The Six Trump Associates Whom DOJ Is Investigating

Because I keep having to lay out the proof that DOJ, in fact, has investigated close Trump associates of the sort that might lead to Trump himself, I wanted to make a list of those known investigations. Note that three of these — Sidney Powell, Alex Jones, and Roger Stone — definitely relate to January 6 and a fourth — the investigation into Rudy Giuliani — is scoped such that that it might include January 6 without anyone knowing about it.

Rudy Giuliani

As I said a month ago, the treatment of Rudy Giuliani’s phones single-handedly disproves claims that Merrick Garland’s DOJ wouldn’t investigate Trump’s people, because a month after he was confirmed and literally the same day that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco was sworn in on April 21, DOJ obtained warrants targeting Rudy Giuliani.

The known warrants for Rudy’s phone pertain to whether, in the lead-up to Trump’s impeachment for trying to coerce Ukraine’s assistance in the 2020 election, Rudy was acting as an unregistered agent of Ukraine.

But as this table shows, Judge Paul Oetken ordered Special Master Barbara Jones to conduct a privilege review for Rudy’s seized devices from January 1, 2018 through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021. That means anything on Rudy’s devices from the entire period when he was helping Trump obstruct Mueller’s investigation well past the time he played the central role on orchestrating a coup attempt would be available to DOJ if it could show probable cause to get it.

There’s good reason to believe DOJ could show probable cause to access Rudy’s phones from April 2018 (before he formally became Trump’s lawyer), because during that period he was attempting to buy Michael Cohen’s silence with a pardon. There’s equally good reason to believe that act of obstruction is one of the referrals still redacted in the Mueller Report.

On or about April l 7, 20 l 8, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

The New York Times and a third rate reporter . . . are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip. ‘ They use nonexistent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media! 1025

In an email that day to Cohen, Costello wrote that he had spoken with Giuliani. 1026 Costello told Cohen the conversation was “Very Very Positive[.] You are ‘loved’ … they are in our corner … . Sleep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”1027

Similarly, there’s good reason to believe DOJ could show probable cause to access Rudy’s phone for his involvement in Trump’s attempted coup, not least because Rudy himself tweeted out some texts he exchanged with a Proud Boy associate discussing specific insurrectionists in the aftermath of the attack.

We wouldn’t know if DOJ had obtained warrants for those separate periods, because those periods will be covered by Jones’ review one way or another.

In any case, the details of the Rudy investigation show, at a minimum, that Barr went to extraordinary lengths to attempt to kill this investigation (and may have even ordered that FBI not review the materials seized in 2019). It took mere weeks after Garland took over, however, for the investigation to take very aggressive steps.

It also shows that SDNY managed to renew this investigation without major leaks.

Tom Barrack

Just this Tuesday, in a Zoom hearing for Brooklyn’s Federal Court, lawyers for the guy who installed Paul Manafort as Trump’s campaign manager suggested that Merrick Garland had politicized DOJ because, after the investigation into Tom Barrack had apparently stalled in 2019, he was indicted as an unregistered agent of the Emirates in July 2021.

According to reporting from 2019, this investigation was a Mueller referral, so it’s proof that Garland’s DOJ will pursue such referrals. According to CNN reporting, the indictment was all ready to go in July 2020, a year before it was actually charged. That provides a measure of how long it took an investigation that was deemed complete at a time when Barr seemingly prohibited filing it to be resuscitated under Garland: at least four months.

Barrack’s prosecution proves that DOJ can indict a top Trump associate without leaks in advance.

Jury selection for Barrack’s trial is now scheduled to start on September 7.

Sidney Powell

Two different outlets have reported that there is a grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grifting off lies about election fraud. WaPo’s story on the investigation describes that Molly Gaston is overseeing the investigation (she is also overseeing the Steve Bannon referral). As I noted, Gaston was pulled off three prosecutions for insurrectionists by last March.

Gaston originally pulled three January 6 cases in the investigation’s early days, those of Robert Packer, Robert Gieswein, and Derrick Evans, just the latter of which, involving a then-West Virginia state politician, had any possible public corruption component. But, at a time of immense staffing shortages at DC’s US Attorney’s Office, she dropped off those cases on February 18 (in the case of Packer) and March 29 (in the case of Gieswein and Evans). I’ve long wondered what, in the weeks after Merrick Garland came in, became a higher priority for the DC US Attorney’s leading public corruption prosecutor. We now know one thing she picked up in the interim was the prosecution of Michael Riley, the Capitol Police Officer who advised rioter Jacob Hiles to delete Facebook posts about his role in the riot. And by September, Gaston’s grand jury investigation into Sidney Powell’s grift had started taking overt steps like subpoenaing Powell’s nonprofit.

For at least the Michael Riley prosecution and the Steve Bannon prosecution, Gaston is using two of at least three grand juries that are also investigating insurrectionists. For at least those investigations, there is no separate grand jury for the public corruption side of the investigation and the assault on the Capitol. They are the same investigation.

The investigation into Powell will necessarily intersect in interesting ways with Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn.

There have been a lot of complaints that DOJ is not following the money. Powell’s investigation is proof that DOJ is following the money.

Alex Jones

Over the last year, DOJ has collected a great deal of evidence that the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and an alarming number of former Marines worked together to open a second breach on the Capitol via the East doors. Instrumental to the success of this breach were a large number of MAGA tourists who joined in the breach. DOJ has proof that at least some of them were there because Alex Jones had lured them there by lying about a second Trump speech on the East side of the building.

DOJ has already arrested two of Jones’ employees: videographer Sam Montoya in April and on-air personality Owen Shroyer in August.

In a November DOJ response in the Shroyer case, Alex Jones was referred to as Person One, as numerous others believed to be under active investigation have been described. That filing debunked the cover story that Shroyer and Jones have used to excuse their actions on January 6. Judge Tim Kelly, who is also presiding over the most important Proud Boys cases, is currently reviewing Shroyer’s First Amendment challenge to his arrest.

This strand of the investigation has likely necessarily lagged the exploitation of former Alex Jones’ employee Joe Biggs’ iCloud and phone, which were made available to Biggs’ co-travelers in August. This post has more on the developments in the Montoya and Shroyer cases, including that a different prosecutor recently took over Monotya’s case.

Roger Stone

Roger Stone, who has close ties to both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who coordinated the attack on the Capitol, has shown up repeatedly in the Oath Keeper conspiracy. In March, DOJ debunked Connie Meggs’ claim not to know her co-conspirators by including a picture of an event she did with Roger Stone and Graydon Young (this was close to the time that Connie’s husband Kelly organized an alliance between Florida militias).

In a May 25 FBI interview, Mike Simmons, the field commander for the Oath Keepers on January 6, appears to have been specifically asked why Simmons had so many conversations with Joshua James, who was providing security for Roger Stone at the Willard the morning of the insurrection. Simmons appears to have explained that James called him every time Stone moved.

In June, Graydon Young, the Floridian who attended that Stone event with Connie, entered a cooperation agreement. Also in June, Mark Grods, one of the Oath Keepers who had been at the Willard that morning, entered a cooperation agreement. In September, Jason Dolan, a former Marine from Florida who also interacted with Stone in advance of the insurrection and who was waiting there on January 6 as the other Oath Keepers, a number of Proud Boys (including former Alex Jones employee Joe Biggs) and Alex Jones himself all converged at the top of the East steps just as the doors were opened from inside, entered a cooperation agreement.

Anonymous

There’s one more grand jury investigation into a powerful Trump associate that I know of via someone who was subpoenaed in the investigation in the second half of last year. The investigation reflects a reopening of an investigation Billy Barr shut down in 2019-2020. What’s interesting about it is the scope seems somewhat different and the investigating District is different than the earlier investigation. That may suggest that, for investigations that Barr shut down, DOJ would need to have a new evidence to reopen it. But the existence of this investigation shows, again, that Garland’s DOJ will go after powerful Trump associates.

It baffles me why TV lawyers continue to claim there’s no evidence that Merrick Garland is investigating anyone close to Trump — aside from they’re looking for leaks rather than evidence being laid out in plain sight in court filings. One of the first things that Garland’s DOJ did was to take really aggressive action against the guy who led Trump’s efforts to launch a coup. Alex Jones and Roger Stone are clearly part of the investigation into how the breach of the East doors of the Capitol came together, and the two of them (Jones especially) tie directly back to Trump.

There are other reasons to believe that DOJ’s investigation includes Trump’s role in the assault on the Capitol, laid out in the statements of offense from insurrectionists who’ve pled guilty, ranging from trespassers to militia conspirators. But one doesn’t even have to read how meticulously DOJ is collecting evidence that dozens of people have admitted under oath that they participated in the attack on the Capitol because of what Trump had led them to believe on Twitter.

Because DOJ clearly has several other routes to get to Trump’s role via his close associates. I’m not promising they’ll get there. And this will take time (as I’ll show in a follow-up). But that’s different than claiming that this evidence doesn’t exist.

Update: I did a podcast where I explained how the misdemeanor arrests are necessary to moving up the chain.

“I’m Just There to Open the Envelopes:” The Select Committee and DOJ Investigations Converge at Mike Pence

You might not understand this from following just traditional news outlets, but over the course of a year, the news-friendly January 6 Select Committee and even the public parts of the locked-down DOJ investigation have met at a common pivot point in their investigation of January 6: on Trump’s efforts to pressure Mike Pence to violate the Constitution.

Trump did so, first, with personal pressure. Then he sent his mob.

The pressure on Pence is how Trump’s plotting in advance of January 6 affirmatively led  directly to — not just through inaction, but through action — specific steps taken by confessed mobsters to assault the Capitol.

Already in February of last year, both the House Impeachment Managers and I recognized the centrality of Trump’s treatment of his Vice President to his liability for the January 6 insurrection.

Trump had nothing to say in defense of his actions with regards to Mike Pence.

The House brief mentions Pence, by title and sometimes by name, 36 times. Those mentions include a description of how Pence was presiding over the counting of the electoral vote, how he fled when Trump’s mobsters flooded into the Capitol, how the attackers targeted him by name, how Secret Service barely kept him safe, how Trump’s own actions made Pence’s danger worse.

The House brief dedicates a section to how Pence refused to do what Trump explicitly asked him to do, to unilaterally discount certain electoral votes.

C. Vice President Pence Refuses to Overturn the Election Results

By the time the rally began, President Trump had nearly run out of options. He had only one card left to play: his Vice President. But in an act that President Trump saw as an unforgivable betrayal, Vice President Pence refused to violate his oath and constitutional duty—and, just hours later, had to be rushed from the Senate chamber to escape an armed mob seeking vengeance.

In the weeks leading up to the rally, President Trump had furiously lobbied Vice President Pence to refuse to count electoral votes for President Biden from any of the swing states.68 These demands ignored the reality that the Vice President has no constitutional or statutory authority to take that step. Over and over again, President Trump publicly declared that if Vice President Pence refused to block the Joint Session from finalizing President Biden’s victory, then the election, the party, and the country would be lost. “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you,” President Trump said in Georgia on January 4.69 The next day, he tweeted: “If Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency.”70 President Trump reiterated this demand just hours before the rally: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”71 On the morning of January 6, President Trump reportedly told Vice President Pence, “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy.”72

Later that day, while President Trump was speaking at his rally, Vice President Pence issued a public letter rejecting President Trump’s threats. “It is my considered judgment,” he wrote, “that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”73

This letter sounded the death knell to any peaceful methods of overturning the election outcome. It was well known that the House and Senate were going to count the lawfully certified electoral votes they had received. President Trump’s efforts to coerce election officials, state legislatures, the DOJ, Members of Congress, and his own Vice President had all failed. But he had long made it clear that he would never accept defeat. He would fight until the bitter end. And all that remained for President Trump was the seething crowd before him—known to be poised for violence at his instigation—and the Capitol building just a short march away, where Vice President Pence presided over the final, definitive accounting of President Trump’s electoral loss.

[snip]

In other words, a key part of the House brief describes Trump giving Pence an illegal order, and then, after Pence refused to follow that order and announced he would do his own Constitutional duty, Trump took actions to focus the anger of the mob on his own Vice President.

It’s not just what Trump said about Pence, the incitement of an assassination attempt against his Vice President that Trump claims is protected by the First Amendment, but it’s about an illegal order Trump gave to Pence, which Pence duly ignored.

That order was unconstitutional, and as such is not protected by the First Amendment.

Trump’s brief, by contrast, mentions the Vice President (only by title) just three times, two of which are simply citations from the House brief. The sole mention of the man he almost got hanged involves a concession that the Vice President was, indeed, presiding over the counting of the votes.

It is admitted that on January 6, 2021 a joint session of Congress met with the Vice President, the House and the Senate, to count the votes of the Electoral College.

But in response to the second citation from the House brief mentioning Pence, Trump instead pivots to defending the Republican members of Congress challenging state results. As part of that discussion, Trump denies any intention of interfering with the counting of Electoral votes. That denial focuses exclusively on the actions of Members of Congress, not Pence.

Since that time, Congress has been investigating from the top down, aided by the press and a healthy bunch of Pence staffers horrified by what happened to their boss. DOJ has been investigating (at a minimum) from the crime scene up.

The Select Committee appears to have corroborated stories told by Bobs Woodward and Costa in Peril. After losing all their attempts to challenge the election in the courts and backed by a coup memo from John Eastman, in December 2020, Trump’s people started demanding that Pence refuse the vote totals from a select group of states.

At the end, he announces that because of the ongoing disputes in the 7 States, there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed in those States. That means the total number of “electors appointed” – the language of the 12th Amendment — is 454. This reading of the 12th Amendment has also been advanced by Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe (here). A “majority of the electors appointed” would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.

Howls, of course, from the Democrats, who now claim, contrary to Tribe’s prior position, that 270 is required. So Pence says, fine. Pursuant to the 12th Amendment, no candidate has achieved the necessary majority. That sends the matter to the House, where the “the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote . . . .” Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations, the bare majority needed to win that vote. President Trump is re-elected there as well.

Pence conducted a series of consultations, most notably with his predecessor Dan Quayle, who counseled Pence could only open the ballots. In the hours before the riot, conservative legal stars John Yoo and Michael Luttig backed the Vice President as well.

That led to the remarkable scene on January 5 (as described in Peril, though Keith Kellogg is among the witnesses who cooperated with the Select Committee under a friendly subpoena and Peril’s account relies heavily on him and other Pence aides), as Trump invited Pence to call on unconstitutional power from the mob.

On the evening of January 5, as he waited for Pence to arrive from a coronavirus task force meeting, an aide informed Trump his supporters were gathering near the White House on Freedom Plaza near Pennsylvania Avenue.

Despite the bitter cold, the supporters were cheering loudly and chanting his name. They were waving “Make America Great Again” flags.

When Pence arrived, Trump told him about the thousands of supporters. They love me, he said.

Pence nodded. “Of course, they’re here to support you,” he said. “They love you, Mr. President.

“But,” Pence added, “they also love our Constitution.”

Trump grimaced.

That may be, Trump said, but they agree with him regardless: Pence could and should throw Biden’s electors out. Make it fair. Take it back.

That is all I want you to do, Mike, Trump said. Let the House decide the election. Trump was not ready to give up, especially to a man he maligned as “Sleepy Joe.”

“What do you think, Mike?” Trump asked.

Pence returned to his mantra: He did not have the authority to do anything other than count the electoral votes.

“Well, what if these people say you do?” Trump asked, gesturing beyond the White House to the crowds outside. Raucous cheering and blasting bullhorns could be heard through the Oval Office windows.

“If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?” Trump asked.

“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.

“But wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” Trump asked.

“No,” Pence said. “Look, I’ve read this, and I don’t see a way to do it.

“We’ve exhausted every option. I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible. My interpretation is: No.

“I’ve met with all of these people,” Pence said, “they’re all on the same page. I personally believe these are the limits to what I can do. So, if you have a strategy for the 6th, it really shouldn’t involve me because I’m just there to open the envelopes. You should be talking to the House and Senate. Your team should be talking to them about what kind of evidence they’re going to present.”

In spite of Pence’s refusals, Trump released a false statement that the Vice President would, in fact, do Trump’s dirty work.

Late Tuesday evening, January 5, as word dripped out in the press that Pence was holding, Trump directed his campaign to issue a statement claiming that he and Pence were in “total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.”

This set the expectation with the already enraged mob that their efforts to keep Trump in office might just work.

As the Select Committee revealed last night, the White House Counsel’s Office was objecting to all of this, and threatening to resign if Trump tried it. Sean Hannity learned about those threats as early as December 31 and shared his concerns with Mark Meadows.

We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. [sic] He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity.

Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen.

The night of January 5, the same night Trump falsely claimed that Pence would go along with the plan, Hannity again told Mark Meadows he was worried the White House Counsel lawyers would quit.

Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave.

Whether or not Hannity sits for an interview with the Select Committee, the release of texts showing that Trump or Meadows shared privileged advice that the White House Counsel gave to Trump (thereby waiving any privilege claim) may have made the testimony of those lawyers themselves accessible, if not to the Select Committee, then under subpoena from DOJ.

That’s important, because as the DOJ prosecutor guiding DOJ’s use of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to charge those who participated in the insurrection, James Pearce, has already noted, one way an unnamed person just like Trump might act corruptly would be by asking someone else to violate their duty: If that person, “calls Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way … knowing it is not an available argument [and is] asking the vice president to do something the individual knows is wrongful … one of the definitions of ‘corruptly’ is trying to get someone to violate a legal duty.”

By publicly releasing those Hannity texts, the Select Committee may have made proof that Trump knew his request to Pence was illegal available to DOJ.

Still, any testimony Hannity could offer is important for what came next: because Hannity seems to have known that Trump’s persistence would lead to trouble.

Already knowing that Pence would not reject the vote tallies, already knowing Pence didn’t have that power, Trump riled up his mob in his speech by making it clear everything came down to Pence.

And he looked at Mike Pence, and I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so.

Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do, all this is, this is from the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We’re supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our Constitution, and protect our constitution.

States want to revote. The states got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.

And I actually, I just spoke to Mike. I said: “Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage.” And then we’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We’re just not going to let that happen.

Trump led his mob to believe only Pence could help them, and if Pence did, Trump falsely led many of them to believe, it would amount to following the Constitution (precisely the opposite of what his White House Counsel appears to have had told him).

Pennsylvania has now seen all of this. They didn’t know because it was so quick. They had a vote. They voted. But now they see all this stuff, it’s all come to light. Doesn’t happen that fast. And they want to recertify their votes. They want to recertify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back. Mike Pence has to agree to send it back.

And many people in Congress want it sent back.

And think of what you’re doing. Let’s say you don’t do it. Somebody says, “Well, we have to obey the Constitution.” And you are, because you’re protecting our country and you’re protecting the Constitution. So you are.

That’s what Trump left his mob with as he falsely promised he would walk to the Capitol with them.

So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Already, at that moment, the Proud Boys had kicked off the attack. Moments later, Pence released his letter stating he would certify the vote. “Four years ago, surrounded by my family, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which ended with the words, ‘So help me God.'”

And Trump’s Tweets and speech had the direct and desired effect. When Trump called out, “I hope Pence is going to do the right thing,” Gina Bisignano responded, “I hope so. He’s a deep state.” When she set off to the Capitol, Bisignano explained, “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence.” After declaring, “I’m going to break into Congress,” Bisignano rallied some of the mobsters by talking about “what Pence has done.” She cheered through a blowhorn as mobsters made a renewed assault on the Capitol. “Break the window! she cheered, as she ultimately helped another break a window, an act amounting to a team act of terrorism.

Josiah Colt and his co-conspirators learned that Pence would not prevent the vote certification as Trump demanded. In response, they aimed to “breach the building.” Colt set out to where Pence was presiding. “We’re making it to the main room. The Senate room.” Where they’re meeting.” His co-conspirators Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave are accused of assaulting a cop to get into the Senate.

Jacob Chansley mounted the dais where Pence should have been overseeing the vote count and declared, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor,” and left him a note, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Matthew Greene never went to listen to Trump speak. Instead, he was following orders from top Proud Boys, a bit player in an orchestrated attack to surround and breach the Capitol. His goal in doing so was to pressure Pence.

Greene’s intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President Pence. Greene knew he lawmakers and the Vice President were inside the Capitol building conducting the certification of the Electoral College Vote at the time the riot occurred. Green hoped that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral Vote than they would have otherwise. Greene believed that by unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds, he and other rioters outside the building would send a stronger message to lawmakers and the Vice President inside the building, than if Green and others had stayed outside the restricted area.

There is a direct line of corrupt intent from the moment where Trump asked Pence, “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to [exercise it]?” and efforts that his mobsters — both those who planned this in advance and those who reacted to Trump’s incitement — made at the Capitol. Some of the most central players in the attack on the Capitol have testified under oath that they understood their goal to be pressuring Mike Pence. In pursuit of that, they broke into the Capitol, they assaulted cops, they occupied the Mike Pence’s seat.

Congress is currently focused on showing what Trump did during the 187 minutes after his mob had breached the Capitol — aside from his tweet focusing again on Pence.

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

DOJ is finalizing its understanding of the coordinated effort, using the mobs Alex Jones lured to the Capitol and to a second front, that resulted in multiple breaches of the building and vastly inflated risk to Pence and members of Congress.

But on one point, both investigations have already converged: the motive of a vast many involved, from Trump to his scheming associates to organized militias to unwitting trespassers, was to was pressure Mike Pence to violate his duty.

Trump Breached His Own Privilege by Blabbing to Sean Hannity

The January 6 Committee is inviting Sean Hannity for a voluntary interview with the committee.

It’s unclear whether he’ll take them up on that investigation. But it seems the damage has already been done. That’s because texts involving Hannity make it clear he knew about the White House Counsel’s concerns about Trump’s actions.

The Select Committee is in possession of dozens of text messages you sent to and received from former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows and others related to the 2020 election and President Trump’s efforts to contest the outcome of the vote. At this time, we are specifically focused on a series of your communications with President Trump, White House staff and President Trump’s legal team between December 31, 2020, and January 20, 2021. For example, on December 31, 2020, you texted Mr. Meadows the following:

“We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. [sic] He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity.

Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen.”

Among other things, this text suggests that you had knowledge of concerns by President Trump’s White House Counsel’s Office regarding the legality of the former President’s plans for January 6th. These facts are directly relevant to our inquiry.

Similarly, on January 5th, the night before the violent riot, you sent and received a stream of texts. You wrote: “Im very worried about the next 48 hours.” With the counting of electoral votes scheduled for January 6th at 1 p.m., why were you concerned about the next 48 hours?

Also, on the evening of January 5th, you texted Mr. Meadows: “Pence pressure. WH counsel will leave.” Wha communications or information led you to conclude that White House Counsel would leave? What precisely did you know at that time?

Effectively, Trump breached the privileged advice the White House Counsel gave him by blabbing it to Hannity (or by Meadows doing so). The Committee can’t get that advice directly. But whatever got shared with a journalist has lost its privileged status.

DOJ’s Approximate January 6 Conspiracies

Amid the clamor for Merrick Garland to say something about the January 6 investigation, DOJ has announced he will give a speech, tomorrow, to mark Thursday’s year anniversary of the assault on the Capitol.

Meanwhile, late last year, DOJ released a one-year summary of the investigation. It’s similar to periodical reports the DC US Attorney’s Office has released before, including that its numbers generally skew high. It includes DC Superior Court arrests, in addition to federal arrests, to come up with “more than 725 defendants;” (GWU’s count, which those of us tracking this closely consider the canonical list, shows 704 arrests). DOJ appears to mix assault and civil disorder arrests to come up with 225 in some way interfering with cops; my own count, while low, counts fewer than 150 people charged with assault. DOJ’s summary boasts that 275 people have been charged with obstruction, a number that includes those who’ve been permitted to plead down to misdemeanors.

One number, however, is low: DOJ claims that,

Approximately 40 defendants have been charged with conspiracy, either: (a) conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding, (b) conspiracy to obstruct law enforcement during a civil disorder, (c) conspiracy to injure an officer, or (d) some combination of the three.

By my count, this number is at least 25% off the known count. There are 39 people currently charged in the top-line militia conspiracies, plus five people cooperating against them.

There are at least another 13 people charged in smaller conspiracies (though the Texas “Patriot” conspiracy has not been indicted yet), with two more people cooperating in those cases.

It’s most likely DOJ got this number so badly wrong because it is overworked and some of these (like the Texas one and the status of Danny Rodriguez co-conspirator “Swedish Scarf”) aren’t fully unsealed.

But it’s also likely that these numbers are not what they seem.

That’s because in (at least) the larger conspiracies, there have been a lot of plea discussions going on behind the scenes, if not hidden cooperators. Certainly in the wake of five decisions upholding the obstruction application (including in the main Oath Keeper conspiracy, in the Ronnie Sandlin conspiracy, and by Tim Kelly, who is presiding over three of the Proud Boy conspiracies), we should expect some movement. I expect there will be some consolidation in the Proud Boy cases. The Texas case and some other Proud Boy defendants have to be indicted.

Importantly, too, these conspiracies all link up to other key players. For example, Roger Stone, Ali Alexander, and Alex Jones coordinated closely with the Proud Boy and Oath Keeper conspirators. The state-level conspiracies are most interesting for local power brokers and the elected officials with whom these conspirators networked — like Ted Cruz in the case of the Texas alleged conspirators or Morton Irvine Smith in the SoCal 3%er.

The utility of conspiracy charges lies in the way they can turn associates against each other and network others into the crime. Prosecutors love to use secrecy and paranoia to increase that utility.

And so while DOJ is undoubtedly overwhelmed, it may also be the case that DOJ would like to keep potential co-conspirators guessing about what’s really behind them.

Easy Cases: Why Austin Sarat’s Argument That Trump Should Not Be Prosecuted Is Wrong

Randolph Moss, serving as Assistant Attorney General for OLC in 2000, famously wrote the following:

Our view remains that a sitting President is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.

Less famously, however, the first 11 pages of that more famous memo rely on this earlier OLC memo from Moss:

We conclude that the Constitution permits a former President to be criminally prosecuted for the same offenses for which he was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate while in office.

Even less famous are words Moss released last Tuesday, now presiding as a judge over a January 6 prosecution, ruling that obstruction, 18 USC 1512(c)(2), clearly applies to the official Congressional proceeding to certify the vote count on January 6, 2021.

Hard cases may make bad law. But easy cases ought not.

For these reasons, the Court rejects Defendants’ contention that the joint session of Congress convened to certify the electoral vote is not a “proceeding before the Congress.”

Those legal documents are all useful background to my response to this Austin Sarat op-ed, opining that DOJ should not prosecute Trump for his actions related to January 6.

I worry that going forward with even a well-grounded prosecution of Trump would almost certainly turn him into a martyr, fuel a furious attack on the Biden Justice Department for using prosecution as a political weapon, spur violent outbursts, and plunge this country ever closer to the abyss which it seems to be fast approaching.

“An investigation and potential indictment and trial of Mr. Trump,” Eric Posner warns, “would give the circus of the Trumpian presidency a central place in American politics for the next several years, sucking the air out of the Biden administration and feeding into Mr. Trump’s politically potent claims to martyrdom. Mr. Trump will portray the prosecution as revenge by the ‘deep state’ and corrupt Democrats.”

This difficult judgment does not mean that Attorney General Garland should do nothing.

He can serve justice by building on the work of the House committee and helping to fully develop the facts of what Trump did in the lead up to and on January 6. Garland should present those facts clearly, logically, and with irrefutable documentation. And he should do what McConnell and Graham suggested in February by citing chapter and verse the numerous federal criminal laws that Trump violated.

First, some background.

Unless you went to Amherst College, you may never have heard of Sarat. He created a Law and Society program there and has served as a Dean. I’ve had conversations a number of prominent and not-so prominent lawyers who graduated from Amherst during Sarat’s tenure — some you’ve heard of!! — who have spoken of the great influence the professor has had on their career. And while I’m not a lawyer, like many of those lawyers, I first learned to read a legal document from Sarat.

Over thirty years ago in a class on how the state regulates sexuality, Sarat assigned me to read Griswold v Connecticut and Roe v Wade alongside Tolstoy and Kiss of the Spider Woman, the latter of which I taught on my own right and included in my dissertation years later. Sarat taught me critical skills you may benefit from at this site.

My complaint with Sarat’s argument is that he violates the rule he taught me so many years ago: He didn’t read the relevant legal documents before writing this op-ed. The sources he links in his op-ed are:

  • Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks’ MSNBC appearance addressing the issue
  • A column on a June 2021 Rachel Maddow appearance in which she suggested the House could send a criminal referral to DOJ
  • An article about a bunch of people responding to Liz Cheney’s invocation of obstruction (the same statute Moss ruled on), which itself betrays that those people quoted in the article missed how obstruction was already being used in DOJ’s prosecution
  • Lawrence Tribe’s column that is riddled with factual errors that make it clear Tribe is unfamiliar with the public record
  • Mitch McConnell’s speech, justifying why he was voting against impeaching Trump, noting that he could be criminally prosecuted
  • Lindsey Graham’s comments making the same argument: that Trump should not be impeached but could be prosecuted
  • A report on DC District Attorney Karl Racine’s comments that Trump could be charged with a misdemeanor
  • A BoGlo op-ed that calls for prosecution but envisions Trump’s vulnerability with regards to January 6 to pertain to incitement
  • A NY Mag piece that includes obstruction among the possible laws Trump may have broken, but claims that DOJ, “seems to be pursuing misdemeanor trespass cases at the Capitol more aggressively than potential felony charges for Trump,” which misunderstands how DOJ appears to be using misdemeanor arrests (and indeed, how those witnesses would be necessary to any Trump prosecution)
  • A Ryan Cooper piece that states as fact that Garland’s DOJ, “is enabling Republican lawlessness through its pathetic unwillingness to prosecute Trump and all his cronies for their crimes against democracy;” Cooper makes no mention of the Tom Barrack prosecution, and while he invokes Rudy Giuliani he doesn’t mention the decision — seemingly made in Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s first days — to seize Rudy Giuliani’s phones and spend 8 months getting a privilege review on the contents of Rudy’s phones right through April 2021
  • A law review article on prosecutorial discretion
  • Robert Jackson’s seminal text about the role of a Federal prosecutor
  • The Bordenkircher precedent on plea negotiations that upholds prosecutorial discretion
  • The quip, “hard cases make bad law”
  • An Eric Posner op-ed published before Trump attempted a coup

Some of these things — the Bordenkircher opinion, McConnell and Graham’s comments suggesting Trump could be prosecuted, and Robert Jackson — are important primary sources. But most of the rest are secondary sources, and many of them — notably Tribe and Cooper — are demonstrably wrong on the facts because they didn’t consult available primary sources.

And as a result of consulting erroneous sources like Tribe, Sarat misunderstands the case before him.

For example, many of Sarat’s sources imagine that Trump’s biggest criminal exposure is in incitement and not the same obstruction charge with which well over 200 insurrectionists have already been charged and to which at least a dozen people have already pled guilty (most of them even before Moss and his colleagues upheld the application in recent weeks). Nine pled guilty to obstruction as part of cooperation agreements and several of those cooperators interacted with Roger Stone in the days and hours leading up to the assault on the Capitol.

Many of Sarat’s sources assume that DOJ couldn’t get to Trump except for the work the January 6 Committee is doing.

In spite of Garland’s repeated claims that his DOJ would pursue the January 6 investigation wherever the evidence leads — including at an appearance where he discussed that famous Moss memo that relies so heavily on that less famous Moss memo — Sarat suggests that Garland would have to launch an investigation, one entirely separate from the investigation already in progress, anew. “Based on what we now know, there appears to be ample reason for Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a criminal probe of Trump.” That is, Sarat treats the question before him as whether Merrick Garland should take to a podium and announce, “we are investigating the former President,” and not whether DOJ should continue the investigation(s) that it already has in progress, working to prosecute organizer-inciters like Alex Jones’ side-kick Owen Shroyer (who helped lure mobsters to the Capitol) and flipping low-level conspirators to build the case against more senior conspirators, conspirators whose ties to Trump associates like Jones and Stone have already been raised in court documents.

The question is not whether DOJ should open an investigation into Donald Trump. The question is whether, if and when DOJ accumulates enough evidence — surely helped by Select Committee efforts but in no way relying entirely on them — to show probable cause that Trump conspired with others to prevent Congress from certifying the vote on January 6, 2021, to charge him like DOJ has already charged hundreds of others.

And that question is significantly a question about equity.

The question is whether, if Paul Hodgkins has to serve eight months in prison for occupying the Senate while waving a Donald Trump flag around (Hodgkins is already three months into that sentence), Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Jacob Chansley has to serve 41 months in prison (Chansley has been in jail since January 9, 2021) for occupying the Senate dais, in defiance of orders from a cop, with a spear and a blowhorn and leaving a message for Mike Pence reading, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Kevin Fairlamb has to serve 41 months in prison (Fairlamb has been in jail since January 22, 2021) for punching one of the cops protecting the Capitol “with the purpose of influencing, affecting, and retaliating against the conduct of government by stopping or delaying the Congressional proceeding by intimidation or coercion,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Gina Bisignano faces 41 months for traveling to DC boasting, “The insurrection begins,” marching to the Capitol while narrating her actions — “we are marching to the Capitol to put some pressure on Mike Pence” and “I’m going to break into the Capitol” — and then helping to break a window to get into the Capitol, Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Matthew Greene faces 41 months in prison for — months after Trump instructed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” — joining the Proud Boys in an orchestrated assault on the Capitol in hopes, “that his actions and those of his co-conspirators would cause legislators and the Vice President to act differently during the course of the certification of the Electoral College Vote than they would have otherwise,” Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well. Greene has been in jail since April 21, 2021.

The question is whether, if Jon Schaffer faces 41 months for, after learning “that Vice President Pence planned to go forward with the Electoral College vote certification,” forcibly storming the Capitol armed with bear spray, Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Josiah Colt faces 51 months because, after he, “learned that the Vice President had not intervened to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote,” he stormed the Capitol, broke into the Senate, and then occupied Pence’s chair, Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

The question is whether, if Graydon Young faces 63 months because he barged into the Capitol as part of a stack of kitted out militia members with the purpose of “intimidating and coercing government personnel who were participating in or supporting” the vote certification, Donald Trump should be prosecuted as well.

At this point, there’s no way to avoid the things Sarat would like to avoid by merely talking about Trump’s crimes rather than prosecuting them, to say nothing of the way that would violate DOJ rules prohibiting doing so. That’s true, in large part, because Trump is claiming martyrdom for those who did his dirty work. Between right wing lawyers swooping in to push defendants to renege on their guilty pleas, continued efforts by defendants’ co-conspirators to claim they were all set up by the Deep State, and schemes to profit off continued propaganda in support of Trump, every one of these cases involves some of the things that Sarat fears would occur if Trump, too, were prosecuted. Trump has a press conference scheduled for January 6 that will undoubtedly do some of the things Sarat would like to stave off. That din will only get louder as trials start in February. The claims of martyrdom are already baked into this investigation, and so would be better addressed by a direct debunking rather than a belated attempt at avoidance, not least because white terrorists have a history of undermining prosecutions by claiming martyrdom.

But there’s another reason, besides equity, that demands that DOJ prosecute Trump if prosecutors can collect the evidence to do so.

All five of the opinions (Dabney Friedrich, Amit Mehta, Tim Kelly, James Boasberg, plus Moss) upholding the application of obstruction to the vote certification have some discussion of what separates “corrupt” efforts to obstruct the vote count from political lobbying or civil disobedience. The discussion entails whether corruption requires an attempt to corrupt someone else, or whether it only involves corruptness in one’s own actions. A number of these opinions take an easy route, stating simply that the defendants in question are alleged to have broken the law in other ways in their efforts to obstruct the vote count, which gets past corruptness in one’s own actions, so a further analysis of whether legal actions might amount to obstruction is unnecessary as applied to those defendants. That’s an intransitive understanding of the corrupt purpose necessary to obstruction.

All stop short of where James Pearce, the prosecutor guiding this adoption of 1512(c)(2), went in responding to a question from Trump appointee Carl Nichols; Pearce stated that one way an unnamed person just like Trump might act corruptly would be by asking someone else to violate their duty: If that person, “calls Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way … knowing it is not an available argument [and is] asking the vice president to do something the individual knows is wrongful … one of the definitions of ‘corruptly’ is trying to get someone to violate a legal duty.” That’s a transitive kind of corruption, an attempt to get someone else to violate their oath. Even some of the confessed obstructors listed here (most notably, the first Proud Boy to plead guilty) were knowingly doing that.

But there’s a third option. In his opinion on the application of 1512(c)(2), somewhat uniquely among the five opinions upholding the application thus far, former OLC head Judge Moss ruled that if the use of illegal activity to interrupt the vote count weren’t enough to distinguish between normal protests and obstruction, then the court could turn to whether the defendants (whom, in this case, you’ve likely never heard of) were attempting to obtain an improper benefit for themselves … or someone else.

To the extent any additional guardrail is necessary, other recognized definitions of the term “corruptly” both fit the context of the obstruction of a congressional proceeding and provide additional guidance. In his separate opinion in Aguilar, for example, Justice Scalia quoted with approval the jury instruction given by the district court in that case: “An act is done corruptly if it’s done voluntarily and intentionally to bring about an unlawful result or a lawful result by some unlawful method, with a hope or expectation of . . . [a] benefit to oneself or a benefit to another person.” 515 U.S. at 616–17 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Because the Aguilar majority ruled on other grounds, it did not opine on the meaning of “corruptly.” Id. at 598–603. But there is no reason to doubt Justice Scalia’s observation that formulations of this type are “longstanding and well-accepted,” id. at 616, and, indeed, the D.C. Circuit cited to a similar definition—“a person acts ‘corruptly’ when taking action ‘with the intent to obtain an improper advantage for [one]self or someone else, inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others’”—in United States v. Pasha, 797 F.3d 1122, 1132 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting United States v. North, 910 F.2d 843, 882 (D.C. Cir. 1990), opinion withdrawn and superseded in other part on reh’g, 920 F.2d 940 (D.C. Cir. 1990)). In the garden-variety disruption or parading case, in contrast, the government need not prove that the defendant sought unlawfully to obtain a benefit for himself or another person in the proceeding itself. But, because the Court is persuaded that Defendants’ vagueness argument fails even without this refinement, and because the Court has yet to hear from the parties on the proper jury instructions, the Court will leave for another day the question whether this formulation—or a slightly different formulation—will best guide the jury.

This language likely came out of some ill-advised claims from the defense attorneys in question, who claimed there would be no injustice that could result from obstructing the certification of Joe Biden’s vote. The claim was ridiculous. It suggested that nullifying the votes of 81 million people and depriving Biden of his legal victory would create no victims.

But the comment brought the briefing before Moss to where it didn’t go (except to a limited degree before Kelly) in the other challenges.

The obstruction of the vote count on January 6, 2021 was corrupt because people put on body armor, broke into the locked Capitol, and beat up cops in an attempt to obstruct the certification of Biden’s victory — the intransitive corruption of the people who broke other laws to carry it out. It was corrupt because those who carried it out sought to intimidate people like Mike Pence to do what he otherwise refused to. But it was corrupt because the entire goal, shared by all the people charged with obstruction, was to declare Trump the victor in an election he didn’t win.

DOJ should not back off prosecuting Trump along with all those others charged in the same crime, some of whom (I believe DOJ will ultimately be able to prove) are co-conspirators with Trump in a large networked conspiracy, for the crime of trying to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s win. Judges, defense attorneys, and defendants themselves — including many of the trespassers — keep insisting that Donald Trump was the key participant in the crime they’re all pleading guilty to.

His improper advantage was undoubtedly the goal.

“What every prosecutor is practically required to do is to select the cases for prosecution and to select those in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest, and the proof the most certain,” Jackson told America’s US Attorneys in the famous speech Sarat cited. Those watching the DOJ investigation rather than just the Select Committee or some often ill-informed TV lawyers have raised real questions about whether DOJ has honored that advice, because so many hapless Trump dupes are being prosecuted for their role in attempting to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power (as I have laid out, there appear to be investigative reasons why DOJ has prosecuted the misdemeanants they have). But about one thing, Jackson had no doubt: “In the enforcement of laws that protect our national integrity and existence, we should prosecute any and every act of violation.”

As noted above, DOJ has thus far accused 275 people of obstructing the certification of Joe Biden’s victory (a good number of those have been permitted to plead down to a misdemeanor). DOJ has already decided that it will treat obstruction of the vote certification as a crime that endangers our national integrity. Charging Trump with obstruction would amount to holding the guy who stood to benefit to the same standard as those whose corrupt actions attempted to steal for him an improper advantage.

The question is not, as so many commentators who discovered the obstruction application only when Liz Cheney called their attention to it, whether to open an investigation into Trump. 700 people have already been charged in the investigation that might one day charge Trump. The question is whether to hold Trump to the same standard as the hundreds who have gone before him.

Prosecuting Trump may be the only way to confirm that Chansley and Bisignano and Colt and Young aren’t martyrs to Trump’s losing cause.

Other Posts

Because new readers are coming to this site via this post, I wanted to include some other overview posts about January 6 that may be helpful:

A Taxonomy of the [Visible] January 6 “Crime Scene” Investigation: This post explains what I understand the DOJ investigation to have accomplished in a year.

The Pied Piper of Insurrection, and Other Challenges in Charging the January 6 Organizer-Inciters: The 700 arrests thus far have been relatively easy, because everyone arrested was — at a minimum — trespassing on January 6. The next step of the investigation — arresting the organizer-inciters who themselves implemented Trump’s plans — is where DOJ will have to have more evidence of conspiracy or other corrupt mens rea supporting obstruction. This post looks at several of them.

Ten Things TV Lawyers Can Do Rather than Whinging about Merrick Garland: I can’t promise you DOJ will prosecute Trump or even Rudy Giuliani and Alex Jones. I can promise that if they were to charge Trump, it wouldn’t be before midterms. Complex investigations of very powerful people simply don’t work that fast. For that reason, among others, those spending their time whinging about Merrick Garland’s purported inaction would be better served finding some other way to save democracy. This post provides ten ways to do that.

Trevor McFadden Uses Stormtroopers to Justify His Promise to Let Jan6ers Off Easy

In the middle of a rather cursory opinion rejecting David Judd’s claim that he has been selectively prosecuted as compared to Portland rioters, Trevor McFadden cites this AP story to support a claim that “thousands” of protestors gathered every night in Portland.

For the first prong, Judd argues that he is similarly situated to multiple defendants who faced charges in the District of Oregon. Those defendants rioted outside the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland during the summer of 2020. See Def.’s Mot. at 2–4. The riots erupted after the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and raged for months. Thousands gathered nightly, vandalizing the courthouse and hurling objects at federal agents guarding it. Officers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse rioters, but the riots continued, causing havoc. See generally Mike Balsamo and Gillian Flaccus, On Portland’s Street: Anger, fear, and a fence that divides, AP News (July 27, 2020). [my emphasis]

In fact, the story says that the 4,000 gathered on that particular night was the largest crowd federal officers had seen, not that those kinds of numbers consistently came out.

Under orders to protect the courthouse — federal property that has been increasingly targeted as the city’s protests against racial injustice march on — the agents were accustomed to the drill. But tonight, the crowd was huge, estimated at 4,000 people at its peak and the largest they had seen.

The numbers the AP cites for those involved in violence or those that remained after officers responded is smaller.

As she spoke, small pods of three to four protesters dressed in black circulated in the crowd, stopping every few minutes to point green laser beams in the eyes of agents posted as lookouts on porticoes on the courthouse’s upper stories.

[snip]

Outside, hundreds of protesters surged back from the courthouse with each new round of tear gas, dumped saline solution and water into their stinging eyes, vomited or doubled over to catch their breath, then regrouped to march back to the fence.

“Stay together, stay tight! We do this every night!” they chanted.

The protesters’ numbers, however, were half what they had been just a few hours before.

[snip]

Tear gas canisters bounced and rolled in the street, their payload fizzing out into the air before protesters picked them up and hurled them back over the fence at the agents, who held their ground.

A woman weaved through the crowd of the few hundred people who remained and told someone on the phone, “We’ve reached some kind of stand-off, I think.”

When the federal agents finally came, they came with force. [my emphasis]

So it actually doesn’t support McFadden’s claim, which is probably why he cites it, “generally:” to hide that in fact he doesn’t have a source for his claim about sustained crowds of thousands of rioters (though at that time in July 2020, protests did remain large for a brief period).

The article is not one David Judd cited himself in either his original motion or his reply — perhaps because the AP story makes it crystal clear why firecrackers are so dangerous when thrown at cops, as he is accused of doing.

That McFadden’s clerk did research on their own on the Portland unrest and that McFadden’s clerk chose this particular article — by one of Billy Barr’s favorite reporters and covering unrest overnight on July 24 to 25, 2020 — is really telling. That’s true because the story portrays details directly pertinent to Judge McFadden’s opinion that should, but do not, appear in his opinion. And it’s also true because McFadden’s clerk relied on the AP story and not this NYT story from the same week covering the same unrest, which I’ll come back to.

At the core of Judd’s argument is that those charged with violence in Portland got (starting even under Billy Barr) and continue to get (under Merrick Garland) Deferred Prosecution Agreements, rather than the felony charges Judd is facing. To make his argument, Judd cherry-picked some cases and complained that he wasn’t being treated as nicely as a guy who (unlike Judd) was charged with a crime of terrorism, but whose charges were dismissed when the guy was murdered. DOJ pointed out more problems with Judd’s claims, including that he had claimed felony assault charges were misdemeanors, left out cases similar to his that were charged similarly, and ignored cases where DOJ deferred to state prosecution.

But DOJ professed to be unaware of the reason why three cases on which Judd (and McFadden) focused closely led to a DPA.

Further, contrary to his claims, each of the three cases Judd cites in his motion as examples where a defendant had only been charged with a misdemeanor actually involved a felony charge to 18 U.S.C. § 111(a). Although it is true that each case was eventually dismissed by the government for unknown reasons (typically after the defendants repeatedly agreed to waive their rights to a preliminary hearing or indictment over a period of months), all were initially facing felony charges. [my emphasis]

DOJ’s claim not to know why these cases entered into a DPA is just as suspect as McFadden’s choice of a source for the crowd sizes in Portland.

That’s because the three cases at the core of this debate all appear to involve assaults not at Portland Federal courthouse (marked with the green arrow), but assaults a block away, not on Federal property at all, probably close to the blue arrows marked below.

  • David Bouchard, arrested overnight on July 23-24 at Main and 4th by a Federal Protection Services officer stationed in Colorado
  • Joshua Webb, arrested overnight by a US Marshal on July 25-26 on Salman between 4th and 5th by a US Marshal
  • Thomas Johnson, arrested overnight by a US Marshal on July 25-26 “in the park” (but because it appears to be the same instance as Webb, probably towards Main & 4th) by a US Marshal

All three of these arrest affidavits include a drawing of the city block that is Federal property, and then describe arrests that don’t take place on that Federal property.

The arrest affidavits offer no explanation for what led the Federal agents to leave the courthouse they were purportedly defending.

Specifically, on July 26, 2020, federal law enforcement officers attempted to disperse a crowd on SW Salmon Street between 4th and 5th streets in Portland, OR. The crowd was part of a protest that was declared an unlawful assembly by the Federal Protective Service and a riot by the Portland Police Bureau.

In other words, the story McFadden cites for his claim that there were thousands involved in the unrest involved direct reporting from the site the day between these arrests. His clerk researched and found a story about Portland from the week of these arrests, which featured elevated hostility and significantly expanded numbers, because (as even that story noted) Portland was reacting against Billy Barr’s decision to send in Federal agents.

Which brings us back to the NYT story that McFadden could have but did not rely on. It describes that on Friday morning — overnight on July 23 to 24, so covering events from the day when Bouchard was arrested — Federal officers were prowling the streets blocks away from the Hatfield Court House that they were purportedly protecting. And that created legal problems,

After flooding the streets around the federal courthouse in Portland with tear gas during Friday’s early morning hours, dozens of federal officers in camouflage and tactical gear stood in formation around the front of the building.

Then, as one protester blared a soundtrack of “The Imperial March,” the officers started advancing. Through the acrid haze, they continued to fire flash grenades and welt-inducing marble-size balls filled with caustic chemicals. They moved down Main Street and continued up the hill, where one of the agents announced over a loudspeaker: “This is an unlawful assembly.”

By the time the security forces halted their advance, the federal courthouse they had been sent to protect was out of sight — two blocks behind them.

The aggressive incursion of federal officers into Portland has been stretching the legal limits of federal law enforcement, as agents with batons and riot gear range deep into the streets of a city whose leadership has made it clear they are not welcome.

[snip]

Robert Tsai, a professor at the Washington College of Law at American University, said the nation’s founders explicitly left local policing within the jurisdiction of local authorities.

He questioned whether the federal agents had the right to extend their operations blocks away from the buildings they are protecting.

“If the federal troops are starting to wander the streets, they appear to be crossing the line into general policing, which is outside their powers,” Professor Tsai said.

Homeland Security officials say they are operating under a federal statute that permits federal agents to venture outside the boundaries of the courthouse to “conduct investigations” into crimes against federal property or officers.

But patrolling the streets and detaining or tear-gassing protesters go beyond that legal authority, said David Lapan, the former spokesman for the agency when it was led by John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s first secretary of homeland security.

“That’s not an investigation,” Mr. Lapan said. “That’s just a show of force.”

Indeed, these particular arrests happened just after the Portland City Council voted to cease cooperating with Federal authorities, as described by a DHS OIG Report reviewing the deployment (which McFadden’s clerk might have used to source a claim that the largest protest reached 10,000 participants, but which would have made the authorization problem clear), meaning that invoking the Portland Police Bureau covering the city generally (including where these arrests seem to have taken place) was particularly problematic.

However, on July 22, 2020, the Portland City Council voted to cease cooperation between the Portland Police Bureau and Federal law enforcement. The Portland City Council viewed Federal operations in Portland as an “unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power” by the Federal Government.11 According to the Portland City Council resolution, “the Portland Police Bureau shall not provide, request, or willingly receive operational support … from any agent or employee representing or constituting part of deployment under executive order from the president, be they from Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection or any other service.”1

The OIG Report states that officers had authority to be in Portland, but doesn’t address whether they had legal authority to do what the did in this case: leave the building they were protecting and go blocks away, looking for trouble.

An earlier DHS OIG Report described that officers sent into Portland had not been bureaucratically designated in the way they should have been and raised still-unanswered questions about whether DHS Acting Secretaries acted under legal authority when sending troops to Portland.

In other words, there seems to be a ready explanation — one that both DOJ and McFadden have reasons to suppress — for why these cases were diverted: for a number of reasons, the arrests were made under dubious legal authority. (At least one of the other ones Judd cites may have involved less-than-lethal force violation.)

But Trevor McFadden, who made very clear he wanted to consider this kind of selective prosecution claim and has whined for months that Jan6ers are being treated differently, doesn’t mention this ready explanation which (given the research his clerk did to find the AP article and others not included in the record before that) at least his clerk must know. Instead, McFadden goes on a multi-paragraph rant suggesting that DOJ — starting under, “a Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney (under the direction of a Republican-appointed Attorney General),” he notes elsewhere — started diverting these prosecutions in significant numbers.

Judd’s claim is nontrivial. His chart suggests that Portland defendants generally received much lighter treatment than he has. For example, three Portland defendants allegedly struck officers in various ways. One placed an officer in a headlock. See United States v. Bouchard, No. 3:20-mj-00165 (D. Or.), ECF No. 1-1 at 4–5. Another punched and hit an officer in the face with a shield. See United States v. Webb, No. 3:20-mj-00169 (D. Or.), ECF No. 1 at 5. Yet another struck officers with a shield after he tried to pick up a smoke grenade. See United States v. Johnson, No. 3:20-mj-00170 (D. Or.), ECF No. 1 at 5. The Government charged these three defendants with felony assault on a federal officer, just as it charged Judd here. See Gov’t Opp’n at 17–18. That makes some sense—Judd was likewise allegedly present for a fracas with law enforcement at a federal building and used a firecracker (which if it had exploded, would have caused “bodily injury”) to “intimidate” law enforcement. 18 U.S.C. § 111(a). The Government could justifiably seek felony convictions for both Judd and the Portland defendants.

But, incredibly, the Government dismissed the charges against all three Portland defendants. See Bouchard, Motion to Dismiss Complaint, ECF No. 16; Webb, Motion to Dismiss Complaint, ECF No. 22; Johnson, Motion to Dismiss Complaint, ECF No. 9. Judd still faces nine charges, including multiple felonies, even though the Government never alleges that he, unlike the Portland defendants, struck or injured an officer. That he still faces greater charges than the Portland defendants despite that key difference is suspicious.5 That is the kind of “different treatment” that might warrant discovery. Armstrong, 517 U.S. at 470.

The Government responds that it treated Judd and the three Portland defendants equitably because it filed felony charges against all of them. See Gov’t Opp’n at 18. The Government seems to think that the initial charges are all that matter. Not so. By that logic, the Government could avoid discovery of a race-based selective prosecution claim if it indicted similarly situated black and white persons, dismissed the charges against the whites, and prosecuted the black defendants to conviction or plea. The “administration of a criminal law” is not limited to an initial charging decision. Armstrong, 517 U.S. at 464. Nor is it so easily circumvented.

More, the Government’s logic would allow it to charge similarly situated black defendants with felonies and white defendants with misdemeanors. But discriminatory effects include disparities in the “crimes charged.” Stone, 394 F. Supp. 3d at 31. The Government’s argument is thus absurd and untenable—that the Government originally indicted the Portland defendants does not erase the potential for discriminatory effect.6

Nor does the Court accept the Government’s attempt to distinguish these Portland cases on evidentiary grounds. According to the Government, video footage of Judd’s actions solidified the case against him, precluding a dismissal. See Gov’t Opp’n at 20. In contrast, Portland cases relied on officer recollections during nighttime attacks—none captured on video—by mostly masked assailants. See id. Fair enough. This could explain why fewer defendants overall were charged in Portland than here. But by indicting those cases, the Portland prosecutors presumably believed they had sufficient evidence to sustain convictions. See Justice Manual § 9-27.220 cmt. (“[N]o prosecution should be initiated against any person unless the attorney for the government believes that the admissible evidence is sufficient to obtain and sustain a guilty verdict by an unbiased trier of fact.”). If anything, that fact supports Judd’s argument. Evidentiary differences notwithstanding, the Government felt it had enough basis to charge both Judd and Portland defendants. Yet the Government dismissed the charges against only Portland defendants. The suggestion that Portland cases suffered from widespread, post-indictment, evidentiary challenges is thus a tough argument to swallow.

[snip]

Therein lies a troubling theme that emerges from a wholesale analysis of the Government’s decisions in Portland. The Government dismissed 27 cases brought against Portland defendants, including five felony cases. See generally Appendix to Def.’s Mot. Dismissal of one felony case is unusual. Dismissal of five is downright rare and potentially suspicious.7 Rarely has the Government shown so little interest in vigorously prosecuting those who attack federal officers. Considered in this light, when compared to Portland cases, the disposition of Judd’s case appears an outlier.

5 The D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office also dismissed charges against the one D.C. defendant mentioned by Judd. She allegedly threw a firecracker at police during a Black Lives Matter protest in August 2020. See Affidavit in Support of Arrest Warrant, United States v. Rogers, No. 2020 CF3 006970 (D.C. Super. Ct. dismissed Sept. 30, 2020). The firecracker burned the pant leg of one officer. See id.

6 The Government wisely dropped this argument at the motion hearing. See Hr’g Tr. at 66.

7 By way of comparison, the Court knows of only one January 6 case that the Government has dismissed among the hundreds of defendants charged for their alleged actions on that day. See United States v. Kelly, No. 21-mj-00128 (D.D.C., dismissed on June 1, 2021). [my emphasis]

DC District’s Trumpiest judge here uses diversions most likely necessitated by the legal abuses and bureaucratic incompetence of the Trump Administration to claim that Jan6ers are being treated poorly. He focuses on arrests made, in very significant part, to fulfill Barr’s priority on such prosecutions in summer 2020, while ignoring the legally suspect circumstances created by Barr’s effort to gin up arrests. And he does so even as he refuses discovery that might confirm this most obvious of explanations.

The proper comparison to the cases McFadden focuses on would be to examine the arrests on January 5 and 6 in DC made by Federal officers away from the Capitol, such as Freedom Square. Yet in that case (particularly at the Washington Monument before the riot kicked off), the evidence suggests that Federal officers were far too lenient on Jan 6, even in the nation’s Capitol on Federal land. At least in the three cases as the center of this dispute, the disparate treatment in Portland appears to have come in the arrests outside of Federal property, not the prosecutorial diversions of those arrests later. Such a comparison would make it clear that Federal authorities treated Trump’s supporters far too lightly, not the opposite.

But McFadden has a goal here, one that — as he notes — he has been developing since at least July.

McFadden properly rules that Judd has not shown enough evidence of selective prosecution to get discovery into why these other prosecutions were diverted (in that, he may have been bound by an opinion issued days earlier by Trump appointee Carl Nichols in the Garret Miller case). Both Trump appointees note that Jan 6 is different from Portland for a number of reasons. In fact, McFadden cites Nichols in describing what he sees to be the difference.

Putting aside any claims that January 6 rioters sought to tear down our system of government (an allegation not made against Judd), their actions endangered hundreds of federal officials in the Capitol complex. Members of Congress cowered under chairs while staffers blockaded themselves in offices, fearing physical attacks from the rioters. See Lindsay Wise, Catherine Lucey, and Andrew Restuccia, “The Protestors Are in the Building.” Inside the Capitol Stormed by a Pro-Trump Mob, Wall St. J. (Jan. 6, 2021, 11:53 P.M.).8 The action in Portland, though destructive and ominous, caused no similar threat to civilians. Accord United States v. Miller, No. 21-cr-119 (CBN), slip order at 3 (D.D.C. Dec. 21, 2021) (“Nor did the Portland rioters, unlike those who assailed America’s Capitol in 2021, make it past the buildings’ outer defenses.”). Given the “narrow[ ]” interpretation of “similarly situated,” Stone, 394 F. Supp. 3d at 31, the Court cannot say that the Portland defendants “committed roughly the same crime under roughly the same circumstances” as Judd, Khanu, 664 F. Supp. 2d at 32.

But even after having laid out reasons (but ignoring the legal problems introduced by Federal big-footing in Portland) why you cannot compare Portland and Jan6, McFadden — who, again, invited this challenge — concludes that he will sentence Jan6ers leniently because he’s sure they’re being mistreated. McFadden cites himself saying he’ll account for such disparities at sentencing in the very same paragraph where he denies discovery to find out whether there’s an obvious explanation for such claimed disparities.

None of this suggests that the distinctions Judd highlights are irrelevant for all purposes. “Disparate charging decisions in similar circumstances may be relevant at sentencing.” United States v. Griffin, — F. Supp. 3d —, 2021 WL 2778557 at *7 (D.D.C. July 2, 2021); cf. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6) (“the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct”). But on this record, those disparate outcomes fail to justify the discovery he seeks.

Then he cites Merrick Garland thinking he’s being clever.

Justice requires that “like cases be treated alike” and that “there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans.” Merrick Garland, Remarks to DOJ Employees on His First Day, (Mar. 11, 2021).10 Otherwise, prosecutions risk becoming “so unequal and oppressive” as to deny the rights of all. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 373 (1886). Especially during moments of politically charged unrest, the Justice Department must strive for even-handed justice. Judd raises troubling questions about the Department’s adherence to this imperative in Portland. But for the reasons stated above, he has not carried his burden to justify further discovery into the Government’s prosecutions.

Make no mistake what this is: It is an otherwise law-and-order touting Federal Judge announcing, in advance, that he’s going to sentence Jan6ers, people who share his political views, leniently because — he claims, even while refusing to order discovery to prove or disprove his hypothesis — Jan6ers are being badly treated.

And in fact he has already been doing that. When he sentenced Danielle Doyle to two months probation and a fine in October, rather than the three years of probation DOJ sought, he said as much.

Trevor McFadden used this challenge to lay out, for at least the third time, his plan to let Jan6ers off easy, presumably including Judd and his co-defendants, accused of attacking cops over the course of hours. And in the course of doing so, he has suppressed the evidence showing that the disparity, in fact, pertains to overpolicing, not lenient prosecutions, in Portland.

Update: In June DHS provided Ron Wyden with responses to some of his questions about the deployment. They claim they can operate 1-3 blocks from the Federal property which could include all of these arrests.

Practically speaking, DHS personnel deployed to support FPS in protecting federal property in Portland, like the Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, dispersed crowds approximately one to three blocks away from the federal property to secure the perimeter, contain/mitigate fires, treat officer injuries, and otherwise reconstitute facility security.

As set forth above, 40 U.S.C. § 1315 does grant cross-designated law enforcement personnel certain authorities at a distance from federal property. For instance, a cross-designated officer or agent may make arrests without a warrant for any offense against the United States committed in the presence of the officer or agent, or for any felony cognizable under the laws of the United States if the officer or agent has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing a felony. Similarly, such an officer or agent may conduct.

The Big Election Lie Built on the Last Big Election Lie

Welcome to Byron York’s readers! Since you’re here, you may be interested that Byron didn’t tell you in his error-riddled piece that I was years ahead of the Right Wing in debunking the dossier, and have even noted how Byron ran interference for Oleg Deripaska, thereby hiding the way Deripaska was really fucking over Paul Manafort. And not only did I not attribute Hillary’s loss to Russia, I even challenged the easy claims it was all Comey’s fault. You might ask yourself why Byron didn’t reveal any of that to you (to say nothing of misrepresenting what this post says).

NPR did a good piece last week on Trump’s Big Lie about winning the election.

Call it an insurrection or a coup attempt, it was fueled by what’s known as the “Big Lie”: the verifiably false assertion that Trump won. Joe Biden won 306 votes in the Electoral College, while Trump received 232. In the popular vote, Biden won by more than 7 million votes.

Many are warning that over the past year, that “big lie” of a stolen election has grown more entrenched and more dangerous.

It quoted Tim Snyder, an expert on authoritarians, on how the tactic of telling lies to turn a powerful person into a victim comes right out of Mein Kampf.

A couple of weeks later, he repeated the fiction at a rally in Iowa. “We didn’t lose,” he insisted to a crowd that rewarded him with chants of “Trump won!”

By inverting the narrative, attempting to slough off the “big lie” and pin it instead on his opponents, Trump exploited an age-old tactic, says Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder.

“Part of the character of the ‘big lie’ is that it turns the powerful person into the victim,” he says. “And then that allows the powerful person to actually exact revenge, like it’s a promise for the future.”

Snyder, author of the books The Road to Unfreedom and On Tyranny, has spent years studying the ways tyrants skewer truth. Snyder points to Hitler’s original definition of the “big lie” in his manifesto, Mein Kampf and the ways he used it to blame Jews for all of Germany’s woes.

“The lie is so big that it reorders the world,” Snyder says. “And so part of telling the big lie is that you immediately say it’s the other side that tells the big lie. Sadly, but it’s just a matter of record, all of that is in Mein Kampf.

That’s all true. As someone who has read virtually all of the statements of offense for those who have pled guilty for January 6, many credibly claim they really believed this Big Lie. Some still believe it. Their lives will be forever changed — some ruined — because they believed Trump was a victim and acted to avenge him.

But there’s something missing from all the worthwhile discussions of the Big Lie. It’s the lie those who helped tell this most recent Big Lie tell.

Consider this interview Chris Hayes did with Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence, who’ve been doing a media tour to claim they were betrayed when Trump launched his mobsters on the Capitol.

When Hayes asked them whether they now admit that the election wasn’t stolen, Stockton instead attempted to turn the question around:

Do you now admit that the “Russia memes” that you guys ran 24-hours a day in the early days of the Trump that got maybe several million impressions which our pages often do. [cross chatter] There were tons of ridiculous stuff.

[snip]

Democrats and Republicans, every four years, whoever loses, right, then goes on to say, “oh, it was broken this way, it was broken this way.” It’s not that there aren’t things that aren’t broken and should be done better with mail-in balloting, with the way we verify people, the way we, make sure everybody has access to voting. There is common ground here. The problem is partisanly the Left fights, when they lose, the Right fights, when they lose.

[snip]

Or widespread Russian interference.

Stockton did, ultimately, concede that Biden is President and that there were tons of ridiculous claims about the election. But he excused his own contributions to sowing The Big Lie by equating lies about Trump’s loss with reporting about Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, and claimed that reporting arose out of Democratic excuses to explain Hillary’s loss.

That is, a key purveyor of the The Big Lie excuses his actions because MSNBC reported on a Russian investigation that was based off real facts, an investigation that led to the prosecution of Trump’s National Security Advisor, Trump’s Coffee Boy, Trump’s personal lawyer, Trump’s Campaign Manager, and Trump’s rat-fucker, all of whom covered up aspects of the Trump camp’s outreach to Russia in advance of becoming President (Paul Manafort wasn’t prosecuted for his lies, but Amy Berman Jackson agreed with the Mueller team that he lied to cover up, among other things, why he traded campaign strategy for $19 million in debt relief). Stockton equates reporting on all that — plus the dossier and Alfa Bank and the failson’s meeting to trade campaign dirt for sanctions relief, as well as details of the disinformation campaign that had as a primary goal sowing division — Stockton equates all that with a deliberate attempt, over the course of months, to completely dismantle the credibility of our electoral system.

The equation is all the crazier given that, while Hillary herself did put some of the blame for her loss on Russia’s interference, most Democrats blame Jim Comey, the guy whom Trump fired in an attempt to undermine the Russian investigation. Those of us who live(d) in states that Hillary neglected were perfectly happy to blame Hillary’s own mistakes. More importantly, Hillary ceded power with no contest of the results even in closely fought states like Michigan.

This is just one example where Trumpsters excuse their own participation in The Big Lie by turning a bunch of different prongs of reporting on Russia in 2017 — some undoubtedly overblown but much based on real facts about real actions that Trump and his aides really took — into the equivalent of wild hoaxes about efforts to steal the 2020 election.

And it’s not just those who fostered The Big Lie. As I’ve noted, a viral thread earlier this year went further still, blaming January 6 on the Steele dossier (which most Republicans agree was larded with Russian disinformation).

This use of the Russian investigation, the Democratic-paid dossier, and the legitimate reporting on both to rationalize Trump’s actions post-2020 is no accident. That’s one reason I persist in reporting on the dossier: because Paul Manafort came back from a meeting with an Oleg Deripaska associate and encouraged everyone to discredit the Russian investigation by focusing on the dossier. Because it was so full of garbage (some of it placed there at the behest of Russian intelligence, if you believe all the Republican members of Congress to focus on it), it was an easy way to make the real Russian investigation look corrupt to people like Dustin Stockton, to say nothing of the real cover-up disclosed by the investigation.

Before Trump claimed to be the victim of vote fraud, Trump claimed to be the victim of an investigation into the many documented ways in which Trump tried to optimize Russian help to get elected. That claim — that he was the real victim of the Russian investigation — is how Trump trained so many Republicans to put his fate over the fate of the country.

And so as the traditional press turns its attention to the lies that Trump tells to claim he’s a victim, that first lie cannot be forgotten.

A Christmas Limerick from Limerick

In Limerick Christmas is here

No Trumpsters with guns do I fear

I write on this blog

Share craic and talk grog

From EU I send readers cheer

 

Broken Windows Policing and January 6 Plea Deals

Before Proud Boy Matthew Greene entered into a cooperation plea deal yesterday — the January 6 investigation event that generated a lot of press attention — something else happened that helps to explain the Greene (and most other) pleas thus far.

In a status hearing for Kurt Peterson, AUSA Alison Prout described that the government had offered Peterson a plea deal that she wanted to put on the record. He could plead guilty, Prout explained, to one count of obstruction, which would give him a guidelines range of 41 to 51 months. That compares to the sentence he faces if he were to go to trial on the other 7 counts, including a destruction of government property count, which Prout claimed might be 210 to 262 months. Prout claimed there had even been a meeting in Louisville to discuss such a deal and explicitly acknowledged the plea would include cooperation.

Only after that did Peterson’s attorney, Laura Wyrosdick, ask that the hearing — which I had just tweeted out in real time — be sealed to hide the discussion of cooperation.

Whatever effect Prout’s comments will have on her ability to finalize a plea deal with Peterson, she has confirmed something I pointed out when Graydon Young pled guilty. The government is using the terrorism enhancement that can come with 18 USC 1361 charges for damage to government property to convince people to plead to the obstruction charges and gain their cooperation. And because Peterson broke a window while at the Capitol, such a deal will look preferable by comparison.

It’s unclear what the government believes he can offer in cooperation (though the meeting in Louisville suggests he has already proffered testimony). On Facebook after the riot, he revealed he, “was with 3 men who had served our country in special forces. All of us in our sixties. They were patriots and not an [sic] anarchists.” Thus far, just two Special Forces veterans, Jeffrey McKellop and Jeremy Brown, have been arrested so far. McKellop would likely would be younger than his 60s (he completed 22 years of service in 2010) and I think Brown would be too. So it may be DOJ has an interest in Peterson’s co-travelers.

It’s also possible DOJ wants Peterson’s testimony about the attempts to break into, first, the House Chamber and then the Speaker’s Lobby. He was present as Ashli Babbitt was killed (and claimed to be calling the crowd to stop, though that doesn’t show up on the video I’ve seen). He’s not being prosecuted by AUSA Candice Wong in the group of men from that scene that seem to be clustered together. If that’s the case, then the government would be seeking to use the testimony of someone who had himself damaged the building to help prosecute men (at least Zach Alam, the guy who punched through the Speaker’s Lobby door) who likely do merit a terrorism enhancement for their efforts to hunt down members of Congress.

We’ll see whether Peterson ultimately decides to cooperate. But a similar calculation seems to have convinced Matthew Greene to flip on his Proud Boys.

Greene was charged, along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, in what I call the “Front Door Proud Boys Conspiracy,” for the way the three of them worked towards Pezzola’s breach of a Northwest window, the first breach of the building on January 6. Greene was charged with conspiracy to obstruct the vote count (18 USC 371), obstruction (18 USC 1512(c)(2)), civil disorder (18 USC 231), destruction of government property (18 USC 1361, the charge that can carry a terrorism enhancement), as well as three trespassing counts.

His plea agreement shows that he pled to conspiracy — which the plea agreement claims included both obstruction and civil disorder (the first indictment did include both) — and the obstruction charge. Rather than a separate charge for vicarious responsibility for Pezzola’s break of the window (on an abetting charge), that liability is added to the obstruction charge as an “offense involving property damage.” At the hearing yesterday, it was said his guidelines range would be 41 to 51 before accounting for the cooperation.

That is, Matthew Greene made effectively the same deal that Peterson is contemplating, though he was probably working from a much higher guidelines range because of the additional civil disorder charge, not to mention possible weapons violations based off an AR-15 seized at his arrest.

Curiously, Greene’s written plea agreement still permits the government to request a terrorism enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4, which normally is being taken out of cooperation plea deals. But the entire proceeding yesterday was dismayingly discombobulated, with the plea itself just signed by Greene’s attorney and some clauses in the elements of the offense requiring tweaking. So it’s possible the prosecutors just used boilerplate and forgot to take that out. Greene’s attorney, Michael Kasmarek, spoke about the detailed discussions he has had with prosecutors, so he seems to trust them, but I’d still make sure everything were better captured in writing.

Perhaps it reflects the overwhelming workload of this investigation (the Proud Boys team has significantly fewer prosecutors — at least that have noticed appearances — than the team prosecuting the Oath Keepers), but I remain concerned that the team prosecuting the Proud Boys seems less organized than a bunch of the people prosecuting non-militia trespassers.

Greene’s deal differs from others thus far in that he’s moving immediately to sentencing on March 10 (he’s the only publicly identified cooperator in custody), with the understanding that even after sentencing the government may file for another downward departure while he serves his sentence.

The plea agreement contemplates the possibility of witness protection.

Update: Corrected to add Jeremy Brown as a Special Forces arrestee.

Update: Gina Bisignano’s August plea agreement has now been released. She, too, dodged the property damage crime by cooperating. She also faces the same 41 to 51 month sentence.

Behind the Arrest of Putin’s Pen-Tester, Vladislav Klyushin

There’s a gratuitous passage in the March 20, 2021 complaint charging Vladislav Klyushin, Ivan Yermakov, Igor Sladkov, Mikhail Irzak, and Nikolay Rumyantev with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It describes that Klyushin — the guy just extradited to the US on the charges — possessing a picture of Alexander Borodaev and Sergey Uryadov posing in front of Scotland Yard in London.

Thus far, it’s unclear who the guys in the picture are, other than customers of M-13’s “investment services,” for which they paid extortionate 60% commissions to benefit from the insider trading scheme allegedly run by Klyushin and Yermakov. But, in addition to alerting Klyushin to how many of his personal files the FBI has obtained, folks back in Russia will have a taste of the kind of information at risk now that Klyushin is in US custody.

That is, this passage, and a host of others in the charging documents, appear designed to maximize the discomfort of a number of people involved, as much as justifying the arrest and extradition of the guy who led a company that provided services that amount to information operations to Vladimir Putin. As the DOJ presser explained,

M-13’s website indicated that the company’s “IT solutions” were used by “the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, the Government of the Russian Federation, federal ministries and departments, regional state executive bodies, commercial companies and public organizations.” In addition to these services, Klyushin, Ermakov and Rumiantcev also allegedly offered investment management services through M-13 to investors in exchange for up to 60 percent of the profit

The insider trader scheme works like this: Klyushin (the guy in US custody) and Yermakov (a key person involved in the 2016 DNC hack, described in DOJ’s press release as a “former” GRU officer), along with one other guy from M-13, area accused of hacking at least two US filing agents to obtain earnings reports before they were officially released. They conducted trades for a handful of clients — along with Borodaev and Uryadov, Boris Varshavskiy is mentioned. Klyushin also conducted trades for himself. The three M-13 figures were indicted on conspiracy, hacking, wire fraud, and securities fraud charges on April 6, 2021, an indictment that formalized the extradition request for Klyushin, who had already been arrested in Switzerland.

Then there are two apparent private citizens who live in St. Petersburg, Michail Irzak and Igor Sladkov. They were indicted on May 6, 2021 on conspiracy to hack and hacking charges, along with securities fraud. That indictment (like the complaint) focuses on some different trades than the Klyushin one (and because neither is likely to be extradited anytime soon, the second indictment may shield some portion of evidence from discovery).

Actions attributed elsewhere to Yermakov are attributed to Co-Conspirator 1 in that indictment, and it is on that basis that Irzak and Sladkov are exposed to the hacking charges. Irzak and Sladkov don’t appear to have been paying the extortionate 60% fees that the other M-13 clients were, which makes me wonder whether Yermakov was helping buddies get rich on the side. Worse still, Sladkov had some epically bad operational security; the indictment describes he had in his possession pictures showing:

  • A picture of a black Acer computer, with a blue Russian Olympic Committee sticker over the camera, showing a press release with Snap’s 2017 earnings that was not released publicly until 8 hours later.
  • A picture showing the same Acer computer with the same blue sticker showing his own trading activity on BrokerCreditService on May 2, 2018
  • A picture taken on July 24, 2018 at 2:05PM (ET) showing himself and Irzak sitting at a brown table; Irzak had Facebook running at the time, which showed him to be in the vicinity of Sladkov’s house
  • A picture dated July 25, 2018 showing him trading in a bunch of shares the earnings reports of which had been illegally accessed the day before
  • A picture dated October 14, 2018 showing a hand-written note instructing to “short” three shares, which Irzak did short two days later

In other words, Sladkov documented much of his insider training in photographs (perhaps to share the instructions with Irzak), and left all those photographs somewhere accessible to the US government.

If Yermakov was sharing this information with these guys without permission, then Sladkov’s role in providing the US government really damning information that would form the basis for an arrest warrant for Klyushin, then things might get really hot.

But it’s not like Klyushin or Yermakov did much better. In addition to the pictures of the clients, above, and some screencaps that got sent showing trading activity (though with less obvious evidence of insider trading), there’s a bunch of messaging from both, including an oblique reference to messages Yermakov and Borodaev sent on November 19, 2020 that have nothing to do with the context of the indictment but happens to be after the US election. There are even pictures Klyushin shared with Yermakov, “showing a safe that contained growing stacks of U.S. one hundred dollar bills.”

Yermakov appears to have used one of his messaging accounts via multiple devices, because on December 3, 2018, when he “forgot telephone at work,” he was still able to message Klyushin about closing out a trade. Using the same messaging app across platforms would offer one means of compromise, especially if the FBI had gotten into Yermakov’s device updates. The indictment doesn’t mention a warrant for such messaging that you would expect if it took place on Facebook.

Again, this indictment seems to aim to cause discomfort and recriminations based on information in US possession.

But then there’s the question of how it came about, how it landed in Massachusetts rather than DC (where the lead FBI agent is from) or NY (where the trades get done) or Pittsburgh, where one of the prior indictments against Yermakov was done.

The indictments and complaint base the MA jurisdiction on the fact that the culprits used a VPN that used a server in MA on several occasions. At a presser the other day, Acting US Attorney Nathaniel Mendell suggested the case had been assigned to MA because of its good securities prosecution teams.

As to how it came about, purportedly, the story starts in January 2020, when two filing agents allegedly hacked by the men, FA1 and FA2, reported being hacked at virtually the same time. Someone had used an FA1 employee’s credentials on January 21, 2020 to access the earnings data for IBM, Steel Dynamics, and Avnet before those results were publicly announced the following day, but no similar transaction noted with respect to F2 (indeed, a list of accesses involving F2 have a gap from November 2019 through May 2020). The investigation determined that FA1 had first been hacked by November 2018 and that FA2 had first been hacked by October 2017.

FA1 and FA2 discovered this compromise just months after the third M-13 employee, Rumyantev, was blocked by his Russian-based brokerage account for suspicious transactions. Months after FA1 and FA2 reported their compromise, Rumyantev and Klyushin lied to a Denmark bank that they were working entirely off of public information. By that point, in other words, banks in at least two countries were onto them.

Then, the story goes, the FBI investigated those hacks — through domains hosted by Vultr Holdings to a hosting company in Sweden to a user account under the name Andrea Neumann. From there, the FBI tracked back through some Bitcoin transactions made in October and November 2018 to the IP address for M-13 where they just happened to discover one of the very same hackers that was behind the 2016 hack of the DNC was also behind this hack. Mendell sounded pretty sheepish when he offered that explanation at the press conference.

Perhaps it’s true, but another key piece of evidence dates to actions Yermakov took on May 9, 2018, when he was under very close scrutiny as part of the twin investigations into his role in the hacks of the DNC and doping agencies, but before the first indictment against him was obtained.

Based on a review of records obtained from a U.S.-based technology company (the “Tech Company”), I have learned that on or about May 9, 2018, at 3:44 a.m. (ET), an account linked to ERMAKOV received an update for three native applications associated to the Tech Company. Records show that the May 9, 2018 application updates were associated to IP address 119.204.194.11 (the “119 IP Address”).

Based on my review of a log file from FA 2, I learned that on or about that same day, May 9, 2018, starting at 3:46 a.m. (ET)–approximately two minutes after ERMAKOV received application updates from the Tech Company–the FA 2 employee’s compromised login credentials were used to gain unauthorized access to FA 2’s system from the same 119 IP Address, and to view and/or download earnings-related files of four companies: Cytomx Therapeutics, Horizon Therapeutics, Puma Biotechnology, and Synaptics.7 All four companies reported their quarterly earnings later that day.

It would be rather surprising if the FBI agents investigating the DNC hack had not at least attempted to ID the IP associated with Yermakov’s phone (or other device) back in 2018. Whether or not they watched him engage in insider trading for years after that — all the while collecting evidence from co-conspirators flaunting the proof of their insider trading — we may never learn. The discovery on this case, featuring evidence explaining how the FBI tracked the insider trading of Putin’s pen-tester, will certainly feature a number of law enforcement sensitive techniques that Klyushin would love to bring back to Putin.

But it’s possible these techniques were what the FBI used to target these guys four years ago now, and the insider trading that Yermakov was doing in addition to whatever he spent the rest of his time doing has now provided a convenient way to bring Putin’s pen-tester to the United States for a spell.

Update: Included the pictures of the safe included with his detention memo, as well as earnings reports from Sladkov’s computer. Note the detention memo says the latter came from an ISP.

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