On the Classification Disputes over Mike Flynn’s Discovery

Over the last week, I have laid out how Mike Flynn’s TV lawyer, Sidney Powell, used what was nominally a reply brief in her Brady demand to make a new request that the entire prosecution against Flynn be thrown out. I showed how her argument misrepresented the evidence she used to make it — at one point, she even accused her own client of lying in his initial FBI interview! Nevertheless, Powell succeeded at least far enough to get Sullivan to order the government to respond to her entirely new demand, a sign he may be sympathetic to her gaslighting.

But I’d like to go back and consider the declassification process that got us to this point.

Flynn’s reply was due on October 22, a week ago Tuesday. Starting on Saturday, October 19, Flynn’s team tried to get DOJ to approve its use of the materials it had received under the protective order — 302s involving Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, Strzok and Joe Pientka’s notes from the initial interview, some of the Strzok-Page texts, and a redline of the 302 from February 10.  That exchange looked like this:

October 19, 3:54PM: Powell writes AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine cc’ing other lawyers, stating she plans to include quotes from the protected materials, including from “the various 302s of the 24th, [redacted], [Page’s] 302, and the agents [sic] notes,” stating they may file without sealing the reply or exhibits.

October 20, 1:36PM: Brandon Van Grack response, stating they need to ask “equity holders, in particular the FBI,” and offering to start reviewing quotes before the reply is finished.

October 20, 1:49PM Flynn attorney Molly McCann replies and asks Van Grack to “begin the process to clear the full documents,” including the 302s, the documents whose description is redacted, [Page]’s 302, and the agents’ notes.”

October 22, 12:00PM: Flynn files his reply under seal.

October 22, 12:45PM: Molly McCann writes Van Grack and others, attaching “our proposed redactions,” based off “the redactions [the government] made in the original Motion to Compel. McCann stated that, “until you can complete your review process we would expect to keep the exhibits under seal.”

October 22, 3:34: Van Grack replies, stating that “we have circulated the motion, and your proposed edits, to the appropriate entities,” noting that “we will need to request redactions beyond what you propose.”

October 23, 10:33AM: Powell writes Van Grack, advising him that “if we have not received your proposed redactions as to the Reply brief by 1 p.m. today, we will be filing a motion with the court.”

October 23, 10:39AM: Ballantine writes Powell, stating that “there is information in your filing beyond that which you flagged for us on Sunday,” adding, “there is one sensitive matter that is unlikely to be resolved before the end of the day.”

October 23, 11:10AM: Powell responded, “without a proposed redacted version from you that can be unsealed today or an assurance it will be resolved today, we will be seeking relief from the court by 5 p.m.

October 23, 7:17PM: Flynn’s team submits a motion to file their proposed brief.

October 24, 10:23PM: Flynn’s team submits motion for leave to file, along with their “reply,” based on adopting the government’s redactions.

Effectively, Powell got fed up waiting for FBI to decide what could and could not show up in her reply, and pushed to publish a public copy. Sure, she was insistent on filing as much of this in unredacted form as she could so she could feed the frothy right with her brief (which she effectively admits in her October 23 filing). But that is entirely her right. I’m totally sympathetic with her demand that she be allowed to file this in timely fashion (though I imagine the government would suggest they should have started the declassification process more than three days in advance).

This is one issue I’m absolutely supportive of Powell’s aggressiveness.

But, particularly given the timing, I’m interested in the substance of the dispute. I’m interested for several reasons. Powell’s entire representation of Flynn went through Bill Barr. She clearly has gotten information about the Durham investigation stovepiped to her, most recently in the form of totally irrelevant (to Flynn) information about the government obtaining Joseph Mifsud’s phones. And she made claims about what she believed she knew should and should not be redacted.

Just as interesting, on the morning of October 23, Jocelyn Ballentine said one “sensitive matter” was unlikely to get resolved that day. On October 24, the NYT and other outlets first started reporting that Durham’s inquiry had become a criminal investigation. Certainly, there could be other issues that might be that sensitive issue (including decisions about indicting Andrew McCabe). But the redactions on some of these exhibits certainly might be implicated by a Durham investigation, depending on the scope of it.

Let’s work backwards. First, of the 16 exhibits submitted with her reply, just eight came from the government and so were subject to the protective order (this post has more extensive discussions of what these are):

2) Page-Strzok texts*

3) Comey memos

5) Strzok 302 responding to propaganda Sara Carter and John Solomon “reported”*

6) Previously released Strzok 302 on his own role in the investigation*

9) Joe Pientka notes from the interview

10) Strzok notes of the interview

11) Redline of edits made to 302 on February 10*

12) Lisa Page 302 on texts with Strzok regarding the interview with Flynn*

In the exhibit showing the conversation about declassification, the existence of the Sara Carter-related 302 and the Page 302 were redacted entirely. All the exhibits were cleared for release in some fashion, though I’ll get back to what remains redacted.

In Powell’s filing asking Sullivan to intervene, she said, “The only exhibits to the Reply for which the defense knows of any reason to remain under seal are 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, and 12.” In her motion to file the reply brief, she said, “The government … proposed redactions to five of the exhibits Mr. Flynn included in his filing—Exhibits 2, 5, 6, 11, and 12,” meaning the texts included stuff she didn’t know should still be redacted. I’ve marked the exhibits the government added redactions to above.

The redactions of the redline must be — in addition to names — redactions of information that would reveal how FBI works. Among other things, it likely includes codes the agents use to track them, because DOJ screwed up who made the two changes to the redline (as I note here, they say Strzok didn’t remember something that Pientka added, but it must be the reverse given their notes).

Similarly, the only thing redacted in the Page 302 is names and organizational stuff. That would suggest that nothing in the Page 302 implicates ongoing investigations (including, but not limited to, Durham).

It’s hard to tell what got redacted in the texts. Clearly, something that the government released to Flynn was deemed too sensitive to release. But there were already two sets of redactions in the texts — the gray ones (possibly for privacy reasons) and some black ones that redact genuinely sensitive material. One of those things, for example, is the name of the person Strzok and Page were worried about locking in on May 10, 2017, which Flynn (and the rest of the frothy right) believed incorrectly to be him. But there are other things — such as a October 19, 2016 and another January 23, 2017 text — that might have been released to Flynn but cannot be released publicly. Or, it’s possible FBI just redacted the phone numbers.

Most intriguing is the Sara Carter related 302. There are two redactions, one introductory and one referring to the third allegation Carter was chasing, that after Flynn resigned, people high fived and said, “we got him.” Powell apparently knows why it was redacted. But I had heard, in reporting something else, that this was considered a hoax targeted at McCabe. If the redaction reflected badly on McCabe, Powell would be sure to include it in her filing, which she doesn’t. One possible explanation is that DOJ is still trying to chase down where this disinformation got spread (consistent with the fact that DOJ IG still hasn’t released its report on who was behind the NY Field Office leaks, in part because there were too many to pinpoint).

Finally, there’s the 302 memorializing Strzok’s role in the initiation of the investigation. It has the same redactions (and appears to be the same version) of the 302 released in June, in the wake of the Mueller Report. At the time, the government said those were deliberative privilege and personal privacy redactions — meaning most of what remains redacted consists of discussions of investigative choices.

The government continues to redact DIA stuff on Flynn’s trips to Russia

Except that last point — about the 302 memorializing Strzok’s role in initiating the investigation — might have changed.

Note that the government told Flynn’s team there were things in their actual brief that needed redaction. Aside from names, two things are redacted. First, a footnote modifying Powell’s otherwise unsubstantiated claim that the FBI knew they had no basis to investigate Flynn, which cites to the 302 on Strzok’s role in opening the investigation.

This must be something genuinely investigative, or Powell would have contested it on releasing the motion. Remember that at the time, Flynn was under investigation for being an Agent of Russia. Perhaps significantly, in the government’s Surreply, they get really vague when addressing the multiple bases for interviewing Flynn.

The defendant also now argues that the information he seeks will prove that the “FBI had no factual or legal basis for a criminal investigation.” Reply at 14-16. In support, the defendant cites to the standard necessary to obtain a warrant pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (”FISA”). See Reply at 14, n.11. Obtaining a FISA warrant, however, is entirely different from the FBI interviewing an individual as part of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation. Here, there were multiple bases for the FBI to interview the defendant. The defendant’s false statements publicly attributed to him by White House officials about his communications with Russia were alone a sufficient and appropriate basis for conducting the investigative step of interviewing the defendant.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re right that Powell is speciously arguing that the government needs probable cause showing someone is an Agent of a Foreign Power (the FISA standard) before they interview someone — it’s a point I made in bullet 9 here. But the Flynn camp has always tried to limit the reasons why the FBI interviewed Flynn (not least so they could claim it was an improper investigation into policy). There’s likely a whole lot of baggage to these redactions.

A more interesting redaction comes in a passage that invents out of thin air a claim that Chuck Grassley had seen files regarding briefings Flynn did before he went to Russia and deemed them exculpatory. In it, the government redacted a sentence about those briefings.

Probably, this stuff comes from DIA material shared with Flynn in August (after it was handed to Grassley). The government, in its response to Powell’s initial motion, said some of what Flynn told the DIA was inculpatory.

Request #15: The government is not aware of any information in possession of the Defense Intelligence Agency that is favorable and material to sentencing, including the information that the government provided on August 16, 2019. Specifically, the information of which the government is aware, including that August 16 production, is either inculpatory or has no relevance to the defendant’s false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, or to the FARA Unit.

Which makes it interesting, first, that Powell isn’t trying to represent the content of these supposedly inculpatory DIA files, and second, that DOJ continues to hide it.

There seem to be two tensions going on behind all this discovery. First, the possible referral of people involved in his prosecution (but apparently not Lisa Page) to Durham. But just as interesting, given ongoing redactions regarding Flynn’s ties to Russia, inculpatory information about his own ties to Russia.

How Sidney Powell Misrepresents Her Evidence in Her Fake Brady Motion

In this post, I laid out how Sidney Powell used what should have been a reply in her effort to obtain what she called Brady information to instead lay out, for the first time, her argument about how Flynn was abusively caught in his own acts by mean FBI Agents out to get him, and so should have the two guilty pleas he made under oath thrown out. Powell also complains about a slew of things that happen in most FBI investigations, and pretends they’re specifically abusive when they happen with her client.

In this post, I’d like to unpack what Powell does with her so-called evidence, 16 exhibits purportedly included to support her case, but also largely provided to rile up the frothy right.

Virtually everything she claims — with the possible exception that Flynn’s 302 says he acknowledged calling Sergey Kislyak 4-5 times on December 29, 2016, but actually said he didn’t remember that– is not backed by her evidence. In several cases, she presents evidence that undermines her own claims. She supports her most central claim — that the FBI Agents introduced a claim about Flynn getting a response on UN sanctions — by arbitrarily cutting up notes and hiding the continuity of notes that in fact back the Agents.

Exhibit 1: A timeline

Exhibit 1 is a timeline that purports to show how the Deep State was out to get Flynn and how all the people involved in Flynn’s prosecution allegedly involved in abuse. Powell uses the timeline to suggest all the events that happened at DOJ and FBI over a two year was a focused effort to get her client and his boss.

The real evidence the government had long suppressed caused a cavalcade of major events—many within mere days of Mr. Flynn’s plea—and all unknown to him before it. Lisa Page, Special Counsel to Deputy Director McCabe, resigned; she had edited Mr. Flynn’s 302 and was part of the small, high-level group that strategically planned his ambush. Lead Agent Peter Strzok was demoted from the Mueller investigation and ultimately fired. Strzok, who had met extensively with McCabe and the high-level, small group, was primarily responsible for creating the only basis for the charge alleged against Flynn. [emphasis original]

But the timeline is not “evidence” at all. For example, she includes a slew of events that we know don’t relate to her narrative, but which she claims do, including:

  • Andrew McCabe’s firing for (allegedly) lying to the Inspector General about leaking information that confirmed a criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation during the campaign
  • Lisa Page’s departure from Mueller’s team, which texts to Strzok that Powell chooses not to include makes clear was planned from the time she joined Mueller’s team
  • Rachel Brand’s resignation (as well as the career moves of a bunch of other people that likely don’t relate to Flynn, but are probably best explained by Christopher Wray bringing in his own team)

The timeline includes notable gaps including:

  • President Obama’s warning to Trump not to hire Mike Flynn, based off issues that did not relate to Trump
  • Elijah Cummings’ letter to Mike Pence about Flynn’s problematic meetings with Turkey, which explains the urgency behind DOJ’s FARA questions
  • Mention of the December 23 and 31, 2016 calls from Kislyak to Flynn, which he also lied about; the December 23 call is utterly central to one of Powell’s key claims against the FBI Agents
  • Details around White House requests in early 2017 to see the information on Flynn, which explains some of the texts (indicating what a challenge it was to investigate Flynn and concerns about documenting his interview before he left) Powell elsewhere says are damning
  • The John Dowd call to Rob Kelner pressuring him not to cooperate

The timeline includes evidence that conflicts with Sidney Powell’s argument, including:

  • A quote from Strzok making it clear that in an unfiltered text to Page, he believed Flynn had lied
  • A description of how Rudolph Contreras recused from the Flynn case as soon as it would have become clear to him that Strzok was involved
  • A 302 from Lisa Page undermining her claim that there were “many” meetings to strategize on Flynn’s interview

Exhibit 2: Cherry-picked Strzok-Page texts

Exhibit 2 is a cherry-picked selection of texts from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

For example, Powell claims,

The belatedly-disclosed Strzok-Page texts make clear that the agents left the interview with a firm conviction Mr. Flynn was being honest, and they maintained that conviction despite strong expressions of disbelief and cries of “bullshit” from their colleagues.

But one of the texts she includes quotes Strzok describing his, “excitement knowing we had just heard him denying it all, knowing we’d have to pivot into asking.” That comment actually confirms that even in an unguarded moment, there was no doubt in Strzok’s mind that Flynn had lied about the events.

She claims that a text that very obviously pertains to Strzok’s ongoing efforts to pursue leakers — including leakers who harm Trump associates — and suggests it has something to do with animus against Flynn.

April 20, 2017, Strzok texts Page: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.” Ex. 2.

This text is instead proof that, rather than being part of a plot to leak information to harm Trump associates, Strzok and Page continued to pursue all leakers, including those damaging Trump associates.

Significantly, Powell does not submit a single text that shows animus towards Flynn personally, as opposed to Trump. Indeed, she includes a text discussing this article on how Trump picked Pence as a running mate; it mentions Flynn, but neither Page nor Strzok mention that (or any concern that he might have picked someone who was already regarded a counterintelligence concern).

Exhibit 3: Cherry-picked Comey memos

Exhibit 3 are two of Comey’s memos. I don’t think Powell ever gets around to using Comey’s first memo as proof FBI was using the briefing about the dossier to see how Trump would react (though the rest of her brief is consistent with that). Instead, she cites to the memos for two purposes, neither of which it supports. First, she uses it to make much of the fact that Comey briefed Trump on the dossier the day after he met with Obama’s National Security advisors.

Then Director Comey had briefed the President-Elect about these “salacious and unverified” allegations on January 6, 2017, a day after meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Susan Rice, James Clapper, and John Brennan. Ex. 3.

But of course, the timing has nothing to do with the dossier and everything to do with the fact that Comey, Clapper, and Brennan were briefing Trump on the same thing they briefed Obama on the day before: the preliminary results of the Intelligence Community Assessment. It’s evidence they were treating Trump as they should the incoming president, something that’s backed by other evidence.

She then uses the Comey memos (plus two Strzok 302s below) to support a footnote where Powell deliberately conflates what it takes to open a counterintelligence investigation (which, even ignoring how Powell claims one can only open an investigation if one has proof beyond a reasonable doubt about someone, can also be opened if someone is being targeted by foreign intelligence services) and what it takes to charge someone.

Under federal law, to establish that an American is acting as an agent of a foreign power, the government must show that the American is purposefully engaging in clandestine activities on behalf of a foreign power, and that it is probable that these activities violate federal criminal law. See FISA, Title 50, U.S. Code, Section 1801(b)(2). Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe publicly admitted that in the summer of 2016, they took it upon themselves to single out four individuals associated with the Trump campaign for investigation. Admittedly, the FBI had no evidence that any of the four had committed a crime—much less that they “knowingly engage[d] in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power.” Id; see Ex. 3.

The memo in no way supports the passage.

Powell unsurprisingly doesn’t include the two Comey memos that hurt her client’s claim. The January 27 memo describes Trump telling the FBI Director that, “he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement,” which would seem to support FBI’s decisions to treat the Flynn matter seriously. In the February 8 one, Comey describes Reince Priebus asking if FBI has a FISA order targeting Flynn, something that would totally justify the FBI’s concerns about how they were dealing with and documenting an investigation of the National Security Advisor that Powell makes much of.

Exhibit 4: CNN article

Exhibit 4 is a CNN article quoting Strzok-Page texts where Page says the release of the Steele dossier may provide pretext to interview people, which is a clear reference to George Papadopoulos (everything in Steele about Flynn is OSINT). It also describes Strzok to be obviously aggravated by all the leaking going on, as well as discussions about how FBI tried to walk back a problematic NYT article that doesn’t mention Flynn, but instead focused on Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

Exhibit 5: Peter Strzok’s 302 about Sara Carter and John Solomon’s propaganda

Exhibit 5 is a Peter Strzok 302 that Powell purports to include for what she claims is a quote from it.

In the next two weeks, there were “many meetings” between Strzok and McCabe to discuss “whether to interview [] National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and if so, what interview strategies to use.” Ex. 5.

Except that’s an egregious misquote of what the 302 actually says, which is,

I have attended many meetings with DD McCabe regarding Russian influence investigations, including meetings which discussed whether to interview former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and if so, what interview strategies to use.

The “many” here refers to meetings about Russian influence generally, just a subset of those many meetings relate to Flynn. Nor does the 302 reflect that all those meetings happened in the two weeks before Flynn’s interview.

Powell also uses this 302 to claim that “they all knew” they had no basis to open the CI exhibit, as noted above. The only way this could be used to support the case is to take allegations included in a Sara Carter/John Solomon report claiming bias which (per the government’s last filing) was repeatedly debunked after this time, as truthful, even though Strzok says repeatedly in the 302 they’re not.

Exhibit 6: Peter’s Strzok’s 302 on his own role in the investigation

Exhibit 6 is the 302 recording a July 19, 2017 interview of Strzok describing his role in starting the investigation. Powell uses it, rather than “a seven-line summary of Ms. Yates statement,” they received in discovery, to support a claim about why Sally Yates was angry that the FBI interviewed Flynn.

Comey and McCabe were executing their own agenda—not investigating a crime. This is why, in Brady evidence still suppressed, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates candidly opined that the interview “was problematic” and “it was not always clear what the FBI was doing to investigate Flynn.”8 This is also why Strzok admitted that Yates “was not happy” to learn of the interview and PDAG Axelrod argued with FBI General Counsel James Baker about the FBI’s unilateral decision to interview Flynn. Ex. 6.

To prove she needed the full Yates interview, Powell would need to describe what’s inadequate in the Yates summary, but she chooses not to.

Powell also uses this 302 to support the claim that “they all knew” they had no basis for a counterintelligence investigation, which it doesn’t support.

The other things that Powell uses this exhibit to prove is that the FBI — as it does for all witnesses!!!! — tried to stage the interview to be as useful as possible.

They purposely did not tell him they were investigating him and strategized at length to avoid raising any concerns. Ex. 6 (“Flynn was unguarded and clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”).

[snip]

The agents did three briefings the day of the interview. They reported he had a sure demeanor, and he was telling the truth or believed he was—even though he did not remember it all. Ex. 6.

[snip]

” They purposely did not tell him they were investigating him and strategized at length to avoid raising any concerns. Ex. 6 (“Flynn was unguarded and clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”).

Powell slightly misrepresents this, describing the FBI agents as believing that Flynn was telling the truth instead of saying, “both had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying,” and she leaves out key parts of the rest of the description, including that he “did not give any indicators of deception,” which changes the meaning somewhat. In general, however, the description of how FBI planned the interview doesn’t prove bias at all on the part of the FBI; it proves they treated Flynn like they treat everyone.

Exhibit 7: Two pages of the Steele dossier

Exhibit 7 is the two pages of the Steele dossier which include the sole reference in it to Flynn.

Kremlin engaging with several high profile US players, including STEIN, PAGE, and (former DIA Director Michael Flynn), and funding their recent visits to Moscow.

[snip]

Speaking separately, also in early August 2016, a Kremlin official involved in US relations commented on aspects of the Russian operation to date. Its goals had been threefold — asking sympathetic US actors how Moscow could help them; gathering relevant intelligence; and creating and disseminating compromising information (“kompromat”). This had involved the Kremlin supporting various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. S/he named a delegation from Lyndon LAROUCHE; presidential candidate JILL STEIN of the Green Party; TRUMP foreign policy adviser Carter PAGE; and former DIA Director Michael Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes.

According to Powell’s own theory, the RT event took place long after the US government came to be concerned about Flynn as a CI threat, and according to her own claims, Flynn was already on Trump’s campaign at this time, so the FBI would have been reviewing these publicly known facts in real time. And while the Kremlin only indirectly funded these trips, both the Page and the Stein/Flynn trips were paid for, albeit by cut-outs. This is actually an instance where the Steele dossier only repeats generally true, OSINT facts.

Nevertheless, Powell uses it to misrepresent both the timing of Nellie Ohr’s research on Flynn (most of her research was done in 2015 and early 2016, and so was funded by Paul Singer) and why her spouse shared it with the FBI (to help them vet the dossier).

It was only much later the defense learned what the FBI already knew: This document had been bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Both the FBI and Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele. Fusion GPS was on the Clinton payroll, and it also hired Nellie Ohr—a Russia specialist with CIA ties whose husband Bruce was the fourth highestranking official in DOJ. Ms. Ohr was researching Mr. Flynn also, and his name appears twice in the “Steele dossier.” Ms. Ohr and Steele funneled their “work” through Bruce Ohr in a backchannel to the FBI, long after the FBI fired Steele for lying. Ex. 7;

Powell also uses it to demand a letter from MI6 on Steele that the NYT recently reported said that Steele was honest, but displayed questionable judgement (of the sort that might lead him to trust Oleg Deripaska).

Mr. Horowitz has asked witnesses about an assessment of Mr. Steele that MI6, the British spy agency, provided to the F.B.I. after bureau officials received his dossier on Mr. Trump in September 2016. MI6 officials said Mr. Steele, a Russia expert, was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time, two people familiar with the assessment said.

Whatever Carter Page’s possible beef with the dossier, all the dossier does on Flynn is report what the FBI was (even according to Powell’s claims) already reviewing with Flynn. And a letter saying that MI6 thought Steele was honest is not going to change that.

Exhibit 8: Not-Comey’s description of Comey’s action

Exhibit 8 is Josh Campbell’s description of how Comey decided to send FBI Agents to interview Flynn without going through the White House Counsel (which Andrew McCabe nevertheless gave Flynn the opportunity to ask to do).

The government did not disclose this to Mr. Flynn until after Mr. Comey bragged about his breach on national television—not because Mr. Van Grack was complying with this Court’s order. This short video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxNhjFrjXqI) reveals Mr. Comey’s deliberate disregard for DOJ and FBI rules. In fact, Mr. Van Grack only disclosed a bland summary four days after Comey gloated about it on national television to a laughing audience— four days before Mr. Flynn’s scheduled sentencing, and because this Court entered its minute order of December 12, 2017. Dkt. 10. Mr. Flynn seeks disclosure of the full report of Mr. Comey’s conduct, any memos, notes, and 302s documenting his decision, which was admittedly the subject of “many intensive discussions” within the FBI. There must be at least notes of several others, including Comey’s Special Assistant Mr. Campbell, that document the efforts directed against Mr. Flynn. Ex. 8;

Powell uses Campbell’s description, which includes the line “screw it,” rather than a transcript of Comey’s statements that she links, which are far less inflammatory, presumably to assume that Campbell must have taken official notes of the many conversations he claims happened.

But this exhibit, like all the others on how FBI tried to optimize this interview, only shows that the FBI treated Flynn like they’d treat anyone.

Exhibits 9 and 10: Joseph Pientka and Strzok’s notes

Exhibits 9 and 10 are the notes that Joe Pientka and Strzok made, respectively, about the Flynn interview. This is the core of any legitimate argument Powell has, though here, as elsewhere, part of what she’s complaining about is normal FBI process where two Agents do an interview and then write up a 302.

Only the junior agent was taking notes during the interview. Strzok’s 302 of July 2017 says that he was handling the interview and his partner was taking notes. A 302 is to be written into Sentinel within five days. Notes are to be signed and dated by the notetaker. Inexplicably, we have two sets of notes with significant redactions—neither of which is signed and dated as required. Exs. 9, 10. Agent Strzok’s notes are far more detailed, lengthy, and written in a way that would not appear to be physically possible to write in a contemporaneous, casual setting. Ex. 10.

Powell’s claims that these notes weren’t dated or signed might have merit, though given that virtually all of her claims misrepresent key details, it’s hard to tell, especially with the way she presents the notes in screen caps followed by transcriptions.

She makes two other substantive claims about the notes. First, she claims that the notes (plus a copy showing changes made on February 10, which is Exhibit 11) falsely claim that Flynn stated that he did not ask for any specific action regarding the UN vote on Egypt’s resolution on illegal Israeli settlements.

Overnight, the most important substantive changes were made to the Flynn 302. Those changes added an unequivocal statement that “FLYNN stated he did not”—in response to whether Mr. Flynn had asked Kislyak to vote in a certain manner or slow down the UN vote. This is a deceptive manipulation because, as the notes of the agents show, Mr. Flynn was not even sure he had spoken to Russia/Kislyak on this issue. He had talked to dozens of countries. Exs. 9, 10, 11.

[snip]

Whatever Mr. Flynn said to anyone regarding the UN issues had nothing to do with the FBI’s alleged “investigation” about the 2016 election and could not be the basis for false statements “material” to that issue. According to the notes, he was not even sure he had spoken to Kislyak on that issue. Exs. 9, 10.

Perhaps Sidney Powell is this dumb, or perhaps she just thinks Emmet Sullivan is, but this is thoroughly dishonest. What Pientka’s notes show is that when Flynn was asked to offer up what contacts he had had with Kislyak, he described the following ones post-election:

  • A condolence call after Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey was killed on December 19, which Flynn described as happening “before Xmas, Mid-December day after assassination”
  • A condolence call after Russia’s military band crashed in Syria on Christmas Day
  • A single call on December 29

Then, when the Agents cue him again, he admits to:

  • The in-person Trump Tower meeting about setting up a back channel around December 1

Then, when asked about the UN vote, Flynn starts by saying, “that’s a good reminder,” then admits to calls with others, makes representations generally about all his calls regarding the UN vote where he claims he only asked about people’s positions, not to abstain, then ends by saying “Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo.” In context, that probably records — and at the very least is consistent with — an admission he spoke with Russia among his UN calls. And given his description of it occurring “Maybe Thurs-Fri prior to Xmas,” he dates it to December 22 or 23, when he claims his call was offering condolences for the assassination. (Powell splits these two up in Pientka’s notes, as she also does with the same exchange in Strzok’s notes, but the flow is clear; this is clearer in the full version of Strzok’s notes submitted with Exhibit 16)

Furthermore, Powell claims that “he talked to dozens of countries,” which she pulls from his comment about his general interactions with other countries. The notes make clear that he instead said he “talked to a bunch” of countries. It’s clear that Powell’s claim he spoke to “dozens” is false in any case, because Flynn was talking about the UNSC, on which there are just 15 members, and Flynn described how those numbers worked out — and the need to get just 5 to abstain — for the Agents.

In other words, what the notes actually show is Flynn lying about his reason for the call, being given an opportunity to fix the lie about the subject of the call, then making claims that would apply to all his UN calls (including the Russian one) that were themselves false.

In short, the notes actually appear to back the Agents.

Exhibit 11: Redline of 302

Exhibit 11 is a redline of Flynn’s 302 which, in Powell’s theory, was changed on February 10, after the press reported that Flynn didn’t speak about sanctions (as if the FBI would respond to press reports on something they already knew to be a lie), to make it more damning.

She’s concerned about two changes made in this section pertaining to the UN vote.

This section is the basis of the most inflammatory claim Powell made.

Those changes added an unequivocal statement that “FLYNN stated he did not”—in response to whether Mr. Flynn had asked Kislyak to vote in a certain manner or slow down the UN vote. This is a deceptive manipulation because, as the notes of the agents show, Mr. Flynn was not even sure he had spoken to Russia/Kislyak on this issue. He had talked to dozens of countries. Exs. 9, 10, 11.

Second, they added: “or if KISLYAK described any Russian response to a request by FLYNN.” That question and answer do not appear in the notes, yet it was made into a criminal offense. The typed version of the highly unusual “deliberative” 302 by that date already included an entire section from whole cloth that also serves as a criminal charge in the Information and purported factual basis regarding “Russia’s response” to any request by Flynn. The draft also shows that the agents moved a sentence to make it seem to be an answer to a question it was not. Exs. 9, 10, 11

As shown above, because Flynn’s comments about his asks regarding the UN vote apply to all the countries in question, it would apply to the Russian one as well.

But as shown, the only way Powell can sustain this claim is to separate Flynn saying three things that are clearly all about the same topic into three different sections of her transcription:

  • That’s a great reminder
  • No hey if you do this
  • Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo

The “Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo” certainly is consistent with the December 23 call Kislyak made to say they weren’t going to abstain, because Flynn talks about it happening the Thurs-Fri before Xmas, which would be consistent with the ask on Thursday, December 22 and the response on Friday, December 23.

Note, too, that the charge that Flynn lied about getting a response from Russia would also apply to whether Flynn acknowledged getting a response back from Kislyak after the December 29 call. As she did with the UN notes, she splits these up too, so separates where Pientka notes “no recollection of that” from where he records Flynn saying, “Nothing long drawn out don’t do something.” Her transcription of “RePP?” and “I don’t, the conversation was on” doesn’t account for the possibility that this is a question — with question mark included — about Russia’s response.

Powell makes a more credible argument about the Agents recording that Flynn affirmatively stated he made 4-5 calls to Kislyak on December 29

Notes by both agents state that Mr. Flynn does not remember making four to five calls to Ambassador Kislyak from the Dominican Republic, where he was on vacation, but that if he did so, it was because phone service was poor and he kept getting dropped. “I don’t remember making 4-5 calls. If I did lousy place to call.” The final 302 states the opposite: “Flynn remembered making four to five calls that day about this issue, but that the Dominican Republic was a difficult place to make a call as he kept having connectivity issues.” Ex. 11. This dramatically demonstrates the wrongheadedness of allowing a 302 to create a federal felony.

But this issue is not an editing one, as the draft doesn’t change on this point.

More importantly, it’s not — as the UN question is — a charged lie.

Powell is right that the problem with charging false statements off a 302 is that the editing process is human, but that doesn’t change that the notes clearly back that Flynn told numerous material lies in his interview, and she doesn’t actually claim he didn’t.

Exhibit 12: Lisa Page rebuts Powell’s claim of “many” meetings to strategize Flynn’s interview

Exhibit 12 is a 302 with Lisa Page that, among other things, proves that contrary to claims the frothy right has made about Mueller’s team not checking about Strzok bias affecting the impact of the Flynn interview, Mueller’s team instead interviewed Page to check just that.

The 302 also disproves Powell’s claim that Strzok claimed he had attended “many” meetings about how to handle the Flynn interview. As reflected in Page’s telling, there was a meeting the night before, and one after the interview.

Powell doesn’t reveal that this 302 damages her story in key ways. Instead, she seems to include it to substantiate this claim:

Lisa Page, Special Counsel to Deputy Director McCabe, resigned; she had edited Mr. Flynn’s 302 and was part of the small, high-level group that strategically planned his ambush.

But she doesn’t actually cite the exhibit here. Nor does she in a later reference to Page editing the 302.

And for his third production, it gave the defense two pages on October 4, 2018. These go precisely to the issue of McCabe’s Special Counsel Lisa Page editing the Flynn 302. Ex. 2.

But in the second instance, the 302 actually shows that Brandon Van Grack provided Flynn texts reflecting Page editing Flynn’s 302 even before they had interviewed her (on October 25) to understand what they meant. That is, this detail shows how responsive Van Grack was, not that he was slow in turning things over.

In short, there’s no basis to believe Page altered the 302. Her edits, if they were actually incorporated, went through Bill Priestap, not Strzok. And she told the FBI that she would often edit things he wrote for grammar.

But unlike the frothy right, which has been harping on this point all weekend, Sullivan may never refer to that 302, because Powell didn’t appear to cite it.

Exhibit 13: WaPo reports on the Strzok-Page texts

Exhibit 13 is a WaPo report describing that Mueller reassigned Strzok in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Page. Powell provides this to substantiate a theory that Mueller’s prosecutors were pressuring Flynn to plead guilty knowing this would come out.

Not only did Mr. Van Grack not disclose a single text message before Mr. Flynn agreed to plead guilty, but Special Counsel apparently managed to control the press on the issue until the plea was entered on December 1, 2017, in Judge Contreras’s court. It defies credulity to suggest that it was only unlucky for Mr. Flynn that the story broke the very next day. Part of the evidence we request includes communications between the press and SCO, which will likely establish that Special Counsel intensified pressure on Mr. Flynn to plead immediately while it was pressuring the press not to explode the truth that destroyed the entire case. Karoun Demirjian, Top FBI official assigned to Mueller’s Russia probe said to have been removed after sending anti-Trump texts, THE WASH. POST (Dec. 2, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/two-senior-fbiofficials-on-clinton-trump-probes-exchanged-politically-charged-texts-disparagingtrump/2017/12/02/9846421c-d707-11e7-a986-d0a9770d9a3e_story.html; MTC 11; Ex. 13.

Unfortunately for Powell, that doesn’t change the fact that according to her own timeline, Van Grack had already disclosed this three days earlier, and that the reason the texts came out is because Rod Rosenstein okayed their release in probable violation of the Privacy Act, something that Mueller’s team probably had no way of anticipating.

Exhibit 14: The InfoWars event Flynn co-headlined with Ray McGovern and Julian Assange

Exhibit 14 consists of materials from Flynn’s speaker’s bureau, which Powell submits to show that those events were solidly in the mainstream (which is absolutely true of the Kaspersky event).

Mr. McCabe pointed to Mr. Flynn’s “very public interactions with Vladimir Putin and other Russians.” These “interactions” seem to have arisen from the work of CIA/FBI operatives Stefan Halper and Joseph Mifsud, and bookings made by Mr. Flynn’s American speakers’ bureau, Leading Authorities (which books engagements for countless former government officials and prominent people). Leading Authorities booked him for three events with “Russian connections”: one in Moscow for RT and two in Washington. All were well attended by prominent persons from around the world because of the important issues discussed and the presence of other recognized experts on the programs. See Ex. 14; MTC 4, 16.

Yet among the other things these materials reveal are that the RT event featured Oliver Stone and Max Blumenthal on InfoWars (at a time when Russia had already kicked off its 2016 InfoWar against Putin).

It also featured Julian Assange and Ray McGovern on a panel about security and surveillance.

His talk to Volga-Dnepr Airlines was not recorded or open to the media.

The RT materials, while already broadly public, are especially damning, as they effectively show that Russia orchestrated his appearance, right alongside Putin, at the same event which a bunch of people who would later be part of the effort to deny Russia’s role in this infowar. A number of these people have been friends of mine (though they’re also among the people who’ve attacked me most baselessly once I started saying publicly that Russia did the hack), but they’re in no way the best experts to talk about infowars or how to balance privacy and counterterrorism.

Exhibit 15: Proof that Mueller’s team provided discovery before Flynn pled guilty a second time before Sullivan

Exhibit 15 is another timeline, this one providing the dates — but not the substance — of what Mueller provided in discovery in response to Emmet Sullivan’s order (note: it also gets at least some of the dates wrong, even as compared to her other timeline).

Powell claims in her brief that Flynn didn’t get all this material before he pled guilty the first time.

Neither Mr. Flynn nor his former counsel had any of these documents or knowledge of the plethora of information discussed above when Mr. Flynn entered his plea.

But Powell’s own timeline shows that every installment of the government’s production save one preceded the date last year when Flynn pled guilty again to Emmet Sullivan.

The exception is material handed over on August 16 of this year that relates to Flynn’s time at DIA which (given that it dates to at least two years before he committed the crimes in question) cannot be relevant to his crimes. Indeed, the government says that some of it is inculpatory.

Request #15: The government is not aware of any information in possession of the Defense Intelligence Agency that is favorable and material to sentencing, including the information that the government provided on August 16, 2019. Specifically, the information of which the government is aware, including that August 16 production, is either inculpatory or has no relevance to the defendant’s false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, or to the FARA Unit.

In short, Powell’s own timeline shows that the government complied with Sullivan’s standing order before Flynn pled guilty before Sullivan.

Exhibit 16: The handwriting analysis that doesn’t even try to disprove Strzok

Finally, there is Exhibit 16, a declaration from a handwriting analyst. Powell includes it to substantiate a demand for Strzok’s original notes of his interview with Flynn to investigate an “anomaly” that she doesn’t describe (making this request moot from a Brady standpoint).

Agent Strzok’s notes are far more detailed, lengthy, and written in a way that would not appear to be physically possible to write in a contemporaneous, casual setting. Ex. 10. The defense requests production of the actual, original notes, and handwriting samples of Strzok of contemporaneous and non-contemporaneous notes to evaluate another anomaly that further calls into question the entire effort by the FBI to manipulate and set up Mr. Flynn, and its report of that interview. Ex. 16.

But as her expert lays out, getting Strzok’s original notes would not be enough, because he would also need a baseline of how Strzok takes notes.

If additional comparable6 notations of Agent Strzok written under similar conditions could be obtained and submitted for analysis, it may be possible to determine whether the (Q-1) notations were prepared as purported. In consideration of both the observations made, as well as limitations present, further analysis of the original evidence would likely be necessary to support any definitive conclusions in this matter.

Ultimately, her expert says he can’t make any conclusions about whether the notes were “written during the course of the January 24th interview, or prepared at a subsequent time period.”

Based upon the inherent limitations arising from the examination of non-original evidence, compounded with the lack of any known comparison handwritten notations of Agent Peter Strzok (i.e., other non-contested handwritten notations prepared under like conditions), it has been determined that no conclusion can be rendered as to whether the submitted (Q-1) notations were written during the course of the January 24th interview, or prepared at a subsequent time period.

But as Powell makes clear in the very same paragraph where she makes this demand, no one claimed that Strzok wrote these notes during the interview. Only Pientka’s notes were taken during the interview (which is, again, one of those potentially bad things that is normal for FBI interviews that Powell thinks shouldn’t happen with her client).

Only the junior agent was taking notes during the interview. Strzok’s 302 of July 2017 says that he was handling the interview and his partner was taking notes.

So Powell uses this expert to claim she needs the original of Strzok’s notes to prove that he wrote them at a time he didn’t write them.

Which sounds like the definition of sanctionably frivolous behavior.

How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

As the legal saga of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman plays out against the background of an impeachment inquiry launched when DOJ tried to bury a whistleblower complaint, DOJ has been forced to offer a series of increasingly inconsistent explanations about who at DOJ knew what when. I’ve been working on a timeline examining What Did Bill Barr Know and When Did He Know It (that work in progress appears below). While I’m not ready to answer that question, one thing is clear: the personnel under Brian Benczkowski who reviewed and dismissed the complaint in August could not have followed normal process on assessing a referral if NYT’s reporting and Benczkowski’s most recent claims are true.

Benczkowski tries to prevent Rudy Giuliani from implicating him in his crimes

I’m speaking of a comment that Benczkowski had released to NYT for an October 20 story explaining why Benczkowski and fraud investigators would be willing to hear Rudy Giuliani pitch a client’s case when he was under active investigation for influence peddling in SDNY himself.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

That comment was a response to this Rudy-sourced Ken Vogel story that revealed the meeting, though without any of the answers as to Who What When questions that normally appear in finished news stories. The story may have been Rudy’s attempt to do the same thing he did as his shenanigans at State became public, raise the costs of making him the sole scapegoat by making it clear that his activities had high level knowledge and approval by Trump officials at the agency in question. That is, Rudy may have been making sure that if he gets in trouble for influence peddling, Brian Benzckowski will be implicated as well.

Importantly, both NYT stories on the meeting say the meeting happened a few weeks before October 18, a timeline that DOJ sources may be walking back in time considerably to “earlier this summer” included in this CNN article. One of the only ways for all these descriptions of timing be true is if the meeting took place around September 20, which would make it highly likely it involved Victoria Toensing, since Rudy was pictured meeting her and Lev Parnas across the street from DOJ that same day. (h/t DK for that insight) If it did (or if the descriptions of the meeting taking place a few weeks before October 18 are correct), then it means the meeting happened after DOJ reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky in late August.

As I’ll show below, the Peter Carr quote to the NYT might be true. But if it is, it means that well-connected Republicans can get a meeting with the Assistant Attorney General with almost no due diligence.

But if the Carr quotation is true (and if the timing of the meeting described to NYT is correct), then it is an on-the-record admission on behalf of Benczkowski that investigators working underneath him who reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint did not follow procedures designed to keep our nation safe that have been codified since 9/11.

Benczkowski’s claim he didn’t know ignores what DOJ knew

Benczkowski’s explanation in the October 20 NYT story is based on a further one that suggests the only way he could have known about the criminal investigation into Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy is if a subordinate informed him directly.

While the Southern District of New York has been investigating Mr. Giuliani’s associates — an inquiry that may be tied to a broader investigation of Mr. Giuliani himself — prosecutors there had not told Mr. Benczkowski of the Criminal Division of the case, as he does not oversee or supervise their work. The United States attorney’s offices report to the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen.

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official.

DOJ has locked into a statement that Bill Barr had been briefed on this investigation shortly after he was confirmed in February and repeatedly thereafter since the day the arrest of the Ukrainian grifters became public. But Benczkowski claims he didn’t know about it because he’s not in that chain of command. SDNY reports to the Deputy Attorney General, which would have been Rod Rosenstein when Barr was initially briefed, but would be Jeffrey Rosen in any of the briefings DOJ has admitted to since.

This table attempts to summarize what DOJ learned of Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy when. It’s incomplete in at least one important respect, as I’ll show. But it captures most of the ways DOJ and FBI would have been informed about parts of the Ukrainian grift.

Remarkably, we don’t yet know how the SDNY came to open the investigation. It could have been a Mueller referral, SDNY could have discovered the grift from something that happened in NYC (though the venue that ultimately got laid out in the indictment suggests the obvious signs of corruption took place in FL), or it could have stemmed from a Campaign Legal Center complaint filed with the FEC on July 25, 2018. But by the time Barr was briefed in February, we should assume that DOJ knew at least as much as CLC knew the summer before, which is that Parnas and Fruman had set up a shell company, Global Energy Producers, that they were using to make big donations to Republicans, including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC just days after Parnas and Fruman met with Trump at the White House. That’s what Barr would have learned when he got briefed shortly after he was confirmed on February 14: that these Ukrainian-Americans were giving straw donations to Republicans in apparent coordination with key meetings with the recipients.

Here’s where the gap in this table comes in. Someone trying to spin the CNN for its version of the Benczkowski quote claimed that Rudy was not yet a focus of the SDNY investigation at the time Barr was briefed (the claim is silent, however, about all the other times Barr was briefed, per an October 10 statement from DOJ). Nevertheless, as CNN lays out, that claim is probably not true, because a NY lawyer was already getting questions from FBI counterintelligence agents by that time.

A person familiar with the matter said that at the time, Giuliani wasn’t a central figure in the case as he is now. That emerged in recent weeks, the person said.

Still, New York federal prosecutors had their eyes set on Giuliani months ago. A New York lawyer told CNN that FBI counterintelligence agents asked him questions in February or March related to Giuliani and his associates.

The day after the Ukrainian grifters’ arrest became public, NYT reported that Rudy was under investigation for FARA (for activities that extend well beyond his Ukraine work). Particularly given that the National Security Division is setting up a unit to prosecute FARA violations, that, plus the involvement of CI agents, should involve NSD and therefore would suggest that NSD head John Demers would know of the focus on Rudy. That can’t be guaranteed, however, because SDNY often does its own thing. So that’s the gap: We don’t know when Demers would have first learned that Rudy’s under investigation for his sleazy influence peddling.

We do know, however, that sometime in May, State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick sent FBI (we don’t know which unit) the “Rudy Dossier,” the disinformation developed as part of his Ukraine work. Among the things that dossier includes is an email via which John Solomon sent a draft of this article to Rudy, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas. Whoever received that dossier should have immediately identified that Parnas and Rudy were under active criminal investigation in SDNY for influence peddling, a topic on which that email would be directly relevant. In addition to Victoria Toensing and Rudy, the packet would also directly implicate the White House and Mike Pompeo, because the packet was sent under White House imprimatur to the Secretary of State. So by May, that dossier should have been in Parnas and Rudy’s investigative file. Except that, when Linick asked FBI if they were cool with him sharing the dossier with Congress, they were, which suggests it may not have been added to the investigative file.

Assuming that the vaunted SDNY is at least as sharp as a small campaign finance NGO, then by the time CLC updated their SEC complaint on June 20, SDNY would have known what that GEP’s straw donations (including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC) came immediately after Parnas got a $1.2 million infusion from a lawyer who helps foreigners launder money through real estate, something that should have raised further counterintelligence and foreign campaign donation concerns.

After that, the whistleblower complaint comes into DOJ, in two different forms. The first time, it comes when CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood and White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg inform John Demers (who, remember, may or may not know about a FARA investigation into Rudy by this point). Demers went to the White House and reviews the transcript, which would have informed him that multiple people were concerned about the call, that Trump invoked both Rudy and Demers’ boss, Bill Barr, on the call, and that Trump was soliciting dirt related to both the investigation into the Russian operation in 2016 (ongoing parts of which Demers still oversees) and Trump’s imagined 2020 opponent, Joe Biden. If Demers did know that Rudy was under investigation for FARA at this time, Trump’s request that Ukraine share dirt with Rudy would have been directly relevant to that investigation, but in a way that implicated Demers’ boss as well. In any case, a simple database search would have revealed that, along with the $1.2 million cash transfer raising additional concerns about foreign money backing those campaign efforts.

Demers’ reported response to reading the transcript was to tell Brian Benczkowski (who claims not to have known about Parnas and Fruman, but whose Peter Carr quote was silent about whether he knew of any investigation into Rudy) and Jeffrey Rosen (who was probably confirmed after Barr’s first briefing on Parnas and Fruman, but who is currently Geoffrey Berman’s supervisor and so should be in the loop in the subsequent briefings that DOJ admitted Barr had after that initial briefing.

According to public reports, DOJ did nothing with this initial complaint.

DOJ avoids (admitting to) reviewing the full whistleblower complaint based off a false claim it doesn’t include direct knowledge

But then the whistleblower tried again, going to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and writing up his complaint, which then got referred to Brian Benczkowski and some public integrity investigators. According to Kerri Kupec, here’s what happened next.

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

In explaining how DOJ came to dismiss this complaint, Kupec cites not from the complaint itself, but from Michael Atkinson’s letter conveying the complaint. Kupec cites from the letter, which notes the whistleblower “was not a direct witness to the President’s telephone call,” and uses that to treat only the transcript of the call — not the broader whistleblower complaint itself, which does include firsthand knowledge — as the official record. And, having referred to just the call, DOJ viewed this as exclusively a campaign finance matter, and therefore dismissed it (DOJ ignores another crime laid out in Atkinson’s letter, a crime Mick Mulvaney has now confessed to, but I’ll come back to how they managed to ignore that).

In fact, parts of the whistleblower complaint make it clear that he was a direct witness to aspects of his complaint, and so DOJ should have treated the complaint itself as an official document (this is why the frothy right invested so much energy into the goddamned whistleblower form, to rationalize DOJ’s decision not to read the actual complaint).

Had DOJ read the complaint and done the most basic investigative work on the materials included in the complaint, they (including Benczkowski) would have known that Trump’s call related directly to matters under active investigation in SDNY.

While the whistleblower complaint does not mention Parnas and Fruman by name, it repeatedly invokes this OCCRP profile (see footnotes 4, 9, 10, 11), The profile would have made it crystal clear — if DOJ’s investigators couldn’t figure it out for themselves — how the evidence that SDNY was already reviewing (including the campaign finance stuff and the Rudy dossier) connected directly with the July 25 call.

Since early last year, the men have emerged from obscurity to become major donors to Republican campaigns in the United States. They have collectively contributed over half a million dollars to candidates and outside campaign groups, the lion’s share in a single transaction that an independent watchdog has flagged as a potential violation of electoral funding law.

The men appear to enjoy a measure of access to influential figures. They’ve dined with Trump, had a “power breakfast” with his son Donald Jr., met with U.S. congressmen, and mixed with Republican elites.

Months before their earliest known work with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman also lobbied at least one congressman — former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican — to call for the dismissal of the United States’ ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She stepped down a year later after allegations in the conservative media that she had been disloyal to Trump.

While setting up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, the men also promoted a business plan of their own: Selling American liquefied natural gas to Ukraine to replace Russian imports disrupted by war.

Three days before the call itself, OCCRP and BuzzFeed had already laid out parts of the crime that SDNY has since indicted. And that profile was part of the whistleblower complaint provided to DOJ, in which DOJ claimed they could find no evidence of a crime.

FBI’s three investigative levels are Full Investigations (opened once FBI has evidence that a crime has occurred), Preliminary Investigations (opened once FBI has reason to believe a crime has been committed), and Assessments (the work FBI does to assess the credibility of tips). FBI Agents are expected — encouraged, explicitly, as a matter of national security — to do searches of FBI’s existing investigative databases at the Assessment level. They do this not just to make sure that suspected foreign agents like Parnas and Fruman aren’t allowed to insinuate themselves into top tiers of power unnoticed, but also for deconfliction, to make sure DOJ knows precisely which part of DOJ is investigating which people.

Had FBI followed its DIOG based on the information included in the whistleblower complaint, it would have been crystal clear that the July 25 call related to an ongoing Full Investigation, and the July 25 call — and the President’s extortion — would have been made part of that investigative record.

The Criminal Division Chief has confessed it did not follow protocols in reviewing this complaint

All of which brings me full cycle to DOJ’s efforts to pretend they didn’t know that Rudy was a suspected criminal when they met with him to discuss the accused criminals he represents.

Brian Benczkowski, the head of the Criminal Division (and yet, someone who has never prosecuted a case), claims that he had no way of knowing that Rudy Giuliani’s clients and co-conspirators were about to be indicted when he met with Rudy on some date no one wants to reveal. That may be true — though if it is, it means either his staffers did almost no due diligence before setting up that meeting, or the fact that Rudy, in addition to Parnas and Fruman, was under active investigation did not dissuade Benczkowski from taking the meeting.

But, if the meeting took place after the whistleblower review, as multiple reporters at NYT seem to believe it did, for him to claim that he didn’t know about Parnas and Fruman also amounts to an explicit confession that the investigators reviewing the whistleblower complaint did not follow FBI guidelines requiring them to look up all the names in a tip to see if the FBI already knows about them.

That is, Brian Benczkowski, in trying to claim ignorance of Rudy’s own legal problems in advance of that meeting, confessed that his division, hiding behind whatever false excuses, did not properly investigate the whistleblower complaint.


February 14: Barr sworn in.

February, undated: Barr and Public Integrity lawyers reporting to Brian Benczkowski briefed on investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, though NYT reported lawyer questioned about Rudy in that time period.

March 5: Barr briefed on Mueller investigation.

March 22: Mueller investigation concludes.

March 24: Barr releases misleading “summary” of Mueller Report.

March 26: John Solomon posts column first reviewed by Joe DiGenova, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas

April 19: DOJ releases redacted Mueller Report.

May, undated: State IG Steve Linick receives Rudy dossier, passes on to FBI.

May 31: Barr does interview explaining his Durham investigation without once explaining any irregularities to justify investigation.

June 20: Campaign Legal Center submits supplemental complaint to FEC.

July 18: OMB informs Departments that Trump has ordered suspension of all aide to Ukraine.

July 25: Trump-Zelensky phone call.

Week after call: Whistleblower informs CIA General counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood, who speaks several times to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

August 12: Date of whistleblower complaint.

August 14: Elwood and Eisenberg inform National Security Division head, John Demers.

August 15: Demers reads transcript of call. Senior DOJ officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, Brian Benczkowski, and Barr informed.

The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up, and Attorney General William P. Barr learned of the allegations around that time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions about how to proceed, the person said.

August 26: IG Michael Atkinson hand delivers message on whistleblower complaint to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire.

September 3: Original classified OLC memo deeming the whistleblower complaint “not urgent,” treating Barr’s involvement as Top Secret.

September 20: Rudy, Parnas, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova lunch at Trump International across the street from DOJ. Rudy also attends State Dinner for Australia.

September 24: Declassification of Telcon. Version of OLC memo hiding Barr’s involvement as classified issue.

September 26: Release of TelCon and whistleblower complaint. Justice Department explains non-prosecution:

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

September 29: AP claims Barr was “surprised and angry” when he learned he had been lumped in with Rudy. His further denials include a lot of wiggle room (including unofficial contacts).

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

October 1: State IG Steve Linick briefs Congress on opposition packet routed to him from Pompeo. Preservation letters to Parnas and Fruman.

October 4: Initial rough date for Rudy meeting with Benczkowski.

October 9: Parnas and Fruman lunch with Rudy at Trump Hotel across from DOJ, later that eventing they are indicted and arrested.

October 10: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman arrest unsealed. Anonymous DOJ sources report that Barr was briefed in February and “in recent weeks.”

Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. Barr has received additional briefings in recent weeks and fully supports the case.

October 11: NYT reports that Rudy under investigation for Ukraine work.

October 18: NYT reports that Rudy was lobbying Brian Benczkowski and lawyers from Fraud section “a few weeks ago” about a very sensitive bribery case.

October 20: NYT story with on-the-record quote from Peter Carr states Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers would not have met with Giuliani if they had known of the investigation of his associates; it describes the meeting as taking place “several weeks ago.”

October 21: CNN adds DOJ clarification that Rudy was not central to investigation briefed to Barr in February, even though CI Agents were questioning witnesses by March, and that Public Integrity lawyers (who report to Benczkowski) were briefed.

The Guy Who Defended Roger Stone’s Campaign Finance Shenanigans Did Not Testify to the Grand Jury

In response to an order from DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell, the government has revealed the two witnesses of interest to Congress who did not testify to the grand jury. The first, Don Jr, should not surprise anyone who has been following closely, as that was clear as soon as the Mueller Report came out.

The other–Don McGahn–is far more interesting, especially since he was interviewed on five different occasions: November 30, December 12, December 14, 2017; March 8, 2018; and February 28, 2019.

Most likely, the reason has to do with privilege, as McGahn’s testimony, more than almost anyone else’s, implicated privilege (in part because many witnesses’ testimony cut off at the transition). McGahn ended up testifying far more than Trump knew, and it’s possible he did that by avoiding a subpoena, but had he been subpoenaed, it would provide the White House opportunity to object.

Elizabeth De la Vega said on Twitter it likely had to do with how valuable McGahn was in his five interviews. By not making him testify to the grand jury, she argued, you avoid creating a transcript that might undermine his credibility in the future. That’s certainly consistent with the Mueller Report statement finding McGahn to be “a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate given the position he held in the White House.” But that reference is footnoted to say, “When this Office first interviewed McGahn about this topic, he was reluctant to share detailed information about what had occurred and only did so after continued questioning.” Plus, while McGahn testified more than any other witness not under a cooperation agreement, Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks testified a bunch of times, too (four and three times respectively), but were almost certainly put before the grand jury.

But there is a different, far more intriguing possibility.

First, remember that Roger Stone was investigated for more than lying to Congress (indeed, just the last four warrants against him, all dating to this year, mentioned just false statements and obstruction). Which crimes got named in which warrants is not entirely clear (this government filing and this Amy Berman Jackson opinion seem to conflict somewhat). Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C), was named in all Stone’s warrants before this year. But at least by August 3, 2018, the warrants against Stone listed a slew of other crimes:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 3 (accessory after the fact)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 4 (misprision of a felony)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy)
  • 18 U.S.C. §§ 1505 and 1512 (obstruction of justice)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1513 (witness tampering)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud)
  • 52 U.S.C. § 30121 (foreign contribution ban)

For whatever reason, the government seems to have decided not to charge CFAA (if, indeed, Stone was the actual target of that investigation). They may have given up trying to charge him for encouraging or acting as an accessory after the fact.

The Mueller Report explains — albeit in mostly redacted form — what happened with the 52 U.S.C. § 30121 investigation. First Amendment and valuation concerns about a prosecution led Mueller not to charge it, even though he clearly seemed to think the stolen emails amounted to an illegal foreign campaign donation.

But that leaves wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. During the month of August 2018, DOJ obtained at least 8 warrants relating to Stone including wire fraud. Beryl Howell — who in her order requiring the government unseal McGahn’s name, expressed puzzlement about why Don McGahn didn’t testify before the grand jury — approved at least five of those warrants. Rudolph Contreras approved one and James Boasberg approved two. So apparently, very late in the Stone investigation, three different judges thought there was probable cause Stone and others engaged in wire fraud (or tried to!).

And it’s not just those judges. Roger Stone’s aide, Andrew Miller, was happy to testify about WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. But at least when his subpoena first became public, he wanted immunity to testify about the campaign finance stuff he had done for Stone.

Miller had asked for “some grant of immunity” regarding financial transactions involving political action committees for which he assisted Stone, according to Alicia Dearn, an attorney for Miller.

On that issue, Miller “would be asserting” his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions, Dearn said.

I’d like to consider the possibility that McGahn, Donald Trump’s campaign finance lawyer before he became White House counsel, was happy to testify about Trump’s attempt to obstruct justice, but less happy to testify about campaign finance issues.

Mind you, McGahn is not one of the personal injury lawyer types that Stone runs his campaign finance shenanigans with. Whatever else he is, McGahn is a professional, albeit an incredibly aggressive one.

That said, there are reasons it’s possible McGahn limited what he was willing to testify about with regards to work with Stone.

At Roger Stone’s trial the government plans (and has gotten permission) to introduce evidence that Stone lied about one additional thing in his HPSCI testimony, one that wasn’t charged but that like one of the charged lies, involves hiding that Stone kept the campaign in the loop on something.

At the pretrial conference held on September 25, 2019, the Court deferred ruling on that portion of the Government’s Notice of Intention to Introduce Rule 404(b) evidence [Dkt. # 140] that sought the introduction of evidence related to another alleged false statement to the HPSCI, which, like the statement charged in Count Six, relates to the defendant’s communications with the Trump campaign. After further review of the arguments made by the parties and the relevant authorities, and considering both the fact that the defendant has stated publicly that his alleged false statements were merely accidental, and that he is charged not only with making individual false statements, but also with corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the proceedings in general, the evidence will be admitted, with an appropriate limiting instruction. See Lavelle v. United States, 751 F.2d 1266, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1985), citing United States v. DeLoach, 654 F.2d 763 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (given the defendant’s claim that she was simply confused and did not intend to deceive Congress, evidence of false testimony in other instances was relevant to her intent and passed the threshold under Rule 404(b)). The Court further finds that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

A September hearing about this topic made clear that it pertains to what Stone’s PACs were doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

It sounds like Stone cleared up this testimony (Stone sent two letters to HPSCI in 2018, and one of those would have come after Steve Bannon testified about emails that included a Stone demand that Rebekah Mercer provide him funding), which may be why he didn’t get charged on that front.

As I’ve suggested, if Stone was actively trying to deny that the work of his PACs had any interaction with the Trump campaign, it might explain why he threatened to sue me when I laid out how McGahn’s continued work for Trump related to Stone’s voter suppression efforts in 2016.

And remember: when Stone aide Andrew Miller did finally testify — after agreeing to at virtually the moment Mueller announced he was closing up shop — he did so before a new grand jury, after Beryl Howell agreed with prosecutors that they were in search of evidence for charges beyond what Stone had already been indicted on or against different defendants.

McGahn’s campaign finance work for Stone and Trump is one of the things he’d have no Executive Privilege claims to protect (though barring a showing of crime-fraud exception, he would have attorney-client privilege), since it all happened before inauguration.

Again, there are lot of more obvious explanations for why he didn’t testify before the grand jury. But we know that Mueller investigated these campaign finance issues, and we know McGahn was right in the thick of them.

A World We Built to Burn

Smoke from the Camp Fire settles on San Francisco, 2018

It’s the windy end of a hot summer in California right now, and everything wants to burn. This year, like every year, fall winds jostle and tug a dry landscape of golden grasses and scrubland up against forests whose floors are piled with dry litterfall. Old powerlines hang from poles all over a landscape that has been changed by the human suppression of the fires that were always a part of the ecosystem.

More houses are closer to this tinderbox, as we’ve pushed the wildland-urban interface further into the interior of the southwestern states than it has ever been. The power lines are owned by a bankrupt utility, PG&E, and in a lot of places, they were turned off last week, to prevent the utility company from burning down more towns like Paradise, CA, which burned with a kind of biblical rage this time last year.

And then, on top of all this, there’s climate change, making the hot and dry and windy just a bit hotter and drier and windier.

The reasons PG&E cut off power to millions of people in California are myriad and complicated and go back the better part of a century.

This is a story of climate change, but it’s also a story of messed-up political priorities that date to when our great-grandparents were still getting used to the idea of electricity. It’s a story of disrespect and exploitation of the land, of failures in capitalism, regulation, and political will, of people who don’t want to live with the consequences of their decisions, and people who have to live with the consequences of other people’s decisions.

There isn’t a right answer here, there isn’t a single responsible party, and there’s not a clear, safe, and easy path forward. In the words of Paradise’s mayor, Jody Jones: “It’s really kind of a no-win situation.

Camp Fire, 2018, NASA

In California those who wanted to blame PG&E for the power shutdowns called this an infrastructure problem, and PG&E deflected by saying it was a climate change problem. But climate change, and more generally, the wider range of the planetary stress we’re living through now, is an infrastructure problem.

I’m not just talking about the 2 degrees centigrade we hear about all the time. Everything from fires to CO2 to biodiversity loss and plastic pollution have come from how we have managed our built environment and currently maintain our infrastructure, and our infrastructure touches every part of life and culture, from forests cleared to create agricultural land for beef and palm oil, to travel-related carbon emissions and heat waves, to the houses built in what was once the California wilds. The issue at the heart of all of these things is how we manage the planet, now that we know that’s what we’re doing.

None of our old infrastructure was built with planetary management in mind, and very little is even now. What we’re dealing with is hundreds of years of something that software world calls technical debt. Technical debt is the shortcuts and trade-offs engineers use to get something done either cheaper or in less time, which inevitably creates the need to fix systems later, often at great cost or difficulty.

Some technical debt is understood up front, some comes from builders being ignorant  of the system they are working in. Most of our planet’s infrastructure is mired in huge amounts of technical debt, most of which we didn’t know we were signing up for at the time, some of which we’re just incurring recklessly as we go along, unable to face the scale of the problem and pushing it off on the next generation.

California is a perfect microcosm of this. The infrastructure is failing, and political priorities are just elsewhere. In the case of energy policy, there’s a huge push to switch from fossil fuels to renewables, which is much more politically sexy than fixing transmission lines. With housing, it’s approving building deeper and deeper into wildlands, often while local policies, old laws, and zoning keep city and suburban density low and property prices unsustainably high.

So here we are: Keeping the lines on will probably kill people. Turning them off will probably kill people. Our political system is facing a real-life trolley problem created by our ever-expanding technical debt. It can’t have been easy for the people making the decisions.

I’ve known people who worked for PG&E in technical roles. I’ve known plenty of people who work on, and care about, infrastructure. They’re not bad people on the whole, and I’m sure part of the aggressive de-energizing came from a rank and file traumatized by last year’s fires and acutely terrified of having a hand in killing people. There’s almost never as many people cackling in dark rooms while chomping on expensive cigars as people think there are.

There just aren’t enough bad guys for all the problems we have right now, leaving us with the hard work fixing problems and not enough of the satisfaction of blaming people.

This past week those who lived in the blackout areas were told to prepare as best they could.

This enraged many, including California Governor Newsom, who is in charge of the government that would in theory be taking care of this kind of thing. The angry people, from Newsom down, felt somebody, somewhere, was supposed to be responsible for all of this, that there simply weren’t supposed to be problems like choosing between fires and blackouts.

But much of the next century is going to be problems like this, not just for California, but for the whole world, as we deal with several generation’s worth of technical debt around infrastructure and learning to really manage our planet. There’s a lot we can learn from the California case, both about how to fix it, and how to cope in the mean time, like: have a plan.

People often get very angry when they hear that they have to have a plan. During the European heatwave and evacuations ahead of storm surges on the East Coast over the summer, and then California’s fall fire-and-blackout season, those living in threatened areas were told to have a plan to take care of their people and themselves.

Sometimes they were told it was time to take care of themselves without much notice. The anger in the case of every disaster is palpable, even though these days the disasters come one after another. Sometimes it seems like we live on a planet slowly traversing the old metaphorical stages of grief — most caught somewhere between denial and anger, with a few out on the scientific frontier starting the process of bargaining.

One of our jobs in this century is to accept that we don’t live on the planet we thought we lived on, and our societies aren’t doing what we thought they were. Even if we were able to change our politics overnight, which is probably impossible without some planetary level disaster wake up call, it would still take many decades to dig ourselves out of out technical debt, and in the mean time, we have to stay alive and try to thrive.

Everyone who lives on this stressed-out planet have to have plans, at every level from transnational to individual. We have to build resiliency and  capacity to cope with unstable and difficult circumstances, potentially for years, as we learn to pay down the technical debt and build the infrastructure that can work with our planet. For Californians that means stores of water and non-perishable foods, spare medication, first aid, batteries, N95 masks, and an evacuation plan,  especially for those living in fire-prone areas.

In hurricane zones, it means a go-bag. It can mean a lot of things depending on where you are and what protecting your home and family means to you. Where I live now, it means iodine pills in the bathroom first aid kit, in case the old and poorly maintained nuclear power plant not from my home goes wrong.

There are questions of right and wrong and responsibility our societies need to address, but having a plan not a matter of fairness or right and wrong. Those will be litigated elsewhere or another time. When the fires have started, the lot have gone out, the waters are rising or the radiation is leaking, it’s a matter of knowing how to take care of you and yours and your community as best you can.

I can imagine you looking at the screen, saying “It shouldn’t be this way!” But it is this way. The world we thought we had, with a safe stable environment and not too many people, that is not the world we live in. That is, in short, not real. At the individual level as well as the policy level, we need to let go of that which is not real.

We are living with infrastructure that is not fit for the reality on our planet. The faster we accept that, the faster we can get to the real work of changing it, politically and socially. Personal resiliency and societal resiliency go hand-in-hand.

Without that, bad infrastructure creates vicious circles, both logistical and political.

Back in the here and now, a lot of activists have focused in California on private ownership and investor motivations as the problem, proposing taking utilities into public hands as the solution. I’m sympathetic, but suspect this doesn’t solve any problems on its own, because there’s no solution that doesn’t involve difficult tradeoffs, and governments aren’t particularly good at difficult tradeoffs.

PG&E or the state need to modernize energy transmission to reduce waste and stop burning down whole towns. We need to modernize existing infrastructure all over the world to cope with the effects of climate change. We also need to replace and build new infrastructure to mitigate climate change and decarbonization for the future. We need to protect biodiversity, and limit extraction. In California, as in the rest of the world, these goals are hard to get out of conflict. They draw on the same pool of money, the same political will, and even the same class of workers.

Both modernizing existing infrastructure and building new sustainable infrastructure at once is slow and viciously expensive. Doing one after another is slower, a little cheaper, and more dangerous. These are the trade-offs that will characterize life in the 21st century on our lovely little water planet.

Our incentives often undermine these goals at every level.

As a simple example, power cuts lead to people buying generators, which are worse for climate change than power generation. This is a pattern we see all over the developing world, like the otherwise modern lifestyle in Beirut, but now showing up in the developed world.

More complexly, the worthy long term goal of bringing power generation closer to where it is used, such as solar roof panels and municipal or micro generation technologies pose a undesirable threat to PG&E. Localized residential and business power generation is better, with lower emissions and less fire risk. But right now, shifting to local production takes funding away from PG&E, putting it into the position of fighting against a future everyone wants — including most of the people at PG&E. This is because the less money PG&E gets, the less it can do to make power distribution safe by burying or replacing power lines, or meeting the power needs of those who can’t generate for themselves, who are most likely to be the poorest customers.

California’s political priority of changing power sources to renewables has gone quite well, but has drawn attention and money away from rebuilding boring power lines hanging above unphotogenic scrubby foliage, like the kind that caught fire last year, incinerating Paradise.

Local micropower generation is certainly what we all want in the long term, but because of how we’ve structured the idea of utility service, it can only reduce funding for large scale projects as fewer and fewer people pay in. These priorities don’t have to be in conflict, but until we rethink how we’re coordinating our response to infrastructure needs and planetary management, they will be. That is also technical debt.

Part of the is the difficulty with managing planetary resources is telling people they can’t have it all. This is hard with all humans, but especially with Americans. The only thing we seem ok with making personal sacrifice for is war, which seems hardly coincident with calling every major policy “a war on” something or other for the past 60 years.

Let me go straight to one of the roughest things we face: not being able to live where we want.

Californians think its their pioneering right to build houses and whole towns deep into the wildlands, land evolved to burn in a place that has been catching fire on a geologic time scale. But Fire doesn’t care where we think we should build our wooded, outdoorsy, and cheap retirement homes.

Flooding in Jakarta, 2013. Seika via Flickr

What Californians, as well as many other Americans, and hundreds of millions of people around the world need to give up on is living where they think they ought to be able to live. Californians are busy building new neighborhoods into the rightful territory of giant fast moving infernos; post-Hurricane Texans think they have the right to build in low-elevation Houston, and poverty-stricken Bangladeshis and Indonesians think they should hold on to the shores they’ve always lived on.

Houston is technical debt. New Orleans is technical debt. Puerto Rico is plagued by intertwined monetary and technical debt. Jakarta is sinking, literally, into technical debt.

Paradise, CA was technical debt.

One of the first lessons of climate, and infrastructure, is that people have to live closer together and in easier places, or they will die. Nature doesn’t care who deserves what. Nature is not interested in how things are supposed to be. We are interested in being kinder than nature, we are interested in justice, and we are going to have to be responsible for bringing that kindness and justice to the people displaced by nature, and who are in need in need of the good things we can all have when we pay down that technical debt and build global infrastructure that works for everyone, including nature.

Ultimately, Californians and Texans and Bangladeshis and Indonesians are participating in the same project, along with the rest of us, to manage ourselves and our resources in ways that let us live comfortably and not quite so heavily upon the Earth.

We have to retreat from the shore, stay out of the wild places, and be careful with our water. We have to use less energy, less land, and take better care of each other at the global level. The faster we figure that out, the better our chances are. Most of the world is past denial now, and so is most of California. Skipping past anger and bargaining and even depression, all the way to acceptance of this new reality, and getting to work, is the best we can do.

California National Guard, Paradise, California 2018


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(Thanks to Ryan Singel for invaluable help) 


 

Surveillance Reform Can No Longer Ignore EO 12333

Yesterday, a bunch of civil liberties groups issued a letter calling for FISA 702 reform as part of the Section 215 reauthorization this year. I agree that the reauthorization this year should address the problems with 702 that weren’t addressed last year, though even on FISA, the letter doesn’t go far enough. DOJ IG will soon issue a report partly addressing the Carter Page FISA application, and that will provide an opportunity to push to make reforms to traditional (individual) FISA, such as making it clear that some defendants must get to review the underlying affidavit. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense reforming Section 215’s subpoena function without, at the same time, reforming the subpoena authority that DEA uses for a similar dragnet that undergoes far less oversight, particularly given that Bill Barr is the guy who first authorized that DEA dragnet in his first go-around as authoritarian Attorney General.

But it’s also the case that the surveillance community could — and arguably has an opportunity to — address EO 12333 as well.

The Executive branch has been exploiting the tension between EO 12333 (foreign surveillance that, because it is “foreign,” is conducted under the exclusive authority of Article II) and FISA (“domestic” surveillance overseen by the FISA court) since Dick Cheney launched Stellar Wind on bogus claims the collection on foreign targets in the US amounted to “foreign” surveillance. From 2004 to 2008, Congress moved parts of that under FISA. But at several points since, the government has reacted to FISA restrictions by moving their surveillance under EO 12333, most notably when it moved much of its collection of Internet metadata under EO 12333 in 2012.

Unfortunately, most of the surveillance community and reporters covering such issues have been woefully unaware of even the limited public disclosures on EO 12333 surveillance (which for a time was branded as SPCMA). That made activism around Section 215 far less effective, as few people understood that Section 215 data was and remains just a small part of a larger, duplicative dragnet, and a lot of the claims made about the need for USA Freedom Act didn’t account for precisely what role the Section 215 dragnet played in the larger whole.

As one of its last acts, the Obama Administration institutionalized EO 12333 sharing across intelligence agencies, formalizing what Dick Cheney had been aiming for all along, just before Donald Trump took over.  At least as soon as that happened, the FBI (and other agencies, including but not limited to CIA) obtained a source of content that paralleled (and like the metadata dragnet, surely is significantly duplicative with) Section 702 collection.

That means the Section 702 opinion released last week discusses querying methods that may also be applied, in the same systems, to EO 12333 data. Indeed, one aspect of the querying procedures FBI finally adopted — that queries limited “such that it cannot retrieve unminimized section 702-acquired information” — is the kind of setting that NSA used to re-run queries that returned FISA information so as to return, instead, only EO 12333 data that could be shared under different rules with less oversight. Furthermore, the regime set up under EO 12333, which already includes squishy language about queries “for the purpose of targeting” a US person (suggesting other purposes are permissible), has the same kind of internal approval process that the government wanted to adopt with 702.

If FBI is querying both 702 and EO 12333 raw content in the same queries, it means the standards laid out by James Boasberg in his opinion should apply. Notably, Boasberg wrote at some length about what constituted “reasonable” procedures to govern querying, and under a balancing analysis, found that the procedures in place did not comply with the Fourth Amendment.

Whether the balance of interests ultimately tips in favor of finding the procedures to be inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment is a close question. Reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment does not require perfection. See In Re Directives, 551 F.3d at J 015 (“the fact that there is some potential for error is not a sufficient reason to invalidate” surveillances as unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment). Nonetheless, if “the protections that are in place for individual privacy interests are … insufficient to alleviate the risks of government error and abuse, the scales will tip toward a finding of unconstitutionality.” kl at 1012. Here, there are demonstrated risks of serious error and abuse, and the Court has found the government’s procedures do not sufficiently guard against that risk, for reasons explained above in the discussion of statutory minimization requirements.

By contrast, under the EO 12333 procedures, the only reasonableness review takes place when NSA decides whether to share its SIGINT, which doesn’t include risk of error and abuse.

Reasonableness. Whether approving the request is reasonable in light of all the circumstances known at the time of the evaluation of the request, including but not limited to:

[snip]

e. (U) The likelihood that sensitive U.S. person information (USPI) will be found in the information and, if known, the amount of such information;

f. (U) The potential for substantial harm, embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness to U.S. persons if the USPI is improperly used or disclosed;

And that’s with the additional minimization procedures under 702 that are stronger than the dissemination rules under the EO 12333 rules.

There are limits to this. Boasberg based his Fourth Amendment review in statutory considerations, statute that doesn’t yet exist with 12333. He did not determine that the act of querying, by itself, warranted Fourth Amendment protection (though the amici pushed him to do so).

But that shouldn’t stop Congress from requiring that FBI adhere to the same practices of querying with EO 12333 collected data as it does with Section 702 collected data, which would in turn limit the value, to FBI, of engaging in surveillance arbitrage by doing things under EO 12333 that it couldn’t do under 702.

Mick Mulvaney Confesses OMB and DOD Are Withholding Evidence of a Crime from Congress

Amid the tsunami of alarming news Mick Mulvaney made at today’s press conference (Trump is holding the G-7 at Doral next year, he likely will invite Putin, Trump did engage in a quid pro quo with Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25 call), one of the more important admissions got missed.

Mick Mulvaney admitted that the White House would have been breaking the law by withholding Ukrainian security funds because it did not have a “really really good reason not to do it.”

By the way, there was a report that we were worried that the money, that if we didn’t pay out the money it would be illegal. It would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it, that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about — over at OMB, about an impoundment. And I know I’ve just put half you folks to bed, but there’s a, the Budget Control Act, Impound — the Budget Control Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money you have to spend it. At least, that’s how it’s interpreted by some folks. And we knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.

He’s referring, presumably, to a WSJ report that OMB — the agency Mulvaney is still officially in charge of — put a political appointee in charge of withholding duly appropriated security funds for Ukraine so that President Trump could extort concessions from Ukraine.

The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically.

[snip]

The president has the authority to delay the release of money in certain instances, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research agency, including if there has been an unexpected change in circumstances for the program. But without being provided explanation or justification about why the administration was delaying the aid, some career officials at the Office of Management and Budget became worried they didn’t have the legal authority to hold up the funds, according to the people familiar.

While career civil servants put an initial hold on the aid, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in OMB, was given the authority for continuing to keep the aid on hold after the career staff began raising their concerns to political officials at OMB, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Duffey also began overseeing the process for approving and releasing funds, called apportionment, for other foreign aid and defense accounts, according to a public document indicating the change.

As noted by Mulvaney today, a law passed in the wake of Richard Nixon playing games with appropriations requires that if you withhold duly appropriated funds, you explain to Congress why you’re doing so, a decision that Congress then gets to veto simply by refusing to approve of the decision. The law makes it clear that the President can’t simply ignore the will of Congress on appropriations.

And yet, that’s what Trump did for the entirety of the summer.

Worse, in his press conference today, Mulvaney admitted that Trump didn’t have a “really really good reason not to” release the funds. Rather, he had a really bad reason: he was trying to extort a quid pro quo.

And that’s why the decision — reported in ho hum fashion on Tuesday as if it were just another case of the Administration refusing Congressional subpoenas — that OMB and DOD would not respond to subpoenas is actually really important.

The subpoena to those agencies lays out some of the evidence that Trump withheld the funds after DOD cleared them. Then it lays out the evidence that Trump was defying bipartisan Congressional will in doing so.

As you are aware, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes the President to withhold the obligation of funds only “(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law.” The President is required to submit a special message to Congress with information about the proposed deferral of funds.

On August 30, 2019, Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of the House Committee on Armed Services wrote a letter to Mr. Mulvaney requesting information why military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld and when it would be released. They wrote: “This funding is critical to the accomplishment of U.S. national security objectives in Europe.”

On September 3, 2019, a bipartisan group of Senators–including Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Johnson–wore a letter requesting that OMB release the military assistance to Ukraine that the Trump Administration was withholding:

The funds designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative are vital to the viability of the Ukrainian military. It has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory. In fact, Ukraine continues to fight daily on its eastern border against Russia-backed separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in this war. U.S.-funded security assistance has already helped turn the tide in this conflict, and it is necessary to ensure the protection of the sovereign territory of this young country, going forward.

On September 5, 2019, Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to OMB urging the Trump Administration to lift its hold on security funds to support Ukraine, writing: “These funds, which were appropriated by Congress as Foreign Military Financing and as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and signed into law by the President, are essential to advancing U.S. national security interests.”

On September 9, 2019, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.” The White House never responded to this request. However, two days later, on September 11, 2019, the White House released its hold on the military assistance to Ukraine.

On September 24, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that, although he was “very actively involved in advocating the aid,” he “was not given an explanation” about why it was being withheld, even though he talked to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. He stated: “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine the sequences of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression.

That’s the subpoena that Mulvaney’s agency and DOD (the latter, after initially saying it would cooperate) are defying. It’s a subpoena that goes to the zenith of Congress’ authority, whether it is issued within or outside of an impeachment inquiry. But within an impeachment inquiry, it illustrates that on one issue of fact at the core of the investigation, there is bipartisan agreement that the White House was in the wrong.

And today, Mulvaney admitted that the White House did not have a very very good reason to withhold those funds, even while confirming that Trump was withholding the funds, in part, to extort a quid pro quo.

Even if the White House had a very very good reason, the law obliges the White House to explain to Congress why it blew off Congress’ power of the purse. The White House didn’t do it in real time — not even to Mitch McConnell. And the White House is refusing to do it now.

Update: Jack Goldsmith did a review of this issue in Lawfare today, but before the Mulvaney comments.

Update: Lisa Murkowski complained about this issue to Tim Mak today.

Gordon Sondland’s Statement Protects, Does Not Break with, Trump

Gordon Sondland is behind closed doors right now, trying to talk his way out of implication in crimes (he is represented, it should be noted, by the same lawyer who helped Karl Rove talk his way out of crimes in Valerie Plame’s outing, Robert Luskin).

But if Congressional staffers are doing their job, he’s going to have a hard job to spin what he did as anything but criminal. That’s true, in part, because his statement is full of obvious contradictions and evasions. But contrary to what many in the press (fed in advance with deceptive claims about his testimony) have claimed, the statement does not break with Trump, it protects him.

Who’s the boss?

Sondland’s first inconsistency pertains to one of the most important issues: why he was in charge of Ukrainian policy when Ukraine isn’t even in the EU. His general explanation for it is bullshit — and also should raise questions about what he has been doing in Georgia, Venezuela, and Iran. He studiously avoids explaining who ordered him to focus on Ukraine (as other testimony has made clear, the answer is because Trump ordered him to).

From my very first days as Ambassador, Ukraine has been a part of my broader work pursuing U.S. national interests. Ukraine’s political and economic development are critical to the long-lasting stability of Europe. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which began nearly five years ago, continues as one of the most significant security crises for Europe and the United States. As the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, I have always viewed my Ukraine work as central to advancing U.S.-EU foreign policy. Indeed, for decades, under both Republican and Democrat Administrations, the United States has viewed Ukraine with strategic importance, in part to counter Russian aggression in Europe and to support Ukraine energy independence. My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests. I always endeavoured [sic] to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input.

But the logistics of it are more interesting, particularly as it pertains to coordinating with Rudy Giuliani.

At times (at both the very beginning, after his description of the July 10 meeting, and again to explain away the July 10 meeting), he emphasizes that Mike Pompeo has approved of all this.

I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.

[snip]

We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.

Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.

[snip]

While I have not seen Dr. Hill’s testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting. And so, I have to view her testimony — if the media reports are accurate — as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand, which had ultimate responsibility for executing U.S. policy overseas. Again, I took my direction from Secretary Pompeo and have had his consistent support in dealing with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to this very day.

Again, the public record makes it clear he was put in this role by Trump, not Pompeo. And while I’m sure Pompeo knew of what he was doing (his suggestion that Pompeo was “supportive of it” seems most clearly on point), he was reporting directly, via a third channel of authority, directly to Trump.

That said, his suggestion that Pompeo — a former CIA Director but now in charge of diplomacy, which is not supposed to be the realm of utmost secrecy — trusts him “with our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” suggests there’s something else going on here, something about which he’s reassuring Pompeo he’ll remain silent.

The claim that he took his direction from Pompeo, bolded above, is contradicted on the matter of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement.  His description of why Rudy was involved varies slightly over time. Initially, he says he coordinated with Rudy because the Three Amigos, collectively, decided they had to involve Rudy to achieve other diplomatic objectives.

Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Later, he claims that “his understanding” is that Trump ordered Rudy’s involvement, as if he didn’t get that order directly.

Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President’s personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker.

Still later, he strengthens that, suggesting he was “taking direction from the President” directly.

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose.

If he was taking orders from Trump on involving Rudy (which is almost certainly the case), then the claims of Pompeo’s role are just cover.

Sondland is obfuscating on both these issues: why the EU Ambassador was put in charge of Ukraine policy, and why Rudy was allowed to dictate Ukraine policy. While the press thinks Sondland has taken a big break from Trump, he has not on the key issue: that Sondland was taking orders from Trump and doing precisely what the President ordered him to.

The royal we

There are really telling passages in this statement where Sondland slips into the first person plural. Generally, he does so when describing something that he, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker jointly believe. As noted, he does so is to explain why he and Rick Perry and Kurt Volker coordinated with Rudy.

It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.

Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Another place he does so is to explain why the Three Amigos moved forward on scheduling the July 25 call when John Bolton and Fiona Hill were opposed (he’s utterly silent about the second half of his July 10 meeting with the Ukrainians).

We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.

He also uses it to describe his meeting with Zelensky on July 26, after Zelensky had delivered on the quid pro quo, where he set up the White House meeting.

During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.

This is Gordon Sondland’s testimony, remember, not the Three Amigos’ testimony. But in these key passages, he claims — without explaining how he can do so — to speak for all three. He doesn’t explain if they had conversations (or WhatsApp threads) agreeing on all these issues, he just suggests he can speak for all three.

And his denials that he shared this statement with State or White House would not extend to these other people he invokes as “we.”

Perhaps a more interesting invocation of the third person plural comes where he claims that Bill Taylor, along with him and Volker, had no concerns about the push to get to Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation that would deliver part of a quid pro quo.

First, I knew that a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President Zelensky. My view was, and has always been, that such Western reforms are consistent with U.S. support for rule of law in Ukraine going back decades, under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor.

Taylor is still with State, so if Sondland is being honest when he says he hasn’t shared his statement, then Taylor has not bought off on this claim. I look forward to seeing whether he backs it when he testifies.

[Update, 11/20: I now believe that some of this use of royal “we” is meant to invoke Trump but not necessarily the other Amigos.]

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

The press has been most excited about the fact that Sondland claims Trump may have had a quid pro quo, but he was ignorant of it.

But in fact, Sondland does not deny a quid pro quo. In fact, his carefully written statement admitting he knew the quid pro quo involved Burisma (which he claims he had no idea meant Biden) admits that the 2016 ask was part of it.

Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.

And his denials about knowing that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 elections are laughable. His first such denial claims he only learned later about the specific nature of (part of) Rudy’s quid pro quo, but he doesn’t describe when he learned of it, either there or later.

I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Later, he denies recalling having any conversations about these aspects of the quid pro quo with 1) Rudy, 2) State, and 3) any “White House official” (does that description include the President?).

Third, given many inaccurate press reports, let me be clear about the following: I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

[snip]

Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

But he doesn’t deny talking about the nature of the quid pro quo with Volker (who’s not technically a State Department employee), Rick Perry (ditto), or the Ukrainian officials that Fiona Hill saw him discussing Burisma with on July 10.

When he denies Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, he denies only that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 election (and not Naftogaz considerations or claims about what happened in 2016 or, perhaps even more tellingly, Russian help in 2020).

Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.

In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.

On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.

Sondland here credits Trump’s statements, as if any Trump statement ever had any veracity, as true, even though they came at a time when the White House already knew about the whistleblower complaint, which makes what would already be unreliable outright laughable, if indeed Trump actually said that at all.

But the bigger point is this: Sondland doesn’t deny a quid pro quo. Just that he knew it was the quid pro quo that the House is currently most closely focused on early on in the process.

Gaps in the timeline

Given the way he is protecting Trump in all this, there are notable key gaps in his timeline.

Sondland doesn’t answer two obvious questions: why the Ambassador to the EU was part of the delegation to Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and why the inauguration delegation flew back to DC, almost immediately, to brief the President on it.

On May 20, 2019, given the significance of this election, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC. During this visit, we developed positive views of the new Ukraine President and his desire to promote a stronger relationship between Kiev and Washington, to make reforms necessary to attract Western economic investment, and to address Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.

On May 23, 2019, three days after the Zelensky inauguration, we in the U.S. delegation debriefed President Trump and key aides at the White House. We emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the strengthening relationship with President Zelensky, a reformer who received a strong mandate from the Ukrainian people to fight corruption and pursue greater economic prosperity. We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.

One reason those players would have flown to DC to debrief Trump is because of the scheme to take over Naftogaz led by Perry, something Sondland doesn’t mention at all.

He also plays games with his antecedent in trying to claim that a June 4 meeting involving Zelensky, Rick Perry, and Ulrich Brechbuhl (where they discussed natural gas, among other things) had been long planned.

Following my return to Brussels and continuing my focus on stronger U.S.-EU ties, my Mission hosted a U.S. Independence Day event on June 4, 2019. Despite press reports, this event was planned months in advance and involved approximately 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the media, business, and civil society. The night featured remarks by the Ambassador and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Following the main event, we hosted a smaller, separate dinner for about 30 people. President Zelensky and several other leaders of EU and non-EU member states attended the dinner, along with Secretary Perry, U.S. State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and numerous other key U.S. and EU officials. Though planned long in advance with the focus on improving transatlantic relations, we also viewed this event as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.

He uses “this event” to refer both to the larger 700 person event and the smaller 30 person meeting, effectively making a claim — that the larger event had been long-planned — that he tries to apply to the smaller one. He also is curiously silent about Jared Kushner’s involvement.

In addition to being silent about the second part of his July 10 meeting — the part that got John Bolton worried about what drug deals he was doing — Sondland is also silent about his pre-call briefing to Trump on July 25, after Bolton’s prep.

I was not on that July 25, 2019 call and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.

And his denials about the post-call summaries mentioning Burisma or Biden do not amount to a denial that his prep did. Nor does that denial address his July 26 conversation with Trump (which he addresses in a different section), which he describes as nonsubstantive without addressing whether Trump mentioned the quid pro quo.

I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.

In other words, even where denies talking about the quid pro quo, the denials don’t amount to denials in the most important conversations.

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

Finally, Sondland is playing games regarding what communications he has had. With the exception of his July 26 and September 9 calls, doesn’t describe what direct communications with Trump he has had.

Just as key, he is mostly silent about his conduct of diplomacy on WhatsApp, precisely the crime (doing official business on private accounts) Trump accused Hillary of to get elected (though his lawyers wrote a letter claiming that they’re helpless in the face of State’s refusal to share his comms). That’s all the more telling given the structure of Sondland’s denials of extensive comms with Rudy. His statement deals with three different kind of comms. He focuses on in-person meetings and phone calls.

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Giuliani in person only once at a reception when I briefly shook his hand in 2016. This was before I became Ambassador to the EU. In contrast, during my time as Ambassador, I do not recall having ever met with Mr. Giuliani in person, and I only spoke with him a few times.

[snip]

My best recollection is that I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for the first time in early August 2019, after the congratulatory phone call from President Trump on July 25, 2019 and after the bilateral meeting with President Zelensky on July 26, 2019 in Kiev. My recollection is that Mr. Giuliani and I actually spoke no more than two or three times by phone, for about a few minutes each time.

[snip]

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose. In these short conversations, Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.

[snip]

Ten weeks after the President on May 23, 2019 directed the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani, I had my first phone conversation with him in early August 2019. I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns

But he acknowledges that Volker introduced him to Rudy “electronically.”

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

Nowhere in his statement does he explain what form of electronic communication this introduction took place over, and nowhere does he deny having WhatsApp (or any other kind of texting) communications with Rudy.

That’s all the more curious given that he claims — ridiculously — that his statements to Bill Taylor to avoid talking about a quid pro quo on WhatsApp were not an attempt to avoid leaving a record.

Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say “stop texting” or “call me.” Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation. The complexity of international relations cannot be adequately expressed in cryptic text messages. I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates. That is how I most effectively get things done. My text message comments were an invitation to talk more, not to conceal the substance of our communications.

Immediately after saying those WhatsApp texts no not really record the truth, he points to some emails that, he says, show that he truthfully did not want a quid pro quo.

I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.

Remember: State is withholding all of Sondland’s electronic comms from the impeachment inquiry (even assuming he turned them all over to State). So his games with phone calls and texts should be assumed to be just that, claims made from the temporary security of believing the comms to check his claims will never be turned over.

Which is to say that Sondland says quite a bit in this statement. But the most important things are his silences.

Update: On November 5, Sondland unforgot some stuff laid out in Bill Taylor and Tim Morrison’s testimony. But many of the holes laid out above remain.

On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

Since the NYT revealed that SDNY is investigating Rudy Giuliani for what they call “lobbying” laws,

Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Mr. Giuliani said he provided those memos to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this year and was told that the State Department passed the memos to the F.B.I. He did not say who told him.

Mr. Giuliani said he also gave the memos to the columnist, John Solomon, who worked at the time for The Hill newspaper and published articles and videos critical of Ms. Yovanovitch, the Bidens and other Trump targets. It was unclear to what degree Mr. Giuliani’s memos served as fodder for Mr. Solomon, who independently interviewed Mr. Lutsenko and other sources.

Mr. Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lobbying disclosure law contains an exemption for legal work, and Mr. Giuliani said his efforts to unearth information and push both for investigations in Ukraine and for news coverage of his findings originated with his defense of Mr. Trump in the special counsel’s investigation.

He acknowledged that his work morphed into a more general dragnet for dirt on Mr. Trump’s targets but said that it was difficult to separate those lines of inquiry from his original mission of discrediting the origins of the special counsel’s investigation.

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Lutsenko never specifically asked him to try to force Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall, saying he concluded himself that Mr. Lutsenko probably wanted her fired because he had complained that she was stifling his investigations.

“He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’ He came here because he said he had been trying to transmit this information to your government for the past year, and had been unable to do it,” Mr. Giuliani said of his meeting in New York with Mr. Lutsenko. “I transmitted the information to the right people.”

And since the WSJ reported that Pete Sessions — named as Congressman 1 in the Lev Parnas/Igor Fruman indictment — was cooperating with a grand jury subpoena targeting Rudy,

A grand jury has issued a subpoena related to Manhattan federal prosecutors’ investigation into Rudy Giuliani, seeking documents from former Rep. Pete Sessions about his dealings with President Trump’s personal lawyer and associates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena seeks documents related to Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings with Ukraine and his involvement in efforts to oust the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, as well as any interactions between Mr. Sessions, Mr. Giuliani and four men who were indicted last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy accounts, the people said.

Mr. Sessions’ knowledge of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings is a primary focus of the subpoena, the people said.

There has been a closer review of whether it would be possible to indict the President’s personal lawyer under foreign agent laws, with broad consensus that what Rudy is doing is actually covered by FARA — and not just his work for Ukraine, but also (among other places) for Turkey.

But there have been a number of claims that, I think, have been too pat about how easy or hard this is going to be.

Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Bijan Kian are not apt precedents

First, a number of people have looked at how SDNY considered — but did not charge — Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, and Vin Weber under FARA, suggesting the same considerations would hold true with Rudy. Others have looked at Greg Craig (who was prosecuted but acquitted in DC for FARA after SDNY decided not to charge it) and Bijan Kian (who was convicted but then had his conviction thrown out by Judge Anthony Trenga based on the legal theory DOJ used) to suggest these cases are too difficult to charge to get Rudy.

It is absolutely the case that when powerful men with skilled lawyers have been pursued under FARA in recent years, DOJ has succeeded not in trial, but instead has gotten either plea deals or failed at trial (and that may have been one of the facts behind Mueller’s decision to strike a plea deal with Paul Manafort). That is sound evidence that SDNY is no doubt aware of.

But several things distinguish Rudy.

Most notably, all of those earlier cases came before DOJ’s newfound commitment to prosecuting FARA, with Mike Flynn prosecutor Brandon Van Grack taking over where a woman named Heather Hunt had been in charge before. At a minimum, that means a process that originally took place with Craig, Podesta, Weber, and Kian under an assumption that FARA would be treated solely as a registration issue may now be taking place under an assumption that violations of FARA — presumably to include both a failure to register and (what most charges have been so far) false statements under registration — can be prosecuted. That assumption would dramatically change the attention with which DOJ would document their communications, so prosecutors would not now be stuck going to trial (as Craig’s prosecutors were) without having DOJ’s documentation of a key meeting.

Notably, the same thing that triggered the FARA prosecution of Mike Flynn — concerns raised by Congress — happened last year when seven Democratic Senators wrote National Security Division head John Demers asking for a review. So there may well be documentation of Rudy’s claims about whether he does or does not need to register that SDNY is building a prosecution around.

Plus, one thing clearly distinguishes Rudy from all these other men. Rudy is not taking this investigation seriously, and does not have a lawyer reviewing his exposure. From reports, he may not have the ready cash to pay the likes of Rob Kelner (Flynn’s original, very competent, lawyer) or Robert Trout (Kian’s excellent lawyer). So he may be doing things now (not least, running his mouth on TV and making public statements about who he works for and how it gets paid) that put him at greater exposure.

Rudy G’s efforts to implicate State and DOJ (and the President) in his work

That said, another thing distinguishes Rudy from these past cases. Since the whistleblower complaint got made public, he has spent most of his time insisting that everything he did, he did with the awareness and involvement of — at least — the State Department. And in Trump’s July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky, he invoked Bill Barr’s name right alongside his nominal defense attorney.

Both foreign agent statutes (FARA — the one being discussed for Rudy, and 18 USC 951 — another one, with more flexibility, that Kian was charged under) require registration with the Attorney General. And while telling foreigners you’re negotiating with that the Attorney General will be by soon to pick up the disinformation demanded does not fulfill the requirements for registry (in part, the point of registering is to provide a paper trail so the public can track who is paying for what), it does change things that Rudy is suggesting that his work has the imprimatur of official policy to it.

That said, the assumption that implicating powerful government figures will keep you safe is a dangerous proposition. If the easiest way to end the Ukraine inquiry is to blame Rudy for it all (and if that’s still possible after several weeks of damning testimony), that may well come to pass.

And if Bill Barr needs to greenlight a FARA prosecution of Rudy as a way to minimize the damage to the Administration, and to himself, he may well do that (yet another reason why he should have recused long ago).

That’s all the more true given that most of Trump’s aides seem to recognize how damaging Rudy is for Trump’s exposure. If Trump won’t separate himself from Rudy, his lackeys might one day decide, then separate Rudy from Trump by prosecuting him, the same way they separated Michael Cohen from Trump.

That said, with Trump, loyalty is always transactional. And if he believes Rudy has dirt that can bring him down — and given the likelihood some of what Rudy is doing is the continuation of what Paul Manafort had been doing since August 2, 2016, that may be true — then Trump will defend Rudy’s work even if it means claiming everything he did operated under Article II authority.

The additional factor: ConFraudUs

The discussions about Rudy’s exposure under FARA, however, seem not to have considered another factor: that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have already been charged with conspiracy in conjunction with actions Rudy had a key role in. The Ukrainian grifter indictment charges them with two counts of Conspiracy to Defraud the US for hiding what money was behind their influence campaign on Ukraine (count 1) and Nevada marijuana (count 4), as well as False Statements to the FEC (count 2) and falsification of records (count 3) tied to the Ukraine influence operation. Counts 1-3 all pertain to the Ukrainian grifters laundering of campaign funds through Global Energy Producers, a front that (SDNY alleges) they falsely claimed was “a real business enterprise funded with substantial bona fide capital investment,” the major purpose of which “is energy trading, not political activity.” Those funds went, among other places, to the Trump related Super PAC America First Action and to Congressman Sessions.

Rudy has equivocated about his relationship to the Ukrainian grifters (and claims it goes through Fraud Guarantee, not GEP). But John Dowd, writing as the grifters’ lawyer, already stated for the record that he does have ties and those ties relate to his representation of the President. That is, the grifters are working for him, even while he works for them.

That’s important because Sessions’ statements have denied any official action in response to meetings with the grifters, but he also had meetings with Rudy in the time period, official action in response to which he has not denied. In addition, Rudy (whom Sessions says he has been friends with for three decades) also headlined a fundraiser for Sessions. And on top of the straw donations the grifters gave Sessions directly, America First Action gave Sessions far more to him, $3 million, the indictment notes twice.

In other words, while Sessions has denied doing anything in response to the grifters’ meetings, he has not denied doing anything in response to Rudy’s communications with him. If he sent his letter calling for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch in response to a request from Rudy — whose finances are inextricably tied to the grifters — then it may be fairly easy to add him to the conspiracy the (successful) object of which was to get Yovanovitch fired. The propaganda Rudy sent (as laid out by NYT, and which the State IG already sent to the FBI earlier this year) would then simply be part of the conspiracy.

A few more points. There’s a passage of the indictment included to substantiate the allegation that the grifters were affirmatively trying to hide their purpose.

Indeed, when media reports about the GEP contributions first surfaced, an individual working with PARNAS remarked, “[t]his is what happens when you become visible … the buzzards descend,” to which PARNAS responded, “[t]hat’s why we need to stay under the radar…”

The indictment doesn’t disclose a number of details about this communication: who the interlocutor is, how it was collected, and whether it involved a mere warrant (for stored communications such as email or texts) or a wiretap. But particularly given the seeming overlap between these activities and those of people we know were surveilled during the period in question, it’s a pregnant inclusion in the indictment. It suggests the Feds may already be privy to far more about this scheme and the reasons the grifters might want it suppressed. Add that to the fact that, as WSJ reported, the Feds already have Rudy’s bank records, which will show whether he really worked for Fraud Guarantee or whether that, like GEP, is just a front.

Cui bono

Finally, consider this. The indictment says that the grifters were pushing to oust Yovanovitch to benefit  particular unnamed Ukrainians’ interests.

[T]hese contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.

[snip]

At and around the time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for [Sessions], PARNAS met with [SESSIONS] and sought [his] assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall [Yovanovitch]. PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

According to NBC, the Ukrainian in question was Yurii Lutsenko. But Lutsenko has since been ousted, and he has reneged on statements elicited by Rudy implicating the Bidens. More importantly, one of the promises Zelensky made in his July 25 call to Trump was to put in his own prosecutor who would pursue the two investigations — to trump up a claim Ukraine was behind the election tampering in 2016, and to invent evidence against Hunter Biden — that Trump wanted.

The President: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor bf New York Ci:ty, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The oteer thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son. that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand arid I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament; the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look. into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.

Which is what led to Lutsenko’s ouster.

Moreover, the prosecutor Biden shut down was not Lutsenko, but Viktor Shokin, who has written affidavits which then got fed to John Solomon on behalf of Dmitry Firtash, who is trying hard to avoid extradition (on bribery charges) to the US.

That — plus the financial and legal ties between Firtash and the grifters — suggests there may be other Ukrainians on whose behalf the grifters were working to get Yovanovitch withdrawn. Firtash is certainly one. A corrupt prosecutor with ties to Russian intelligence, Kostiantyn Kulyk, who had worked for all these guys — and who is behind a dossier on accusing Hunter Biden of corruption — may be another. That is, Yovanovitch may have been the impediment not to inventing dirt on the Bidens, which is a fairly easy ask, but instead on creating the pre-conditions for people like Firtash to go free (which would also explain the natural gas angle).

All of which is to say that it would be a fairly trivial matter to establish the evidence to charge Rudy in ConFraudUs along with the Ukrainian grifters, as SDNY already has a lot of the evidence it would need.

Yes, Rudy Giuliani is, by all appearances, in blatant violation of FARA. Yes, he may get away with that, in part because DOJ hasn’t yet figured out hard to charge it consistently (though knows what not to do given recent history), and in part because he has made sure to implicate Trump and his cabinet officials.

But there’s a larger question about whether those same financial ties expose Rudy for much uglier conspiracy charges.

The Criminal Investigation into Paul Manafort Was (and May Still be) Ongoing–and Likely Pertains to Trump’s Ukraine Extortion

Robert Mueller was never able to determine whether Paul Manafort entered into a quid pro quo on August 2, 2016, trading — either on his own or with the approval of Trump — promises to help carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in exchange for help winning the election.

Mueller never made that determination, in part, because Manafort lied during the period he was purportedly cooperating with the investigation.

Here’s what Mueller did determine was reliable:

First, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed a plan to resolve the ongoing political problems in Ukraine by creating an autonomous republic in its more industrialized eastern region of Donbas,922 and having Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President ousted in 2014, elected to head that republic.923 That plan, Manafort later acknowledged, constituted a “backdoor” means for Russia to control eastern Ukraine.924 Manafort initially said that, if he had not cut off the discussion, Kilimnik would have asked Manafort in the August 2 meeting to convince Trump to come out in favor of the peace plan, and Yanukovych would have expected Manafort to use his connections in Europe and Ukraine to support the plan.925 Manafort also initially told the Office that he had said to Kilimnik that the plan was crazy, that the discussion ended, and that he did not recall Kilimnik asking Manafort to reconsider the plan after their August 2 meeting.926 Manafort said [redacted] that he reacted negatively to Yanukovych sending-years later-an “urgent” request when Yanukovych needed him.927 When confronted with an email written by Kilimnik on or about December 8, 2016, however, Manafort acknowledged Kilimnik raised the peace plan again in that email.928 Manafort ultimately acknowledged Kilimnik also raised the peace plan in January 2017 meetings with Manafort [redacted — pertains to him admitting continuation of the plan into 2018] 929

Second, Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election.930 That briefing encompassed the Campaign’s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, it also included discussion of “battleground” states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.931 Manafort did not refer explicitly to “battleground” states in his telling of the August 2 discussion, [redacted]

Third, according to Gates and what Kilimnik told Patten, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed two sets of financial disputes related to Mana fort’s previous work in the region. Those consisted of the unresolved Deripaska lawsuit and the funds that the Opposition Bloc owed to Manafort for his political consulting work and how Manafort might be able to obtain payment.933

922 The Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which are located in the Donbas region of Ukraine, declared themselves independent in response to the popular unrest in 2014 that removed President Yanukovych from power. Pro-Russian Ukrainian militia forces, with backing from the Russian military, have occupied the region since 2014. Under the Yanukovych-backed plan, Russia would assist in withdrawing the military, and Donbas would become an autonomous region within Ukraine with its own

Although Mueller included this significant summary of the issue in his Report (and a description of how Rick Gates kept sending polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, to be shared with Ukrainian oligarchs and Oleg Deripaska’s GRU-linked aide, Viktor Boyarkin), the government nevertheless refused to release the details regarding this dispute that were laid out in court filings and exhibits regarding his breach of his plea deal when WaPo tried to liberate them starting in March. The government explained that, “a number of matters [related to his lies that were referred] to other offices in the Department of Justice … remain ongoing,” and asked for any further matters in WaPo’s challenge be deferred until six months later, which happens to be Tuesday. Judge Amy Berman Jackson never ruled differently, so that’s where things have stood, at least on the public docket, since April, shortly after the Mueller Report was released.

That’s interesting because the government accused Manafort of lying about five different topics. Some are definitely related to each other, and some (as well as his underlying guilty verdicts) are also definitely related to recent events relating to Ukraine and Russia. Which is why it’s worth looking back to learn what Manafort worked hardest to obscure in September and October 2018. Doing so suggests that Trump’s Ukraine call — including the demand for election help and Volodymyr Zelensky implementation of the Steinmeier Formula since — may simply be one step in paying off his campaign debts from 2016. As such, Rudy Giuliani’s involvement with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman may just be the continuation of what Manafort was pursuing — also being paid by a cut-out system — even after he got sent to jail.

In this post, I’ll look specifically at how the lies Manafort told do and may relate to current events. In a follow-up, I hope to show how the issues for which he was prosecuted also relate to current events, well beyond Trump’s efforts to undermine Manafort’s prosecution to make a pardon easier. Taken together, such analysis will show that the Ukraine scandal is completely inseparable from the Russia one.

Manafort told five lies

Altogether, the government tried to hold Manafort accountable for five lies. Those were:

  1. How he got paid using a kick-back system involving a SuperPAC, Rebuilding America Now, which (on top of violating prohibitions on coordination with the campaign) may have accepted funds from foreigners. Mueller’s team never seemed to figure out how that scheme worked, in part because Manafort never settled on an explanation for the kickbacks. ABJ ruled that Manafort lied about this.
  2. Whether he tried to dissociate Konstantin Kilimnik from his own witness tampering to hide the true role of the Hapsburg Group, some former European leaders Manafort used to lobby for Viktor Yanukovych’s party. Effectively, the government accused Manafort of trying to suggest that Kilimnik wasn’t willfully part of what he was doing during a period that spanned from February (when the actual witness tampering happened) through April 2018 (when Manafort tried to tamper again). ABJ agreed in principle that Manafort had lied about this, but ruled the government did not present a preponderance of the evidence, so didn’t count this against him in sentencing.
  3. Whether he lied to adapt his story to a more exonerating one being told by a Trump flunkie — it’s not clear who — involved in doing something — it’s not clear what — to save Trump’s campaign in the last days during which Manafort managed the campaign. ABJ agreed he had.
  4. What the fuck he was doing on August 2, 2016, and (though this is always unstated) whether his lies to hide repeated discussions to support a Ukrainian “peace” plan between then and April 2018 were an attempt to hide an effort to pay off a quid pro quo tied to assistance winning the election.
  5. Whether Manafort spoke to the Administration after inauguration, either directly or indirectly. ABJ ruled that the government had not provided evidence that Manafort lied about his ongoing communications with the Administration.

Of these lies, the lies about another investigation (lie 3 above) seem to be unrelated to the rest. That’s because they involved, well before the Mueller investigation finished, another part of DOJ, and so almost certainly have nothing to do with Russia or Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, the Trump campaign may have been willing to cheat multiple ways to win the 2016 electionm.

The kickback system (lie 1 above) may or many not relate to the Russian and Ukraine questions. Mueller was never able to sort it out, so it’s not clear what to make of it. For my purposes, however, it’s relevant that Manafort’s claims of working for “free” may turn out to be false. Instead, Paul Manafort — who pled guilty a year ago to laundering money and refusing to register to hide how his influence campaigns in the US were being paid for by Ukrainian oligarchs — may have been paid to run Trump’s campaign by foreigners laundering those payments via various means. That’s significant because, last week, DOJ accused Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman of laundering money (from sources Russian, Ukrainian, and unknown) through various front companies, including one called Global Energy Production apparently created for the function, to engage in influence campaigns relating to Ukraine, effectively the same kind of scheme that Manafort engaged in for years. Particularly given that Rudy claims to be both working for and employing Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, it raises questions about whether his claims to be working for “free” are also bogus, just a lie to hide how the cut through works.

Kilimnik and Manafort’s efforts to push a Ukraine “peace” plan overlap with their witness tampering

Lies 2 and 4 are obviously related, because Konstantin Kilimnik — as Manafort’s tie to several Ukrainian oligarchs and Oleg Deripaska — is at the center of both of them. Manafort’s efforts to deny that Kiliminik was his co-conspirator may have been motivated by nothing more than a need to permit Kevin Downing to claim, falsely, that Manafort’s guilty plea affirmed no “collusion” between the President’s campaign manager and any Russians had occurred. Not only did ABJ affirmatively state that, whatever Kilimnik’s ties to GRU, his role did amount to a link to Russia.

So Manafort was both trying to lie that he had pled guilty to entering a conspiracy with a Russian suspected of ties to GRU, but he was lying to hide precisely what the nature of any conspiracy that may have tied assistance with the 2016 election to help implementing a Ukraine “peace” plan favored by Russia and Russian-aligned Ukrainian oligarchs.

Still, even within that context, there are details of the two Kilimnik lies that deserve more attention. Consider how the timeline of the two sets of lies intersect in 2018, months after Manafort was first charged, in the weeks and months after Trump had reportedly told allies that he was sure he would survive the Mueller investigation because Manafort would not flip on him.

In the weeks after that claim was published, from February 5 through 10, 2018, Manafort was still trying to deliver on his “New initiative for Peace” (PDF 82).

Later in February, after Mueller unveiled Rick Gates’ cooperation and made it clear he was pursuing another of the vehicles Manafort used to hide his influence operations, the Hapsburg Group, he and Kilimnik reached out to key players in that influence operation (who, unbeknownst to Manafort, had already been cooperating for some time) in an attempt to get them to lie about the influence operation. Those contacts, over Telegram and WhatsApp, took place between February 24 and 28.

But knowing that another part of his past influence operation was under scrutiny still didn’t dissuade Manafort from pursuing that “peace” plan Kilimnik first pitched him on August 2, 2016, amid a discussion of how to get Trump elected. On March 9, he was sending some unnamed person related documents from Kilimnik. (PDF 92ff) The breach hearing and other documents make it clear this was an effort to test the viability of a Ukrainian candidate, including his willingness to implement the “peace” plan.

He was doing it again on March 26. (PDF 97)

Manafort would try to dissociate this polling from the people who were really implementing, including, apparently, trying to pretend that Kilimnik didn’t know about it.

Then — included in the contacts that (the government says) were part of Manafort’s conspiracy to obstruct with Kilimnik, though it’s not clear how — there were more contacts with the Hapsburg Group flacks on April 4.

In fact, Manafort’s efforts to pursue this “peace” plan continued even further, with him hoping that some unnamed person would find documents valuable on May 4. (PDF 95)

There’s a lot more sealed evidence about how relentlessly Manafort pursued a Ukrainian “peace” plan between August 2, 2016 and at least the time he was jailed for bail violations in June 2018 (though remember, the government alleges he continued to communicate in incriminating ways even from jail, via laptops carried by his attorneys). Altogether, there are 38 exhibits documenting Manafort’s false denials of his actions on that front. Because the government says it has (or had) an ongoing investigation into such matters, we don’t get to see what the exhibits are. But Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing (who filled in at Parnas and Fruman’s bail hearing the other day) has seen them. And Downing, reportedly, was sharing details of Manafort’s cooperation with other lawyers in Manafort’s Joint Defense Agreement with the President, including Rudy Giuliani.

Trump “hired” his “free” defense attorney Rudy Giuliani on April 19, 2018, after current Parnas and Fruman attorney John Dowd quit. And once Manafort could no longer pursue  his Ukraine “peace” plan, Rudy got involved in efforts to press for certain concessions in Ukraine.

Manafort’s attempts to communicate with the Administration (excepting via counsel)

Finally, there’s the last alleged lie, the one ABJ said prosecutors did not prove.

It’s not really clear what prosecutors believed Manafort was communicating about, beyond hires (like Steve Calk) in the Administration, because the topic of interest (which in some redactions appears to be too short to refer to Ukraine or Russia) is redacted in the documents released. They only submitted six exhibits to substantiate their claim. But the two unredacted exhibits presented in support of their case are notable.

On May 15, Manafort drew up a document that (the government’s declaration makes clear) included a section titled “Targets,” along with notes indicating Manafort would reach out to people about those targets. (PDF 152)

It might be a coincidence, but Manafort draws up this document right at the beginning of Parnas and Fruman’s efforts to donate big money to key Republicans through their shell company.

And on May 25, someone asked Manafort via WhatsApp whether it was cool to invoke his name if he or she met with Trump the following week, one-on-one. (PDF 156)

In the breach hearing, ABJ summarizes this:

You say that what he said was false because he did in fact agree to have messages sent to the administration on his behalf. And you point to evidence in which he offered to have other people contact the [redacted] on behalf of Mr. [redacted], for example, or to press buttons. But that outreach appears to have been two people outside the administration who themselves would have contacts within. There is some evidence that Mr. Gates said that Mr. Manafort said he still had connections, and that another individual asked Mr. Manafort if he, that individual, could tell [redacted (the President)] he was still close to Manafort.

And you have his involvement in lobbing with respect to [redacted], and Exhibit 404 is this memo summarizing the group’s plan that say, somewhat ambiguously, [redacted] will find out if [redacted] did her bit and get her to call [redacted] And it’s not even crystal clear that he was supposed do that by calling her.

In explaining the lie, Greg Andres makes it clear that Manafort was also representing in March that he had the ability to send messages to someone (probably Trump) in the Administration.

Significantly, Manafort lawyer Richard Westling dismisses that anyone would value Manafort’s advice or support at a time when he was already under indictment.

he was already under indictment at this point and, you know, the idea that he was going to pass a message and it would have some value, frankly, no offense to Mr. Manafort, but I can’t see that.

It’s notable that Downing did not make that claim because — as recent reports make clear — Rudy continued to consult Manafort on these Ukraine issues even after he went to prison, through Downing.

Especially since, in all its representations about these ongoing communications, the government makes clear,

for the purposes of proving the falsity of Manafort’s assertions in this section, the government is not relying on communications that may have taken place, with Manafort’s consent, through his legal counsel. We previously so advised the defense.

It’s clear the government knew Manafort continued to communicate with Trump via Downing and Rudy; they just weren’t going to reveal that they had pierced privilege or what they had learned.

The Ukrainian grifters timeline

Now consider how the timelines of Manafort’s relentless pursuit of a “peace” deal, his witness tampering with Kilimnik, and his efforts to communicate with Trump overlap with the known timeline of the Ukrainian grifters (I’ll continue to update this). It suggests that Parnas and Fruman kicked in their influence operations just as Manafort’s legal problems made him unable to do so.

February 5-10, 2018: Manafort working on “a new Peace initiative”

February 19, 2018: Manafort email pertaining to “peace” plan

February 21, 2018: Manfort emails document pertaining to “peace” plan to undisclosed recipients

February 23, 2018: Mueller reveals Rick Gates’ plea deal

February 24-28, 2018: Kilimnik and Manafort attempt to script testimony of Hapsburg Group flacks

March 2, 2018: Pentagon issues final approval to send Javelin missiles to Ukraine

March 3, 2018: Fruman participates in high donor meeting at Mar-a-Lago

March 9, 2018: Manafort working on polling regarding Ukraine “peace” plan for potential client

March 26, 2018: Manafort working on Ukraine “peace” plan

April 4, 2018: Kilimnik again attempts to witness tamper with Hapsburg Group flacks

Early April, 2018: Reported halt to Ukraine’s cooperation with Mueller

April 11, 2018: Parnas and Fruman form Global Energy Producers

April 19, 2018: Trump “hires” “free” defense attorney Rudy Giuliani

April 29, 2018: Someone first solicits help creating a website for GEP

May 2, 2018: NYT reports that Ukraine has stopped cooperating with Mueller probe

May 4, 2018: Manafort sends unnamed person information on Ukraine plan

May 8, 2018: Parnas and Fruman meet with Trump and seven other people “about preparations for victory in the midterm elections;” Fruman raises “America’s support for Israel and Ukraine,” topics about which “Trump … was absolutely positive”

May 15, 2018: Real estate lawyer Russell Jacobs deposits $1.26 million pass through funds into Aaron Investments LLC

May 15, 2018: Manafort document lists “Targets” and reflects commitment on his part to reach out about them.

May 17, 2018: Parnas LLC Aaron Investments donates $325,000 to Trump PAC, America First Action in the name of GEP

May 21, 2018: Parnas has breakfast with Don Jr and Tommy Hicks Jr, head of America First

May 24, 2018: Someone again solicits help creating a website for GEP

June 8, 2018: Manafort charged with witness tampering; prosecutors move to revoke bail

June 21, 2018: GEP donates $50K to Ron DeSantis

September 14, 2018: Manafort enters into what would be a failed plea agreement, admitting he laundered money and influence on behalf of Ukrainian oligarchs, but entering into a five week process of learning what prosecutors know

Mid-to-late 2018: Rudy referred to Parnas and Fruman for work with “Fraud Guarantee”

Around November 2018: Rudy starts working for Parnas and Fruman

Late 2018: While Parnas and Rudy were eating together, “someone” approached Rudy and gave him information about Ukraine

January 8, 2019: Manafort lawyer’s redaction fail reveals that Manafort was asked about the Ukraine “peace” plan and that Manafort was lying about whether it got raised while working on the campaign and also that he was being asked about ongoing contacts with the Administration

Background

I have laid out the structure of Manafort’s lies in these posts:

The primary sources for them are these documents:

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