July 5, 2022 / by 

 

Comings and Goings on the Proud Boy Leaders Prosecution

When DOJ finally added Enrique Tarrio to the Proud Boy leader conspiracy, I noted that the way DOJ has structured the prosecution team for the Proud Boys made it really hard to understand where things were headed.

I’ve been expecting and predicting this indictment since December 28. But for the life of me, I’m not sure where DOJ expects to go from here.

This indictment describes the numbers of people massed at several stages of the operation. 65 members on the Ministry of Self Defense (MOSD) Members Group. 90 people in the New MOSD members group created on January 4. Approximately 100 Proud Boys who met at the Washington Memorial the morning of the attack. Donohoe bragging at 12:00PM on January 6 that “WE ARE WITH 200-300 PBS,” just before they kicked off the riot.

Perhaps this framework is meant to provide a way to implicate all those others, 300 people who agreed, by signing up, that they were following a plan that DOJ has now shown (and that Matthew Greene’s cooperation was designed to show) was a plan to occupy buildings from the start.

But otherwise, this still feels really dispersed, and the prosecution team (which consists of three visible members for the leadership conspiracy, including Erik Kenerson, Jason McCullough, and Luke Jones, and about four detailees from other offices for satellite cases; a fourth prosecutor who had been on the core cases, Christopher Berridge, left immediately after [Matthew] Greene pled) has a far harder caseload than the significantly larger team on the Oath Keepers.

Perhaps something will really start to crystalize as some of these continuances end in April. Or perhaps DOJ will be serially prosecuting Proud Boys for the foreseeable future.

That remains true. But on Friday, there were several minor structural changes worth noting. I’ve attempted to summarize the status of some key Proud Boy and related cases here (I’ve only listed a judge if it is someone other than Tim Kelly).

First, Trial Attorney Conor Mulroe filed a notice of appearance in the Proud Boy Leaders and the Biggs Co-Traveler cases. He hasn’t shown up on any January 6 cases before this. It’s likely he was added because on April 22, Judge Kelly set a trial date in the Proud Boy leaders for August 8. That is, it’s likely he was added to start preparing for trial. But the Biggs co-travelers, on whose case he also filed an appearance, won’t be going to trial anytime soon. That’s partly because three of the defendants have to work through the conflict created by John Pierce’s representation of three of them — Paul Rae, Kevin Tuck, and Nate Tuck (though Pierce recently ceded representation to William Shipley for the Tucks). In hearings, prosecutors have said that at least three of the defendants are considering plea deals.

Then Luke Jones, who has been part of the Leaders case from the start, dropped off the case (he recently dropped off an unremarkable misdemeanor case as well though remains on the Ryan Nichols and Alex Harkrider case). Jones had been focusing on Zach Rehl’s prosecution, and he remains on the Rehl co-traveler case, which has not yet been indicted. I don’t know what to make of his departure (perhaps a recognition that his efforts to flip Rehl won’t ever come to fruition?). Jones has, in the past, worked on national security cases, and in fact was listed as prosecuting Russian hacker Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh in the press release (though not the docket). That case will never go to trial (because the US is not about to get custody of Gladkikh anytime soon). But it suggests that Jones may have spent time last June helping co-counsel present that case to a DC grand jury.

I’m most interested in the addition of Nadia Moore to the Leaders case. She’s a Brooklyn-based prosecutor, among five or so prosecutors from around the country who’ve been working the Proud Boy cases (in this table, William Dreher is from Seattle, Alexis Loeb is from San Francisco, Michael Gordon is from Tampa, and Christopher Veatch is from Chicago). And as the table makes clear she has been working the Florida-based Proud Boy and related cases, as well as the case of Steven Miles and Matthew LeBrun, who spent January 6 with Florida Proud Boys AJ Fischer and friends, and the former of whom is accused of helping to bust open the other side window in the original breach of the Capitol. This may suggest the government believes they’ll obtain the testimony of multiple Floridians against Biggs and Tarrio.

Meanwhile, a slew of these cases have just one (listed) prosecutor, including the Kansas City case with its five remaining defendants.

We’ll still see some significant movements in the Proud Boys cases. But for now, the focus — as so much of the January 6 investigation is — may be on Florida.

Update, 6/1: Today Jones dropped off the Nichols and Rehl co-traveller cases.


Scene-Setter for the Sussmann Trial, Part Two: The Witnesses

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

In this post, I laid out the elements of the offense, a single count of a false statement to the FBI, which will drive the outcome of the Michael Sussmann trial, in which jury selection begins today. As I showed, John Durham has to prove that:

  • Michael Sussmann said what Durham has accused him of saying, which is that he was not sharing information with the FBI on behalf of any client
  • Sussmann said that on September 19, not just September 18
  • Sussmann meant his statement to be understood to mean that no client of his had an interest in the data, as opposed to that he was not seeking any benefit for a client from the FBI
  • The lie made a difference in how the FBI operates

In this post I’d like to say a bit about the expected witnesses. Before I do, remember the scope of the trial, as laid out in several rulings from Judge Cooper.

  • Durham can only raise questions about the accuracy of the Alfa Bank anomaly if Sussmann does so first
  • He generally can only discuss how the data was collected via witnesses; with one exception, Cooper has ruled the emails between Rodney Joffe and researchers to be inadmissible in a trial about whether Sussmann lied
  • While Cooper found that 22 of 38 Fusion emails over which Democrats had claimed privilege were not privileged, he also ruled that because Andrew DeFilippis got cute in delaying his request for such a review, Durham can’t use those emails or pierce any related claims of privilege at trial
  • That leaves the unprivileged emails between Fusion and journalists, which Cooper has ruled admissible; he even considered changing his decision and letting a tweet from Hillary come in as evidence (though note that the emails Durham got pre-approved barely overlap with the emails Durham wants to use at trial, so there still could be problems admitting individual emails at trial)
  • Cooper ruled the communications between Rodney Joffe, the person who shared the DNS anomaly with Michael Sussmann, and Laura Seago, his connection with Fusion, were privileged
  • Cooper ruled that Sussmann can elicit testimony from witnesses, including Robby Mook and Marc Elias, about how Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more made him not just a campaign opponent, but a threat to national security

As I noted, a dispute over the final jury instructions suggests that Durham is beating a tactical retreat from his charged claim that Sussmann lied to cover up that he was representing both Hillary and Rodney Joffe.

Mr. Sussmann proposes modifying the last sentence as follows, as indicated by underlining: Specifically, the Indictment alleges that, on or about September 19, 2016, Mr. Sussmann, did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation in a matter before the FBI, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2), namely, that Mr. Sussmann stated to the General Counsel of the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning Donald Trump, when, in fact, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign.5 The government objects to the defense’s proposed modification since it will lead to confusion regarding charging in the conjunctive but only needing to prove in the disjunctive.

Durham wants to be able to get a guilty verdict if the jury decides that Sussmann was hiding Hillary but not hiding Joffe. What Durham will really need to prove won’t be finalized until sometime next week, meaning both sides will be arguing their cases without knowing whether Durham will have to prove that 1) the allegations pertained to Donald Trump personally 2) Sussmann had two clients 3) he lied to hide both of them, or whether he has to prove only that Sussmann lied to hide one or more client.

Durham’s tactical retreat is likely dictated by the scope set by Cooper and will dictate the witnesses he wants to call.

This post laid out whom, as of last week, each side planned to call. Remember that it’s not uncommon for a defendant not to put any witnesses on the stand (though I would be surprised if that happened in this case). Normally, the scope of a witness’ testimony is set by the Direct examination of them. So, for example, if Durham puts Marc Elias on the stand to talk exclusively about his decision to hire Fusion GPS, then Sussmann could not ask him questions about other topics. But Sussmann incorporated Durham’s entire witness list, and Cooper ruled that he would rather not have to call people twice. So for at least the Democratic witnesses, Sussmann will have the ability to ask about things that Durham would really prefer not to appear before the jury even though Durham called that witness as a government witness. Because Durham doesn’t understand much of what really went on here, that may be a really useful thing for Sussmann to exploit.

Summary Witness: It is typical for prosecutors to call one of their FBI agents at trial as a sort of omniscient narrator who can both introduce a vast swath of evidence (such as records the accuracy of which have been stipulated for emails that can be introduced without witness testimony) and provide some interpretation of what it all means. Usually, that agent is not the lead agent, because the lead agent knows things that the prosecutor wants to keep from the defendant and the public, either details of an ongoing investigation or major investigative fuck-ups that haven’t been formally disclosed to the defendant. As of last week, DeFilippis maintained that, “It may be an agent who’s our summary witness, but we’re not looking to put a case agent on the stand.” That suggests there is no agent on his team that is sufficiently compartmented from his secrets to take the stand. Judge Cooper seemed a bit surprised by that.

Jim Baker: Jim Baker is the single witness to Michael Sussmann’s alleged crime. Durham is going to have a challenge walking him through the version of this story Durham wants to tell, not least because the materiality parts of it — whether Baker thought it unusual to hear from Sussmann, whether he thought it mattered who Sussmann’s client was — are also recorded in Baker’s past sworn testimony. Given the late discovery of a text showing that Sussmann wrote Baker on September 18 telling him he wanted to benefit the FBI, and given the even later discovery of March 2017 notes recording that the FBI understood that Sussmann did have an (undisclosed) client, Sussmann doesn’t even have to trash Baker to call into question his memory: he can allow Baker to admit he can’t separate out what happened in which of at least five communications he had with Sussmann that week, the sum total of which show that Sussmann wasn’t hiding the existence of a client, did represent that he was trying to help the FBI, and did help the FBI. The cross-examination of Baker will, however, be an opportunity for Sussmann to implicate Durham’s investigative methods, both for building an entire case around Baker after concluding, years earlier, that he wasn’t credible, and then, for refreshing Baker’s memory only with the notes that said what Durham wanted Baker to say, and not what the FBI ultimately came to know.

Bill Priestap and Tisha Anderson, Mary McCord and Tasha Gauhar: This trial is expected to feature two sets of witnesses — the first set called by Durham and the second called by Sussmann — who will be asked to reconstruct from their own notes what was said in a meeting attended by Baker. Priestap and Anderson will say that the day of Baker’s meeting with Sussmann, they wrote down that Sussmann didn’t have a client (but not in the words Sussmann is known to have used or the words that Durham has charged). McCord and Gauhar will say that in March 2017, Andy McCabe stated, in front of Baker and with no correction, that the FBI did know Sussmann had a client. The only notes in question that use the same phrase — “on behalf of” — that Durham used in the indictment say that Sussmann did say he was meeting with FBI on behalf of someone. I expect at least several of these witnesses will be asked materiality questions: If they didn’t ask who the client is, doesn’t that prove it didn’t matter? The notes of everyone involved, importantly, emphasized the import of Sussmann sharing an imminent newspaper article. Sussmann will also ask Priestap how and why he asked the NYT to hold the Alfa Bank story.

Agents Heide, Sands, and Gaynor, plus Agent Martin: Durham plans to call three of the FBI Agents who investigated the anomaly — for a couple of hours each, in the case of Heide and Sands — to talk about how they did so. Let me suggest that not only is this overkill, it may backfire in spectacular fashion, because the March 2017 notes make it clear that these agents did not take very basic steps to chase this anomaly down and Heide, at least, is not a cyber agent (in the same period he was also investigating George Papadopoulos). In addition to having those hours and hours of testimony, Durham will call Agent Martin, ostensibly to explain what one could learn from the anomaly, though there’s still a fight about the scope of his testimony,  particularly with respect to misleading claims he would make about the scope of the data accessed to find the anomaly in the first place.

Antonakakis, Dagon, DeJong, and Novick: According to what DeFilippis said last week, in the wake of Cooper’s ruling excluding all but one of the researchers’ emails, he likely will not call David Dagon, may or may not call Manos Atonakakis, but will call two employees of Rodney Joffe whom, DeFilippis claims, were “tasked by” Joffe, in the first case to pull some but not all of the data researchers used to test the anomaly, and in the second case to do research that may not have been presented to the FBI. If these decisions hold, his presentation of the data will be, as I understand it, affirmatively false. For that reason, Sussmann might have been able to challenge Durham’s reliance on these witnesses in the absence of others; that Sussmann is not doing so may suggest he knows that the witnesses won’t do what Durham thinks they will. If Durham persists in this plan, it means he’ll have FBI agents spend 5 hours describing how they chased down an anomaly, without ever really explaining what the anomaly is (and how it could have easily been investigated using about two different steps that the FBI didn’t take). Perhaps (given his tactical retreat), Durham may want to eliminate virtually all discussion of the anomaly at the heart of this case. Alternately, this is a tactical move to force Sussmann to call David Dagon (whom Durham has immunized) or Manos Antonakakis (whose status is unknown) in hopes that they’ll help him make his YotaPhone case or explain the full scope of the data accessed (particularly if he gets Martin to make misleading comments about that topic first). But if Durham forgoes his chance to call the researchers and Sussmann does so himself, it may allow Sussmann to rebut Durham’s claims about what the anomaly was and what went into the two white papers presented to the FBI. In addition, Sussmann can have these witnesses explain how far before the involvement of the Democrats this research started and how Trump’s open invitation to Russia to do more hacking meant the anomaly posed a possible national security threat worthy of sharing with the FBI.

Robby Mook, Marc Elias, and Debbie Fine: Rather than talking about the anomaly, Durham wants to talk about the Hillary campaign. At least as of last week (before Cooper excluded some of this stuff on privilege and belated privilege challenges), Durham will definitely call Mook, may call Elias, but may rely instead on a Hillary lawyer named Debbie Fine, who was on daily calls with Fusion. Durham wants to claim,

[T]he strategy, as the Government will argue at trial, was to create news stories about this issue, about the Alfa-Bank issue; and second, it was to get law enforcement to investigate it; and perhaps third, your Honor, to get the press to report on the fact that law enforcement was investigating it.

Sussmann, by contrast, knows he has a witness or witnesses who will rebut that.

[I]t’s not the truth; and in fact, it’s the opposite of the truth. We expect there to be testimony from the campaign that, while they were interested in an article on this coming out, going to the FBI is something that was inconsistent with what they would have wanted before there was any press. And in fact, going to the FBI killed the press story, which was inconsistent with what the campaign would have wanted.

As suggested above, Elias is a witness Sussmann will call even if Durham does not. Among other things, Sussmann will have Elias explain what it was like to have Donald Trump openly asking Russia to hack Hillary some more.

Laura Seago: Before Cooper ruled on privilege issues, DeFilippis (who doesn’t know how to pronounce her last name) said he would call Seago. She was the pivot point between Fusion and Rodney Joffe. According to Fusion attorney Joshua Levy, Seago knows little about the white paper from Fusion that Sussmann shared with the FBI. “Seago didn’t contribute to it, doesn’t know who did, doesn’t know who researched it, doesn’t know who wrote it, doesn’t know its purpose; and the government’s aware of all that.” So it’s unclear how useful she’ll be as a witness.

Eric Lichtblau: As I noted the other day, Durham is trying to prevent Lichtblau from testifying unless he’s willing to testify to all his sources for the Alfa Bank story (which would include a bunch of experts never named in any charging documents). My guess is that Cooper will rule that forcing Lichtblau to talk about communications with Fusion would be cumulative, though he might force Lichtblau to talk about an in-person meeting he had at which Fusion shared information that did not derive from Joffe. If Sussmann succeeds in getting Lichtblau’s testimony, however, he will be able to talk about what a serious story this was and what a disastrous decision agreeing to hold the story was for his own career and, arguably, for democracy.

Perkins Coie billing person and McMahon: As Durham has repeatedly confessed, most of the substance of his conspiracy theory is based off billing records. But there’s a dispute about whether Sussmann fully billed his meeting with Baker (Sussmann has noted, for example, that he paid for his own taxi to and from the meeting). Durham will have a Perkins Coie person explain how they track billing and will call a former DNC person with whom Sussmann had lunch immediately before his Baker meeting, either because Sussmann said something to him about the Baker meeting, or because he needs to rule out that Sussmann billed for the lunch meeting but not Baker.

Agent Grasso: In addition to the hours and hours of testimony about how the FBI did investigate the anomaly, Durham also wants to call an Agent Grasso, with whom Joffe shared a piece of the Alfa Bank allegations directly. This may actually be an important witness for Durham, because it might show that the packaged up allegations shared with Baker were substantially different than what Joffe was sharing when his identity was not hidden.

Kevin P: Durham only plans to call one of the two CIA personnel at the meeting in January 2017 (ironically meaning a meeting in March 2017 will get far more focus than a meeting that played a central role in the indictment). It sounds like Sussmann will get the one person to validate an email from another person who also recorded Sussmann saying he had a client.

Agent Gessford: One FBI Agent Sussmann will call will authenticate emails Sussmann will use with other witnesses to show what FBI’s understanding of Sussmann’s activities were in 2016. Not only will he use these emails to prove that the FBI knew well he was representing Hillary on cyber issues, but he will likely also use these emails to talk about what it looks like for a campaign to be systematically attacked through the entirety of a campaign by a hostile nation-state, which will make the potential seriousness of the Alfa Bank anomaly quite clear.

Agent Giardina: This is someone the scope of whose testimony Durham may have actually tried to limit by calling him himself. Sussmann will have Giardina explain that after the Frank Foer article, he tried to open an investigation, which Sussmann will use to prove that the FBI would have opened an investigation whether or not he shared the tip with the FBI.

Jonathan Moffa: Moffa, a senior FBI agent involved in the Crossfire Hurricane and Alfa Bank investigations will address materiality. He’ll explain how, given the UNSUB investigation open to find out who in Trump’s camp got a heads up to the hack-and-leak investigation, it was inevitable they would chase down this tip and treat it, like the CH investigation itself, as a Full Investigation.

DOJ IG Michael Horowitz: On paper, Horowitz’s testimony will be limited to explaining how an anonymous tip from Joffe via Sussmann is supposed to work, which is that someone in a position to direct a tip to the right person does so and succeeds in addressing a national security concern. Joffe provided a tip to Horowitz in January 2017 that — we can assume given Horowitz’s testimony — proved to be valuable. This tip will also demonstrate that DNS research is not as limited as Agent Martin will claim it is. But given the way that Durham has failed to understand basic aspects of Horowitz’s investigation, including ones that disproved large swaths of Durham’s conspiracy theories, this testimony might be somewhat contentious.

Update, 5/22: Very belatedly added Moffa after writing this post.


Will KleptoCapture Catch John Durham, Along with the Russian Spies and Oligarchs?

I’ve been right about a lot of things regarding John Durham’s investigation (though not, apparently, that he would supersede the indictment against Michael Sussmann — maybe he was afraid of getting no-billed if he corrected the things in the indictment he has since discovered to be false?).

Perhaps the most prescient observation I’ve made, though, was that Durham had no fucking clue where to look for evidence related to his already-charged allegations.

I’ve seen reason to believe Durham doesn’t understand the full scope of where he needs to look to find evidence relevant to that case.

I said that in November. Since that time in the Sussmann case, Durham has had to publicly confess he had not:

Effectively, Durham spent most of three years speaking to those who would confirm his conspiracy theories, and not consulting the actual evidence. It took until six months after Durham charged Sussmann before Durham tested Sussmann’s sworn explanation for his Baker meeting — and when he checked, he found the evidence backed Sussmann’s explanation.

Six months after indicting Igor Danchenko, Durham asked to extend discovery another month

It’s that record that makes me so interested in Durham’s second bid to extend deadlines for classified discovery in the Igor Danchenko case.

After Danchenko argued he couldn’t be ready for an April 18 trial date, Durham proposed a March 29 deadline for prosecutors to meet classified discovery; that means Durham originally imagined he’d be done with classified discovery over six weeks ago. A week before that deadline, Durham asked for a six week delay — to what would have been Friday. Danchenko consented to the change and Judge Anthony Trenga granted it. Then on Monday, Durham asked for another extension, this time for another month.

When Durham asked for the first delay, he boasted they had provided Danchenko 60,000 unclassified documents and promised “a large volume” of classified discovery that week (that is, before the original deadline).

To date, the government has produced over 60,000 documents in unclassified discovery. A portion of these documents were originally marked “classified” and the government has worked with the appropriate declassification authorities to produce the documents in an unclassified format.

[snip]

Nevertheless, the government will produce a large volume of classified discovery this week

This more recent filing boasts of having provided just one thousand more unclassified documents and a mere 5,000 classified documents — for a case implicating two known FISA orders and several past and current counterintelligence investigations.

To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter.

Danchenko waited six weeks and got almost nothing new.

See this post for an explanation of all the classified information that Danchenko should be able to demand and the onerous process that using it requires, called Classified Information Procedures Act. Even in November, I showed that Danchenko could likely make a case that he should get discovery from the FBI and NSA, and probably CIA and Treasury. There is no way Durham is getting through this case with just 5,000 classified documents.

As he noted in his opposition to this latest request for an extension, with each request, Durham’s proposed schedule was shrinking the time afforded Danchenko to review classified discovery before providing a list of the classified information he wanted to use at trial (called a CIPA 5 notice), first from 60 days to 40, and then from 40 days to 22.

On March 22, 2022, the Special Counsel filed a Consent Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 44. In his Motion, the Special Counsel sought to extend the deadline to produce classified discovery from March 29, 2022, to May 13, 2022. Id. at 2. The Special Counsel’s motion also sought to extend the dates for various CIPA filings and hearings. Id. Importantly, the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule reduced the amount of time within which Mr. Danchenko had to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 60 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 40 days.

[snip]

On May 9, 2022, the Special Counsel filed his Second Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 48. In his motion, the Special Counsel now tells the Court that he can provide the outstanding classified discovery by “no later than” June 13, 2022. See id. at 2. He also proposes a June 29, 2022, deadline for Defendant’s Section 5(a) written notice. Id. Therefore, the Special Counsel has essentially asked this Court to enter an Order that will now decrease Mr. Danchenko’s time within which to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 40 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 22 days.

[snip]

Mr. Danchenko would be substantially prejudiced by the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule because it significantly shortens the time period within which Mr. Danchenko can review any final classified productions and file his CIPA Section 5(a) notice. That is of particular concern to Mr. Danchenko because the Special Counsel has not provided sufficient notice of how much additional classified discovery may be forthcoming other than his “belie[f]” that the “bulk” of the classified discovery has already been produced.

Shrinking Danchenko’s deadlines would make the additional discovery that is still outstanding far less useful. In the Sussmann case, for example, it took over a month for Sussmann’s team to find the documents that disprove Durham’s case buried among 22,000 other documents provided on his extended deadline. So while Durham might be trying to comply with discovery obligations, arguing that the proper solution to his struggles fulfilling discovery is to shrink Danchenko’s own time to review the evidence suggests he’s not doing so in good faith.

Judge Trenga must have agreed. While he granted the government’s request for an extension, he gave Danchenko 42 days to submit his CIPA 5 notice.

A Russian dog named Putin ate Durham’s classified homework

I’ve noted how the post-invasion sanctions on Alfa Bank deprived John Durham of a second investigative team, Alfa Bank’s Skadden Arps lawyers, whose filings a judge observed seemed to be “written by the same people” as Durham’s.

But the aftermath of Putin’s attempt to overthrow Ukraine may be causing Durham even bigger problems in the Danchenko case.

When Durham asked for an extension of his CIPA deadline in the Sussmann case days after Russia extended its invasion of Ukraine, he explained that the people who had to write declarations in support of CIPA (usually agency heads like CIA Director William Burns or NSA Director Paul Nakasone) were busy dealing with the response to Ukraine.

However, the Government’s submission includes not only the Government’s memorandum but also one or more supporting declarations from officials of the U.S. intelligence community. The Government’s review of potentially discoverable material is ongoing, and these officials cannot finalize their declarations until that review is complete.

Moreover, recent world events in Ukraine have further delayed the Government’s review and the officials’ preparation of the supporting declaration(s). As a result, the Government respectfully submits that a modest two-week adjournment request to its CIPA Section 4 filing deadline is appropriate and would not impact any other deadlines, to include the currently scheduled trial date

Effectively, this request moved the CIPA deadline from a week before Durham’s classified discovery deadline to a week after; yet Durham just committed, once again, to finalizing his CIPA 4 submission almost a week before his classified discovery deadline in the Danchenko case.

That’s important because Durham overpromised when he said he could finish a CIPA filing before the discovery deadline. Durham filed a supplement to his CIPA 4 notice on May 7 (nine days before trial) that, unless Judge Cooper ruled orally at a closed hearing last week, remains outstanding. That’s not entirely unusual in a case that relies on classified information, but if Cooper were to rule this classified information was necessary for Sussmann’s defense, it would give Sussmann no time to actually prepare to use it.

Durham cited the Ukraine response again on March 22, a month after Russia launched its failed attempt to take Kyiv, when he asked for an extension on his classified discovery deadline.

However, recent world events in Ukraine have contributed to delays in the production of classified discovery. The officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies are heavily engaged in matters related to Ukraine.

Importantly, these people focusing on keeping us safe from Russian aggression rather than, as Durham is, making us safe for Russian aggression, are different than the people cited in the Sussmann case. These aren’t senior officials, but instead those “preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies.” That’s not William Burns, that’s FBI counterintelligence agents, among others.

In last week’s request for an extension, Durham didn’t mention Ukraine, but his reference to “overseas activities” suggests the response to Ukraine remains the problem.

However, recent world events continue to contribute to delays in the processing and production of classified discovery. In particular, some of the officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies continue to be heavily engaged in matters related to overseas activities.

Unsurprisingly, Danchenko asked Trenga to require Durham to provide some kind of explanation for why “overseas activities,” probably Ukraine, continue to delay classified discovery in a case criminalizing an attempt to fight Russia’s attack on democracy in 2016.

Moreover, the Special Counsel has failed to adequately explain how “recent world events” (Dkt. 48 at 2) have specifically made it impossible for him to meet his discovery obligations. While it seems unlikely that the same government officials charged with declassifying discovery are also responding to events overseas, it certainly is possible. But, even if that is the case, the Special Counsel must offer more explanation than he has, especially in light of the fact that his prior motion to extend the discovery deadline was based on the events in Ukraine, and the ongoing nature of that conflict must or should have been considered when he requested the May 13 deadline.

Sadly, Trenga didn’t order up an explanation for why this delay, probably Ukraine-related, is causing so many difficulties for Durham’s prosecution of Danchenko.

KleptoCapture threatens at least one and possibly up to three key Durham figures

One reason I would have liked Trenga to force Durham to explain how a dog named Putin ate his classified homework is because the public response to Russia’s attempt to conquer Ukraine has already implicated three figures who are key to Durham’s case. While I need to update it, this post attempts to capture everything that the US government and some partners have done since the expanded invasion.

Dmitry Peskov

Perhaps the response least damaging to Durham’s case — but one that will affect discovery — involves Dmitry Peskov. As I explained in this post, Durham made Peskov’s relationship with Chuck Dolan and Olga Galkina a key part of his indictment against Danchenko.

In his role as a public relations professional, [Dolan] spent much of his career interacting with Eurasian clients with a particular focus on Russia. For example, from in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained [Dolan] and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. [Dolan] served as a lead consultant during that project and frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in the Company Reports, including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration (“Russian Press Secretary-I”), the Deputy Press Secretary (“Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I”), and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.

[snip]

In anticipation of the June 2016 Planning Trip to Moscow, [Dolan] also communicated with [Peskov] and Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the Company Reports.

[snip]

Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, [Galkina] sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that [Dolan] had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-1 in support of [Galkina]’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

On March 3, the State Department added Peskov to the sanctions list under a 2021 Executive Order President Biden signed, in part, to target those who (among other things), “undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners.” On March 11, Treasury added Peskov’s family members to the sanctions list. The package used to sanction Peskov would have been the product of intelligence reports circulated within the US government.

While the legal reason Peskov was sanctioned pertained to his official role in the Russian government (and the lavish lifestyles his family enjoys even with his civil service salary), State also described Peskov as “the chief propagandist of the Russian Federation.” That, by itself, would be unremarkable. But if — as even Durham alludes — Peskov had a role in feeding Galkina disinformation for the Steele dossier, particularly if he crafted disinformation to maximally exploit Michael Cohen’s secret call with Peskov’s office in January 2016, that could be a part of the sanctions package against Peskov. If it were, then it would be centrally important discovery for Danchenko.

Oleg Deripaska

Then there’s Oleg Deripaska. This post lays out in depth the reasons why Danchenko would have reason to demand information on Deripaska’s role in the dossier, including:

  • Evidence about whether Oleg Deripaska was Christopher Steele’s client for a project targeting Paul Manafort before the DNC one
  • All known details of Deripaska’s role in injecting disinformation into the dossier, up through current day
  • Details of all communications between Deripaska and Millian

Given his blissful ignorance of the actual results of the Mueller investigation and the DOJ IG Carter Page investigation, Durham was always going to have a nasty discovery surprise in complying with such requests. Plus, a search last October of two Deripaska-related properties made clear that the most likely source of disinformation in the dossier was under aggressive criminal investigation for sanctions violations.

A recent Bloomberg story reported that that criminal investigation has now been moved under and given the prioritization of the KleptoCapture initiative started in response to the Ukraine war.

Deripaska has been sanctioned since 2018 for his ties to Vladimir Putin, and the seizures at a Washington mansion and New York townhouse linked to him predate the invasion of Ukraine. But the investigation of Deripaska’s assets is now part of an escalating U.S. crackdown on ultra-rich Russians suspected of laundering money and hiding assets to help finance Putin’s regime.

The raids were key steps to unearth information that may determine whether — and how — Deripaska moved money around. Among the mishmash of items taken from the New York and Washington properties were half a dozen works of fine art, sunglasses, hiking boots, housewares, financial records, telephone bills and other documents, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation hasn’t been made public.

The Deripaska inquiry is now part of a special U.S. Department of Justice task force dubbed “KleptoCapture,” according to New York federal prosecutor Andrew Adams, who is heading up the group.

“As Russia and its aggression continues, we have our eyes on every piece of art and real estate purchased with dirty money,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a recent news conference.

If DOJ plans on indicting Deripaska — for sanctions violations and anything else on which the statute of limitations has not expired — they might delay discovery cooperation with Durham until they do so. And if such a hypothetical indictment mentioned Deripaska’s role in facilitating the 2016 election interference and/or successful efforts to exploit the dossier to undermine the Russian investigation, it might make Durham’s charges against Danchenko unsustainable, even if he is able to otherwise fulfill his discovery requirements. Durham’s theory of prosecution is that Danchenko is the big villain that led to FBI confusion over the dossier, but Deripaska seems to have had a far bigger role in that.

Sergei Millian

Finally, there’s Sergei Millian, who happened to meet with Deripaska in 2016 at an event, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, that played a key role in the election operation.

In the same week Millian met Deripaska, a bunch of cybersecurity experts first started looking for evidence of Russian hacking in DNS data and Igor Danchenko was in Moscow meeting with Chuck Dolan and his other named Steele dossier sources.

As the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes make clear, FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in October 2016. All the evidence indicates that the investigation did not arise from Crossfire Hurricane and, given that Millian’s ID was hidden in the dossier reports shared with NYFO on their way to HQ, and given that other information on Millian was fed into DC, not NY, was probably predicated completely independent of Crossfire Hurricane.

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on [Millian], the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was [Millian].

Plus, Mueller found plenty on Millian to raise separate issues of concern.

Given several other counterintelligence cases developed in NYFO, the predication likely had more to do with Russia’s effort to use cultural and other diaspora groups as a way to covertly extend Russian influence.

And in fact, Millian’s group — the Russian American Chamber of Commerce — has already made a cameo appearance in one such prosecution, that against Elena Branson, a complaint that was rolled out in the same week as the sanctions against Peskov.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

This awareness and flouting of registration requirements is the kind of thing that often features in prosecutions for 18 USC 951 violations. And, at least in the case of Branson, the statute of limitations can extend so long as the person in question continues to play a role in US politics, though in Branson’s case, she only fled the country 18 months ago.

If the FBI believed Millian was an unregistered foreign agent who fled to avoid an investigation in 2017, his ongoing involvement in efforts to gin up an investigation into the investigation — particularly claims that, even according to Durham, misinterpreted facts his own prosecutors filed and thereby contributed to death threats against witnesses in the investigation — then it wouldn’t rule out an investigation into Millian himself, an investigation that would have preceded Durham’s reckless reliance on him (or rather, Millian’s unvetted Twitter feed) as a star witness against Danchenko.

Even Millian’s public claim (albeit one offered by someone the FBI considers an embellisher) that he called the White House directly to elicit this investigation could be of interest.

We can now say with great certainty that Durham didn’t check the most obvious sources of evidence against key players involved in the Steele dossier, such as DOJ IG’s backup files in the Carter Page investigation that is the primary focus of Durham’s Danchenko indictment. That makes it highly likely he never bothered to see whether other parts of DOJ considered key players in the Steele dossier to be actual threats to democracy.

One of those key players is undoubtedly Oleg Deripaska. And the renewed focus on Russian influence operations may expand beyond that.


Scene-Setter for the Sussmann Trial, Part One: The Elements of the Offense

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

In the first of what will be a number of “scene-setters” for the Michael Sussmann trial next week, Devlin Barrett makes two significant errors. First, he misrepresents what Sussmann said in a text to James Baker on September 18, 2016.

In a text message setting up the meeting, Sussmann claimed he was not representing any particular client in bringing the matter to the FBI’s attention.

Here’s what the text says:

Jim – it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availibilty [sic] for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau. Thanks.

[I’m unclear whether the misspelling of “availability” is Sussmann’s or Durham’s.]

The distinction between “representing” and “on behalf of” will be a core issue litigated in this trial (as I’ll lay out below), which makes Barrett’s sloppiness affirmatively misleading.

Second, Barrett serially accepts Durham’s framing — that the cybersecurity researchers who started identifying the Alfa Bank anomaly months before Rodney Joffe ever talked to Michael Sussmann were doing “campaign research.”

The two-week trial will delve into the murky world of campaign research, lawyers and the role the FBI played in that election, as Trump and Hillary Clinton vied for the presidency, and federal agents pursued very different investigations surrounding each of them.

[snip]

Prosecutors signaled this week that they plan to call a host of current and former law enforcement officials to describe how the FBI pursued the Alfa Bank accusations, and to paint Sussmann as part of a “joint venture” that included Joffe, Clinton’s campaign, research firm Fusion GPS and cybersecurity experts.

[snip]

Cooper, however, has limited how deeply Durham’s team may go into the particulars of any alleged joint venture among Democratic operatives, ruling that he will not allow “a time-consuming and largely unnecessary mini-trial to determine the existence and scope of an uncharged conspiracy to develop and disseminate the Alfa Bank data.”

Barrett does this in spite of the fact that Durham has repeatedly said the only evidence he has supporting his joint venture conspiracy theory (even assuming it were illegal) is billing records. While Barrett cites the gist of Cooper’s ruling excluding Durham’s unsubstantiated claims of a “joint venture,” he doesn’t quote Cooper noting that, “some evidence suggests that Fusion GPS employees had no connection to the gathering or compilation of the Alfa Bank data.” Effectively, an experienced DOJ reporter has fallen for Durham’s use of unsubstantiated materiality claims to frame a prosecution that didn’t charge the underlying conspiracy. That’s a real disservice to readers who don’t know the difference between uncharged materiality claims and a charged conspiracy.

So here’s my effort to explain to newbies what the trial is about. Durham has to prove that:

  • Michael Sussmann said what Durham claims Sussmann did to James Baker on September 19, 2016
  • What he said was a lie
  • The alleged lie was material to the functioning of the FBI

Durham has to prove that Sussmann said what Durham claims he did on September 19, 2016

From the start, Durham has been uncertain what lie Sussmann told. As Sussmann pointed out in a motion for a bill of particulars right from the get-go, at various points in the indictment, Durham claimed that Sussmann’s lie was:

  • “that he was not doing his work on the aforementioned allegations ‘for any client’” (one)
  • “that he was not acting on behalf of any client” (one, two)
  • that he was not “acting on behalf of any client conveying particular allegations concerning a Presidential candidate” (one)

That is, repeatedly in the indictment, Durham was conflating the “work” of chasing down the allegations (which is not at issue in this prosecution at all) with the meeting where Sussmann shared those allegations with the FBI. The last formulation is what Durham charged, but as we’ll see, unless Durham supersedes this indictment today, he may have problems with that formulation as well.

Almost six months after Durham charged Sussmann for lying about sharing allegations on September 19, he got rock-solid proof — a text from Sussmann to Baker that Durham only found because Sussmann kept asking Durham to go back and look for these records — that Sussmann said, he was “coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau,” on September 18.

That rock-solid proof actually presents two problems for Durham. First, it raises the possibility that, even if the jury decides this was a lie, Durham can only prove Sussmann said it on September 18, not September 19. But the text also suggests what Sussmann may have meant by “on behalf of:” who benefits. He was not seeking a benefit for a client, he was trying to benefit the FBI.

That interpretation is consistent with what Sussmann said under oath in 2017, and it is an interpretation that Durham did not test before he charged Sussmann.

I was sharing information, and I remember telling him at the outset that I was meeting with him specifically, because any information involving a political candidate, but particularly information of this sort involving potential relationship or activity with a foreign government was highly volatile and controversial. And I thought and I remember telling him that it would be a not-so-nice thing ~ I probably used a word more stronger than “not so nice” – to dump some information like this on a case agent and create some sort of a problem. And I was coming to him mostly because I wanted him to be able to decide whether or not to act or not to act, or to share or not to share, with information I was bringing him to insulate or protect the Bureau or — I don’t know. just thought he would know best what to do or not to do, including nothing at the time.

And if I could just go on, I know for my time as a prosecutor at the Department of Justice, there are guidelines about when you act on things and when close to an election you wait sort of until after the election. And I didn’t know what the appropriate thing was, but I didn’t want to put the Bureau or him in an uncomfortable situation by, as I said, going to a case agent or sort of dumping it in the wrong place. So I met with him briefly and

[snip]

so I told him this information, but didn’t want any follow-up, didn’t ~ in other words, I wasn’t looking for the FBI to do anything. I had no ask. I had no requests. And I remember saying, I’m not you don’t need to follow up with me. I just feel like I have left this in the right hands, and he said, yes. [my emphasis]

As has been explained over and over, Jim Baker’s testimony about what Sussmann said to him on September 19 (as opposed to what Sussmann texted him on September 18) has been all over the map:

Durham will argue that he got Baker’s testimony to match what he, Durham, claims to be sure is the truth by refreshing his memory with notes that Bill Priestap and Trisha Anderson took, the former when Baker told him about the meeting immediately afterwards and the latter in circumstances that are less clear.

The Priestap notes say four things:

  • Represent DNC, Clinton Foundation etc
  • Been approached by prominent cyber people
  • NYT, Wash Post, or WSJ on Friday
  • [Written slantways for reasons Priestap could not explain] said not doing this for any client

The Anderson notes say two things:

  • No specific client but group of cyber academics talked with him about research
  • Article this Friday, NYT/WPost [the notes fade out]

None of those notes say “on behalf of,” Anderson’s don’t address whether Sussmann offered up the claim or not, and Priestap seems to have written “not doing this for any client” after the fact, as if it wasn’t part of Baker’s initial telling.

None of those notes make it clear what part of the information Baker passed on came from the meeting itself and what part came from the text he had received the day before (and indeed, Priestap’s slantways note may suggest the detail about a client could have come later). Durham only has a refreshed memory of what Baker knew by September 19, not which parts he learned on September 18 and which he learned on September 19.

Literally six months after indicting Sussmann, Durham gave him different sets of notes recording how Andy McCabe explained the allegations to Dana Boente on March 6, 2017.

One set, from Tashina Gauhar’s notes, says this:

“Attorney” Brought to FBI on behalf of his client

Also advised others in media > NYT

Another set, from Mary McCord’s notes, says this:

First brought to FBI att by atty

[snip]

Attorney brought to Jim Baker + d/n say who client was. Said computer researchers saw the [activity?]. Said media orgs had the info, including NY Times.

These notes admittedly reflect what the FBI came to understand, possibly in the September 19 meeting, possibly hours after the September 19 meeting, possibly days, possibly months. But as McCord recorded it, the emphasis remained on the computer researchers and the NYT. That emphasis is important for materiality questions.

Durham has to prove what Sussmann said was a lie

Next, Durham has to prove that what Sussmann said was an intentional lie.

Probably, Durham will use the formulation Sussmann sent in his September 18 text, “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau,” since that’s the only thing he has real proof of. This is why Sussmann tried to nail down Durham on what “on behalf of” shortly after being charged. Because it could mean, “on the orders of,” “for a client I am retained by,” or “seeking some benefit or ask for.”

But Sussmann’s explanation, “want to help the Bureau,” tied as it is to some benefit for the FBI, presents new problems for Durham. As noted above, that’s precisely what Sussmann said in sworn testimony back in 2017, when he had no reason to believe there would ever be a special prosecutor checking his claims and at a time he no longer had that text to check. Sussmann framed it in terms of giving the FBI maximal flexibility during campaign season.

Importantly, Sussmann did take steps to help the Bureau, by (with Joffe’s assent), helping the FBI kill the story the NYT was close to publishing. Which is another thing Sussmann described when he testified under oath in 2017 and another thing Durham didn’t bother to investigate before indicting.

I just wanted to tell you about a phone call that I had with him 2 days after I met with him, just because I had forgotten it When I met with him, I shared with him this information, and I told him that there was also a news organization that has or had the information. And he called me 2 days later on my mobile phone and asked me for the name of the journalist or publication, because the Bureau was going to ask the public — was going to ask the journalist or the publication to hold their story and not publish it, and said that like it was urgent and the request came from the top of the Bureau. So anyway, it was, you know, a 5-minute, if that, phone conversation just for that purpose.

Along with the September 18 text showing Sussmann told Baker he wanted to help the FBI, there were several texts reflecting that when Baker asked Sussmann for the name of the outlet that was reporting on the Alfa Bank allegations, Sussmann told Baker he had to ask someone before sharing the name.

Those text messages include, among other things, texts indicating that Mr. Sussmann asked to meet with Mr. Baker in September 2016 not on behalf of a client but to help the Bureau; texts indicating that Mr. Sussmann told Mr. Baker he had to check with someone (i.e., his client) before giving him the name of the newspaper that was about to publish an article regarding the links between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization; and other texts, including a copy of a tweet that then-President Trump posted regarding Mr. Sussmann.

Then, Sussmann and Baker spoke on the phone several times on September 21 and 22.

Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Baker also had several phone conversations over the course of that week, including on Wednesday, September 21 and on Thursday, September 22.

We’ll learn more details at the trial, but we know that Baker and Bill Priestap called the NYT and got them to kill the story.

One reason this is important is because — as Sussmann’s attorney noted in a recent hearing — this is the opposite of what Sussmann would have done if he was working on behalf of the campaign.

We expect there to be testimony from the campaign that, while they were interested in an article on this coming out, going to the FBI is something that was inconsistent with what they would have wanted before there was any press. And in fact, going to the FBI killed the press story, which was inconsistent with what the campaign would have wanted.

The decision to go to the FBI contravened Hillary’s best interest.

The other reason those exchanges are important is because, as Sussmann pointed out, the best explanation for how Andy McCabe (that “top of the Bureau” that decided to take steps to kill the story) came to learn that Sussmann did have a client was via those exchanges.

The FBI could not have come to that belief based on conversations they had with Mr. Sussmann after his phone calls with Mr. Baker the week of September 19, 2016, because the FBI chose not to interview Mr. Sussmann about the information he provided to Mr. Baker, and the FBI chose not to ask Mr. Sussmann about or interview the cyber experts whom Mr. Sussmann identified as the source of the information he shared with the FBI.

Indeed, that timeline may explain why Baker’s memories about this are so inconsistent: because what Sussmann told him on September 18, what he told him on September 19, and what he told him on September 21 have all blended into one.

In any case, though, the best evidence suggests the FBI probably learned Sussmann had a client within three days of the time Sussmann first brought the allegations to the FBI (because that was the last he spoke with the FBI). That undermines Durham’s claim that Sussmann was hiding some big conspiracy. Within days, he appears to have made it obvious he did have a client.

Durham has to prove the alleged lie was material to the functioning of the FBI

I’m not going to get too far into the work Durham will have to do to prove that Sussmann’s lie — if he can prove what Sussmann said, if he can prove Sussmann said it on September 19 and not September 18, and if he can prove it really was a lie — had the ability to affect the decisions the FBI could have made.

Sussmann has many ways to attack Durham’s materiality argument. He’ll do so by proving:

  • FBI knew he represented the Democrats (indeed, that’s what Priestap’s notes say)
  • FBI knew of his ties to Joffe
  • His characterization that this came from cybersecurity experts was true
  • After the Franklin Foer piece was published, a separate FBI Agent attempted to open an investigation (showing what would have happened if Sussmann had not shared the information and just let NYT publish)

If I were him, I would also point to all the evidence (including from the March 2017 notes) that what most mattered to the FBI was not whom his client was but that the NYT was going to publish this.

But, given the timeline laid out by Sussmann’s texts and calls with James Baker, I’d make one more point. All the evidence suggests that FBI knew he had a client by September 22 — probably by September 21.

The FBI Agents who will describe the steps they took will apparently describe making a second call to Cendyn on September 23.

That is, the timeline will show that FBI learned Sussmann had a client before they even spoke to Cendyn a second time.

If Sussmann’s client or clients mattered, the FBI learned about them so early in the process that it would not have affected the overall investigation.

Durham’s tactical retreat

I know a lot of people think Durham has a slam-dunk case with that September 18 text, but that’s simply not the case — though as always, you never know what a jury is going to decide.

But I think that Durham is already planning a tactical retreat.

As Sussmann noted in a recent filing summarizing conflicting views on jury instructions, Durham’s indictment describes Sussmann’s alleged lie this way:

[O]n or about September 19, 2016, the defendant stated to the General Counsel of the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning a Presidential candidate, when in truth, and in fact, and as the defendant knew well, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Tech Executive-1 and the Clinton Campaign.

Never mind that Durham characterized the allegations as pertaining to “a Presidential candidate,” which presents other problems for Durham, he has also accused Sussmann of lying about having two clients.

Mr. Sussmann proposes modifying the last sentence as follows, as indicated by underlining: Specifically, the Indictment alleges that, on or about September 19, 2016, Mr. Sussmann, did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation in a matter before the FBI, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2), namely, that Mr. Sussmann stated to the General Counsel of the FBI that he was not acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning Donald Trump, when, in fact, he was acting on behalf of specific clients, namely, Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign.5 The government objects to the defense’s proposed modification since it will lead to confusion regarding charging in the conjunctive but only needing to prove in the disjunctive.

4 Authority: Indictment.

5 Authority: Indictment.

Durham’s language about “conjunctive” versus “disjunctive” will likely be the matter for heated debate next week. Particularly in the wake of Cooper’s decision that the materials from the researchers won’t come in as evidence, Durham seems to be preparing to prove only that Sussmann lied about representing Hillary, and not about Joffe. Sussmann, meanwhile, seems to believe that Durham will have to prove that his alleged lie was intended to hide both alleged clients.

The problem with Durham’s fall-back position is that if Sussmann really were representing Hillary at that FBI meeting, he wouldn’t have killed the NYT story that would have helped her campaign.

Update: Corrected date on Sussmann’s HPSCI interview, which was 2017.


Thirty Months after Disputing Michael Horowitz, Durham’s Team Suggests They’ve Never Looked at the Evidence

In Michael Sussmann’s filing explaining that he couldn’t include highly exculpatory notes — written by Tashina GausharMary McCord, and Scott Schools — from a March 6, 2017 meeting in his motion in limine because John Durham had provided them to him too late to include, Sussmann claimed that the files were not among those for which Durham had gotten permission to provide late.

The Special Counsel neglects to mention that these handwritten notes were buried in nearly 22,000 pages of discovery that the Special Counsel produced approximately two weeks before motions in limine were due. Specifically, the Special Counsel produced the March 2017 Notes as part of a March 18, 2022 production. The Special Counsel included the March 2017 Notes in a sub-folder generically labeled “FBI declassified” and similarly labeled them only as “FBI/DOJ Declassified Documents” in his cover letter. See Letter from J. Durham to M. Bosworth and S. Berkowitz (Mar. 18, 2022). And although the Special Counsel indicated on a phone call of March 18, 2022 that some of the 22,000 pages were documents that made references to “client,” he did not specifically identify the March 2017 Notes or otherwise call to attention to this powerful exculpatory material in the way that Brady and its progeny requires.

[snip]

[T]he Special Counsel has also failed to explain why this powerful Brady material was produced years into their investigation, six months after Mr. Sussmann was indicted, and only weeks before trial.3

Sussmann was wrong.

When Durham got an extension to his discovery deadlines, he got special permission to turn over (among other things) materials from DOJ IG at a later date.

DOJ Office of Inspector General Materials. On October 7, 2021, at the initiative of the Special Counsel’s Office, the prosecution team met with the DOJ Inspector General and other OIG personnel to discuss discoverable materials that may be in the OIG’s possession. The Special Counsel’s office subsequently submitted a formal written discovery request to the OIG on October 13, 2021, which requested, among other things, all documents, records, and information in the OIG’s possession regarding the defendant and/or the Russian Bank-1 allegations.

[I]n January 2022, the OIG informed the Special Counsel’s Office for the first time that it would be extremely burdensome, if not impossible, for the OIG to apply the search terms contained in the prosecution team’s October 13, 2021 discovery request to certain of the OIG’s holdings – namely, emails and other documents collected as part of the OIG’s investigation. The OIG therefore requested that the Special Counsel’s Office assist in searching these materials. The Government is attempting to resolve this technical issue as quickly as possible and will keep the defense (and the Court as appropriate) updated regarding its status.

In the pre-trial hearing on Monday, Andrew DeFilippis explained that the files came from DOJ IG (and therefore were subject to that later discovery deadline).

We located those statements in the notes in February or early March, when we received a huge production from the DOJ Inspector General’s office. As soon as we noticed that in the notes, we put them on very rapid declassification at the FBI and turned them over to the defense about a week later.

DeFilippis offered an unconvincing excuse for burying belatedly provided Brady material two layers deep in file folders without specific notice. He described the decision to flag the materials as an internal Government decision, which is an odd description unless Michael Horowitz’s office — or those involved in declassifying the records — forced the decision:

We then, speaking internally as the Government, decided it would be important to flag those notes for the defense. And so the day that we produced them, we got on a call. We wanted to be in a position to flag it in a way that we didn’t just put it in the end of a paragraph of a discovery letter. We flagged for the defense that we were going to be producing notes and that that included notes in which the word “client” appeared. And we told them that we thought that would be relevant to them.

[snip]

Let me just say that there was absolutely no effort by the Government to delay here or to hide these in a large production. That is precisely why we got on a phone call and flagged it for the defense.

It’s almost like DeFilippis was hoping this would get no notice.

I can understand why. I’ve described how astounding it was that Durham did not go looking for evidence from DOJ IG until — by Durham’s own telling — October 7, more than two weeks after indicting Sussmann (and likely not long enough before indicting Igor Danchenko to learn key details that undermine at least one charge against him).

But this late provision of exculpatory evidence means one of two things:

  • Durham has always had the files, but did such a poor job of looking for it in discovery he didn’t find it in his own files even as he started hunting Michael Sussmann
  • Durham never had these files

The latter is the more likely possibility, which, as a threshold matter, would mean Durham never reviewed key files that DOJ IG had used in high level witness interviews before disputing Michael Horowitz’ conclusion that the investigation was predicated appropriately. Durham is, literally, only reviewing key files three years into his investigation.

Along the way, he’s learning that conspiracy theories he has been chasing for months and years are false.

The revelation that Durham is discovering exculpatory information in DOJ IG’s files is as important to the efforts to blow up the Mike Flynn prosecution two years ago as it is to the Sussmann prosecution. That’s because the Jeffrey Jensen review of the Flynn prosecution and the Durham investigation were believed to be closely aligned. Indeed, I have shown that the handwritten notes from the FBI that Durham will rely on at trial show the same markers of unreliability that documents that were altered in the Flynn case had.

As I explained in this post, Jensen’s documents started with the Bates stamp used throughout the Flynn prosecution.

But after a period of time, they used a Bates stamp with a different typeface, albeit continuing the same series, suggesting someone else was doing the document sharing.

But if they’re drawing on the same source documents, Durham should at least know notes of that meeting exists. Jeffrey Jensen received and relied on at least one set of notes — Jim Crowell’s notes — from the March 6, 2017 meeting. Those notes, along with Tashina Gauhar’s notes of an earlier briefing and all those that got altered, also have the fat typeface.

The Tashina Gauhar notes turned over to Sussmann (and the others turned over) not only are based off a scan of her original notes and have no post-it notes on them, but they bear both Durham’s Bates stamp (SCO-074095), but also one that likely comes from DOJ IG (SCO-FBIPROD_021529).

All of which seems to suggest there was the same cherry-picking that went into the Durham investigation and the Jensen “review.” Neither reviewed — neither could have!! — what really happened. They reviewed selected records and then (in the Jensen review) altered those records to make false claims that the former President used in a debate attack.

I’ll come back to the issue of what appears in the notes Sussmann released that conflicts with the Flynn releases.

But I’m also interested that Durham is stalling on providing other notes from the meeting.

2 The defense has requested that the Special Counsel search for any additional records that may shed further light on the meeting and certain of those requests remain outstanding. To date, the Special Counsel has represented that the only additional notes from attendees at the meeting that he has identified do not reference whether or not Mr. Sussmann was acting on behalf of a client. The absence in those notes of any reference to whether Mr. Sussmann was acting on behalf of a client also raises questions regarding materiality of the charged conduct: if the on behalf of information were truly material to the FBI’s investigation, presumably all note takers would have written it down. [my emphasis]

Durham can’t be withholding notes because they don’t mention Sussmann having a client. That’s because Scott Schools’ notes mention that the Alfa Bank tip came from an attorney, but don’t mention that he was there on behalf of a client (Schools’ notes may have been included because they are the only ones of the three provided that attributed this discussion to Andy McCabe).

There are at least two other sets of notes from this meeting that are known or presumed to exist:

And there were at least three other people present at the meeting known to take notes:

  • Bill Priestap
  • Andy McCabe
  • Dana Boente

Importantly, in Durham’s objection to admitting these notes as evidence, he makes it clear that James Baker (inexcusably as a lawyer) did not take notes of this or any other meeting, but he does not say whether Priestap (or Trisha Anderson) took notes.

Moreover, the DOJ personnel who took the notes that the defendant may seek to offer were not present for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI General Counsel. And while the FBI General Counsel was present for the March 6, 2017 meeting, the Government has not located any notes that he took there.

If Priestap took notes, one copy should be in Durham’s possession, in the notebook of Priestap’s notes already on Durham’s exhibit list.

DOJ has been trying to prevent anyone from looking at Andy McCabe’s notes for some time.

But one thing that turning over the DOJ IG retained notes for the others will show is whether alterations in the Strzok, Priestap, and McCabe notes were made.

It’ll also make it easy to test why Jensen’s review redacted a date and added one — albeit the correct one — in the Jim Crowell notes.

 

That is, I wonder if Durhams’ reluctance to turn over those materials stems not from any facts about his own investigation, but from an awareness of the cherry-picking — and possibly worse — that having turned over the past one reveals.

Three posts on the altered documents from the Mike Flynn case

The Jeffrey Jensen “Investigation:” Post-It Notes and Other Irregularities (September 26, 2020)

Shorter DOJ: We Made Shit Up … Please Free Mike Flynn (October 27, 2020)

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket (December 3, 2020)


Wall Street Journal: Bigger Dupes of John Durham or Alexsej Gubarev?

The Wall Street Journal claims they’ve cracked the Steele dossier!

In a 4,300-word romantic comedy, they claim that, “many of the dossier’s key details originated with a few people gossiping after they had been brought together over a minor corporate publicity contract.” There are several incorrect aspects of this fairy tale.

First, WSJ claims that, “the [Igor Danchenko] indictment pointed to Mr. Dolan as an important source for the dossier.” Even assuming the allegations in the indictment were accurate (some are not), that’s not what the indictment claims. It alleges that Dolan was the source for the perhaps most verifiably true claim in the dossier (which is not surprising given that Dolan told the FBI he simply repeated a news story). It suggests, as part of uncharged materiality claims, that Dolan may have played a part in but does not charge that he was the direct source for three other reports. That doesn’t make him “an important source” (though I’m sure Durham is happy he duped some reporters into making that claim).

Here’s how WSJ credulously takes the most spectacular of those materiality claims and repeats it, all without explaining that in the FBI interviews they otherwise cite repeatedly, Danchenko attributed the kompromat claim to Sergey Abyshev, who confirmed that he and Ivan Vorontsov met with Danchenko on that trip to Moscow.

One of Mr. Danchenko’s chats with Mr. Dolan appeared to figure in the dossier’s most inflammatory entry.

Mr. Dolan was helping to organize a fall 2016 conference in Moscow to drum up foreign investment. While in Moscow in June to lay the groundwork, he stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, a few hundred yards from the Kremlin. He met with the hotel’s general manager and got a tour of the hotel, including the presidential suite, according to the indictment of Mr. Danchenko. It says he also met with Mr. Danchenko, who was in town.

Less than a week later, Mr. Steele’s first dossier chapter alleged that a “Source D,” described as a close associate of Mr. Trump, had said Mr. Trump once hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed when he stayed in the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite, because former President Barack Obama, whom the dossier said Mr. Trump detested, had stayed there.

The dossier said the Kremlin had video and was holding it as kompromat, or compromising material. It said the episode had been confirmed by a senior member of the hotel staff and a female hotel staffer.

Prosecutors noted that the dossier reflected some details Mr. Dolan had learned on the hotel tour, such as that Mr. Trump had stayed at the hotel’s presidential suite.

Telling Danchenko that Trump had stayed at the Ritz — if that is where Danchenko learned that detail — is not serving as the key source here. Maybe Danchenko did make more of what Dolan told him, maybe Danchenko or Steele turned Dolan into Source D, but Durham has neither alleged nor charged it.

I’m sure he loves when reporters insinuate that he did, though.

Meanwhile, by claiming they’ve cracked the dossier with its “minor corporate publicity contract” story, WSJ misrepresents the relationship between Danchenko and someone who is an important source of the dossier, Olga Galkina. She played a part in more claims in the dossier than Dolan and those claims were far more important. Those include the most important one used in the Carter Page FISA application, the discredited Michael Cohen in Prague stories, as well as one of the claims that Durham suggests Dolan was involved with. WSJ suggests Danchenko only started obtaining information from her in the context of her relationship with Dolan.

What brought Mr. Danchenko, Mr. Dolan and Ms. Galkina together was a marketing campaign—funded by the Dolan PR client whose company was cited in the dossier.

He was Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian internet entrepreneur living in Cyprus, who decided in early 2016 to launch a U.S. marketing campaign to burnish the image of his cloud server company.

That’s affirmatively misleading, because Danchenko was using Galkina as a source before he ever formally met Dolan. In Danchenko’s interview, for example, he describes using Galkina as a source for other projects. “[Danchenko] has been able to collect information for Orbis across a wide range of topics — major Russian firms; Russian state entities, including the Kremlin.” Importantly, Galkina knew that Danchenko worked in business intelligence and even tried to task him in the period after the dossier became public.

Having therefore misrepresented the relationship between Danchenko and Galkina, WSJ repeats a second time that many of the claims in the dossier came from “this route,” meaning the PR relationship.

Mr. Danchenko told the FBI of other people he also spoke to in gathering information for Mr. Steele. Many of his details, however, came through this route, the Journal’s review shows.

The spreadsheet the FBI used to vet the dossier identified well over a hundred discrete claims in the dossier. Durham alleges that Chuck Dolan was the source for one claim and involved with part of the sourcing for three others. That’s not “many” out of a hundred. So once you correct for WSJ’s false claims about the Galkina relationship, that claim too falls apart.

Crazier still, WSJ makes no mention of the reason the newly formed relationship between Galkina and Dolan was important — and important to at least one of the central false claims in the dossier. As the indictment describes, that relationship allowed Galkina to use Dolan’s access to the Kremlin for her own benefit.

b. Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, [Galkina] sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that [Dolan] had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-1 in support of [Galkina]’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

Dolan used his ties to Dmitry Peskov to help Galkina. That’s the import of the relationship! But if you acknowledge that, then a key premise of the story, most notably its claim that, “much of the dossier’s information came from [] anything but Kremlin insiders,” falls apart because it presents the possibility that the Cohen in Prague story came from Peskov.

Dmitry Peskov is the quintessential Kremlin insider. He also knew firsthand that Donald Trump was lying on the campaign trail to hide a secret conversation Michael Cohen had had with Peskov’s own office in January 2016. Dolan helped Galkina get closer to Peskov. And after that happened, when Danchenko asked Galkina for information on a number of Trump flunkies, Cohen’s name is the one that Galkina “almost immediately” recognized. If Peskov was involved in all that, then it explains a great deal about the most damning claim in the dossier.

Peskov’s name doesn’t appear in the WSJ story.

Another name that doesn’t appear in the WSJ is Oleg Deripaska’s, even while WSJ puzzles over whether the dossier was intentionally filled with disinformation.

One remaining riddle is whether the dossier’s misinformation was purely careless or might have included disinformation sown by the Kremlin itself.

WSJ cites the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page repeatedly, so they know all the references to Deripaska in it (though perhaps not the declassified footnotes reporting that Deripaska, whose associate Konstantin Kilimnik played a key role in the election interference operation, may have learned of the dossier project by early July). But they’re silent on Danchenko’s earlier tasking to collect on Paul Manafort for Deripaska, which is at least as central to understanding the dossier as the ties between Dolan and Galkina.

Mr. Danchenko’s work for Mr. Steele, which had mostly involved business intelligence, also took a turn toward politics. Mr. Steele, a former agent in Russia for the British intelligence agency MI-6, asked Mr. Danchenko to work on a new assignment Mr. Steele had accepted: to look for compromising material on Mr. Trump in Russia.

It’s like WSJ made a conscious decision not to name any of the sanctioned Russians who played a role in the dossier.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the WSJ journalists who claim to have cracked the dossier make several false claims about the Mueller investigation.

But Mr. Mueller reported no evidence that the campaign conspired with Russia’s military intelligence apparatus as it hacked into the email of the Democratic National Committee. The dossier took real events, such as the visit of a Trump adviser to Moscow, and expounded on them by describing meetings with high-level Kremlin officials for which no corroborating evidence surfaced.

It’s actually false that there was no corroboration for the Igor Sechin claim. The son of the guy who hosted Carter Page in Moscow described hearing the rumor too (and also described that they couldn’t account for all of Page’s time in Moscow).

Crazier still, it takes a special kind of incompetence to assert, as fact, that, “Mueller reported no evidence that the campaign conspired” with GRU, basing that claim on a report on Bill Barr’s letter to Congress that a judge subsequently ruled lacked candor. Mueller found evidence that the campaign conspired with Russia, just not enough to charge. He also got verdicts or rulings that Michael Cohen lied about his secret communications with Peskov (in which Cohen said he’d be happy to chase a real estate deal relying on a former GRU officer as broker), the Coffee Boy lied about getting advance notice of Russia’s plans, Manafort lied about passing polling data and campaign strategy to Kilimnik, and Mike Flynn lied about his attempt to undermine sanctions on Russia. The Mueller Report also revealed that “a Section 1030 conspiracy charge against Stone,” and the GRU was, “the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office” (though Barr buried this detail in the 2020 election); a referral for further investigation of a hacking conspiracy is the opposite of finding no evidence of a conspiracy. And a jury found that Stone had lied to cover up what his real ties to the Russian operation were.

I mean, seriously, it’s 2022. No legitimate journalist has an excuse for sounding like a Seth Rich truther, as WSJ’s two journalists do.

So the WSJ doesn’t mention Peskov and doesn’t mention Deripaska. It does, however, mention Aleksej Gubarev, who seems to have enthusiastically participated in a misleading story claiming that his contractor, Dolan, and his employee, Galkina, were singularly responsible for the dossier.

Mr. Gubarev’s company flew Mr. Dolan and two KGlobal colleagues to Cyprus in July 2016 and put them up at the Four Seasons hotel so they could deliver a sales pitch, Mr. Gubarev said. With Mr. Trump clinching the Republican nomination in the U.S., the talk in Cyprus wandered into politics.

[snip]

Mr. Gubarev said he learned about the report when a friend sent him a link to the BuzzFeed article. Mr. Gubarev said that at first he didn’t take it seriously, writing an email to Mr. Dolan with a smiling emoticon in the subject line and saying “need to found out who is make this stupid report.”

Mr. Dolan told him he thought the report might get traction in public. “It will have some legs with the sex allegations,” he wrote

Mr. Gubarev had declined to renew the publicity campaign for which he hired Mr. Dolan, saying he expected more for the $75,000 his company spent. But after the dossier’s publication, Mr. Gubarev hired Mr. Dolan again, this time to fight off the bad press, as Western banks were moving to cut his credit lines.

Mr. Gubarev said Mr. Dolan told him that Mr. Danchenko likely had compiled the dossier for Mr. Steele.

Mr. Gubarev sued BuzzFeed and Mr. Steele, lodging defamation claims in Florida and at the High Court in London.

[snip]

Mr. Gubarev said he was shocked that the indictment pointed to Mr. Dolan as an important source for the dossier. He said Mr. Dolan did a good job helping him fight to clear his name. “He is a nice guy, he did his best,” Mr. Gubarev said. “Washington is a strange place that I don’t understand.”

WSJ repeats all these Gubarev claims without noting that his lawfare was just one part of an extended campaign of lawfare, one that involves people like Petr Aven and Yevgeniy Prigozhin with known direct ties to and taskings from Putin.

In a story that openly wonders about instruments of disinformation, you’d think they’d be a bit more curious about why Gubarev would participate so enthusiastically. But then, a story that claims to explain, “how the Steele dossier was created,” by ignoring Deripaska’s pre-existing relationship with Steele and four of the most important sources for it is itself a vehicle of disinformation.

Update: In related news, Durham wants another month extension on classified discovery; the people they need help from are too busy indicting Russian foreign agents, including one who discussed that FARA was a “problem” with an employe of one of Durham’s star witness, Sergei Millian. Danchenko objects to the delay.

However, recent world events continue to contribute to delays in the processing and production of classified discovery. In particular, some of the officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies continue to be heavily engaged in matters related to overseas activities. Nevertheless, the Government is continuing to press the relevant authorities to produce documents in classified discovery as quickly as possible and on a rolling basis, and no later than the proposed deadline set forth below.

Durham claims there are only 5,000 still-classified pages in discovery.

To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter.

For the reasons laid out in this post, I find that spectacularly unbelievable.

The original deadline was March 29. They want the deadline extended to June 13, which would be a 76-day extension.


Fun with Bates Stamps, Part One: John Durham Confuses His Two Defendants to Rile Up the Frothers

Before I look at what newly disclosed notes from March 6, 2017 (written by Tashina GausharMary McCord, and Scott Schools) reveal about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including that Carter Page’s FISA was “fruitful,” which will pose Durham some difficulties in the Igor Danchenko investigation, I want to do two posts having some fun with Bates stamps.

Bates stamps are the way that lawyers track the documents they shuffle around in discovery. Every page of a document should be stamped sequentially to show the document’s chain of custody; the numbers also make referring to such documents in court filings easier. Just as one not-at-all random example of how it is supposed to work, this January 31, 2017 document John Durham obtained from the CIA shows three Bates stamps.

We can’t really be entirely sure what chain of custody this shows. Perhaps CIA stamped the outgoing files with  “CIA-0000019” and DOJ stamped the incoming CIA file, “DOJ_REQ_0242039.” We know, however, that Durham’s stamp is “SC-00081634.” Because Bates stamps are sequential, they help us to understand the order in which certain documents are handled.

One thing Bates stamps show us is that John Durham got approval to use a bunch of mostly-irrelevant Fusion GPS exhibits and did not get approval for the ones he actually wants to use at Michael Sussmann’s trial.

Because his team is made up of professionals, along with his objections to Durham’s exhibits, Michael Sussmann included a list that tied the exhibit numbers Durham assigned to the Bates stamps of the documents in question. That allows us to compare what exhibits Durham used to get Judge Christopher Cooper to buy off on submitting Fusion GPS documents with the jury with the Bates numbers of the Fusion GPS documents he really wants to introduce (thanks to William Ockham for doing a lot of this work).

A comparison of what Durham accidentally-on-purpose published to the docket with what Durham actually wants to introduce at trial shows that, of 62 pages of exhibits, he has identified just the following as exhibits at trial:

  • SC-00082558[-559]: July 31, 2015 email between Jake Berkowitz, Tom Hamburger, and Glenn Simpson re: Carter Page and Walid Phares
  • SC-00100359[-361]: September 24 through 27, 2016 email thread including Eric Lichtblau, Glenn Simpson, and Peter Fritsch on open source claim regarding Sergei Millian having a tie to Alfa Bank
  • SC-00027527[-541]: October 5, 2016 email from Fritsch to Isikoff sharing Alfa Group overview
  • SC-00027501: October 5, 2016 email from Fritsch to Lichtblau sharing link sent by Mark Hosenball claiming, “found this published on the web”
  • SC-00027483: October 5, 2016 email from Fritsch to Lichtblau claiming he had “no idea” where the link had come from
  • SC-00027475[-76]: October 5, 2016 exchange between Hosenball and Fritsch about how to respond to Trump statement on Tea Leaves’ allegations
  • SC-00027309: October 18, 2016 Fritsch email suggesting that Hosenball “call David Dagon at Georgia Tech”
  • SC-00027283: October 31, 2016 exchange between Isikoff and Fritsch about “big story on trump Alfa server moving early pm”
  • SC-00027233: November 3, 2016 blank response from Fritsch to Lichtblau regarding request about Sergei Millian

Just the last one, which I’ve bolded, has an assigned exhibit number in Durham’s list, suggesting either that he wants to use the documents with witnesses but not let the jury review the documents or that he’s not all that serious about using the documents as exhibits.

The list enables a tremendous amount of fuckery and more possible depending on how dishonest Durham wants to be.

For example, Durham has not obviously included the email where Mark Hosenball sent the link to the mediafire package to Fusion GPS, even though all the emails strongly support that’s what happened. Thus, as laid out, Durham seems intent to mislead the jury into believing that Fusion got that link via Tea Leaves or Michael Sussmann directly and not, as they’ve explained, via a journalist.

As noted, there are places where the list Sussmann included only the first page of a series. Given the way Durham is treating serial October 5, 2016 emails (most notably those involving Eric Lichtblau), it’s possible he does not intend to include follow-on pages in his exhibits. In several cases, that would leave out important context.

For example, in the October 5, 2016 thread between Fritsch and Hosenball, including just the first page of that exhibit would leave out where Fritsch said,

the DNS stuff? not us at all.

outside computer experts

we did up an alfa memo unrelated to all this

It would also leave out where Fritsch pointed Hosenball to the public tutanota email included at the link that Hosenball himself sent to Fritsch, another piece of evidence showing that this was not an internal operation.

That is, as described, Durham may plan to falsely suggest these efforts were more closely tied than the evidence shows (it might exclude, for example, a key piece of evidence that Judge Cooper pointed to that showed this wasn’t a grand conspiracy).

Similarly, if just the first page of these exhibits were to come in, it would mean the jury got to see that Fusion sent out their Alfa Bank report, but not read the Alfa Bank report itself. Certainly, Durham could credibly argue that including the report would be prejudicial and as such might distract the jury. But excluding the report would also deprive the jury of the only material shared with the FBI that non-experts would have the ability of assessing themselves, both for the quality of the research and the validity of concerns of alleged ties between Trump and Alfa Bank.

For example, the report describes Richard Burt’s publicly acknowledged role in Trump’s first speech (though not a later role discovered as part of the Mueller investigation).

Burt has acknowledged that he played a significant role in writing Trump’s first major foreign policy speech. “I was asked to provide a draft for that speech. And parts of that of my draft —- survived into the final,” he told NPR.”‘

In the April 27 “America First” speech, Trump laid out an isolationist foreign policy. He criticized NATO and promised he would pursue better relations with Russia– skipping over its invasions of its neighbors and human rights abuses?’

It describes several allegations of Alfa Bank’s involvement in spying on adversaries.

Diligence also investigated a reporter from The Vail Street ournal who had contacted the CPI regarding the Alfa libel case. Private investigators for Diligence conducted a trash-stealing operation against the personal residence of the journalist. The operation was eventually exposed by an insider at Diligence. The affair caused high-level consternation in Washington due to a bizarre snafu: Unknown to the Diligence investigators, the reporter had vacated his home and rented it to a top White House official. That led to a confidential national security investigation of possible espionage by Alfa.

It even notes Petr Aven’s close ties to Putin, ties that Putin would exploit within months of the report in an attempt to form a back channel with the Trump Administration (though I suspect Putin did this in part to fulfill these suspicions).

As the face of Alfa Bank, Peter Aven remains the group’s key interface with the Kremlin. It appears his importance has only grown. Alfa Group, and specifically Alfa Bank, have a longstanding presence in the US and the UK.

[snip]

It is clear that Aven remains the key political figure in Alfa Group, with multiple current links to the government and security services, as outlined above. He has also driven the development of international links through the expansion of Alfa Bank in the US and Europe. The bank has carried out careful outreach, running an international Alfa Fellows program and maintaining a high profile. Although not itself a target, the bank has suffered from sanctions however, and has a particular interest in lifting sanctions’.

There’s a lot of crap that came from Fusion GPS, but their straight Russian research held up pretty well, and this is an example why it was reasonable for Perkins Coie to hire Fusion. So while Durham might successfully argue that this would be prejudicial, it is also one of the best ways for the jury to assess the credibility of Perkins Coie’s basis for relying on Fusion. It’s also necessary to explain why Michael Sussmann and Rodney Joffe might believe sharing this material with the FBI pertained to national security, not political malice.

Perhaps the most alarming detail in what Durham included in his exhibit list is that last one, the only one that includes an actual exhibit number.

Durham has made much of the fact that Lichtblau sent an email to Peter Fritsch asking if he had told him (at an in-person meeting) that Sergei Millian had an Alfa email address. As included here as an exhibit, Durham would present this without context, insinuating that Fritsch learned of this via Joffe or someone.

But the actual email thread — exchanged in September, when Lichtblau was in the thick of trying to publish this story — makes it clear that Fusion formed this inference based off entirely public ip information, research entirely unrelated to the DNS allegations.

So as laid out here, Durham has allowed for a good deal of at least possible fuckery.

But then there’s the question of what emails he did present to Judge Cooper claiming he wanted to use as exhibits.

The vast majority of these emails are entirely unrelated to the case against Sussmann. Many of the emails, though, might be related to Igor Danchenko’s case. They pertain to publicly sourced concerns about Sergei Millian, concerns shared far outside of Fusion, as well as to open source research on Carter Page. They do seem to reflect knowledge of a single Christopher Steele report, but at a time before Rodney Joffe first met anyone at Fusion GPS.

Meanwhile, in addition to the emails over which the Democrats or Rodney Joffe have claimed privilege, there are around another 35 that aren’t privileged but which Durham didn’t include in his exhibit of the emails that, he claimed, he wanted to rely on at trial.

In other words, those emails were utterly useless as an exhibit to allow Judge Cooper a good way to assess the exhibits that Durham actually wants to use at trial. They were, however, really useful at riling up the frothers.

The fact that Durham included many emails he doesn’t want to use as exhibits, but didn’t include many emails (including unprivileged ones) that he wants to use as exhibits, including all but one of the ones to which he has assigned an exhibit number, makes it all the more curious that Durham “accidentally” posted these emails publicly to the docket and the unpublished them.

In any case, it’s still possible this fuckery will blow up at trial (assuming that Durham doesn’t find some reason to make an interlocutory appeal, which I think is likely). As Judge Cooper noted in his order regarding motions in limine, “The Court will reserve judgment as to the admissibility of any additional email it has not yet seen.”


Tick Tock: SDNY Tells Project Veritas, Again, To Wait Until James O’Keefe Is Indicted to Complain

As I noted back in March, when Project Veritas discovered what was clear from the start — that SDNY had relied on material obtained from emails involving James O’Keefe and two other Project Veritas associates to get warrants to obtain their phones — they tried to claw back not just the emails but also the phones.

[B]efore obtaining warrants to seize James O’Keefe’s phones, DOJ had first obtained emails that provided the evidence to get the warrants for his phones.

The Government disclosed many of its covert investigative steps in the ex parte context of the Affidavit, including each email search warrant it had obtained pursuant to the SCA in this investigation.

This is precisely what SDNY did with Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, and it’s what Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave was talking about when she referred to the “considerable detail” in the affidavit.

Third, the Court has reviewed the Materials in camera and observes that they contain considerable detail about individuals who may have already provided information to the Government—voluntarily or involuntarily—such that unsealing of the Materials “could subject [them] to witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation.”

PV revealed that in a motion asking Judge Analisa Torres to claw back this information.

In March, DOJ told PV to wait until they were indicted to complain (here’s my thread on that response).

Days later, on March 30, PV tried again, petitioning Judge Torres to force the government to return all their phones and their emails.

Tick tock, tick tock.

On April 11, Judge Torres set a briefing schedule: the government had to file a response by May 6, and PV should file their reply by May 20.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Right on schedule, the government filed its response last night. The response is 28-pages long, much of which is dedicated to explaining to PV how the Fourth Amendment works and asserting that SDNY is quite confident the magistrates’ rulings findings there was probable cause that these accounts and devices would contain evidence of enumerated crimes will hold up. The discussion includes a particular focus on how SDNY already has precedents approving investigations that first obtain emails covertly and then seize phones overtly, as they did with Rudy Giuliani and (while they don’t rely on the precedent) did with Michael Cohen before that.

To the extent that the Movants are attempting to raise arguments with respect to execution of the warrants for email account data, there is no legal basis for such challenges at this stage of an ongoing grand jury investigation. Last year, Judge Oetken denied a similar challenge where the circumstances were materially the same: in the course of a multi-year, covert investigation, the Government obtained electronic data pursuant to judicially-authorized search warrants issued under 18 U.S.C. § 2703, the Government had reviewed that electronic data prior to the overt execution of search warrants for electronic devices, and a Special Master was appointed to oversee the review of the contents of the electronic devices (but not the electronic data obtained previously). Specifically, Judge Oetken ruled:

Giuliani and Toensing also seek pre-indictment discovery of the Government’s privilege and responsiveness designations in connection with the 2019 warrants [obtained covertly, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703]. They cite no legal authority for this request, and the Court is aware of none. If there is a criminal proceeding, any defendants will be entitled to discovery under Rule 16. There is no basis for compelling the Government to produce this information now, during an ongoing grand jury investigation.

Finally, the Court sees no legal basis for Toensing’s request for detailed information about the filter team review process, at least at the pre-charge phase of this matter.

In re Search Warrants Executed on Apr. 28, 2021, 2021 WL 2188150, at *2. The circumstances confronted by Judge Oetken are indistinguishable from those presented here. The Movants offer no authority contrary to Judge Oetken’s ruling, and the Government is aware of none. To the extent the Movants may potentially be entitled at some point to the disclosures that they seek, any such entitlement would only be triggered, if at all, by the filing of an indictment charging them in connection with the investigation, and not before.12

12 Or, potentially, by the filing of a civil claim, should one exist, that survives a motion to dismiss and proceeds to discovery.

Just for good measure, though, SDNY makes it clear they had reviewed all the emails before obtaining the overt warrants on O’Keefe and his flunkies, which makes it a good bet they relied on the email content to show probable cause to get the phone warrants.

With respect to the subscriber, non-content, and content information for email accounts referenced by the Movants, which were obtained pursuant to a grand jury subpoena and orders and warrants issued by federal magistrate judges pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (the “SCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2703, the Government’s review of those materials was completed months ago, before the Movants initiated this Part I matter in November 2021.

I’ve stated repeatedly this was what happened here, only to have a PV lawyer claim I was wrong.

I was not wrong.

As I said, the bulk of this filing is just a primer in how the Fourth Amendment works, as applied. It is thorough, but it mostly feels like T-crossing.

More specific to the facts at hand, however, SDNY accuses PV of attempting to bypass the Special Master process they themselves demanded and Judge Torres approved last year.

Consisting of equal parts rhetoric, speculation, and inaccurate factual assertions, the motion is little more than a misguided attempt to end-run the Special Master process that this Court put in place and prematurely litigate the merits of the Government’s prior investigative steps.

[snip]

With respect to the devices that are subject to the Special Master’s review, the Movants’ attempt to put these arguments before the Court while the same arguments are pending before the Special Master appears to be an improper end-run around the Special Master. As explained above, these very arguments were fully briefed as of April 20, 2022, and are in the process of being decided by the Special Master. The Movants should not be permitted to short-circuit the process that this Court put in place, at their request, and which will adequately safeguard any potentially privileged materials that were contained on the devices.11

11 In the event the Court finds any of these issues material to the resolution of the motion, the Court should defer consideration until after the Special Master has issued a ruling on the same.

Even if Torres is sympathetic to poor James O’Keefe’s plight (and she accorded him better treatment than Rudy Giuliani got in the same court), she’s likely to be pissed about this aspect of things, that she went to the trouble of approving a Special Master and splitting the costs to pay for Barbara Jones’ services, only to have PV demand more.

And here’s why that matters: as SDNY noted, Jones is as we speak making final decisions about what SDNY gets.

The Special Master’s responsiveness review has largely been completed, with the contents of only one device currently under review. The parties have submitted briefs outlining their positions regarding the law and principles that should be applied to the Movants’ objections to the release of the items that the Special Master has deemed responsive to the search warrants to the investigative team. 2

2 The Movants submitted their briefs to the Special Master on April 1, 2022, the Government submitted its response on April 13, 2022, and the Movants submitted a reply on April 20, 2022.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Project Veritas was, almost certainly, already preparing their briefing for Jones when they demanded this end-run around the Special Master process. They had, almost certainly, reviewed what was about to be turned over to SDNY and how, having read the affidavits that PV is still trying to get, Jones interpreted the scope of the investigation. So not only does this timing seem to substantiate SDNY’s claim they’re trying to back out of their demands for a Special Master, but it makes it likely that by the time they file their own reply two weeks from now — tick tock, tick tock — Jones will already have submitted her recommendations regarding what materials SDNY gets.

And until then, SDNY explained in their law school primer to PV about how the Fourth Amendment works in practice, SDNY gets to keep all the evidence implicating a criminal investigation until they decide whether or not to charge anyone.

To the contrary, the electronic devices retained by the Government were obtained pursuant to search warrants issued by a Magistrate Judge after a finding of probable cause, and are currently in the final stages of the Special Master’s review process. Similarly, the contents of email accounts were also obtained pursuant to search warrants issued by Magistrate Judges after findings of probable cause, and the Government’s review of materials obtained pursuant to those warrants was completed months ago. There can be no dispute that the Government’s investigation is ongoing, that these materials include evidence relevant to that investigation, and that, if a prosecution results from the investigation, these materials will have evidentiary value.

[snip]

Third, the Government’s retention of the items and materials at issue is reasonable because its investigation remains ongoing and the return of the property sought would impair the Government’s investigation. The electronic devices at issue either have been determined by the Special Master to contain responsive items, are currently under review by the Special Master, or have not yet been reviewed by the Special Master due to technical impediments. Similarly, the email account content has been reviewed by the Government and has been determined to contain material responsive to the search warrants. See, e.g., In re Search Warrants Executed on Apr. 28, 2021, 2021 WL 2188150, at *2 (denying pre-indictment motion to “return” to movants the “results from earlier search warrants of [movants’] iCloud and email accounts” because, among other reasons, “the review of the [earlier] warrant returns is now largely complete”). These items and materials are anticipated to have evidentiary value if a prosecution arises from the Government’s ongoing grand jury investigation. In light of the character of these items and materials and the status of the Government’s investigation, retention of the items and materials is reasonable at least until the Government’s investigation is completed or, in the event a prosecution arises from the investigation, until such time that the criminal case reaches its conclusion.

SDNY is not saying that a prosecution will arise from the materials seized from PV. But they are saying they’ve found evidence that would be relevant if they chose to do so.

And, SDNY repeats again in their primer on how the Fourth Amendment works, it’s only after SDNY makes that decision that James O’Keefe will have standing to challenge these searches.


John Durham May Lose His Battle But Gain New Ammunition to Fight His War

There were a number of things not said at yesterday’s hearing on the Democrats’ privilege claims in the Michael Sussmann case. The importance of having Russian-speaking experts when representing a client getting systematically attacked by Russia, for example, was not mentioned. Nor was the amount of research that Fusion did that was never released to the press. Nor were Durham’s two cheap stunts — falsely claiming an FEC settlement was not “public” in time to introduce it as part of the initial filings, and presenting exhibits without correcting for a time anomaly and thereby falsely suggesting Fusion sent a previously unpublished link to Tea Leaves’ postings to Eric Lichtblau — which made Durham’s case to pierce the Democrats’ privilege claims look stronger than it was.

Even on the issue of whether communications can have more than one purpose — an issue that Robert Trout, representing Hillary’s campaign, addressed directly — the argument could have been stronger. And when Judge Christopher Cooper asked if there were specific emails “that might support [the Democrats’] position that Fusion’s internal communications on these issues were for the purpose of providing legal support as opposed to pure opposition research and dissemination that is not covered by the privilege?,” Trout was caught flat-footed. Which is to say that the Democrats may not have presented their case as well as they could have.

It likely didn’t matter. Even before ruling that he will review the documents over which Democrats invoked privilege, Judge Christopher Cooper made it clear he was pretty skeptical of their privilege claims.

But there were a number of other things that were mentioned that may limit how much value Durham gets from this decision, even if Cooper determines that most of the Fusion documents were not privileged. Most importantly, both before and after Cooper had clearly decided he was going to review the documents, he raised the other procedural issues — which I raised in this post — that will dictate whether or not Durham can use them at trial.

The defense has raised some procedural objections to I think the use and introduction of the emails; namely, that you have waited too long after the assertion of the privilege — on the eve of trial now — to bring the issue to me.

I take it you’re saying that even if I were to agree with them about the specific emails that have been withheld, I would still have to deal with the privilege issue with respect to Ms. Seago’s testimony.

[snip]

That still leaves the relevance issues as well as the prejudice issues and the knock-on effects from the defense from the introduction and use of the emails, but I think that I’m probably going to have to deal with this issue nonetheless because of what the government may plan to ask Ms. Seago about. All right?

That is, even if Cooper agrees that the 38 documents Durham wants unsealed are not privileged, it may not mean Durham can use them at trial. The following are all possibilities, of greater or lesser likelihood:

  1. Cooper rules that one purpose of the emails was legal advice and so are privileged
  2. Cooper decides some or all of the emails are not privileged, but rules, based on representations made yesterday, that Durham violated local rules in his attempt to obtain them and so cannot get them
  3. Cooper rules that some or all of the emails are not privileged but rules that they are prejudicial, irrelevant, or hearsay to the charge against Sussmann, so Durham can have the emails, he just can’t use them at trial
  4. Cooper determines that Durham’s claims about the necessity or relevance of Laura Seago’s testimony are not only false, but Durham knew them to be false when he made them and, given that Durham has used as his excuse to pierce privilege at this late date, cannot introduce them at trial
  5. Cooper rules that the communications involving Rodney Joffe are privileged, even if the internal Fusion emails are not, adding further problems with Seago’s role as a witness
  6. Cooper rules the Fusion emails aren’t privileged, but at least some of them end up disproving Durham’s conspiracy theories

If I had to guess, I’d say a combination of 3, 5, and 6 are most likely. I’ll explain why, but if that turns out to be the case, it may mean that Durham finds a way to access the other 1,500 Fusion emails he says he wants to use in “other investigations,” but still can’t use many of the 38 emails at issue here in the trial against Sussmann. Durham’s conspiracy theories might live on, but his case against Sussmann might not.

As a reminder, Sussmann argued that Durham broke a number of rules by bypassing Beryl Howell and waiting until the last minute to try to get these emails — the procedural objections Cooper alluded to above. Cooper can’t be that impressed with the argument, or he wouldn’t have agreed to review the emails at all. But he did seem rather interested in Steven Tyrell’s assertion that he had made it clear there was never a way Durham was going to get the emails involving Joffe without litigation.

MR. TYRRELL: So if they wanted to challenge our assertion of privilege as to this limited universe of documents — again, which is separate from the other larger piece with regard to HFA — they should have done so months ago. I don’t know why they waited until now, Your Honor, but I want to be clear. I want to say without hesitation that it’s not because there was ever any discussion with us about resolving this issue without court intervention.

THE COURT: That was my question. Were you adamant a year ago?

MR. TYRRELL: Pardon me?

THE COURT: Were you adamant a year ago that —

MR. TYRRELL: Yes. We’ve been throughout. We were not willing to entertain resolution of this without court intervention.

THE COURT: Very well.

This is important because it supports Sussmann’s contention that this late bid for the emails is just an improper means of bypassing local rules and discovery deadlines. The same is not as true for Fusion, though, because they did make some concessions to Durham along the way.

Joffe’s intransigence about his privilege claims are all the more problematic for Durham, because (contrary to all my predictions!) Cooper seems far more convinced of Joffe’s privilege claims than the those of the Democrats.

With respect to the Joffe/Sussmann/Seago emails, I am dubious that the government has met its burden to pierce the privilege, but I will take a look at the emails nonetheless.

Indeed, at one point, Cooper noted that Durham’s entire theory of the case assumes, “Sussmann was in the [September 19, 2016 James Baker] meeting representing Joffe,” which would mean there was a privileged relationship between Sussmann and Joffe, and so therefore assumes Sussmann’s communications with Joffe about the topic would be privileged. If Joffe’s communications with Sussmann and Laura Seago aren’t privileged, then it’s proof that Sussmann was not representing a client. If they are privileged, then Durham can’t have them.

Catch-22.

Given what Cooper said in last week’s hearing, in which he repeatedly suggested that Joffe’s testimony might be central, the possibility that Durham may not pierce Joffe’s privilege may dictate other evidentiary (though not privilege) decisions. All the more so given how Durham excused his late bid to pierce privilege based off a late recognition they were going to immunize and call Seago.

In addition, over the course of months, and until recently, the Government has been receiving voluminous rolling productions of documents and privilege logs from numerous parties. The Government carefully analyzed such productions in order assess and re-assess the potential legal theories that might support the parties’ various privilege assertions. In connection with that process, the Special Counsel’s Office reached out to each of those parties’ counsel numerous times, directing their attention to specific documents where possible and communicating over email and phone in an effort to obtain non-privileged explanations for the relevant privilege determinations.2 The Government also supplied multiple counsel with relevant caselaw and pointed them to documents and information in the public domain that it believed bore on these issues. The Government was transparent at every step of these discussions in stating that it was contemplating seeking the Court’s intervention and guidance. Unfortunately, despite the Government’s best efforts and numerous phone calls, it was not able to obtain meaningful, substantive explanations to support these continuing broad assertions of privilege and/or work product protections.

It was only recently, when the Government determined it would need to call an employee of Fusion GPS as a trial witness (the “Fusion Witness”), that the Government concluded these issues could not be resolved without the Court’s attention. Because all or nearly all of the Fusion Witness’s expected testimony on these matters concern work carried out under an arrangement that the privilege holders now contend was established for the purpose of providing legal advice, it is essential to resolve the parties’ potential disputes about the appropriate bounds of such testimony (and the redaction or withholding of related documents).

As of yesterday, Sussmann had not received a 302 from Seago, so it’s not clear whether Durham has even interviewed her yet. But with one exception, Sussmann, Fusion lawyer Joshua Levy, and Joffe say she’ll be of limited value for Durham. Last week Sean Berkowitz said that Seago did not recall knowing Christopher Steele, much less being aware of the dossier project.

The only person from Fusion on their witness list is Laura Seago, who either I think has been immunized or will be immunized, and we understand that she would say she doesn’t recall that she even knows Mr. Steele or is able to talk about what he did. And so we don’t know that they actually are able to get anything in about what Mr. Steele did or didn’t do. Certainly there’s no evidence that Mr. Sussmann was aware of what Mr. Steele was doing. No evidence of that.

Levy noted that — as proven by the transcript of her Alfa Bank deposition, which the government has — Seago will testify she has no knowledge of either Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI or of the white paper Fusion did on Alfa Bank.

[I]n its brief, the government says that Ms. Seago has unique possession of knowledge as to what the government tries to characterize as the core issue in the case. But the government mischaracterizes that core issue. The government says that the core issue in this case is whether the defendant was representing any client in 2016 with regard to the Russian Bank 1 allegations.

That’s not the core issue in the case, respectfully. The core issue in the case is whether the defendant knowingly made a false and misleading statement to the government when he met with the government about whether he was there on behalf of a client or not that day. And as to that issue, Your Honor, Ms. Seago, the Fusion witness, has no knowledge. And the government knows this.

In parallel to the government’s investigation of this case, Russian Bank 1, Alfa-Bank, was pursuing its own discovery in a civil case. They subpoenaed and deposed Ms. Seago last year. There’s a transcript of that deposition. It’s in the public record. The government’s made clear to counsel that it has that deposition transcript, and we can furnish a copy of it to the Court.

And at the same time the government knows that Ms. Seago has no knowledge of the meeting between Mr. Sussmann and the FBI, and that’s at Pages 151 to 152 of that transcript.

THE COURT: All right. If you could file the — not file it, but provide it to the Court.

[snip]

And it’s very clear that she has no knowledge about the meeting, that she doesn’t recall any discussions about the meeting, that she didn’t work on this white paper that allegedly was provided to the government by Mr. Sussmann.

This is the memo that, again, the government has talked about today in its papers as to why it’s so important to pierce this privilege. Ms. Seago didn’t contribute to it, doesn’t know who did, doesn’t know who researched it, doesn’t know who wrote it, doesn’t know its purpose; and the government’s aware of all that.

As Sean Berkowitz followed up, Seago also does not recall knowing about the late July meeting involving Joffe, Sussmann, and Marc Elias.

And the question that was asked was: “So were you aware of this July 28th meeting between Sussmann and personnel of Fusion?

“ANSWER: Not that I recall.

“QUESTION: Were you aware of the meeting after it happened?

“ANSWER: Not that I recall.

Importantly, Durham knew (because he has been operating as a parasite on the lawfare project that Vladimir Putin probably ordered to make America less safe) that Seago would testify she didn’t know about the July meeting with Perkins Coie and Joffe or Sussmann’s meeting with James Baker or the Fusion-drafted white paper when Durham said she would be the pivotal witness to represent the relationship between Joffe and Fusion. This foreknowledge, which is incompatible with Durham’s claim that Seago’s testimony, “may be necessary to the public interest,” undermines both his relevance arguments and his excuse for the belated bid to pierce privilege.

As to Joffe, Tyrrell represented that at least some of the emails between him and Seago were the exchange of PGP keys.

MR. TYRRELL: Well, there are — Mr. Joffe is a cyber security expert, and he was trying to exchange something called PGP keys with Ms. Seago —

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. TYRRELL: — so that their communications would be secure and encrypted. So some of the attachments are actually just simply an exchange of PGP keys. But there is at least one or — there’s one or two attachments that’s not that, and I’m really not — I’d be happy to answer that in camera ex parte.

It’s the other communications that might be of value to Durham, but if they’re not privileged via Sussmann’s representation of Joffe, then his entire argument that Sussmann was representing a client may fall apart.

So Seago has, per those who know her involvement, little to offer in useful testimony (and Durham knew this). That’s a problem for Durham, because per Jonathan Algor, she was the way they planned to introduce the emails as evidence.

THE COURT: Okay. And obviously you haven’t seen these emails. You don’t know what they say. But you think there is a possibility, based on the descriptions in the privilege log, that they would be relevant and admissible through Ms. Seago for that purpose?

MR. ALGOR: Yes, Your Honor.

If Seago doesn’t know about the key issues necessary to validate the documents in question, then Durham may have a problem introducing them at trial at all.

As noted above, there are a number of possible ways Cooper resolves this, and it’s most likely he makes decisions that will displease both sides.

But given what he said yesterday, I think it quite likely Cooper will rule at least some of the Fusion emails are not privileged, even while making other rulings that will prevent them from coming into the trial as evidence.

If that happens, Durham may be able to use that ruling to get access (this time via proper methods) to that pool of 1,500 emails — many presumably of more interest to the Igor Danchenko case — that will let him spin his conspiracy theories for years to come. It might take losing the case against Sussmann, though, to continue his war of conspiracies.


Old Friends: Scooter Libby and CIPA

Judge Christopher Cooper will not have a media call-in line for this afternoon’s hearing in the Michael Sussmann case, so I’ll have to rely on the reporting of others and a delayed review of a transcript of the case.

But before then, I’d like to make two points about developments to supplement this post on the fight over what evidence will be presented at trial.

Judge Cooper rules that Durham must share two classified items with Sussmann

First, behind closed doors, the parties have begun the Classified Information Procedures Act, the process by which the government limits what classified information gets shared with the defendant and what information gets introduced at trial. I provided some background on how that might work in the (far more CIPA-dependent) Igor Danchenko trial, but for our purposes, there are three steps:

  • Section 4, which allows the government to withhold evidence from Sussmann or substitute classified information to protect classified information.
  • Section 5, which requires the defendant to list in advance what classified information he wants to use at trial.
  • Section 6, which requires the judge to make admissibility decisions on classified information before trial.

There are several things that might be included in the universe of classified evidence in Sussmann’s case. Durham has always explained there was highly classified information in the investigative case file itself.

The entirety of the FBI’s electronic case file for the investigation of the Russian Bank1 allegations – in both classified and unclassified form – with only minor redactions to protect especially sensitive and/or highly classified information;

This could pertain to Alfa Bank itself; many other public filings (such as FOIAed Mueller records or the SSCI Report) redact information pertaining to Alfa. And that would explain why Durham had to delay his CIPA filing because the people who needed to sign off were busy keeping the country safe from Russia, not safe for Russia.

Sussmann also asked for details of Rodney Joffe’s cooperation with the FBI and another agency that might be the NSA, much of which would also pertain to highly sensitive investigations. And Durham seems likely to attempt to use this CIA intelligence report to make claims that were questioned in real time about why Hillary’s campaign might respond to Trump asking for her to be hacked by trying to discover the multiple back channels with Russia that existed. (Yesterday, Peter Strzok, who is named in the document, raised questions about whether Durham even has the correct document.) That’s the kind of classified information these fights are likely about.

Yesterday, the government filed a sealed motion asking for a 6a hearing — basically an opportunity to challenge the information that Sussmann wants to use to defend himself. They also appear to be challenging the specificity with which he described the information he needs. None of that is surprising, but given how scrappy things have gotten (to say nothing of the vastly different understanding each side has of this case), this fight could get interesting.

Potentially more consequential, Judge Cooper issued a ruling finding that, of a body of classified evidence prosecutors had identified that might be relevant to Sussmann’s case in discovery, he agrees with prosecutors that the information is classified and not helpful to the defense, and so can be withheld in its entirety under CIPA. However, with respect to two items, Cooper found that the information might be helpful and so Durham has to provide it or a classified summary to Sussmann’s cleared defense counsel.

WHEREAS the Court finds that two of the Government’s proposed substitutions of certain Classified Information do not adequately inform the defense of information that arguably may be helpful or material to the defense, in satisfaction of the Government’s discovery obligations; it is hereby

[snip]

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Government is directed, as explained at the ex parte hearing, to disclose to cleared defense counsel either the underlying classified material or a classified summary of the material from which the two proposed summaries were derived.

Several things could happen here. Sussmann could look at it and decide he doesn’t want to use it at trial, mooting the issue. Prosecutors could go back to the national security officials who are busy punishing Russia for its attack on democracy and try to get them to agree to a more fulsome substitution or declassification.

But one of the possibilities is that Durham can appeal Cooper’s decision, which likely would delay the trial.

Judge Cooper adopts Libby as the standard for evidentiary disputes

The other recent development was Judge Cooper’s decision to admit Durham’s FBI Agent witness, but to limit what he can testify to unless Sussmann attempts to argue there really was a back channel communication between Alfa Bank and Trump. Contrary to what dishonest frothy lawyers say on Twitter, this was a reasonable and expected decision basically laying initial guidelines as to the evidence admissible at trial.

This decision will not end things. Cooper’s decision left a lot of room for dispute. For example:

  • Cooper permitted the government to argue the Alfa Bank allegations were “unsubstantiated,” but Andrew DeFilippis in the hearing wanted to argue they were untrue (this ironically flips the frother stance about the Mueller investigation, which did not substantiate conspiracy charges against Trump, but nevertheless found plenty of evidence of one)
  • Cooper did not distinguish between the accuracy of the DNS data (which Sussmann would happily prove at trial) and the reasonableness of the inferences researchers drew from it (about which there is great dispute)

So expect this to come back up at trial.

The most important part of the opinion, in my opinion, however, came in how Cooper closed it, generally excluding lots of the data collection evidence Durham wanted to introduce by citing Reggie Walton’s CIPA decision on Scooter Libby.

[A]dditional testimony about the accuracy of the data—expert or otherwise—will not be admissible just because Mr. Sussmann presents evidence that he “relied on Tech Executive-1’s conclusions” about the data, or “lacked a motive to conceal information about his clients.” Gov’s Expert Opp’n at 11. As the Court has already explained, complex, technical explanations about the data are only marginally probative of those defense theories. The Court will not risk confusing the jury and wasting time on a largely irrelevant or tangential issue. See United States v. Libby, 467 F. Supp. 2d 1, 15 (D.D.C. 2006) (excluding evidence under Rule 403 where “any possible minimal probative value that would be derived . . . is far outweighed by the waste of time and diversion of the jury’s attention away from the actual issues”).

Back in the day, this Libby opinion was actually a ruling against Libby. As some of you old-timers may recall, Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff was attempting a graymail defense, basically arguing that he needed stacks and stacks of classified information to explain to the jury that he didn’t mean to lie about discussing Valerie Plame’s identity and other classified information during the week the Bush Administration launched an attack on Plame and Joe Wilson. Rather, his brain was so filled with scary information — with an emphasis on Terror! Terror! Terror! — presented in the Presidential Daily Briefs, that he did not retain a memory of burning the Wilsons when asked by investigators.

And Libby was a CIPA opinion, not a 404(b) opinion, the matter ostensibly before Cooper. But it’s important because Libby’s case, like Sussmann’s, is about his state of mind when he allegedly lied, in Libby’s case, to both the FBI and a grand jury. Ultimately, the cited passage of the decision was about ways to apply Rule 403, which limits confusing information, to CIPA. To get there, however, Judge Walton focused on the PDBs and other classified documents pertinent to the days when Libby was speaking to journalists about the Wilsons and the days when he was lying to investigators, thereby excluding years of PDBs from periods before or after his lies that didn’t need to be declassified for trial.

In fact, there is a “danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury,” in providing the jury details of the defendant’s activities falling outside the critical time periods. Specifically, permitting the defendant to testify as to the details of what consumed his time outside the critical time periods discussed above would likely confuse the jury concerning what events actually allegedly consumed the defendant’s attention at the times that he had the conversations that form the basis for this prosecution. Accordingly, while the defendant will be permitted to testify generally about the matters that consumed his time and attention during those periods outside of the dates identified in the indictment, permitting detailed descriptions of events occurring during such periods will be excluded pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

Walton also ruled that testimony is more probative than submitting the PDBs or Libby’s own notes.

As indicated during the Section 6(a) proceedings, many, if not most, of the documents themselves are unlikely to be admitted as evidence during the trial for several reasons. First, the documents would be cumulative of the testimony provided by the defendant. And second, it would appear at this time that the information contained in many of the documents will pose substantial hearsay problems.

You can already see how this citation may be indicative of how Judge Cooper imagines he’ll get through the evidentiary swamp ahead of him. The government is asking to introduce a bunch of highly technical concepts, inflammatory names, and emails to which Sussmann was not a party, and asking to do so for a period that is totally attenuated from the day Sussmann went in to meet with James Baker.

But it’s relevant for another reason.

Sussmann has cited it over and over and over. In his April 4 filing moving to exclude information on data collection and Christopher Steele, Sussmann cited the opinion six times, including for:

  • Walton’s exclusion of what President Bush said in front of Libby
  • Walton’s exclusion of the scary terrorists Libby fought
  • The import of the defendant’s state of mind when he allegedly lied
  • Details of what others were told

Sussmann cited Libby again in his April 8 motion to exclude Durham’s expert, citing Walton’s exclusion of “the foreign affairs of the country, which is totally irrelevant to this case.” Sussmann cited it again in his April 15 omnibus response to Durham’s motions in limine, in a section aiming to exclude a bunch of Fusion GPS emails, for the argument that what others were told is simply irrelevant to the defendant’s state of mind in a false statements case. And he cited it again in his April 18 opposition to Durham’s motion to compel production of a bunch of privileged communications to which he was not party.

Unless I missed it, during that entire period in which Sussmann was citing Libby Libby Libby Libby Libby Libby Libby Libby Libby, Durham didn’t address the precedent at all.

As I noted, the Walton’s Libby decision worked against Libby; it prevented him from turning his trial into a debate over the War on Terror.

In this case, however, Durham is the one attempting to turn a single count false statement trial into a conspiracy trial implicating Hillary Clinton, Christopher Steele, and Donald Trump. Which suggests the Libby decision may not help him.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/emptywheel/page/3/