Alexander Vindman Proves That Working Within System Works Even While Derek Harvey Works To Destroy It

Jim here.

Last night, two very remarkable stories were published that, taken together, illustrate an extreme chasm in our defense community that receives far too little attention. To set the stage, it is necessary to go back to the early 2000’s for a development that has mostly been erased from our collective memory but has had an indelible and particularly harmful and lingering effect. As the George W. Bush Administration executed its pivot from the war in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq, it became necessary for the Bush folks to craft a set of intelligence “facts” supporting and then sustaining the action in Iraq. A primary tool used in this effort was create a separate intelligence apparatus, since the existing intelligence agencies did not produce analyses supporting the invasion.

A huge impact of this illegal war was that it devastated morale within the military at all ranks. Sadly, many of our highest ranking–and most ethical–officers chose retirement rather than to serve while an illegal war was being waged. With the Defense Secretary, Vice President and President clearly leading the charge for the war, it seems obvious that these officers realized that their analyses showing that the invasion was not justified were falling on deaf ears and that they would never be able to inject a dose of reality into the artificial reality on which the whole war effort rested. The result, as they had to be able to foresee, was that the Iraqi people and our enlisted forces suffered unnecessary and devastating losses, with impact continuing into the present even after “end” of US action in Iraq.

By 2006, some of these retired officers even began to speak out, calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. In a normal world, where the system of checks and balances within the military and with legislative and executive oversight functions operating properly, these officers would not have needed to retire, but instead would have been key factors in rejecting the invasion as unnecessary and based only on a set of political objectives rather than an actual need for military action to stave off harm to the region. As a trained geneticist, my feeling was that this event served as a sort of genetic selection within the military, where the population of those remaining and advancing through the ranks was enriched for those who bought into distorted politics of the invasion and a willingness to shape “facts” around a desired outcome. Our only hope, I felt, was that at least some would desire to stay within the system anyway and continue to work for the ideals of their oath to the Constitution administered when they joined the military.

So, fast forward to last night. The New York Times article on Alexander Vindman illustrates that Vindman is indeed just that sort of person I hoped would continue to stay and work within the system. His work as the senior Ukraine analyst on the National Security Council put him into position to see the illegal plan that the Trump Administration was carrying out force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden in return for the release of essential Ukraine aid that Trump had frozen. Vindman’s response was by the book: document the crime and then report it up the chain of command:

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

/snip/

“This would all undermine U.S. national security,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.

 

Vindman then went on to report his concerns:

“I did convey certain concerns internally to national security officials in accordance with my decades of experience and training, sense of duty, and obligation to operate within the chain of command,” he plans to say.

He will testify that he watched with alarm as “outside influencers” began pushing a “false narrative” about Ukraine that was counter to the consensus view of American national security officials, and harmful to United States interests. According to documents reviewed by The Times on the eve of his congressional testimony, Colonel Vindman was concerned as he discovered that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was leading an effort to prod Kiev to investigate Mr. Biden’s son, and to discredit efforts to investigate Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business dealings in Ukraine.

Vindman made not one, but two reports to the top lawyer in the NSC, John Eisenberg. Were it not for the whistleblower report and the impeachment inquiry stemming from it, the sad reality is that Vindman’s heroic actions might have ended with his reports to Eisenberg, as Eisenberg has been shown to have been working to quash the efforts to expose Trump’s illegal actions. But now that the House of Representatives has finally rediscovered the real duty of oversight (we already miss you, Elijah Cummings!), Vindman today has the opportunity provide a deposition to the three committees carrying out the impeachment investigation.  Vindman’s testimony seems likely to seal Trump’s fate, as it is nearly impossible to see how at least one article of impeachment won’t arise from the facts Vindman lays out. Whether Senate Republicans will also find their duty to truth rather than manufactured reality, of course, seems less likely, but at the very least it will be valuable to watch them squirm when the decision is laid squarely in their laps.

At almost the same time the Vindman article came out in the Times, Daily Beast detailed how a retired military officer, Derek Harvey, is working outside proper channels to disclose the identity of the whistleblower, endangering this individual and making future whistleblowers less likely to expose corruption. Harvey seems to be a poster child for exactly the type of officer who flourished after the mass exodus of those with a conscience. Here is how Daily Beast described his background:

Derek Harvey’s career has been extraordinary. As a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, he played an important role in the 2007-8 troop surge in Iraq. David Petraeus kept Harvey aboard for an intelligence billet at U.S. Central Command. Harvey aligned with another member of the counterinsurgency coterie, DIA Director Mike Flynn, and followed Flynn onto Trump’s White NSC. From there, Harvey became a crucial aide to Nunes, a pivotal Flynn and Trump ally. There is no reasonable definition of Deep State that excludes Derek Harvey from elite membership.

So Harvey accelerated his military career, and career after retiring but staying within military intelligence, by joining forces with the Petraeus effort to craft “facts” around the Iraq surge–a cataclysmic failure that Petraeus always claimed as a stunning success–and then eventually joined Mike Flynn both in DIA and the NSC. One stop in Harvey’s career not on that list is detailed in Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” [quoted here]:

Based on what Harvey reported to General Petraeus, according to Woodward’s book, Petraeus “decided to create his own intelligence agency inside CentCom” (pg. 78, “Obama’s War”) to offset the shortcomings of the DNI, CIA, NSA, DIA and other US intelligence gathering agencies in gathering information about the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. He asked Harvey to draft plans for an agency modeled on Harvey’s approach. Reports Woodward, “Soon, Harvey was appointed director of the new Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence based at CentCom headquarters in Tampa, Florida.”

According to Woodward, Petraeus moved over $100 million into this project with Congress unaware of that move for several months. Harvey’s analysis that he gave to Petraeus: “the war could be won, but the U.S. government would have to make monumental long-term commitments for years that might be unpalatable with voters” (p. 79).

So Harvey clearly is essentially a ratfucker for hire, being willing to craft an intelligence set of “facts” to serve whatever master is paying him to do so. Although Woodward paints a rather admiring picture of Harvey’s diligence in approaching his intelligence gathering, comparing it to that of a homicide detective, historical context tells us that Petraeus simply didn’t like what he was getting from the existing agencies and needed his own “intelligence” to continue on his chosen path.

But, as you see above, Harvey is now working for Devin Nunes (R-Cow) and that is an especially devious team. From Daily Beast:

Derek Harvey, who works for Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, has provided notes for House Republicans identifying the whistleblower’s name ahead of the high-profile depositions of Trump administration appointees and civil servants in the impeachment inquiry. The purpose of the notes, one source said, is to get the whistleblower’s name into the record of the proceedings, which committee chairman Adam Schiff has pledged to eventually release. In other words: it’s an attempt to out the anonymous official who helped trigger the impeachment inquiry.

Mark Zaid explained to Daily Beast the horrible implications of what Harvey is doing:

“Exposing the identity of the whistleblower and attacking our client would do nothing to undercut the validity of the complaint’s allegations,” said Mark Zaid, one of the whistleblower’s attorneys. “What it would do, however, is put that individual and their family at risk of harm. Perhaps more important, it would deter future whistleblowers from coming forward in subsequent administrations, Democratic or Republican.”

It’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Alexander Vindman and Derek Harvey. Vindman is a patriot committed to the security of the US and working within the system while Harvey is willing to sell out US security to whatever wingnut is willing to pay him and to bypass every safeguard built into the system.

Was The Trump Phone Call With Zelensky Paused For Discussion On US Side?

It’s Jim here.

Much has been made about the apparent discrepancy between the length of the rough transcript of the Donald Trump-Volodymyr Zelensky telephone call on July 25. The best analysis I’ve seen on this topic is in today’s Washington Post, where the number of words in a transcript and the reported duration of the corresponding call were compared for this call and for another conversation where interpreters were needed on both ends of the call:

The memorandum of Trump’s call with Zelensky appears remarkably different in speed and content from the full transcripts of calls between President Trump and foreign leaders The Washington Post obtained in 2017.

The transcript of a 24-minute call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in which both the participants spoke English, included roughly 3,200 words, or about 133 words per minute. A 53-minute call with then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which both Trump and the Mexican president spoke through interpreters, included roughly 5,500 words, or about 102 words per minute.

The White House summary of Trump’s 30-minute call with Zelensky — which included interpreters because Zelensky spoke Ukrainian while Trump spoke English — includes fewer than 2,000 words, or roughly 65 words per minute. That suggests that the rough transcript of the Zelensky call includes about half the number of words that would be expected if the call had proceeded at the same or similar pace as the previous calls.

The article also notes the presence of the ellipses and does a good job of tying each instance of the ellipses to the contexts where they appear. The first two are in Trump’s discussion of Crowdstrike and the third relates directly to Joe Biden.

The article also does a great job of debunking one White House theory put forward about the ellipses, claiming that they merely indicate that Trump’s voice trailed off. However, the article documents that past practice was to insert “[inaudible]” to mark such trailing off, so this doesn’t match what was done in the past.

Of course, the simplest explanation that many are going with here is that Trump may have said something so incriminating and outrageous that the White House simply couldn’t allow it to get out, and so they edited it out. But I began to wonder if there might be something else that happened here, in addition to eliding incriminating evidence.

Is it possible that intelligence agents monitoring the call heard something so improper that they put the call on the electronic equivalent of “hold” and communicated to Trump directly that he had gone over the line? Coupling that thought with the knowledge from the whistleblower complaint that there were other instances where Trump transcripts were hidden on the code-word server, I wondered if there had ever been a press report of a Trump phone call being briefly interrupted. Early in my searching, I hit on an article that fits into this idea incredibly well. It has the bonus that it applies to the first known phone call between Trump and Vladimir Putin. What I found was a Reuters article dated February 9, 2017:

In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

The article goes on to deliver what now seems to be an incredibly important tidbit in what would have been seen at the time as a meaningless aside from Sean Spicer:

The White House declined to comment on the details of the call. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump knew what the New START treaty is but had turned to his aides for an opinion during the call with Putin. He said the notes from the call would not have conveyed that.

So, Spicer informs us that at least this once, a call was put on hold for discussions on the US side. More importantly, he states that such discussion would not have appeared in the notes from the call.

Is that what happened on July 25? Was the Trump-Zelensky call put on hold for the US side to speak privately with Trump? If so, it seems that such a discussion could account for at least part of length deficit for the rough transcript. It would also be something worthy of intense followup. Was the discussion primarily with political staff, as claimed by Spicer for the first Putin call, or were members of the intelligence community warning against where Trump had taken the conversation?

ODNI GC Klitenic: President Has Sole Authority Over Security Clearances, But Is Not Member Of Intelligence Community

Jim here again.

I want to go all the way back to September 13 in the Ukraine whistleblower saga. Recall that at this time, we strongly suspected but did not yet know that the complaint centered on President Trump. Congress was clamoring for the report from the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to be released and for testimony from ICIG Michael Atkinson and/or Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. In response to those Congressional demands, the General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, issued a letter in which he provided the rationale for his decision that Atkinson was not required to pass the complaint along to Congress even though Atkinson had come to the conclusion that the report was credible and represented an urgent concern that merited sharing with Congress. Because Trump eventually relented on the issue of the report and released it, the narrative has moved quickly beyond Klitenic’s actions. But let’s look at his primary justification for ruling that this report should not be disclosed:

Yesterday, Marcy went into the details of what transpired within DOJ in the Office of Legal Counsel during these deliberations, but here I want to concentrate just on how Klitenic relied on OLC’s interpretation to come to the conclusion that one of the two most important determining factors in stating that Atkinson could not forward the complaint to Congress was that it applied to “someone outside the Intelligence Community”. Knowing as we do now that the complaint did indeed focus on Trump’s words and actions, Klitenic is stating clearly that the President is outside the Intelligence Community. This is really rich coming from Klitenic, because just about two weeks before the Trump-Zelensky phone call, Klitenic had helped to shut down the Congressional investigation of the scandal surrounding the issuance of security clearances within the Trump White House.

I’ve not yet found Klitenic’s letter of July 10, 2019 that was sent in response to a letter from Senators Warner, Feinstein, Menendez and Reed on March 8, 2019 demanding that then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Atkinson “review compliance by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to secure compartmented information (SCI)”. Note that Klitenic’s response is well past the 60 day window the Senators granted for a response. Here is Atkinson on July 22, where he cites Klitenic’s letter and interpretation:

So, on July 10, 2019, Klitenic ruled that the President alone has authority of who is granted a security clearance and even who gets access to SCI. Recall that one of the central figures of this security clearance scandal was none other that Jared Kushner. His clearance was originally denied and Trump overruled the denial. One whistleblower on the security clearances, Tricia Newbold,was so incensed over Trump’s actions that she went public, as noted in this April 1 article in the Washington Post.

Lucky for Kushner that he still has SCI access since it appears that records of Trump conversation’s with Jared’s BFF Mohammad bin Salman have been stashed at that level of classification. It is even more lucky for Kushner that although his father-in-law is not a member of the Intelligence Community, many of his most important conversations live well-buried within it.

Finally, many of you know that I am a diehard fan of college baseball. So of course when I looked at Klitenic’s biography, I couldn’t help noticing that he claims to have been an All-American baseball pitcher in college. That claim does indeed check out, although in true trash talk fashion I would add the asterisk that Johns Hopkins competes in Division III in baseball. One can’t help wondering at this point when Chief Justice John Roberts, who at his confirmation stated his job is to “call balls and strikes” will be ruling on pitches made by Klitenic.

Retroactive Classification: The Government’s Favorite Tool for Silencing Whistleblowers

First: note the byline. Yes, I have not posted in almost a year, but you just might be seeing more of me again.

One of my favorite posts from back in the days when I posted regularly was the one on retroactive classification. The really fun part was the statement from J. William Leonard that retroactive classification is a “metaphysical impossibility”:

Today, Marcy included me in an email conversation with J. William Leonard, who previously served as the Director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office and before that as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security and Information Operations. The question posed to Mr. Leonard was whether the retroactive classification of the report was properly carried out. Leonard’s response noted that since “the purpose of classification is to preclude unauthorized disclosure”, that is “a metaphysical impossibility for information whose disclosure was authorized in the first place.”

So imagine my delight when I went to the copy of the declassified whistleblower complaint and encountered this on only the second page:

On first glance though, it might be easy to say these two situations are different. In the case of my previous post, we were talking about a document that had already been published with an “unclassified” marking and was even mentioned in the press. Here, we are talking about a report that is being submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and would, at least at the beginning of the process, be closely held. But the complaint, if found credible, was destined for dissemination to Congressional committees, and so would eventually be fairly widely seen. The whistleblower rightly was working to protect against someone realizing just how embarrassing the report is to the President and our government and deciding that the report should be buried rather than widely shared.

The comparisons, though, go much deeper. My earlier post goes on to discuss the use of retroactive classification in the cases of Sybel Edmonds, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayle and Robert MacLean. What do these people have in common? They were all whistleblowers. And as soon as the government realized just how embarrassed they would be when the truth came out, they tried their best to shove it back under a rock.

It is fortunate for us that this whistleblower has such a deep understanding of the classification process. Even better, this person appears to have a thorough understanding of the history of whistleblowers and what happens to the information they aim to disclose. The bit early in the report on classification does a good job of providing justification for the body of the report to be unclassified. Perhaps the note about retroactive classification is an attempt to leave a trail once it is attempted.

Remarkably, though, that is not the most important instance of retroactive classification in the report. The part of this report that may well have the most lasting historical impact is this (in what, ironically, was originally classified and now declassified):

So, “White House officials” realized just how embarrassing the call’s full transcript would be. We had learned earlier in the report that the White House Situation Room regularly produces a “word for word” transcript of calls and puts it on a computer system accessed by people at the Cabinet level. Further, the whistleblower informs us that this time, it was “White House lawyers” who directed that the transcript be removed from this system and moved to the more secure system. Coupled with the note from the appendix, we see that Trump’s White House has decided that retroactively classifying embarrassing information is their best bet for burying information to prevent it being spread by whistleblowers. We are so fortunate that this whistleblower fully understands that process and has even documented it for us, essentially in real time.

Time will tell, but it seems to me that by telling us there are more transcripts buried on the secure computer system, the whistleblower has provided a roadmap to information that may prove even more catastrophic for the Trump Administration than the disclosure of the attempt to get Ukraine to smear Joe and Hunter Biden.

The Intelligence Issues the House Intelligence Committee Largely Ignored

I watched or listened to most of the House Intelligence Committee hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire this morning. And because both sides (with the very limited exception of Will Hurd) failed to raise the issues regarding the whistleblower complaint that go to the core of Maguire’s own equities, he was largely able to dodge the difficult issues.

Maguire’s own actions implicate whether IC whistleblowers will believe credible complaints will be treated appropriately. As Democrats noted, his first actions when he received a complaint implicating the President and the Attorney General were to refer to lawyers reporting directly to the President and the Attorney General. Maguire even pretended that Bill Barr’s role in this was not a significant part of the complaint to dismiss the worthlessness of referring this complaint to Bill Barr to investigate.

But there were three other key issues Maguire should not have been able to dodge.

First is the allegation that Trump moved the summary of this call to the covert communications system to hide the improper nature of the call. The whistleblower complaint said that this is not the first time the White House has done so. This is a clear abuse of the legal status of covert operations dictated by the National Security Act, something for which Maguire has direct responsibility. Covert operations must be communicated, by law, to at least the Gang of Eight in Congress. That Trump has politicized and misused this system discredits a core means of accountability for the White House, on Maguire’s job directly oversees. And yet he wasn’t asked how Trump’s actions undermine the legally mandated system of covert communications.

Then there’s the fact that Trump is premising policy decisions not on the best intelligence, but instead on how he can derive personal benefit from them. His doing so is a core abuse of presidential power. But — as I noted this morning — it also robs American citizens of the benefits the entire intelligence system is supposed to ensure. Maguire admittedly cannot force the President to make the right decisions. But the repercussions of premising policy decisions on personal gain for the national security of the US should be a concern of Maguire’s. That wasn’t mentioned either.

Finally, there’s the allegation that someone without clearance and entirely outside of the intelligence community was being asked to share and act on classified information derived from the intelligence community. Maguire at one point claimed that Trump can do whatever he wants with his personal lawyer and that such discussions would be privileged (after, at another point, dodging a question because he’s not a lawyer). That’s the height of absurdity. Rudy’s pursuit of policy actions has nothing to do with his role as Trump’s personal lawyer. And as the DOJ IG complaint against Jim Comey makes clear, sharing even retroactively confidential information with your personal lawyers — as Comey was scolded for doing — is not permissible. Yes, it’s true that as President Trump can declassify anything he wants (though Comey was original classification authority for the information he shared with his own lawyers), but others in the IC cannot share information with an uncleared person without formal declassification, or they risk their own legal troubles.

None of this came up in substantive fashion in today’s hearing by the people who are supposed to oversee the intelligence community.

ODNI Whistleblower Complaint: Shoes Dropping All Over the Place [UPDATE-2]

[NB: Check the byline. Updates are anticipated and will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

In an effort to guess at the likely subject of a whistleblower complaint, the emptywheel community started a crowdsourced timeline of events surrounding the complaint received by the Intelligence Community Office of Inspector General on August 12.

As noted in the timeline, the House Intelligence Committee subpoena issued last Friday required the acting Director of National Intelligence (ADNI) Joseph Maguire to report to Congress about the complaint by Tuesday, September 17; failure to comply would require an appearance before Congress on Thursday, September 19. Maguire did not report as expected.

However dates for the ADNI to testify before the House have now been arranged:

. . .

[emphasis mine]

The Washington Post reported more details Wednesday evening about the whistleblower complaint:

Trump’s communications with foreign leader are part of whistleblower complaint that spurred standoff between spy chief and Congress, former officials say

One bit stood out for me in the lede:

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Emphasis mine. Two former officials.

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is rampant across social media. Some suggest Fiona Hill, former Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, as the whistleblower; her planned departure in August was announced June 18. Others suggest an as-yet unnamed low-level analyst.

Marcy tweeted earlier,

It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Bolton seems in a mood to burn it all down, ‘shanking’ POTUS during a Trumpists-dense luncheon on Wednesday. But given the “two former U.S. officials” and former DNI Dan Coats interruption of a meeting to ask his deputy Sue Gordon to resign, I wonder if both Coats and Gordon resigned so they would be able to testify before Congress while escaping the appearance of being compromised by unethical or unlawful acts?

Important points for consideration:

  • What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?
  • What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?
  • What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?
  • How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?
  • Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Promising to violate or ignore violation of bipartisan sanctions against Russia would be unlawful, but would this be an “urgent concern”?

Was there instead an unlawful act with regard to the doxxing of the exfiltrated Russian asset?

Or was there a promise related to surveillance of North Korea?

Did the tensions between the U.S. and Iran spawn an unlawful promise?

There are probably dozens more scenarios that might fit. They may be related to items we didn’t add to the crowdsourced timeline, like these items directly related to North Korea:

28-FEB-2019 — Trump cut short the two-day summit with North Korea for no clear reason.

11-JUN-2019 — Trump received a “beautiful letter” from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

09-AUG-2019 — Trump received another “very beautiful letter” from Kim.

This one related to Iran:

03-SEP-2019New sanctions were placed on Iran after Trump administration claimed it was developing ballistic missile technology using its communications satellite program as cover.

And these related to Russia:

26-JUN-2019 — Trump told reporters that his anticipated discussion with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan was “none of your business.”

31-JUL-2019 — Trump and Putin talked over the phone about Siberian wildfires and trade.

29-AUG-2019 — Trump’s trip to Poland canceled, ostensibly to monitor Hurricane Dorian though he ended up playing golf instead at his N. Virginia course. Was he avoiding conflict over increased Russian troop presence at the administrative border between Russian-occupied South Ossetia and Georgia? (Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership but is not yet a member state.)

Time will tell what other events were needed to pick out the narrative behind the complaint. One more data point may flesh out the nature of the challenge:

Is the complaint about a Trump-Russia issue alone, or does it also include a promise related to one of the other countries in the timeline — like North Korea or Iran?

Share your thoughts in comments with supporting content.

UPDATE — 19-SEP-2019 9:23 A.M. —

The ADNI should be in a closed door session with the House Intelligence Committee at this time.

Important to note that the IC IG is a Trump appointee — Michael Atkinson. He’s responsible for the determination that the unidentified whistleblower’s complaint was credible and an “urgent concern.”

ADNI broke the law as Amee Vanderpool noted here because the complaint was deemed credible:

Very, very odd how CNBC’s website news crawl makes zero mention of this unfolding story even though an NBC story confirmed WaPo’s report last night.

UPDATE — 19-SEP-2019 8:20 P.M. —

This is like a really cheap game of Clue. It wasn’t Professor Plum in the Library with a Lead Pipe.

It was Trump about Ukraine with a phone call to Zelensky, according to the latest report by WaPo.

(Although Trump does look like a crappy version of Colonel Mustard.)

Explains why the suggestions the matter was part of an ongoing investigation; the House was already investigating whether Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were trying to persuade President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to help dig up dirt on Joe Biden to help Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Now we need to know if the $250M aid to Ukraine was dependent on this matter, as well as a meeting later this month between Trump and Zelensky — and if Vladimir Putin had been involved in this exchange in any way.

Waiting for the next version of  “No Collusion!” tweets from Team Trump.

May explain why Rudy had been radio silent for three days on Twitter though he’s resumed his brand of trash talking in the last hour.

Crowdsource: Build a Timeline on ODNI Whistleblower Complaint [UPDATED-4]

[NB: Updates will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

Hey gang, Rayne here.  I have to confess I am completely over my head right now. I have a huge pile of projects and I can’t get through them fast enough to pull a post together. I have family coming to visit, a garden to harvest, laundry to do — the list is a mile long. I could use more hands.

Are you up for crowdsourced investigation into one of the writing projects on my list? Whatever you put in comments I will go through and pull together into a more complete timeline.

The topic: The whistleblower complaint believed to be withheld by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to prevent investigation.

Point of origin: Schiff accuses top intel official of illegally withholding ‘urgent’ whistleblower complaint, by Kyle Cheney, POLITICO, published 13-SEP-2019, 8:12 p.m. EDT

Note carefully this piece ended up in the news dump zone — a Friday evening after 5:00 p.m.

What could the whistleblower complaint have been about, assuming there are other related matters in the public eye? A timeline might help us piece together the topic, or it may help us prepare for anticipated hearings.

I want to point out again that one of the five drafted Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon was about unauthorized activity disclosed by a whistleblower. We may be looking at yet another impeachable offense (as if there haven’t been enough already).

Here’s what I have so far — help me fill in some blanks you think may be relevant to a possible “urgent concern” in a whistleblower complaint, the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Community, and the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence over the last 33 months.

10-MAY-2017 — Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. [UPDATE-3b]

15-MAY-2017 — Washington Post reported Trump revealed code word level classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak during Oval Office meeting. The information covered ISIL’s bomb-making capabilities and may have exposed allies’ intelligence gathering means and methods. [UPDATE-3b]

XX-MAY-2017 — Decision made to exfiltrate key Russian asset. Unclear exactly when decision made or when exfiltration occurred, only that it happened after the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, and before the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany. [UPDATE-3b]

7/8-JUL-2017 — Trump meets Putin at G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.[UPDATE-3b]

________

09-APR-2018 — John Bolton begins as National Security Adviser.

16-JUL-2018 — U.S.-Russia Summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland; Trump meets with Putin.

XX-JUL-2018 — Coats expressed opinion differing from Trump’s after Helsinki summit. Rumors began about Trump replacing Coats.

________

29-JAN-2019 — Coats testified before Senate Intelligence Committee; he said North Korea “is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” in contrast to Trump’s claims that Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization.

XX-FEB-2019 — Trump discussed replacements for DNI.

24-MAY-2019 — Trump issued a directive allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation. [UPDATE-3c]

20-JUN-2019 — In retaliation for downing a U.S. drone, Trump approved strikes on Iran which were abruptly aborted. [UPDATE-4a]

24-JUL-2019 – The same day that John Ratcliffe used his time to question Robert Mueller before the Judiciary Committee to accuse Mueller of breaking DOJ regulations — CNN reported that “Ratcliffe has been under consideration for a job within the Trump administration, sources told CNN, including an intelligence or national security role.” [UPDATE-2a]

28-JUL-2019 — Coats’ departure and John Ratcliffe nominated as replacement announced by Trump via Twitter.

02-AUG-2019 — Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration. [UPDATE-2b]

08-AUG-2019 — Primary Deputy Director DNI Sue Gordon resigned effective 15-AUG-2019, without additional prior notice, as ordered. Resignation letter without handwritten note.

Copy of former PDDNI’s resignation letter with handwritten cover: ODNI_LTR_08AUG2019

12-AUG-19ICdIG received the whistleblower compaint, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

15-AUG-2019 — Coats’ last day as DNI.

26-AUG-19 — IC IG transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the Acting DNI, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

30-AUG-2019 — Trump tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of Iran’s failed Safir SLV launch while claiming the U.S. was not involved. The image may have been classified and ‘insta-declassified’ by Trump.

01/02-SEP-2o19 — US Special Rep. for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul where the Taliban, Afghan government and the U.S. had “reached an agreement in principle” toward an eventual “total and permanent cease-fire.” [UPDATE-4a]

02-SEP-19 — Deadline for ADNI to forward the complaint to Intelligence committees of Congress passes without a referral, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

03-SEP-2019 — Russian media outlet Tass reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said the U.S. and Taliban “insist that Russia must be present in one capacity or another at the possible signing of the agreements that the parties are working on now.” [UPDATE-4a]

04-SEP-2019 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the agreement with the Taliban. [UPDATE-4b]

09-SEP-2019 — CNN broke story of a CIA asset extracted from Russia in 2017; followed by NYT on the 9th (and then NBC’s Ken Dilanian appears at the asset’s house…) [UPDATE-3a]

09-SEP-2019 — Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation and tweeted about it the next morning.

09-SEP-2019 — Intelligence Community Inspector General (IC IG) sent a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notifying it of a whistleblower complaint which it had determined to be credible and a matter of “urgent concern.”

10-SEP-2019 — Bolton tells Fox’s Brian Kilmeade by text that he quit.

10-SEP-2019 — HPSCI Rep. Adam Schiff requested the full, unredacted complaint, the IC IG’s determination about the complaint, and all documentation of ODNI’s action regarding this complaint, including correspondence with the White House.

11-SEP-2019 — Bloomberg reported Bolton pushed back Monday-Tuesday at Trump over Iran sanctions; Bolton wanted maximum pressure while Trump wanted to encourage a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani later in September. [UPDATE-4a]

12-SEP-19 — Schiff and ADNI “discussed at length” the need to protect the whistleblower from any retaliation, including if the whistleblower subsequently comes forward to the committee with his/her concerns, via Schiff’s 13-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

13-SEP-2019 — ODNI declined the request, claiming the request as “it involves confidentially and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

13-SEP-2019 — HPSCI subpoenaed acting DNI Joseph Maguire for materials declined by ODNI.

_____

Future items:

17- SEP-2019 — Deadline, materials responsive to subpoena must be turned over by this date

19- SEP-2019 — Date when Maguire will be compelled to appear before Congress in a public hearing

What a freaking mess. I have nothing here about Mike Pompeo or any other intelligence personnel or issues. The bit about Coats’ departure and Bolton’s termination stick out as well as that insta-declassified intelligence photo, but what might have been an “urgent concern”?

Knock yourselves out — I’ll check in as time permits. Let’s see if a narrative emerges besides the obvious fact the Trump administration has severely damaged our national security apparatus.

Matt Taibbi Attempts to Reinflate Patrick Byrne’s Maria Butina Story

The buzz around Patrick Byrne’s story about having an affair with Maria Butina has almost entirely subsided.

In spite of the fact that folks have moved on, Matt Taibbi, claiming that he’s writing now because Byrne “is taking a beating in the press,” has decided to write up the story.

The tale is now out, and Byrne, whom I’ve known and liked for almost a decade, is taking a beating in the press. It’s unfortunate, and the import of his story is going unnoticed because reporters are focusing instead on Byrne’s eccentricities.

Taibbi reveals that, “Byrne came to me months ago,” which would mean Taibbi was, like Sara Carter, one of the journalists Byrne told about this during the summer, which makes a second journalist who had not covered the Butina prosecution to whom Byrne chose to make claims about the Butina prosecution.

Taibbi explains that he didn’t tell Byrne’s story earlier because he couldn’t confirm it. “Unable to confirm enough of his story, I ended up hesitating.” He also admits that Byrne’s, “hyperbolic storytelling needs to be sorted with care.”

So let’s look at how Taibbi “sorts with care” this story.

He gets one of Byrne’s hyperbolic storytelling references wrong, claiming Byrne used “Men in Black” to refer to the “senior federal law enforcement officials, who encouraged him to pursue a relationship with the Russian.” While Byrne has always said his reasons for using this term would become clear, they never are, but he does explain that the “Men in Black” are actually the line agents who — he’s sure — felt horrible about making the request for him to reengage Butina in July 2016.

I wish to emphasize this: the Men In Black are honorable men and women, and they were extremely discomfited by this request. There was no leering. They felt horrible. I think they wanted me to refuse it. They insisted that in their careers they heard never heard of such a request.

And Taibbi continues to struggle when he discusses counterintelligence.

Taibbi misuses the term “agent” (which in spying lingo is the person recruited, not the one doing the recruiting), while making a big show of not using it to refer to Butina, even though that’s the legal charge she pled guilty to. “(I’m not using the words ‘Russian agent’ because the term is misleading: Butina was not convicted of espionage).” He then calls the 18 USC 951 charge — with which Anna Chapman and Carter Page recruiter Victor Podobnyy were also charged with — a technicality.

However, the government never made an espionage case, charging her with an obscure technicality: acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

While we were discussing this on Twitter, Taibbi made a technicality argument Butina’s lawyers tried but failed to make during the prosecution, that this was just like a FARA violation.

Then Taibbi argues that the real scandal about this is that DOJ took ‘no real action … for nearly a year.”

Byrne’s claims would be explosive if true in the smallest part. For instance, the government asserted in Butina’s sentencing memorandum that her “actions had the potential to damage the national security of the United States.”

If Byrne told authorities about Butina in July, 2015, and no real action was taken for nearly a year, that would fly in the face of the government’s assertions at sentencing about the threat she posed.

Aside from how difficult counterintelligence investigations are and all the reporting that shows Obama didn’t respond aggressively enough to Russian efforts, Taibbi’s story explains what happened. And that’s that she tried to get close to a presidential candidate’s son, and all of a sudden her aggressive effort to get close to politicians began to look different, which is when FBI reportedly came back to Byrne and asked him to help gather more information.

Then there’s the documentary sources Taibbi relied on to carefully sort Byrne’s “hyperbolic storytelling:”

  1. The CNN and Fox coverage of Byrne
  2. An ABC report on the initial filing that suggested Butina was engaged in a utilitarian relationship with Paul Erickson that addresses both the claim the defense refuted and the one that the defense offered a far less convincing rebuttal of; it does not link the filing
  3. The CNN report saying that Robert Mueller interviewed Butina about JD Gordon
  4. Byrne’s father’s NYT obituary
  5. An SI report on Bison Dele’s murder
  6. A WSJ report on changes to short selling after 2008
  7. A link to the main FreedomFest site
  8. A Business Insider account of Trump’s speech at FreedomFest
  9. A link to the website for Butina’s gun rights organization
  10. A link to Rolling Stone’s coverage of Russia, generally
  11. A link to a subpage on CFR’s website
  12. A link to a NYT story that includes the picture of her posing with Don Jr
  13. A KY story of Butina’s NRA appearance from after she was arrested
  14. The government’s sentencing memo in Butina’s case
  15. A preview of Peter Strzok’s public congressional testimony that Taibbi claims also featured Lisa Page (Page testified privately in July 2018, but those transcripts were not released until March of this year, so if they changed Byrne’s mind about the investigation it raises interesting questions about who told him about her testimony)
  16. A report of a NYT report on the filing where prosecutors retracted one, but not the second, claim to substantiate Butina’s relationship with Paul Erickson was overblown (neither the report itself nor the NYT story link to the filing)
  17. A WaPo report on Judge Chutkan’s admonishment of prosecutors in a hearing where she nevertheless granted their motion to deny Butina bail; the story also described Chutkan criticizing Butina’s lawyers’ public characterizations about evidence
  18. A CO report on the offer to give Butina her own reality TV show
  19. A Newsweek report about a NYT story on Butina’s effort to get a jet fuel deal with an NRA official’s wife; Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, presumably has access to the emails the NYT story is based on, but appears not to have shared them with Taibbi
  20. A NYT Report on John Durham’s appointment to review how the Russian investigation (which Taibbi of course calls “Russiagate”) got opened
  21. A Market Watch report deeming Byrne’s story “one of his most bizarre statements yet”

21 links. That’s a lot! Except just one of them is to a filing from the case, and the three stories most critical to Taibbi’s points about Butina’s treatment by the press don’t link to court filings themselves, which takes some doing.

That’s utterly crucial, because Taibbi misunderstands how the question of Butina’s possible use of sex came up in the case (indeed, he miscites what the WaPo report on Chutkan said). It was not a document about her tradecraft. Rather, it was part of what prosecutors used to argue that her relationship with Paul Erickson was utilitarian and therefore she should be denied bail.

During the course of this investigation, the FBI has determined that Butina gained access through U.S. Person 1 to an extensive network of U.S. persons in positions to influence political activities in the United States. Butina, age 29, and U.S. Person 1, age 56, are believed to have cohabitated and been involved in a personal relationship during the course of Butina’s activities in the United States. But this relationship does not represent a strong tie to the United States because Butina appears to treat it as simply a necessary aspect of her activities. For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.

The second allegation in that paragraph — that she bitched to a friend about living with Erickson — was not credibly refuted by her lawyers. In the followup filing that Taibbi references in a link claiming that Chutkan “threw out the sex charge,” prosecutors note that,

Even granting that the government’s understanding of this particular text conversation was mistaken, other communications and materials in the government’s possession (and produced to the defense) call into doubt the defendant’s claim that her relationship with U.S. Person 1 is a sufficiently strong tie to ensure her appearance in court to face the charges against her if she is released.

Given Byrne’s claims to have told the FBI about his relationship with her before all this, the reference to her using sex and prosecutors’ suggestion it may have happened more than once appears to be parallel construction to hide something the FBI otherwise believed (that she had initiated a sexual relationship with someone Torshin sent her to meet at a time she was supposedly romantically committed to Erickson), but the source of which they were trying to keep secret.

Especially if Byrne described that sexual relationship to the FBI like he described it in his own account, by loading his description of how they first slept together with insinuations about how spectacular she is.

A gentleman does not normally say, but it would be ridiculous to omit, given how germane it is: when I arrived, Maria made immediately clear that she had not been pretending. She had indeed watched my videos, and thought I was pretty cool. She, the Greater Moscow Powerlifting Champion (amateur) swept me and my liberalism off my feet. I was helpless, helpless I say….

Well, not really. About the “helpless” part, anyway. The rest is true. And I will say this: Maria is a spectacular woman. An unforgettable woman. So as to avoid returning to the subject, I will state once that every tryst with Maria she astonished me with her intellect, character, and intentions for the world. Great props to Mother Russia, for producing such a daughter.

To keep Church Ladies from hammering me on message boards, and because it is relevant: For Maria’s part, she sounded like there were some big-shot Republicans in her life in America she was seeing, she was back and forth to Russia, nothing was too serious, etc. I didn’t really pry.

Taibbi’s story replicates such insinuation, quoting Byrne describing Butina as having “one in a million” drive and ability in the same sentence addressing the two becoming intimate.

Later, Butina and Byrne made an arrangement to meet in New York. “We became intimate,” he says. Byrne says Butina impressed him as a being “one in a million” in terms of her drive and ability.

If you’re trying to convince people a woman is not a trained Red Sparrow, separate your comments about how spectacular she is from your descriptions of how she seduced you. And if you describe her this way, don’t be surprised if the government then goes on to make similar insinuations in court documents.

In other words, it may well be that the government made this claim because of what they knew about the timing and specifics of Byrne’s sexual relationship with Butina.

Taibbi seems to believe that people didn’t take this story more seriously because journalists covering it had to address Byrne’s eccentricities, just like he had to. What he utterly misunderstands — perhaps because he relied on thirdhand reports of the investigation rather than the source documents — is that Byrne’s story makes Butina’s far more damning.

I don’t doubt the main thrust of Byrne’s claim, that he had a serial affair with Butina and after it had ended the FBI asked him to resume contact. I do, however, know (because I did cover the Butina prosecution) that his story that Butina told him Aleksandr Torshin sent her to seek out Byrne confirms parts of the allegations against Butina. And Byrne’s story completely undermines two claims Butina made as part of her defense: that she had no idea she needed to register as a foreign agent (he warned her she did) and that she was truly in love with Paul Erickson.

There may be real questions about what Byrne’s relationship was and why the government didn’t disclose it to Butina’s lawyers. But any story about those questions should — as I do here — mention that Driscoll didn’t do two things (ask in writing and ask the government’s witness at sentencing, who likely also knew about Byrne) to pursue those questions either. It suggests he suspected he might not like the answers he would get.

Plus, there’s the question about why, if Byrne changed from believing there was a 2/3 chance she was a spy in July 2018 when she got arrested and referred in terms that may reflect what he told the FBI to believing she wasn’t, he didn’t do something about it then.

But Byrne’s story actually makes the government allegations against Butina stronger, not weaker and none of Taibbi’s “careful sorting” of Byrne’s “hyperbolic storytelling” changes that.

Maria Butina’s Lawyer Changes His Story about Her Romance with Paul Erickson

There are a number of inconsistencies and sketchy claims (about who he thinks was targeted by the FBI and the timing of his disclosures) in former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne’s claims (Sara Carter’s story, NYT story, Fox Interview, Seth Hettena Q&A, Chris Cuomo interview) that he had been a “non-standard” informant for the FBI about Maria Butina.

The short version is that she sought him out in July 2015, telling him Aleksandr Torshin had asked her to do so, then started a sexual relationship with him, then later turned her attention to networking with presidential campaigns. All along the way, Byrne claims, he kept the FBI informed and acted on their requests regarding his relationship with Butina. Then, 9 months after she was arrested, in April 2019 and at a period too late to help her sentencing, he reached out to the FBI and first without counsel (in spite of his claim to Fox that a big Republican lawyer told him he’d go to jail for the rest of his life over this) and then with a lawyer told the FBI what had happened. He attributes coming forward to a conversation with Warren Buffet, though Buffet claims not to know what he was involved with.

I may return to the oddities in Byrne’s story.

For now, however, I’d like to examine what her lawyer Robert Driscoll has claimed about Byrne.

In a letter to John Durham, DOJ’s IG, and OPR (shared with Carter), Driscoll  suggested that he should have been provided details of what Byrne shared with the FBI as Brady information.

By email, letter, phone, and in person, the defense repeatedly pressed the government for any Brady material and was not provided any. In particular, we suggested to the government a strong suspicion that counterintelligence or other FBI investigators used confidential informants (“CIs”) in their investigation of Maria, and that information provided by such witnesses to the government might be relevant to guilt or sentencing. Moreover, we suggested that the government had presented Maria with one or more “dangles” — that is, orchestrated opportunities to provide the government  information unwittingly while being observed.

In writing, the government denied the existence of any such Brady material. Orally, during debrief sessions with Maria, I directly told the government that I believed Patrick Byrne, Chief Executive of Overstock.com, who had a sporadic relationship with Maria over a period of years prior to her arrest, was a government informant. My speculation was flatly denied. My associate Alfred Carry made similar assertions in a separate debrief that he covered and was also rebuffed.

Mr. Byrne has now contacted me and has confirmed that he, indeed, had a “non-standard arrangement” with the FBI for many years, and that beginning in 2015 through Maria’s arrest, he communicated and assisted government agents with their investigation of Maria. During this time, he stated he acted at the direction of the government and federal agents by, at their instruction, kindling a manipulative romantic relationship with her. He also told me that some of the details he provided the government regarding Maria in response was exculpatory — that is, he reported to the government that Maria’s behavior with him was inconsistent with her being a foreign agent and more likely an idealist and age-appropriate peace activist.

[snip]

Byrne evidently informed the government of many meetings with political and other figures that Maria had mentioned to him, often in advance of the meetings themselves. The government did not try to intervene or try to stop any meetings, nor did they express any concern. (This undercuts the government’s position at sentencing that Maria’s activities involved collection of information that could be of “substantial intelligence value to the Russian government” or pose a “serious potential to harm U.S. foreign policy interests and national security” as those same activities were observed and permitted for years.)

At some point prior to the 2016 election, when Byrne’s contact with Maria diminished or ceased, the government asked and encouraged him to renew contact with her and he did so, continuing to inform the government of her activities. Byrne states he was informed by government agents that his pursuit and involvement with Maria (and concomitant surveillance of her) was requested and directed from the highest levels of the FBI and intelligence community.

As time passed, Byrne became more and more convinced that Maria was what she said she was–an inquisitive student in favor of better U.S.-Russian relations–and not an agent of the Russian government or someone involved in espionage or illegal activities. He states he conveyed these thoughts and the corroborating facts and observations to the government.

Now, I absolutely don’t rule out the government withholding information that would be helpful to the defense. They do that far too often, and there are good reasons to doubt the prosecutors in this case. But Driscoll’s claim that this might be a Brady violation is premised on two things: first, that the FBI really considered Byrne an informant — which is what they denied when asked directly — and that the FBI considered anything he gave them to be exculpatory.

In fact, the story Byrne told is actually quite damning to Butina. From the very start, according to what he told Sara Carter, Butina was pursuing him, not vice versa. She told him, from the very start, she had been sent by Torshin and explained (credibly, given Putin’s interests) they were interested in Byrne because of his involvement in blockchain technology. And her offer of a trip to Russia with networking there matched her M.O. in approaching the NRA.

Byrne revealed details about his intimate relationship with the Russian gun right’s activist Butina. Byrne was a keynote speaker on July, 8, 2015 at Freedom Fest, a yearly Libertarian gathering that hosts top speakers in Las Vegas. Shortly after his address, Butina approached him. She told him she was the leader of a gun right’s organization in Russia. He congratulated her, spoke to her shortly, but then “brushed her off.”

The young redheaded Russian graduate student then approached him again over the course of the conference and explained that she worked for the Vice Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia and sent by them to make contact with Byrne.

She also said “Did you know you’re a famous man in Russia in certain circles? We watch your Youtube videos, we know about your relationship with Milton Friedman.”

She said she was appointed to lead Russia’s gun right’s group by Lieutenant-General Mikhail Kalashnikov, who was a Russian general, most notably known for his AK-47 machine gun design. Byrne says he considered the designation by Kalashnikov a significant honor, a signal of a kind he knows some mythical figures make on their way out. Byrne then had an “extensive conversation about Russian history and political situation.  Butina told him that the purpose of her visit was primarily to extend an invitation to Byrne to come to Russia to speak at the Central Bank. After that, there would be a trip to a major resort to meet with various intellectuals and dignitaries from the Russian power structure. Butina told Byrne the event would offer him the opportunity to meet senior Russian officials and oligarchs. She wanted to see Byrne again to start preparing him for such a trip.

Even more significantly, as Byrne tells it, after Butina first suggested she was using a romantic relationship with him as cover to explain their communications, she’s the one who first pushed sex.

He rented a hotel room with two bedrooms because he was under the impression that the romantic texts were simply her way to cover for communicating with him. However, she arrived at the hotel beforehand, occupied the room before Byrne’s arrival, and when he arrived,  she made clear that her flirtatious texts were not simply a disguise.

And Byrne claims he grew quite alarmed by Butina’s interest in networking with political campaigns.

“Eventually, her conversations became less about philosophy and it became clear that she was doing things that made me quite uncomfortable,” stated Byrne. “She was basically schmoozing around with the political class and eventually she said to me at one point I want to meet anyone in the Hillary campaign, the Cruz, the Rubio campaigns.”

Butina had also told Byrne, that Torshin, the Russian politician who she had been assisting while she was in the U.S., had sent her to the United States to meet other libertarians and build relations with political figures.

Byrne also claims he told Butina she needed to disclose her activities to the government, something that directly contradicts what Butina claimed repeatedly during the sentencing process, that, “If I had known to register as a foreign agent, I would have done so without delay.”

Byrne said he warned Butina: “Maria the United States is not like Russia, and knowing powerful people ‘like oligarchs and politicians’ won’t help if the FBI believes a line has been crossed.” Byrne believed Butina was naive but not blameless. He said during the interview, “If you’re reporting to any Russian official  as you’re doing this stuff and not disclosing yourself here, there are these men in black here and they don’t really give a shit who you know here -that’s not going to save you.”

It is true that Butina repeatedly told him she wasn’t a spy and Byrne ultimately became convinced that was true. But even in his description of that, he told Carter that he believed Butina was being used by US and Russian intelligence, not that he believed she had no tie to intelligence.

Although Byrne was concerned about Butina’s possible motives, he eventually became convinced that she was an intellectual being used by both the Russians and American intelligence apparatus. She was stuck between two highly contentious and secretive governments, he claimed. He relayed those concerns to the FBI, he said.

If that’s what he told the FBI, it does nothing to make her any less of an unregistered agent of Russia.

Very significantly, though, Butina’s involvement with Byrne during the period she was supposedly in a meaningful romantic relationship with Paul Erickson refutes the claims her attorneys have made about that relationship.

As I have laid out, from the very start, Driscoll portrayed the government’s claim that she caught Paul Erickson in a honey pot as sexism, with mixed success.

Then there’s the specific government insinuation that Butina was engaged in a honey pot operation. It substantiates this two ways — first, by suggesting she’s not that into Erickson.

Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.

It also alleges she offered sex for favors.

For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

Driscoll pretty convincingly argues the government misinterpreted this last bit.

The only evidence the government relied on for its explosive claim was an excerpt from an innocuous three-year-old text exchange (attached as Exhibit 3) sent in Russia between Ms. Butina and DK, her longtime friend, assistant, and public relations man for The Right to Bear Arms gun rights group that she founded.

DK, who often drove Ms. Butina’s car and thus was listed on the insurance, took the car for its annual government-required inspection and insurance renewal, and upon completion, texted (according to government translators), “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer.” Ms. Butina jokingly replied, “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.” DK responded: “Ugh . . . ( ”—that is, with a sad face emoticon.

Aside from the fact that Maria is friends with DK’s wife and child and treats DK like a brother, the reference to sex is clearly a joke.

We still haven’t seen the government response to this, but what Driscoll presents does support his claim this is a “sexist smear.”

But Driscoll’s dismissal of the other claim — that Butina disdained living with Erickson — is far less convincing.

[I]n response to her girlfriend’s own complaints about her boyfriend’s failure to call in three weeks (accompanied by an angry face emoji) that Maria responds that her own boyfriend (Mr. Erickson) has been “bugging the sh*t out of me with his mom” and that she has “a feeling that I am residing in a nursing home.” “Send a link to the dating app[,]”

Driscoll spins this as an attack on Erickson’s now late mother, but doesn’t address the central allegation that she likened living with her much older boyfriend to living in a nursing home. Nor that she started the exchange by saying “let’s go have some fun with guys!!!” because she was “Bored. So there.” Furthermore, Butina seemed concerned that her use of Tinder would become public because she logged in using Facebook.

Though he has been sharing schmaltzy videos of Butina and Erickson with ABC, Driscoll also doesn’t address the fact that as early as May, Butina was proffering to flip on Erickson in fraud charges in South Dakota, which would have the effect of putting her in a position to negotiate permanent visa status independent of him, while limiting her own legal exposure.

Even in her sentencing memo — long after he knew of her relationship with Byrne, according to his public statements — Driscoll claimed she moved to the US in 2016 so she could be in the same hemisphere as Erickson.

On a personal level, Erickson and Maria kept in touch after the 2013 meeting and she began a romantic relationship with him in the following year.

[snip]

She also wished to be in the same hemisphere as her romantic interest. So Maria and Erickson explored both educational and business opportunities for her. This is the genesis of the Description of the Diplomacy Project proposal referenced in the Statement of Offense.

Among the events Butina planned to attend as part of that Diplomacy Project was the July 8-11 Freedom Fest convention where she first sought out Byrne. And before she moved to the US, she was already involved sexually with Byrne, according to his claims.

The portrayal of Butina’s relationship with Erickson as true romance has long been suspect — not only did she offer to flip on him in May 2018 (in exchange for which she might have gotten a permanent visa), but she did flip on him months before her plea deal. But if Byrne’s claims are true, it suggests she was using sexual relationships to help network in the US, and it further suggests Driscoll knew that when making claims about the import of her relationship with Erickson. If the FBI did obtain information from Byrne they chose (justifiably or not) not to release to defense attorneys, it might explain why they believed she was operating as a honey pot: because that’s what Byrne told them happened to him.

In his public comments to the NYT, Driscoll explained that Butina didn’t want to settle down (the implication is, with Byrne; he has claimed she wanted to settle down with Erickson).

“I think she admired him, but I don’t think she was looking to settle down,” Mr. Driscoll said.

In his comments to Carter, he suggests that he suspects there were other sources for the FBI.

Driscoll said there was suspicion that the FBI did not disclose all the information it had on Butina and he stated that he believed “Patrick is not the only one” who was giving information to the FBI.

“We’ve thought of several possibilities and some we are more confidant than others. I’m firmly convinced,” said Driscoll, who shared numerous letters and emails with this reporter that he exchanged with the FBI.

A seemingly disturbed homeless man, Hamdy Alex Abouhussein, who has asked to submit an amicus brief in Butina’s appeal (the public defender whom Judge Tanya Chutkan appointed to make sure that Driscoll had no conflicts when she pled guilty, AJ Kramer, is representing her in her appeal) claimed (incorrectly) that he’s the reason Butina got thrown into solitary and that FBI used Butina as a dangle to entrap him. So he also claims to have tried to provide exculpatory information.

Plainly, one cannot tell exactly when, before accepting Butina’s guilty plea, did Judge Chutkan learn of the jail’s blocking of Abouhussein’s letters to Butina, including his pictures, or the FBI dangle operation. Moreover, as the plea hearing transcript shows, Butina responded to the Judge’s sequence of questions about effectiveness of each of her then-three attorneys3, including the just-appointed for the plea negotiations role, A.J. Kramer4, who was yet to meet Abouhussein (they met outside the courtroom after the plea hearing, see pre-plea email from Abouhussein to Kramer, exh 2). Upon information and belief, Butina approved her attorneys’ performance only because they, under DOJ’s duress and a gag order, never informed her of the FBI dangle operation and surrendered to the prosecutors’ intimidation by keeping the dangle operation out of the public eye and trial record5. Admittedly, choice was either a rock or a hard place.

However, Judge Chutkan did sentence Butina to 18 months in prison after the notice of Abouhussein’s Amicus Brief Docket No. 77 was entered, which means Judge Chutkan was t/me/y presented with the “FBI dangle” and “letters blocked by Butina’s jail” Brady issues. Per Rule 51, this Honorable Court now has a lawful duty to investigate the issue of the FBI’s dangle operation that intentionally built up an oligarch-connected naive student as a false spy before casting her sex lure to hook the homeless Abouhussein, who was attending a public event at the Heritage Foundation to eat the free lunch as usual. Had he swallowed the lure6, any Grand Jury would indict this HamdySandwitch of a spy couple with ties to Putin, which explains Prosecutors’ honeypot sex allegations tainting Butina upon her arrest. Only in America!

So, yeah, there are other allegations, but Driscoll is right to suggest Byrne is more credible than, at least, this one.

But if Byrne’s story is credible, then it’s not clear that it helps Butina, at all, because it undermines the story her defense has been telling for a year.

Given her repeated assertions she’s happy with Driscoll’s representation, it’s unclear the basis for Butina’s appeal. I think the government operated in bad faith when they asked for 18 months, but that’s not a basis for an appeal. I think Driscoll made a mistake both by not arguing more forcibly that given the most relevant comparable sentence on 18 USC 951 charges, that of Carter Page recruiter Evgeny Buryakov’s 30 month sentence, a 9 month sentence would have been proportionate for someone like Butina who was neither recruiting nor operating covertly.

I also think that if Driscoll really cared about the declaration from former Assistant Director of FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Robert Anderson Jr at her sentencing, he should have questioned what documents Anderson relied upon to judge that Butina was a spotter for Russian intelligence instead of deciding that, “I’m happy to leave the record as it is.” But if Driscoll had reason to believe the FBI had really damning information from Byrne that undercut his claims about Butina’s romance with Erickson, it might explain why he didn’t ask those questions.

The other day, Butina’s lawyer for her appeal AJ Kramer asked for an extension on his deadline to submit Butina’s appeal, which could mean he wants to add claims of Brady violations in her appeal (though he says he needs more time to consult the public record, and Driscoll and his associate Alfred Carry, by Driscoll’s own admission, never put their request for information about Byrne in writing).

But given Byrne’s public claims, it’s not actually clear that will help her case, as it mostly provides an explanation for why the FBI was so insistent on some of the allegations it did make.

John Ratcliffe and Accountability for a President Who Lives in a Fox News Bubble

Garrett Graff argues that, even given the list of indicted or otherwise disgraced former Trump officials, John Ratcliffe may be Trump’s most alarming personnel decision. I don’t disagree that the Ratcliffe decision is dangerous. But Graff’s argument made me realize something else about the pick. Ratcliffe is dangerous because he may render the entire intelligence apparatus useless, but useless for a purpose it is not currently supposed to serve.

Graff describes, accurately, what the purported function of the Intelligence Community is: to provide the President with the best possible information that he will use — the assumption goes — to make the best possible decisions for our country.

The biggest danger Ratcliffe poses is to the integrity of the job of director of national intelligence in the first place; the core principle of the intelligence professional is to speak truth to power.

The US spends $60 billion a year on the nation’s intelligence apparatus, a workforce of tens of thousands ranging from CIA officers and FBI agents to NSA cryptologists and hackers, NGA analysts, interpretation experts at the NRO, financial wizards at the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and much more.

All of that money and all of those workers share a simple uniting goal: To ensure that the president of the United States is, in every conversation and decision, the most informed, knowledgeable, best-prepared person in the room. They enable the president and his advisors to anticipate problems and opportunities; understand the mind, decision-making, and internal pressures of foreign leaders far and wide; know from satellites overhead, cables underground, and agents in the field what’s happening the world over—and why.

It’s odd, when you think about it, that you can have this enormous bureaucracy and the sole justification for it all, in statute, is to make the President smart. That’s not even practically how it works anymore — so many people in and outside that bureaucracy make decisions based off their work, and Congress increasingly relies on it too, that that justification seems rather odd when laid out like that. But that is what the legal justification remains.

Having laid out that accurate justification, Graff argues, correctly, that Ratcliffe’s record as a toady for Trump means he won’t speak truth to power as Dan Coats has at key times.

With a president so divorced from daily reality as Trump, it’s all the more important to fill the role of DNI with someone whose first duty is to puncture the Fox News fever swamp bubble that surrounds the White House, and provide real facts, grounded analysis, and ensure—to whatever extent possible—that the information that flows into the Oval Office and the decisions that flow out of it are informed and strategic.’

This is, technically, the problem, at least if you buy all the arguments about the function of the IC. If Ratcliffe shades the intelligence and tells Trump what he wants to hear, rather than what the IC believes to be true, then Trump’s decisions won’t be as rigorous.

Except if all that’s true — if the most important role of the DNI is to accurately convey the true intelligence the IC has created — then it doesn’t much matter who Trump appoints. That’s because it doesn’t matter whether Trump hears the truth or not, he doesn’t use intelligence anyway. He’s going to do what his gut and Fox News tells him to do, regardless of whether it flies in the face of reality. Hell, much of the GOP will go along these days, including our Fox saturated Attorney General, who has in less obvious but no less dangerous ways lost his grip of a reality independent of the Fox bubble.

What Graff seems to suggest is that Coats currently serves as a signal to the rest of us, a siren letting us know what reality is and when the President is defying it with his policy choices. When Coats tells us North Korea will continue to pursue its nuclear program in spite of all the photo ops the President stages, it’s providing us a tool to say he’s wrong, but it’s doing little (outside of Congress) to force the President to adopt a policy on North Korea based on what Kim Jong Un will actually do.

Of course, Ratcliffe is a problem for a bunch of other reasons. It’s not just that he will brief the President with false claims the President wants to be true, but he will order up the entire bureaucracy to replicate the false claims the President wants to be true, in defiance of known facts. He will fire competent people and replace them with people willing to serve up the false claims the President wants to be true; indeed, both he and Trump have already said that’s what he wants to do. He will also probably sanction the misuse of intelligence (he has already called for investigations into Jim Comey and others that have already happened, with unknown conclusions, which suggests he wants the outcome of those investigations to be different than what they are).

Those are all dangerous things. But that they present the real threat to the Ratcliffe appointment, they signal that the IC doesn’t actually serve the purpose laid out in statute anymore and that — especially in the wake of the Iraq War debacle (in the wake of which the DNI position was created, as a way to avoid similar catastrophes in the future) — the public has grown to expect the IC to serve as a measure of whether the President has spun free of reality (Obama did this most notably on Syria and Afghanistan).

There’s a hope, I think, that the IC can save us all from being forced to live in Trump and Ratcliffe and Bill Barr’s Fox News bubble, or at the very least, bringing Trump back from the bubble into reality.

If that’s really what purpose we expect it to serve, we need a dramatically different IC than we currently have.

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