August 14, 2022 / by 

 

Some Likely Exacerbating Factors that Would Contribute to a Trump Search

From the start of the reporting on Trump’s theft of classified documents, commentators have suggested that Trump was only under investigation for violations of the Presidential Records Act or 18 USC 2071.

Reports that in June, one of the four people who met with Trump’s lawyers on this issue was Jay Bratt, head of Counterintelligence & Export Control Section at DOJ, which investigates Espionage, makes it highly unlikely that those are the only things under investigation.

In early June, a handful of investigators made a rare visit to the property seeking more information about potentially classified material from Trump’s time in the White House that had been taken to Florida. The four investigators, including Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department, sat down with two of Trump’s attorneys, Bobb and Evan Corcoran, according to a source present for the meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Trump stopped by and greeted the investigators near a dining room. After he left, without answering any questions, the investigators asked the attorneys if they could see where Trump was storing the documents. The attorneys took the investigators to the basement room where the boxes of materials were being stored, and the investigators looked around the room before eventually leaving, according to the source.

Even 18 USC 1924, which prohibits unlawfully taking classified information, would involve complications if the person who stole the materials were the former President. Admittedly, the fact that DOJ had an in-person meeting with Trump before conducting a search might mitigate those complications; Trump may be refusing to return documents rather than just not turning them over.

Still, it’s possible — likely even — that there are exacerbating factors that led DOJ to search Mar-a-Lago rather than just (as they did with Peter Navarro) suing to get the documents back.

Remember, this process started when the Archives came looking for things they knew must exist. Since then, they’ve had cause to look for known or expected Trump records in (at least) the January 6 investigation, the Tom Barrack prosecution, and the Peter Strzok lawsuit. The investigation into Rudy Giuliani’s influence peddling is another that might obviously lead to a search of Trump’s presidential records, not least because the Archives would know to look for things pertaining to Trump’s impeachments.

With that as background, Trump would be apt to take classified documents pertaining to the following topics:

  • The transcript of the “perfect phone call” with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other documents pertaining to his first impeachment
  • Notes on his meetings with other foreign leaders, especially Vladimir Putin and Saudi royals, including Trump’s July 16, 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki
  • Information surrounding the Jamal Khashoggi execution (and other materials that make Jared Kushner’s current ties to Mohammed bin Salman suspect)
  • Policy discussions surrounding Qatar, which tie to other influence peddling investigations (for which Barrack asked specifically)
  • Intelligence reports on Russian influence operations
  • Details pertaining to security efforts in the lead-up to and during January 6
  • Intelligence reports adjacent to Trump’s false claims of election fraud (for example, pertaining to Venezuelan spying)
  • Highly sensitive NSA documents pertaining to a specific foreign country that Mike Ellis was trying to hoard as boxes were being packed in January 2021

For many if not most of these documents, if Trump were refusing to turn them over, it might amount to obstruction of known investigations or prosecutions — Barrack’s, Rudy’s, or Trump’s own, among others. Thus, refusing to turn them over, by itself, might constitute an additional crime, particularly if the stolen documents were particularly damning.

One more point about timing: An early CNN report on these stolen documents describes that a Deputy White House Counsel who had represented Trump in his first impeachment was liaising with the Archives on this point.

Longtime Archives lawyer Gary Stern first reached out to a person from the White House counsel’s office who had been designated as the President Records Act point of contact about the record-keeping issue, hoping to locate the missing items and initiate their swift transfer back to NARA, said multiple sources familiar with the matter. The person had served as one of Trump’s impeachment defense attorneys months earlier and, as deputy counsel, was among the White House officials typically involved in ensuring records were properly preserved during the transfer of power and Trump’s departure from office.

By description, this is likely either John Eisenberg (who hid the full transcript of the perfect phone call but who was not obviously involved in Trump’s first impeachment defense) or Pat Philbin (who was the titular Deputy White House Counsel and was overtly involved in that defense). If it’s the latter, then Philbin recently got a DOJ subpoena, albeit reportedly in conjunction with January 6. If so, DOJ might have recent testimony about documents that Trump was knowingly withholding from the Archives.


In Sentencing Memo, SDNY Scoffs at Lev Parnas’ Claims of Cooperation

The two sides have submitted sentencing memos for Lev Parnas’ scheduled June 29 sentencing. In the face of DOJ’s call for a 78 to 97 months sentence, Parnas is claiming that he “cooperated” with the 2019-20 House impeachment investigation. Parnas suggests that DOJ won’t give him a cooperation departure because they didn’t like what he had to say.

Apparently, the information Mr. Parnas wished to supply the Department of Justice in this case was information that it did not want to hear. Prosecutors kept Mr. Parnas at bay for months before finally hearing his proffer. When they did, it was principally used to thwart his potential trial testimony, rather than to consider his attempt to provide substantial assistance in good faith. Mr. Parnas’s cooperation with Congress was timely and material.

His media statements were intended to place information and evidence that was important to our national interest into the public domain—frequently at great risk to himself. And yet, from nearly the moment Mr. Parnas committed to cooperating with Congress and producing videos, photographs, documents, text messages, proton mail messages and other information, the value of this evidence was of undeniable significance.

But SDNY argues that Parnas did no more than comply with a subpoena, his civic duty.

Parnas’s compliance with the HPSCI subpoena does not justify a downward departure. His decision to produce documents in response to a duly issued subpoena is akin to a civic deed that is “ordinarily not relevant in determining whether a sentence should be outside the applicable guideline range.” § 5H1.11.

SDNY details at more length what transpired before Parnas started pitching his story to Congress: Parnas’ attorney, Joseph Bondy, provided a series of proffers that fell short of the truth. In November 2019, they told Parnas explicitly that his public campaign was harming his bid to cooperate.

Within a week of Parnas’s arrest, on October 16, 2019, Parnas’s counsel contacted the Government to indicate that Parnas was “really upset” that then-President Trump was “claiming he didn’t know [Parnas],” and that Parnas was interested in cooperating. 1 The Government then requested an attorney proffer—that is, a summary from Parnas’s attorney of what Parnas would be able to testify to at trial—in order to evaluate Parnas’s truthfulness and potential to provide substantial assistance. Parnas’s counsel provided a number of attorney proffers beginning on October 28, 2019, but the information was not fully credible and in material respects was plainly contradicted by the evidence the Government had gathered to date, which caused the Government to have serious concerns about Parnas’s credibility and candor. The Government had extended discussions with Parnas’s counsel in the weeks and months following Parnas’s arrest during which the Government pointed counsel to evidence that contradicted the attorney proffers.

Moreover, in an effort to encourage Parnas to be truthful, on November 6, 2019, the Government took the extraordinary step of meeting with Parnas and his counsel for a reverse proffer to explain, among other things, the evidence the Government had gathered against Parnas; what the cooperation process entailed; and that Parnas would have to be truthful and accept responsibility for his own crimes. At the close of that meeting, the Government informed Parnas that public spectacles, leaks, and social media postings could undermine his credibility and diminish his value as a potential cooperating witness. The Government also explained to Parnas how certain information he had provided through his attorney proffers had been contradicted by the evidence and was materially false. After that meeting, Parnas’s counsel wrote the Government to report that he could not “accept responsibility for criminal activity for which he is not guilty,” which based on discussions with counsel, the Government understood to be a reference to, among other things, the campaign finance and false statements offenses of which Parnas now stands convicted.

[snip]

As this Court is aware from pretrial litigation, the Government met with Parnas for a proffer on March 5, 2020. During that proffer, Parnas was not fully credible or forthcoming. He minimized, blamed others for the criminal conduct he has pled to and been convicted of, made statements that were inconsistent with the evidence, and the Government was ultimately unable to corroborate significant portions of what Parnas said. Due to his lack of credibility, candor, and unwillingness to accept responsibility, the Government did not meet with Parnas again for another proffer session and did not proceed with cooperation. [my emphasis]

The government seems far more worried that Judge Paul Oetken, who sentenced Parnas’ co-defendants to a year and a day, would give Parnas a lower than guidelines sentence to avoid a sentencing disparity than that he’d get credit for cooperation.

Parnas is playing that up, too, noting that Igor Fruman got released to a halfway house just three months after reporting.

Two of Mr. Parnas’s co-defendants, David Correia and Igor Fruman, were ultimately offered plea agreements to select counts of the indictment and entered guilty pleas. Mr. Parnas, who was not offered such a plea, proceeded to trial along with another co-defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, which ended in conviction on October 22, 2021. Mr. Parnas filed post-verdict motions for a judgment of acquittal and for a new trial, which were denied.

Thereafter, he entered a plea to the single remaining count against him–which had been previously severed—”the Fraud Guarantee” wire fraud conspiracy. All of Mr. Parnas’s co-defendants have been sentenced by the Court to 366 days’ imprisonment. Mr. Fruman, who surrendered to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons on March 14, 2022, has already been released to “residential reentry management.”

All of which is most interesting for the disposition of the charges relating to Yuri Lutsenko, which were part of the original indictment against Parnas and Fruman, but which were removed in a 2020 superseding indictment. These are the charges that Parnas and Fruman would face with Rudy Giuliani.

In April, Rudy offered what reporters presented as a last minute meeting, before prosecutors made an imminent decision on his prosecution, but nothing has come of it since then. Perhaps we’ll learn more after Parnas’ sentencing next week.


Paul Manafort Prevented from Flying to Dubai

As Knewz first reported and AP has now matched, Paul Manafort was pulled from a flight to Dubai on Sunday because his passport was revoked.

Former Trump adviser Paul Manafort was removed from a plane at Miami International Airport before it took off for Dubai because he carried a revoked passport, officials said Wednesday.

Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta confirmed that Manafort was removed from the Emirates Airline flight without incident Sunday night but directed further questions to U.S. Border and Customs Protection. That agency did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment.

A lawyer who has represented Manafort did not immediately return a call and email seeking comment Wednesday.

As a reminder, Manafort’s pardon did not include his actions in an August 2, 2016 meeting with alleged Russian spy Konstanin Kilimnik, at which he seemingly traded his strategy to win the election for $19 million in financial benefit and a commitment to help carve up Ukraine.

Nor was Manafort pardoned for his efforts, which continued at least until he was arrested, to help Kilimnik carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking.

Nor was Manafort pardoned for his role in all the influence-peddling that Rudy Giuliani was involved with in Ukraine through 2020.

This was three days ago. The fact that Sean Hannity has not been wailing about the poor treatment of Manafort since suggests either that there’s not a good way to spin it, or that Manafort has some reason to want to keep this quiet.

Update: NBC’s Tom Winter says that, contrary to other reports, he was simply not permitted to board and that he can apply for a new passport. It’s not clear why he speaks of a “new investigation.”


Imagine if DOJ Used the Hunter Biden Inquiry to Get Testimony against Rudy Giuliani…

I’m going to return to my argument that The Laptop is functionally equivalent to the Steele dossier. But until I do, I want to return to the parallels between the Ukrainian influence peddling investigation of Hunter Biden and that of Rudy Giuliani.

First, take a look at this passage from the Ken Vogel-bylined NYT story that inflated new life in The Laptop story.

People familiar with the investigation said prosecutors had examined emails between Mr. Biden, Mr. Archer and others about Burisma and other foreign business activity. Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.

Elsewhere, the NYT story reports that the investigation into Hunter Biden turned to his influence peddling in 2018, well before the laptops in question were purportedly dropped off at a blind computer repairman’s shop.

The investigation, which began as a tax inquiry under the Obama administration, widened in 2018 to include possible criminal violations of tax laws, as well as foreign lobbying and money laundering rules, according to the people familiar with the inquiry.

The contents on The Laptop were iCloud content, which the FBI could have and would have preferred to obtain with a warrant. We know the emails in question weren’t deleted by all parties because sources for stories describe still having them.

In other words, it’s unlikely that The Laptop played a critical role in the FBI investigation into the President’s son, because the FBI had other, better ways to obtain the same content and because the FBI had already turned to these matters well before the laptop got shared with the FBI on December 9, 2019.

So let’s go back to the way that Vogel-bylined NYT article reflated The Laptop story. The passage I quoted says three things:

  1. Prosecutors have looked at emails in question.
  2. NYT had obtained emails from what it credulously calls The Laptop.
  3. The “Laptop” emails were authenticated by “people familiar with them and with the investigation.”

The source for the first claim is likely someone who was a witness in the DE investigation (and we know that witnesses who have offered up their testimony have been part of the recent Murdoch-driven campaign to reflate it). The second claim is simply NYT’s ham-handed effort to make it clear the emails they received were part of the same campaign as the original NY Post story.

The third claim, however, is interesting. Written as it is, it suggests there are people who are familiar with both the investigation and the email cache. That would seem to suggest that some of the very limited universe of people involved with The Laptop — Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Robert Costello, and Mac Isaac — believe they know something about the Hunter Biden investigation.

Let’s focus on Robert Costello for the moment: He loves to be a cut-out. And when Billy Barr set up a special back channel to ingest Ukrainian-provided Russian dirt on Hunter Biden, Costello was that back channel. In other words, the lawyer that Rudy and Steve Bannon share is one possible source for that third claim, but if he were, it would suggest investigators in Delaware had spoken with him as a witness because he knew of the process by which he came to be in possession of a sketchy laptop.

Whatever testimony the source of that third claim offered could be shared with SDNY, which is investigating Rudy’s own influence-peddling scandal with Ukraine.

With all that mind, take a look at this passage of Philip Bump’s excellent summary of all the ways that laptop story is sketchy.

Giuliani was central to that effort. In late 2018, he began exploring the idea that Biden, as vice president several years before, had improperly tried to influence Ukraine to block an investigation of Burisma, a company for which Hunter Biden served as a board member. This story, promoted by an investigator targeted for termination by the U.S. government, was later debunked, but it seemed a promising line of attack. On April 1, 2019, a writer linked to Giuliani named John Solomon wrote the first of several stories about the allegations.

On April 12, the laptops were dropped off at Mac Isaac’s repair shop. Mac Isaac is legally blind and was not able to identify Hunter Biden by sight. One of the laptops, though, bore a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation, an organization dedicated to Hunter’s late brother.

At some point in the middle of this month, Hunter Biden left Burisma’s board. Presumably he was by that point aware that questions were being asked about his role. If not, it became very clear on May 1, when the Times elevated the Burisma question in its coverage.

In the meantime, Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, and efforts to pressure him to announce an investigation into Biden began. In early May 2019, Giuliani planned a trip to Ukraine to dig up information that might damage Biden — a plan that was covered in the press. After broad outcry, he scrapped the trip. But the signal was sent: Giuliani was seeking information deleterious to Biden.

Later that month, someone in Kyiv was approached about buying Hunter Biden’s emails. This was not reported until Oct. 21, 2020, a week after the Post’s story about the laptop.

This time period — December 2018 until May 2019 — is precisely the time period that prosecutors asked Special Master Barbara Jones to prioritize for her privilege review of the last set of Rudy’s phones (as well as the one phone from Victoria Toensing).

In the initial incarnation of this investigation — the one charged in 2019, before Lev Parnas started running his mouth — the focus of this investigation was exclusively on how Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired.  But in September 2020, that part of the investigation was put on hold to await Rudy.

Yovanovitch’s name doesn’t appear in Bump’s summary at all. Yet it happened in the same month — May 2019, the culmination of this effort — when Rudy was going to go to Kyiv to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, and when someone was wandering around Kyiv offering to sell what looks like what ended up packaged as The Laptop.

Whether or not Rudy’s effort to solicit what ended up being dirt that looked just like The Laptop was originally the focus of the investigation, DOJ has now obtained a privilege review of Rudy’s comms from that time period when he was soliciting it.


The Lesson Marina Ovsyannikova Offers to Chuck Todd and Lester Holt

Yesterday, an editor at Russia’s official Channel One news, Marina Ovsyannikova, came onto a live broadcast and held up a sign condemning Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Predictably, she was quickly detained; thus far, her attorneys have been unable to locate her (though one outlet has said she’ll be charged under Russia’s new crackdown law).

Shortly after her detention, a pre-recorded video was released, in which she explained her actions. She spoke of the shame she feels about her past involvement in Putin’s lies.

What is happening right now in Ukraine is a crime and Russia is the aggressor. And the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian. My mother is Russian. And they were never enemies. And this necklace on my neck is a symbol of the fact that Russia must immediately stop the fratricidal war and then our brotherly peoples will still be able to reconcile.

Unfortunately, in recent years I have been working on Channel One, working for Kremlin’s propaganda. And I am very ashamed of it. I am ashamed that I was letting them tell those lies from the screen. I’m ashamed that I allowed to “zombify” the Russian people.

We kept silent in 2014, when all this was just in the beginning. We didn’t go to rallies when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this inhumane regime.

And now the whole world has turned away from us, and even 10 generations of our descendants will not be enough to wash away the shame of this fratricidal war. We are Russian people — thoughtful and smart. It’s up to us to stop this madness. Come out to rallies. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t imprison all of us.

It was an incredibly brave — and because she planned her actions in advance — well-executed protest.

But make no mistake. Ovsyannikova is not, like another brave journalist who spoke up this week, Yevgenia Albats, someone who has criticized the regime in the past, someone whose witness now is a continuation of years of brave reporting.

Rather, Ovsyannikova is someone who, a profile describes, “was a cog in a big machine of Channel One’s news production.” She was part of the the production of official truth. And as she describes, hers is the lesson of regret for that complicity, someone who will forever own a part of Putin’s crimes because she took the comfortable route of contributing to and participating in Putin’s exercise of power. She will almost certainly pay a stiff price for her speech, but she is also someone who did nothing, up till now, as Putin kept raising the price of speaking freely.

While Ovsyannikova’s protest will likely resonate for some time, I would hope that complicit journalists in countries where it’s not too late to defend democracy reflect seriously on Ovsyannikova’s shame. Even as Russia rains bombs down on Ukraine, journalists like Chuck Todd and Lester Holt invited Bill Barr onto their TV to tell lies about Russia’s attack on democracy in the United States, to tell lies about Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, to tell lies about his role in an attack on democracy. Like Ovsyannikova, Todd and Holt sit, comfortable, polished, and complicit, as Barr told lies that were a direct attack on democracy and rule of law.

And like Ovsyannikova, they are doing nothing to rebut the lies of authoritarianism before it’s too late.

Update: Ovsyannikova has surfaced and is thus far facing only administrative crimes, so days, not years, in jail.

Update: Ovsyannikova was fined 30,000 rubles and released, but that apparently only covers the social media video, not the protest on TV.


Now that DOJ Has Rudy Giuliani’s Phone Contents, Lev Parnas Prepares to Plead

Back on January 21, Special Master Barbara Jones reported on the status of her privilege review of Rudy Giuliani’s devices. For eight of Rudy’s devices, she had turned over over 27,000 items that post-dated January 1, 2018. For eight others, she had turned over the 3,000 items dated between December 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019.

While she had started to turn over materials as early as November, Jones turned over the balance on January 19. From there, a filter team at the FBI would have to scope the contents to make sure the investigative team only got items covered by whatever warrants the government has gotten.

The one known warrant that SDNY has covers Rudy’s efforts — assisted by Lev Parnas — to get Maria Yovanovitch fired in 2019. Those charges were included on the original October 2019 indictment against Parnas, but removed when the charges against him were superseded in September 2020.

If DOJ is going to charge Rudy for ousting Yovanovitch at the behest of Yuri Lutsenko and others, they are probably preparing to do so now.

Which makes it interesting that yesterday, Parnas asked for a change of plea hearing on the remaining already-charged count for which he still has to stand trial.

Remember: Back in March 2020, Parnas tried, unsuccessfully, to flip.

Lev Parnas spent much of January 2020 claiming to want to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry — though those claims were often suspect. At the same time, SDNY seemed to want to stall those efforts. The Senate acquitted Trump in February.

Only after that, on March 5, 2020 (and apparently just March 5), did Parnas proffer testimony in what he had been publicly claiming for some time was an interest in cooperating. But apparently after making statements that support the government case against him at trial next month, nothing came of the proffer.

On March 5, 2020, Parnas and his counsel met with members of this Office and the FBI, to proffer Parnas’s potential testimony about the charges at issue here and other matters. In advance of the proffer, the Government provided a written proffer agreement to Parnas’s counsel, setting forth the terms under which statements Parnas made during the proffer could and could not be used against him.

[snip]

During a lengthy proffer, Parnas made several statements that tend to prove the charges at issue here, or facts underlying those charges. An FBI agent took detailed notes of the proffer, and later produced a formal report memorializing it (the “302”). Those notes, and the 302, have been provided to Kukushkin and Parnas.

In a pretrial hearing last October, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy revealed that at that early point, SDNY had insisted Parnas plead to all the charges against him (which at that point still included the Yovanovitch charge).

But now that DOJ has — after 30 months of work — obtained all Rudy’s communications about the Yovanovitch plot (and already facing prison based off his October 2021 guilty verdict), Parnas appears to have a deal that’s worth pleading guilty to.

Remember: When Parnas was previously trying to flip, it wasn’t just the Yovanovitch plot he wanted to cooperate on. He also wanted to help SDNY prosecute obstruction of the investigation into that effort, including efforts to delete iCloud content as impeachment started. Parnas has receipts — not just against Rudy (and Mike Pompeo), but also videos implicating Trump.

Meanwhile, as Parnas prepares to plead guilty, Yovaovitch is using her book tour to highlight the damage done by autocrats like Putin and Trump.


It Is Not News that Bill Barr Lied to Protect Kleptocracy

Let’s talk about what Bill Barr did in his second tenure as Attorney General.

Even before Jeff Sessions was fired, Barr decided — based on the false claims he saw on Fox News — that the allegations against Donald Trump were bullshit. He wrote up a memo suggesting that it was okay for the President to fire the FBI director to cover up his own crimes. And based on that audition, he was nominated and confirmed as Attorney General.

When the investigation into the aftermath of that firing shut down weeks after he was confirmed, Barr lied to downplay the degree to which the President had enthusiastically welcomed the help of a hostile country to get elected. Among the things his lies did was to hide that the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia — with Trump’s full knowledge — remained ongoing, a detail that remains unreported everywhere but here. Barr also issued a prosecution declination for crimes still in progress, Trump’s ultimately successful effort to buy the silence of witnesses against him with pardons.

Barr poured whiskey to celebrate his old friend Robert Mueller’s frailty before Congress.

Then Barr turned to protecting Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Sean Hannity when a whistleblower objected that Trump was extorting Volodymyr Zelenskyy for help on his reelection campaign. He did so in a number of ways, including interfering in legally mandated congressional and election oversight. He also stripped the whistleblower complaint to ensure that investigative steps put into place to protect national security in the wake of 9/11 wouldn’t tie Trump’s extortion attempt to an ongoing investigation into Ukrainian efforts to exploit Rudy Giuliani’s corruption to protect (Russian-backed) Ukrainian corruption. Barr’s efforts to hide the national security impact of Russian-backed Ukrainian efforts to corrupt American democracy gave Republicans cover — cover that every single Republican save Justin Amash and Mitt Romey availed themselves of — to leave Trump in place even after he put his own personal welfare above national security.

Then Barr turned to undoing the work of the Russian investigation. After Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the case against Mike Flynn was sound and Michael Horowitz concluded that the Russian investigation was not a partisan witch hunt, Barr assigned multiple investigators — John Durham and Jeffrey Jensen — to create a new set of facts claiming it was. He intervened to minimize the punishment against Stone, in the process claiming that threats against a witness and a judge — involving the same militias that would go on to lead an attack on the Capitol on January 6 — were mere technicalities. In his attempt to shield Stone from punishment, Barr ensured that the then-ongoing investigation into Stone’s suspected conspiracy with Russia would go nowhere. Barr’s efforts to attack Emmet Sullivan for refusing to rubber stamp Barr’s corruption resulted in a death threat against the judge. Barr’s effort to invent excuses to dismiss the prosecution against Flynn included altering documents and permitting an FBI agent who had sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI device to make claims in an interview that conflicted with the agent’s own past actions.

Barr used COVID as an excuse to let Paul Manafort serve his sentence in his Alexandria condo until such time as Trump pardoned his former campaign manager for lying about the help from Russia he used to get elected.

Barr took several measures to protect Rudy Giuliani from any consequences for his repeated efforts to get help for Donald Trump from Russian-backed Ukrainians, including outright Agents like Andrii Derkach. He ensured that the existing SDNY investigation into Rudy could not incorporate Rudy’s later efforts to solicit Russian-backed Ukrainian help. He attempted to fire Geoffrey Berman. He set up a parallel process so that DOJ could review the fruits of Rudy’s influence peddling for potential use against Trump’s campaign opponent.

This is just a partial list of the false claims that Bill Barr mobilized as Attorney General to ensure that the United States remained saddled with a President who repeatedly welcomed — at times extorted — Russian-backed help to remain as President.

It is not news that Bill Barr corrupted DOJ and lied to protect kleptocracy — in its American form of Donald Trump, but also, by association, in Putin’s efforts to exploit American venality to corrupt democracy.

Nevertheless, multiple outlets have decided that now — during Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine — is a good time to invite Bill Barr onto TV or radio to tell further lies to spin his own role in protecting kleptocracy, Russian and American. They appear to think they’re clever enough to catch a shameless liar in a lie — or perhaps believe the news value of having Barr explain that he’d prefer a competent fascist to Trump but if Trump is all he gets, he prefers that to actual democracy.

You cannot win an interview with Bill Barr. Gaslighters like Barr are too skilled at exploiting our attention economy. The mere act of inviting him on accords a man who did grave damage to the Department of Justice and the Constitution in service of kleptocracy as a respectable member of society. Even assuming you’re prepared enough to challenge his lies (thus far none of the journalists who interviewed Barr has been), he’ll claim your truth, the truth, is just partisanship designed to smear those who believe kleptocracy is moral. More likely, you’ll end up like Savanah Guthrie did, letting Barr claim, unchallenged, that the allegation that Russia conducted a concerted effort to compromise Trump is a lie.

Before Russia invaded a peaceful country, it attempted to achieve the same ends by cultivating Trump, by trading him electoral advantage for Ukrainian sovereignty. Bill Barr was a central part in letting that effort continue unchecked until January 20, 2021.

If you invite him on to do anything other than apologize to Ukraine and the United States, you are part of the problem.


The Single-Legged Stool of the Horseshoe Left’s Apology for Putin

All too often, both the Putin-apologist horseshoe left and some good faith members of the anti-war left have adopted a single frame to think of Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine: NATO.

In the sloppiest versions, the idea is that Bill Clinton provided “guarantees” to Putin that NATO would not expand, and since NATO has expanded, the US bears all the responsibility for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is undoubtedly a big part of Putin’s grievance. Fiona Hill describes that this moment has been coming since 2007.

Hill: I think there’s been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when he put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then within a year in 2008 NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture.

Back then I was a national intelligence officer, and the National Intelligence Council was analyzing what Russia was likely to do in response to the NATO Open Door declaration. One of our assessments was that there was a real, genuine risk of some kind of preemptive Russian military action, not just confined to the annexation of Crimea, but some much larger action taken against Ukraine along with Georgia. And of course, four months after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, there was the invasion of Georgia. There wasn’t an invasion of Ukraine then because the Ukrainian government pulled back from seeking NATO membership. But we should have seriously addressed how we were going to deal with this potential outcome and our relations with Russia.

But it’s not just NATO. For years, Putin has portrayed any popular uprising for democracy as a CIA plot, a claim that many anti-imperialists championed, thereby denying those calling for democracy any agency. And the 2014 ouster of Viktor Yanukovych (which more complicit members of the horseshoe left claim was simply a coup led by Nazis) set off a concerted plan that incorporated support for Brexit, an attack on US elections in 2016, all conducted in parallel with relentless targeting of Ukraine.

This invasion is the continuation of not just the annexation of Crimea and persistent war in Ukraine’s East, but also the hybrid attacks on Ukraine’s power grid and, via NotPetya, on anyone paying taxes in Ukraine and therefore any international business doing business with it.

Russia’s efforts to cultivate Tories in the UK, populists in the EU, and the Trumpist right, including a good deal of disinformation capitalizing on Trump’s narcissism, was always closely connected to Russia’s closer goals in Ukraine (and, indeed, involved the participation of some of Trump’s closest allies, starting with Paul Manafort and Rudy Giuliani. in Ukraine).

The horseshoe left can’t acknowledge this, of course, because it would amount to admitting that they have been lying in Russia’s service since 2016, conflating their own manufactured “RussiaGate” for Russia’s real attack on US democracy in 2016 and afterwards, debunking the former while repeating Russia’s lies about the latter. Because the horseshoe left can’t admit they were duped into being mouthpieces gleefully attacking democracy, they have real incentive to ignore the ways the Ukrainian invasion is not just a reaction against NATO, but also an attack on democracy, on a rules-based order, on the European project that always aspired (however imperfectly) to improve on the hypocritical liberal aspirations of the United States.

The thing I don’t understand, though, is how little of the horseshoe left’s criticism is about Neoliberalism. If you’re going to attack Bill Clinton, why not attack the way the US pushed shock therapy on former Soviet states, including Russia?

To be sure, Putin is not unhappy with the results of that, and so is not complaining about the imposition of a form of capitalism that allowed Oligarchs to loot the state, and through them, Putin to accumulate power. Putin has made the most of the organized crime that filled the vacuum of the state.

But as the EU has moved with remarkable (though selective) swiftness to pressure Putin through those networks of Oligarchs, as Germany, Italy, and Cyprus took steps it wasn’t clear they would take, a critique of American-led failures of capitalism is especially important, not just to ensure that the Oligarchs do get sanctioned and in hopes that the UK begins to wean itself of Russian dirty money.

Ukraine, with Europe, needs to survive this attack, find a way to rebut the invasion and build a path forward.

But whatever else this moment has done, it has made it clear how easy it was for Russia to pervert democracy in the places proudly claiming to practice it with the least little bit of Oligarch cash. Having ripped off the bandaid of Russian influence, Europe (at least) has the opportunity to formalize protections against purchased influence.

Such lessons, of course, extend beyond Russia to America’s own failed imperial catastrophes, most notably in Afghanistan, where US-backed corruption made it easy for the Taliban to regain credibility by comparison. US hegemony is on the wane because of Green Zone thinking about capitalism, which fostered the kind of corruption that made Putin powerful.

Such lessons extend, as well, to America’s own fragile democracy, subjugated in recent years to endless supplies of corporate cash, which led in 2016 to the election of a man who aspired to impose a kleptocracy every bit as corrupt as Putin’s.

Vladimir Putin has gotten a large swath of anti-imperialist American leftists to parrot a claim that he invaded Ukraine because of NATO, and only because of NATO. Not only has that made them willful apologists for the kind of imperialism they claim to abhor, even while ignoring the direct assault on democracy and the greater aspirations to human rights adopted by Europe. But it has led them to ignore an obvious critique of US and Russian power that would be a necessary component of building a new, more resilient order if we survive this war.


Questions for Bill Barr about His Cover-Ups Pertaining to Ukraine and Russia, Starting with: Who Withdrew the Red Notice for Yevgeniy Prigozhin?

Billy Barr’s effort to launder his reputation with a book tour has started, kicked off with a supine WSJ review that includes just one “some said” clause treating as debatable the provably false claims he made in his book about intervening to eliminate all consequences for Trump’s top associates for lying to cover up their interactions with Russia during the 2016 election.

During much of Mr. Barr’s time in the Trump administration, some said he protected the president at the expense of the Justice Department’s independence, especially over his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Barr issued his own summary of Mr. Mueller’s investigative report depicting the results in a way that Mr. Mueller and others described as misleading or overly favorable to Mr. Trump. He also worked in the ensuing months to undermine some of the prosecutions spawned by the Mueller investigation. An example was his decision to drop the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser.

Mr. Barr has said that he intervened to correct what he saw as overreach by the prosecutors and flaws in the department’s approach to those cases, a stance he maintains in his book.

Barr’s book tour happens at the same time, the Times reports, as 400 Wagner mercenaries sent by Putin to Kyiv are trying to hunt down the elected President of Ukraine.

More than 400 Russian mercenaries are operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate President Zelensky and his government and prepare the ground for Moscow to take control, The Times has learnt.

The Wagner Group, a private militia run by one of President Putin’s closest allies and operating as an arm-length branch of the state, flew in mercenaries from Africa five weeks ago on a mission to decapitate Zelensky’s government in return for a handsome financial bonus.

Information about their mission reached the Ukrainian government on Saturday morning and hours later Kyiv declared a 36-hour “hard” curfew to sweep the city for Russian saboteurs, warning civilians that they would be seen as Kremlin agents and risked being “liquidated” if they stepped outside.

This makes me wonder whether Viktor Medvedchuk — the guy Putin would like to install as a puppet — had help escaping from house arrest.

People’s deputy from the Opposition Platform – Pri Life party, Putin’s godfather Viktor Medvedchuk, escaped from arrest.

Source : information from the ZN.UA edition , obtained from the Office of the Prosecutor General, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Gerashchenko

Details : According to sources, on February 26, the Prosecutor General’s Office instructed the National Police to check the presence of Medvedchuk at the address where he is under house arrest.

The National Police fulfilled the order: Medvedchuk was not at the scene.

The coincidence of Putin’s invasion with Barr’s attempt to launder his reputation led me to put together a partial list of questions Barr should be asked (hopefully by Lester Holt) as he attempts to pretend he didn’t pervert justice — in part — to protect Trump from his attempt to extort Ukraine. For example:

  • Why didn’t Barr recuse himself from the review of the whistleblower complaint against Trump given that Trump told Zelenskyy Barr would contact him during the Perfect Phone Call? (This post provides more details of how Barr’s DOJ mishandled that referral.)
  • Why did Barr only refer the transcript of the call, and not the entire whistleblower complaint, the latter of which would have led Public Integrity to see the tie between Trump’s call and Rudy’s successful effort to get Maria Yovanovich fired (for which Rudy remains under active investigation)?
  • Why did OLC, first, write a memo refusing to share the whistleblower complaint and, once they did, overclassify passages of the call to hide Barr’s own role?
  • Why did Barr personally warn Rupert Murdoch before Sean Hannity got on a plane to fly to Vienna as part of Rudy’s grift?
  • Why did Barr try to fire Geoffrey Berman at a time it was investigating Rudy Giuliani’s role in all this?
  • Why did Barr ask one of his most politicized US Attorneys, Scott Brady, to serve as an intake point for Russian disinformation from Andrii Derkach?
  • Why did Barr separate the investigation into Derkach from the one in which Rudy, who met with Derkach after he had been IDed as a Russian agent, was already under investigation?

Had Barr not intervened in all these ways, the US would have been better able to protect its own democracy from Trump (and Giuliani’s) attempt to corrupt Ukraine’s democracy. Instead, Ukraine is schooling America about what it takes to defend democracy.

But given the assassins hunting down Zelenskyy even as Barr attempts to launder his reputation, there’s perhaps a more urgent question. Why did Bill Barr’s DOJ let the Red Notice for Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s arrest drop in September 2020?

In March 2020, DOJ dismissed the case against two of Prigozhin’s companies that had interfered in the 2016 election, but not Prigozhin himself. As I wrote, the decision was not as suspect as some of Barr’s other interventions in Mueller prosecutions (though it happened at the same time). Because Prigozhin’s corporate persons, but not his biological person, showed up to contest the charges, the Prigozhin defense became substantially an effort to learn FBI’s sources and methods. A Dabney Friedrich decision on the protective order exacerbated that, and another required DOJ to start naming US persons affected. Dropping the case against two corporate persons was not, itself, suspect. DOJ did not drop the case against Prigozhin or his trolls.

Even though the charges against the biological person Prigozhin had not been dropped, in September 2020, Interpol removed Prigozhin from the list of those who could be arrested, citing the dismissal against his corporate persons. This allowed Prigozhin to make several trips to jurisdictions, including Germany, from which he could have been extradited.

It’s certainly possible Billy Barr had no role in this decision and that DOJ tried to point out that, in fact, the charges against Prigozhin remained (and still remain). But given that he gave a screed that seemed to attack the prosecution as a whole at the time, perhaps DOJ affirmatively let Prigozhin slide.

But as his book tour takes place against the backdrop of assassins hunting for Zelenskyy, it seems like a good time to ask him if he did intervene to let the owner of Putin’s paid killers travel free from any risk of direct legal consequences for his intervention in America’s own democracy.


Putin’s Playmates Trump and Tucker Remind Trumpsters They’ve Been Trained to Love Putin

As I’ve been watching Putin expand his war in Ukraine, I’ve been thinking a lot about his timing. Why launch it now rather than two years ago, when Trump would have facilitated it, or another year from now, when Republicans are expected to control at least one house of Congress?

I suspect there are a lot of things that dictate the timing. Any invasion was going to come in winter. It’s easier for heavy tanks to move, but more importantly, winter temperatures make it easier to use gas prices to impose a cost on Europe.

I think it happened this year, under Biden’s first full winter rather than 2021 or even 2020 because, up until Biden’s inauguration, Putin’s investment in Trump might still have paid off by allowing Putin to achieve his objectives without launching a war. He almost did, in the insurrection, which was undoubtedly led by MAGAts but which included the participation of some key Russian projects (such as Patrick Byrne).

To be sure, there are European reasons, even beyond the gas squeeze. Boris Johnson is fighting to keep power. Angela Merkel’s retirement surely led Putin to hope that the EU would be left without a strong leader (or that he could more easily manipulate Emmanuel Macron, especially in an election year).

But I believe this invasion represents the culmination of a plan not just to reassert what he imagines is Russian greatness, but also to end US hegemony, which Putin has pursued for a decade.

Ukraine has been a part of that and starting in 2010, Paul Manafort was useful to giving his puppets the patina of legitimacy. After Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine was useful as a testing ground for various kinds of hybrid warfare, most spectacularly with the NotPetya attack in 2018.

Ukraine — the partnership of Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska, along with their leverage over Paul Manafort — was also whence Russian launched its 2016 attack (I need to find the reference, but they knew they could place Manafort as campaign manager before the end of 2015). As I have written (in a piece on my understanding of the role of using the Steele dossier as a vehicle for disinformation), Russia’s interference in 2016 is best understood as a win-win. If Hillary won, Roger Stone would have rolled out the same Stop the Steal plan that was used in 2020 back in 2016 to destabilize the US in 2017 rather than 2021, as happened.

Trump’s win was an unexpected bonus.

As part of the 2016 operation, Russia also did unprecedented damage to the NSA (through the Shadow Brokers operation) and the CIA (in the way that WikiLeaks rolled out the Vault 7 release).

The failure of Russia’s attempt to blame its 2016 interference on a false flag thwarted Russia’s best laid plans — which would have involved Kilimnik calling in the quid pro quo made with Manafort on August 2, 2016 and getting Trump to help carve up Ukraine in the same way Russia is currently doing with tanks.

Even still, the Russian investigation paid huge dividends and, given Putin’s long game, to date has surely been more than worth it. That’s because the FBI-led investigation into Trump’s cooperation with Russia, over time, came to train Republicans to trust Putin more than they trust Democrats.

Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that the FBI deliberately attempted to take Trump out (entirely memory holing Jim Comey’s role in getting Trump elected, much less that the FBI Agents running informants on the Clinton Foundation during the election were explicitly anti-Hillary). The dossier disinformation project proved so wildly successful that most Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that there wasn’t abundant proof of cooperation between Trump and Russia, including communications directly with the Kremlin during the election that Michael Cohen lied to hide. Republican members of Congress genuinely came to believe — because they had to! — that criticism of Trump’s refusal to spend the money in support of Ukraine they had appropriated was just another Democratic attack on Trump and not an attempt to save the integrity of American democracy. All this culminated in Stop the Steal 2.0, a literal attack on American democracy; Republican fealty to Trump forced them — more reluctantly at first and driven in large part by real terror — to defend an assault on Congress.

By February 13, 2021, the date the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an attack on Congress, Republicans had put loyalty to Donald Trump over defense of the country and the Capitol in which they worked.

Sure, Putin didn’t get Trump to carve up Ukraine as President. But he got so much more from Trump’s presidency.

Putin did get Trump to do real damage to NATO. He got Trump to largely abandon Syria. Trump made a humiliating deal with the Taliban that would result in the US withdrawing its military from Russia’s back door. After years of Russia having to work hard to highlight American hypocrisy on human rights, Trump did things like pardon war criminals, forever tainting America’s claim to be exceptional.

And through it all, Trump created his own authoritarian-supporting militias, heavily armed troops inspired by resentment who have the ability to make the United States ungovernable. Trumpist Republicans are making localized efforts to dismantle democracy. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have abandoned legal precedent.

Which brings us to this moment.

I think Putin faced a moment of diminishing returns. Republicans are finally beginning to wake up from their Trump cult. If COVID subsides and the US economy takes off, Democrats might surprise at midterms. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if Russia expected some details of what it has done over the last decade — involving Julian Assange, involving 2016 (with the prosecution of Vladislav Klyushin), possibly even involving Trump — to become public in the near future. And so Putin chose this moment to launch a war to try to solidify the efforts he has made over the last decade.

Thus far, however, things haven’t gone Putin’s way.

I believe that Putin thought he could demonstrate Five Eyes fragility by conducting war games off the Irish coast without inciting the nationalism of a bunch of Irish fisherman. I believe Putin expected the US and/or Europe would fail to fully incorporate Ukraine in its planning, thereby discrediting Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I believe that Putin expected he would be able to peel away France and Germany (after Olaf Scholz’s initial announcement that it is halting Nord Stream 2, there seems to be some hesitation). I believe Putin expected his false flags would work. I believe Putin believed he’d be able to blame someone else for this invasion. I agree with Dan Drezner, thus far Biden has done just about everything right.

I believe that Putin believed his invasion would split NATO, the EU, and the US. Thus far it has had the opposite effect.

Which brings us to the weird pivot that Trump and his top Fox associates: white nationalist Tucker Carlson, Chief of Staff Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Yesterday, Trump hailed Putin’s actions as genius.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump told conservative podcaster Buck Sexton.

I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right,” Trump continued. “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Last night, Tucker did a chilling monologue, suggesting that Americans have been trained to hate Vladimir Putin.

Tucker suggested that Putin’s invasion is just a border dispute. He’s suggesting that Biden is doing this to pay off imagined debts to Ukrainian Oligarchs. Tucker laid out Putin’s plan for costs to impose on Americans, in terms of energy costs. Tucker included every single false claim about Ukraine that Russia has been planting since 2016. Every single one.

This is the monologue you’d expect of a man who believes there are two years of records showing Russian and Hungarian sources trying to set up one meeting between him and Putin.

To win this war, Putin needs to achieve both goals at once: splitting the US so that he can take Ukraine. One goal serves the other.

And in days ahead, Putin undoubtedly plans to take great risks to impose some costs on European and American voters. In gas prices, sure, but probably also with some ambitious cyberattacks and efforts to support another insurrection. Those costs, I imagine Putin plans, will lead American and European voters to lose patience with support for Ukraine, to forget that this is about the ability to enjoy real democracy.

But to get away with that, Putin has to ensure that it won’t backfire by overcoming the polarization he has invested great effort to encourage in the last five years.

Via whatever means last night, Putin’s two biggest assets in the US (speaking in terms of advantages, not recruited assets, but I don’t rule it out) went out and reminded Trump supporters that they’ve been trained to like Putin more than they like their own country.

Update: Philip Bump notes that Republicans like Putin more than Biden.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/impeachment/