Trump’s Shaky Privilege to Hide His Pence Pressure

CNN, NYT, and WaPo have now reported on why Evan Corcoran, John Rowley, and Tim Parlatore were at Prettyman Courthouse on Thursday afternoon. They were trying to support Trump’s invocation of Executive Privilege to limit testimony about his own actions and words.

CNN first confirmed the reason.

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys are fighting a secret court battle to block a federal grand jury from gathering information from an expanding circle of close Trump aides about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

The high-stakes legal dispute – which included the appearance of three attorneys representing Trump at the Washington, DC, federal courthouse on Thursday afternoon – is the most aggressive step taken by the former President to assert executive and attorney-client privileges in order to prevent some witnesses from sharing information in the criminal investigation events surrounding January 6, 2021.

The court fight over privilege, which has not been previously reported and is under seal, is a turning point for Trump’s post-presidency legal woes.

WaPo suggests this is primarily and NYT reports it is at least in part about getting Marc Short and Greg Jacob’s testimony.

One person familiar with the matter said that the dispute concerned the testimony of two top aides to former vice president Mike Pence — his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and former counsel, Greg Jacob. The men appeared before the grand jury in July and answered some, but not all, questions, based on Trump’s assertion of privilege, people familiar with the matter said.

But for the five people known to be involved — Short and Jacob, plus former White House Counsels Pat Cipollone, Patrick Philbin, and Eric Herschmann — the privilege claims would be closely related. Short and Jacob have refused to disclose conversations they witnessed between Trump and Mike Pence. The Two Pats and (to a lesser extent) Herschmann have refused to tell what they said to or witnessed Trump say directly.

Based on their January 6 Committee testimony, we know some very specific details about what the men have hid via privilege claims:

  • Greg Jacob declined to describe precisely how, in an in-person meeting on January 4 including John Eastman, Pence rejected Trump’s pressure to refuse to certify the vote certification
  • Pence’s aides had stepped out of the room when Pence spoke to Trump by phone on the morning of January 6; numerous people witnessed (and told the Committee) about the Trump side of it, but no one is known to have shared Pence’s side of it
  • Cipollone refused to describe how he or the other White House Counsels advised Trump to make a statement asking the rioters to leave the Capitol
  • None of the White House Counsels described precisely what they said to Trump about his Tweet focusing on Pence
  • Cipollone wouldn’t describe the conversations he had with Trump about rioters chanting “hang Mike Pence”
  • Cipollone refused to say that Trump was among the people at the White House who didn’t want rioters to leave the Capitol

There are surely other conversations of interest. If Cipollone shared directly with Trump some version of his advice that, as Cassidy Hutchinson described, if Trump went to the Capitol, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” including obstruction of the vote certification and incitement, it would be crucial evidence in any obstruction charge against Trump. I’m hoping, too, that the White House Counsels get asked about Trump’s offers of pardons to those who participated in his coup attempt.

Parlatore’s involvement in the Prettyman event may reflect more junior staffers who invoked privilege too.

The three outlets vary about how clearly they describe something that is obvious: If DOJ is moving to overcome privilege claims invoked to protect what specific advice Trump got about the legality or illegality of his actions leading up to and on January 6, they’re doing so with an eye towards charging Trump, not because they want to see whether Pat Cipollone was sufficiently alarmed about the implications of an attack on the Capitol. And just WaPo notes that this privilege claim — in the context of a criminal investigation and made within the Executive Branch, rather than (as with the January 6 Committee) between two branches of government — should be an easier question for SCOTUS than the decision authorizing the Archives to share Trump’s communications with the Committee.

Three more dynamics deserve mention. First, Marc Short, the one non-counsel known to be affected by this privilege fight, is represented by Emmet Flood, perhaps the lawyer who has best protected the prerogatives of the Presidency ever since he helped Bill Clinton avoid conviction with impeachment and helped George W Bush (and Dick Cheney) close out their Administration without bigger legal consequences. Flood may not even care about Trump at this point, but he cares about protecting the Presidency.

But the shenanigans Trump engaged in — instructing witnesses to invoke Executive Privilege without formally invoking it — may shift the posture of any dispute. DOJ was always going to come back and push for more testimony. But after much haranguing, Herschmann seems to have forced Trump to do what he had not before: put something in writing. That may either force Trump to go back and do so for the others, or may allow DOJ to get a privilege waiver for Herschmann that would implicate the others. That’s important because Herschmann might not wait around for any appeals of privilege waivers. All this is largely happening behind closed doors, but it may matter that at the end of this process, Herschmann forced Trump’s hand and that may give DOJ something more tangible to challenge before Chief Judge Beryl Howell. I sort of suspect that may have been the point.

Finally, if and when DOJ wins this fight (it should not be a close contest, and won’t be at least for Howell), it gets DOJ one step closer to considering whether they need Pence himself to testify.

DOJ is making an effort to get what — we know from public privilege invocations — includes a lot of damning evidence against Trump involving Pence. And has been clear since at least January, Trump’s pressure on Pence and his efforts to get the mob to pressure Pence tie the coup attempt and the attack on the Capitol together.

Only Eric Herschmann (and Maybe Christina Bobb) Learned the Steve Bannon Lesson

There’s a lot to unpack in this NYT story about the in-fighting on Trump’s legal team.

It confirms that prosecutors have asked to interview Christina Bobb and notes that she “added language to” the declaration that Evan Corcoran wrote about his search for documents “to make it less ironclad a declaration before signing it.” (If I had to guess, I’d say this pertains to the limits on the search having taken place at Mar-a-Lago.) The story proclaims ignorance about whether Bobb actually has testified. But the shift in how DOJ has discussed Corcoran — describing him claiming he “was advised” about certain topics in the search warrant affidavit, but then stating he “represented” those same topics at the June 3 meeting in their response to Trump’s request for a Special Master — is consistent with Bobb refusing to be made the fall-gal. DOJ’s assertion that Trump’s lawyers might be “witnesses,” plural, in their motion for a stay to the 11th Circuit also suggests some inside knowledge about things that another Trump lawyer may have done (note, the reference in the affidavit to Corcoran as FPOTUS Counsel 1 suggests another Trump lawyer is described in it later in the affidavit).

NYT also describes Eric Herschmann’s famously candid opinions, this time about the value of Boris Epshteyn’s legal advice.

“I certainly am not relying on any legal analysis from either of you [Corcoran and John Rowley] or Boris who — to be clear — I think is an idiot,” Mr. Herschmann wrote in a different email. “When I questioned Boris’s legal experience to work on challenging a presidential election since he appeared to have none — challenges that resulted in multiple court failures — he boasted that he was ‘just having fun,’ while also taking selfies and posting pictures online of his escapades.”

I have been wondering whether Epshteyn, in particular, were just exploiting Trump for his own objectives before he moves onto some other convenient vehicle for extremism after Trump is crushed by legal troubles inadequately defended, and this anecdote would be consistent with that.

But the larger story describes how Herschmann refused to simply just bullshit his way through privilege invocations before a January 6 grand jury. The story is based on an email thread in which Corcoran — who helped Steve Bannon get convicted of contempt — attempted to persuade Herschmann to follow the exact same approach to testifying that Bannon (and John Rowley client Peter Navarro) adopted with the January 6 Committee: To refuse to testify based off a claim of Executive Privilege that Trump had not formally invoked.

Incidentally, that’s the very same approach Trump has used before Aileen Cannon. Thus far it has worked like a charm for her. It has been less successful with every other investigative body.

In fact, Herschmann seems to have made precisely the same point I have in the past, to Corcoran (and Rowley): Executive Privilege doesn’t work the way Corcoran claimed it did when he was busy shepherding Bannon to a contempt conviction.

In his emails to Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Rowley, Mr. Herschmann — a prominent witness for the House select committee on Jan. 6 and what led to it — invoked Mr. Corcoran’s defense of Mr. Bannon and argued pointedly that case law about executive privilege did not reflect what Mr. Corcoran believed it did.

So after repeated insistence that he get a real privilege invocation and after refusing to discuss these things without a documentary trail, the morning before Herschmann would have testified, Trump’s lawyers acceded to Herschmann’s demand for a proper invocation of privilege.

After ignoring Mr. Herschmann or giving him what he seemed to consider perplexing answers to the requests for weeks, two of the former president’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran and John Rowley, offered him only broad instructions in late August. Assert sweeping claims of executive privilege, they advised him, after Mr. Corcoran had suggested that an unspecified “chief judge” would ultimately validate their belief that a president’s powers extend far beyond their time in office.

[snip]

Mr. Corcoran at one point sought to get on the phone with Mr. Herschmann to discuss his testimony, instead of simply sending the written directions, which alarmed Mr. Herschmann, given that Mr. Herschmann was a witness, the emails show.

In language that mirrored the federal statute against witness tampering, Mr. Herschmann told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Epshteyn, himself under subpoena in Georgia, “should not in any way be involved in trying to influence, delay or prevent my testimony.”

“He is not in a position or qualified to opine on any of these issues,” Mr. Herschmann said.

Mr. Epshteyn declined to respond to a request for comment.

Nearly four weeks after Mr. Herschmann first asked for an instruction letter and for Mr. Trump’s lawyers to seek a court order invoking a privilege claim, the emails show that he received notification from the lawyers — in the early morning hours of the day he was scheduled to testify — that they had finally done as he asked. [my emphasis]

So let’s talk about the timing of all this — and also about how Glenn Thrush, who is a politics reporter who knows fuckall about DOJ, keeps getting scoops about details that would be known to those being investigated, including this email chain that would be protected by the same principles of attorney-client privilege that Corcoran claimed to be vigorously protecting in it.

The emails were obtained by The New York Times from a person who was not on the thread of correspondence. Mr. Herschmann declined to comment.

According to a slew of reports, Herschmann was first subpoenaed around August 15. Given the timeline laid out in the story, describing that Herschmann asked for four weeks before getting a formal privilege letter, it would suggest he didn’t get a formal privilege invocation until around September 12 — days ago, perhaps even more recently than that.

According to an equally coordinated set of stories, the two Pats — Cipollone and Philbin, who happen to be law partners — were subpoenaed earlier than that. Those reports, which came out on August 3, eleven days before the stories about Herschmann being subpoenaed, described how there was some discussion about how to handle Executive Privilege claims.

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone in its investigation into the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

The sources told ABC News that attorneys for Cipollone — like they did with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — are expected to engage in negotiations around any appearance, while weighing concerns regarding potential claims of executive privilege.

As ABC pointed out, before he testified to the January 6 Committee, Cipollone made a similarly big fuss about Executive Privilege.

But when he testified to the Committee, Cipollone made specious privilege invocations to avoid testifying about the former President cheering violence, including violence directed at his Vice President.

UNKNOWN: My question is exactly that, that it sounds like you from the very outset of violence at the Capitol, right around 2:00, were pushing for a strong statement that people should leave the Capitol. Is that right?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I was, and others were as well.

UNKNOWN: Pat, you said that you expressed your opinion forcefully. Could you tell us exactly how you did that?

PAT CIPOLLONE: Yeah, I can’t — I don’t have, you know, I have to — on the privilege issue, I can’t talk about conversations with the President, but I can generically say that I said, you know, people need to be told, there needs to be a public announcement fast that they need to leave the Capitol.

[snip]

UNKNOWN: Do you remember any discussion at any point during the day about rioters at the Capitol chanting hang Mike Pence?

PAT CIPOLLONE: Yes, I remember — I remember hearing that about that, yes. I don’t know if I observed that myself on TV.

UNKNOWN: I’m just curious. I understand the — the privilege line you’ve drawn, but do you remember what you can share with us about the discussion about those chants, the hang Mike Pence chants?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I can tell you my view of that.

UNKNOWN: Yeah, please.

PAT CIPOLLONE: My view of that is that is outrageous. And for anyone to suggest such a thing of the vice president of the United States, for people in that crowd to be chanting that I thought was terrible. I thought it was outrageous and wrong, and I expressed that very clearly.

ADAM SCHIFF: With respect to your conversations with Mr. Meadows, though, did you specifically raise your concern over the vice president with him, and — and how did he respond?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I believe I raised the concern about the vice president, and I — and I — again, the nature of his response, without recalling exactly was he — you know, people were doing all that they could.

ADAM SCHIFF: And — and what about the president? Did he indicate whether he thought the president was doing what needed to be done to protect the vice president?

UNKNOWN: Privilege. You have to assert it. That question would —

PAT CIPOLLONE: That would call for — I’m being instructed on privilege.

[snip]

LIZ CHENEY: And who on the staff did not want people to leave the Capitol?

PAT CIPOLLONE: On the staff?

LIZ CHENEY: In the White House, how about?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I don’t — I — I can’t think of anybody, you know, on that day who didn’t want people to get out of the — the Capitol once the — you know, particularly once the violence started, no. I mean —

ADAM SCHIFF: What about the president?

LIZ CHENEY: Yeah.

PAT CIPOLLONE: She said the staff, so I answered.

LIZ CHENEY: No, I said in the White House.

PAT CIPOLLONE: Oh, I’m sorry. I — I apologize. I thought you said who — who else on the staff. I — I — I can’t reveal communications, but obviously I think, you know, — yeah. [my emphasis]

Cipollone invoked Executive Privilege to avoid revealing details about Trump cheering the violence directed at his Vice President and hoping that rioters would stay at the Capitol. Cipollone made those privilege claims on July 8, two months before the rough date when, after much badgering, Herschmann succeeded in getting a letter invoking privilege from Trump’s lawyers.

That’s the only known formal invocation of Executive Privilege Trump has put in writing regarding January 6.

And if Herschmann got that letter on September 12, he would have gotten it after the two Pats testified in one-two fashion on September 2.

Email chains like this — by any measure, clearly privileged — usually get leaked (to politics reporters) when legally exposed individuals are trying to telegraph to each other important details about their testimony.

And whatever else this story conveys, it tells anyone who has already testified and invoked privilege that Chief Judge Beryl Howell has recently gotten, and will be deciding on, the first known formal invocation of privilege. Howell will be asked to weigh not just whether a White House Counsel can invoke Executive Privilege in a criminal investigation implicating the President, a topic about which Bill Clinton would have a lot to offer. She’ll also be asked, generally, about the privilege claims lawyers are making about an event — January 6 — that the Supreme Court has already decided Executive Privilege, at least, must be waived.

If Howell rejects Trump’s invocation of privilege with Herschmann, then any claims of Executive Privilege that the two Pats made in their one-two testimony on September 2 would fail as well.

And Pat Cipollone is a direct and credible witness to Trump’s cheers of violence directed at his Vice President.

The effort to get witnesses to invoke Executive Privilege without any formal invocation that Judge Howell would review is not new. Trump has been pursuing this for a year, first with Justin Clark telling Bannon to bullshit his way through privilege claims with the January 6 Committee, then with unnamed lawyers persuading Cipollone to bullshit his way through testimony to the January 6 Committee, and most recently to Evan Corcoran — who had a front row seat to see that not even former Clarence Thomas clerk Carl Nichols would buy such bullshit — continuing to pursue such an approach even after it led directly to Bannon’s conviction.

Eric Herschmann, at least (and possibly also Christina Bobb) has learned the lesson of Steve Bannon.

That Other Bitter Jan6er about to Start Trial for Bringing Classified Documents Home from Work

There’s a guy in Florida who participated in the attack on democracy on January 6 about to go on trial on October 3 for hoarding classified documents in his home.

No, not that guy.

I’m talking about Jeremy Brown, the Oath Keeper charged with trespassing for January 6, but also charged with possession of illegal weapons and classified documents in Florida. Brown’s is an instructive example of what normally happens when a disgruntled former government employee hoards government secrets and allegedly plots the overthrow of constitutional government.

It started with a misdemeanor arrest warrant arising out of the January 6 grand jury investigation in DC, just for trespassing. Upon searching Brown’s house and RV, FBI agents saw several firearms and some grenades that cooperating Oath Keeper witness Caleb Berry had told investigators that Brown brought to January 6 in his RV. So the FBI got another warrant the next day to seize the weapons.

On October 19, DOJ indicted him for the weapons. They found a bunch of documents in a briefcase in that search, though, and after six months, they superseded Brown, adding four counts of 18 USC 793e, the same crime for which that other guy in Florida is being investigated.

It may have taken them six months to determine whether the 18-year old documents from a deployment to Afghanistan were still classified. Or — as explained below — they may have considered but decided not to charge him for a report Brown bragged about while drunk five yers ago. That process of deciding which documents to charge (what Brandon Van Grack revealed recently are called “Goldilocks” documents) takes some time and requires the input of the agencies whose documents would be charged.

That’s part of the discussion going on right now about the documents Trump took home.

Like many Jan6ers, Brown spent much of the last year challenging his detention and searching for increasingly MAGAt lawyers, ultimately settling on representing himself, pro se. Brown challenged the search of his home — but not the seizure of those classified documents. The two sides have also had a fight about how much of the money that Brown grifted by fund-raising off his arrest he or his girlfriend could access, rather than pay off his court appointed lawyer. Brown’s girlfriend also successfully fought to have a rifle belonging to her returned to her.

It’s not just Trump who tries to get their personal stuff back after an invasive search.

The case has only recently turned to the classified information that will be debated at trial. For example, the government is seeking to admit related evidence (called 404(b)), about the time in 2017 when investigators came to his home based on a suspicion he had classified information. They didn’t find the classified document in the place he permitted them to look, but he refused to let him search his whole house.

On October 17, 2017, Special Agents from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations conducted a voluntary interview of the Defendant at his residence, which was the same residence that was searched in this case. The purpose of the interview was to determine whether the Defendant possessed any classified information and, if so, to retrieve the information and return it to the government entity to which it belonged.

During the interview, the Defendant denied possessing any classified information, and he further stated that he did not recall telling anyone that he possessed classified information. The Defendant admitted that he had drafted a classified trip report about a missing soldier, and that he may have discussed that report with others. The Defendant stated that it was possible that he may have discussed this classified information with one of his friends while he was intoxicated, and that it was possible that his friend had misconstrued that conversation to mean that he had classified information in his home. Agents asked the Defendant whether he had that classified memorandum or any other classified information in his possession, and he stated that he did not.

At the request of the interviewing agents, the Defendant consented to a search of the storage containers in his shed, which he stated contained all of the items that he had removed from his office upon his retirement from the military in 2012. Agents searched the storage containers, and they did not find any classified information. Agents requested permission to search the remaining residence and other areas on the property. The Defendant refused to consent to the search of anywhere else on the property.

The government wants to introduce evidence of this earlier search as proof he knew he had the classified documents, fulfilling one element of the offense — precisely the same thing DOJ would do with the June 3 meeting if they were ever to charge Trump.

What’s more, the Defendant’s 2017 refusal to consent to a search of his residence for classified information further establishes his consciousness of guilt for the charged crimes, which is relevant to proving that he willfully retained the documents, as required by the statute. See 18 U.S.C. § 793(e) (“Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document . . . . relating to the national defense . . . willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it . . . [s]hall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”).

This is exactly how the June 3 meeting would function in a Trump prosecution. Before that, he might have been able to claim he didn’t know he had the documents or hadn’t refused to hand them back. After that, it’s far easier to make the case. That’s why it’s virtually impossible to charge Trump for 18 USC 793 for the earlier possession of classified documents.

Brown objects to that evidence coming in because, he says, the documents that he did brag about in 2017 aren’t classified in the form in which they were found in his briefcase, because he wrote them himself.

The documents that are the subject of the 404(b) notice allegedly were found in the Defendant’s possession along with the alleged classified documents are the subject of the criminal charges in the Indictment.

[snip]

The 404(b) documents that the Government chose not to charge the Defendant with, probably because in the form they are in, are not classified, were allegedly in the same briefcase as the charged documents. In 2017, the Defendant was discussing documents that he did have in his possession that he himself had marked “SECRET,” that he had authored, and that the Government decided did not warrant criminal charges for him possessing when they found the documents.

That’s probably not true: the documents are probably just harder to prove to be classified and possibly a good deal more sensitive, given that Brown was bragging about them.

Again, this is something we might see with a Trump prosecution: The government might charge less sexy documents that could be shared with a jury, but reference the far more damning ones stored with the charged documents.

The government has also recently turned to how they’ll persuade the jury, which is the ultimate judge, that these documents constitute National Defense Information. Here’s the standard the jury will be asked to consider.

To establish that the Documents contained “information relating to the national defense,” the government need show only that (1) the information is directly and reasonably connected with the national defense, and (2) the information was closely held by the government. See United States v. Campa, 529 F.3d 980, 1004-05 (11th Cir. 2008) (“‘information relating to the national defense’ . . . is limited to information that the government has endeavored to keep from the public”). The Supreme Court has held that “national defense” is a “generic concept of broad connotations, referring to the military and naval establishments and the related activities of national preparedness.” Id. (quoting Gorin v. United States, 312 U.S. 19, 28 (1941)).

To prove this, the government wants to have a witness attest the documents remain classified.

At trial, the government anticipates calling an expert witness to testify that the Classified Documents were and remain classified, and that, as a result, they were subject to access restrictions, specific handling and storage requirements, and other protections designed to avoid the disclosure of information and material relating to the national security.

They want the witness to explain the documents. While that person testifies, they want to share the documents with the jury under what is called a Silent Witness Rule. They’ll be handed binders — the one time I’ve seen this process, the documents were in the brightly colored classified folders like the ones Trump stole — with the actual documents inside, but then have to return the binders as soon as the witness is done.

As part of this testimony, the government’s expert will testify about the Classified Documents. To enable the jury to adequately weigh this testimony, the government will provide copies of the Classified Documents to the jurors. The Court and the defense will also receive copies of the Classified Documents. However, because public disclosure of the Classified Documents reasonably could cause serious damage to national security, the Classified Documents cannot be declassified for the trial.

[snip]

First, the government would provide each juror, the Court, and the defense with a binder of unredacted copies of the Classified Documents. The same process was followed in Mallory, 40 F.4th at 173, and it would enable the jurors to examine the Classified Documents while the government elicits unclassified testimony about the same from its expert witness. As in Mallory, the defense would be permitted to follow the same procedures during cross examination and/or with its own cleared expert, should the defense choose to retain one. Id. This procedure ensures that the jury has full access to the information it needs to fulfill its obligations. Id. at 178 (“But a review of the record reveals that the silent witness rule denied the jury none of the information on which Mallory based his defense.” (emphasis in original)). Second, the government will have Bates and line numbers added to the Classified Documents to enable the witness, the government, and the defense to direct the jurors to specific portions of the material.

While that happens, the public will have access only to heavily redacted versions of the documents.

The SWR is fairly controversial. In Jeffrey Sterling’s case (the one time I’ve seen it), it accorded the documents a kind of mystique and also limited the amount of time the jury could spend examining the documents, which weren’t related to the charged offenses in the case.

But (as the government explained) the SWR is one of the few tools the government has to prove to a jury that information is classified so they can hold someone accountable for hoarding such documents after he leaves government.

Because the Defendant is charged with violation 18 U.S.C. § 793(e), the government must establish that the Classified Documents found in his RV contain information relating to the national defense. Thus, the Classified Documents will necessarily be a part of the upcoming trial. Declassification of these documents is not an option given the national security risks presented by disclosure. Nor can the Classified Documents be redacted in a manner that would mitigate the national security risks, while also preserving the jury’s ability to meaningfully evaluate whether the Classified Documents relate to the national defense. This is exactly the sort of Hobson’s choice—protecting the national security versus pursuing charges under the Espionage Act—that CIPA was designed to prevent. See, e.g., United States v. Collins, 720 F.2d 1195, 1197 (11th Cir. 1983) (“Prior to CIPA, there was no way to evaluate the cost, by way of damage to the national security and the nation’s foreign relations, should the prosecution be initiated or pursued.”).

Brown is just an angry old former Green Beret who has been stewing on his bitterness with all the keepsakes in his RV. He’s not the former President. Though they both seem to spend a lot of time stewing with their treasures.

But the same complexities arise even in his case. And even with Brown, prosecuting someone for hoarding classified documents he brought home from work is not easy.

Update: Added more contextualization of how this would work with Trump.

Update: Another filing in the Brown case provided some context for how, the government claims, he left the Special Forces. He loaded some porn onto a DOD computer, did not contest the charges, and so was not permitted to re-enlist. DOJ ties the incident directly to the classified documents found in his RV.

While in the Special Forces, over the course of eight months from September 2010 to April 2011, the Defendant “knowingly and willfully placed approximately 67 unauthorized files on the [Department of Defense computer system] shared drive.” See Exhibit 1. The military determined that the 67 files that the Defendant had uploaded contained “pornographic photos and videos.”

On September 29, 2011, the Defendant received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (“GOMR”) for these actions, attached hereto as Exhibit 1. The GOMR determined that, but uploading pornography to the military computer systems, the Defendant had “compromised the high standards of personal conduct and exemplary behavior expected of a Senior Noncommissioned Officer and Special Forces.” It further determined that the Defendant’s behavior was “inexcusable and incompatible with the maintenance of high standards of performance, military discipline and readiness,” and had “demonstrated extremely poor judgment, a lack of self-discipline, lack of professionalism and set an extremely poor example for all Soldiers.”

[snip]

The Defendant’s commanding officer, wanting to ensure that the Defendant’s children would not lose their pension, intervened to prevent the Defendant from being dishonorably discharged. As a result of this GOMR, however, the Defendant was barred from reenlistment in the military.

The Defendant was angry about the GOMR, and he later claimed that the GOMR was levied against him in retaliation for the contents of a classified memorandum that he had written. The Defendant finished out his term of enlistment and retired from the Army in 2012.

And it provides more detail on how and where it found the documents.

On September 30, 2021, federal agents executed a search warrant at the Defendant’s residence and recreational vehicle (R.V.). In the bedroom of the R.V., agents located an ammunition carrier containing two M-67 fragmentation grenades. On a couch in the R.V., agents located an illegal short-barrel shotgun. Next to the shotgun, agents located a briefcase. Inside the briefcase, agents located photographs and personal papers of the Defendant. Among those papers, agents found a paper copy of a classified Memorandum concerning a missing soldier that the Defendant had authored, which was marked “SECRET,” as well as a C.D. marked as classified with a red “SECRET” sticker. Subsequent review of that C.D. revealed that it had numerous classified documents that the Defendant had retained from his time in the military.

If you believe the government’s story (though stories of how DOD disposes of guys like Brown are always suspect), he brought these documents home nursing a grievance, certain he was not fired for cause.

It’s another thing he has in common with Trump, I guess.

DOJ Prepares to Pull Multiple January 6 Threads Together

After Steve Bannon got indicted for defrauding thousands of Trump supporters, he complained to Charlie Kirk that 35 Trump associates had been raided the day before.

Bannon, unsurprisingly, was calling a legal request to provide information and testify truthfully, a raid.

But he appears to be right about the numbers. Over the last five days, multiple outlets have cobbled together the numbers that Bannon had ready at hand. Here are key reports:

  • NYT1, first reporting the focus on Trump’s PAC
  • NYT2, reporting 40 subpoenas and warrants for Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman’s phones
  • CNN, reporting 30 subpoenas
  • CNN, story on scope of subpoenas
  • CNN, story on Mark Meadows
  • CBS, reporting 30 subpoenas
  • ABC, reporting 40 subpoenas

Between those reports, they describe the following having received legal process:

  • Boris Epshteyn, a key Willard participant (the NYT claims he served as an attorney)
  • Mike Roman, who played a key role in ferrying fake elector materials
  • William B. Harrison, an aide to Mr. Trump in the White House and after his presidency
  • William S. Russell, who served in the West Wing and now works for Mr. Trump’s personal office
  • Julie Radford, Ivanka’s Chief of Staff
  • Nick Luna, Trump’s body man
  • Sean Dollman, who was chief financial officer of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign
  • Dan Scavino, Trump’s online brain
  • Bernie Kerik, who worked closely with Rudy on coup plans
  • Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager
  • Brian Jack, WH political director
  • Amy Kremer, head of Women for America First
  • Kylie Kremer, in charge of the Ellipse rally
  • Stephen Miller, Trump’s fearmongerer around race
  • Mark Meadows
  • Ben Williamson, Meadows’ aide
  • Poll watchers

In a potentially related development, the government moved to be able to share Brandon Straka’s sentencing papers with him and his lawyers. He avoided jail time by providing leads about some of the people subpoenaed, but likely wasn’t forthcoming about pre-January activities and aimed to limit visibility into his own finances, which (according to CNN) are included in the scope of this latest round of subpoenas.

There are several important takeaways from this news.

First, DOJ’s scope is broader than the fake electors, broader even then the financing of the coup attempt (which, remember, Merrick Garland said was under investigation as early as January 5). As CBS describes, some of these subpoenas cover events that have long been part of the investigation for rioters: how they networked at state riots and earlier MAGA rallies, and how they responded to Trump’s call for Stop the Steal in December 2020. Only, this time it asks for evidence about those who organized those events.

Virginia-based attorney David A. Warrington, who said he represents approximately a dozen clients who have been issued subpoenas, said the FBI was “very professional” when serving his clients. He added that the subpoenas his clients received are nearly identical, describing them as lengthy documents divided into sections and subsections. They cover issues related to “alternate” electors and election certification deadlines on December 14 and January 6, fundraising by the Save America PAC and the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally — but not the ensuing riot.

The subpoenas require individuals provide documents and any communication between themselves and Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell and Bernie Kerik, Warrington said. The subpoenas also demand recipients to provide any communication with dozens of individuals who appeared on slates of fake electors.

At least some of the subpoenas compel recipients to appear before a grand jury on September 23 at the Washington, D.C., district courthouse, Warrington said.

Mother and daughter Amy and Kylie Kremer were served subpoenas last week, according to Warrington. They are listed as “host(s)” on the National Park Service permit for the Ellipse rally on January 6, 2021.

As NYT describes, they also focused on speakers and security for the Ellipse rally and members of the legislative branch who were part of the planning.

According to one subpoena obtained by The New York Times, they asked for any records or communications from people who organized, spoke at or provided security for Mr. Trump’s rally at the Ellipse. They also requested information about any members of the executive and legislative branches who may have taken part in planning or executing the rally, or tried to “obstruct, influence, impede or delay” the certification of the presidential election.

As CNN notes, it also covers compensation and communications with DOJ.

Some of the subpoenas, including one reviewed by CNN, were broad in scope, seeking information on a range of issues, including the fake elector scheme, Trump’s primary fundraising and political vehicle, Save America PAC, the organizing of the Trump rally on January 6, and any communications with a broad list of people who worked to overturn the 2020 election results.

The subpoena reviewed by CNN seeks records related to compensation provided to or received from a list of people that included Trump lawyers and campaign staffers through January 20, 2021.

It also asks for communications with anyone in the Justice Department.

Many of these people have communications with members of Congress and as such will prepare DOJ to surpass Speech and Debate protections for relevant figures.

But there are ways that last week’s actions are still broader.

I assume that the probable cause that DOJ showed to seize Epshteyn and Roman’s phones tied to the fake elector plot. Ephsteyn was the focus of DOJ’s activities for some time and Roman played a key role ferrying materials between the players.

But it has become clear that DOJ is what I’ll call sheep-dipping phones: seizing them for one purpose and then getting separate warrants to obtain the same content for other investigations. That fairly clearly is what happened with John Eastman and Scott Perry, where DOJ IG seized their phones but (in Eastman’s case) Thomas Windom quickly got involved. The late date and the sustained focus on Victoria Toensing, whom Congress has never mentioned, suggests I was right when I argued that DOJ could use the seized material from Rudy’s phones for the January 6 investigation.

And in Epshteyn’s case, he has been centrally involved in another of Trump’s schemes for which DOJ has already shown probable cause: He has been centrally involved in Trump’s response to the investigation into stolen classified documents.

As a number of outlets have noted, this subpoena bonanza took place just before the 60-day period when DOJ will have to avoid any big public steps in its investigations. But they’ve just arranged to obtain plenty to keep them busy — and quite possibly, enough to emerge on the other side with the ability to start putting all these parts together: a scheme to attack our democracy and get rich while doing it.

Update: In a second CNN story on the subpoena bonanza, they describe that those who blew off the January 6 Committee are being instructed to turn over what the committee asked for.

The subpoenas also ask for the recipients to identify all methods of communication they’ve used since fall 2020 and to turn over to DOJ anything the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, has demanded – whether they cooperated with the House panel or not.

I’ve been anticipating that (and DOJ will have seized the phone records people sued to keep away from J6C long ago).

Update: Added a third CNN story.

18 USC 793(g): Aileen Cannon’s Order Would Not Forestall Flipping Trump’s Custodian of Records

Donald Trump’s lawyers (including the one who failed to understand Trump was exposed to 18 USC 793 and who subsequently made himself a witness in the investigation) are cultivating the belief that they’ve succeeded in stalling the investigation into their client’s efforts to keep highly classified documents in his office and storage closet.

Perhaps they have. I don’t know what will happen. Though I know their track record of predicting what DOJ will do, thus far, has been piss-poor.

What I do know is that nothing would prevent DOJ from interviewing — or even flipping — the Custodian of Records who used to be one of Trump’s lawyers in this matter.

DOJ’s motion for a stay explicitly states that Judge Aileen Cannon’s injunction against using the classified documents seized from Donald Trump for investigative purposes would not shut down the investigation. It lays out several things her injunction would not prohibit.

To be sure, the Court did not enjoin the criminal investigation altogether. For example, the government does not understand the Court’s injunction against the government’s review and use of seized materials for criminal investigative purposes to prevent it from questioning witnesses and obtaining evidence about issues such as how classified records in general were moved from the White House, how they were subsequently stored, and what steps Plaintiff and his representatives took in response to the May 11, 2022 grand jury subpoena. The government also does not understand the Order to bar it from asking witnesses about any recollections they may have of classified records, so long as the government does not use the content of seized classified records to question witnesses (which the Order appears to prohibit).

DOJ maintains that Cannon’s order does not prevent them from questioning witnesses or otherwise obtaining evidence about:

  • How classified records were moved from the White House to Trump properties
  • How classified records were stored after they were removed from the White House
  • What steps Trump and others took in response to the May 11, 2022 grand jury subpoena
  • Recollections about classified records not relying on those seized on August 8

One person who would know a good deal about these matters, and might have an interest in being rather forthcoming about them if she were interested in minimizing her potential legal exposure, is Trump’s Custodian of Records.

By title, at least, that person would know how classified documents were stored — in Mar-a-Lago and any other Trump properties — after they were removed from the White House. And few people would know more about what steps Trump “and his representatives took in response to the May 11, 2022 grand jury subpoena” than one of those two representatives, the one who signed a declaration certifying that:

Based upon the information that has been provided to me, I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following:

a. A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida;

b. This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena;

c. Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification; and

d. No copy, written notation, or reproduction of any kind was retained as to any responsive document.

I swear or affirm that the above statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

In fact, that Custodian of Records might have real concern she faced legal exposure for one or more crime tied to lying to the FBI:

And all that’s assuming the Custodian of Records isn’t one of the people who shows up on video surveillance moving boxes in and out of the storage room before the “diligent search was conducted” of those boxes.

If the Custodian of Records does show up on that video surveillance, than she might face legal exposure to:

If the Custodian of Records conspired to withhold 103 classified documents, of which 18 were classified Top Secret or above, that Custodian of Records might decide she really wanted to limit her liability in that potentially draconian obstruction-plus-Espionage legal exposure.

All the more so if the Custodian of Records believed she might also have exposure to charges under 18 USC 1512(c)(2) and 18 USC 1512(k) — each of which carries up to a twenty year sentence — for involvement in an attempt to prevent the January 6 2021 vote certification and recognized that information about such activities was of value to other ongoing criminal investigations.

NYT, in an otherwise bizarre story claiming the following in its lead paragraph…

A dark joke has begun circulating among lawyers following the many legal travails of former President Donald J. Trump: MAGA actually stands for “making attorneys get attorneys.”

… revealed this piece of news:

Ms. [Christina] Bobb recently retained a lawyer, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Being Trump’s lawyer — being Trump’s associate generally — seems to be a non-stop game of prisoner’s dilemma, a constant weighing of whether he’ll sell you out or provide means to loot the country with impunity.

Years ago, when Trump was President, that prisoner’s dilemma turned out to be pretty easy. He would pardon anyone who lied to keep him out of trouble. So no matter how grave your legal exposure, your real criminal exposure was just a few years (and that’s before Billy Barr started selectively freeing Trump associates under COVID release programs).

But Trump is not President anymore, and short of successful civil war, even in the rosiest possible scenario would not become President again until 2025. In fact, Trump’s own legal problems and his success shutting down women’s access to abortion even makes more immediate potential relief — in the form of a House majority that could undermine DOJ’s ongoing investigations — far less of a sure thing.

Trump’s success at stalling access to classified documents seized on August 8 — and his current lawyers’ rosy prediction they’ve delayed such access until Republicans might win one house of Congress — certainly would be part of that prisoner’s dilemma. After all, until such time as DOJ were able to use 18 Top Secret documents in an Espionage Act indictment, the Custodian of Records probably couldn’t be charged for 18 USC 793(g).

But as I’ve noted before, the Espionage Act was written to dramatically alter these kinds of prisoner’s dilemmas, both because affirmative knowledge of stolen classified documents is enough to reach criminal exposure, and because the conspiracy prong of the statute exposes co-conspirators — even ones who don’t share the same motive as the person who actually possesses a cache of stolen classified documents — to the same stiff punishment as the people who actually possess those documents.

So a smart student of prisoner’s dilemmas might understand that it doesn’t pay to wait to see how Trump’s current efforts at delay work out.

One thing’s clear though: DOJ doesn’t intend to entirely halt the investigation into violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction. Indeed, they have a fair amount of leeway to pursue obstruction charges while Aileen Cannon delays the other part of the investigation. And they have described next steps to include obtaining information uniquely available to Trump’s Custodian of Records.

Go here for emptywheel’s other coverage of Trump’s stolen documents and related resources. 

What Family Rifts at Funerals can Teach Us About Pardoning Presidents

Exhibit A of Step Two Behavior

Watching the coverage of the death of Elizabeth II, two questions seem to be on a constant loop. The first is political: “How will Charles change the monarchy?” The second is personal: “Will the funeral heal the rift between Harry and William/Charles/the rest of the family?” The discussions that follow, between television anchors, reporters, and “royal watchers” have provided me with great amusement. “Oh look: Charles said something nice about Harry and Meghan in his first broadcast after the Queen’s death! Perhaps all is well again!!” The wishfulness of the discussion — “Surely the funeral of their beloved mother/grandmother will bring the family together, and they can heal from the past unpleasantness” — says much more about the hopes that these media folks have and much less about the reality of how a family torn apart acts as a family funeral approaches.

As a pastor for more than three decades, I’ve never done a royal funeral, but I’ve done plenty of regular funerals, including those of matriarchs who had presided over a divided family. Most of the time, what I’ve seen is that either (a) the family members manage to sit on their frustrations with one another for a week or so as the funeral goes forward, and then they return to their earlier fighting, or (b) the funeral intensifies the fighting, as they argue about the decisions made around the funeral itself. Occasionally, the funeral does help to begin a healing process, as folks who have not seen “those monsters” in years are now in the same room for the first time again, and they realize that these other folks aren’t the monsters they have seen them to be in the past. It doesn’t happen five minutes after the burial, but with a willingness to work on both sides, healing is possible. But it sure isn’t the magic “If only Harry and William can sit next to each other at the funeral, everything will be fixed!” that so many commentators are looking for.

Which brings me to the other crazy question I’ve seen popping up more and more often between anchors, reporters, and political pundits. This is the question posed by Chuck Todd that NBC chose to highlight as they tease the Meet The Press interview with VP Kamala Harris that airs in full tomorrow:

Let me try to go to 60,000 feet. What do you say to the argument that it would be too divisive to the country to prosecute a former president?

Earth to Chuck Todd, and anyone else who asks this question: the country *is* deeply divided already.

Giving Trump a pass to “avoid division” is like that scenario (a) at the family funeral, except you are betting that everyone can sit on their frustrations not for a week but forever. Turning the question around — “Would it be too divisive to the country to give a former president a pass for illegal behavior?” — ought to make it clear how silly both questions are.

Step One in dealing with divisions — either at a family funeral or in national politics — is admitting your family/nation is already divided.

As an interim pastor, I work with congregations whose previous pastor has left. Maybe that pastor retired, died, took a new call elsewhere, or was run out of town on a rail. One of the things I often have to help the congregation deal with is conflict, either between the old pastor and the members, or between the members themselves. Whenever I hear “Yes, we had divisions, but now that the old pastor is gone, everything is just fine now” I have to figure out how get them to pull their heads out of the sand. “What’s going to happen when you disagree with your next pastor?” I ask them, knowing that for the immediate future, I am that next pastor. “What do you have to say to the folks around here who loved that old pastor and blame you for running that pastor off?”

Within the House of Windsor, simply coming up with the right seating chart at the funeral for Elizabeth will not wash away the pain that led the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to withdraw from royal duties and decamp to the US. Similarly, pardoning Trump, either by choosing not to prosecute or by an act of President Biden, will not heal the nation either.

What *will* help both the House of Windsor and the United States is to admit that divisions already exist.

Step Two in dealing with divisions, then, is to explore that divided reality. What, specifically, does that painful divided reality look like? What are the presenting issues, that anyone can see at the surface? What are the underlying issues, that lie deeper down, at the heart of the trouble? What are the triggers, that bring all that buried pain out into the open again? How is everyone being hurt by these divisions?

Looking at all that is not easy. It requires a willingness to dig into a painful past, to admit to past bad behavior (your own as well as that of others), and to accept just how bad things have gotten for everyone involved. Until you do that, all you are doing is papering over division and pretending things aren’t that bad.

In the US, the arguments about race and the causes of the Civil War are a perfect illustration of this. So long as a non-trivial part of the country denies that the Civil War was about slavery (“it was the war of Northern Aggression, fought over state’s rights”), our country will never be able to fully deal with how race continues to divide our country today. If you don’t think racism divides our country today, please go back to step one and try again.

Only when the divided congregation or family or nation has done the hard work of examining its own ugly past are they ready to move to Step Three.

Step Three is to look at what you’d like the future to be. What would a healthy House of Windsor look like? How would members treat one another, in ways that are different than what caused the fractures in the past? What would a healthy United States of America look like? How would those with different political views treat one another, in ways that are different from what caused the fractures in the past?

Step Four, then, is to figure out how to get to that future. That’s a conversation about rules, roles, and responsibilities, with unstated assumptions put out in the open and mixed expectations clarified. It’s about crafting behavior that rebuild trust, dignity, and belonging for everyone involved.

The big lesson in all of this is that THERE IS NO SHORTCUT.

You can’t just jump to step four, without doing all the work of the other three steps. You can try, but you’re just sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “La la la – I can’t hear you.” You don’t need to take my word for this. Just look at the House of Windsor.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were leaving their royal roles behind, that was Step One behavior. “Our family is painfully divided.” No more smiling masks, no more pretending all is well, and no more trying to ignore the pain.

When they sat down for their interview with Oprah, that was Step Two behavior. “Here’s what happened, at least from our point of view.”

Ever since then, the royal family had various private conversations to sort things out further, including such things as whether Harry and Meghan would be part of the Platinum Jubilee celebration last summer. (The answers at that time were that they were included in small family gatherings, but not the big public ones.) Now they are having similar conversations around the Queen’s funeral and the coming coronation ceremony that will follow in a few months. This is all Step Three and Step Four behavior.

To the extent that things are getting better for the House of Windsor, it’s because they’ve been working hard at Steps One through Three, not that they simply came together magically at a funeral and jumped to Step Four.

The US political press and political actors could learn a lot from the House of Windsor. Those who worry about prosecuting a past president need to recognize that this doesn’t cause division, but is a step along the way to healing – part of the hard work of Step Two that explores the divided reality in all its painful, ugly depth. The work of the January 6 Committee in the House of Representatives is Step Two behavior, and so is the work of the DOJ to investigate possible criminal behavior of the former president and his minions.

Until we as a nation are willing to honestly look at our ugly reality, we will never heal.

 

Hatchet Speed Arrested on a Small Part of his $50,000 “Panic Buying” Arsenal

Last month, I reminded readers that every single one of the 5,000 people in whom the FBI might still have an investigative interest relating to January 6 — even just the trespassers — could be the next Ricky Shiffer: a Trump supporter mobilized by Trump’s false claims of victimhood who attempted to breach an FBI office, only to be killed in a shootout with police.

That’s because there are 5,000 more like him out there.

I don’t mean, there’s a shit-ton of Trump supporters who could go postal at any moment. There are far more than 5,000 of them.

I mean, there are 5,000 people who participated in January 6 that the FBI might have predicated investigative interest in, but has not yet arrested.

That’s a fairly conservative number. In recent days, DOJ passed the 850 arrest mark for January 6 defendants. There are probably 1,500 to 2,000 more people who entered the Capitol on January 6 whose arrest would be comparatively easy (because their trespass is fairly easy to prove) who have not yet been arrested. There are probably 250 identified suspected assailants still at large (over 530 people, including those who’ve been arrested, are listed on the FBI site). And there were probably 10,000 people who breached the external barricades but did not enter the building that DOJ would only arrest if there were something extra — the political profile of Ryan Kelley or Couy Griffin, the pre-existing Deferred Prosecution Agreement of Owen Shroyer, conspiracy ties like Stewart Rhodes — to justify the arrest. Sure, the people who attended the January 5 rally, as Shiffer did, were more likely to participate in more radicalized online networks; those people weren’t in DC just to hear the loser of an election speak.

But at every moment that DOJ has been investigating the leaders that orchestrated January 6 (which provably started within weeks of the attack) and at every moment that DOJ has been investigating Trump’s other criminal acts, DOJ and FBI have been trying to deal with the growth of political violence that Trump has deliberately fostered. DOJ spent the weeks after January 6 doing triage, trying to arrest enough people to get visibility on the very real plans for follow-on attacks before or at the Inauguration. DOJ spent the year after January 6 trying to incapacitate the militia networks that served as an organizing structure for the attack. And DOJ has spent the last six months, as it turned more overtly to investigate several sets of crimes by the former President, trying to anticipate which of those 5,000 veterans of January 6 would, alone or in concert, attempt to reignite a civil war.

I hope that, given the Shiffer example, impatient people who’ve never bothered to understand the crime scene itself will remember that everyone they’ve dismissed for a year as low-level January 6 trespassers may be the next Ricky Shiffer. It’s easy to imagine that if you just arrest Trump all that political violence will dissipate. But that wouldn’t even have been true in 2019, if Mueller had indicted, and it sure as hell isn’t true now. And every step DOJ takes to get closer to arresting Trump, or even just hold the butchers like Fitzsimons who took up arms on January 6 accountable, the mob of people that Trump radicalized on January 6 remains an urgent threat.

In that post, I referenced an earlier one focused on January 6 misdemeanants where I explained why a similar misdemeanor arrest, that of Hatchet Speed, might be among the trespassing arrests that carried far greater significance.

One reason I said that is because a cleared defense contractor with ties to the Proud Boys — who in his arrest affidavit was described as just another face in the crowd — poses a particularly urgent concern.

This is the kind of guy — a cleared defense contractor who went to the insurrection with some Proud Boys “with whom he keeps in contact” — whose cooperation DOJ has used fruitfully in the past. He’s also the kind of guy who presents the ongoing urgent concern about our Deep State being riddled with militia sympathizers.

It turns out that, by the time the FBI arrested him for the DC crime, they already knew he spent the months after Joe Biden’s inauguration “panic buying” an arsenal of weapons and speaking approvingly of a whole ideological swath of terrorists.

That was disclosed yesterday in an affidavit unsealed along with an indictment for three unregistered silencers in Virginia (Seamus Hughes first found the arrest).

5. The FBI has obtained evidence that, in the months following January 6, 2021, SPEED purchased numerous firearms and firearm parts. In a meeting with an FBI undercover employee (UCE-1), SPEED made comments suggesting that he was “panic buying” during this time.

6. As reflected in ATF Form 4473s completed at the time of sale, SPEED purchased at least twelve firearms between February 11, 2021, and May 26, 2021 :

a. On February 11,2021, SPEED purchased an FN 509 (9mm pistol) from Vienna Arsenal;

b. On February 15,2021, SPEED purchased a Smith & Wesson Mod 10-6 (.38 SPL revolver) from Herndon Arms;

c. On March 12,2021, SPEED purchased a Glock 27 (.40 pistol), Mossberg 590 Shockwave (12-gauge shotgun), and Tikka T3X (6.5 Creedmoor rifle) from Vienna Arsenal;

d. On March 30, 2021, SPEED purchased a Sig Sauer MCX (.300 Blackout pistol) and a Benelli Supernova (12-gauge shotgun) from Vienna Arsenal;

e. On April 30, 2021, SPEED purchased a Sig Sauer Virtus (multiple caliber rifle) and Walther P22 (.22 pistol) from Vienna Arsenal;

f. On May 21, 2021, SPEED purchased an S&W Mod 60 (.38 SPL revolver) and S&W Mod 36 (.38 SPL revolver) from Vienna Arsenal;

g. On May 26, 2021, SPEED purchased a Sig Sauer MCX Virtus (5.56 pistol) from Vienna Arsenal.

7. Financial statements and other evidence collected in the course of the investigation reveal that SPEED purchased more than $50,000 at firearm and/or firearm part retailers, including the purchase of the twelve firearms described above, in the months after January 6, 2021. For example, financial statements from one of SPEED’s credit cards show that, just in the one-month period between February 15, 2021, and March 16, 2021, SPEED made the following purchases at firearms and/or firearm part retailers:

a. February 16,2021 – $4,109.00 at Silencer Shop in Texas;

b. February 16,2021 – $980.41 at Alamo Ammo in Texas;

c. February 16,2021 – $207.00 at Trex Arms in Tennessee;

d. March 3, 2021 – $668.99 at Reeds Family Outdoors in Minnesota;

e. March 8, 2021 – $194.90 at Greenacres Sporting Goods in Florida;

f. March 8, 2021 – $5,389.97 at OpticsPlanet, Inc., in Illinois;

g. March 8, 2021 – $100.42 at OutdoorLimited.com in North Carolina;

h. March 8, 2021- $215.31 at SGAmmo LLC in Oklahoma;

i. March 9,2021 – $1,137.29 at Ammo Freedom in Texas;

j. March 10,2021 – $1,919.99 at Guns Dot Com in Minnesota;

k. March 11,2021 – $80 in MidwayUSA in Missouri; 1

l. March 11, 2021 – $4,207.13 at SP & G Shooting Range in Virginia;

m. March 12,2021 – $660.99 at OutdoorLimited.com;

n. March 12,2021 – $290.74 at Armageddon Gear LLC in Georgia;

o. March 12,2021 – $297.80 at Freedom Munitions in Idaho;

p. March 12,2021 – $189.46 at EuroOptic Ltd Online in Pennsylvania;

q. March 12, 2021 – $695.00 at ESAD Arms LLC in Texas;

r. March 14,2021 – $568.00 at MidwayUSA in Missouri;

s. March 14,2021 – $374.12 at Silencer Shop in Texas;

t. March 15,2021 – $328.95 at Peak Case in Utah

At a meeting in March, Speed described to an undercover FBI officer how he liked to read Eric Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski so he could figure out how to improve on their game plans.

13. At the meeting on March 1, 2022, SPEED stated that he thought what Rudolph did was a mistake and that the bombing did not accomplish anything. But SPEED noted that Rudolph “was a right winger that got tired of what was happening and he wrote a book over his several year[ s] running from the FBI.” SPEED said that he “thought that was cool and … lover d] the fact that [Rudolph] can say what he did because he ha[ d] nothing to lose by writing [the book].” SPEED noted that he was “trying to find more books like that because [he] love[d] reading about people that are like ok, yeah, you’re assassinating bad guys, that’s cool, but if it’s approved then you’re always killing the small fry, you’re never actually going after the people who actually … ,” and then trailing off.

14. During the same meeting, SPEED also stated that he “like[ d] to read more stuff like that, like Ted Kaczynski,” who is commonly known as the “Unabomber.” SPEED stated the following (with my emphasis added):

Kaczynski wrote a manifesto and once again, like the stuff he did was not effective, but I can commiserate with where he was coming from. Because I think as people who can see their country fall deeper and deeper into wherever we’re going, we all know we have to do something so it’s useful to see what worked and what didn’t work. So, it’s useful to get into these people’s heads and you know, try and come up with a better game plan than they had.

15. During a meeting with UCE-l on March 15,2022, SPEED discussed Eric Rudolph again. In doing so, SPEED suggested Rudolph went wrong because he targeted rich people, when it is not about the money. SPEED said that instead it is “about power.” [emphasis FBI’s]

Speed spoke approvingly of kidnappings and talked about how he might pick victims.

27. In this conversation, SPEED continued by describing how kidnappings would be more effective than killing people. SPEED stated the following:

[K]idnappings are harder than killing people but they’re more effective. What I would love to see is you take somebody out, and they simply disappear. Nobody knows what happened to them. That means we can’t report on it, the media doesn’t know how to spin it. … And all of those people who were left behind have … no way to close that bridge, no way to know if they’re in danger. … We need to foster distrust within the opposite side, just like they do for us…. If you leave nothing behind, they never find the body.

This affidavit was submitted in conjunction with his arrest in June (and was the basis for putting him on house arrest with it). Since then, though, he has been permitted to attend weekend drill exercises as a member of the Navy Reserve at (!!!) Andrews Air Force Base.

Yesterday’s indictment feels like a stub for something else. It’s based on his possession, when he was arrested in June, of those three silencers. And while the government submitted his bond conditions in that docket, it’s not even clear whether he remained in possession of the three silencers after he was released after his June arrest.

EDVA started the paperwork to arrest him last Wednesday, September 2. That was two days after he requested to travel to Tampa Bay, ostensibly for a medical appointment, on September 11.

A number of militia members charged in January 6 are from the area. And Sarasota is where a lot of Trump’s — and Mike Flynn’s — post January 6 plotting has taken place.

This arrest presumably also derails any attempt Trevor McFadden would make (as he suggested he might back in July), at a scheduled status hearing on September 30, to accept a plea from Speed and release him with a hand-slap.

This is a man with a highly trained skillset and an arsenal who has been thinking a lot about terrorism in recent months. But before June, he was just another January 6 trespasser in the crowd.

NARA May Have Pre-Existing Legal Obligations with Respect to Documents Covered by Aileen Cannon’s Order

On Monday, Aileen Cannon told the government that it can only access 11,282 documents legally owned by the National Archives and currently possessed by DOJ to do an assessment of the damage Trump did by storing those records in a poorly-secured storage closet and desk drawer.

We’ll learn more in coming days about how the government will respond to Cannon’s usurpation of the President’s authority over these documents.

But I want to note that there may be competing legal obligations, on NARA at least, that may affect the government’s response.

NARA has been responding to at least four pending legal obligations as the fight over Trump’s stolen documents has gone on:

  • A series of subpoenas from the January 6 Committee that the Supreme Court has already ruled has precedence over any claims of privilege made by Trump
  • Two subpoenas from DOJ’s team investigating January 6, one obtained in May, covering everything NARA has provided to the J6C, and a second one served on NARA on August 17; these subpoenas would also be covered under SCOTUS’ ruling rejecting Trump’s privilege claims
  • Discovery in Tom Barrack’s case, whose trial starts on September 19 (DOJ informed Barrack they had requested Trump White House materials from NARA on April 5)
  • A subpoena from Peter Strzok in his lawsuit over his firing and privacy act violations

For all of them, NARA has a legal obligation that precedes Judge Cannon’s order. So if any of the material owned by NARA that Cannon has enjoined for Trump’s benefit is covered by these subpoenas and the Barrack discovery request, it will give NARA an additional need to intervene, on top of the fact that Cannon has made decisions about property owned by NARA.

I don’t hold out hope that the August 8 seizure has much pertaining to either January 6 investigation. Given that none of the boxes include clippings that post-date November, its unlikely they include government documents from the same period.

 

Plus, given the timing, I suspect the more recent subpoena from Thomas Windom to NARA pertains to materials turned over to NARA by Mark Meadows after the Mar-a-Lago search. Because Meadows originally turned those communications over to J6C directly, they would not have been covered by the prior subpoena, which obtained everything NARA turned over to J6C, which wouldn’t have included Meadows’ texts.

Meadows’ submission to the Archives was part of a request for all electronic communications covered under the Presidential Records Act. The Archives had become aware earlier this year it did not have everything from Meadows after seeing what he had turned over to the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021. Details of Meadows’ submissions to the Archives and the engagement between the two sides have not been previously reported.

“It could be a coincidence, but within a week of the August 8 search on Mar-a-Lago, much more started coming in,” one source familiar with the discussions said.

The second subpoena would have been served days after Meadows started providing these texts.

The possibility that some of the documents seized on August 8 would be discoverable in Barrack’s case is likely higher, particularly given the news that Trump had hoarded at least one document about “a foreign government’s nuclear-defense readiness.” Barrack is accused of working to influence White House policy on issues pertaining to UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that might be implicated by classified documents. If the date of clippings in a particular box reflect the age of the government documents also found in that box, then about 18 boxes seized in August (those marked in purple, above) include records from the period covered by Barrack’s superseding indictment.

That said, whether any such materials would count as being in possession of DOJ is another issue. They are currently in possession of team at DOJ that significantly overlaps with the people prosecuting Barrack for serving as an Agent of the Emirates without telling the Attorney General.

Strzok’s subpoena may be the most likely to cover materials either turned over belatedly or seized on August 8 (though his subpoena was scoped, with DOJ involvement, at a time after the FBI was aware of Trump’s document theft). It asks for:

  1. Records concerning Sarah Isgur’s engagement with reporters from the Washington Post or New York Times about Peter Strzok and/or Lisa Page on or about December 1 and 2, 2017.
  2. Records dated July 1, 2017 through December 12, 2017 concerning or reflecting any communications with members of the press related to Peter Strzok and/or Lisa Page.
  3. Records dated July 1, 2017 through December 12, 2017 concerning or reflecting text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
  4. Records dated July 1, 2017 through August 9, 2018 concerning Peter Strzok’s employment at the FBI.

That materials covered by this subpoena made their way at some point to Mar-a-Lago is likely. That’s because of the obsession with records relating to Crossfire Hurricane in the days when Trump was stealing documents — virtually all of those would “concern” Strzok’s FBI employment.

In Mr. Trump’s last weeks in office, Mr. Meadows, with the president’s blessing, prodded federal law enforcement agencies to declassify a binder of Crossfire Hurricane materials that included unreleased information about the F.B.I.’s investigative steps and text messages between two former top F.B.I. officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who had sharply criticized Mr. Trump in their private communications during the 2016 election.

The F.B.I. worried that releasing more information could compromise the bureau, according to people familiar with the debate. Mr. Meadows dismissed those arguments, saying that Mr. Trump himself wanted the information declassified and disseminated, they said.

Just three days before Mr. Trump’s last day in office, the White House and the F.B.I. settled on a set of redactions, and Mr. Trump declassified the rest of the binder. Mr. Meadows intended to give the binder to at least one conservative journalist, according to multiple people familiar with his plan. But he reversed course after Justice Department officials pointed out that disseminating the messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page could run afoul of privacy law, opening officials up to suits.

None of those documents or any other materials pertaining to the Russia investigation were believed to be in the cache of documents recovered by the F.B.I. during the search of Mar-a-Lago, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Side note: NYT’s sources are blowing smoke when they suggest DOJ under Trump would avoid new Privacy Act violations against Strzok and Page; a set of texts DOJ released on September 24, 2020 as part of Jeffrey Jensen’s effort to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution had already constituted a new Privacy Act violation against them.

Notably, Strzok has been pursuing records about a January 22, 2018 meeting Jeff Sessions and Matt Whitaker attended at the White House.

Hours after that meeting (and a half hour call, from 3:20 to 3:50, between then Congressman Mark Meadows and the Attorney General), Jeff Sessions issued a press release about Strzok and Lisa Page.

Discovery has confirmed that the Attorney General released a press statement via email from Ms. Isgur to select reporters between 5:20 and 8:10 PM on January 22, roughly three hours after Attorney General Sessions returned from the White House. The statements promised, “If any wrongdoing were to be found to have caused this gap [in text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page], appropriate legal disciplinary action measure will be taken” and that the Department of Justice would “leave no stone unturned.” (See, e.g., Exhibit F). Based on Mr. Strzok’s review of the documents, it does not appear that this statement was planned prior to the January 22 White House meeting. It is not apparent from the documents produced in this action what deliberation lead to the issuance of that statement. For example, Mr. Strzok has not identified any drafts of the press release.

Any back-up to the White House side of that meeting — whether it has made its way back to NARA or not — would be included within the scope of Strzok’s subpoena. And even if NYT’s sources are correct that no Crossfire Hurricane documents were included among those seized in August (an uncertain claim given how much lying to the press Trump’s people have been doing), records covering Strzok’s firing would be broader than that.

The red rectangles, above, show the 17 documents seized in August for which the clippings would be in the temporal scope of Strzok’s subpoena.

I have no idea what happens if some of the boxes seized on August 8 include material responsive to these legal demands on NARA.

But if those boxes do include such materials, then it presents a competing — and pre-exisitng — legal obligation on the lawful owner of these records.

Update: Viget alerted me that I had not put an “X” by the leatherbound box reflecting its classified contents. I’ve fixed that!

The FBI Seized No Boxes with Press Clippings that Postdate November 2020

As I noted in this post, the government wrote their May 11 subpoena to cover all government records in Trump’s possession, not just those that had come from the White House and not just those that were in Florida.

Although the SDFL Motion indicates that FPOTUS directed his staff to conduct a review of boxes moved “from the White House to Florida,” the subpoena was not so limited, instead seeking “[a]ny and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings,” without limitation to where they were stored.

They clearly believed then that some of the documents Trump stole might not be at Mar-a-Lago. Indeed, Evan Corcoran’s insistence on June 3 that he was instructed to search only the records that had moved from the White House to Florida may have exacerbated that concern.

That makes something revealed in the more detailed inventory released yesterday more alarming.

None of the boxes seized by the FBI include press clippings that postdate November 2020.

 

The most innocent explanation anyone has offered for Trump’s theft of government documents — call it the Maggie Haberman theory of compulsive pack-rattery — is that Trump just kept making piles of documents, including both news articles and Top Secret government documents, on the dining room table where he preferred to work. Those stacks got put into boxes, and staffers kept swapping out the boxes as they filled up. That was the filing system employed by the most powerful man in the world.

That explanation does seem to accord with many of the boxes of the detailed inventory. In the inventory, the FBI counted every fucking clipping Trump kept, along with the dates. Over the last month, FBI Agents have cataloged 1,673 clippings, dating back to October 1995, that were stored with government documents. Every box has at least one press clipping; even Trump’s leatherbound box of treasures had almost 100 clippings stored alongside his Top Secret/SCI documents. And if you track the entire inventory by the date ranges of the press clippings, you see that those boxes overlap.

There seems to have been no Chief of Staff, not even retired General John Kelly, who could cure him of the habit.

But none of those boxes — not even the collection including 357 government documents seized from his office (see item 4) — includes a single clipping that post-dates November 2020.

There are no clippings from the final two months of his Presidency — the months he plotted a coup.

And so if we adhere to the Maggie Haberman theory of compulsive pack-rattery, the most innocent explanation for Trump’s theft of government documents, there may still a serious problem. Because if every box in which Trump stored government documents should also have press clippings he read at the same time as those government documents, it means there would be no government documents at Mar-a-Lago from the period when Trump was plotting a coup.

Perhaps Trump already turned in those boxes. Perhaps the post-November 2020 press clippings were delivered to the Archives on January 17, 2022, just a year late.

But Paul Sperry said that the reason Trump was withholding records from the Archives was to keep documents of interest to the January 6 Committee from being available to the Archives that it might turn over to the Committee. (h/t Ron Filipkowski)

And if the dates of the clippings in the boxes are any indication of the dates of the records in the boxes, then it suggests the FBI may still not have all the records Trump stole from the White House. Indeed, it suggests the FBI might still be missing some of the most important records, not just for the January 6 Committee’s work, but also for our understanding of key policy steps Trump took in that period, including developments in the Abraham Accords and possibly even Trump’s withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty (which happened close to the end of November 2020). This is the period, too, when Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller cut off briefings to the incoming Biden folks.

Again, there may be an innocent explanation for the fact that the FBI seized no press clippings from after November. But the absence of any clippings from after that date — not one! — is the most remarkable thing disclosed by the detailed inventory.

Kellye SoRelle: Oath Keeper Capper or Potential Pivot?

The government arrested Kellye SoRelle yesterday via an indictment charging three counts of obstruction and one count of trespassing. She’s best known as the lawyer for the Oath Keepers, though for a period she was acting as the President of the militia.

That she was arrested was not surprising. It has been known for some time that she’s the person who advised Rhodes to start deleting evidence of his activities on January 6, which he and others did. She even admitted it to MoJo’s Dan Friedman. Those who did delete their comms have all been charged for deleting evidence. The government even included that in Joshua James’ statement of offense, who is now cooperating with the government.

On January 8, 2021, James received a Signal message, in a group chat that included Rhodes, from an individual he understood to be an attorney for the Oath Keepers that stated, “STEWART: YOU ALL NEED TO DELETE ANY OF YOUR COMMENTS REGARDING WHO DID WHAT. You are under zero obligation to leave them up. You/we have not yet gotten a preservation order instructing us to retain those chat comments. So DELETE THEM. I can’t delete them because this is a legacy Signal chat that doesn’t let me delete comments. Only the comment author can delete a comment. So GET BUSY. DELETE your self-incriminating comments or those that can incriminate others. Start now …”

So it’s unsurprising that she was also charged under 18 USC 1512(b)(2) for corruptly persuading and attempting to corruptly persuade others to delete evidence.

On its face, the indictment against SoRelle is all about capping off the Oath Keeper conspiracy. Her arrest warrant lists the two conspiracies, 22-cr-15 (the Rhodes seditious conspiracy) and 21-cr-28 (the lesser conspiracy now named after Donovan Crowl), as related cases, landing her case before Judge Amit Mehta. All seven of the Oath Keeper prosecutors were listed on the motion to seal her arrest warrant.

At that level, charging her seems like a way to ensure defendants in the sedition trial cannot foist all the blame for deleting those communications off on an uncharged co-conspirator.  In fact, Gateway Pundit, which has invented some of the central conspiracy theories about this case (including one spun directly by SoRelle), yesterday complained that DOJ only charged SoRelle because she recently agreed to testify in Rhodes’ defense.

Gateway Pundit’s earlier conspiracy theory, based on claims made by another cooperating Oath Keeper witness, Jason Dolan, appears to be one of the ways prosecutors managed to argue that her communications were not privileged.

As such, much of this indictment is about capping off the Oath Keeper case. But there are a few details that I find interesting.

First, unlike Michael Greene (the field commander for the Oath Keepers the day of the attack), who was superseded into the Crowl (lesser) conspiracy case on June 22, SoRelle was charged via indictment with conspiracy by herself. By comparison, when DOJ spun Jonathan Walden off onto his own indictment, the conspiracy charge against him was dropped.

Perhaps DOJ treated her this way because she mostly just interacted with Rhodes on January 6, but since she didn’t do anything meriting a sedition charge, she was charged by herself?

But there are other details that make me wonder whether DOJ isn’t doing something more by charging her.

SoRelle was charged by the same grand jury that did the bulk of the investigative work against all January 6 attackers for all of 2021, but which focused especially on the Oath Keepers. Its work seemed to culminate in January with the seditious conspiracy indictment. Since then, its main public work was to supersede Greene into the lesser conspiracy, 17 months after it was convened, as well as supserseding the Rhodes indictment to tweak how sedition was charged, also in that 17th month.

But the indictment against SoRelle means that grand jury is still at work in the 19th month after it was convened. Grand juries are usually convened for 18 months, so this seems to suggest the Oath Keeper grand jury has been extended, and extended (thus far) solely to charge someone whose phone the government seized last September.

Meanwhile, SoRelle’s indictment seems to have been initialed by Jocelyn Ballantine.

Up until now, Ballantine was known only to have a (behind-the-scenes) role in managing the Proud Boys investigation, which is not only less orderly than the Oath Keepers investigation, but seems to be understaffed, particularly as compared to the consistent 7-person team that has relentlessly pursued the Oath Keepers.

One reason you might charge SoRelle, by herself, on a conspiracy indictment is to add others to it. And while she’s best known for her role with the Oath Keepers and this indictment is closely tied to the Oath Keepers prong of the investigation, she actually has a number of ties to other key players in January 6.

She was present at the January 4, 2021 parking garage meeting between Rhodes and Enrique Tarrio, for example. She would have been a key facilitator for it. At the time, she was serving as the lawyer for both the Oath Keepers and Latinos for Trump. (It was via Tarrio’s involvement in Latinos for Trump that he went on December tour of the White House, arranged by Bianca Gracia, who was also at that garage meeting.)

As Ryan Reilly noted yesterday, SoRelle was also a volunteer for Lawyers for Trump, and in that guise, Rhodes tried to get her to put him in touch with people in Trump’s orbit. SoRelle claims that she declined to do that.

In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes tried to get the organization’s general counsel, Kellye SoRelle, to put him in touch with the White House, she told NBC News.

In addition to her work with the Oath Keepers, SoRelle was a volunteer for Lawyers for Trump during the 2020 election and was in contact with many of the people fighting a doomed legal battle to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election and keep former President Donald Trump in office. The contacts include, she said, people in Rudy Giuliani’s and Sidney Powell’s camps, as well as those inside the administration, although she added that she “wasn’t, like, communicating with Trump directly.”

Rhodes wanted her to put him in touch with the White House. “He was hitting me up for a contact,” said SoRelle, a family law lawyer who previously ran for the Texas state House. “He didn’t have any access points.”

As he prepared an open letter calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Rhodes asked SoRelle to send it to the White House. She says she declined.

SoRelle has been caught making false claims to the press before.

Finally, in the clip of SoRelle’s testimony to the January 6 Committee that has been made public, she described how Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander took the lead on planning the Stop the Steal events.

JAMIE RASKIN: Kelly Sorrell, a lawyer who assists the Oath Keepers and a volunteer lawyer for the Trump campaign, explained to the committee how Roger Stone and other figures brought extremists of different stripes and views together. [Begin videotape]

UNKNOWN: You mentioned that Mr. Stone wanted to start the Stop the Steal series of rallies. Who did you consider the leader of these rallies? It sounds like from what you just said, it was Mr. Stone, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Ali Alexander. Is that correct?

KELLY SORRELL: Those are the ones that became like the — the center point for everything. [End videotape]

In other words, while SoRelle didn’t breach the Capitol in body armor like the rest of the Oath Keepers, she was (along with Roger Stone) one of the key pivots between the Oath Keepers and the rest of the organizing effort behind January 6. She was networked with other planners in a way that even Rhodes was not.

For over a year, I’ve been describing that the elegant thing about the obstruction conspiracy charges DOJ has used to charge the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and others, is those separate conspiracies might one day start to coalesce via the nodes between them. Kellye SoRelle has, by all appearances, been charged in a conspiracy with the Oath Keepers.But if she also conspired on other aspects of January 6 with other people and organizations, including White House lawyers, then the various existing conspiracies might network into a larger conspiracy.

The lead prosecutor on SoRelle’s case, incidentally, also happens to be the lead prosecutor on Owen Shroyer’s prosecution.

Update: Corrected that SoRelle stepped down as President when Rhodes was arrested.

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