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-19ICIG 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 971 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.

The Gina Haspel Honorary 2020 Intelligence Authorization Might Criminalize Linked In Resumes

The Intelligence Authorization for 2018-2020 is actually not named after CIA Director Gina Haspel. But it might as well be for the way it bears the marks of the first female head of an Intelligence Agency. It offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave for Intelligence personnel (a good thing!) and it also imposes a new rule prohibiting someone nominated to a Senate-confirmed position from making classification determinations about information needed to assess the nominees record, as Haspel did when she hid information on her role in the torture program during her own confirmation process.

But the Haspel related part of the authorization that has (rightly) gotten the most attention — such as in this NYT piece — is a move designed to dramatically expand the types of people covered under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which currently prohibits sharing the identities of classified intelligence officers who’ve spent time overseas in the last five years, to cover everyone — past or present — whose relationship with US intelligence is classified.

Most of the concern about the measure focuses — as highlighted in Ron Wyden’s concerns laid out in the bill report — on avoiding accountability for torture (his comment implicitly applies to both Haspel and torture architects Mitchell and Jessen).

I am concerned about a new provision related to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA). In 2010, I
worked to pass legislation to increase the penalties for violations of the IIPA. This bill, however, expands the bill so that it applies indefinitely, including to individuals who have been in the United States for decades and have become senior management or have retired. I am not yet convinced this expansion is necessary and am concerned that it will be employed to avoid accountability. The CIA’s request that the Committee include this provision, which invoked “incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI [Rendition, Detention and Interrogation] investigation,” underscores my concerns.

While I agree with Wyden that the intent of this measure is about shielding the CIA from accountability, I think the measure would have two other unintended consequences.

First, I think it more likely that Julian Assange will beat some of the charges against him. (Let me be very clear, for the charges this would affect — which I lay out under Theory Three here — I think this is a good thing.) The justification for the change liberated by Charlie Savage actually mentions WikiLeaks by name.

Undercover Agency officers face ever-evolving threats, including cyber threats. Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaksare willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI investigation, the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of “covert agent” no longer remains valid.

This language raises real questions for me about whether CIA really understands WikiLeaks, not least because WikiLeaks is not going to greater lengths than other media outlets to facilitate the sharing of information (what happens before and after that is another issue).

But one way or another, if this bill were to pass, it would pass after Assange got charged with disclosing databases of sensitive identities. (The timing on this is rather suspect: SSCI passed the authorization on May 14, Burr reported it to the full Senate on May 22, and Assange’s superseding indictment was approved by the grand jury on May 23.) It would be child’s play for Assange’s attorneys (and he has very good attorneys) to argue that the timing is proof that disclosing the identities of most of the people in those databases — who were sources rather than CIA officers — was not illegal at either the time he did it or the time he was charged for it. In addition, passing this bill would reiterate Congress’ belief, now in 2019, that it believes only US citizens should be protected in this way; Assange is accused of disclosing the identities of foreigners, not Americans.

So this law, if it passes, would likely make it easier for Assange to beat these charges, but make anyone else doing it — even if for good reasons and after considering the risk — a criminal.

It’s the other presumably unintended consequence of this bill that I think is even more problematic. It would criminalize all sorts of ways that former intelligence officials publicly identify themselves. The current law includes an exception for those who identify themselves as covert agents, meaning the expanded definition should not be used to prevent people from disclosing their own past affiliation with the agency (to the extent their Non-Disclosure Agreements don’t prohibit it).

It shall not be an offense under section 601 for an individual to disclose information that solely identifies himself as a covert agent.

It also generally requires malice on the part of the person releasing identities. Nevertheless, given the way that the government already uses past classified work to restrict people for the rest of their life, it is not inconceivable that the government would come to use this law to punish others who provide platforms for former intelligence personnel to talk about that openly, like Linked In. Imagine a situation, for example, where the IC deems making it easier for former intelligence professionals to find better paying jobs in the private sector to be, “a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence
activities of the United States.” In such a situation, Linked In might be charged under a newly expanded IIPA.

Given the vast number of former intelligence personnel who move into the private sector and the degree to which it has become commonplace to discuss those past affiliations openly, the criminalization of sharing of those identities poses a particular risk. That’s definitely not the point of this bill. But by lowering the bar for who counts as covert and making covert status permanent, it certainly could be used for such ends in the future.

The Dispute over the Accusation Maria Butina Is a Spotter Distracts from Clear Case She Should Be Sent Home

Let me start by saying that I think the government should put Maria Butina, who is currently scheduled to be sentenced Friday, on a plane and send her home. The impression given when she signed a plea deal is that she might get a six month sentence. She has cooperated fully — the government is submitting a sealed downward departure letter describing her cooperation — and the period of her cooperation has been extended a bit. She has already been detained nine months.

Even according to the government’s own sentencing memorandum, the defense can and should compellingly argue that she has served a fair sentence. The most directly relevant case the government points to in its memo is that of Evgeny Buryakov, one of the guys who tried to recruit Carter Page.

In United States v. Buryakov, No. 15-CR-73 (S.D.N.Y.), the defendant pled guilty to violating § 951, stemming from an agreement to take actions within the United States at the direction of a Russian government official. The parties agreed, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), to a sentence of 30 months of incarceration. The court accepted that agreement and imposed a sentence of 30 months.

Buryakov pled guilty, but after far more litigation, including some CIPA hearings. He did not (at least according to the public record) cooperate with the government at all. And while the government dropped some of their claims, they considered Buryakov as an undisclosed SVR Agent, someone who operated clandestinely as a trained professional, as compared to Butina, whom the government doesn’t claim is a trained intelligence officer and who operated overtly. The comparison with Buryakov, then, makes a solid argument that Butina should be shipped home immediately. She started cooperating early and the government deems her cooperation valuable. And the government agrees she’s not the same kind of clandestine spy that Buryakov was.

That, to me, seems like a slam dunk case supporting a just outcome, which would be for Butina to be on the next flight home.

All that said, I have a very different opinion than Butina’s defense attorneys on the government’s submission of a declaration from the former Assistant Director of FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, Robert Anderson Jr., accompanying their request for an eighteen month sentence. After the government submitted the declaration (which they claim they warned the defense about on April 10, though the defense complains they only learned Anderson’s identity on the April 17), the defense asked for it to be stricken, complaining that the government is submitting a new, unsubstantiated case.

Again, I think the government’s request for an eighteen month sentence is bullshit, given the facts that both sides agree on and the precedents they cite. And the defense is right about some of their complaints about Anderson’s declaration — most notably, that it doesn’t cite which case materials he relies on to make his declaration suggesting Butina functioned as a spotter for Russian intelligence.

But their complaints about the substance of Anderson’s declaration are made in isolation from the government’s sentencing memo. As such, they don’t address what I think are weaknesses of their own sentencing memorandum. Those weaknesses, put together with the claims the government and Anderson make, do leave the impression that the defense is trying to downplay Butina’s enthusiasm for a project that (exhibits presented by the government show) she believed would increase her own influence within Russia.

The defense explanation for Butina’s gun rights activism comes off as complete BS.

She returned to the issue of gun rights. Her father had taught her how to use a hunting rifle as a child, a hobby they both shared. Her gun rights advocacy had also been one of the most popular issues in her campaign for local office right after graduating, and she already started a small gun rights group in Barnaul. Using social networking websites, Maria was able to form a formidable group in Moscow, organizing demonstrations and protests, particularly on the issue of personal safety. Based on her admiration of western democratic freedoms, a group name was chosen: the Right to Bear Arms.

Notably, gun advocacy in Russia has little to do with gun advocacy in the United States. A hundred years ago, during the Russian Civil War, guns were confiscated by the precursor of the Soviet Union. With few exceptions, Russians today cannot carry or own most firearms. Yet, the issue of gun rights was important to Maria as a matter of self-defense, when for every five people murdered in the United States, there were fifteen murdered in Russia.1 For Maria, gun rights— however unpopular—was a means for personal safety, and Maria sought support for her advocacy from across the political spectrum. It didn’t matter to her whether the person was liberal, conservative, in government, or oppositional, and she had a slogan written on her office door that read “anyone who supports gun rights may come in, but you leave your flag behind.”

[snip]

As Maria’s group membership multiplied, she planned an annual convention for fall 2013, with similar gun-rights organizations from around the world invited to Moscow for the meeting. Torshin gave Maria the contact information for David Keene (a former NRA President), who Torshin met on a prior trip to the United States. Because Torshin did not speak or write English, Maria reached out to Keene to invite him and any other NRA members for her group’s annual meeting. Keene accepted the invitation and asked Paul Erickson to accompany him. Maria was elated.

This passage, and other parts of the memo, can’t decide whether Butina’s is a strictly Russian phenomenon or a way to solidify her ties with America. It admits Russia doesn’t support gun rights but doesn’t explain, then, the great support she got.

And the defense again claims that the government dropped all accusations she used romance for recruiting, except that’s not true. They never dropped the suggestion her relationship with Erickson was utilitarian — a claim bolstered by Butina’s willingess to cooperate against him and enthusiasm for returning home. And the defense discussion of the relationship between the two also rings hollow (as did their earlier efforts to make it look authentic), especially as it related to her project, Description of Diplomacy (a copy of which the government entered as an exhibit).

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.

If the only reason she came to the US was to be with Erickson, grad school by itself would have been adequate.

The exhibits included — even before you get to the Anderson declaration — are why the government’s sentencing memo comes off as more credible as to the substance. Perhaps most compelling are Butina’s repeated concerns that she and Aleksandr Torshin remain the people with the handle on the Russian government’s exploitation of the NRA and National Prayer Breakfast as influence channels.

Following the Gun Rights Organization trip to Moscow, the defendant and the Russian Official discussed the need to “hold the spot” now that “everyone has realized that [the Gun Rights Organization] is a valuable contact,” and she noted that there will be “attempts to seize the initiative.” Exhibit 2. Butina has since confirmed that she was worried about others within the Russian government or a political group or activist noticing that the contacts she had built with the Gun Rights Organization were valuable and cutting her and the Russian Official out of the loop.

[snip]

According to a document written by Butina after the event, in the lead-up to the National Prayer Breakfast, she and the Russian Official were promised a private meeting with the President of the United States by one of the organizers of the event. A copy of this document is attached hereto as Exhibit 8. This promised meeting never materialized. After the event, and Butina’s and the Russian Official’s failure to meet privately with the President, she was worried that another Russian national (i.e., not the Russian Official) would attempt to seize the initiative, as demonstrated in her Twitter conversation with the Russian Official:

Butina: It would be good if you could talk directly with the MFA or the administration. Before [Russian national who attended the breakfast] worms his way in there.

Russian Official: Everything will be fine. I already conducted the necessary informal consultations on Saturday. I just don’t want to overload Twitter, which is read.

We need to build relationships with the USA, but there are many who oppose this! . . . According to Butina, this other Russian national referred to was another member of the Russian government whom Butina feared would overtake her and the Russian Official as the primary Russian point of contact for the National Prayer Breakfast.

If all this networking was exclusively about being close to Erickson, why would Butina care so much that she and Torshin were viewed as the brokers of these links to the US? And this kind of competitive oligarch-focused influence operation is the modus operandi we’ve seen from much of Russia’s efforts in recent years.

That’s why — caveats about the form of the declaration, which Butina’s lawyers will undoubtedly emphasize if sentencing happens Friday — I don’t have much problem with Anderson’s explanation of how the Butina collected could — and likely was — useful for Russia. I also don’t think the evidence presented is — as the defense claims — all that new (indeed, some reporters are claiming some of the details — such as that Butina claimed to have input over who would be Secretary of State — are new, but they are not).

I do recognize it’s probably an attempt to parallel construct stuff FBI knows via other channels that — by having an ostensible outsider deliver — they can make intelligence claims in an unclassified setting. As such, it surely serves as an opportunity for those close to the FBI to lay out a counterintelligence claim about Russia’s methods, generally, as it was interpreted as by Andrew Weiss. But neither of those things change the fact that what Butina did doesn’t compare to what Buryakov did, and by distinguishing those details from Buryakov, Butina’s lawyers could easily back their case it’s time to send her home.

I think prosecutors are being assholes for not letting Butina go. Holding her any longer is not going to serve as a deterrent to Russia, as they claim.

But that’s them about being asshole prosecutors generally (and, presumably, trying to use this case to boost their careers). Whatever the narrative about why Butina did what she did (and, again, the government’s is more credible at this point), the assertions made by both sides still only justifies sending her home.

Update: Judge Tanya Chutkan has denied this request, noting that she offered to give them more time to respond to it, but they didn’t take her up on it.

MINUTE ORDER as to Mariia Butina: Defendant’s 102 Motion to Exclude and Strike the Declaration of Robert Anderson, Jr. is DENIED. Defendant has had notice of the government’s intent to call Mr. Anderson as a witness or submit a Declaration from him since April 10, 2019. The court “may appropriately conduct an inquiry broad in scope, largely unlimited either as to the kind of information [the court] may consider, or the source from which it may come.” United States v. McCrory, 930 F.2d 63, 68 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (quotation marks and citations omitted); see also United States v. Beaulieu, 893 F.2d 1177, 1179 (10th Cir. 1990) (“[C]ourts have traditionally been allowed to consider all sources of information in formulating an appropriate sentence.”). The defense did not request additional time to prepare a rebuttal to Mr. Anderson’s Declaration, despite the court’s willingness to adjourn sentencing in order for it to do so. Therefore, the Sentencing Hearing will not be adjourned. Signed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on 4/25/2019.(lctsc3) (Entered: 04/25/2019)

Eli Lake’s Serial Defense of Bibi Netanyahu’s Clandestine Tampering Makes Him the Poster Child Proving Ilhan Omar Right

I haven’t really engaged in the serial debate over what Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib should be permitted to say without being accused of anti-Semitism. Yes, as Muslim women, they are being selectively targeted, even as the President and Steve King make blatant racist comments with less pushback. But at least from afar, my sense was that the serial efforts to silence them have backfired, delineating (even as Bibi Netanyahu desperately shifts further right in a bid to retain power while being prosecuted for being a criminal sleaze) both the degree to which Congress has lagged the country in recognizing areas where Israel can and should be criticized and the degree to which a goodly number of American Jews agree with that. Omar and Tlaib will weather these attacks, I figure, and in the process, a lot of apology for Israeli human rights abuses will be exposed.

That was before I saw this astonishing column from Eli Lake. His specific attack — the purported complaint justifying the column — is that Omar has said, in several ways, that Israel has too much influence in Congress.

In response to a tweet from Representative Nita Lowey of New York, Omar explained that she “should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress.” The implication was that supporters of Israel in Congress were more loyal to the Jewish state than to America. The tweet followed an appearance at a Washington bookstore where she said she just wanted to talk about the influence of Israel on Congress without being called anti-Semitic.

Before he gets there, though, he rehearses past statements Omar has made that rightly were deemed tin-eared, but were also complaints about the influence of Israel in Congress.

That followed a tweet she sent last month suggesting that congressional support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”

Sensing a pattern? Omar has already had to apologize twice for her comments about Israel and its lobby. She didn’t know, she said, that saying Israel had hypnotized the world into accepting its war crimes might be offensive to Jews. She didn’t understand, she explained, how vile it is to say that members of Congress vote in favor of Israel because they are paid off. She says she opposes anti-Semitism but will not be silenced when it comes to the Jewish state’s pernicious efforts to shape U.S. foreign policy.

And before Eli Lake gets there, he first accuses elected Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — who, after all, is asking for a more balanced debate on Middle Eastern issues — of (!!!) “self-appointed policing of the national interest.” [my emphasis]

Now, before I go back and look at the truly disgusting accusation Lake makes of Omar because she opines that Israel has too much influence in Congress (Lake, down in paragraph nine, ultimately admits “criticism of the pro-Israel lobby is not in and of itself anti-Semitic”), let me talk about why it is so absurd that Lake, of all people, is making this attack.

Let’s pretend for the moment (I don’t agree, at all, but just for sake of debate) that Omar’s critics are right: that the language that she uses to criticize Israel’s influence on Congress continues to be anti-Semitic, which devalues her argument that Israel exercises detrimental influence in this country.

Now let’s consider how that argument comes from Eli Lake.

Lake has, twice, been the stenographer for complaints launched by Catholic congressman Devin Nunes about how the Executive Branch of the United States treats SIGINT capturing Israel’s efforts to undermine the official policy of the United States.

The second time was when Trump’s pick to be National Security Advisor, at a time when he was under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia, and at a time when he had not registered for serving as an agent of the state of Turkey, called up Russia’s ambassador to ask him to undercut the stated foreign policy position of then President Obama.

On or about December 21, 2016, Egypt submitted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council on the issue of Israeli settlements (“resolution”). The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to vote on the resolution the following day.

On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.

On or about December 22, 2016, FLYNN contacted the Russian Ambassador about the pending vote. FLYNN informed the Russian Ambassador about the incoming administration’s opposition to the resolution, and requested that Russia vote against or delay the resolution.

As Lake himself reported, this Jared Kushner-led effort was coordinated with Bibi Netanyahu, whose lackeys were sharing their own intelligence to try to defeat the stated policy of the Administration at the time.

This was the context of Kushner’s instruction to Flynn last December. One transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution. Much of this appeared to be coordinated also with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose envoys shared their own intelligence about the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts to get member states to support the resolution with the Trump transition team.

Now, not only did Mike Flynn (who was raised Catholic) call up the Russian Ambassador to try to thwart the policy of the United States, but he did so after someone in Trump’s transition told Obama that they would not undercut Obama’s policies before inauguration. When Flynn was asked about doing so by the FBI, he lied.

Those two attempts to hide this effort makes it a clandestine effort, backed by the intelligence of a foreign nation, to undercut the stated policy of the United States.

I mean, Devin Nunes was also upset that the Obama Administration caught Flynn and others trying to monetize policy considerations with the Emirates. But the 2017 panic over unmasking — sown largely by Eli Lake — has to do with Flynn and others being exposed for clandestinely working with foreign governments to undermine the stated policy of the US, and — at times in conjunction with that effort — to cash in on doing so.

Devin Nunes and Eli Lake think unmasking those communications was improper. (Here’s a tweet linking Lake’s series trying to claim this was some big civil liberties problem.)

According to Nunes as relayed by his scribe Eli Lake, the second unmasking panic built on an earlier one. The earlier one pertained (in part) to Israel sharing the intelligence it had collected by spying on Americans with Americans in an effort to undercut the policy of the President of the United States pursuing a peace deal with Iran.

Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations—learned through Israeli spying operations—to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.

As the WSJ (which Lake endorsed during our Twitter spat on this) laid out, unlike the Mike Flynn intercepts, the Obama Administration did not specifically ask for NSA to unmask any members of Congress; it let NSA decide what needed to be shared to make sense of the intercepts. But what NSA did share revealed how Israel was lobbying Congress to get votes to undercut the Administration. The intercepts also revealed which Israelis who had been privy to US classified briefings were leaking that information.

[T]he White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ ” a senior U.S. official said. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”

[snip]

Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. A day later, Mr. Boehner called Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, to get Mr. Netanyahu’s agreement.

Despite NSA surveillance, Obama administration officials said they were caught off guard when Mr. Boehner announced the invitation on Jan. 21.

Soon after, Israel’s lobbying campaign against the deal went into full swing on Capitol Hill, and it didn’t take long for administration and intelligence officials to realize the NSA was sweeping up the content of conversations with lawmakers.

The message to the NSA from the White House amounted to: “You decide” what to deliver, a former intelligence official said.

[snip]

The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.

[snip]

A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”

NSA intelligence reports helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential U.S. briefings. [my emphasis]

In other words, this earlier panic was handled the way surveillance is; it only became a problem because so many members of Congress, from both parties, were being caught up in calls with Bibi or his minions. That is, it only became a panic because Israel so aggressively and confidently believes it can bend the will of Congress.

Which seems to be Omar’s point.

So the second panic is based off a first one that deems normal surveillance improper because Israel generally and Bibi specifically so prolifically lobbies Congress that normal surveillance amounts to a breach of the separation of powers.

Which is why this thread started with me mocking that the chief scribe for Nunes’ complaints that Bibi’s efforts — in both 2014 and 2016 — to undermine the stated policy of the United States got picked up by the NSA.

After that, he spent the day complaining (seven times!) that I was writing a post on a breaking surveillance issue and doing an hour long conference call on surveillance, rather than explaining why spying on Bibi (and suspected foreign agent Mike Flynn) undermining stated US foreign policy wasn’t a civil liberties issue.

I hope you can see how Eli Lake, of all people, is not very persuasive in suggesting that Ilhan Omar’s views — that Israel has too much influence over Congress — must be silenced.

And Eli Lake, the chief scribe attempting to portray pretty exceptional efforts by Bibi Netanyahu to get Christians like Devin Nunes and Mike Flynn and Tom Cotton to undercut the stated policy of the US, doesn’t just scold elected Representative Ilhan Omar for being her, quote, “self-appointed policing of the national interest.” He also likens her — by spinning what his own actions prove to be Israel’s exceptional influence over Congress generally, including Christians — to David Duke.

Here is a Somali-American refugee success story, a woman who embodies the American ideal of citizenship not based on race, creed or religion. And yet, in barely two months in office, the Minnesota Democrat has repeatedly questioned the loyalty of Zionists.

Historically this kind of thing has been associated with the ugly nativist strain of American politics. David Duke famously called the federal government the ZOG, for Zionist-Occupied Government. A similar note was sounded by Pat Buchanan, who once called Congress Israel’s “amen corner.” More recently one finds this sentiment on the left: A few years back, the Center for American Progress parted ways with a few bloggers after they used the term “Israel Firster” to describe pro-Israel members of Congress.

I wouldn’t consider Devin Nunes or Mike Flynn or Tom Cotton to be Zionists at all (though Cotton is definitely a Neocon). But somehow Lake spins what his very career proves to be the case — that Israel exercises a great deal of influence in DC — to suggest Somali-American Omar is a nativist.

From anyone else, this would just be a stupid racist attack. But coming from Lake it is parody that nevertheless proves Omar’s point better than almost anything else could.

Update: Changed how I described Flynn’s FARA crime to match the timeline DOJ currently uses.

Bamford’s Silence about How Maria Butina Got Thrown Back into Solitary

A number of people have asked me what I make of this piece from James Bamford, pitching the case against Maria Butina as a grave injustice, just after Paul Erickson (who may be the real intended beneficiary of this piece) was charged in the first of what is likely to be two indictments, and as the government extends her cooperation by two weeks.

There are parts that are worthwhile — such as his argument that because Butina didn’t return a bragging email from JD Gordon, it suggests she wasn’t trying to recruit him.

There are other parts I find weak.

Bamford oversells the degree to which the press sustained the serial honeypot angle — after all, some of us were debunking that claim back in September, when he appears to have been silent — without mentioning the fact that Butina first started proffering cooperation with prosecutors, presumably against Paul Erickson and George O’Neill, on September 26. The word “visa” doesn’t appear in the article’s discussion of Butina’s status as a grad student, leaving unrebutted the government’s claim that Butina chose to come to the US as a student because it provided travel privileges that served her influence operation. Bamford (who hasn’t covered the Mueller investigation) grossly overstates the significance of Mueller’s choice not to integrate Butina’s case into his own investigation. He also falsely treats all counterintelligence investigations into Russia as one ongoing investigation (see this post for my ongoing complaints about virtually everyone doing the same). He suggests that Butina will need to be traded for Paul Nicholas Whelan, when the government has already said she’ll be deported once she serves her sentence (which will likely be time served). He quotes Putin’s interest in Butina’s case, without noting that Russia has only shown the interest they showed in her in one other defendant, Yevgeniy Nikulin. And those are just a few of the details with which I take issue.

But these passages, in particular, strike me as problematic.

Since August 17, Butina has been housed at the Alexandria Detention Center, the same fortresslike building that holds Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. On November 10, she spent her 30th birthday in solitary confinement, in cell 2F02, a seven-by-ten-foot room with a steel door, cement bed, and two narrow windows, each three inches wide. She has been allowed outside for a total of 45 minutes. On December 13, Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation. She faces a possible five-year sentence in federal prison.

[snip]

On November 23, 2018, Butina went to sleep on a blue mat atop the gray cement bed in her cell, her 81st day in solitary confinement. Hours later, in the middle of the night, she was awakened and marched to a new cell, 2E05, this one with a solid steel door and no food slot, preventing even the slightest communication. No reason was given, but her case had reached a critical point.

That’s true not just for the way Bamford obscures the timeline here — suggesting she was always in solitary — but because by obscuring that timeline, Bamford serves to hide that it was Bamford’s own communications with and about Butina that got her thrown back into solitary.

Butina’s lawyers laid out her protective custody status in a filing on November 27.

In addition to general population prisoners, the Alexandria detention center houses federal detainees awaiting trial before this court in “administrative segregation,” more commonly known as solitary confinement. This form of restrictive housing is not a disciplinary measure, but is purportedly used by corrections personnel to isolate inmates for their own protection or the safe operation of the facility.

[snip]

Between her commitment at the Correctional Treatment Facility in Washington, DC and then Alexandria detention center, Ms. Butina has been isolated in solitary confinement for approximately 67 days straight. Despite a subsequent release into general population that came at the undersigned’s repeated requests, correctional staff reinstated her total isolation on November 21, 2018 although no infraction nor occurrence justified the same.

The timeline they lay out makes it clear Butina was in protective custody from July 15 to around September 21, but then placed in the general population. The timeline is absolutely consistent with Butina agreeing to cooperate in order to get placed in general population (the motion to transport her was submitted September 21, so at the same time she was placed in the general population). The fact that the government uses solitary to coerce cooperation from prisoners deserves condemnation, and that definitely seems to have been at play here.

But even at a time she had active orders to be transported for cooperation (the court authorized a second request for transfer from late October through the time she pled guilty), Butina was placed back in solitary. The timeline her defense attorneys lay out, however, suggests that Bamford was incorrect in stating she was in solitary on her birthday on November 10. She wasn’t moved back to solitary until November 21.

On the afternoon of November 21, 2018, counsel received a never-before urgent phone call from a jailhouse counselor regarding Ms. Butina. The basis for that call was her return to solitary confinement. The undersigned called Chief Joseph Pankey and Captain Craig Davie in Alexandria in response. After conferring with them, however, it has become clear that the facility’s use of administrative segregation is a false pretext to mask an indefinite solitary confinement that is unjust and without cause.

Staff purported to base their decision to segregate on Ms. Butina referring a fellow inmate to her lawyers (that is, she gave her lawyers’ phone number to a fellow inmate), but staff did not find a disciplinary violation—major or minor. Chief Pankey and Captain Davie then resorted to the decision being “for her safety,” knowing that administrative segregation disallows an appeal internally.

As of the date of this filing, Ms. Butina has now been in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day for 6 consecutive days with no prospective release date. According to at least one deputy, the move to solitary confinement has also not been entered into the Alexandria detention center computer system, and Ms. Butina’s status is disclosed only by a piece of tape with handwriting attached to the guard stand.

And that’s important because of a detail that Bamford remains utterly silent about.

As laid out in a hearing transcript, around that time, the government recorded calls from Butina to “certain journalists” suggesting the journalist consult someone who had her lawyers’ first name.

DRISCOLL: The conflict raised by the government, I think the government does not think there’s been any violation of order by defense counsel, but due to circumstances regarding recorded calls that the government had of Ms. Butina and to certain journalists, the government raised the concern to us; and we wanted to raise it with the Court so that there would be no question when the plea is entered that the plea is knowing and voluntary, and we wanted to kind of preemptively, if necessary, get Ms. Butina separate counsel briefly to advise her on her rights, to make sure that she got her constitutional right to conflict-free advice.

[snip]

MR. KENERSON: The basic nature of the potential conflict is that this Court, I think, issued in an order back in September regarding Local Rule 57.7. The government has some jail calls from Ms. Butina in which she is talking to a reporter numerous times on those calls. She makes some references on those calls to individuals who could be — we don’t know that they’re defense counsel, but shares first name with defense counsel potentially acting as go-between at a certain point. That’s part one of the potential conflict. Part two is —

THE COURT: Wait. So, wait. Stop. Part one is a potential conflict. Do you see a conflict because you believe she’s acting at the behest of her attorneys or as a conduit for her attorneys to violate the Court’s order?

MR. KENERSON: It’s — someone viewing that in the light least favorable to defense counsel might be able to argue that this is some quantum of evidence that defense counsel possibly were engaged in assisting Ms. Butina in violating the Court’s order.

THE COURT: All right. But that goes to whether counsel, with the aid of his client, violated my — and I’ll use the colloquial term for it, my “gag order.” How does that go to — and maybe you’ll tell me; I cut you off. But how does that go to the voluntariness of her plea?

MR. KENERSON: So if there is an allegation that defense counsel assisting her somehow in violating the, again, to use the colloquial term the “gag order,” that would give defense counsel a reason to want to basically plead the case to avoid that potential violation from becoming public. And curry favor with the government.

Driscoll went on to explain why his client was talking to a journalist with whom she had a friendship that “predates all of this” in spite of her being subject to a gag order.

The circumstances, just so the Court’s aware, Ms. Butina has a friendship with a particular journalist that predates all of this. The journalist was working on a story about Ms. Butina prior to any of this coming up, prior to her Senate testimony, prior to her arrest, and had numerous on-the-record conversations with her prior to any of this happening. At the time the gag order was entered, I took the step of informing the journalist that, although he could continue to talk to Ms. Butina, he could not use any of their post gag-order conversations as the basis for any reporting, and the journalist has not, in any event, made any public statement or done any public reporting on the case to date.

Bamford’s own description of “a number of long lunches starting last March at a private club in downtown Washington, D.C.” make it clear he is the journalist in question.

Judge Chutkan was none too impressed with Driscoll’s advice.

THE COURT: Well, putting aside the questionable advisability of having your client talk to a reporter while she is pending trial and there’s a gag order present — and I understand you told the reporter that they couldn’t make any public statements, but as a former criminal defense attorney myself, I find that curious strategy.

Now, to be clear: Bamford never did publish anything on Butina during the period when the gag was in place (Chutkan lifted the gag on December 21). Even if Bamford had published something during that period, so long as Bamford did respect Driscoll’s advice that their ongoing conversations should be off the record, there was nothing Bamford could publish that would directly reflect her own statements.

And there’s very good reason to question whether the government threw Butina back into solitary because Bamford was reporting on her treatment. That is, it’s not outside the realm of our criminal justice system that Butina was placed back in solitary because a reporter had been tracking her case since before the investigation became public.

Instead of laying out the case for that, however, Bamford instead hides his own role in the process.

To be honest, I think the story is better understood as one about Paul Erickson and not Maria Butina. This story won’t help her at sentencing — that’s going to be based on her cooperation, not what a journalist who has already antagonized the government says about her. But it may help to spin Erickson and George O’Neill’s interest, as well as that of the NRA.

The public record certainly sustains the case that the government used solitary to induce Butina to cooperate — presumably to cooperate against Erickson and O’Neill. That certainly merits attention.

But then the government also used solitary to cut off Butina’s communications with Bamford himself. If it’s this story the government was retaliating against, Bamford should say that, rather than obscuring it.

This is a story about America’s reprehensible use of solitary confinement. But it doesn’t explain a key part of that process here. Given that the story seems to most benefit Erickson, I find that silence remarkable.

Mike Flynn’s Flip: You Don’t Need Your Cooperator to Testify If the Conspiracy Was All Conducted over Email

Perhaps the most remarkable language in the Bijan Kian indictment appears in both the conspiracy 18 USC 371 and the 18 USC 951 foreign agent counts. In both, the indictment alleges that Kian (referred to by his legal name Rafiekian here) and Kamil Ekim Alptekin both acted, themselves, and caused others to act as unregistered foreign agents.

To knowingly act and cause others to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 951;

[snip]

From approximately July 2016 through approximately March 2017, in the Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, the defendants, BIJAN RAFIEKIAN, a/k/a “Bijan Kian” and KAMIL EK.IM ALPTEKIN, knowingly acted and caused others to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, that is, the Government of Turkey, without prior notification to the Attorney General, as required by law. [my emphasis]

While not explicitly stated, the reference to Mike Flynn throughout the indictment as Person A — the only unindicted co-conspirator so identified — makes it clear that the government believes that’s what Flynn was doing, acting as an agent of Turkey. And the timeline for the conspiracy goes up to March 2017.

One of Trump’s top foreign policy advisors and, for almost a month, his National Security Advisor, was an agent of Turkey.

That fact, and the indictment as a whole, raises further questions about why Flynn got off so easy: a false statements charge for which he’ll do no time, unlike the 15 years his business partner is facing (though he won’t get that). And that outcome has raised still other questions about how Flynn could be useful to prosecutors, having admitted he’s a liar, yet having escaped all consequences for his actions. How can Flynn testify, commentators wonder, given that he was not charged for his role in the conspiracy?

Aside from quipping “flip early and often,” I think the Kian indictment provides clues — clues that I’ve long suspected have parallels in the Mueller investigation.

The indictment focuses just on the op-ed purportedly authored by Flynn that appeared in The Hill on election day, though we know Flynn’s company did more than that for Turkey. By focusing on the op-ed, DOJ can trace what happened with language Kian used to describe Fethullah Gulen. It was used in early August, before the conspirators started hiding the role of Turkey in the project.

On or about August 4, 2016, RAFIEKIAN sent an email with the subject “Truth” to ALPTEKIN and Person A stressing the need to begin work on the Truth Campaign. Referring to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, RAFIEKIAN said:

Let me give you a real life experience: 1978: A soft spoken cleric sitting under an apple tree in Neauphle-le-Chateau in France looked so harmless. Spoke of equality and spirituality, declared that if he were to gain power, he would go to a religious shrine and will not get into politics and governance. Sound familiar? Well, the world neglected to take the layers off the ink blot in 1978. One year later, from the place under the apple tree, The soft spoken spiritual man led the Islamic Revolution in Iran ….

The indictment then shows how the apple language appears in talking points for a key September meeting with Turkish officials.

On or about September 18, 2016, in preparation for the meeting with the Turkish officials, RAFIEKIAN sent ALPTEKIN a document entitled “Background and Talking Points,” which contained approximately twenty talking points for the meeting, all of which concerned the Turkish citizen, the Turkish citizen’s movement, or the Turkish citizen’s charter schools in the United States.

RAFIEKIAN’s “Background and Talking Points” contained the same “apple tree” comparison of Khomeini and the Turkish citizen that RAFIEKIAN had used in his email to ALPTEKIN (paragraph 13) when the project was still called the “Truth campaign” and in the “playbook” (paragraph 23) when RAFIEKIAN referred to the Turkish citizen as “X.”

And then the same language shows up in both a draft of the op-ed Kian wrote for Flynn to slap his name onto, and in the op-ed as it appeared in The Hill.

The apple language serves as the marker showing the continuity between the project originally explicitly backed by Turkey, at the time ironically named “Truth,” and the project after it got renamed “Confidence” as part of an effort to hide Turkey’s role by using Alptekin’s company as a cut-out.

And virtually every step of that process was conducted over email or other communication methods that the FBI could easily collect.

Flynn’s genius co-conspirators — at least in this particular foreign agent conspiracy — even sent emails that noted that they were hiding details in other written documents.

ALPTEK.IN further told RAFIEK.IAN, ”Needles [sic] to tell you but he asked me not to read in anyone else for the time being and keep this confidential.”

[snip]

RAFIEKIAN promised to send ALPTEKIN a contract, but noted that it “will not entail operational details for obvious reasons.”

DEAR FBI, they might as well have written, LOOK HERE FOR THE SEKRITZ.

At least as laid out, virtually all the evidence needed to convict the co-conspirators is written down. As noted, much of this was in emails (the word appears 33 times in the indictment). There were two conversations via Skype, a Section 702 provider, as well as one text sent via Skype. Flynn sent one text memorializing a meeting with Alptekin referencing one of the Turkish Ministers who were their real clients. There were multiple financial wires.

The only overt acts described in the indictment that could not have been captured by the FBI or collected after the fact were one meeting, some lobbying activities, and some weekly phone calls.

On or about the evening of September 19, 2016, Person A, RAFIEKIAN, ALPTEKIN, and other members of the project met in New York City with Turkish Minister #1 and Turkish Minister #2. The conversation centered on the Turkish citizen and the Turkish government’s efforts to convince the U.S. government to extradite the Turkish citizen to Turkey.

[snip]

In or about September and October 2016, RAFIEK.IAN and others involved in the project visited with and lobbied a member of Congress, a Congressional staffer, and a state government official in an attempt to depict the Turkish citizen as a threat who should be returned to Turkey and to persuade them to hold Congressional hearings concerning the Turkish citizen.

[snip]

On approximately a weekly basis during the project, RAFIEKIAN, Person A, and other Company A team members had telephone conference calls with ALPTEKIN to update ALPTEKIN on the progress of the project. [my emphasis]

All of those, however, also included other team members, members who didn’t lie to the government and aren’t being charged as co-conspirators.

That leaves one other key piece of evidence the government might have needed help to collect: communications with the lawyers who filed the false FARA filings.

From approximately January 2017 through approximately March 2017, outside attorneys for Company A gathered information to determine whether Company A or any of its employees had an obligation to register under FARA based upon Company A’s work on “Operation Confidence.” During this process, RAFIEK.IAN and ALPTEKIN knowingly provided false information to Company A’s attorneys in an effort to hide from the attorneys – and ultimately from the FARA Unit – the involvement of Turkish government officials in the project.

While Mueller was able to get a crime-fraud exception to get communications from the lawyer who did Paul Manafort’s false FARA filings, once Flynn flipped he could have voluntarily waived privilege to make those documents available to the government. Indeed, I wonder if that’s what’s hidden in a key redaction in Flynn’s cooperation addendum.

In other words, there is a non-liar witness (or document) for every overt act in this indictment. They don’t need Flynn to sit on the witness stand and describe the conspiracy, as laid out. They can just have his service providers provide authentication of all the communications and have his former colleagues testify, along with his lawyers, now freed of any privilege obligation.

Critically, for a national security investigation like this one (and, I assume, for the Russian one as well), I’m sure Flynn described at more length everything else that went on. But the government doesn’t need that information to prosecute these crimes (except insofar as his cooperation would have made it very easy to get warrants for the information Flynn didn’t hand over himself — and his own sentencing memo makes it clear he did hand over much of it). It needs that information for counterintelligence purposes.

And that’s why they were able to move towards sentencing without his testimony in court: because he may not need to give testimony in court. The government has secured other, more reliable witnesses for that testimony.

As I said, I’ve long suspected this was true of Flynn’s cooperation on the Mueller investigation, as well. When the government, in describing his cooperation, said his decision to flip “likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate” (which is followed by the last, entirely redacted, sentence in the memo), they are probably describing how by pleading guilty to lying himself, he led to their ability to get better, more reliable witnesses for much of the relevant testimony.

Update: Took out a reference to NSA; Alptekin may be a green card holder; if he is, he couldn’t be a legal 702 target.

DOJ Unveils Indictment against Mike Flynn’s Business Partner on Eve of His Sentencing

In its brief arguing that Mike Flynn’s lies were significant and willful on Friday, the government reminded that Flynn lied not just about discussing sanctions with Sergei Kislyak, but also about his FARA registration.

Moreover, as the defendant has admitted, weeks after the January 24 interview, he made materially false statements in filings he provided to another branch of the Department of Justice pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”). See Statement of Offense at ¶ 5, United States v. Flynn, No. 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017) (Doc. 4). The defendant made those false statements while represented by counsel and after receiving an explicit warning that providing false information was a federal offense. See, e.g., FARA Registration No. 6406, Flynn Intel Group (March 7, 2017), available at https://efile.fara.gov/docs/6406-Registration-Statement-20170307-1.pdf. The defendant was equally responsible for telling the truth to both Department of Justice entities, and under both circumstances he chose to make false statements.

It just unveiled the indictment (which was actually filed on December 12) that probably came of his substantial cooperation in a separate criminal investigation, against his business partner Bijan Kian. Kian got charged — along with Kamil Emil Alptekin — not just with FARA violations but with 18 USC 951, serving as an agent of a foreign government.

I’ll comment more on the substance of the indictment in a follow-up post. But I’m as interested in the timing, for two reasons.

First, in a comment in the addendum describing Flynn’s cooperation, the government had said,

While this addendum seeks to provide a comprehensive description of the benefit the government has thus far obtained from the defendant’s substantial assistance, some of that benefit may not be fully realized at this time because the investigations in which he has provided assistance are ongoing.

I took that to be a comment about indictments. Some districts premise a 5K letter like Flynn received on providing enough testimony to indictment someone else. The government was just a week short of indicting Kian when they submitted that filing.

The unsealing of this indictment (Kian’s arraignment was actually scheduled on the 14th) comes even as Turkey is claiming that Trump told Erdogan at the G-20 that his Administration is working on extraditing Gulen, the topic on which Kian was secretly acting in Turkey’s interest.

In an interview at the Doha Forum on Sunday, Cavusoglu asserted that US President Donald Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 summit in Argentina this month that the US was “working on” the extradition of [Fethullah] Gulen.

The exiled cleric, 77, has been living in a gated compound in eastern Pennsylvania after leaving Turkey in 1999. Erdogan has held Gulen responsible for the deadly attempted coup against him in 2016 — a charge Gulen has denied.

However, there’s no sign from Washington that the US is moving towards extraditing Gulen. Last month, the State Department said the US had received multiple requests from the Turkish government and continued to evaluate materials presented.

Cavusoglu also claimed the FBI had evidence that Gulen’s organization, known as FETO, “had been violating US laws, including tax fraud, visa fraud and also some other illegal activities.”

The circumstances of Trump’s meeting with Erdogan got some attention, as the White House canceled a formal meeting with the Turkish president, but did have a less formal, 50 minute meeting.  This indictment will presumably make it harder for Trump to fulfill that promise, if indeed he made it.

In any case, by unsealing this indictment today, it will make it a lot harder for Flynn’s lawyers to argue in his sentencing hearing tomorrow that his lies weren’t serious. By flipping, Flynn avoided being charged as a Foreign Agent.

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