Ahab As Randian Hero

I’ve finished Moby Dick, and it’s a fitting tale for a Summer’s reading. If, as I wrote here, Ishmael is the All-American Boy, Ahab is a hero fit for an Ayn Rand novel.

In the last third of the book, Ahab continues his search for the Great White Whale despite an increasingly obvious series of omens warning him off, and of other ships warning of the dangers. Ishmael paints a broader picture of Ahab by relating several soliloquies. They show a more ruminative side of Ahab, one alert to the real world around him, and the pity and terror it inspires. There’s a poetic meditation inspired by a dying whale in Chapter 116, for example.

… life dies sunwards full of faith; but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads some other way.

But this inner life does not touch Ahab’s intent to kill Moby Dick. He ignores all the omens and warnings, omens so clear that his crew are muttering. He drives them on til they first see the great whale. That night, Ahab gives his final soliloquy, this one to Starbuck (Chapter 132). Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such a day — very much such a sweetness as this — I struck my first whale — a boy-harpooner of eighteen! Forty — forty — forty years ago! — ago! Forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep! … the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey — more a demon than a man! — aye, aye! what a forty years’ fool — fool — old fool, has old Ahab been! Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? how the richer or better is Ahab now?

Starbuck urges Ahab to turn back and to live his life on the land. Ahab doesn’t seem to hear. Another excerpt:

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?

Ahab has no answer to this question, and doesn’t even try to find one. Ahab just knows he is driven to extract whale oil by killing every single whale. Ishmael even asks in Chapter 105 if humans can kill all the sperm whales in their insatiable search.

What does drive Ahab? Ishmael doesn’t say. Maybe the lust for money has blended with the bloodlust of killing whales into a single inhuman force, coupled with an insane anger directed at the single whale that cut away his leg.

To me Ahab seems like an Ayn Rand character: a capitalist driven to produce whale oil by grit and determination, overcoming every obstacle placed in the way of every truly productive person, and bending others to do the same. Ahab, like other capitalists, is driven to extract every last drop of money from every last layer of nature and human beings. RAtional thought, contemplation of the consequences, these have no place in this crazed struggle.

Of course, in an Ayn Rand novel, on the third day Ahab would have slain Moby Dick, flensed it, and found enough sperm oil and ambergris to float a boat, bringing fame and profit for Ahab and confounding the socialist whale protectors.

Ahab ignores every warning. And everyone but Ishmael drowns. And all the oil they had extracted went to the bottom of the sea.

Updated Questions for Robert Mueller

As I pointed out in this post, lots of commentators mistakenly believe Robert Mueller will never provide damning answers to strictly factual questions. In 2007, he answered a Sheila Jackson Lee question about the most incendiary issue of the day — Stellar Wind — in a way that shows the Attorney General had lied under oath. Yet most proposed questions for Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday seem to assume he won’t similarly answer appropriately framed questions now, and are for the most part milquetoast or horserace issues.

Here are my (updated since I first posted them in June) questions for Mueller. Some are formulated to get him to answer questions about scope or results he otherwise might not (note that there’s a gag now in both the IRA and Roger Stone cases, which will sharply curtail what he can say about those cases). Some are process questions that would help the public understand what Mueller did and did not do. A few are about potential legislation that might arise out of this investigation.

  1. Can you describe how you chose which “links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to focus your investigation on?
  2. The warrants released in Michael Cohen’s case and other public materials show that your grand jury conducted investigations of people before Rod Rosenstein formally expanded the scope to include them in October 2017. Can you explain the relationship between investigative steps and the Rosenstein scope memos?
  3. Lisa Page has explained that in its initial phase, the investigation into Trump’s aides was separate from the larger investigation(s) into Russian interference. But ultimately, your office indicted Russians in both the trolling and the hack-and-leak conspiracies. How and when did those parts of DOJ’s investigation get integrated under SCO?
  4. An FD-302 memorializing a July 19, 2017 interview with Peter Strzok was released as part of Mike Flynn’s sentencing. Can you describe what the purpose of this interview was? How did the disclosure of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page affect the recording (or perceived credibility) of this interview? Strzok was interviewed before that disclosure, but the 302 was not finalized until he had been removed from your team. Did his removal cause any delay in finalizing this 302?
  5. At the beginning of the investigation, your team investigated the criminal conduct of subjects unrelated to ties with Russia (for example, Paul Manafort’s ties with Ukraine, Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey, Michael Cohen’s false statements to banks). Did the approach of the investigation change later in the process — in 2018 — to refer such issues to other offices (for example, the Cohen financial crimes)? If the approach changed, did your team or Rod Rosenstein drive this change?
  6. Prosecutors pursuing documents from an unnamed foreign owned company described that the investigation started at the DC US Attorney’s Office, was integrated into your investigation, and continued after your investigation concluded. Is this foreign owned company owned by a country other than Russia?
  7. Did your integration of other prosecutors (generally from DC USAO) into your prosecution teams stem from a resourcing issue or a desire to ensure continuity? What was the role of the three prosecutors who were just detailees to your team?
  8. Your report describes how FBI personnel shared foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information with the rest of FBI. For more than a year, FBI agents were embedded with your team for this purpose. Were these agents focused just on Russian activities, or did their focus include the actions of other countries and Americans? If their focus included Americans, did it include Trump associates? Did it include Trump himself?
  9. Can you describe the relationship between your GRU indictment and the WDPA one focused on the WADA hacks, and the relationship between your IRA indictment and the complaint against a Yevgeniy Prigozhin employee in EDVA? Can you describe the relationship between the Maria Butina prosecution and your investigation?
  10. Do you regret charging Concord Management in the IRA indictment? Do you have any insight on how indictments against Russian and other state targets should best be used?
  11. Particularly given difficulties in the Bijan Kian case, do you believe the laws on 18 USC 951 unregistered foreign agents and FARA need to be changed to provide the government with tools to protect the country from influence operations?
  12. In discussions of Paul Manafort’s plea deal that took place as part of his breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann revealed that prosecutors didn’t vet his testimony as they would other cooperators. What led to this lack of vetting? Did the timing of the election and the potential impact of Manafort’s DC trial might have play into the decision?
  13. What communication did you receive from whom in response to the BuzzFeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s false testimony? How big an impact did that communication have on the decision to issue a correction?
  14. Did Matt Whitaker prevent you from describing Donald Trump specifically in Roger Stone’s indictment? Did you receive any feedback — from Whitaker or anyone else — for including a description of Trump in the Michael Cohen plea?
  15. Did Whitaker, Bill Barr, or Rosenstein weigh in on whether Trump should or could be subpoenaed? If so what did they say? Did any of the three impose time constraints that would have prevented you from subpoenaing the President?
  16. Multiple public reports describe Trump allies (possibly including Mike Flynn or his son) expressing certainty that Barr would shut down your investigation once he was confirmed. Did this happen? Can you describe what happened at the March 5, 2019 meeting where Barr was first briefed? Was that meeting really the first time you informed Rosenstein you would not make a determination on obstruction?
  17. You “ended” your investigation on March 22, at a time when at least two subpoena fights (Andrew Miller and a foreign owned corporation) were ongoing. You finally resigned just minutes before Andrew Miller agreed to cooperate on May 29. Were these subpoenas for information critical to your investigation?
  18. If Don Jr told you he would invoke the Fifth if subpoenaed by the grand jury, would that fact be protected by grand jury secrecy? Are you aware of evidence you received involving the President’s son that would lead him to be less willing to testify to your prosecutors than to congressional committees? Can congressional committees obtain that information?
  19. How many witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment rights that your office deemed “were not … appropriate candidates for grants of immunity”?
  20. Your report describes five witnesses who testified under proffer agreements: Felix Sater, George Nader, Steve Bannon, Erik Prince, and Jerome Corsi. Aside from the Nader child pornography referred to EDVA by your office, would other US Attorneys offices be able to independently pursue criminal conduct covered by these proffers?
  21. Emin Agalarov canceled a concert tour to avoid subpoena in your investigation. Can you explain efforts to obtain testimony from this key player in the June 9 meeting? What other people did you try to obtain testimony from regarding the June 9 meeting?
  22. Did your investigation consider policy actions taken while Trump was President, such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Russian sanctions or his half-hearted efforts to comply with Congressional mandates to impose new ones?
  23. Can you describe how you treated actions authorized by Article II authority — such as the conduct of foreign policy, including sanctions, and the awarding of pardons — in your considerations of any criminal actions by the President?
  24. The President did not answer any questions about sanctions, even the one regarding discussions during the period of the election. Do you have unanswered questions about the role of sanctions relief and the Russian interference effort?
  25. Your report doesn’t include several of the most alarming interactions between Trump and Russia. It mentions how he told Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak he had fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but did not mention that he shared classified Israeli intelligence at the meeting. Your report doesn’t mention the conversations Trump had with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, including one pertaining to “adoptions,” while he was working on the June 9 meeting. The report doesn’t mention the Helsinki meeting. Did your investigation consider these interactions with Russia? If not, are you aware of another part of the government that did scrutinize these events?
  26. Why did you include Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about the June 9 meeting when it didn’t fit your team’s own terms for obstructive acts?
  27. You generally do not name the Trump lawyers who had discussions, including about pardons, with subjects of the investigation. How many different lawyers are described in your report to have had such discussions?
  28. In your report you say your office “limited its pursuit” of witnesses including attorneys “in light of internal Department of Justice policies,” citing the Justice manual. How many potential witnesses did your office not interview because of DOJ guidelines on interviewing attorneys?
  29. You asked — but the President provided only a partial answer — whether he had considered issuing a pardon for Julian Assange prior to the inauguration. Did you investigate the public efforts — including by Roger Stone — to pardon Assange during Trump’s Administration?
  30. The cooperation addendum in Mike Flynn’s case reveals that he participated in discussions about reaching out to WikiLeaks in the wake of the October 7 Podesta releases. But that does not appear in the unredacted parts of your report. Is the entire scope of the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the Roger Stone indictment?
  31. Hope Hicks has claimed to be unaware of a strategy to coordinate the WikiLeaks releases, yet even the unredacted parts of the report make it clear there was a concerted effort to optimize the releases. Is this a difference in vocabulary? Does it reflect unreliability on the part of Hicks’ testimony? Or did discussions of WikiLeaks remain partially segregated from the communications staff of the campaign?
  32. Without naming any of the people involved, how many witnesses confirmed knowing of conversations between Roger Stone and Donald Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming releases?
  33. Did Julian Assange ask for immunity to cooperate with your investigation, as he did with congressional inquiries?
  34. In your report you say your office “limited its pursuit” of witnesses who might claim to be media “in light of internal Department of Justice policies,” citing the Justice manual. How many potential witnesses did your office not interview because of DOJ guidelines on media? Was Julian Assange among them?
  35. The President’s answers regarding the Trump Tower Moscow match the false story for which Michael Cohen pled guilty, meaning the President, in his sworn answers, provided responses you have determined was a false story. After Cohen pled guilty, the President and his lawyer made public claims that are wholly inconsistent with his sworn written answer to you. You offered him an opportunity to clean up his sworn answer, but he did not. Do you consider the President’s current answer on this topic to be a lie?
  36. Did Trump Organization provide all the emails pertaining to the Trump Tower Moscow deal before you subpoenaed the organization in early 2018? Did they provide those emails in response to that subpoena?
  37. In his answers to your questions, President Trump claimed that you received “an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation … inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.” But the footnotes to your discussion of that exchange describe no email. Did your team receive any email? Does the public record — showing that Trump never signed the declination letter to that investigation — show that Trump did not decline that invitation?
  38. The Attorney General has excused the President’s actions taken to thwart the investigation because, “as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.” What events did your investigation show the President was frustrated or angry about? Was the President frustrated or angry that Mike Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak had been discovered as part of an effort to understand Russia’s actions? According to your investigation, what were the President’s feelings towards Flynn at the time? Was the President frustrated or angry that, after consulting with ethics professionals,  Jeff Sessions recused from the investigation? Was the President frustrated or angry that Jim Comey would not provide details of the ongoing investigation into his aides, which would be prohibited by Department of Justice guidelines? Was the President frustrated or angry that the investigation into Russian interference showed that Russia actively sought to help him get elected?
  39. Organizationally your team separated the efforts to obstruct the investigation of Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and others (which appears in Volume I) from the obstruction of the investigation of the President (which appears in Volume II). Why?
  40. In his aborted sentencing hearing, Brandon Van Grack told Judge Sullivan that Mike Flynn could have been charged as an Agent of a Foreign Power under 18 USC 951. More recently, prosecutors in Bijan Kian’s case have treated him as part of a conspiracy to violate that statute. Why did you give Mike Flynn such a lenient plea deal?

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Hal Martin Sentencing Leaves All Questions Unanswered

Hal Martin was sentenced Friday. He received the nine years agreed upon as part of his plea agreement. But — as the many reports of his sentencing emphasize — closure on this case still doesn’t offer closure on the Shadow Brokers case. Of course the sentencing hasn’t solved the Shadow Brokers case, which has been true since Martin was charged in 2018 but was recently reiterated by AP.

But it also hasn’t provided much clarity on some of the other issues about this case. For example, his lawyer Jim Wyda seems to have confirmed that the cryptic DMs sent to some Kaspersky researchers in advance of the original Shadow Brokers release were his, denying that Martin intended the “Shelf life, three weeks,” DM to be an offer to sell the NSA’s exploits that would be offered for sale less than an hour later. [Note: this sentencing was difficult to cover remotely because the filings weren’t released in PACER, so I’m particularly grateful for other’s coverage, especiall this excellent CyberScoop story on it.]

Jim Wyda, Martin’s public defender, said Friday there was no indication Martin intended for any transaction to take place by that tweet.

I had noted that, given the lack of 2FA at the time of the DMs, hacking Martin’s Twitter account to send the DMs would have been child’s play, something an account claiming to be Shadow Brokers responded to fairly aggressively.

The government, however, offered no comment on those DMs. In response to Judge Richard Bennett’s reminder that the Tweets had been the subject of a Martin challenge to the warrants searching his house, prosecutor Zachary Myers refused to comment, even though classification wouldn’t prevent comment.

Bennett reminded U.S. attorneys of the tweet and the timeline on Friday in court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Myers said the U.S. government would not be commenting further than noting that the timeline is, indeed, in the facts of the case.

Then there’s the question of whether Martin was a hoarder or a thief. His attorneys insisted his collection of documents was an expression of mental health issues. But the government pointed to how organized it all was (which is hard to square with the descriptions of the chaos of his house from the time of the arrest).

“This is not a case of hoarding, this is stealing,” Myers said Friday at a federal court house in Baltimore. The stolen information “was not in a disorganized manner,” he said, adding what the government found was “logical” and “repetitive.”

Bennett noted Friday he had concerns about the case regarding whether Martin’s alleged hoarding problem, noting that for someone who is a hoarder, he seemed well organized.

Martin’s wife described to CBS how he had recognized his illness before his arrest, but was afraid that if he sought treatment, he would lose clearance and his job.

Mental illness may explain why parts of Martin’s statement expressing remorse make no sense. WaPo:

Martin spoke for about 20 minutes, his voice calm, soft and sometimes difficult to hear as he read nearly verbatim from a letter he’d written earlier this month to the judge.

He made clear that what he’d done was wrong.

“The manner and method of my approach was unorthodox, unconventional, uncanny,” he wrote. “But also unauthorized, illegal and just plain wrong. One step beyond black. Please do not copy this. It is not the easy or correct path. I took shortcuts, went backwards, sideways and around things, crossing major borders and boundaries. It is not good, it’s very, very BAD.”

NYT:

He stood in a striped jersey labeled “Inmate” and read for nearly 30 minutes a rambling statement apologizing to family, friends and his former colleagues at the N.S.A.

“I have been called a walking encyclopedia,” he said, describing himself at another point as “an intellectually curious adventurer.” His words were often cryptic, at one point addressed to “that cool dude in a loose mood” and at another citing the N.S.A. motto, “They serve in silence.”

All that said, one of the most telling details from coverage of yesterday’s sentencing is in the the government’s press release on the sentencing. It emphasizes the resources diverted to investigating Martin’s activities, which sure makes it sound like they don’t think he’s the culprit behind the Shadow Brokers leak.

In court documents and at today’s sentencing hearing, the government noted that crimes such as Martin’s not only create a risk of unauthorized disclosure of, or access to, highly classified information, but often require the government to treat the stolen material as compromised, resulting in the government having to take remedial actions including changing or abandoning national security programs.  In addition, Martin’s criminal conduct caused the government to expend substantial investigative and analytical resources.  The diversion of those resources resulted in significant costs.

Bennett believes the nine year sentence will serve as deterrent for other intelligence personnel. But it’s not clear whether those are the people who need to be deterred.

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

Update: I’m reposting this on July 20 because these warrants have been re-released in less redacted form. As noted below in the update on Section C, that previously redacted section does pertain to Michael Cohen’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels, meaning the only mention of the Steele Dossier in the earliest warrant on Cohen is just to a post-dossier WSJ article used exclusively to explain Cohen’s own description of how he served as Trump’s fixer. 

Because the frothy right thinks it’s an important question but won’t actually consult the public record, I’m doing a series on what that public record says about the relationship between the allegations in the Steele dossier and the known investigative steps against Trump’s associates. In this post, I argued that the way the Steele dossier influenced the Carter Page investigation may be slightly different than generally understood: it appears that the dossier appeared to predict — just like George Papadopoulos had — the release of the DNC emails on July 22. From that point forward, Page continued to do things — such as telling people in Moscow he was representing Donald Trump in December 2016, including on Ukraine policy — that were consistent with the general theory (though not the specific facts) laid out in the Steele dossier. That is, Page kept acting like the the Steele dossier said he would. That said, the government had plenty of reason before the Steele dossier to investigate Page for his stated willingness to share information with Russian spies, and his ongoing behavior continued to give them reason.

I’m more interested in the example of Michael Cohen.

The Steele dossier eventually describes Michael Cohen as the villain of coordination with Russia

The dossier makes allegations against Cohen four times, all after the time when Steele and Fusion GPS were shopping the dossier to the press, increasing the likelihood Russia got wind of the project and were shopping disinformation.

The first three mentions came on three consecutive days (probably based on just two sub-source to Kremlin insider conversations), all apparently sourced to the same second-hand access to a Kremlin insider, and evolving significantly over those three days.  Importantly, the sub-source is also the source for the claim that Page had been offered the brokerage of the publicly announced Rosneft sale, meaning this person purportedly had access to Igor Sechin and a Kremlin insider, and if this source was intentionally feeding disinformation, it would account for the most obviously suspect claims in the dossier.

October 18, 2016 (134): A Kremlin insider tells the sub-source that Michael Cohen was playing a key role in the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin.

October 19, 2016 (135): The Kremlin insider tells his source that Cohen met with Presidential Administration officials in August 2016 to discuss how to contain Manafort’s Russia/Ukraine scandal and Page’s secret meetings with Russian leaders. Since that August meeting Trump-Russian conversations increasingly took place via pro-government policy institutes.

October 20, 2016 (136): In a communication that “had to be cryptic for security reasons,” a Kremlin insider tells a friend on October 19 that the reported meeting with Cohen took place in Prague using Rossotrudnichestvo as a cover. It involved Duma Head of Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev. This is notably different from the PA claim made just the day before.

Then there’s the final report, which Steele has claimed was provided for “free,” dated after David Corn and Kurt Eichenwald’s exposure of the dossier, after the election, after the Obama Administration ratcheted up the investigation on December 9, and after Steele had interested John McCain in the dossier. In addition to offering a report that seems to project blame onto Webzilla for what the Internet Research Agency did, this report alleges what would be a veritable smoking gun, missing from the earlier reports: that Cohen had helped pay for the hackers.

December 13, 2016 (166): The August meeting in Prague was no longer about how to manage the Manafort and Page scandals, but instead to figure out how to make deniable cash payments to hackers (located in Europe, including Romania, where the original Guccifer had come from, not Russia), who were managed by the Presidential Administration, not GRU.

This December report is really the only one that claims Trump had a criminal role in the hack-and-leak, but the claims in the report all engage with already public claims: situating the hackers where the persona Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from, Romania, suggesting the hackers were independent hackers who had to be paid rather than Russian military officers, and blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency for disinformation. That is, more than any other, this report looks like it was tailored to the Russian cover story.

The way this story evolved over time should have raised concerns, as should have other obvious problems with the December report. But it’s worth noting that there are two grains of truth in it. Cohen had been the key interlocutor between the Trump campaign and the Presidential Administration during the campaign, but to discuss the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow in January, not how to steal the election in October. Few people (at least in the US) should have known that he had played that interlocutor role; how many knew in Russia is something else entirely. Cohen was also someone that people who had done business with Trump Organization, like Giorgi Rtslchiladze and people associated with Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group, would know to be Trump’s fixer. That fact would have been far more widely known.

Nevertheless, by the end of it, Cohen was the biggest Trump-associate villain in the Steele dossier. If the Steele dossier had been directing the investigative priorities of the FBI, then Cohen should have been a focus for his role in the hack-and-leak as soon as the FBI received this report. Nothing in the public record suggests that happened. Indeed, at the time the FBI briefed the Gang of Eight on March 9, 2017, Cohen was not among the people described as subjects. Just Roger Stone had been added to the initial four subjects (Page, Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn) by that point. Congress, including the Devin Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee, would focus closely on Cohen more quickly than the FBI appears to have.

That’s true even though Cohen was doing some of the things he would later be investigated for, including — immediately after the election — establishing financial ties with Viktor Vekselberg even while Felix Sater pitched him on a Ukraine deal.

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

The investigation into Cohen appears to have started — given this July 18, 2017 warrant application — as an investigation into suspicious payments, both Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels and payments from large, often foreign companies, particularly Columbus Nova, with which Viktor Vekelsberg has close ties, but also including Novartis, Korean Airlines, and Kazkommertsnank. The investigation probably started based off a Suspicious Activity Report submitted by First Republic Bank, where Cohen had multiple accounts, including one for Essential Consulting, where those foreign payments were deposited.

Cohen opened that Essential Consultants account on October 26, 2016, ostensibly to collect fees for domestic real estate consulting work, but in fact to pay off Stormy Daniels. His use of it to accept all those foreign payments would have properly attracted attention and a SAR from the bank under Know Your Customer mandates, particularly with his political exposure through Trump. Sometime in June 2017, First Republic submitted the first of at least three SARs on this account, covering seven months of activity on the account; that SAR and a later one was subsequently made unavailable in the Treasury system as part of a sensitive investigation, which led to a big stink in 2018 and ultimately to charges against an IRS investigator who leaked the other reports. The language of the third one appears to closely match the language in the warrant applications, including a reference to Viktor Vekselberg’s donations to Trump’s inauguration.

The first warrant application against Cohen

On June 21, the FBI served a preservation request to Google for his Gmail and to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails (see this post for the significance of Microsoft’s role). Generally that suggests that already by that point, FBI decided they would likely want that email, but needed to put together the case to get it. The preservation order on Microsoft suggests they may have worried that people at Trump’s company might destroy damning emails. It also suggests the FBI knew that there was something damaging in those emails, which almost certainly came in part from contact information the bank had and call records showing contacts with Felix Sater and Columbus Nova; it might also suggest the NSA may have intercepted some of Cohen’s contacts with Russians in normal collection targeting those Russians.

That July 2017 warrant (confirmed in later warrants to be the first one used against Cohen) lists Acting as a Foreign Agent (18 USC 951) and false statements to a financial institution. It explains:

[T]he FBI is investigating COHEN in connection with, inter alia, statements he made to a known financial institution (hereinafter “Bank 1”) in the course of opening a bank account held in the name of Essential Consultants, LLC and controlled by COHEN. The FBI is also investigating COHEN in connection with funds he received from entities controlled by foreign governments and/or foreign principals, and the activities he engaged in in the United States on their behalf without properly disclosing such relationships to the United States government.

In other words, the predicate for the investigation was his bank account — one in conjunction with which he would eventually plead guilty to several crimes — not the dossier. Had Cohen told the truth about why he was opening that bank account (to pay off the candidate’s former sex partners!), had he not conducted his international graft with it, had he been honest he was going to be accepting large payments from foreign companies, then he might not have been investigated. It’s possible that the public reporting on the dossier made the bank pay more attention, but his actions already reached the level that the bank was required to report it.

In the unredacted parts of the application, there is one citation of the dossier, but only to the title of a WSJ report on Cohen written in the wake of the dossier release, “Intelligence Dossier Puts Longtime Trump Fixer in Spotlight.” It uses the article in a section introducing who he is to cite Cohen explaining that he’s Trump’s “fìx-it guy . . . . Anything that [then-President-elect Trump] needs to be done, any issues that concern him, I handle,” not to describe any allegations in the dossier.

From there, it introduces the bank account, Essential Consulting.

Redacted section C

Update, 7/19: These warrants have now been unsealed, and — as media outlets originally reported — this section is about the hush payment to Stormy Daniels. The section also confirms that much of this investigation came from the KYC work of Cohen’s bank. I’ve marked the paragraphs that consider the possibility this section pertains to Russia with strike-through text.

The next section, C, is six paragraphs long (¶¶13 to 18), and remains entirely redacted. If the substance of the dossier appears in the warrant application, it would appear here. But such a redacted passage does not appear at all in a search warrant application for Paul Manafort from May, and no redacted passage appears as prominently in a Manafort warrant application from ten days later — which describes his relationship with three Russian oligarchs and the June 9 meeting — though there is a six page redaction describing the investigative interest in the June 9 meeting. The difference is significant because the dossier alleged that Manafort was managing relations with Russia until he left the campaign (including during June), so if there were redacted language about the dossier on Cohen, we would expect it to play a similar role in applications on Manafort, but nothing public suggests it does.

Some background on this redacted section. We got the Mueller-related warrants on Cohen because a bunch of media outlets asked Chief Judge Beryl Howell to liberate them on March 26, the week after Mueller officially finished his investigation. At first, Jonathan Kravis, the DC AUSA who has taken the lead in much of the ongoing Mueller word, noticed an appearance to respond. But it was actually Thomas McKay, one of the SDNY AUSA who prosecuted Cohen there, who responded to the request, along with another SDNY attorney.

Although the Warrant Materials were sought and obtained by the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”), the Government is represented in this matter by the undersigned attorneys from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”), as the SCO’s investigation is now complete.

They argue that they’re willing to release the warrant materials under terms consistent with the terms used in SDNY, where information about the FBI affiants and information we know deals with the hush payments investigation got redacted.

Judge Pauley ruled that “the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance crimes shall be redacted” to protect an ongoing law enforcement investigation, along with “the paragraphs of the search warrant affidavits describing the agents’ experience or law enforcement techniques and procedures.” Cohen, 2019 WL 472577, at *6. By contrast, Judge Pauley ordered that the portions of the materials that did not relate to the campaign finance investigation be unsealed, subject to limited redactions to protect the privacy interests of certain uncharged third parties. Id. at *6-7. Judge Pauley’s decision in these respects is also consistent with prior decisions of this Court, which have recognized the distinction between law enforcement interests in ongoing, as opposed to closed, investigations, as well as the importance of respecting privacy concerns for uncharged third parties. See, e.g., Matter of the Application of WP Company LLC, 16-mc-351 (BAH), 2016 WL 1604976, at *2 & n.2 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2016).

Consistent with the foregoing, the Government does not oppose the Petitioners’ request for partial unsealing, but respectfully requests that the Court authorize redactions consistent with those authorized by Judge Pauley in the SDNY litigation.

Because of this language, some people assume the redacted passage C relates to the hush payments, which were, after all, the reason Cohen opened the account in the first place. That may well be the case: if so, the logic of the warrant application would flow like this:

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments

[Later warrants would include a new section, D, that described Cohen’s lies about his net worth to First Republic]

D: Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian Nexus

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

That would explain McKay’s role in submitting the redactions, as well as his discussion of redacting the warrant consistent with what was done in SDNY, to protect ongoing investigations. (The government will have to provide a status report in August on whether these files still need to be redacted.)

That said, it was not until April 7, 2018 that anyone first asked for a warrant to access Cohen’s email accounts in conjunction with the campaign finance crimes. And some SARs submitted in conjunction with the hush payments, such as one associated with the $130,000 payment on October 27, 2016 to then Daniels lawyer Keith Davidson and one from JP Morgan Chase reflecting the transfer from the Essentials Consulting account to Davidson’s were not restricted in May 2018 in conjunction with a sensitive investigation (nor was the third one reflecting the foreign payments described above), suggesting they weren’t the most sensitive bits in May 2018. Of note, the Elliot Broidy payments to Essential Consulting would post-date this period of the investigation.

That leaves a possibility (though not that likely of one) that Section C could describe the Russian investigation. The next passage after the redacted one describes the “foreign transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian nexus” (though, as noted, subsequent warrants describe Cohen’s lies in the following paragraph). It describes the $416,664 in payments from Columbus Nova, and describes the tie between Columbus Nova and Vekselberg. After introducing the payments, the affidavit describes the public report on a back channel peace plan pitched by Felix Sater on behalf of Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko.

Another possibility is that it describes Trump’s inauguration graft, which embroils Cohen and Broidy (though the investigation into Broidy is in EDNY, not SDNY).

Perhaps most likely, however, is that that section just describes other reasons why that Essential Consulting account merited a SAR. For example, it might describe how Cohen set up a shell company to register the company, something that doesn’t show up in the unredacted sections, but which is a key part of the hush payment prosecution.

If the section does not mention the Russian investigation generally (and the dossier specifically), then it means there is no substantive mention of it in the warrant at all, meaning it played at most a secondary role in the focus on Cohen.

As the timeline of the investigation into Cohen below shows, that redacted section would grow by one paragraph in the next warrant application, for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails, obtained just two weeks later. It would remain that length for all the other unsealed Mueller warrants.

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

The way in which Sater is mentioned in the warrants against Cohen presents conflicting information about what might be in that redacted section. Significantly, Sater (described as Person 3) is introduced as if for the first time, in the discussion of the Ukrainian deal that appears after the redaction. That means that he doesn’t appear in the redacted material. That’s important because Sater would be one other possible focus of any introduction to why Cohen would become the focus of the Russian investigation (aside from the dossier).

The next warrant would also note numerous calls with Sater, reflecting legal process for call records not identified here (the government almost certainly had a PRTT on Cohen’s phones by then). But those calls, as described, were in early 2017 (tied to the suspected Ukrainian peace plan), not in 2015-2016 when the two men were discussing a Trump Tower Moscow.

Mueller interviewed Sater on September 19, 2017, the first of two FBI interviews (he also appeared before the grand jury on an unknown date).

One of the most interesting changes to the Mueller warrants happens after that: In warrant applications submitted on November 13, the unredacted discussion of the Ukraine peace deal gets dropped. It’s unlikely Mueller’s investigation of it was eliminated entirely, because Mike Flynn, who allegedly ultimately received that deal, is not known to have been cooperating yet (his first known proffer was three days later, on November 16), and Mueller was still interested in interviewing Andrii  Artemenko — the Ukrainian politician who pitched the deal — in June 2018.

In addition, based off the details in the Mueller Report cited to Sater’s September interview, Mueller was already investigating the Trump Tower deal. That suggests both topics — the Trump Tower deal and the Ukranian peace pitch — could appear in the redacted passage. Indeed, while the unredacted passages don’t explain it, one important reason to obtain the earlier emails would be to obtain the communications between Sater and Cohen during that period.

None of these warrants explain why Mueller became convinced that Cohen had lied to Congress, but by the second December interview of Sater, he presumably knew that Cohen had lied. But he probably didn’t have all the documents on the deal until he subpoenaed Trump Organization in March 2018.

All of which is to say, the treatment of the warrants’ Sater’s ties to Cohen, so important in any consideration of Cohen’s ties to Russia, ultimately don’t help determine what’s in that section.

If Mueller obtained Cohen’s location data, it was only second-hand

Finally, there’s one other detail not shown in the Mueller warrants you might expect to have if the Steele dossier was central to the Cohen investigation: a concerted effort to confirm his location during August 2016, when the dossier claimed he had been in Prague.

Granted, by obtaining records from Google, Mueller would get lots of information helpful to confirming location. For example, Google would have provided all the IP addresses from which Cohen accessed his account going back to January 2016. He would have obtained calendar data, if Cohen used that Google function. The warrant (as all warrants to Google would) asks for “evidence … to determine the geographic and chronological context of account access” and describes the various ways investigators can use Google to ID location (though it doesn’t specifically talk about location data in conjunction with Google Maps).

Mueller would get even more information from the Apple warrant obtained on August 7, 2017. The warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account on August 7 focused on a new iPhone (a 4s!!!) he obtained on September 28, 2016 and used for a function that gets redacted (which, again, could be the hush payments). It described his use of Dust and WhatsApp on the phone (Dust was what he used with Felix Sater), meaning one reason they were interested in the account was not for Cohen’s Apple content, but for anything associated with the apps he used on his phone (remember that Mueller got Manafort’s otherwise encrypted WhatsApp chats from Apple; the Apple specific language notes that some users back up their WhatsApp texts to iCloud). That said, the language on Apple (as all warrants on it would) specified that users sometimes capture location data with the apps on their phones.

Apple allows applications and websites to use information from cellular, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (“GPS”) networks, and Bluetooth, to determine a user’s approximate location.

This is a way the FBI has increasingly gotten location data in recent years, via the apps that access it from your phone. So the FBI would have gotten information that would have helped them rule out a Cohen trip to Prague in 2016.

That said, it’s not until April 7 that the government obtained the only known warrant for cell location data. That warrant focused only on the campaign finance crimes, and it obtained historical data only started on October 1, 2016 — pointedly excluding the August 2016 period when Steele’s dossier alleged Cohen was in Prague.

In short, along the way, Mueller obtained plenty of information that would help him exclude a Prague meeting (and subpoenas and other government information — such as his Homeland Security file — could have helped further exclude a meeting). But there’s no sign in the public record that Mueller investigated the Steele dossier Prague meeting itself.

To sum up: while it’s possible the redacted portions discuss Russia and therefore potentially the dossier. But there are a lot of reasons to think that’s not the case. It is hypothetically possible that between March (when FBI wasn’t investigating Cohen) and May (when Mueller took over) the FBI had done something to chase down the dossier allegations on Cohen. But, there’s no evidence that Mueller investigated them. On the contrary, it appears that the investigation into Cohen arose from the Bank Secrecy Act operating the way it is designed to — to alert the Feds to suspect activity in timely fashion.

In another world, that should placate the frothy right. After all, they complain that the dossier was used in Carter Page’s FISA application. You’d think they’d be happy that, in the eight months between the time FBI obtained that order and started investigating Cohen aggressively, they hadn’t predicated an investigation into the dossier. By that time, there were overt things — like Vekselberg’s donation to the inauguration and the Ukraine plan — that were suspect and grounded in direct evidence.

Timeline

May 18, 2017: Possible date for meeting involving Jay Sekulow, Trump, and Cohen.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI.

June 2017: A SAR from Cohen’s bank reflects seven months of suspicious activity in conjunction with this Essential Consulting account

June 2017: Federal Agents review Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Org account.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for all Trump Org accounts.

July 18, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account focused on FARA charges tied primarily to the Columbus Nova stuff, but also his other foreign payments). ¶¶13-18 redacted.

July 20, 2017 and July 25, 2017: Microsoft responds to grand jury subpoenas about both Cohen’s account and TrumpOrg domain generally.

August 1, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Org email account (which they obtained from Microsoft), adding bank fraud, money laundering, and FARA (as distinct from 951) to potential charges. ¶¶13-19 redacted. ¶¶20 to 24 note irregularities in claims to First Republic. ¶28 details how Cohen and Andrew Intrater started texting in large amounts on November 8, 2016, showing over 230 calls and 950 texts between then and July 14, 2017. ¶30 includes email reflecting visit to Columbus Nova. ¶31 reflects probable subpoena to bank (rather than just SARs). ¶32 describes Renova paying Cohen through Columbus Nova. ¶36 reflects phone records showing 20 calls with Felix Sater between January 5, 2017 and February 20, 2017, and one with Flynn on January 11, 2017. ¶39, ¶41 include new evidence from Google search.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Apple ID (tied to his Google email). ¶¶14-20 redacted. ¶50-54 describes Cohen obtaining a new Apple iPhone 4s on September 28, 2016 and using it for a redacted purpose. It describes Cohen downloading Dust (the same encrypted program he used with Felix Sater) the day he set up the phone, and downloading WhatsApp on February 7, 2017.

August 17, 2017: FBI obtains second warrant on Cohen’s Gmail, not publicly released, but identified in second Google warrant. It probably added wire fraud to existing charges being investigated.

August 27-28, 2017: Cohen conducts a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story feeding WaPo, WSJ, and NYT.

August 31, 2017: Cohen releases the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress.

September 19, 2017: FBI interviews Sater. Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview.

October 4, 2017: Additional SAR restricted because of ongoing sensitive investigations.

October 20, 2017: Cohen included in expanded scope of investigation.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

November 7, 2017: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 and his 1&1 email. Adds wire fraud. ¶14-20 redacted.¶23a-25 adds Taxi medallion liability. Eliminates Ukraine/sanctions plan in unredacted section. Adds section F, payments in connection with political activities (associated with AT&T, expand Novartis, add Michael D Cohen and Associates.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

January 4, 2018: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

February 8, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with Gmail and 1&1 email returns.

February 16, 2018: SDNY obtains d-order for header information on 1&1 account.

February 28, 2018: SDNY obtains warrant for emails sent after November 14, 2017 and warrant for emails Mueller handed over in conjunction with different conspiracy, false statements to a bank, wire fraud, and and bank fraud charges.

March 7, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with iCloud returns.

March 15, 2018: Press reports that Mueller subpoenaed Trump Organization.

April 5, 2018: After CLOUD Act passes, SDNY applies for Google content that had been stored overseas and withheld in February 28 warrant.

April 7, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation (the FBI would use this to use a triggerfish to identify which room he was in at Loews). FBI obtains warrant to access prior content for use in campaign donation investigation. This is the first warrant that lists 52 USC 30116 and 30109 as crimes being investigated.

April 8, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation.FBI obtains warrant to search Cohen’s house, office, safe deposit box, hotel room, and two iPhones.

April 9, 2018: FBI obtains a warrant to correct Cohen’s hotel room.

June 20, 2018: Cohen steps down from RNC position.

July 27, 2018: Sources claim Cohen is willing to testify he was present, with others, when Trump approved of the June 9 meeting with the Russians.

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to SDNY charges. Warner and Burr publicly note that Cohen’s claim to know about the June 9 meeting ahead of time conflicts with his testimony to the committee.

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

On Mike Flynn’s Previously Undisclosed Interactions with Ekim Aptekin

In Friday’s pre-trial hearing for former Mike Flynn partner Bijan Kian, Kian’s attorneys revealed something prosecutors had told them in discovery: that Flynn had more ties with Alptekin than has been made public.

Prosecutors wrote to lawyers for Flynn’s ex-lobbying partner Bijan Kian that the US government was “in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant of FIG.”

Flynn’s new firebreather lawyer Sidney Powell thinks this is all about him, and as such suggests this is a last minute attack on Flynn because he reneged on a key part of his plea allocution.

Kian’s attorney Mark MacDougall read the statement at a court hearing Friday morning. He implied that the newly revealed information about Flynn — which was not part of his admitted crimes in his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller — may be classified.

Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell responded to the new accusation Friday, saying, “We have no idea what the government is talking about. It smacks of desperation.”

Admittedly, having blown up his plea deal, she now has to worry about anything that would provide cause to change the government stance on Flynn’s sentencing. And she’s probably — though not definitely — correct that this is something the government had in hand when they supported probation for Flynn. I do keep thinking of the redaction in the Mueller Report — a footnote that must explain the outcome of the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn — signaling an ongoing investigation.

Though I still think that likely relates to the investigation into Flynn’s Russian ties, not his Turkish ones.

That said, Powell’s concerns have to go beyond whether this is new information. The revelation that the government has proof that Alptekin’s efforts to influence Flynn go beyond the Flynn Intelligence Group consulting contract provide key background information to some of the files Powell released in an already unpersuasive effort to claim Flynn was fully forthcoming with his former, competent attorney, Rob Kelner, when they filed Flynn’s FARA submission in 2017. Of particular note, in the notes of the last interview recorded before the filing itself, Flynn told Kelner that he didn’t remember key parts of the relationship with Alptekin — neither the “consulting” agreement itself (which was really a kickback scheme) nor any side conversations about it.

It may well be that Flynn forgot those details, but if there are independent communications between Flynn and Alptekin, his claim to Kelner that Bijan was conducting all discussions with Alptekin seems demonstrably false.

The very last line of the first interview between Covington and Flynn, on January 6, 2017, shows him claiming he spoke with Alptekin “a handful of times.”

More interestingly, in that interview and elsewhere, Flynn downplays his role in the FIG consulting because he was on the campaign trail, away from Washington.

From the standpoint of claiming you weren’t lobbying, noting you were on the campaign with Trump might help. But if the point of all this, for Turkey, was to pay Flynn a half million dollars to (as his firebreather attorney claims) write an op-ed precisely to ensure they had access to someone who was spending all his time with Trump, then it actually hurts him.

The government claims that when Flynn downplayed the involvement of Turkey in his FARA filing, he did it knowingly and intentionally. If these notes — released by his own firebreather defense attorney — show him downplaying the extent of his relationship with Alptekin, that’s going to seriously undermine that claim.

Sidney Powell Believes She Can Bullshit Emmet Sullivan at No Risk to Her Client Mike Flynn

In her filing responding to Judge Sullivan’s orders for an update on sentencing, Mike Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell makes it clear she’s trying to blow up the government’s case against Bijan Kian while pretending her client hasn’t outright reneged on his cooperation deal with the government. Largely, her filing repeats the claims she made in her Bijan Kian filing, claiming that any errors in the FARA filing were the fault of Covington, while providing documents showing that at the very last transcribed meeting they provide records for, Flynn was lying to his lawyer Rob Kelner.

But there are two interesting touches to what she submitted today.

First, she talks repeatedly about how cooperative Flynn has been with EDVA prosecutors, repeating the total time he has spent — 30 hours — twice, and complaining about the money he has had to pay to cooperate. But here’s the schedule of meetings with prosecutors she provided. It shows that Flynn hasn’t spent any time working with prosecutors since the less than four hours on the day he fired Kelner and hired Powell.


Instead, Flynn appears to have spent three weeks with Powell, inventing a new story about his lies leading up to his FARA filing, which led to the meeting on June 27 where everything blew up.

Then there are the handwritten notes and a typed version of that meeting with prosecutors where they blew up Flynn’s cooperation. The attorney who submitted these calls the typed version a “transcri[ption] of my handwritten notes” (for included portions, they’re generally accurate).

Except there’s a whole swath of the discussion that doesn’t appear in her notes at all — including a line from Powell that clearly was designed to blow up the Kian case, suggesting that the government didn’t have a case (Note, I assume these notes are missing because an entire page is missing from what they’ve submitted, and that the notes actually exist, not that she didn’t take them; I assume they’ll fix this exhibit in the docket).

In addition to Powell’s inflammatory statement, Flynn’s lawyers also have not yet submitted the notes taken of AUSA Neil Hammerstrom pointing out that the time for Flynn to make this case was in the two different plea colloquies he made under oath. (Again, I’m sure they’ll correct this omission, but it’s pretty sketchy to leave this stuff out.)

The thing is, again, it’s clear Flynn was lying even in the last meeting with Covington before the FARA submission, at least as the record stood the other day.

This will surely play well on Fox News. But I’m guessing that Emmet Sullivan will be able to sniff out the bullshit.

Mike Flynn got paid over half a million dollars for what his lawyer currently says was just “writing op-ed” (he didn’t write it–he just slapped his name on it). What she neglects to mention is that during that time, he was getting Top Secret briefings as Trump’s top National Security Advisor, which is why it matters that Flynn was hiding, in November 2016 when he published the op-ed, and still in March 2017 when he claimed to correct the record, that he was secretly on the payroll of the government of Turkey.

With Latest Stunt, Mike Flynn May Save Bijan Kian from Prison Time But Double His Own

When Mike Flynn hired new counsel, it became clear he was … up to something. Now that something might get him — and possibly even his son (concerns about whom motivated Flynn to cooperate in the first place) — sent to prison. Or, it might spectacularly fuck over the government. We’ll find out next week, when Flynn’s former partner Bijan Kian goes on trial … or maybe sooner, given that Emmet Sullivan has demanded details on the backstory before the end of the week.

Filings unsealed in Kian’s case make it clear that, since the time Flynn replaced the very good Rob Kelner with Fox News firebreather Sidney Powell and Jesse Binnall, he reneged on a key part of his guilty plea. He newly claimed to prosecutors that that he had not knowingly lied about working for Turkey in the March 7, 2017 FARA filing that admitted Turkey might benefit — but denied they were paying for — his services. In response, the government has informed Kian they will not have Flynn testify at trial, and instead tried to name him a co-conspirator and submit one of his statements as the statements of a co-conspirator. That led to the unsealing of these documents, with Kian trying to prevent the government from upending their defense strategy, which has consisted of portraying Flynn as a liar, and Flynn trying to prevent the government from designating him a co-conspirator. Last night, Judge Anthony Trenga ruled largely for Kian on a  bunch of other matters (which may have interesting effects for FARA and 951 prosecutions in EDVA); along the way Trenga ruled that the government has not sufficiently shown a conspiracy to violate 951 such that they can enter Akim Alptekin’s statements as a co-conspirator. That will also prevent them–at least as of now–from entering one exhibit involving Flynn as the statement of a co-conspirator, unless and until they submit enough evidence at trial to lay out such a conspiracy (though that exhibit will be admissible under other standards). Naming Flynn a co-conspirator might make it easier to prove a conspiracy, but they’re not there yet.

To be sure, Kian (who like Flynn hired really good lawyers but unlike Flynn did what they told him and also didn’t fire them) already stood a good chance of prevailing at trial, because Trenga is really skeptical of the way the government charged this, including their initial decision not to treat Flynn himself as a co-conspirator. But the chaos Flynn has caused by reneging on his testimony may be the final straw that sinks the government’s case.

All that said, Flynn’s decision to renege on his testimony may have short-circuited a plan to challenge his guilty plea down the road. That’s because Emmet Sullivan has ordered the parties to immediately explain how the government’s decision not to have Flynn testify will affect his sentencing, which had been delayed exclusively for that purpose.

Flynn’s motion objecting to being named a co-conspirator is what you’d expect from a firebreather. It makes a lot of allegations about Flynn being pressured to plead the way he did and invokes David Laufman, whom the frothy right has inserted into some of their hoaxes, to suggest that it was improper for DOJ to insist that the National Security Advisor disclose that he had been on Turkey’s payroll while ostensibly serving as Trump’s top national security advisor during  the campaign.

A key part of this strategy appears to be to review Kelner’s prior work, and blame him for the decisions already made.

This really fucks over Kelner, who in December was on the verge of getting his client no prison time before Flynn decided to use his sentencing as an opportunity to discredit the prosecution of him for acting as an unregistered foreign agent while getting Top Secret briefings, and who might still have saved him from prison time had he simply testified in the Kian trial as planned. Kelner will be unable to rebut some of the claims Powell is making, because Flynn gets to decide what privilege to waive, not Kelner. Flynn has probably not even paid Kelner due recompense for that work! Note, too, how Kelner is exposed by Flynn’s own lies.

All that said, the case Flynn’s lawyers are making is — typical of the frothy right — better suited for seeding more conspiracies than winning a legal argument. First, they overstate the assurances the government made that Flynn had no danger of being described as a co-conspirator in this case.

The transcript all sides are relying on — the June 13 statement the government tried to correct — does not deny that Flynn was part of the conspiracy, just states that the government won’t label him as such.

THE COURT: Let me ask you this. It’s not in the indictment. Is the government alleging that Mr. Flynn was part of this conspiracy?

MR. GILLIS: We are not, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Right. So you’re not presenting any statements by him, any testimony – there would be no evidence from him as to the existence of the conspiracy?

MR. GILLIS: Well, Your Honor – no. Your Honor, as to that. There will certainly be testimony from General Flynn. And from that testimony, the jury could draw a reasonable inference that there was a conspiracy, but we are not – we do not contend that General Flynn was a part of that conspiracy.

They make it quite clear his testimony would describe actions he was involved in that amount to a conspiracy. The government just wasn’t labeling the guy who was then going to be a friendly witness a co-conspirator. Flynn points to assurances that Gillis told them the government would not charge Flynn in the conspiracy.

Not only did the prosecutors advise the Court on the record that Mr. Flynn is not a coconspirator, AUSA Gillis has stated repeatedly in interviews of Mr. Flynn and representations to counsel that Mr. Flynn was not implicated in the charged conspiracy.4

4 Mr. Gillis informed undersigned counsel and Mr. Flynn twice on June 6 alone that Mr. Flynn was not charged in this conspiracy, and they did not intend to charge him. This is one reason new counsel for Mr. Flynn understood that the government was only interested in and satisfied with Mr. Flynn’s factual testimony as given repeatedly to date–which, as Mr. Gillis put it, “would allow the jury to infer supervision and control” of the project by the Government of Turkey.

These are different things: not alleging Flynn is part of the conspiracy, not contending that he is, not charging him for it, but nevertheless being implicated in it.

Plus, the record before Judge Sullivan is quite clear: absent his cooperation agreement, Flynn could have been charged with both conspiracy and 18 USC 951 (being an Agent of a foreign power).

THE COURT: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair. Your answer is he could have been charged in that indictment.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: And that would have been — what’s the exposure in that indictment if someone is found guilty? MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I believe, if you’ll give me a moment, I believe it was a conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, which I believe is a five-year offense. It was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 951, which is either a five- or ten-year offense, and false statements — under those false statements, now that I think about it, Your Honor, pertain to Ekim Alptekin, and I don’t believe the defendant had exposure to the false statements of that individual.

THE COURT: Could the sentences have been run consecutive to one another?

MR. VAN GRACK: I believe so.

THE COURT: So the exposure would have been grave, then, would have been — it would have been — exposure to Mr. Flynn would have been significant had he been indicted?

In other words, as far as Sullivan is concerned, given Flynn’s changed testimony the government now reaffirms that he was part of that conspiracy, as they did in December.

Moreover, Flynn’s lawyers doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of Flynn’s FARA in March 2017, which was to fix a reliance on a commercial exception and admit Flynn that had actually been influence peddling. The March 2017 FARA filing did that. What it didn’t do is admit that Flynn was aware the Turkish government was paying for the work, not just that it might benefit from it (which is what the filing said). What the FARA filing did not do is admit Flynn knew the Turkish government was his actual client, not Inovo.

Thus, showing (as they do) that Kelner learned and expressed concern about Turkey’s role in January 2017 doesn’t prove he knew that the FARA filing was a lie in March. Nor does pointing out that Alpetkin’s lawyers lied. At one point they point to Kelner, in a recent interview with prosecutors, stating that they did not go through all of Flynn Intelligence Group emails, without realizing that that would mean any lies Flynn told to Kelner would be more significant.

In another, they make a big deal that notes of significant legal issues don’t include something — the evolution of the project from one focused on business to one focused on influence-peddling — that was already well established by that point.

Handwritten notes of 2/22/2017 meeting with Mr. Flynn were transcribed a year later and omit the crucial fact that Mr. Flynn told counsel the “business activities” reason that originated the project quickly “crystalized” down to “Gulen” which the raw notes show with a V diagram. The later transcription also omits or misinterprets the fact that the op-ed was pushed at the time for campaign reasons (in addition to for the Inovo project). Compare Ex. 8 with Ex. 9See Ex. 8-A, transcription of handwritten notes.

But there’s abundant reason to believe Flynn’s claim here — that the op-ed in question, which was done for Turkey, was in fact really meant to benefit the campaign — was utter horseshit. And the accurate transcription of these notes reflecting that conversation …

… instead strongly suggests that in the latest document Flynn produced yesterday, his lawyers caught him lying to them about the central purpose of the op-ed, which was to help Turkey.

In other words, the documents released yesterday show that Kelner didn’t read through every FIG document, and that up until the end Flynn continued to lie to him about what the purpose of the November 8, 2016 op-ed was (as clearly shown by other records released in advance of this trial). They support the government’s claim that Flynn knowingly lied in March 2017.

Don’t get me wrong. This strategy, bolstered by months of riling of the frothy right, might well have worked like a charm. It even still may!

But Emmet Sullivan — and the government — are under no obligation to give Flynn’s Fox firebreathers time to sow these new conspiracies.

Plus, Sullivan seems to have expected something like this might ultimately happen, because the last time Flynn tried to sow conspiracies, only to walk them back, Sullivan made sure to put Flynn under oath before he stated that he was satisfied with Kelner’s representation.

THE COURT: All right. I want to focus on the plea first because I think I need to. And there are some questions that I’m going to ask Mr. Flynn, and because this is an extension, in my opinion, of the plea colloquy, I’m going to ask the courtroom deputy at that time to administer the oath, because normally when we have plea colloquies, we always require a defendant to be under oath, and that’s what I’m going to do this morning, unless there are objections.

MR. KELNER: No objection, Your Honor.

[snip]

So I’m going to invite Mr. Flynn and his attorney or attorneys to come to the podium, and I’m going to ask the courtroom deputy to administer the oath to Mr. Flynn.

(MICHAEL FLYNN, DEFENDANT IN THE CASE, SWORN)

THE COURT: All right. And I will inform you, sir, that any false answers will get you in more trouble. Do you understand that?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

[snip]

THE COURT: All right. Are you satisfied with the services provided by your attorneys?

THE DEFENDANT: I am.

THE COURT: In certain special circumstances, I have over the years appointed an independent attorney to speak with a defendant, review the defendant’s file, and conduct necessary research to render a second opinion for a defendant. Do you want the Court to consider appointing an independent attorney for you in this case to give you a second opinion?

THE DEFENDANT: I do not, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Do you feel that you were competent and capable of entering into a guilty plea when you pled guilty on December 1st, 2017?

THE DEFENDANT: I do, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Do you understand the nature of the charges against you and the consequences of pleading guilty?

THE DEFENDANT: I do understand, Your Honor.

THE COURT: And that was covered extensively by Judge Contreras. I’ve read the transcript. Are you continuing to accept responsibility for your false statements?

THE DEFENDANT: I am, Your Honor

As bmaz presciently wrote at the time, Sullivan was anticipating he might need to lay the groundwork for a fraud on the court.

All of which is to say, it was always going to be hard for Flynn to pull off backing out of his plea deal, even with the three months Powell asked to prepare.

But Sullivan was already fairly pissed that Flynn was getting off easy for having served the interests of Turkey while also serving as Trump’s top national security advisor. He probably had cooled off in the interim 7 months. Except now Flynn has basically taken steps to suggest he perjured himself in front of Judge Sullivan.

Which at least gives Sullivan the opportunity to sentence him immediately, and harshly.

Update: The government says that Flynn’s change of testimony does raise significant issues for Flynn’s sentencing, but they won’t be sure how until after the Kian trial.

At this time the government cannot speculate on how specifically the aforementioned records will impact the government’s sentencing position in the proceedings before this Court. Although the records raise numerous issues, the Rafiekian trial may still impact the government’s position. For example, Rafiekian could call the defendant to testify at trial. As a result, the government intends to reassess its sentencing position at the conclusion of that trial.

It sounds like they’ll want to move to sentencing shortly after trial, but they do want to wait until after it.

Update: The government just updated its witness list to add Flynn’s spawn. That should make things interesting next week, as the spawn can verify some of the things pops might otherwise do.

Timeline

June 27: Flynn reneges on part of his guilty plea

July 2: Prosecutors tell Kian’s lawyers that Flynn now claims he didn’t know about the lies being submitted in his FARA filing

July 3: Government files a correction to the record, notifying Kian that they will not call Flynn as a witness, will treat him as a co-conspirator, and in so doing, submit one of his statements as evidence

July 5: Kian asks for a hearing to force the disclosure of the correction; asks for hearing to see whether indictment was based of coerced testimony from Flynn

July 6: The government rebuts Kian’s claim that his indictment relied on false Flynn testimony, also noting that it was the defense that assumed Flynn would testify

July 8: Kian complains that his comments in November 2016 about dissolving the Flynn Intelligence Group changed when Flynn was filing fraudulent statements on FARA; Flynn tries to prevent the government from calling Flynn a co-conspirator

Joshua Schulte Keeps Digging: His Defensible Legal Defense Continues to Make a Public Case He’s Guilty

To defend him against charges of leaking the CIA’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks, Sabrina Shroff has made it clear that Joshua Schulte is the author of the CIA’s lies about its own hacking.

In a motion to suppress all the earliest warrants against Schulte submitted yesterday, Shroff makes an unintentionally ironic argument. In general, Shroff (unpersuasively) argues some things the government admitted in a Brady letter sent last September are evidence of recklessness on the part of the affiant on those earliest warrants, FBI Agent Jeff Donaldson. She includes most of the items corrected in the Brady letter, including an assertion Donaldson made, on March 13, 2017, that Schulte’s name did not appear among those published by WikiLeaks: “The username used by the defendant was published by WikiLeaks,” the prosecutors corrected the record in September 2018. To support a claim of recklessness, Schroff asserted in the motion that someone would just have to search on that username on the WikiLeaks site to disprove the initial claim.

Finally, the Brady letter explained that a key aspect of the affidavit’s narrative—that Mr. Schulte was the likely culprit because WikiLeaks suspiciously did not publicly disclose his identity—was false. Mr. Schulte’s identity (specifically, his computer username “SchulJo”) was mentioned numerous times by WikiLeaks, as a simple word-search of the WikiLeaks publication would have shown. See Shroff Decl. Exh. F at 7

If you do that search on his username — SchulJo — it only readily shows up in one file, the Marble Framework source code.

That file was not released until March 31, 2017. So the claim that Schulte’s name did not appear in the WikiLeaks releases was correct when Donaldson made it on March 13. That claim — like most of the ones in the Brady letter — reflect the incomplete knowledge of an ongoing investigation, not recklessness or incompetence (Schulte has written elsewhere that he believed the FBI acted rashly to prevent him from traveling to Mexico, which given other details of this case — including that he hadn’t returned his CIA diplomatic passport and snuck it out of his apartment when the FBI searched his place, they were right to do).

By sending her reader to discover that Schulte’s name appears as the author of the Marble Framework, she makes his “signature” that of obfuscation — hiding who actually did a hack.

Marble is used to hamper forensic investigators and anti-virus companies from attributing viruses, trojans and hacking attacks to the CIA.

Marble does this by hiding (“obfuscating”) text fragments used in CIA malware from visual inspection.

[snip]

The source code shows that Marble has test examples not just in English but also in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Arabic and Farsi. This would permit a forensic attribution double game, for example by pretending that the spoken language of the malware creator was not American English, but Chinese, but then showing attempts to conceal the use of Chinese, drawing forensic investigators even more strongly to the wrong conclusion, — but there are other possibilities, such as hiding fake error messages.

Marble was one of the files WikiLeaks — and DNC hack denialists — would point to to suggest that CIA had done hacks (including the DNC one) and then blamed them on Russia. In other words, in her attempt (again, it is unpersuasive) to claim that FBI’s initial suspicions did not reach probable cause, she identifies Schulte publicly not just with obfuscation about a breach’s true culprits, but with the way in which the Vault 7 leak — ostensibly done out of a whistleblower’s concern for CIA’s proliferation of weapons — instead has served as one prong of the propaganda covering Russia’s role in the election year hack.

That’s just an ironic effect of Shroff’s argument, not one of the details in yesterday’s releases that — while they may legally serve to undermine parts of the case against her client — nevertheless add to the public evidence that he’s not only very likely indeed the Vault 7 culprit, but not a terribly sympathetic one at that.

Back when FBI first got a warrant on Schulte on March 13, 2017, they had — based on whatever advanced notice they got from Julian Assange’s efforts to use the files to extort a pardon from the US government and the week of time since WikiLeaks had released the first and to that date only set of files on March 7 — developed a theory that he was the culprit. The government still maintains these core details of that theory to be true (this Bill of Particulars Schulte’s team released yesterday gives a summary of the government’s theory of the case as of April 29):

  • The files shared with WikiLeaks likely came from the server backing up the CIA’s hacking tools, given that the files included multiple versions, by date, of the files WikiLeaks released
  • Not that many people had access to that server
  • Schulte did have access
  • Not only had Schulte left the CIA in a huff six months before the WikiLeaks release — the only  person known to have had access to the backup server at the time who had since left — but he had been caught during the period the files were likely stolen restoring his own administrator privileges to part of the server after they had been removed

But, after it conducted further investigation and WikiLeaks published more stolen files, the government came to understand that several other things that incriminated Schulte were not true.

[T]he government appears to have abandoned the central themes of the March 13 affidavit: namely, that the CIA information was likely stolen on March 7–8, 2016, that Mr. Schulte was essentially “one of only three people” across the entire CIA who could have taken it, and that WikiLeaks’s supposed effort to conceal his identity was telltale evidence of his culpability

There’s no indication, however, that Donaldson was wrong to believe what he did when he first obtained the affidavit; Shroff claims recklessness, but never deals with the fact that the FBI obtained new evidence. Moreover, for two of the allegations that the government later corrected — the date the files were stolen and the number of people who had access to the server, Donaldson admitted those were preliminary conclusions in his initial affidavit (which Shroff doesn’t acknowledge):

It is of course possible that the Classified Information was copied later than March 8, 2016, even though the creation/modification dates associated with it appear to end on March 7, 2016.

[snip]

Because the most recent timestamp on the Classified Information reflects a date of March 7, 2016, preliminary analysis indicates that the Classified Information was likely copied between the end of the day on March 7 and the end of the day on March 8.

[snip]

It is, of course, possible that an employee who was not a designated Systems Administrator could find a way to gain access to the Back-Up Server. For example, such an employee could steal and use–without legitimate authorization–the username and password of a designated Systems Administrator. Or an employee lacking Systems Administrator access could, at least theoretically, gain access to the Back-Up Server by finding a “back- door” into the Back-Up Server.

Between the two corrections, the revised information increases the number of possible suspects from two to five, out of 200 people who would have regular access to the files. A footnote to a later affidavit (PDF 138) describes that on April 5, 2017, FBI received information that suggested the number might be higher or lower. (I suspect Schulte argued in a classified filing submitted yesterday that even more people could have accessed it, not least because he has been arguing that in his various writings posted to dockets and other things,)

But, even though the Brady letter corrects the dates on which Schulte reinstated his administrator privileges for the Back-Up server slightly (he restored his own access on April 11, not April 14, which is when his managers discovered he had done so), Shroff only addresses his loss of privileges as innocent, without addressing that he got that access back on his own improperly.

More importantly, the motion doesn’t address, at all, that Schulte kicked everyone else off one of his programs, the Brutal Kangaroo tool used to hack air gapped networks using thumb drives. Nor does it address allegations against Schulte made in August 2016 as part of his clearance review, including that his demeanor changed for the worse around February 2016, he might be “subject to outside coercion,” and he tended not to abide by “guidelines concerning when and what kinds of media or data (such as external drives) could be connected or uploaded to CIA computer systems.” There are other details in the affidavit — such as Schulte’s attempt to learn what his former colleagues knew of the investigation — that support probable cause too (these may be among the things Shroff addresses in a classified filing).

That is, the probable cause that Schulte was the culprit was pretty strong even with the errors in the original affidavit, and none of the errors suggests malice or incompetence or even the recklessness Shroff alleges.

Shroff is right that the March 13 affidavit doesn’t offer as much probable cause to tie Schulte’s home to the crime; but that’s the magistrate’s fault and fairly standard for computer crimes, not the FBI’s. Shroff obscures the effect of FBI obtaining a second warrant to actually search the 150 storage media and computer devices they found in his home (a list of what they seized starts on PDF 116), as well as a second warrant to obtain child porn.

It is also true, as the defense argues, that the evidence to search for child porn was thin. But given that the government had a warrant to search the computer in question, and given precedents about child porn, that may not matter (though I think it is more likely to succeed than the rest of this). In any case, by the time of the main searches on child porn, three different magistrates had signed off on these searches.

This is a totally understandable attempt to get some of this evidence suppressed. But along the way the affidavits released yesterday provide a slew of damaging new details such as:

  • Schulte conducted a ton of searches on Google in April 2016 about detecting USB insertion, copying big files, deleting files, preventing other admins from seeing what someone was doing on a LAN
  • Schulte made a snapshot of (part of?) the LAN on April 20, 2016
  • In early May, Schulte researched how to use Tor and Tails, which the government alleges he used to send the files
  • On August 4, 2016 — the day after Snowden sent this tweet — Schulte did a Google search for WikiLeaks for the first time ever (note, I believe the Snowden tweet may have been preparation for the misleading IG report on him released the following month)

  • Between then and March 7, Schulte searched on WikiLeaks over 20 more times, reading hundreds of articles on it; but he didn’t visit WikiLeaks for the first time until March 7, 2017, the first day the files posted; he also searched for that Snowden tweet

In short, just Schulte’s Google searches alone provide very strong evidence that he’s the Vault 7 leaker. Which explains why his attorneys are making what will probably be an unsuccessful attempt to claim the Google searches were overly broad and lacked probable cause (something Schulte wrote elsewhere seems to reflect that he has been told this will be treated under a Good Faith exception).

Schulte has been trying to disclose all these materials for over a year. But they really don’t help his case.

The Ongoing Proceeding into Paul Manafort’s Kevin Downing-Related Texts

Yesterday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson finally released texts between Paul Manafort and Sean Hannity that she first considered releasing on April 29. While lots of people are looking at the texts, I haven’t seen any reporting on why we got them — or the significance of the texts we didn’t get.

ABJ received those texts on February 26 of this year as Attachment F to the government’s sentencing memorandum. They are one of at least seven attachments to an attachment to the memorandum objecting to the probation office’s presentence investigation report into Manafort — presumably making an argument noting that he contemptuously violated ABJ’s gag order. The government appears to have first objected to the PSR on February 14.

Importantly, there’s another set of communications, Attachment 7, that ABJ didn’t release yesterday that are the subject of an ongoing proceeding of some sort.

Amy Berman Jackson considered referring Kevin Downing for criminal contempt

On the same day as Manafort’s sentencing (where the government objection did not come up), on March 13, ABJ issued an order for a hearing on March 22 to explain why she, “should not institute proceedings against [Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing] under Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 42 alleging a past violation of this Court’s” gag order. She also instructed both sides to tell her by March 19 whether the texts — Attachments 6 and 7 — should be filed on the public docket or not. The hearing on whether Downing should be sanctioned was postponed and ultimately held on April 2; a transcript of that hearing, with grand jury and privilege information redacted, should be released imminently. After the hearing, on April 25, ABJ asked both sides, again, if she should release Attachments 6 and 7. The government responded by May 17. Manafort’s lawyers only responded, in two separate filings, sometime after June 12. Which is what led ABJ to finally issue her order yesterday ordering that her March 13 order reviewing Downing’s behavior be released, the April 2 transcript be released in redacted form, and Attachment 6 — the texts released yesterday — be released with privacy redactions.

But ABJ did not release Attachment 7, the other set of texts (or some other kind of communication), because “Attachment 7 is covered by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 6(e) and relates to ongoing matters, and therefore, it shall remain under seal.” That is, Attachment 6 — yesterday’s release — is neither covered by grand jury rules nor part of an ongoing matter. But Attachment 7 is.

Which raises questions about how the two sets of texts were obtained and what they show.

Manafort’s witness tampering probably retroactively disclosed his gag violation

It’s almost certain that the Manafort-Hannity texts weren’t discovered in real time. Had they been, it would have been Manafort’s second violation of his gag order, and a much more severe violation than his first (where he helped draft an op-ed defending himself that was published in Ukraine). Had the government found these in real time, it’s likely Manafort would have been jailed six months earlier than he ultimately was (as Manafort’s lifelong friend Roger Stone might be next week for second violation of ABJ’s gag order).

They probably, instead, were discovered as part of the government’s investigation into Manafort’s witness tampering last spring. The texts released yesterday span from July 14, 2017 to June 5, 2018. They appear to have been obtained via cell phone extraction of a phone owned by Manafort (note, too, that the time shown on the texts is UTC, not ET, something a lot of the commentary suggesting these are middle of the night chats gets wrong).

On May 25, 2018, just as ABJ was about to reconsider Manafort’s final attempt to show adequate liquid assets to get out of house arrest on bail, the government filed a sealed notice of the witness tampering Manafort and Kilimnik engaged in starting immediately after the Hapsburg project was first charged on February 23, 2018. That witness tampering was charged in a second superseding indictment obtained June 8, 2018. In a declaration submitted with the May 25 filing, FBI Agent Brock Domin noted that,

The government is actively investigating the evidence regarding Manafort and obstruction of justice while under home confinement, in violation of title 18, U.S.C. section 1512. I submit that there are pending investigative inquiries whose completion could be jeopardized by disclosure, and the outcome of which could be relevant to the Court’s determination regarding bail herein.

And prosecutors informed ABJ that,

During the next ten days, the government anticipates taking additional investigative steps pertinent to the investigation.

The cell phone extraction of these texts was likely one result of the pending investigative inquiries described on May 25.

One possible explanation for a cell phone extraction on June 5, 2018 is that, as a result of being informed by Manafort’s former consultants that Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to persuade them to lie, the government identified another cell phone Manafort was using and got a warrant to obtain that in advance of the June 8 superseding indictment. Indeed, among the very last texts are two where Manafort tries to convince Hannity that the witness tampering allegations — which he calls “jury tampering” — were bullshit.

Manafort may have thought they were bullshit (or, just as likely, was lying to Hannity about it). But they appear to have given the government probable cause to obtain a new copy of the contents of his phone, which would lead to the discovery of these texts, including abundant evidence that Manafort was violating his gag order, continually, from the time it was imposed.

To obtain these texts, the government likely obtained a new search warrant. But the other set of communications may have been obtained with some kind of grand jury process — perhaps a grand jury subpoena requiring that, in addition to testifying, a witness turn over all the texts he had with Manafort. That would be one reason why ABJ could not release that second set of texts (or whatever they are): if they were obtained through grand jury process, they would be (and are) protected by grand jury secrecy rules.

The Downing-Hannity outreach took place not long after Manafort learned he’d be facing tax charges

The Hannity-Manafort texts show that in the days before the latter was first indicted, the two had a plan to pre-empt the indictment with a media campaign. Because ABJ imposed a gag right away, that effort kept getting delayed, with Hannity asking for Manafort or his lawyer to go on his shows over and over, and with Manafort deferring first because of his gag order and his first violation of it (the publication in Ukraine of an op-ed defending him) and then by his ultimately futile efforts to get out of house arrest. On January 3, 2018, Manafort suggested that the filing of a civil complaint might give Downing a way around the gag order. On January 17, Manafort said he’d connect Downing with Greg Jarrett on background. On January 24, 2018, Manafort told Hannity he needed to brief him on something. So even before January 25, the texts make it clear that both Manafort and one of his lawyers were violating ABJ’s gag.

But in threatening a criminal contempt referral, ABJ pointed, “in particular, [to] the communications dated January 25, 2018, found on pages 26-27 of Attachment 6.” Those are the texts that make it clear — because Manafort referred to Downing ahead of time and discussed their call after the fact — that Downing was the Manafort lawyer who violated the gag.

On January 24, 2018, after telling Hannity he needed to brief him on something, Manafort confirmed that Downing would speak with Hannity the next day, on January 25 at 11:30 AM. The next morning, Manafort reminded Hannity again. Later that day, Manafort asked Hannity how the call went, and Hannity said that Downing needed to send him stuff every day.

Something happened that made Manafort willing to violate his gag order (and ask his lawyer to violate his gag) where beforehand he had some hesitation.

One of the things that likely happened is that, sometime in the days leading up to January 16, the government informed Manafort and Gates they were filing new (tax) charges within a month.

GREG ANDRES: We’ve notified both defendants of our intention to bring additional charges. Those charges — the venue for those charges don’t lie in this district. So we asked each of the defendants whether they would be willing to waive venue so that those charges could be brought before Your Honor and all of those issues be tried together. One defendant agreed to waive venue, the other defendant did not.

So our intention is to move forward in a separate district with those separate charges. We just wanted the Court to be aware of that. The government’s view is that shouldn’t prevent the Court from setting a trial date because those issues will all be before a different court in a different district and not before Your Honor. And again, we’re asking for a trial date so that we can get this case moving and scheduled. But we certainly wanted the Court to be aware of that additional fact.

THE COURT: All right. Do you have a sense of the timing of that?

MR. ANDRES: You know, there are different variables, but we’re hoping within the next 30 days to have that indictment returned.

Among the things Hannity and Manafort discussed later in the day after Hannity spoke with Downing were the new charges Manafort had learned about prior to the January 16 hearing.

Manafort may also have had a sense that Gates was considering flipping. After all, at some point in January, he and Gates discussed pardons, but Manafort was unable to promise Gates that he would get one.

In January 2018, Manafort told Gates that he had talked to the President’s personal counsel and they were “going to take care of us.”848 Manafort told Gates it was stupid to plead, saying that he had been in touch with the President’s personal counsel and repeating that they should ” sit tight” and “we’ll be taken care of.”849 Gates asked Manafort outright if anyone mentioned pardons and Manafort said no one used that word.850

In the days after Downing and Hannity first spoke — on January 29, 30, and 31, 2018 — Gates would have his first known proffer discussions with Mueller’s team, discussions that likely led to the Hapsburg charges filed the same day the new tax charges were filed.

When Gates flipped, a month later, Hannity asked Manafort if Gates had given him a heads up. Manafort never responded.

That suggests he may not have been honest with Hannity in real time about his risks.

Also of note, the first thing Hannity raised in the same conversation after he and Manafort spoke was Jared Kushner.

In other words, the Downing contact with Hannity happened at a time when Manafort had to have realized he was in much deeper shit than he was telling Hannity. He likely realize that the new charges — cut-and-dry tax charges — were far more likely than the untested FARA charges to land him in prison, where he would have to trust Trump to bail him out with a pardon.

What are the ongoing matters that prevent disclosure of the second set of texts?

All that provides one possible explanation for why Manafort decided it’d be a good idea to put his lawyer directly in touch with Hannity, in violation of her gag order. But that doesn’t explain the other reason ABJ decided not to release the second sent of texts: some “ongoing matters” that require the communications remain secret.

It’s possible that she did refer Downing, as she threatened to do, for criminal contempt (!!!). [See update: she did not.] Except if that were the case, both sets of texts would pertain to an ongoing matter. It appears that Attachment 7 is more important to those ongoing matters than Attachment 6, which we got yesterday.

There’s one other notable date in that time period. As I’ve noted, the Downing – Hannity discussions came just before Howard Fineman reported, on January 30, 3018, not only that Trump planned to beat Mueller by having Sessions investigate him…

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

… But also reported that Trump was confident that Manafort would not flip on him.

He’s decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to “flip” and sell him out, friends and aides say.

Chris Ruddy was one source for the Fineman story. And Ruddy was interviewed by the FBI about his knowledge of Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice on June 6, 2018, the day after the FBI extracted the Hannity texts from Manafort’s phone.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive ofNewsmax Media and a longtime friend of the President’s, met at the White House with Priebus and Bannon.547 Ruddy recalled that they told him the President was strongly considering firing the Special Counsel and that he would do so precipitously, without vetting the decision through Administration officials.548 Ruddy asked Priebus if Ruddy could talk publicly about the discussion they had about the Special Counsel, and Priebus said he could.549 Priebus told Ruddy he hoped another blow up like the one that followed the termination of Corney did not happen.550 Later that day, Ruddy stated in a televised interview that the President was “considering perhaps terminating the Special Counsel” based on purported conflicts of interest.551 Ruddy later told another news outlet that “Trump is definitely considering” terminating the Special Counsel and “it’s not something that’s being dismissed.”552 Ruddy’s comments led to extensive coverage in the media that the President was considering firing the Special Counsel.553

547 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 5.

548 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 5-6.

549 Ruddy 6/6/ l 8 302, at 6.

550 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 6.

551 Trump Confidant Christopher Ruddy says Mueller has “real conflicts” as special counsel, PBS (June 12, 2017); Michael D. Shear & Maggie Haberman, Friend Says Trump ls Considering Firing Mueller as Special Counsel, New York Times (June 12, 2017).

If you’re going to contact one of Trump’s close media allies — Hannity — to send Trump an ultimatum about Manafort and get the media person on board for a plan to undercut Mueller, you’re likely to contact Trump’s other closest media ally, Chris Ruddy.

None of that answers what Downing had to explain to Hannity and what the ongoing proceeding might be. But it does suggest that Ruddy was in the same kind of discussion circle in January 2018 as Hannity was.

ABJ’s timing

I’m particularly curious about ABJ’s persistent interest in releasing these Attachments and her timing. Here’s what the docket for the month of June looks like:

599 (June 6): Unrelated order on encumbered property

[June 6: first John Solomon report]

600: Sealed filing

601 (June 12): ABJ Order unsealing the April 2 hearing transcript

602: Manafort

603: Manafort

604: Sealed filing, with Sealed copy of Attachment 6

[June 19: second John Solomon report]

605 (June 21): Order releasing materials

606 (June 21): Docketed copy of Attachment 6

As noted in bold, there’s still two sealed filings, dockets #600 and #604 (though 604, which includes a sealed copy of Attachment 6, must relate to this issue). Some time since June 6 — perhaps not coincidentally the first of two John Solomon reports that appear to be based off Manafort discovery — Manafort finally responded to ABJ’s order on unsealing.

In other words, this publication of Downing’s contempt for ABJ’s gag order comes as some other reporting seems to align not just with the narrative that Manafort was pushing for the entirety of his chats with Hannity, but seems to rely on perspective that Manafort’s lawyers seem uniquely well suited to have.

But it also comes as ABJ prepares to deal with Manafort’s lifelong friend Roger Stone latest violation of her gag order, who seems to be showing similar signs of contempt for Judge Jackson.

Update: While it’s almost certainly a coincidence, the Manafort outreach to Hannity happened just days before, on January 27, someone impersonating Hannity got Julian Assange to respond to her DM and direct her to a different communications channel. Assange was dealing Hannity information on Mark Warner (probably about his discussions with Adam Waldman).

Also, CNN (which appears to have paid for the newly unredacted transcript, which will otherwise become available July 2) notes that ABJ decided not to do anything with the texts unless prosecutors showed more of a pattern.

The texts were released along with the transcript of an April hearing where Judge Amy Berman Jackson was considering whether Manafort or his attorney Kevin Downing had violated a gag order through the communications.

Jackson decided to have the lawyers involved in the case determine what, “if any,” portions of the texts and hearing transcript should be publicly released once “some portion of the Mueller Report becomes publicly available.”

In the transcript of the April 2 hearing, Jackson says she is unlikely to do anything more with the texts.

“And absent further information from the government that there were more communications, I’m unlikely to do anything beyond today,” she said.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Detaining Chelsea Manning: Other People, Times, and Patterns

Friday, the government responded to Chelsea Manning’s request to be freed in light of Julian Assange’s superseding indictment, in which she argued the grand jury couldn’t use any of her testimony to shore up the existing indictment against Assange.

The government has now indicted Mr. Assange on 18 very serious counts, without the benefit of or apparent need for Ms. Manning’s testimony. The government’s extradition packet must be submitted in finalized form very soon. Any investigation of him after that point will be nugatory. United States v. Moss, 756 F.2d 329, 331-32 (4th Cir. 1985), see also United States v. Kirschner, 823 F. Supp. 2d 665, 667 (E.D. Mich. 2010)(finding that posti-ndictment questioning about the same conduct but different charges than those in the indictment was permissible, but questioning leading only to further information about the same charges would be impermissible). Any further investigation of unindicted targets will likewise be futile, as charges would be time-barred, and in any case, it is perfectly understood that Ms. Manning has no useful information about any parties other than the person behind the online handle “pressassociation.” She is not possessed of any that is not equally available to them, and in any case, her absence has posed no obstacle to indictment and superseding indictment.

The government response suggests this assertion — that there are no charges that they need Manning’s testimony for — is incorrect.

As the government’s ex parte submissions reflect, Manning’s testimony remains relevant and essential to an ongoing investigation into charges or targets that are not included in the superseding indictment. See Gov’t’s Ex Parte Mem. (May 23, 2019). The offenses that remain under investigation are not time barred, see id., and the submission of the government’s extradition request in the Assange case does not preclude future charges based on those offenses, see Gov’t’s Supplement to Ex Parte Mem. (June 14, 2019). Manning’s speculations about the direction of the grand-jury investigation, the purpose of her testimony, and the need for it are insufficient to show otherwise. [My emphasis]

The formulation here is curious, for the reasons laid out below.

Not time barred: Assange was first indicted on March 6, 2018, two days short of the 8-year anniversary of the alleged attempt to crack a password that was the basis for the conspiracy to violate CFAA charge. That suggests they were relying on the claim that the international character of the alleged CFAA charge extended the SOL to eight years, though they could also claim the conspiracy was ongoing if both Manning and Assange were believed to continue to engage in a conspiracy (though given that the conspiracy was defined as hacking, it would seem to be limited to the time until Manning’s arrest on May 27, 2010). I think — but am not sure — that if further charges are not time-barred, the government is either relying on a continued conspiracy, perhaps based off the conspiracy to receive national defense information in the superseding indictment, which because it was charged under espionage has a ten year statute of limitations, or arguing that the conspiracy to violate CFAA extended to other people.

Possibility of additional charges “based on those offenses”: To continue to coerce Manning for charges pertaining to Assange, the government has to argue (and claims it has, in two ex parte filings) that it is seeking additional charges. If I understand how the UK’s extradition process works, unless it gets a waiver, the US government can’t add additional crimes against Assange on top of what it already charged in the extradition packet, but some people say it’s possible to add on instances of the same charges until such time as he’s extradited. That may mean it wants to lard on espionage charges.

Targets not included in the superseding indictment: Manning claims she only has information about “pressassociation” — that is, Assange. But the government may believe there are other people involved in this. It would be unsurprising if the government were homing on other key WikiLeaks figures (I’ve had people wonder whether the government would go after Jake Appelbaum, for example, and there’s another figure people have been chatting about). Recall, too, that the government interviewed David House during this process, extending the time frame and the actions to publicity to supporting Manning that would extend into the period when she was jailed and prosecuted.

Charges not included in the superseding indictment: If there are other people the government is targeting for crimes the statutes of limitation for which haven’t expired (or as part of the conspiracy including Assange and Manning in any kind of continuation), then the government could just charge them.

All that said, there’s something funny with the timing. Manning’s request suggested that Assange was charged sometime between May 14 and 16 — which would put it after she got the subpoena from the new grand jury but before a court hearing on May 16.

Some time between May 14 and May 16, 2019, Julian Assange was charged in a superseding indictment with 17 Counts relating to offenses under the Espionage Act. This indictment was also obtained without the benefit of or apparent need for Ms. Manning’s testimony.

The government corrected that in their response.

Manning claims that Assange was charged in the superseding indictment at some point “between May 14 and May 16, 2019.” Mot. to Reconsider Sanctions 2. That representation is inaccurate. The face of the indictment reflects that it was returned in open court on May 23, 2019, and the signature page bears the same date. See Superseding Indictment, United States v. Julian Paul Assange, No. 1:18-cr-111-CMH (E.D. Va. May 23, 2019) (Dkt. No. 31) (Exhibit B).

Meanwhile — perhaps to show that it had briefed Judge Anthony Trenga about the ongoing investigation before he approved the current contempt finding — the government also unsealed a bench memo submitted back on May 15. That memo also argued they still needed Manning’s testimony — but it was based on the 1-count indictment against Assange.

This indictment against Assange does not affect Manning’s obligation to appear and testify before the grand jury. Under the law, the government cannot use grand jury proceedings for the ‘sole or dominant purpose’ of preparing for trial on an already pending indictment.” United States v. Alvarado,840 F.3d I E4, lE9 (4th Cn. 2016) (quoting United States v. Moss,756 F.2d329,332 (4th Cir. l9E5)). Yet it is equally well settled that, even after returning an indictment, the grand jury may continue investigating new charges or targets that are related to the pending indictment, See id at I89-90; United States v. Bros. Co$t/. Co. of Ohio,2l9 F.3d 300, 314 (4th Cir. 20OO); Moss,7 56 F .2d at 332. At the same time it files this memorandum, the government is filing an ex parte pleading that describes the nature of the grand jury’s ongoing investigation in this matter. See Gov’t’s Ex Parte Submission Regarding Nature of Grand-Jury Investigation (May 14, 2019). As that filing reflects, Manning has testimony that is directly relevant and important to an ongoing investigation into charges or targets that arc not included in the pending indictment. See id. Thus, the recently unsealed indictment against Assange does not provide Manning with just cause for refusing to comply with the Court’s order to testify in front of the grand jury.

That said, they’ve updated that argument in sealed form. As bolded above, though, the government has briefed the court three times on why it still needs Manning’s testimony:

  • May 14, 2019 (not noted in the docket, but possibly docket 3)
  • May 23, 2019 (docket #10)
  • June 14, 2019 (docket #22)

On the day of Assange’s superseding indictment, the government explained to Judge Trenga that the “charges or targets” they were still investigating were “not included in the superseding indictment” and also said they weren’t time-barred. On the day of Friday’s extradition hearing, the government told Trenga that “the government’s extradition request in the Assange case does not preclude future charges based on those offenses.”

All of which might conflict with the public reports that the government will not charge Assange with any further charges. Or it might mean that there are other people that the government wants to weave into these conspiracy charges.

One final point. In the May 15 bench memo, the government discounts Manning’s objections to grand juries (appealing to how they’re supposed to work rather than how they do), and then insinuates she’s refusing to testify out of self-interest.

In addition to their description of what happened when she went before the grand jury, their description of what they deem her self-interested motive not to testify is the only other part of the narrative that remains redacted.

Which is to say the government has some notion of Manning’s motives that — aside from being placed amid a discussion that demonstrably fails to understand her claims about grand juries — they imagine she’s doing all this to benefit herself. That may be true. It may be, for example, that testifying about what she now understands to have happened nine years ago would change the public understanding of what she did. But the government is not willing to share what that is.

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