Rudy Giuliani’s Support Role in the Mueller Report

As I showed in the Rat-Fucker Rashomon series, it can be tremendously useful to compare how different inquiries into Russian interference in 2016 tell that story. That’s true not just of Roger Stone; it’s also true of Rudy Giuliani.

By the time SSCI finished its Russia Report, the shape of the 2020 Russian influence campaign was evident, and it shows up, in redacted form, in the final report. As part of that discussion, the SSCI Report deals with Rudy at least once in almost entirely redacted passages about the ongoing influence campaign involving Russian assets in Ukraine. That is, it clearly suggests the trajectory led to the influence campaigns that were still active in 2020.

Perhaps because SSCI had the advantage of seeing where Rudy would end up, it also included a few more details about Rudy from earlier on of interest. For example, before Paul Manafort discussed how to win Pennsylvania and how to carve up Ukraine on August 2, 2016, he met with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in Trump Tower.

Among the details SSCI shows of the Trump campaign exploiting documents leaked to WikiLeaks is a citation to an email, dated October 11, 2016, showing Rudy was in that loop.

When Rick Gates was asked what kind of contact Paul Manafort retained with Trump after he was ousted from the campaign, Gates revealed that Manafort told Gates that Rudy Giuliani was helping him place people in Administration positions.

And PsyGroup’s Joel Zamel claimed that Rudy introduced him to Jared Kushner some months after the inauguration; Kushner and Zamel had a meeting at the White House to discuss “human rights issues in the Middle East, Iran, and ‘counter-extremism’.”

Aside from the detail that Manafort was using Rudy as a side channel to influence the White House, those aren’t necessarily momentous details.

Still, those details show that Rudy was a participant in these events during 2016. And yet, Rudy doesn’t show up as such in discussions about 2016 in the Mueller Report. Rather, Rudy shows up exclusively as Trump’s lawyer, floating the pardons in an attempt to get witnesses to lie to cover up what really happened in 2016.

Rudy — who was not yet formally Trump’s personal counsel — and his current defense attorney, Robert Costello, didn’t succeed in getting Michael Cohen to shield Trump.

On or about April 17, 2018, Cohen began speaking with an attorney, Robert Costello, who had a close relationship with Rudolph Giuliani, one of the President’s personal lawyers. 1022 Costello told Cohen that he had a “back channel of communication” to Giuliani, and that Giuliani had said the “channel” was “crucial” and “must be maintained.” 1023 On April 20, 2018, the New York Times published an article about the President’s relationship with and treatment of Cohen. 1024 The President responded with a series of tweets predicting that Cohen would not ” flip” :

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

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

But Rudy, acting as part of Joint Defense Agreement in the role of Trump’s personal counsel, did succeed in getting Paul Manafort to lie about what happened on August 2 and efforts to carve up Ukraine in the aftermath.

Immediately following the revocation of Manafort’s bail, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, gave a series of interviews in which he raised the possibility of a pardon for Manafort. Giuliani told the New York Daily News that “[w]hen the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” 856 Giuliani also said in an interview that, although the President should not pardon anyone while the Special Counsel’s investigation was ongoing, “when the investigation is concluded, he’s kind of on his own, right?”857 In a CNN interview two days later, Giuliani said, ” I guess I should clarify this once and for all. . . . The president has issued no pardons in this investigation. The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation …. When it’s over, hey, he’s the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him.”858 Giuliani rejected the suggestion that his and the President’s comments could signal to defendants that they should not cooperate in a criminal prosecution because a pardon might follow, saying the comments were “certainly not intended that way.”859 Giuliani said the comments only acknowledged that an individual involved in the investigation would not be “excluded from [ a pardon], if in fact the president and his advisors .. . come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly.”860 Giuliani observed that pardons were not unusual in political investigations but said, “That doesn’t mean they’re going to happen here. Doesn’t mean that anybody should rely on it. … Big signal is, nobody has been pardoned yet.” 561

[snip]

The President said that flipping was “not fair” and “almost ought to be outlawed.”880 ln response to a question about whether he was considering a pardon for Manafort, the President said, “T have great respect for what he’s done, in terms of what he’s gone through …. He worked for many, many people many, many years, and T would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”881 Giuliani told journalists that the President “really thinks Manafort has been horribly treated” and that he and the President had discussed the political fallout if the President pardoned Manafort.882 The next day, Giuliani told the Washington Post that the President had asked his lawyers for advice on the possibility of a pardon for Manafort and other aides, and had been counseled against considering a pardon until the investigation concluded.883

On September 14, 2018, Manafort pleaded guilty to charges in the District of Columbia and signed a plea agreement that required him to cooperate with investigators.884 Giuliani was reported to have publicly said that Manafort remained in a joint defense agreement with the President following Manafort’s guilty plea and agreement to cooperate, and that Manafort’s attorneys regularly briefed the President’s lawyers on the topics discussed and the information Manafort had provided in interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office.885 On November 26, 2018, the Special Counsel’s Office disclosed in a public court filing that Manafort had breached his plea agreement by lying about multiple subjects.886 The next day, Giuliani said that the President had been “upset for weeks” about what he considered to be “the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort.”887

Also, for whatever reason — probably because he had word diarrhea — Rudy provided the best evidence that Trump knowingly lied on his written answers to Mueller when he claimed not to remember the Trump Tower Moscow dangles during the election.

Also in January 2019, Giuliani gave press interviews that appeared to confirm Cohen’s account that the Trump Organization pursued the Trump Tower Moscow project well past January 2016. Giuliani stated that ” it’s our understanding that [discussions about the Trump Moscow project] went on throughout 2016. Weren’t a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can’t be sure of the exact date. But the president can remember having conversations with him about it. The president also remembers-yeah, probably up-could be up to as far as October, November.” 1069

Rudy was treated so persistently as a lawyer in the Mueller Report, but not a participant, that he didn’t even make the Glossary of Referenced Persons.

That’s true even though Rudy did show up in interviews as a topic of interest.

For example, when Mike Flynn was asked on April 25, 2018, just days after Rudy officially became Trump’s defense attorney, who else besides he and Bannon were hunting for Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails, the former Director of Defense Intelligence named Rudy, because he was “a big cyber guy.”

When question[ed] who else might have information about on the email messages, FLYNN mentioned Rudy GIULIANI. GIULIANI was “a big cyber guy” who have a speech on the topic in Tel Aviv. GIULIANI had a ton of contacts and traveled quite a bit with TRUMP (FLYNN surmised approximately half of the time). GIULIANI had a certainty that the emails were out there and available. GIULIANI would have said this directly to TRUMP. The natural response from TRUMP was “why the hell could they not find them?”

After two more questions (about Barbara Ledeen’s efforts), Mueller’s team returned to Rudy. This time, former Director of Defense Intelligence explained that if Rudy said something, you could be sure it was factual.

GIULIANI had contacts at the FBI, though he was pretty “close hold” on who he spoke with there. If GIULIANI said something, you could take it to the bank as factual, FLYNN believed that GIULIANI acted in a manner which indicated had specific knowledge related to the emails. FLYNN reviewed GIULIANI’s speech for Tel Aviv, made some comments, and gave it back to GIULIANI. GIULIANI did not name drop. GIULIANI popped in throughout the campaign to help with certain events. FLYNN did not know if GIULIANI knew Russia hacked the DNC.

Two more questions later, in response to a question about whether Jeff Sessions attempted to find the emails, Flynn brought up Rudy again.

FLYNN was asked whether SESSIONS or CHRISTIE made any efforts to find an answer based on their law enforcement backgrounds. SESSIONS did not make any effort at all. GIULIANI had deeper discussion on the issue with the campaign. CHRISTIE was somewhere between the two in regards to effort. CHRISTIE always seemed to “puff” about what he could do. FLYNN observed that GIULIANI and CHRISTIE had extensive connections and contact in New York. They constantly brought information back to the campaign. They did not do a lot of name dropping but there was a certainty to their information. FLYNN did not remember either of them saying they had contact with WikiLeaks.

Several more questions later, Flynn raised Rudy again in a discussion of whether anyone reached out to other countries for the emails.

Flynn opined that if Russia had them, then China, Iran, and North Korea also had them. Those countries had the cyber capabilities to get them and CLINTON was the Secretary of State. FLYNN also thought hactivist groups operating in the [sic] Ukraine could have them. It was also likely Israel had them. FLYNN did not recall specific discussions on reaching out to these countries to find out what they had. GIULIANI could have reached out to Israel but FLYNN did not know.

In an interview six days later, Mueller’s team asked Flynn more about the role of the guy who had just become Trump’s defense attorney.

FLYNN did not recall Rudy GIULIANI saying specifically what he was doing to learn more about the missing email messages. GIULIANI seemed insightful to FLYNN on knowing when news would break. GIULIANI was working on cyber policy for TRUMP. FLYNN was not sure if GIULIANI got his information from the news or from actual contacts. FLYNN attended a couple of meetings at Trump Tower where GIULIANI was present. GIULIANIs conversations were always that Wikileaks would release the missing email messages, not Russia. FLYNN thought Russia would wait to see who won the election. If CLINTON won, Russia could then use them for leverage over her. Wikileaks claimed to have the desire to put information out in the public to damage CLINTON.

FLYNN did not participate in any conversations with GIULIANI that indicated GIULIANI “cast his net” with his contacts. GIULIANI was one of a number of people around TRUMP’s inner circle. GIULIANI agreed on who was behind the hack but was not really certain. GIULIANI was a close hold guy but might share what he was hearing. FLYNN recently saw a clip that during the campaign, GIULIANI said during an interview that there were more leaks to come. FLYNN recalled that was the kind of thing GIULIANI would say with certainty related to cyber. FLYNN listened to GIULIANI who came across as a judge and made remarks as though they were facts.

I have not done a systematic review of all this (and earlier releases are too redacted to be of much use on such issues). But it’s not just Flynn who had something interesting to say about Rudy. When discussing the Transition (and egregiously downplaying his own role in foreign policy), for example, Steve Bannon described the tension during the Transition because both Jeff Sessions and Rudy wanted to be Secretary of State. “Bannon thought Giuliani would have issues in his confirmation if he was nominated as Secretary of State, however, because of some of his companies and foreign contacts,” Bannon explained, acknowledging even then that Rudy was a foreign influence peddling risk.

Perhaps it’s because, when Rudy became Trump’s defense attorney, it made any inquiry into his role in 2016 awkward. But even though Rudy was a participant in all this, and even though Mike Flynn thought he might be the most likely person to “cast his net” for ways to pursue stolen emails, it’s not clear how aggressively the Mueller team considered what role Rudy had.

Lev Parnas Failed to Delete His iCloud Content Just before DOJ Got a Secret Warrant for Rudy Giuliani’s iCloud Content

The government has known that Lev Parnas attempted to delete some or all of his iCloud content since shortly after October 21, 2019 — 2 weeks before it obtained covert warrants for Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing’s iCloud accounts.

On January 17, 2020 (note the date on the letter has the wrong year) — the same day Jeffrey Rosen issued a memo prohibiting any DOJ personnel from expanding the scope of any investigation involving Ukraine without his and Richard Donoghue’s approval — Parnas asked to modify his protective order so he could share materials seized from his iCloud on that October date with the House Intelligence Committee for their impeachment investigation.

In a memo objecting to that request, the government noted that Parnas was perfectly free to download his own iCloud and share it with HPSCI — and asserted he had already done so.

Additionally, to the extent Parnas seeks to produce his own texts, emails, photographs or other materials, he should have access to the content stored on his iCloud account through other means: he can simply download his own iCloud account and produce it to HPSCI (and in fact, it appears he has already done so)

Parnas needed to ask the government, however, because he had deleted some of the material after the government had already obtained a preservation order for his account, meaning the government had the content but Parnas no longer did.

The materials at issue include records that, as far as the Government knows, were never in Parnas’s possession. For instance, the data produced by Apple includes deleted records (which may only exist because of the Government’s preservation requests), account usage records, and other information to which a subscriber would not necessarily have access.

The government asked for Parnas to identify the previously deleted chats he wanted to share with Congress so his co-defendants could raise privilege concerns.

To the extent that Parnas has deleted materials from his iCloud account, the Government is willing to work with counsel to ensure that Parnas can produce his own materials that are responsive to the Congressional request to HPSCI. To that end, the Government respectfully submits that Parnas’s counsel should identify for the Government any specific chats, emails, photographs, or other content Parnas is unable to access from his iCloud currently, but which exist within the discovery that has been produced to him and in his view are responsive to the Congressional subpoena. Requiring Parnas to specifically identify these materials would also permit his co-defendants to raise any concerns with respect to their privilege or privacy interests prior to the materials’ release.

“Tell us which of these texts you attempted to delete you think are the most incriminating to Rudy,” they effectively invited Parnas to explain back in early 2020, as the filter team would have just started wading through Rudy’s already seized iCloud content.

Parnas’ failed attempt to delete sensitive content that would be pertinent to the impeachment inquiry puts Rudy’s wails of outrage that the government successfully persuaded Judge Paul Oetken that if they didn’t obtain this content covertly, it might get deleted in a very different light.

In addition, in the original warrant for the iCloud account, there is a nondisclosure order based upon an allegation made to the issuing Court, that if Giuliani were informed of the existence of the warrant, he might destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses. Such an allegation, on its face, strains credulity. It is not only false, but extremely damaging to Giuliani’s reputation.

Indeed, DOJ may well have been seeking information that Parnas had successfully deleted elsewhere. Parnas seems to think that’s what happened. In his request to get access to the stuff seized from Rudy’s phone, he states that the newly disclosed materials “likely” include communications involving him “that may have been deleted.”

The seized evidence will also likely contain a number and variety of communications between Giuliani and Toensing and Parnas that are directly discoverable under Fed. R. Crim. P. 16, evidence of any conversations between Giuliani, Toensing, and others, including Parnas, that may have been deleted, communications between Giuliani, Toensing and others about the defendants and how to address their prior relationships, the arrests, and the unfolding investigation, communications between Giuliani and Toensing and others with potential Government witnesses, including communications about the defendants, the offenses charged, and the witnesses’ potential disclosures and characterizations of alleged fraud-loss computations.

Meanwhile, the government made an interesting observation in their original request for a Special Master.

Based on the Government’s investigation to date, given the overlap in date range and because certain materials, including certain emails and text messages, were backed up to the iCloud accounts that were searched pursuant to these prior warrants, the Government expects that some, but not all, of the materials present on the electronic devices seized pursuant to the Warrants could be duplicative of the materials seized and reviewed pursuant to the prior warrants.

After admitting the government expects significant overlap between what they got in 2019 and what they got in April because “certain materials” were backed up to the cloud, the government notes that “not all” of what they expect to be on the devices will be duplicative. Some of the new material will pertain to a slightly different date range on the searches. But another cause would be if Rudy and Toensing deleted stuff that could be obtained from their phone.

The investigative team has gotten deep enough in the iCloud material seized in 2019 to identify files that they know existed but were deleted from the iCloud backup, which might be recoverable from a device.

Rudy, in a “doth protest too much” theme in his letter insists he didn’t delete anything but if he did he wasn’t under subpoena anyway.

Despite these two warnings that the SDNY was seeking permission to apply for a search warrant for his electronic devices and because he had no guilty conscience, Giuliani took no steps to destroy evidence or wipe the electronic devices clean. Since Giuliani was not under subpoena, he had no legal obligation to preserve that evidence, but he did so because he is an innocent man who did nothing wrong.

[snip]

Again, all of this took place without Mayor Giuliani or his counsel having any idea that a year and a half prior, the Giuliani iCloud was the subject of a warrant. Giuliani and his counsel were both aware, because of the prominent leaks to the media, of the failed attempts in November of 2020 and again in January of 2021, to gain the required Justice Department permission to search a lawyer’s office and residence. If Giuliani was inclined, there was ample notice and time to destroy evidence.

Aside from mentioning the basis for the covert warrants, Toensing didn’t address whether any data got destroyed.

Whatever exigent circumstances the Government asserted to instead justify covert and overt search warrants in this instance were satisfied when the information was secured and preserved. The information should now be returned to Ms. Toensing and her counsel for a privilege and responsiveness review under the supervision of a Special Master. Moreover, the Government should disclose what seized information it has already reviewed and whether and what information it has provided to the case team.

She just wants everything back so she can restart the process, along with some kind of indication of what the government has already seen.

Rudy, similarly, wants to know what the government knows.

Lastly, Giuliani is entitled to the production of Apple’s entire search warrant return production, as well as the material previously deemed non-privileged and responsive and relevant to the 2019 Search Warrant by the “filter” team.

But Judge Paul Oetken, who found cause for the non-disclosure order back in 2019, was thoroughly unimpressed with all these claims about whether things might have been deleted. As he noted, the search is done.

Moreover, the review of the 2019 warrant returns is now largely complete. And any pre-indictment suppression motion would be premature at this juncture.

Rudy and Toensing can complain if they get charged.

“Purge:” Gordon Sondland Probably Just Won Himself Another Subpoena

Since we’re talking about people avenging themselves for being targeted by Trump’s corruption, I wanted to look the lawsuit Gordon Sondland filed the other day against the State Department and/or Mike Pompeo in his private capacity. Sondland says that Pompeo promised to reimburse what has amounted to $1.8 million in legal fees for testifying in Trump’s first impeachment, but that Pompeo reneged on that promise. So the suit is explicitly about getting reimbursed.

Maybe the lawsuit will work, as he ostensibly intends, or maybe the government will declare immunity.

But there are several details of his suit that will — and probably were designed (especially in the wake of the news that Rudy Giuliani had his devices seized) to win Sondland an invitation to testify in SDNY, which may have the effect of expanding their existing investigation into Rudy into the cover-up.

First, Sondland says that Pompeo promised to reimburse his legal fees twice. And while Sondland describes others besides Pompeo at State who knew about it, the promise itself was made orally.

On October 16, 2019, Pompeo again reaffirmed that the Indemnity Undertaking was made with his knowledge and approval. Ambassador Sondland spoke with Pompeo via conference call from the Washington, D.C. office of his Private Counsel, who were also in attendance and listening on speakerphone. Pompeo promised without any qualification that the State Department would reimburse Ambassador Sondland the fees and costs of Private Counsel in full. Ambassador Sondland and his Private Counsel understood Pompeo to be stating that he had the authority to bind the Government to such an agreement. Ambassador Sondland relied on Pompeo’s promise and reasonably believed that he had the authority to bind the Government to such an agreement. The Under Secretary for Management and the Counselor to the Secretary of State also confirmed that Ambassador Sondland would be reimbursed in full.

I find it remarkable Pompeo would commit State without putting something in writing, and find it just as remarkable that a successful businessman like Sondland wouldn’t insist on having it in writing. Unless there was an understanding they would not put it in writing.

Sondland describes being “purged” after he testified truthfully, something that will help him make the case the decision not to reimburse him was political retaliation.

During the meeting with the Counselor to the Department of State, Ambassador Sondland stated that he had no intention of leaving his position in the near future. Instead, Ambassador Sondland mentioned that he might consider stepping down in the summer of 2020 to return to lead his businesses, and he wanted to give his colleagues notice to permit a proper transition. In response, he was advised that while the Administration appreciated his testimony, the Administration wanted to purge everyone remotely connected to the Impeachment trial. Accordingly, the Counselor to the Department of State asked for Ambassador Sondland’s resignation. In response, Ambassador Sondland said he would consider that proposal, but asked about his attorneys’ fees. The Counselor to the Department of State told Ambassador Sondland to speak with the Under Secretary for Management, who would take care of his attorneys’ fees. Later that day, Ambassador Sondland confirmed he would not resign because he did not do anything improper. After that, everything changed. Ambassador Sondland did not receive his attorneys’ fees, notwithstanding the promises from the State Department that the attorneys’ fees would be paid.

Sondland describes that he didn’t have access to any of the underlying materials to help prepare, which will at the very least help him explain his first, less-truthful testimony.

As Ambassador Sondland prepared for a second round of testimony, the Department of State continued to restrict Ambassador Sondland’s access to materials essential to his preparation

But it will also support a inference that he was asked to participate in a cover-up of what really happened.

Then there are details that Sondland didn’t necessarily need to include, such as when and how he learned about the whistleblower complaint and how he met with Kurt Volker and Pompeo to discuss the complaint.

22. On September 25, 2019, Ambassador Sondland and Pompeo attended the eighteenth annual Transatlantic Dinner. Ambassador Sondland was the only U.S. ambassador in attendance, which hosted the NATO Secretary General, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and foreign ministers from Europe and Canada. During the dinner, Ambassador Sondland received an urgent phone call from The White House alerting him that his name appeared in a whistleblower complaint received by the Office of the White House Counsel.

23. The following day, September 26, 2019, Ambassador Sondland and Pompeo met to discuss the whistleblower complaint with Ambassador Kurt Volker, United States Special Representative for Ukraine.

When Rudy complained about having his phone seized, he said that he was just cooperating in State Department investigations. Now, a former State Department participant has let it be known that State really didn’t want the full story of what happened to come out.

I’d say SDNY will find it hard to pass up that testimony.

Lev Parnas Wants in on the Rudy Giuliani Warrant Bonanza

Lev Parnas just submitted a filing in his case — joined by the remaining defendants — asking for a discovery hearing where SDNY will tell them when they will get the evidence seized from Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing that is helpful to their defense. It describes how, after inquiring how the searches on Rudy and Toensing affect them, on May 14, the government explained that Judge Paul Oetken has given the government multiple gags, covering the time through June 30, to delay disclosure.

And it sounds like the government seized material from more than just Rudy and Toensing. At least two sentences of this description of the searches likely doesn’t pertain to them.

Parnas explains that he expects those searches will include materials useful to his defense from:

  • Rudy
  • Toensing
  • “the former President”
  • Billy Barr
  • “high-level members of the Justice Department”
  • Jay Sekulow
  • Jane Raskin
  • Senator Lindsey Graham
  • Congressman Devin Nunes

He expects those materials will reveal “the timing of the arrest and indictment of the defendants as a means to prevent potential disclosures to Congress in the first impeachment inquiry of then-President” Trump. He says he’ll have exceptions to any “potentially applicable privilege.”

He also expects that there may be information that got deleted (the implication is, by him) about “how to address their prior relationships, and the unfolding investigation.”

Update: As a number of people have noted, that big redaction is one of the fake redactions that defense attorneys sometimes disclose sensitive information under. Copy and pasting shows that the following other people were also targeted.

In a chart, the Government identified that it had sought and seized a variety of undisclosed materials from multiple individuals, including: the iCloud and e-mail accounts of Rudolph Giuliani (11/04/19); the iCloud account of Victoria Toensing (11/04/19); an email account believed to belong to former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko (11/6/19); an e-mail account believed to belong to the former head of the Ukrainian Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov (12/10/19); the e-mail account of Victoria Toensing (12/13/19); the iPhone and iPad of pro-Trump Ukrainian businessman Alexander Levin (02/28/2020 and 3/02/2020); an iCloud account believed to belong to Roman Nasirov (03/03/2020); historical and prospective cell site information related to Rudolph Giuliani and Victoria Toensing (04/13/2021); electronic devices of Rudolph Giuliani and Giuliani Partners LLC (04/21/2021); and the iPhone of Victoria Toensing.

Several of these people were named in a July 2019 OCCRP story on Parnas and Fruman that the whistleblower included in his complaint against Trump. Which is to say, this is the investigation we would have gotten had DOJ not worked so hard to protect Rudy and, through him, Trump, back in 2019.

Vicky and Rudy: The Subjects of Delay

When I asked around last year what the net effect of Billy Barr and Jeffrey Rosen’s efforts to protect Rudy Giuliani would be, I learned that the net effect of refusing to approve searches on Rudy would only delay, but it would not change the outcome of, the investigation into the President’s lawyer.

That’s worth keeping in mind as you read SDNY’s response to Victoria Toensing and Rudy’s demand that they get to treat both the April warrants against them, as well as the 2019 warrants, like subpoenas. Effectively, SDNY seems to be saying, “let’s just get to the indictment and discovery phase, and then you can start challenging these searches.”

The filing several times speaks of charges hypothetically.

If Giuliani is charged with a crime, he will, like any other criminal defendant, be entitled to production of the search warrant affidavits in discovery, at which time he will be free to litigate any motions related to the warrants as governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12. Conversely, if the Government’s grand jury investigation concludes without criminal charges, then the sealing calculus may be different, and Giuliani may renew his motion.

[snip]

If there is a criminal proceeding, the Government will produce the affidavits, warrants, and materials seized pursuant to those warrants, and at that time, the warrants’ legality can be litigated.

[snip]

Finally, Toensing will have both a forum and an opportunity to litigate any privilege issues if there is a criminal proceeding. As the Second Circuit has noted, in affirming the denial of a return-of-property motion, “If [the grand jury’s] inquiry results in indictment, the lawfulness of the seizure will be fully considered upon a motion to suppress, and any ruling adverse to the defendant will be reviewable upon appeal from a final judgment; if the grand jury declines to indict the movant, or adjourns without indicting it, its property will most likely be returned, and if not, it can initiate an independent proceeding for its return.” [my emphasis]

But the filing repeatedly makes clear that not just Rudy, but also Toensing (whose lawyer made much of being informed that Toensing was not a target of the investigation), are subjects of this investigation.

But the Government specifically chose not to proceed by subpoena in this case, for good reason, and there is no precedent for permitting the subjects of an investigation to override the Government’s choice in this regard.

None of the cases cited by Giuliani or Toensing supports their proposed approach. Toensing principally relies on United States v. Stewart, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2002 WL 1300059, at *4-8 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2002), 4 but that case is readily distinguishable because it involved the seizure of documents from several criminal defense attorneys who were not subjects of the Government’s investigation and had many cases before the same prosecuting office

[snip]

Such concerns merely serve to highlight the many countervailing problems with Giuliani and Toensing’s proposal: under their approach, the subjects of a criminal investigation would have the authority to make unilateral determinations not only of what is privileged, but also of what is responsive to a warrant.

[snip]

Nevertheless, Giuliani argues that, quite unlike other subjects of criminal investigations, he is entitled to review the affidavits supporting the warrants, which would effectively give him the extraordinary benefit of knowing the Government’s evidence before even being charged with a crime.

[snip]

Her request is contrary to law and would effectively deprive the Government of its right to evidence in the midst of a grand jury investigation so that she, the subject of that investigation, may decide what is privileged and what is responsive in those materials.

[snip]

In other words, accepting Giuliani and Toensing’s argument about the impropriety of using a filter team to review covert search warrant returns would entitle subjects of a criminal investigation to notice of that investigation any time a warrant were executed that related to them, no matter if the investigation were otherwise covert and no matter if the approving Court had signed a non-disclosure order consistent with the law. [my emphasis]

SDNY correctly treats Rudy and Toensing’s demands to review this material before SDNY can obtain it as a delay tactic.

Giuliani and Toensing’s proposal to allow their own counsel to conduct the initial review of materials seized pursuant to lawfully executed search warrants, including making determinations of what materials are responsive to the warrants, on their own timeline is without any precedent or legal basis. The Government is aware of no precedent for such a practice, which has the effect of converting judicially authorized search warrants into subpoenas.

Indeed, their discussion of the Lynn Stewart precedent emphasizes their goal of obtaining this material expeditiously.

None of the cases cited by Giuliani or Toensing supports their proposed approach. Toensing principally relies on United States v. Stewart, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2002 WL 1300059, at *4-8 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2002), 4 but that case is readily distinguishable because it involved the seizure of documents from several criminal defense attorneys who were not subjects of the Government’s investigation and had many cases before the same prosecuting office. (See infra at pp. 33-34). In any event, the Court appointed a special master in Stewart, as the Government seeks here. And the procedures adopted in Stewart illustrate why the Government’s proposed approach is preferable. In Stewart, the presiding judge initially believed that the special master’s review could be conducted expeditiously because the defendant’s counsel could quickly produce a privilege log (as Toensing seeks to do here). Id. at *8. But 15 months later, the judge lamented that the special master still had not produced a report on the seized materials. United States v. Sattar, No. 02 Cr. 395 (JGK), 2003 WL 22137012, at *22 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2003), aff’d sub nom. United States v. Stewart, 590 F.3d 93 (2d Cir. 2009). That cumbersome process stands in stark contrast to that adopted by Judge Wood in Cohen, wherein the special master completed her review on an expedited basis in parallel to Cohen’s counsel, and set deadlines for Cohen’s counsel to object to any of her designations. (Cohen, Dkt. 39 at 1-2). In Cohen, the special master was appointed in April 2018, and her review was complete by August 2018. The Cohen search involved approximately the same number of electronic devices seized here, but also included significant quantities of hard copy documents, which are not at issue here. In sum, the Court should follow the model set forth in Cohen, which resulted in an efficient and effective privilege review. [my emphasis]

Likewise, the government also offered to pay the costs of the Special Master, so long as the Special Master follows the expeditious procedure conducted with Michael Cohen’s content.

This Court should not permit Giuliani and Toensing to stall the investigation of their conduct in this manner, particularly where the Government’s proposal will allow them to conduct the same review in parallel with a special master. The Government’s proposal to appoint a special master to review the seized materials is the only proposal that is fair to all parties, respects the unique privilege issues that the 2021 Warrants may implicate, and will ensure that Government’s investigation proceeds without undue delay.6

6 In the Cohen matter before Judge Wood, the Government and Cohen split the costs associated with the special master’s privilege review. Here, because the Government made the initial request of the Court and considers the appointment of a special master appropriate in this matter, the Government is willing to bear the costs of the review insofar as the special master follows the procedures adopted by Judge Wood in the Cohen matter, namely to review the seized materials for potential privilege in parallel with counsel for Giuliani and Toensing. To the extent the Court adopts the proposals advanced by Giuliani and Toensing, including that the special master also conduct a responsiveness review of those same materials—which the Government strongly opposes for the reasons set forth above—Giuliani and Toensing should solely bear any costs associated with a responsiveness review, any review beyond the initial privilege review, or any cost-enhancing measures traceable to Giuliani and Toensing. [my emphasis]

I’m mindful, as I review the schedule laid out above, that Cohen was charged almost immediately after the Special Master review was completed, in August 2018. In addressing the partial overlap between the 2019 searches and the April ones, the government notes that, “the Government expects that some, but not all, of the materials present on the electronic devices seized pursuant to the Warrants could be duplicative of the materials seized and reviewed pursuant to the prior warrants.”

The government already knows what they’re getting with these warrants (and if they don’t get it, they’re likely to be able to charge obstruction because it has been deleted). They’re calling for a Special Master not because it provides any more fairness than their prior filter review (indeed, they speak repeatedly of the “perception of fairness”), especially since investigators are about to obtain the materials from the 2019 search, but because it ensures they can get this material in timely fashion, especially since, as it stands now, they’re going to have to crack the passwords on seven of the devices seized from Rudy.

The remaining seven devices belonging to Giuliani and his business cannot be fully accessed without a passcode, and as such the Government has advised Giuliani’s counsel that the devices can be returned expeditiously if Giuliani were to provide the passcode; otherwise, the Government does not have a timeline for when those devices may be returned because the FBI will be attempting to access those devices without a passcode, which may take time.

Yes, Rudy and Toensing are trying to get an advance look at how bad the case against them is. But they’re also hoping to delay, possibly long enough to allow a Republican to take over again and pardon away their criminal exposure.

Which suggests that all the hypotheticals about Rudy and Toensing being able to challenge these searches if they are indicted are not all that hypothetical. SDNY is just trying to get to the place where they can indict.

Rudy’s Lawyers Destroy His Reputation in an Attempt to Save It

Just before a long tirade about how, if DOJ had just asked Rudy Giuliani for help proving he’s not a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians while he was busy at State and WDPA acting as a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, he could have avoided a covert search to find out whether he’s a secret Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians, his lawyers say, in a now-public letter, that it’ll badly damage Rudy’s reputation if it becomes public that DOJ believed he might delete evidence or intimidate witnesses.

In addition, in the original warrant for the iCloud account, there is a nondisclosure order based upon an allegation made to the issuing Court, that if Giuliani were informed of the existence of the warrant, he might destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses. Such an allegation, on its face, strains credulity. It is not only false, but extremely damaging to Giuliani’s reputation. It is not supported by any credible facts and is contradicted by Giuliani’s efforts to provide information to the Government. We should be allowed to question the Government as to what basis it had, if any, to make that assertion. Accordingly, we request the information that was presented in the iCloud warrant to justify the NonNotification Order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 2705 (b) that “there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this warrant will result in destruction of or tampering with evidence, and/or tamping (sic) with potential witnesses, or otherwise will seriously jeopardize an ongoing investigation.” We also request access to the application for any extension of the non-disclosure provision which originally lasted for a year.

As the single exhibit to prove that Rudy had reached out to DOJ to provide help, his attorneys included a picture of a TV screen with his attorney making that claim (I’m not sure whether this claim is November 25, 2019, or in the wake of the most recent searches) when it might have avoided the search. But then they include all this verbiage which sure seems to describe Rudy acting as an Agent of Russian-backed Ukrainians who just didn’t give a shit about registering as such because why do that if the President can bail you out?

It was premature and unwarranted for the Government to seize Giuliani’s ESI because Giuliani had already cooperated with the U S State Department (“State”) through Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, in March 2019 concerning Ukraine. He also cooperated again in July and August of 2019 at the request of the State Department in assisting them with regard to Ukraine. In fact, there has never been an occasion where Mr. Giuliani has refused to cooperate with, or give assistance, to his government. This was as true during the Clinton administration as it was during the Bush administration.

[snip]

As a reminder, this same attorney had cooperated with the State Department and offered, for a year and a half, to answer any questions from the SDNY about any subject or crime, with no limitations except for privileged matters. During that same time period, Giuliani did in fact cooperate with Main Justice, through their designee in Pittsburgh on the subject of the Ukraine. Amazingly, the SDNY continually turned down the offer by stating that while they would be happy to hear anything Mayor Giuliani’s counsel had to say, they refused to identify the subject, although those subjects were disclosed to the media.

Plus, Rudy’s lawyers note — as if it helps him — that they only reached out to offer to help on November 4, 2019, the very same day the warrant was obtained (as if maybe a birdie warned him?), which means he didn’t offer to help for the entire month after the indictment against his business partners Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was unsealed.

But Rudy’s letter and a similar one from Victoria Toensing’s lawyers lay out certain details of the investigations into the two of them.

There are two sets of warrants. With Rudy, SDNY obtained a sealed warrant for his iCloud account on November 4, 2019 and then the overt one for a shit-ton of devices on April 21, 2021. With Toensing, SDNY obtained a sealed warrant for her iCloud account on November 4, 2019 and another for her Google account on December 13, 2019; they obtained a warrant for a single phone on April 28, 2021.

Rudy says that the earlier warrants showed listed FARA, unregistered Foreign Agent, abetting, and conspiracy as the crimes under investigation.

In essence, the Government was looking for evidence that Giuliani was acting as an agent, unregistered agent or lobbyist of a Ukrainian national, government official, corporation or political party or in violation of the foreign agent registration and lobbying laws or making contributions on behalf of a foreign principal (see attachments to search warrant also citing 22 USC §§612 and 618, 18 USC §951, 18 USC §2, and 18 USC §371).

It’s not entirely clear whether the later warrants against Rudy are the same. He doesn’t say. Plus, he says the later search was only “nearly identical,” as compared to Toensing’s claim that the searches were “virtually” identical. (The content, of course, wouldn’t be identical.)

For her part, Toensing is quite worried that DOJ seized information about a client, who sure seems like Dmitro Firtash.

Rudy’s letter mentions “President President President President” over and over. But in this challenge, unlike the one Michael Cohen made, the President has not filed as an interested party, meaning Rudy’s on his own. Probably, he’s too cheap to pay his share of the presumed Special Master fees.

Rudy also argues, falsely, that the search of the President’s lawyer’s cloud content without the use of a Special Master is unprecedented and especially egregious given that this search came in the wake of the search of Michael Cohen’s devices, which used a Special Master.

Moreover, in the Fall of 2019, during an intense debate over the impeachment and the campaign for the upcoming Presidential Election, with Giuliani publicly acting as President Trump’s personal attorney, the Government decided to take the unprecedented step of seeking a search warrant for Giuliani’s iCloud account. In these circumstances, on the heels of the precautions instilled by Judge Wood in a nearly identical situation, the use of a one-sided “filter” team was highly inappropriate and inadequate to identify privileged materials and thereby protect Giuliani and his clients ’attorney-client privilege, and highly indicative of the appearance of impropriety. Had this been done overtly, or through the Government’s less onerous subpoena powers, we would have requested that a Special Master to be appointed at the time. Instead, the Government has had these private, confidential, and privileged materials in their possession for over eighteen months, and established a Taint Team who acted as prosecutor, defense lawyer, Special Master and Judge entirely in secret, knowing full well this contravened the protocol established in the Cohen case.

Except it’s not remotely unprecedented. That is, literally, the same thing that happened to Cohen. Indeed, his Trump Organization emails were preserved (at Microsoft) and searched by Mueller’s team, then shared with SDNY under a new warrant. And those emails actually did pertain to the President — though from the campaign period, not the period when he was trying to coerce campaign assistance from a foreign government.

Ultimately, a big story here is that someone high up in Billy Barr’s DOJ authorized the sealed searches in November and December 2019, making Rudy’s wails far less convincing. My guess is that after Rudy made Brian Benczkowski look corrupt for taking a related meeting on a bribery case (of the Venezuelan bankrolling the Ukrainian grift) at a time when Rudy was being criminally investigated, Benczkowski wasn’t all that interested in going out on a limb to protect Rudy, especially as it would focus attention on the earlier corrupt review of the whistleblower complaint. My further guess is that after Benczkowski resigned, effective July 3, and after Billy Barr failed to replace Geoffrey Berman with a loyal flunky during precisely the same weeks in June 2020, Barr and Jeffrey Rosen went to epic lengths to prevent this warrant from being approved, with Rosen going so far as to require that a specific person in the Deputy Attorney General’s office be required to sign off on such a warrant on December 30, weeks before the second effort. Whatever the case, Trump’s DOJ approved the covert warrants, the one both lawyers are wailing the most loudly about.

If, as the lawyers wail, SDNY has been sifting through their cloud content, then this warrant shouldn’t hurt them all that much more than their earlier searches (unless Parnas revealed that they weren’t backing up their encrypted apps to the cloud).

Except — particularly given the confirmation that Lev Parnas unsuccessfully deleted his own iCloud account — Rudy’s insistence that he doesn’t have a guilty conscience and wouldn’t have deleted anything rings false.

Despite these two warnings that the SDNY was seeking permission to apply for a search warrant for his electronic devices and because he had no guilty conscience, Giuliani took no steps to destroy evidence or wipe the electronic devices clean. Since Giuliani was not under subpoena, he had no legal obligation to preserve that evidence, but he did so because he is an innocent man who did nothing wrong.

At about this stage in the Michael Cohen litigation, we learned that he, too, had deleted some information.

Not only has SDNY been sorting through these files for 18 months, they had Parnas and Fruman’s content for far longer, and since then Parnas has been trying hard to take Rudy down. So I would imagine SDNY had good reason to believe that Rudy may have destroyed evidence.

Key related posts

October 14, 2019: The Criminal Investigation into Paul Manafort Was (and May Still be) Ongoing–and Likely Pertains to Trump’s Ukraine Extortion

The Parnas and Fruman grift was, in many ways, the direct continuation of Manafort’s efforts to cash in on Trump’s win. You’d think that would raise the stakes of Rudy’s privilege claims — but Trump doesn’t appear to care.

October 16, 2019: On the Potential Viability of Foreign Agent Charges for Rudy Giuliani

I argued that doubts that Rudy could be prosecuted for FARA were not only too pat, but ignored his other criminal exposure for precisely the crimes that would be named in his warrant weeks later.

October 22, 2019: How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

I laid out that Criminal Division didn’t do any of the things they’re supposed to do with the whistleblower complaint. That may have forced their hand to approve of the initial warrants against Rudy and VicToe.

October 25, 2019: Main Justice Now Looking for the Evidence in Plain Sight They Ignored in August

Just before the sealed warrants were obtained, Main Justice got more involved in the SDNY investigation.

November 4, 2019: When Your Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob Blows Up in Your Face

I’ve written several posts about the ridiculous claims John Dowd made to try to cover this up in a network of privilege claims. The original is linked in the linked post. But I’m linking this one because I posted it on the same day DOJ got a warrant for Rudy’s iCloud.

November 23, 2019: Timeline: How Rudy Made It Hard for Mike Pompeo to Show Any Leadership

This post includes all the foreign influence peddling that Rudy was doing during the period covered by his warrant.

January 28, 2020: SDNY Prosecutors Protect Trump’s Privacy to Enter into a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

There were a bunch of discovery issues in the case in January 2020, including the revelation that Lev Parnas had deleted iCloud data and an affirmative assertion that Parnas could not waive attorney-client privilege for Dmitro Firtash.

May 7, 2021: Four Ways Billy Barr Obstructed the Investigation into Rudy Giuliani

Barr was working hard to kill the Ukraine investigation during the period through which Rudy’s subpoena extends.

Four Ways Billy Barr Obstructed the Investigation into Rudy Giuliani

Eventually, I want to do a post quantifying all the damage to national security Billy Barr did by thwarting an influence-peddling investigation into Rudy Giuliani in 2019. But first, I want to quantify four ways that Barr is known to have obstructed the investigation into Rudy, effectively stalling the investigation for over 500 days.

The effort is helped by Rudy lawyer Robert Costello’s public claim that DOJ obtained a search warrant on Rudy’s iCloud account sometime in late 2019. That indicates that the investigation into Rudy’s ties to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (whether Rudy was the primary target or their business, Fraud Guarantee) already showed probable cause that a crime had been committed before Barr took repeated steps to undermine the investigation.

Fail to recuse from an investigation implicating Barr personally

The MEMCON of Donald Trump’s call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoked Barr personally, twice, including in the very same response where the President said that Marie Yovanovich would “go through some things.”

Well, she’s going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have.Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.

According to a September 2019 NYT article, National Security Division head John Demers (who remains at DOJ and who oversees the FARA unit that would have a role in this prosecution), Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and Brian Benczkowski learned about the concerns about the call, including that it named Barr, even before the formal whistleblower complaint came in. Barr learned about it via some unexplained means.

It’s not clear what happened in that first round of review, but ultimately prosecutors reviewed it once the formal whistleblower complaint was referred by Joseph Maguire later in August and “declined to open an investigation.”

Mr. Eisenberg and Ms. Elwood both spoke on Aug. 14 to John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, according to three people familiar with the discussion. Ms. Elwood did not pass on the name of the C.I.A. officer, which she did not know because his concerns were submitted anonymously.

The next day, Mr. Demers went to the White House to read the transcript of the call and assess whether to alert other senior law enforcement officials. The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

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

[snip]

At the end of August, the office of the director of national intelligence referred the allegations to the Justice Department as a possible criminal matter. Law enforcement officials ultimately declined to open an investigation.

While it’s true that Barr outsourced some actions — such as determining what to do with the first report and the White House request that DOJ publicly exonerate him — there’s no indication Barr recused from the investigation and indeed he remained in the loop with the White House about it. His failure to recuse is particularly important because, as the table above notes, he got briefed on the investigation into Parnas and Fruman not long after he was confirmed in February 2019. For most of August and September 2019, Barr and Jeffrey Rosen would have been two of the only people at DOJ who would recognize the danger the whistleblower complaint posed to Rudy and, through him, to Trump himself.

Ensure Public Integrity reviews only the Trump transcript, not the entire whistleblower complaint

Mind you, Barr didn’t conduct the investigation of the whistleblower complaint. Public Integrity prosecutors in the Criminal Division did, overseen by Brian Benczkowski.

According to an October 2019 report, Benczkowski still did not know of the investigation into Parnas and Fruman when he took a meeting with Rudy in the fall to discuss a bribery case implicating the Venezuelan who was paying for some of the Ukraine dirt-digging.

Several weeks ago, Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and lawyers from the division’s Fraud Section met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss a bribery case in which he and other attorneys were representing the defendants.

That meeting took place before the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan publicly charged the two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with breaking campaign finance laws and trying to unlawfully influence politicians, including former Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman were part of Mr. Giuliani’s effort to push Ukraine for an inquiry into Democrats.

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

[snip]

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official. They were required to do so under the department’s rule that requires prosecutors to notify the attorney general of any cases that could generate national news media or congressional attention.

When Mr. Giuliani and other lawyers requested the meeting with the Justice Department to discuss a foreign bribery case, Mr. Benczkowski and the lawyers in the Fraud Section had not been informed of the Manhattan case and agreed to meet.

That exonerates him for being stupid enough to take the meeting, but it reveals something about the review of the complaint: it could not have adhered to the most basic rules of “connect-the-dots” investigations put in place after 9/11 to protect national security.

That’s because the first thing you’re supposed to do when you get a tip that implicates national security is to search DOJ’s holdings to see if the tip connects with any known suspects or investigations. Had this tip been treated like DOJ had been drilling for almost 17 years by the time the tip was received, then investigators would have searched on the OCCRP profile of Parnas and Fruman cited repeatedly in the full complaint.

Had that happened, then the implications of it would have been clear, it would have been referred to SDNY, Benczkowski would have learned about it, and DOJ wouldn’t have been making public exonerations of Trump.

Get OLC to overclassify the Barr connection and delay informing Congress

One likely way DOJ managed to avoid connecting Trump’s quid pro quo with the existing investigation of Parnas and Fruman is by treating the call with Zelenskyy, falsely, as the entirety of the whistleblower complaint. There’s no reference to Parnas and Fruman in the call, and so searching on it would not ID the tie to the SDNY investigation.

That’s one of several things that Steve Engel’s OLC did to attempt to avoid — and succeed in delaying — informing Congress about the complaint.

Engel’s OLC memo (a reprise of the memo that Amy Berman Jackson ruled was just a PR stunt to justify lying to Congress) claimed that the whistleblower complaint pertained exclusively to the conduct of the President and as such did not pertain to the Intelligence Community and so didn’t need to be shared with Congress. The only way to reach this decision would be to ignore the parts of the whistleblower complaint that deal with abuse of classification and the withholding of funds.

The other thing OLC did was to — at first– treat mentions of Barr and Rudy, as well as Ukraine and Zelenskyy, as Top Secret, even though the White House had only deemed those references to be Secret.

This effort, both to avoid informing the Intelligence Committees and, once he did, to hide key details from them, ultimately failed. But it did delay the discovery of the call from August to September 2019.

Warn Rupert Murdoch

Bill Barr had a meeting at SDNY the day before Parnas and Fruman were arrested on October 9. He went from there to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch, at Murdoch’s home.

It’s unclear what happened at that meeting, but Sean Hannity didn’t get on his flight to Vienna to meet with Dmitro Firtash, thereby avoiding even closer legal involvement in yet another Trump scandal.

There’s no evidence I know of that Barr similarly warned Rudy — Rudy canceled his trip, too, but it probably only took the arrest of Parnas and Fruman to persuade him of the wisdom of doing that. So I don’t consider this an act of obstruction protecting Rudy — just an act of obstruction protecting Sean Hannity.

Parnas has alleged that he was only arrested as a way to keep him silent about all this. While there’s a lot of reason to believe that’s possible, I’m not aware of proof that it did. It is, notably, one thing he was dangling his cooperation on with SDNY before he got remarkably quiet as the investigation into Rudy kicked into active mode.

Attempt to replace Geoffrey Berman with a Barr flunky

As noted, if we can believe Costello, then at some point SDNY did manage to conduct a search on Rudy’s iCloud. One possibility is that DOJ justified a search on Rudy after learning that Parnas had deleted his own iCloud account.

We may get more details of how that occurred with the Special Master argument.

For a time, the impeachment investigation presumably stalled any investigation into Rudy.

But last summer, at a time between the time when Rudy would have been implicated in the President’s Ukraine-related impeachment but before the time Rudy was attempting to undermine the election in explicit service of the President, Barr fired Geoffrey Berman. As Berman described, Barr attempted to bypass succession rules to temporarily put his own flunky in charge of the office, much as he had put Timothy Shea in at DC USA to kill investigations into Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and (probably) Erik Prince.

By refusing to go along with Barr’s false claims that he had quit, however, Berman succeeded in ensuring that Audry Strauss, his then-Deputy, would replace him, where she remains today.

In all of Berman’s communications about why he dug in, he emphasized that there were investigations he wanted to see to completion, presumably including but not limited to this Rudy investigation.

Again, this effort failed. But, given what happened in DC, it is almost certain that this was an attempt to protect Rudy (and Steve Bannon).

DOJ used the election to refuse to approve a warrant on Rudy. And (while I’m having difficulty finding it) they imposed a policy requiring higher approvals for obtaining warrants on attorney content.

Effectively, that provided a way to stall the search into Rudy until April 20, 2021, when Lisa Monaco was approved.

Bill Barr tried, repeatedly, to entirely kill the investigation into Rudy, like he killed prosecutions of Stone and Flynn. But ultimately, one after another DOJ professional thwarted his attempts, and his abundant efforts to protect Rudy only managed to delay the investigation from October 2019 to April 2021.

Update: William Ockham notes that the change in policy was imposed on December 30, 2020, after Barr had resigned and at a time when Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen knew that Joe Biden would take over DOJ. The new policy required consultation with a designated attorney in Office of Deputy Attorney General.

Within OEO, the Policy and Statutory Enforcement Unit (PSEU) is the section that provides this consultation. See Office ofthe Deputy Attorney General Guidance on AttorneyClient Privilege andAttorney Work Product Filter Protocols/or Search Warrants (July 2020). In many cases – particularly those involving significant investigations and high-profile matters – proposed searches are separately reported in urgent reports to the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. To ensure mo!”e uniform notification procedures going forward, PSEU should notify the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) of proposed searches involving subject attorneys. ODAG will assign an attorney to handle this responsibility who has the requisite knowledge and experience to provide meaningful input to PSEU. That attorney will provide updates to the Deputy Attorney General as necessary. Absent exigent circumstances, the OEO/PSEU consultation in Section 9-13.420 shall not be concluded until after ODAG has been notified and provided with an opportunity to provide input.

While probably not the sole intent, this may be why the search on Rudy was not approved until Lisa Monaco was confirmed on April 20.

In Request for Special Master, the Lev Parnas Prosecutors Hint at Prior Filter Team Searches on Rudy

The day after the search on Rudy Giuliani and a single Victoria Toensing phone, the prosecutors on the Lev Parnas case wrote a letter to the judge in that case, Paul Oetken, asking that he appoint a Special Master to review the content of their phones before turning that content over to prosecutors. It was unsealed yesterday after Rudy and Toensing’s lawyers got to review the redactions and add any they wanted. Oetken has ordered a briefing schedule about how this should proceed, which will extend through May 17.

The letter suggests certain things:

  • The participation of Oetken and the Parnas prosecution team (Rebekah Donalski, Nicolas Roos, and Aline Flodr) is consistent with this investigation arising out of the Parnas investigation, as has been reported.
  • These searches were approved on April 21, which was the day after Lisa Monaco was confirmed on April 20. That suggests she approved of this search. It’s normal for the Deputy Attorney General to sign off on controversial searches like this, and this suggests they waited to have the confirmed DAG sign off rather than have John Carlin, who had been acting DAG until Monaco was confirmed.
  • A court in Maryland signed off on the seizure of Toensing’s phone before SDNY signed off on the search of it.
  • The letter cites two exceptional circumstances when it might be appropriate to appoint a Special Master: when the attorney-client privilege would involve the President, and so implicate executive privilege, and when the attorney is involved in matters “adverse to the United States Attorney Office.” It’s not clear if prosecutors have something specific in mind with the latter reference, but it’s certainly possible that this concerns matters that one or the other lawyer has clients who are before SDNY.
  • Seemingly to explain why Rudy and Toensing aren’t making this request, the letter notes that defendants normally do but, in this case, “there is no pending criminal case against the subjects of the search.” Make of that what you will.
  • The government is basically asking for the same initial rules to be applied as were applied in the Michael Cohen case. They don’t, however, ask that any legal discussions be submitted to the public docket, which is something that happened in Cohen’s case that seemed to dissuade Trump from making frivolous claims of attorney-client privilege.

The most interesting bit of the letter, however, comes after a redacted passage with two redacted footnotes.

That introduces the following discussion:

The Government believes that its use of a filter team to conduct a review pursuant to established protocols is sufficient to protect applicable privileges and that [one line redacted] given that the searches [redacted] were done in an overt manner. [half line redacted] as well as the unusually sensitive privilege issues that the Warrants may implicate, the Government considers it appropriate for the Court to appoint a special master to make the privilege determinations as to materials seized pursuant to the Warrants. In particular, the overt and public nature of these warrants necessitates, as Judge Wood observed, the appointment of a special master under the “perception of fairness, not fairness itself.”

That is,  the government is explaining — in a letter that preempts any demand from Rudy and Toensing — that they don’t really need to do it this way, but partly because this search was public, it justifies doing so here.

But remember that the search of these devices is not the only one alleged. Rudy and his lawyer, Robert Costello, claim that SDNY also got a “covert” warrant for Rudy’s iCloud account sometime in late 2019.

A lawyer for former New York City mayor and Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the Justice Department revealed on a Thursday conference call that the feds had penetrated Giuliani’s iCloud long before Wednesday’s search warrants were executed.

“I was told about it today in a conference call with the [U.S.] Attorney’s office,” attorney Robert Costello, a longtime friend of Giuliani’s, told The Daily Beast on Thursday night. “They told me they obtained a ‘covert warrant’ for Giuliani’s iCloud account in ‘late 2019.’ They have reviewed this information for a year and a half without telling us or [fellow Trump-aligned attorney] Victoria Toensing.”

During an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on Thursday night, Giuliani himself briefly referenced the warrant to search his iCloud account. “In the middle of the impeachment defense, they invaded, without telling me, my iCloud,” the Trump confidant said. “They took documents that are privileged. And then they unilaterally decided what they could read and not read. So the prosecutors at the Justice Department spied on me.”

A year and a half would put the search in October 2019, quite possibly before impeachment had formally started, and around the time when Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were first charged. It likely put it at a time when Trump had no overt defense needs, and so no acknowledged privilege here (unless you count John Dowd’s October 3 letter to Congress that effectively put Trump in a joint defense agreement with Parnas and Fruman and alleged Russian mobster Dmitro Firtash).

I had thought this earlier reference might have been to a preservation order served to Apple, but the redacted passages are consistent with there having been a real search, one for which SDNY used only a taint team to weed out what was genuinely privileged. And there was clearly probable cause: Rudy was the business partner of two people charged for their business doings.

According to the terms of this letter, in the case of a covert search like the one Rudy claims occurred, there would be less cause for a Special Master.

Which is to say this letter may be more about the searches that have already occurred rather than the forthcoming exploitation that will be done with the oversight of a Special Master.

Will Amy Berman Jackson Finally Break the Spell of OLC Feeding Bullshit FOIA Claims to DC District Judges?

Yesterday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the government must turn over a memo written — ostensibly by Office of Legal Counsel head Steve Engel — to justify Billy Barr’s decision not to file charges against Donald Trump for obstructing the Mueller Investigation. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington FOIAed the memo and sued for its release. The memo itself is worth reading. But I want to consider whether, by making a nested set of false claims to hide what OLC was really up to, this opinion may pierce past efforts to use OLC to rubber stamp problematic Executive Branch decisions.

A key part of ABJ’s decision pivoted on the claims made by Paul Colburn, who’s the lawyer from OLC whose job it is (in part) to tell courts that DOJ can’t release pre-decisional OLC memos because that would breach both deliberative and attorney-client process, Vanessa Brinkmann, whose job it is (in part) to tell courts that DOJ has appropriately applied one or another of the exemptions permitted under FOIA, and Senior Trial Attorney Julie Straus Harris, who was stuck arguing against release of this document relying on those declarations. ABJ ruled that all three had made misrepresentations (and in the case of Straus Harris, outright invention) to falsely claim the memo was predecisional and therefore appropriate to withhold under FOIA’s b5 exemption.

Colburn submitted two declarations. ABJ cited this one to show that Colburn had claimed the OLC memo was designed to help Billy Barr make a decision.

Document no. 15 is a predecisional deliberative memorandum to the Attorney General, through the Deputy Attorney General, authored by OLC AAG Engel and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General (“PADAG”) Edward O’Callaghan . . . . As indicated in the portions of the memorandum that were released, it was submitted to the Attorney General to assist him in determining whether the facts set forth in Volume II of Special Counsel Mueller’s report “would support initiating or declining the prosecution of the President for obstruction of justice under the Principles of Federal Prosecution.” The released portions also indicate that the memorandum contains the authors’ recommendation in favor of a conclusion that “the evidence developed by the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” The withheld portions of the memorandum contain legal advice and prosecutorial deliberations in support of that recommendation. Following receipt of the memorandum, the Attorney General announced his decision publicly in a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees . . . .

* * *

[T]he withheld portions of document no. 15 – the only final document at issue – are . . . covered by the deliberative process privilege. The document is a predecisional memorandum, submitted by senior officials of the Department to the Attorney General, and containing advice and analysis supporting a recommendation regarding the decision he was considering . . . . [T]he withheld material is protected by the privilege because it consists of candid advice and analysis by the authors, OLC AAG Engel and the senior deputy to the Deputy Attorney General. That advice and analysis is predecisional because it was provided prior to the Attorney General’s decision in the matter, and it is deliberative because it consists of advice and analysis to assist the Attorney General in making that decision . . . . The limited factual material contained in the withheld portion of the document is closely intertwined with that advice and analysis. [emphasis original]

Brinkmann submitted this declaration. ABJ cited it to show how Brinkmann had regurgitated the claims Colburn made.

While the March 2019 Memorandum is a “final” document (as opposed to a “draft” document), the memorandum as a whole contains pre-decisional recommendations and advice solicited by the Attorney General and provided by OLC and PADAG O’Callaghan. The material that has been withheld within this memorandum consists of OLC’s and the PADAG’s candid analysis and legal advice to the Attorney General, which was provided to the Attorney General prior to his final decision on the matter. It is therefore pre-decisional. The same material is also deliberative, as it was provided to aid in the Attorney General’s decision-making process as it relates to the findings of the SCO investigation, and specifically as it relates to whether the evidence developed by SCO’s investigation is sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of justice offense. This legal question is one that the Special Counsel’s “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election” . . . did not resolve. As such, any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General. [emphasis original]

Key to this is timing: Colburn twice claimed the memo was provided to Barr before he made any decision, and based on that, Brinkmann not only reiterated that, but claimed that Mueller’s Report “did not resolve” whether Trump could be charged, which left the decision to Barr. Both were pretending a decision had not been made before this memo was written (much less completed).

In an almost entirely redacted section, ABJ explained how the first part of the memo is actually a strategy discussion (which, a redacted section seems to suggest, might have been withheld under some other FOIA exemption that DOJ chose not to claim because that would have required admitting this wasn’t legal advice), written in tandem by everyone involved, about how to best spin the already-made decision not to charge Trump.

The existence of that section contradicts the claims made by Colburn and Brinkmann, ABJ ruled.

All of this contradicts the declarant’s ipse dixit that since the Special Counsel did not resolve the question of whether the evidence would support a prosecution, “[a]s such, any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General.” Brinkmann Decl. ¶ 11.

Then, after ABJ decided she needed to review the document over DOJ’s vigorous protests, she discovered something else (again, she redacted the discussion for now) that made her believe claims made in a filing written by Straus Harris not just to be false, but pure invention with respect to the role of Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan, who was privy to what Mueller was doing and the import Mueller accorded to the other OLC memo dictating that Presidents can’t be prosecuted.

And the in camera review of the document, which DOJ strongly resisted, see Def.’s Opp. to Pl.’s Cross Mot. [Dkt. # 19] (“Def.’s Opp.”) at 20–22 (“In Camera Review is Unwarranted and Unnecessary”), raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court in support of its 2020 motion for summary judgment:

[T]he March 2019 Memorandum (Document no. 15), which was released in part to Plaintiff is a pre-decisional, deliberative memorandum to the Attorney General from OLC AAG Engel and PADAG Edward O’Callaghan . . . . The document contains their candid analysis and advice provided to the Attorney General prior to his final decision on the issue addressed in the memorandum – whether the facts recited in Volume II of the Special Counsel’s Report would support initiating or declining the prosecution of the President . . . . It was provided to aid in the Attorney General’s decision-making processes as it relates to the findings of the Special Counsel’s investigation . . . . Moreover, because any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General, the memorandum is clearly pre-decisional.

Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. [Dkt. # 15-2] (“Def.’s Mem.”) at 14–15 (internal quotations, brackets, and citations omitted).13

13 The flourish added in the government’s pleading that did not come from either declaration – “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions; as a result, in that capacity, his candid prosecutorial recommendations to the Attorney General were especially valuable.” Id. at 14 – seems especially unhelpful since there was no prosecutorial decision on the table.

I noted the problem with O’Callaghan’s role here, and argued there are probably similar problems with an OLC opinion protect Trump in the wake of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea.

In her analysis judging that an attorney-client privilege also doesn’t apply, ABJ returns to this point and expands on it, showing that in addition to Steve Engel (the head of OLC), O’Callaghan, who was not part of OLC and whom the memo never claims was involved in giving advice to Billy Barr, was also involved in generating the memo; the record also shows that the people supposedly receiving the advice, such as Rod Rosenstein, actually were involved in providing the advice, too.

While the memorandum was crafted to be “from” Steven Engel in OLC, whom the declarant has sufficiently explained was acting as a legal advisor to the Department at the time, it also is transmitted “from” Edward O’Callaghan, identified as the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. The declarants do not assert that his job description included providing legal advice to the Attorney General or to anyone else; Colborn does not mention him at all, and Brinkmann simply posits, without reference to any source for this information, that the memo “contains OLC’s and the PADAG’s legal analysis and advice solicited by the Attorney General and shared in the course of providing confidential legal advice to the Attorney General.” Brinkmann Decl. ¶ 16.19

The declarations are also silent about the roles played by the others who were equally involved in the creation and revision of the memo that would support the assessment they had already decided would be announced in the letter to Congress. They include the Attorney General’s own Chief of Staff and the Deputy Attorney General himself, see Attachment 1, and there has been no effort made to apply the unique set of requirements that pertain when asserting the attorney-client privilege over communications by government lawyers to them. Therefore, even though Engel was operating in a legal capacity, and Section II of the memorandum includes legal analysis in its assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the purely hypothetical case, the agency has not met its burden to establish that the second portion of the memo is covered by the attorney-client privilege

19 The government’s memorandum adds that “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions,” Def.’s Mem. at 14, but that does not supply the information needed to enable the Court to differentiate among the many people with law degrees working on the matter.

ABJ notes (and includes a nifty table in an appendix showing her work) that in fact the letter to Congress that was supposed to be based off the decision the OLC memo was purportedly providing advice about was finished first, meaning it couldn’t have informed the decision conveyed in the letter to Congress.

A close review of the communications reveals that the March 24 letter to Congress describing the Special Counsel’s report, which assesses the strength of an obstruction-of-justice case, and the “predecisional” March 24 memorandum advising the Attorney General that [redacted] the evidence does not support a prosecution, are being written by the very same people at the very same time. The emails show not only that the authors and the recipients of the memorandum are working hand in hand to craft the advice that is supposedly being delivered by OLC, but that the letter to Congress is the priority, and it is getting completed first. At 2:16 pm on Sunday, March 24, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff advises the others: “We need to go final at 2:25 pm,” and Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, summons everyone to a meeting at 2:17 pm. Attachment 1 at 4. At 2:18 pm, Steven Engel in the OLC replies to this email chain related to the draft letter, and he attaches the latest version of the memo to the Attorney General, saying: “here’s the latest memo, btw, although we presumably don’t need to finalize that as soon.”

As a result, ABJ rules that this was neither pre-decisional nor candid advice from someone acting in the role of attorney given to another, and so the document must be released.

Ultimately, this is a finding that the claims made by DOJ — by Colburn, Brinkmann, and Straus Harris — have no credibility on this topic. She cites Reggie Walton’s concerns (in the BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report itself) about Billy Barr’s lies about the Mueller Report and notes that DOJ has been “disingenuous” to hide Barr’s own “disingenuous[ness].”

And of even greater importance to this decision, the affidavits are so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence. The review of the unredacted document in camera reveals that the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time. [redacted]

ABJ is careful to note (in part to disincent Merrick Garland’s team from appealing this, which she has given DOJ two weeks to consider doing) that this decision is limited solely to application of the claims made before her. The often-abused b5 exemption is not dead.

The Court emphasizes that its decision turns upon the application of well-settled legal principles to a unique set of circumstances that include the misleading and incomplete explanations offered by the agency, the contemporaneous materials in the record, and the variance between the Special Counsel’s report and the Attorney General’s summary. This opinion does not purport to question or weaken the protections provided by Exemption 5 or the deliberative process and attorney-client privileges; both remain available to be asserted by government agencies – based on forthright and accurate factual showings – in the future.

But this leaves the question about what to do about all this lying — Colburn and Brinkmann and Straus Harris’ misrepresentations to protect the lies of Billy Barr and his team. Billy Barr is gone, along with Rosenstein and Engel and O’Callaghan and Brian Rabbitt (Barr’s Chief of Staff), who “colluded” (heh) to make it appear that this process wasn’t all gamed for PR value from the start.

There’s little (immediate) recourse for their lies.

But as far as I know, Colburn and Brinkmann and Straus Harris remain at DOJ, now having been caught offering misrepresentations to protect former superiors’ lies after their past equivalent representations have — for decades — been accepted unquestioningly by DC District Judges. I’ve raised concerns in the past, for example, about claims that Colburn made in 2011 (to hide drone killing opinions) and in 2016 (to hide a long-hidden John Yoo opinion on which surveillance has been based).

The reason ABJ and Reggie Walton caught DOJ in lies about the Mueller Report is not that DOJ hasn’t long been making obviously questionable claims to hide rubber stamp opinions from OLC behind the b5 exemption and obviously questionable claims to withhold documents in FOIA lawsuits. Rather, they caught DOJ in lies in this case because Billy Barr was a less accomplished (or at least more hubristic) liar than Dick Cheney (and because DOJ cannot, in this case, also make expansive claims about secrecy in the service of National Security). It is also the case that when John Yoo and David Barron rubber stamped Executive Branch excesses, they were more disciplined about creating the illusion of information being tossed over a wall to a lawyer and a decision being tossed back over the wall to the decision-maker. That was merely an illusion at least in Yoo’s case — he was both in the room where decisions were made and massaging the analysis after the fact to authorize decisions that were already made.

It would be nice to use this decision to go back and review all the dubious claims Colburn and Brinkmann have made over the years. Rudy Giuliani’s potential prosecution may offer good reason to do so in the case of Steve Engel’s equally dubious opinion withholding the Ukraine whistleblower complaint from Congress.

But at the very least, what this opinion does is show that career DOJ employees have, at least in the Bill Barr era, made less than credible claims to cover up DOJ lies, and in this case, lies about how OLC functions as a rubber stamp for Executive Branch abuse.

We may have no (immediate) recourse about the people whose abuse necessitated such misrepresentations for their protection — Barr and Rosenstein and O’Callaghan and Engel and Rabbitt — though their future legal opponents may want to keep this instance in mind.

But it is becoming a habit that when DC judges check DOJ claims in FOIA suits, those claims don’t hold up. At the very least, more scrutiny about the claims made in these nested set of declarations may finally pierce the bullshit claims made to protect OLC’s role in rubber stamping Executive Branch abuse.

Congress versus the Constitution: Merrick Garland’s Second Reconstruction

Early morning Eastern Time on January 6, I wrote a post arguing that Merrick Garland was a better Attorney General pick than a lot of people assumed. By the end of the day, the January 6 insurrection made him look like an even better pick, based on his successful prosecution of right wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh. When he testified on Monday, Garland surpassed even those expectations, in large part because he described as his mission the same one DOJ had when originally founded 151 years ago: protecting the rights of people of color in the face of right wing terrorism.

Celebrating DOJ’s 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Almost a century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the Department’s Civil Rights Division, with the mission “to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice. Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change.

150 years after the Department’s founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission. From 1995 to 1997, I supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, who sought to spark a revolution that would topple the federal government. If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

This mission is all the more important — and optimistic — given the strains on Congress in the wake of January 6.

Given the delay caused by the former President’s attempted coup, impeachment, the delayed Senate organizing resolution, and a recess, this week, kicked off by Garland’s hearing, has been the first week where the 117th Congress has moved to account for the events of January 6. How Congress responds — and its effect on mid-term elections in 2022 — will have a key role in deciding whether the Republic survives Trump’s efforts to steal an election, or whether those events just harbor a decline into white supremacist authoritarianism.

How Congress responds to the events of January 6 is especially critical given disputes about the form of a 9/11 style commission to assess the event. Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell disagree on key details: whether Democrats should have more representatives on the commission, and how broad the scope will be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s draft proposal for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling it “partisan by design.”

The Kentucky Republican said he agrees the siege on the Capitol warrants a “serious and thorough review,” but said he thinks Pelosi’s proposal falls short of the standard set by the commission established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, upon which Pelosi said she would model this new panel.

“The 9/11 Commission was intentionally built to be bipartisan, 50-50 bipartisan split of the commissioners was a key feature,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “It both helped the effectiveness of the investigation itself, and help give the whole country confidence in its work, and its recommendations.”

It’s unclear whether the two sides can come up with a plan for a 9/11 type commission, both because there’s virtually no comity between the two parties and because Republicans have prioritized protecting Trump, their party, and the members of Congress who played a role (with another member implicated yesterday by her spouse’s Three Percenter truck decal). I suspect such a commission may have to wait until other events change the GOP’s current commitment to Donald Trump.

One thing that might change the GOP’s current capture by Trump is the DOJ investigation.

While there are some DOJ decisions that raise questions for me and while it is not yet clear how the courts will finally decide to treat January 6, Merrick Garland’s confirmation will presumably only raise confidence in DOJ’s actions. Virtually all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, praised his role in the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh during his confirmation hearing (see my live tweet here). Unless DOJ really bolloxes key cases — or unless they shy away from witnesses like James Sullivan, Ali Alexander, and Enrique Tarrio, who can tie the insurrection directly to Trump’s close associates — I expect the investigation and eventually prosecution of those responsible will make the GOP’s continued support of Trump far more toxic (as a few of the GOPers who’ve been censured for their vote to convict Trump have suggested will happen).

The prosecution of January 6 will be the easy part.

The real question, I think, is how Garland weathers GOP attempts to demand prosecutions that Billy Barr primed them to expect.

For example, numerous members (especially Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, whose shared staffer Barbara Ledeen and her spouse were implicated in the Russian investigation) demanded that Garland promise to keep John Durham on, citing Barr’s promise to keep Mueller on during his confirmation hearing, at a point when Barr had already made public statements about the investigation while admitted he knew fuckall about the actual facts.

Garland repeated, over and over, that he can’t make such a commitment until he speaks with Durham. No one knows what Durham continues to pursue that has made his investigation last as long as the Mueller investigation. What is known is that Durham hasn’t interviewed key witnesses and his public filings exhibit fundamental misconceptions about the Russian investigation and precisely the kind of bias he purports to be investigating. Garland repeatedly answered that he didn’t know of any reason to remove Durham early. But he also noted that precisely what Graham and others are demanding about Page — some kind of investigation — happened with the Horowitz report. Notably, Garland knew a detail Republicans refuse to acknowledge: that Horowitz’s ongoing investigation into FISA reveals that the problems in the Carter Page Woods file were no different than other FISA applications, and the more general problems may be a pattern as well.

Given Garland’s emphasis on civil rights, I was at least as interested in Republican attempts to undermine such an effort. Most pathetically, John Kennedy engaged in a colloquy about whether systematic racism exists, whether he, himself, can be racist if he doesn’t think he is, “who wins,” as if equality is a zero sum game. Tom Cotton tried to play games about the difference between racial equality and racial equity.

Finally, there will be GOP pressure to either both-sides political violence, equating actions they claim without evidence were perpetuated by Antifa with January 6, or to limit the extent of the prosecution. With regards to the latter, Garland argued that this investigation will proceed like all investigations, working their way up if the evidence dictates it. That is a position utterly consistent with support for prosecuting Trump’s associates, or maybe even Trump.

With regards to efforts to both-sides political violence — which was Trump’s defense to impeachment and has already played a key role in Republican efforts to dodge accountability for their role in January 6 — Garland gave the kind of judicious answer to Josh Hawley that every Democrat should be prepared to offer. The violence in Portland was criminal (and to the extent it was, it was prosecuted). But it was not an attempt to interrupt the processes of government, such as by interrupting trials.

The Republicans have for years successfully pressured DOJ to try to criminalize their political opponents. As DOJ continues its massive investigation into the insurrection, these efforts will grow more urgent.

Merrick Garland will be confirmed without cowing to Republican efforts to equate their own assault on the Constitution with Democratic politics. But such efforts will intensify after he assumes office, particularly if Durham fails to find the crimes that really don’t exist and as DOJ gets closer to Trump or members of Congress. DOJ has about 18 months to right itself after Bill Barr’s damage, and we shall see how long Garland continues to retain the goodwill of Republicans.

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