppies for their coats given the chance. Pro-life, my foot; she cares not a whit what life is like for the disabled after birth.

She quite literally wants to axe Special Olympics and take the money to give to charter schools, which fail at around 25% rate. The money she will steal from the disabled will literally go down a rat hole and nobody except the charter school profiteers will benefit from this scam.

In fact the amount we spend as taxpayers providing additional support to Special Olympics could be offset easily if Trump spent four less weekends at his golf courses on our dime.

There are those who argue it’s really Trump who insisted on this cut and Devos is merely is grunt doing the scut work of hurting the disabled. Sure — but a person whose values are genuinely aligned with caring for fellow humans would have told Trump to stick this sidewise and quit their post instead.

The chances of this proposal passing the House are slim to none, especially after Devos was grilled by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) on Tuesday, but it’s a line in the sand we should draw.

Needed: Call your members of Congress in both houses and let them know this kind of cruelty to disabled Americans is unacceptable and it will not fix the inherent problem of making schools into privatized profit centers with an unacceptably high rate of failure.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 1 ~
What: Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as Trump’s corrupt nominee for Interior Secretary.

If you have a moment or two, watch for the swamp monster — the one in the green mask sitting behind Bernhardt, not Bernhardt (because when you’ve seen one of the fleshy pink swamp monsters, you’ve seen many).

Needed: This guy is selling out our national resources. Call your senators and tell them hell no on this dirtbag, we don’t need another swamp monster helming the Interior Department.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 0 ~
Don’t forget to check your phone’s battery charge. Get calling!

This is an open thread, by the way.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Statement on Using “Big Dick Toilet Salesman”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Four key points give pause:

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

Klobuchar asked Barr about each of these during the hearing:

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

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay.

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

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

BARR: Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Okay.

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

BARR: Yes.

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

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

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

BARR: Yes.

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

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

KLOBUCHAR: All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#WhyMitch

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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