February 28, 2024 / by 

 

It Was Donald Trump, in the Dining Room, with the Twitter Account

In spite of the fact that Jack Smith recognizes Trump’s interlocutory appeals of absolute immunity and double jeopardy will stay proceedings, as promised, his team nevertheless met a preexisting deadline yesterday: To provide expert notice.

Two of the notices describe how DOJ will show that the mob moved to the Capitol after Trump told them to.

The demonstration, and probably even the experts, are a version of something shown in a great number of January 6 trials already.

The third expert, however, has generated a great deal of attention. That expert will describe what two White House phones show about the actions Trump — and possibly another person, Individual 1 — took with those phones.

Expert 3 has knowledge, skill, experience, training, and education beyond the ordinary lay person regarding the analysis of cellular phone data, including the use of Twitter and other applications on cell phones. The Government expects that Expert 3 will testify that he/she: (1) extracted and processed data from the White House cell phones used by the defendant and one other individual (Individual 1); (2) reviewed and analyzed data on the defendant’s phone and on Individual 1’s phone, including analyzing images found on the phones and websites visited; (3) determined the usage of these phones throughout the post-election period, including on and around January 6, 2021; and (4) specifically identified the periods of time during which the defendant’s phone was unlocked and the Twitter application was open on January 6.

I’m particularly interested in the identity of Individual 1. Johnny McEntee told the January 6 Committee that Trump sometimes used his phone (albeit while traveling); the stolen documents indictment shows that he also used Molly Michael’s phone. Dan Scavino had access to Trump’s Twitter account.

But I’m not at all surprised by the fourth bullet point: The focus on when the phone was unlocked and open to Twitter on January 6.

It’s the counterpart of what I laid out in this post — and will undoubtedly be mirrored by the search returns from Trump’s Twitter account.

That post explained that the metadata involving attribution that Jack Smith’s team obtained from Twitter was probably at least as important as any DMs Trump received (and they only obtained around 32 DMs involving Trump’s account, what prosecutors called a “minuscule proportion of the total production”), because prosecutors would need to attribute the Tweet that almost got Mike Pence killed.

Donald Trump nearly killed his Vice President by tweet — the tweet he sent at 2:24PM on January 6, 2021.

111. At 2:24 p.m., after advisors had left the Defendant alone in his dining room, the Defendant issued a Tweet intended to further delay and obstruct the certification: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

112. One minute later, at 2:25 p.m., the United States Secret Service was forced to evacuate the Vice President to a secure location.

113. At the Capitol, throughout the afternoon, members of the crowd chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”; “Where is Pence? Bring him out!”; and “Traitor Pence!”

114. The Defendant repeatedly refused to approve a message directing rioters to leave the Capitol, as urged by his most senior advisors-including the White House Counsel, a Deputy White House Counsel, the Chief of Staff, a Deputy Chief of Staff, and a Senior Advisor.

As the indictment tells it, at the time Trump sent his potentially lethal tweet, inciting the mob bearing down on Mike Pence, Pence’s spouse, and daughter, Donald Trump was alone in his dining room with the murder weapon: an unknown phone, and his Twitter account.

But when DOJ served a warrant on Twitter for Trump’s Twitter account on January 17, they couldn’t be sure who was holding the murder weapon. They also wouldn’t know whether triggering the murder weapon was coordinated with other events.

[snip]

[O]ne thing DOJ needed to know before they conducted an interview that took place after Beryl Howell rejected yet another frivolous Executive Privilege claim in March was how Dan Scavino accessed Trump’s Twitter account when he did, from what device.

Who else had access to Trump’s Twitter account, one part of the murder weapon?

When DOJ asked Twitter to go back and figure out which other accounts shared IP addresses, cookies, or other device identifier with Trump’s Twitter account, they were asking for a list of other people (or at least clues to identify those people) who might be holding that murder weapon on January 6, Trump’s Twitter account, instead of Donald Trump.

Indeed, Thomas Windom said as much: “user attribution is important.”

What Jack Smith plans to do with the other evidence — what images the two phones had on them and what websites they visited — may actually be more interesting. After all, we know far less about the December 19 Tweet that kicked off the entire insurrection than we do the Tweet that almost got Trump’s Vice President killed. Somehow Trump’s Twitter account got the data from Peter Navarro that Trump’s account then tweeted out, announcing the January 6 rally. This expert testimony will be part of how prosecutors describe what happened.

But as to the Tweet that almost got Mike Pence killed? We know that. It was Donald Trump, alone in the dining room, with the lethal Twitter account.


Jack Smith (and Michael Dreeben) Go to SCOTUS

Jack Smith just skipped the DC Circuit to ask for cert on Trump’s absolutely immunity claim.

Here’s the argument Smith gives for taking the case directly:

A cornerstone of our constitutional order is that no person is above the law. The force of that principle is at its zenith where, as here, a grand jury has accused a former President of committing federal crimes to subvert the peaceful transfer of power to his lawfully elected successor. Nothing could be more vital to our democracy than that a President who abuses the electoral system to remain in office is held accountable for criminal conduct. Yet respondent has asserted that the Constitution accords him absolute immunity from prosecution. The Constitution’s text, structure, and history lend no support to that novel claim. This Court has accorded civil immunity for a President’s actions within the outer perimeter of his official responsibilities, see Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982), and the Executive Branch has long held the view that a sitting President cannot be indicted while in office. But those principles cannot be extended to provide the absolute shield from criminal liability that respondent, a former President, asserts. Neither the separation of powers nor respondent’s acquittal in impeachment proceedings lifts him above the reach of federal criminal law. Like other citizens, he is accountable for criminal conduct.

[snip]

The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request. This is an extraordinary case. The Court should grant certiorari and set a briefing schedule that would permit this case to be argued and resolved as promptly as possible.

Posting this here for now. I’ll update in a bit.

An interesting detail: Michael Dreeben somehow snuck into Jack Smith’s office. He was Mueller’s appellate guy.


Gagged!

The DC Circuit has reimposed most of the gag that Judge Chutkan imposed on Trump.

Like any other criminal defendant, Mr. Trump has a constitutional right to speak. And his millions of supporters, as well as his millions of detractors, have a right to hear what he has to say. See Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 756–757 (1976). Also like any other criminal defendant, Mr. Trump does not have an unlimited right to speak. “Although litigants do not surrender their First Amendment rights at the courthouse door, those rights may be subordinated to other interests that arise in [the trial] setting.” Seattle Times, 467 U.S. at 32 n.18 (formatting modified). In particular, the public has a compelling interest in ensuring that the criminal proceeding against Mr. Trump is not obstructed, hindered, or tainted, but is fairly conducted and resolved according to the judgment of an impartial jury based on only the evidence introduced in the courtroom. See Gentile, 501 U.S. at 1075; Wade, 336 U.S. at 689.

While Trump is free to malign Jack Smith, he’s not free to malign Smith’s spouse, other prosecutors, Judge Chutkan’s staff or — most importantly — witnesses.

It’s about dinner here — I’ll come back and pull some of the opinion in a bit.

Update: Millett describes Trump’s attacks on social media, “laundering communications.”

There is no question that Mr. Trump could not have said directly to Mark Meadows, former Vice President Pence, or former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Duncan any of the statements he posted on social media about their potential discussions with the Special Counsel or grand-jury testimony, and the consequences that would follow. Yet the district court’s prohibition on Mr. Trump’s direct communications with known witnesses would mean little if he can evade it by making the same statements to a crowd, knowing or expecting that a witness will get the message. Cf. Sheppard, 384 U.S. at 359 (restrictions on witnesses observing other witnesses’ testimony mean nothing if “the full verbatim testimony [is] available to them in the press”); Estes, 381 U.S. at 547.

Mr. Trump’s counsel conceded at oral argument that the former President speaking about the case “with a megaphone, knowing that [a] witness is in the audience” would likely present the “same scenario” as Mr. Trump’s calling that witness directly, in violation of his conditions of release. Oral Arg. Tr. 33:12–17. So too if the defendant posts a message on “social media knowing that [witness] is a social media follower of his,” id. 33:20–23, or that the message will otherwise likely reach the witness. In each of these scenarios, the defendant’s speech about witness testimony or cooperation imperils the availability, content, and integrity of witness testimony.

Accordingly, the district court had the authority to prevent Mr. Trump from laundering communications concerning witnesses and addressing their potential trial participation through social media postings or other public comments.

The opinion distinguishes a heckler’s veto from Trump’s incitement.

Second, Mr. Trump objects that holding him responsible for his listeners’ responses to his speech unconstitutionally imposes a “classic heckler’s veto,” “regardless of how predictable * * * [Mr. Trump’s supporters’] unruly reactions might be.” Trump Br. 37–38; see Trump Br. 36–39. Not so.

To start, that argument ignores the significant risk of harm caused by Mr. Trump’s own messaging to known or potential witnesses about their participation in the criminal justice process and his menacing comments about trial participants and staff.

The claim also misunderstands the heckler’s veto doctrine. That doctrine prohibits restraining speech on the grounds that it “might offend a hostile mob” hearing the message, Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123, 134–135 (1992) (emphasis added), or because its audience might express “hostility to” the message, Cox, 379 U.S. at 551. The harm the district court identified here was not that some members of the public who oppose Mr. Trump’s message might react violently and try to shut down his speech. Cf. National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43, 43–44 (1977). The concern was instead “how predictable” it has become, Trump Br. 38, that some (but certainly not all, or even many) of Mr. Trump’s followers will act minaciously in response to his words.

Of course, the First Amendment generally does not allow speech to be restricted because of some enthusiastic audience members’ reactions. Outside of a judicial proceeding, ordinarily only speech that rises to the level of incitement of the audience can be banned. See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 448–449 (1969) (striking down law that failed to distinguish “mere advocacy” from “incitement to imminent lawless action”).

But within a judicial proceeding, a trial court’s duty to protect the functioning of the criminal trial process is not cabined by the incitement doctrine. Sheppard holds that courts may, and sometimes must, limit the speech of trial participants to prevent the prejudice to the trial process caused by third parties. Sheppard involved a criminal trial beset by suffocating press coverage and publicity. 384 U.S. at 358. The press regularly reported on evidence leaked to them by both sides, even though such evidence was never offered into evidence in court. Id. at 360–361.

The Supreme Court held that, as a means of addressing and averting harm to the criminal justice process, the trial court should have “proscribed extrajudicial statements by any lawyer, party, witness, or court official which divulged prejudicial matters[.]” Id. at 361. Had the trial court done so, “the news media would have soon learned to be content with the task of reporting the case as it unfolded in the courtroom— not pieced together from extrajudicial statements.” Id. at 362. In other words, the Supreme Court explained that a protective order restricting trial participants’ speech should have been entered in Sheppard not only because the parties’ expression was itself obstructive, but even more so because outsiders’ reactions and responses to that speech also threatened the integrity of the trial process. At no point in Sheppard did the Supreme Court even hint that evidence demonstrating that the parties were already inciting interfering press coverage would have been needed before the court could act.

So too here. Many of former President Trump’s public statements attacking witnesses, trial participants, and court staff pose a danger to the integrity of these criminal proceedings. That danger is magnified by the predictable torrent of threats of retribution and violence that the district court found follows when Mr. Trump speaks out forcefully against individuals in connection with this case and the 2020 election aftermath on which the indictment focuses. The district court appropriately found that those threats and harassment undermine the integrity of this criminal proceeding by communicating directly or indirectly with witnesses and potential witnesses about their testimony, evidence, and cooperation in the justice process. They also impede the administration of justice by exposing counsel and members of the court’s and counsel’s staffs to fear and intimidating pressure. The First Amendment does not afford trial participants, including defendants, free rein to use their knowledge or position within the trial as a tool for encumbering the judicial process.

I had to look up, “minaciously,” which is not at all “quixotic.”


Ratifying Sedition: The Proud Boys 404(b) Evidence

As I noted yesterday, the government provided its 404(b) notice in Trump’s January 6 case. 404(b) notices alert the defendant to evidence that may or may not be intrinsic to the case but in any case shows the defendant’s criminal propensity.

In addition to showing how the Trump campaign tried to start a riot at the TCF Center in Detroit, DOJ also wants to show that Trump’s celebration of the Proud Boys bookends his own assault on democracy.

As the filing describes, Trump called out the militia at the first debate, and then — almost three years later — complained that convicted seditionist Enrique Tarrio faces a long sentence.

The Government plans to introduce evidence from the period in advance of the charged conspiracies that demonstrates the defendant’s encouragement of violence. For instance, in response to a question during the September 29, 2020, presidential debate asking him to denounce the extremist group the Proud Boys, the defendant instead spoke publicly to them and told them to “stand back and stand by.” Members of the group embraced the defendant’s words as an endorsement and printed merchandise with them as a rallying cry. As discussed below, after the Proud Boys and other extremist groups participated in obstructing the congressional certification on January 6, the defendant made clear that they were acting consistent with his intent and direction in doing so.

[snip]

Of particular note are the specific January 6 offenders whom the defendant has supported— namely, individuals convicted of some of the most serious crimes charged in relation to January 6, such as seditious conspiracy and violent assaults on police officers. During a September 17, 2023, appearance on Meet the Press, for instance, the defendant said regarding Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio—who was convicted of seditious conspiracy—“I want to tell you, he and other people have been treated horribly.” The defendant then criticized the kinds of lengthy sentences received only by defendants who, like Tarrio, committed the most serious crimes on January 6.

DOJ’s plan to show this is not surprising. After all, DOJ kicked off the Proud Boy sedition trial with Trump’s shout out to the Proud Boys.

But the significance, given the way DOJ has structured its conspiracy prosecutions from the start, is far more than damning evidence.

That’s because one of the conspiracy charges against Trump, 18 USC 1512(k), is one of the charges of which the Proud Boy leaders were convicted.

Aside from that public shout-out, which DOJ describes as, Trump speaking “publicly to them,” Donald Trump is not known to have communicated directly with any of them. But as I illustrated in January, Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, and Enrique Tarrio all communicated with Alex Jones and Roger Stone (and Owen Shroyer — who has two more days left in his sentence in Oakdale Correctional), even during the attack. Both of them, Jones and Stone — who have not been charged — communicated directly with Trump (and Mark Meadows). Stone’s actions leading up to January 6 were central to the guilty obstruction verdicts in Proud Boy Dan “Milkshake” Scott’s plea and Chris Worrell’s bench trial.

There may be more than that.

At the Proud Boy Leaders trial, for example, prosecutors introduced a series of Telegram chats from the day of, and immediately following, Trump’s shout-out. The men were giddy at Trump’s recognition.

In the wake of Trump’s debate recognition, there was talk of Trump inviting Proud Boys to the White House (Tarrio eventually did visit the White House, in December, as part of a Latinos for Trump event).

There was talk of mobbing election offices.

And, on November 8, Tarrio warned now-cooperating witness Jeremy Bertino not to wear colors because the campaign “asked us” not to do so.

As the campaign was ginning up mobs in swing states, Tarrio at least claimed to have some contact directly with the campaign. Stone is not the only candidate to be Tarrio’s tie to the campaign; Kellye SoRelle, who knew Tarrio from Latinos for Trump, was involved in the mob scene in Michigan.

A month ago, lead Proud Boys prosecutor Erik Kenerson dropped off one of the key pending Proud Boy prosecutions. There are many things that could explain that, but when other prosecutors — like Mary Dohrmann — moved under Jack Smith, that’s the kind of public activity that marked the move.

Several things have made clear in recent days that DOJ doesn’t consider the list of six uncharged co-conspirators in Trump’s January 6 indictment to be exclusive.

In their description of the TCF riot, for example, DOJ described the campaign employee who encouraged rioting (possibly Mike Roman) as “an agent (and unindicted co-conspirator).” Whoever it is would be a seventh co-conspirator.

More curiously, when Tanya Chutkan corrected Trump’s false representation of the indictment in her ruling that he did not have absolute immunity, she described that, “Defendant, along with at least six co-conspirators, id. ¶8, undertook efforts ‘to impair, obstruct, and defeat [that process] through dishonesty, fraud, and deceit,’ id. ¶ 10.” That comment stuck with me, as everyone else who has commented on the indictment has treated the six co-conspirators as an exclusive list. But sure enough, that paragraph she cites describes that the six co-conspirators laid out in the indictment — Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jeffrey Clark, Kenneth Chesebro, and probably Boris Epshteyn — were only “among” those with whom Trump conspired.

The Defendant enlisted co-conspirators to assist him in his criminal efforts to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election and retain power. Among these were:

If DOJ were ever to charge someone and make it a related case, it would come before Chutkan. That’s just one way that Chutkan might know of specific additional alleged co-conspirators that we wouldn’t yet know.

Conspiracy law doesn’t require co-conspirators to get together in a room to plot together. They need only agree on the objective and take steps to achieve it. If they have networked communications between them, all the better.

At the Proud Boys trial, prosecutors made Trump’s role in their conspiracy clear. Now, leading up to the former President’s own trial, DOJ has said they will present communications that amount to an agreement in September 2020 and ratification of the Proud Boy attack on the country in September 2023.

This is not just damning evidence of fondness for the right wing militia. It’s evidence that Trump pursued the same effort to obstruct the vote certification as the Proud Boys.


DOJ Will Show that Trump’s Campaign Intended to Cause a Riot at TCF Center in Detroit

Jack Smith’s team has submitted a 404(b) notice — evidence that may not be intrinsic to the case but that describes Trump’s criminal propensity and helps prove his motive — in Trump’s DC case.

Along with providing examples where Trump continued to target someone (in this case Ruby Freeman) long after his prior targeting of her had resulted in threats and Trump’s celebration of insurrectionists like Enrique Tarrio, DOJ includes a heavily-redacted passage describing a Trump campaign employee’s attempt to cause a riot at the TCF Center, where election workers were counting the votes of Detroiters.

The Government also plans to introduce evidence of an effort undertaken by an agent (and unindicted co-conspirator) of the defendant who worked for his campaign (“the Campaign Employee”) to, immediately following the election, obstruct the vote count. On November 4, 2020, the Campaign Employee exchanged a series of text messages with an attorney supporting the Campaign’s election day operations at the TCF Center in Detroit, where votes were being counted; in the messages, the Campaign Employee encouraged rioting and other methods of obstruction when he learned that the vote count was trending in favor of the defendant’s opponent.

[seven lines redacted]

The Government will also show that around the time of these messages, an election official at the TCF Center observed that as Biden began to take the lead, a large number of untrained individuals flooded the TCF Center and began making illegitimate and aggressive challenges to the vote count. Thereafter, Trump made repeated false claims regarding election activities at the TCF Center, when in truth his agent was seeking to cause a riot to disrupt the count. This evidence is admissible to demonstrate that the defendant, his co-conspirators, and agents had knowledge that the defendant had lost the election, as well as their intent and motive to obstruct and overturn the legitimate results.

This is may be a reference to Mike Roman. Roman — Trump’s Director of Election Day Operations and a key ratfucker in other ways — posted a video falsely claiming that the challengers were being ejected improperly from the counting center.

According to the Election Integrity Project, Roman was also one of the most efficient spreaders of disinformation during the post-election period, wildly out of proportion to his number of Twitter followers (suggesting he had offline ways to help make things go viral).

Trump’s effort to make it harder to count the votes of Black voters has never gotten enough attention — not even though this specific tactic is a replay of Roger Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts in 2016, in some of the very same cities, as well as the Florida Brooks Brother’s riot. But it’s a key part of proving not just that Trump tried to throw out Joe Biden’s votes, but specifically the votes of Joe Biden’s Black supporters.


When John Eastman Acknowledged that Candidate Trump Spoke in His Personal Capacity

In Sri Srinivasan’s opinion in Blassingame holding that presidents, when speaking as candidates, are not immune from civil suit, he pointed to a key moment in the 2020 transition period to illustrate the distinction he was making between when a president running for re-election speaks as an office-seeker, rather than an office-holder: When Trump intervened in the Texas v. Pennsylvania lawsuit.

As an example, consider a situation directly germane to the cases before us in which President Trump publicly volunteered that he was acting—and speaking—in an unofficial, private capacity. In the period after the 2020 election and before January 6, the Supreme Court considered an effort by Texas to challenge the administration of the election in several battleground states in which then-President-elect Biden had been declared the winner. Texas v. Pennsylvania, No. 22O155 (U.S. 2020). President Trump moved to intervene in the case. In doing so, he specifically explained to the Supreme Court (and captioned his filing accordingly) that he sought to “intervene in this matter in his personal capacity as a candidate for re-election to the office of President of the United States.” Motion of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, to Intervene in his Personal Capacity as Candidate for ReElection, Proposed Bill of Complaint in Intervention, and Brief in Support of Motion to Intervene 14, Texas v. Pennsylvania, No. 22O155 (U.S. Dec. 9, 2020) (Trump Mot. to Intervene). He relatedly elaborated that he wished “to intervene to protect his unique and substantial personal interests as a candidate for re-election to the Office of President.” Id. at 24.

President Trump, then, affirmatively communicated to the Supreme Court (and the public) that he was acting and speaking in that matter in his “personal capacity” as a candidate for reelection—indeed, he explained that his reason for wanting to participate in the case was a “substantial personal” one rather than an official one. That stands in sharp contrast with other cases in which he—like all Presidents—had filed briefs in the Supreme Court in his “official capacity as President of the United States.” See, e.g., Brief for the Petitioners at II, Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (No. 17-965). But while President Trump’s effort to participate in Texas v. Pennsylvania was made in an expressly and self-consciously personal, unofficial capacity, the content of his speech in his submission undoubtedly involved a matter of significant public concern: his challenge to the election results in various pivotal states, whose “electors [would] determine the outcome of the election.” Trump Mot. to Intervene 27.

As that example illustrates, an immunity for all presidential speech on matters of public concern—without regard to the context in which the President speaks—would be grounded purely in “the identity of the actor who performed it” rather than “the nature of the function performed.” Clinton, 520 U.S. at 695 (quoting Forrester, 484 U.S. at 229). Such a result is “unsupported by precedent.” Id. And it is unsupported by the basic object of granting a President official-act immunity: assuring that the President is not “unduly cautious in the discharge of his official duties.” Id. at 694 (emphasis added) (quoting Nixon, 457 U.S. at 752 n.32). That concern necessarily has no salience when the President acts—by his own admission—in an unofficial, private capacity.

b.

As President Trump’s intervention motion in Texas v. Pennsylvania highlights, whether the President speaks (or engages in conduct) on a matter of public concern bears no necessary correlation with whether he speaks (or engages in conduct) in his official or personal capacity. And because it is the latter question that governs the availability of presidential immunity—as a matter both of precedent and of the essential nature of an immunity for (and only for) official acts—we must reject President Trump’s proposed public-concern test as illsuited to the inquiry. [my emphasis; links added]

Remember that time, weeks before the actions alleged in these lawsuits, Srinivasan might have been nudging the six Republican appointees to the Supreme Court, where even Donald Trump admitted that sometimes when the president speaks, he speaks only in his personal capacity?

It was more than that, though, and in ways that might be significant to both the civil cases and Jack Smith’s case.

This was not just Donald Trump acknowledging that, at that moment in December 2020 when he asked the Supreme Court to make him the winner of the 2020 election, he was speaking in his personal capacity. It was John Eastman, Counsel of Record on that motion, who described Trump as such. Eastman filed that motion to intervene, representing Trump in his personal capacity, in a period when he was discussing with Clarence Thomas’ spouse about lawsuits to challenge the results of the election (though she told the January 6 Committee she had no involvement “at all” in Texas v. Pennsylvania). Even Republican members of Congress got into the act, starting with now-Speaker Mike Johnson and including Jim Jordan and Scott Perry.

When Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to throw out the votes of four swing states, a bunch of people who would go on to play key roles in the attack on Congress were party to an action in which Co-Conspirator 2 described that Defendant Trump spoke in his personal capacity.

In days ahead, we’ll learn more about how the DC Circuit civil decision being sent back to Amit Mehta will intersect with Tanya Chutkan’s criminal decision that former president Donald Trump is entitled to no immunity as former president. These two decisions may literally and figuratively pass each other in the halls of Prettyman Courthouse, as one decision heads back to the older District chambers and another heads up to the fancier Circuit chambers.

Srinivasan’s opinion is limited, inviting very specific fact-finding.

As I described, in a passage citing the Blassingame decision released just hours earlier, Chutkan very pointedly stopped short of that specificity. She declined to weigh in on whether a former president’s immunity from criminal prosecution would be different if he was acting “within the outer perimeter of the President’s official” duties than if he was engaged in official acts, effectively inviting Srinivasan and his colleagues to do that.

Similarly, the court expresses no opinion on the additional constitutional questions attendant to Defendant’s assertion that former Presidents retain absolute criminal immunity for acts “within the outer perimeter of the President’s official” responsibility. Immunity Motion at 21 (formatting modified). Even if the court were to accept that assertion, it could not grant Defendant immunity here without resolving several separate and disputed constitutional questions of first impression, including: whether the President’s duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” includes within its “outer perimeter” at least five different forms of indicted conduct;5 whether inquiring into the President’s purpose for undertaking each form of that allegedly criminal conduct is constitutionally permissible in an immunity analysis, and whether any Presidential conduct “intertwined” with otherwise constitutionally immune actions also receives criminal immunity. See id. at 21–45. Because it concludes that former Presidents do not possess absolute federal criminal immunity for any acts committed while in office, however, the court need not reach those additional constitutional issues, and it expresses no opinion on them.

5 As another court in this district observed in a decision regarding Defendant’s civil immunity, “[t]his is not an easy issue. It is one that implicates fundamental norms of separation of powers and calls on the court to assess the limits of a President’s functions. And, historical examples to serve as guideposts are few.” Thompson v. Trump, 590 F. Supp. 3d 46, 74 (D.D.C. 2022); see id. at 81–84 (performing that constitutional analysis). The D.C. Circuit recently affirmed that district court’s decision with an extensive analysis of just one form of conduct—“speech on matters of public concern.” Blassingame v. Trump, Nos. 22-5069, 22-7030, 22-7031, slip op. at 23–42 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 1, 2023).

Chutkan’s decision might well be sufficient. There are plenty of things a president might do, claiming to do so in his official capacity, which would also break the law; DOJ raised five pretty familiar looking examples in their response to Trump’s bid for absolute immunity.

DOJ points to the possibility that a President might trade a pardon — a thing of value — as part of a quid pro quo to obtain false testimony or prevent true testimony.

[snip]

  • A President ordering the National Guard to murder his critics
  • A President ordering an FBI agent to plant evidence on his political enemy
  • A bribe paid in exchange for a family member getting a lucrative contract
  • A President selling nuclear secrets to America’s adversaries

It would be nice if first DC Circuit and then SCOTUS could put this matter to bed, so it stops holding up Trump cases.

But judges like to move cautiously, testing the easy cases before they test the harder ones. With the Srinivasan decision in hand, the DC Circuit might treat the criminal appeal differently than they otherwise might.

For example, they might note, as DOJ did in its response, that five of six Trump described co-conspirators are also private citizens: Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Eastman representing Trump in his personal role, Sidney Powell, whom Trump recent said would be conflicted from representing him personally), Ken Chesebro who also claimed to be representing Trump personally, and Boris Epshteyn, who nominally remained an employee of the campaign.

If invited to do further briefing in light of Srinivasan’s opinion, DOJ might note that after SCOTUS denied Texas v. Pennsylvania cert, Trump’s campaign lawyers gave up the fight, as the January 6 Committee Report describes, ceding the fight to Rudy and the other co-conspirators.

Not everyone on the campaign was eager to pursue the fake elector plan. OnDecember 11th, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a high-profile lawsuit filedby the State of Texas challenging the election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin.42 After that decision, the Trump Campaign’s senior legal staffers said that they reduced their involvement in thefake elector effort, apparently because there was no longer a feasible scenario in which a court would determine that President Trump actually won any of the States he contested.43 Justin Clark, who oversaw the Trump Campaign’s general counsel’s office, said that he basically conveyed, “I’mout,” and encouraged his colleagues on the legal team to do the same.44 Findlay told the Select Committee that “we backed out of this thing,” and Morgan, his boss, said he had Findlay pass off responsibility for the electorsas “my way of taking that responsibility to zero.”45

Clark told the Select Committee that “it never sat right with me that there was no . . . contingency whereby these votes would count.”46 “I hadreal problems with the process,” Clark said, because “it morphed into something I didn’t agree with.”47 In his view, the fake electors were “not necessarily duly nominated electors” despite being presented as such.48 Hesaid he believed he warned his colleagues that “unless we have litigationpending like in these States, like I don’t think this is appropriate or, you know, this isn’t the right thing to do.”49

DOJ might also note that, as charged in the indictment, the suit played a specific role in the Georgia allegations, when Chris Carr refused Trump’s request that he join in Texas’ lawsuit, because none of Trump’s claims had merit.

And it’s not just Trump’s personal lawyer co-conspirators. The invocation of Texas v. Pennsylvania even weighs heavily on the role Jeffrey Clark, then serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General at DOJ and so in a far better position to claim to be acting in an official role, played in the alleged conspiracy.

That’s because Trump’s bid to replace Jeffrey Rosen with Clark was directly tied to an effort to get DOJ to file a similar lawsuit. Here’s how Jeffrey Rosen described it to the January 6 Committee.

Q Okay. And want to talk to you also about the December 27th call where | believe you conferenced in Mr. Donoghue. ~ And that involved the President as well. In Mr. Donoghue’s notes, he references John Eastman and Mark Martin and has a note that says: P trusts him.

What do you remember about that aspect of the conversation?

A So I think that day someone had sent over to us a draft Supreme Court brief modeled on the Texas v. Pennsylvania case that the Supreme Court had rejected. And I was I think Rich Donoghue and Steve Engel and I had a meeting that we were there for t0 address an oversight set of issues that had produced some controversy that Members of Congress who – I won’t get nto all that, other than that Mr. Meadows had asserted to me that the thing had – that he and AG Barr had resolved it. But now AG Barr was gone, and it wasn’t resolved, and he wanted to talk to me about getting it resolved.

But at that discussion Mr. Meadows raised with us: ~ Did you guys see the Supreme Courtbrief that was sent over?

And I think we said: Haven’t read it carefully, but it doesn’t look viable.

And he responded in some sense — and, again, I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t I’m repeating the substance rather than the words was: Well, Mark Martin and John Eastman, who are, you know, these great legal scholars, think it’s great idea.

And we said: Well, you know, we’ll get back to you. But preliminary take is it has problems, that it doesn’t look like a good idea to us. But we’ve only had it 2 hours or something like that, you know, whatever the timeframe was, which it was relatively brief.

Trump followed up twice, pushing DOJ to sue as the government.

What I remember better was that, on Wednesday, after the Kurt Olsen incident, I spoke to the President. I think that was just me, or Rich may have been in my office, but I don’t think it was on the speakerphone. Some of these were on speakerphone with me and Rich, and some, it was just me, but Rich could’ve been in my office.

And the way I remember it is, on Wednesday, I wound up telling the President, “This doesn’t work. ~ There’s multiple problems with it. And the Department of Justice is not going to be able todo it” And–

In the same exchange, there was discussion of whether a DOJ attorney, like Jeffrey Clark, could represent the president in his personal capacity.

Q Okay. So is it fair then to say that this was not partof the Department’s official businessatthe time?

A Yes

Q And, to your knowledge, can Jeff Clark as the assistant — Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, can he represent the President in a personal capacity while also maintaining his role at the Department of Justice?

A Let me just make sure I understand the question. You’re saying, can he outside of his DOJ role represent the President in a personal capacity? And I’m trying what I’m trying to distinguish is sometimes the President or others get sued in their individual capacity. But they have some form of governmental immunity or the like. And so the government can represent them as individuals. That’s not what you’re getting at. You’re talking about, can a – can someone who’s a government employee, You know, have like a side gig representing a private person?

But then, after Jeffrey Rosen refused to make DOJ Trump’s own personal law firm, Trump took steps to make Jeffrey Clark, who was willing to do that, Acting Attorney General.

This application may even have critical import to the application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) and (k) to Trump’s actions. Weeks before Trump and Eastman allegedly conspired to obstruct the vote certification on January 6, Eastman described that Trump had “unique and substantial personal interests” in throwing out the votes of four states that voted for Joe Biden. That’s the kind of admission from co-conspirator 2 that would make any analysis of Trump’s corrupt purpose in obstructing the vote certification quite easy.

Srinivasan’s use of Trump’s motion to intervene was, at one level, a very convenient use of Trump’s own legal claims — made before a conservative Supreme Court that will eventually answer both of these questions — against him.

But it maps onto the criminal case, too, in ways that DC Circuit might choose to apply as a way to tiptoe their way into sanctioning the first prosecution of an ex-president for actions he took as an office-seeker, rather than an office-holder.

Update: Ben Wittes and Quinta Jurecic similarly discuss how these two rulings work in tandem.


Judge Tanya Chutkan Had to Tell Trump That, “There is no ‘Presidential Immunity’ Clause”

Less than twelve hours after the DC Circuit ruled that an office-seeker does not enjoy presidential immunity from civil suit, Judge Tanya Chutkan issued her order ruling that Trump does not enjoy presidential immunity for crimes committed while president.

Her opinion can be summed up in one line.

[T]he United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong “get-out-of-jail-free” pass.

The timing of Chutkan’s decision is almost certainly not accidental. The key issue in this opinion, absolute immunity, has been fully briefed (as Trump noted on November 1 when he asked to stay all other proceedings until this was resolved) since October 26.

Chutkan said she was ruling now because the Supreme Court requires immunity to be resolved as early as possible.

Defendant has also moved to dismiss based on statutory grounds, ECF No. 114, and for selective and vindictive prosecution, ECF No. 116. The court will address those motions separately. The Supreme Court has “repeatedly . . . stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (citations omitted). The court therefore rules first on the Immunity Motion and the Constitutional Motion—in which Defendant asserts “constitutional immunity from double jeopardy,” United States v. Scott, 464 F.2d 832, 833 (D.C. Cir. 1972).

She did not source that cite to Trump’s request for a stay, nor did she say she was also ruling on Trump’s motion to dismiss on Constitutional grounds, which includes a Double Jeopardy claim, because Molly Gaston asked her to,

But by ruling as she did (without a hearing), she simply mooted Trump’s request to stay any further proceedings with a minute order.

MINUTE ORDER as to DONALD J. TRUMP: In light of the court’s [172] Order denying Defendant’s [74] Motion to Dismiss Based on Presidential Immunity; Defendant’s [128] Motion to Stay Case Pending Immunity Determination is hereby DENIED as moot.

This puts the onus on Trump to appeal, which he reportedly will (though he has dilly-dallied on some of these motions, so we’ll see how much time he kills in the process).

It seems clear that Chutkan waited for Blassingame, the civil immunity opinion, because she found a way to cite it twice and still release her own opinion on the same day.

But it also seems likely that Judge Chutkan and her clerks simply reviewed that opinion to make sure nothing wildly conflicted with her already completed opinion, because her opinion doesn’t incorporate details of the absolute immunity argument — such as the significance of the fact that five of six co-conspirators described in the indictment (everyone but Jeffrey Clark) is a private citizen, which would be important if the DC Circuit applied any of their civil immunity test to the criminal context.

Indeed, one of Chutkan’s citations to Blassingame effectively admitted she didn’t get into its test — whether Trump was acting in his official role when he did the things alleged in the indictment.

Similarly, the court expresses no opinion on the additional constitutional questions attendant to Defendant’s assertion that former Presidents retain absolute criminal immunity for acts “within the outer perimeter of the President’s official” responsibility. Immunity Motion at 21 (formatting modified). Even if the court were to accept that assertion, it could not grant Defendant immunity here without resolving several separate and disputed constitutional questions of first impression, including: whether the President’s duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” includes within its “outer perimeter” at least five different forms of indicted conduct;5 whether inquiring into the President’s purpose for undertaking each form of that allegedly criminal conduct is constitutionally permissible in an immunity analysis, and whether any Presidential conduct “intertwined” with otherwise constitutionally immune actions also receives criminal immunity. See id. at 21–45. Because it concludes that former Presidents do not possess absolute federal criminal immunity for any acts committed while in office, however, the court need not reach those additional constitutional issues, and it expresses no opinion on them.

5 As another court in this district observed in a decision regarding Defendant’s civil immunity, “[t]his is not an easy issue. It is one that implicates fundamental norms of separation of powers and calls on the court to assess the limits of a President’s functions. And, historical examples to serve as guideposts are few.” Thompson v. Trump, 590 F. Supp. 3d 46, 74 (D.D.C. 2022); see id. at 81–84 (performing that constitutional analysis). The D.C. Circuit recently affirmed that district court’s decision with an extensive analysis of just one form of conduct—“speech on matters of public concern.” Blassingame v. Trump, Nos. 22-5069, 22-7030, 22-7031, slip op. at 23–42 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 1, 2023).

Instead, Chutkan argued — in language that likely preceded the Blassingame opinion, in a section on whether holding a former President criminally accountable will pose some of the harms to the presidency and government that suing a current or former President might — that no matter what the analysis is for civil immunity, criminal immunity is different.

The rationale for immunizing a President’s controversial decisions from civil liability does not extend to sheltering his criminality.

[snip]

For all these reasons, the constitutional consequences of federal criminal liability differ sharply from those of the civil liability at issue in Fitzgerald. Federal criminal liability will not impermissibly chill the decision-making of a dutiful Chief Executive or subject them to endless post-Presidency litigation. It will, however, uphold the vital constitutional values that Fitzgerald identified as warranting the exercise of jurisdiction: maintaining the separation of powers and vindicating “the public interest in an ongoing criminal prosecution.” 457 U.S. at 753–54. Exempting former Presidents from the ordinary operation of the criminal justice system, on the other hand, would undermine the foundation of the rule of law that our first former President described: “Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, [and] acquiescence in its measures”—“duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty.” Washington’s Farewell Address at 13. Consequently, the constitutional structure of our government does not require absolute federal criminal immunity for former Presidents.

The analysis has to be different of course. If you can be impeached for using your office to extort campaign assistance, it should not be the case that you cannot, though, be criminally charged for that extortion.

This is an opinion about whether impeachment provides the sole recourse for holding a former President accountable.

Judge Chutkan provides a very neat solution to that problem, by noting that impeachment is just one of two ways to remove a President who has misused his office.

[T]here is another way, besides impeachment and conviction, for a President to be removed from office and thus subjected to “the ordinary course of law,” Federalist No. 69 at 348: As in Defendant’s case, he may be voted out. The President “shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years.” U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 1. Without reelection, the expiration of that term ends a Presidency as surely as impeachment and conviction. See United States v. Burr, 25 F. Cas. 30, 34 (C.C.D. Va. 1807) (Marshall, Circuit Justice) (“[T]he president is elected from the mass of the people, and, on the expiration of the time for which he is elected, returns to the mass of the people again.”). Nothing in the Impeachment Judgment Clause prevents criminal prosecution thereafter. [my emphasis]

Because voters saw fit to remove Trump, Chutkan held, he can now be charged criminally.

Chutkan punts the other questions upstairs to the DC Circuit and from there to SCOTUS.

And while I think Chutkan’s analysis of the two impeachment issues — immunity and double jeopardy — is sound, I do worry that her treatment of several other issues — the things Trump included in his motion to dismiss on Constitutional grounds besides double jeopardy — got short shrift as a result.

Those issues have only been briefed since November 22. She and her clerks probably wrote that part of the opinion over Thanksgiving weekend. And far less of her opinion addressed those issues — seven pages for the First Amendment issues and four for matters of fair notice — than addressed the impeachment issue:

Background (what the indictment really charges) 1

Standard 5

Executive Immunity 6

    • Text of Constitution 6
    • Structure (concerns of public policy, addressing Fitzgerald) 14
      • Burdens on the Presidency 15-20
      • Public Interest 20-25
    • History 25-29
    • Summary 29-31

First Amendment 31

    • Core political speech of public concern 33
    • Statements advocating govt to act 35
    • Statements on 2020 Election 37

Double Jeopardy 38

Due Process 44 (4 pages)

Importantly, while she noted at the outset of her opinion (in the five page “background” section) that Trump totally misrepresented the indictment against him, she didn’t lay out how, in addition to speech-related actions charged as conspiracies, there are some actions that are more obviously fraud, such as the effort to counterfeit elector certificates or the knowingly false representations about Mike Pence’s intent. Trump’s misrepresentation of the indictment is really egregious, but Chutkan barely explains why that’s a problem in this opinion.

Both the First Amendment issues and the notice issues (particularly on 18 USC 1512, though there’s readily available language on 18 USC 241 charge in the Douglass Mackey case) have been addressed repeatedly in other January 6 cases. Since those cases will be appealed on a more leisurely pace than this one, I worry that the issues are not fully addressed. And those are the issues about which Clarence Thomas and Sammy Alito were most likely to intervene in any case.

This is an opinion about holding a former President accountable before he becomes President again. The danger is real: On the same day two courts ruled that Trump didn’t have absolute immunity for his conduct while he was President, his Georgia lawyer argued that if he wins in 2024, he can’t be tried on that case until 2029.

But for now, the matter has been sent to the DC Circuit to deal with.


DC Circuit Rules that a President’s Speech as Candidate Is Not Official

The DC Circuit just ruled that three lawsuits against Donald Trump (and others) for actions on January 6 can move forward.

Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote the majority opinion, joined by Greg Katsas and Judith Rogers. He wrote:

When a sitting President acts in his capacity as a candidate for re-election, he acts as office-seeker, not office-holder.

But Katsas — a former Trump White House counsel and a Trump appointee — may have summarized the holding best.

Today, we do not definitively resolve that question. Instead, we hold only that we cannot resolve it on a motion to dismiss. Our conclusion rests on two propositions persuasively established by Chief Judge Srinivasan’s lead opinion. First, in certain limited contexts, courts may reliably conclude that a sitting President is speaking only in a private capacity as a candidate for re-election or as the leader of a political party. These include instances where the President speaks at a party convention, in a presidential debate, in a political advertisement, at a campaign rally, or at a party fundraiser. Second, the operative complaints plausibly allege that the January 6 speech involved this kind of purely private campaign speech. In particular, the complaints allege that the January 6 rally was organized by campaign staff and funded by private donors, and was neither facilitated by White House staff nor paid for with congressionally appropriated funds. Given those allegations, which remain to be tested on summary judgment or at trial, we cannot resolve the immunity question in President Trump’s favor at this stage of the case.

Trump never argued that his actions were official. Instead, he said that when a President speaks on matters of public interest, even as a candidate, he is entitled to immunity.

But all three judges rejected that view.

Srinivasan engaged in an extended discussion of how unfair it would be for a former President running to be elected President again if he were running against the sitting President — that is, the presumed state of the 2024 race. Under Trump’s scheme, Biden would be immune for anything he said as a candidate; Trump would not.

Under President Trump’s proposed public concern test, if the candidate happens to be the sitting President (but not if she is a former President or any other candidate), her speech in the ad would be official—even though it is plainly campaign speech in a campaign ad given in her private capacity as candidate. A sitting President then would be absolutely immune from defamation liability for something she may have said about her opponent in the campaign ad, whereas a former President would face liability for saying the very same thing in the very same ad.

The pro-incumbent imbalance would be especially stark if the former and current Presidents were to run against each other. In that situation, one candidate, the former President, would face civil damages liability for statements on matters of public concern in campaign ads or in an acceptance speech at a party convention. But the competing candidate, the sitting President, would be wholly insulated from damages liability for making the very same statements on the opposing side of the very same race. We see no basis for giving an incumbent President that kind of asymmetrical advantage when running against his predecessor.

This case — and Trump’s criminal case, presumably — will now focus on certain aspects of January 6 to test whether this was a campaign event or an official event. It will pivot on who paid for what and who organized the event.

There’s a big problem with this opinion. A sitting President cannot be prosecuted if he spends official resources for campaign events. Trump’s White House was repeatedly found to have broken the Hatch Act, and the President and Vice President are not covered by it. So a future Donald Trump (and indeed, all Presidents to some degree) will now have an incentive to bill taxpayers for all events so as to enjoy presidential immunity.

But for now, it’ll go back before Judge Mehta for a renewed discussion about whether this was an official presidential event or a campaign event.

Update: Fixed Judith Rogers/Janice Rogers Brown for probably the 100th time in my life.


Boris Epshteyn’s Absence and Presence in Trump’s Alleged Crime Spree

ABC had a story yesterday revealing details about Trump attorney Jennifer Little’s role in the former president’s stolen document case. Most commentators are focused on the warning that Little testified she gave Trump: that failing to comply with a subpoena would be a crime.

But the backstory it tells is more interesting to me. It describes that Little — who continues to represent Trump on the Georgia case, though specialists in Georgia’s RICO law have also joined that team — was hired (the implication is, for the Georgia investigation) in March 2021 and only a year later did some other things for him.

Little was first hired by Trump in March 2021, only a couple of months after he left the White House, and shortly after authorities in Georgia launched their election-related probe. But more than a year later, she ended up briefly helping Trump with other matters.

When DOJ subpoenaed Trump in May 2022, Little suggested bringing in someone, “who had handled federal cases,”  which is reportedly why Evan Corcoran — someone totally inappropriate to a classified documents case, but someone who was then representing Steve Bannon in his contempt case — was brought in. In any case, I’m fairly certain Trump was already represented by people who had federal experience.

Little attended a May 23 meeting and, per ABC’s report, told Trump to take the subpoena seriously.

Four months later, believing Trump still possessed even more classified documents, the Justice Department issued its subpoena to him. Little suggested retaining an attorney who had handled federal cases before, so Corcoran was then hired, and she essentially handed over the matter to him, sources said.

On May 23, 2022 — 12 days after receiving the subpoena — Little and Corcoran met with the former president at Mar-a-Lago. It was Corcoran’s first time meeting Trump in person, and Little allegedly wanted to help ease Corcoran into his new role.

But, as sources described it to ABC News, Little told investigators she had a bigger purpose in going to that meeting: She wanted to explain to Trump that whatever happened before with the National Archives “just doesn’t matter,” especially because Trump never swore to them, under the penalty of perjury, that he had turned everything over, sources said. But whatever happens now has “a legal ramification,” Little said she tried to emphasize to Trump, according to the sources. [emphasis of passive voice my own]

That means that Little — and not Boris Epshteyn, as I and others had suspected — is Trump Attorney 2 in the indictment.

The indictment describes that Little and Evan Corcoran informed Trump about the subpoena, after which he authorized Corcoran, not Little, to accept service. The two lawyers met with Trump together on May 23.

53. On May 11, 2022, the grand jury issued a subpoena (the “May 11 Subpoena”) to The Office of Donald J. Trump requiring the production of all documents with classification markings in the possession, custody, or control of TRUMP or The Office of Donald J. Trump. Two attorneys representing TRUMP (“Trump Attorney 1” and “Trump Attorney 2”) informed TRUMP of the May 11 Subpoena, and he authorized Trump Attorney 1 to accept service.

54. On May 22, 2022, NAUTA entered the Storage Room at 3:47 p.m. and left approximately 34 minutes later, carrying one of TRUMP’s boxes.

55. On May 23, 2022, TRUMP met with Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 at The Mar-a-Lago Club to discuss the response to the May 11 Subpoena. Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 told TRUMP that they needed to search for documents that would be responsive to the subpoena and provide a certification that there had been compliance with the subpoena. TRUMP, in sum and substance, made the following statements, among others, as memorialized by Trump Attorney 1:

a. I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes.

b. Well what if we, what happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?

c. Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?

d. Well look isn’t it better if there are no documents?

56. While meeting with Trump Attorney 1 and Trump Attorney 2 on May 23, TRUMP, in sum and substance, told the following story, as memorialized by Trump Attorney 1:

[Attorney], he was great, he did a great job. You know what? He said, he said that it – that it was him. That he was the one who deleted all of her emails, the 30,000 emails, because they basically dealt with her scheduling and her going to the gym and her having beauty appointments. And he was great. And he, so she didn’t get in any trouble because he said that he was the one who deleted them.

TRUMP related the story more than once that day.

57. On May 23, TRUMP also confirmed his understanding with Trump Attorney 1 that Trump Attorney 1 would return to The Mar-a-Lago Club on June 2 to search for any documents with classification markings to produce in response to the May 11 Subpoena. Trump Attorney 1 made it clear to TRUMP that Trump Attorney 1 would conduct the search for responsive documents by looking through TRUMP’s boxes that had been transported from the White House and remained in storage at The Mar-a-Lago Club. TRUMP indicated that he wanted to be at The Mar-a-Lago Club when Trump Attorney 1 returned to review his boxes on June 2, and that TRUMP would change his summer travel plans to do so. TRUMP told Trump Attorney 2 that Trump Attorney 2 did not need to be present for the review of boxes.

This section of the indictment relies heavily on Corcoran’s notes. Perhaps the only thing that relies on Little’s testimony is the description that Trump told her she did not have to be present to review the boxes — in retrospect, a weird decision, since the task of reviewing the contents of 35 or so boxes in one day is pretty daunting.

The indictment does not include the warning that ABC describes Little giving.

But, she told Trump, if there are any more classified documents, failing to return all of them moving forward will be “a problem,” especially because the subpoena requires a signed certification swearing full compliance, the sources said.

“Once this is signed — if anything else is located — it’s going to be a crime,” sources quoted Little as recalling she told Trump.

The sources said that when investigators asked Little if those messages to Trump “landed,” she responded: “Absolutely.”

The former president said something to the effect of, “OK, I get it,’” the sources said she recalled to investigators.

ABC notes in the story that they previously broke the news of Corcoran giving Trump warnings, warnings which also don’t appear in the indictment.

ABC News reported in September that, according to the notes and what Corcoran later told investigators, Corcoran had warned Trump that if he didn’t comply with the subpoena, he could face legal trouble and that the FBI might search his estate.

As I noted, I and others had previously assumed that Attorney 2 was Boris Epshteyn. That’s because he was centrally involved in this process: he had previously been credited with hiring Corcoran (which is why I bolded the passive voice reference above), he was reported to have recruited Christina Bobb to be the fall-gal on the false declaration, he pushed an aggressive strategy, and then he attempted to retroactively claim that at the time he was doing that, he was representing Trump as a lawyer, not a political consultant.

Remarkably, reporting on Boris’ role in all this has completely disappeared from the story.

Reports obviously sourced to witnesses friendly to the defendant are often an attempt to share information otherwise covered by a protective order with those potentially exposed: it’s a way to compare stories without leaving an obvious trail of witness tampering.

And this story, revealing details of testimony that would be of interest to the quasi-lawyers who were also involved in this process but who weren’t even mentioned in the indictment, comes just weeks after another such leak, of the video testimony from flipped witnesses in the Georgia case.

There may have been two leaks: one, of just the depositions of Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell, to ABC, and a second, of fragments of the depositions of all four known cooperating witnesses, to WaPo. The lawyer for Misty Hampton, implicated with Powell in the Coffee County plot, admitted to leaking the videos, or at least some of them. But that doesn’t explain why there appear to be two sets of videos.

The ABC set describes Jenna Ellis describing first learning about the fake elector plot from an text thread Epshteyn initiated.

Ellis, who in her remarks alternated between speaking on and off the record with prosecutors, instead discussed only the context surrounding the two incidents she couldn’t divulge, including saying that she first learned about the concept of the fake electors plot from Giuliani and current Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn.

“There was one group [text] thread that Boris initiated when — which was the first time that I learned of it — asking me to just join a phone call,” Ellis told prosecutors, who then stopped her from discussing the details of the call.

The WaPo report includes a version of that.

The former Trump attorney also told prosecutors that she was asked to join a Dec. 7, 2020, conference call with Giuliani and two other Trump campaign officials — Mike Roman, who is also charged in the Georgia case, and Epshteyn — as they talked “legal strategy” with several Republicans who were slated to serve as Trump electors in Pennsylvania.

Ellis said she had not initially been privy to the “fake elector plot” and believed “it had been shielded from me specifically” — though she did not elaborate on why. Ellis said she became aware of the effort when she was added to a group text chain about the plan that included Giuliani, Epshteyn, Roman and Eastman.

It also adds Kenneth Chesebro’s description that Epshteyn, not Rudy Giuliani, was quarterbacking Trump’s efforts to undermine the election.

At one point, a prosecutor asked Chesebro who he thought was “quarterbacking” the Trump campaign’s legal efforts — Giuliani, Eastman or Epshteyn. Chesebro replied that it appeared to be Epshteyn. Epshteyn declined to comment.

Remember: Epshteyn is not charged in the Georgia indictment; Epshteyn is unindicted co-conspirator 3. Mike Roman is charged for the coordinating that both accomplished.

Epshteyn is, however, believed to be co-conspirator 6 in the DC indictment.

I suggested during the discussions about a protective order in DC that Epshteyn may have been the person prosecutors had in mind when objecting to including “other attorney[s] assisting counsel of record” in the case, not least because Trump attorney Todd Blanche also represents Epshteyn.

Epshteyn is not just someone who is known to have been closely involved in the fake elector conspiracy, but he is someone who in the stolen document case served as an “other attorney assisting counsel of record.” Crazier still, Epshteyn shares an attorney with Trump: Todd Blanche, who represents Trump in the Alvin Bragg case, the stolen documents case, and now the January 6 case. Epshteyn, who has never filed a notice of appearance for Trump, has followed him around to his various arraignments as if he is family.

If DOJ has a specific concern about Trump sharing discovery with Epshteyn — who has been centrally involved in Trump’s efforts to combat his legal jeopardy by attacking rule of law — this is the kind of objection they might raise.

I had already contemplated whether some of the exhibits submitted with a discovery motion (which on reflection, was submitted by Blanche) were intended to share information, including details about what Trump is trying to obtain under CIPA. For example, the initial 49-page discovery memo included with the motion would be really valuable to any unindicted co-conspirators who might find a way to access the unredacted copy submitted under seal. Aside from references to the general January 6 database (which is mentioned at more length in another file submitted), it is otherwise only cited for references to this redacted paragraph that by context appears to pertain to discovery relating to the Secret Service.

The motion itself has helpful details about how prosecutors on one Jack Smith investigation sat in on interviews of witnesses in the other Jack Smith investigation.

For example, the Special Counsel’s Office used the same grand jury in this District for matters relating to both cases. Assistant Special Counsel John Pellettieri has appeared on behalf of the Office in this case and in the Florida Case. Senior Assistant Special Counsel (“SASC”) Thomas Windom, who has entered a notice of appearance for the prosecution in this case, participated in at least 27 of the interviews described in discovery produced in the Southern District of Florida. SASC Julie Edelstein, counsel of record in the Florida Case, participated in 29 of the interviews that have been produced in discovery in this case. Jay Bratt, also counsel of record in the Florida Case and Counselor to the Special Counsel, participated in 10 of the interviews that have been produced in discovery in this case. Notwithstanding the clear overlap of personnel and intermixed responsibilities, the Office has sought to artificially narrow its definition of the prosecution team to an unidentified subset of individuals who, apparently in its sole judgment, “are working on this case.” Ex. D. Not so. As the entire Office has participated in this prosecution, both in fact and by General Garland’s Order, the entire Office is subject to the prosecution’s discovery obligations.

This is likely highly misleading: for people who are witnesses in both cases — as, for example, Molly Michael and Alex Cannon would be — DOJ shared both sets of witness 302s in both places (and so some of the Edelstein and Bratt interviews would simply be stolen document interviews shared in January 6 discovery and some of the Windom interviews would be the counterpart). But it is also likely the case that some prosecutors sat in on interviews that would touch on investigative subjects of interest.

Then there’s Blanche’s treatment of it. After objecting back in September when DOJ submitted a filing along with the motion to seal it, that’s what Trump did here (for which Judge Chutkan scolded them), so if DOJ had any objection to the non-redactions in these filings, it would have been too late.

Boris Epshteyn, who was the focus for months of reporting about his role in Trump’s twin federal indictments, has all but disappeared. Indeed, ABC’s scoop about Little makes clear that his reportedly significant role in the stolen documents case never even made the indictment.

But as other recent leaks make clear, his role in both alleged felony conspiracies remains significant.


Donald Trump Insists He’s Too Special To Use Same Database 1,200 Other January 6 Defendants Have Used

In addition to his claim that he needs a bunch of intelligence so he can try to distinguish his influence operations from those of Russian spies, Donald Trump also submitted a filing claiming that Jack Smith has not done an expansive enough search on discovery.

To understand how frivolous this filing is, consider that it complains that Jack Smith has not included DC USAO materials on the January 6 investigation in its discovery to Trump.

Since the Order, the Special Counsel’s Office has enjoyed constructive access to USAODC documents. In an August 11, 2023 discovery letter, the Office wrote that the USAO-DC “maintains a separate database of materials comprising discovery in the criminal cases related to the breach of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.” Ex. G at 6. The letter stated that the “investigative team” in this case had “accessed certain materials within that database and has taken into its possession certain materials that the investigative team may rely upon or use at trial.” Id. Given these alignments, there is no question that the USAO-DC is part of the prosecution team.

Twice over the course of these discovery letters, DOJ has told Trump if he wants access to the full database provided to all the other January 6 defendants, he can get it.

As we advised you, in the course of our investigation, we accessed certain materials within that database, took into our possession certain materials that we may rely upon or use at trial, and produced them to you in discovery in our case. In our August 11 letter, we also offered to facilitate your access to the USAO database. We reiterate that offer now.

In response, Trump complained about DOJ’s unwillingness to identify everything in the database that might be helpful.

Seeking to avoid that obligation, the prosecution’s November 25 letter again directed our attention to a “a separate database of materials comprising discovery in criminal cases related to the breach of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.” Ex. F at 3; see also Ex. G at 6. Like SASC Windom’s “full access to the FBI’s trove of evidence about Oath Keeper and Proud Boy extremists involved in the riot,” Doc. 116-1 at 9, the Office’s conceded access to the USAO-DC’s database further supports President Trump’s position that the USAO-DC is part of the prosecution team.

However, it is not enough for the prosecution to offer the defense access to materials produced in those cases. “The government cannot meet its Brady obligations by providing [the defendant] with access to 600,000 documents and then claiming that [the defendant] should have been able to find the exculpatory information in the haystack.” United States v. Hsia, 24 F. Supp. 2d 14, 29-30 (D.D.C. 1998). In United States v. Saffarinia, the court relied on Hsia and agreed with the defense that “the government’s Brady obligations require it to identify any known Brady material to the extent that the government knows of any such material in its production of approximately 3.5 million pages of documents.” 424 F. Supp. 3d 46, 86 (D.D.C. 2020); see also United States v. Singhal, 876 F. Supp. 2d 82, 104 (D.D.C. 2012) (directing prosecutors to disclose the “identity (by Bates number) of the specific witness statements and documents” that are “producible as Rule 16(a)(1)(E)(i) documents material to preparing the defense, regardless of whether those documents are inculpatory or exculpatory”). The discovery in this case dwarfs that at issue in Hsia and Saffarinia, and the prosecution must identify information that is subject to Brady by doing more than pointing to another huge database.

This issue has already been litigated, repeatedly, in other January 6 cases. His demand for more is a demand to be treated better than the people at the Capitol, the people actually depicted in and/or who took the video.

The argument itself is largely an attempt to exploit the fact that the defendant was once the President and so interacted with all parts of government. As DOJ quipped in an October 24 letter:

To point out but a few of the exceedingly broad errors in your assertion, the prosecution team does not include the almost three million civilian, active duty, and reserve members of the Department of Defense; the 260,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security (or its CISA component); or the Intelligence Community writ large. Furthermore, your attempt to serve Rule 17(c) subpoenas, ECF No. 99—definitionally reserved for non-party witnesses—on the House Select Committee’s successor entity and a member of the White House Counsel’s Office confirms your understanding that those entities are not members of the prosecution team.

It is not rooted in the actual evidence in the case or — as with virtually all the filings Trump’s teams have made — the actual charges against him.

That said, the associated filings are of some interest. It’s just that Trump’s team submitted them in the least useful way possible. I’ve put them below, in order.

Reading them together reveals that some of what Trump requested in his unclassified discovery request last night — such as the request for the classified backup to the 2016 ICA or the opportunity for foreign powers to hack the 2020 election — were already covered in DOJ’s motion to strike his CIPA 5 request.

Reading them together also shows a progression. As I’ve noted, his original request asked for:

43. Please provide all documents relating to communications or coordination by the Special Counsel’s Office and DOJ with any of the Biden Administration, the Biden Campaign, Hunter Biden, the Biden family, the Biden White House, or any person representing Joe Biden.

In the first response, DOJ addressed that question (and question 37(b) for materials on Executive Privilege) by describing five Executive Privilege waiver reviews

37b. The defendant was party to five miscellaneous matters regarding assertion of the executive privilege. Attachments to filings in those five matters included letters from the incumbent White House declining to invoke executive privilege over certain witness testimony. The defendant already has those materials.

Trump must have made a follow-up at the November 21 meet-and-confer, because DOJ addressed it again, saying that whatever he wants is not in the prosecution team’s possession and not covered by discovery obligations.

Requests 33, 40, 42, 43, and 44 seek information that exceeds the scope of our discovery obligations, is not within the possession of the prosecution team, and/or does not exist.

One interesting redaction in this most recent exchange pertains to Trump’s request for injuries of law enforcement on January 6.

2. If you intend to introduce evidence at trial of any injuries sustained to law enforcement or anyone else at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, please provide all documents regarding those injured during the protest at the Capitol, including medical records.

DOJ’s response to that is entirely redacted, suggesting that DOJ may well submit records of injuries, such as the heart attack Danny Rodriguez caused after being especially riled up at Trump’s rally.

Finally, of significant interest: Trump asks for the identities of all the people who’ve flipped.

16. Please provide all documents regarding offers of immunity, forgoing of prosecution, diversion, USSG 5K1.1 reductions, or any other consideration to persons under investigation or charged regarding activities related to January 6th.

DOJ included that request among those about which it said Trump was not entitled to discovery.

Requests 15-19, 34-36. All of these requests—regarding the pipe bomb investigation, offers of immunity to January 6 defendants, “Antifa,” sources, and various named and unnamed January 6 offenders—appear to be focused on others’ actions related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Many of them request information that exceeds the scope of our discovery obligations and/or is not within the possession of the prosecution team. To the extent that we possess any such materials, we have produced them to you. Relatedly, in our meet and confer, you stated that you believe that in certain other cases, the Department of Justice has taken a position inconsistent with the indictment’s allegations that the defendant is responsible for the events of January 6. We disagree. The Department’s position in other January 6 cases that the defendant’s actions did not absolve any individual rioter of responsibility for that rioter’s actions—even if the rioter took them at the defendant’s direction—is in no way inconsistent with the indictment’s allegations here.

Trump continues to argue he’s better than the members of his mob. And he’s trying to avoid being held accountable for any near murders his incitement caused.


August 11 DOJ letter accompanying first classified discovery; includes redacted reference to Secret Service at 6,

October 6 Trump letter addressing Document 1 and Document 5

October 23 Trump discovery letter with seven requests redacted (Unredacted copy)

October 24 DOJ response to classified discovery letter, describing scope of prosecution team

November 3 DOJ response to October 23 discovery letter rejecting most requests and telling Trump where to find some of it in discovery; this has a number of specific references to the requests in the October 23 letter

November 15 Trump discovery letter making broad requests for January 6 discovery

November 25 DOJ response to November 15 letter and November 21 meet-and-confer, providing additional responses to October 23 requests

Exhibit H (sealed; pertains to reason Bill Barr changed Public Integrity’s approach to voter fraud claims)

Exhibit I (sealed; follow-up to letter Molly Gaston and JP Cooney sent about PIN)

Exhibit J (sealed; involvement of National Security Division in January 6 cases)

Exhibit K (sealed; involvement from FBI WFO on January 2)

Exhibit L (sealed; involvement from FBI WFO on January 3)

Exhibit M (sealed; reference to DHS I&A as attempt to get to CISA Election Task Force; ODNI involvement)

Exhibit N (sealed; related to DHS involvement in March 2021 report on 2020 election)

Exhibit O (sealed; related to DHS involvement on January 6)

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/january-6-insurrection/page/4/