How the Steele Dossier Broke MAGAts’ Brains

The Steele Dossier broke America.

Not literally. Nearly three decades of Fox News, increasing wealth inequality, and unlimited money in politics likely did that.

But there are MAGAts who blame much of it on the dossier. There are MAGAts who situate their own shift in allegiance from the country to Trump based on a false belief that the dossier was part of a devious plot between Hillary Clinton and the Deep State to frame Donald Trump. That’s a key part of this thread from a right wing podcaster excusing January 6, which went viral just days after the attack.

Such views — mixing accurate criticism of the dossier with wild conspiracy theories — really did play a key role in polarizing the US. Phil Bump explained how the adoption of such conspiracy theories (which he fact checked) worked in real time. And I noted that if, as virtually all Republican members of Congress who spent years investigating the dossier concluded, it was riddled with Russian disinformation, it means MAGAts attacked their own country in response to Russian disinformation.

This didn’t happen by accident. Instead, it likely involved a brilliant multi-step disinformation campaign victimizing everyone: Hillary, Paul Manafort and Trump, and even the Deep State.

The first step was a brutal double game Oleg Deripaska deployed: using his tie to Christopher Steele to add to Paul Manafort’s legal insecurity — or perhaps to hide his own role in election interference by offering himself as a potential cooperator — even while using that insecurity to win cooperation from Trump’s campaign manager on the election attack.

The next step was, apparently, injecting garbage into the Steele dossier, some near misses that obscured the real attack and made Trump’s people less secure.

The third was an effort, partly deliberate and then later partly organic (albeit often on the part of credulous people who published obviously false claims from Konstantin Kilimnik), to conflate the dossier with the entire Russian investigation. Along the way MAGAt politicians, both right wing and quasi-lefty influencers, and even established journalistic institutions would join this effort. Because the dossier was unreliable, because it was used in the investigation of Carter Page (a guy already under scrutiny when he joined the Trump campaign) — this sustained propaganda campaign insisted — all the reporting on the Russian attack, the FBI investigation into it, and the results must be nought.

By substituting the dossier for the rest of the Russian investigation, this propaganda effort flipped Trump’s enthusiasm for foreign interference in democracy on its head, and allowed him — the guy who invited Russia to hack his opponent — to play the victim.

Deripaska’s double game

The first part of this process has gotten the least attention (indeed, Republican conspiracy theories covered it up).

There were two parts of the intelligence collection on Trump and his associates: with a few notable exceptions, accurate open source research done by Fusion GPS itself, and raw HUMINT collection from former MI6 officer Christopher Steele that may have been injected with disinformation. It has long been public that right wing billionaire Paul Singer indirectly paid for the open source research during the GOP primary, only to have the Democrats pick up the project during the general election.

What’s not widely known is that starting in March — the same month Manafort was publicly hired by the campaign (though, according to Sam Patten, Konstantin Kilimnik expected that to happen before it was public) — Deripaska paid Steele, through an attorney, to collect on Manafort.

[Steele’s] initial entree into U.S. election-related material dealt with Paul Manafort’s connections to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. In particular, Steele told the FBI that Manafort owed significant money to these oligarchs and several other Russians. At this time, Steele was working for a different client, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

And Steele paid Fusion to help with this effort. So before May, Deripaska paid Steele, who paid Fusion. After May, Democrats paid Fusion, which paid Steele.

But, as Igor Danchenko described, that earlier effort to collect on Manafort met with little success.

[H]e may have asked friends and contacts in Russia [for information on Manafort], but he couldn’t remember off-hand. He added that, for this topic, his friends and contacts in Russian couldn’t say very much because they were “too far removed” from the matter.

It was after that, on a trip Danchenko took to Russia, when Steele asked Danchenko to “look for information dealing with the US presidential election, including compromising materials on Donald Trump.”

Probably as a result of this close relationship, by July, intelligence reporting later assessed, one of Deripaska’s associates was probably aware of the DNC dossier project. Similarly, reporting found that, “two persons affiliated with [Russian Intelligence Services] were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016.” As I have, John Durham linked these two reports, suggesting a likelihood that the Russian spooks had ties to Deripaska (though in making that link, Durham obscured Deripaska’s identity). Given Deripaska’s own alleged ties to Russian intelligence, if his lawyer knew and he knew, spooks close to him — including, allegedly, Kilimnik — would likely have known. Durham also described that Russian intelligence had identified Steele’s subsource network.

Paul Manafort’s former boss, Oleg Deripaska, probably knew about the dossier project in close to real time.

Christopher Steele denies that’s the case.

If Deripaska did know of the project, thought, it dramatically changes the significance of a meeting Christopher Steele had with Bruce Ohr, then a top lawyer coordinating DOJ’s effort to combat multinational organized crime, in late July 2016. Steele had been trying to pitch Ohr to recruit oligarchs purportedly willing to cooperate against Russia. He had, earlier in 2016, assured Ohr that Deripaska had distanced himself from Putin. Earlier in July, he contacted Ohr about Deripaska.

Steele thought Deripaska could be trusted.

And on July 30, between the time Konstantin Kilimnik flew to Moscow to prepare for his Paul Manafort meeting and when he arrived in New York for that meeting, Steele met with Ohr in DC.

For years, Republicans claimed that this was an instance of Steele working every contact he had at FBI and DOJ to make sure his dossier reports got shared. Except Steele did more than share dossier leads at that meeting (one, about what Russian spooks had reportedly said about Trump, the other about whom Carter Page might have met with in Moscow). In addition, he shared information about Russian doping, a topic on which Steele reportedly had a good track record.

And most importantly, Steele pitched information from Deripaska about Paul Manafort (this is from Ohr’s testimony to Congress).

Mr. Ohr. So Chris Steele provided me with basically three items of information. One of them I’ve described to you already, the comment that information supposedly stated and made by the head, former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

He also mentioned that Carter Page had met with certain high-level Russian officials when he was in Moscow. My recollection is at that time, the name Carter Page had already been in the press, and there had been some kind of statement about who he had met with when he went to Moscow. And so the first item that I recall Chris Steele telling me was he had information that Carter Page met with higher-level Russian officials, not just whoever was mentioned in the press article. So that was one item.

And then the third item he mentioned was that Paul Hauser, who was an attorney working for Oleg Deripaska, had information about Paul Manafort, that Paul Manafort had entered into some kind of business deal with Oleg Deripaska, had stolen a large amount of money from Oleg Deripaska, and that Paul Hauser was trying to gather information that would show that, you know, or give more detail about what Paul Manafort had done with respect to Deripaska.

[snip]

Q Were there any other topics that were discussed during your July 30, 2016, meeting?

A Yes, there were. Based on my sketchy notes from the time, I think there was some information relating to the Russian doping scandal, but I don’t recall the substance of that.

When I first understood how this worked together, I thought that Deripaska was primarily doing this to increase Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, making Manafort more vulnerable when Deripaska, via Kilimnik, started making asks in a cigar bar days later. It certainly may have increased the chance that the FBI would develop the criminal investigation into Manafort.

But it likely did another thing: it likely made the FBI more interested in treating Deripaska as a source, rather than a subject. And sure enough, in September 2016, the FBI interviewed Deripaska, at which interview (John Solomon parroted in advance of Robert Mueller’s testimony, during the period Solomon was a key player in Rudy Giuliani’s information operation) he scoffed that Manafort would have any tie to Russia.

“I told them straightforward, ‘Look, I am not a friend with him [Manafort]. Apparently not, because I started a court case [against him] six or nine months before … . But since I’m Russian I would be very surprised that anyone from Russia would try to approach him for any reason, and wouldn’t come and ask me my opinion,’ ” he said, recounting exactly what he says he told the FBI agents that day.

“I told them straightforward, I just don’t believe that he would represent any Russian interest. And knowing what he’s doing on Ukraine for the last, what, seven or eight years.”

As I’ve written, much of the outreach to Trump’s associates in 2016 involved people who had served as FBI sources. Deripaska knew Steele spoke with the FBI. People like Sergei Millian and Felix Sater had been FBI sources. More recently, of course, Alexander Smirnov allegedly attempted to frame Joe Biden.

A key tactic of this effort was to exploit FBI’s HUMINT efforts, to use FBI’s informants against it. So much so that Deripaska even feigned cooperation with the FBI himself!

The dossier would become an important part of — largely constructed — stories about the Russian investigation. But that all lay on top a foundation of efforts Deripaska made to use Christopher Steele to set up (and maybe even obscure) his asks of Paul Manafort.

A series of near misses

The knowledge that Deripaska and Russian spooks had of Steele’s network and the ongoing Fusion GPS project would have provided the means to plant disinformation.

As noted above, for a period, every one of the Republicans who examined the dossier at length concluded that Russia had succeeded in filling the dossier with disinformation. Lindsey Graham — who conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the Carter Page FISA — said it did. Chuck Grassley — who led the investigation into the dossier — said it did. Ron Johnson — who also made a show of investigating these things — said it did. Chuck Ross — the chief scribe of the dossier on the right — said it did. The high gaslighter Catherine Herridge said it did. Fox News and all their favorite sources said it did. WSJ’s editorial page said it did.

Then, they stopped saying it.

Maybe they thought through the implication of it being Russian disinformation. Maybe they started looking to John Durham’s efforts to blame Hillary Clinton by fabricating conspiracy theories instead.

Because, think about it: Unlike Rudy Giuliani, there’s no hint that Hillary set out to collect dirt that would be easily identifiable to the campaign as disinformation. She had no reason to seek inaccurate information; the reality was already damning enough.

“For us to go out and say a bunch of things that aren’t true, you know, can cause a lot of damage to the campaign,” Hillary Campaign Manager Robby Mook testified in the Michael Sussmann trial.

Hillary gained nothing by paying a lot of money for a project riddled with disinformation. Russian spooks simply took advantage of something every politician does — collect oppo research — to harm her, harm Carter Page, and harm the US.

Consider the effect it may have had (I examine the reports one by one here).

One effect possible disinformation may have had was to make Hillary complacent as she struggled to deal with a hack during the height of the campaign. For example, several of Steele’s reports said any kompromat Russia had on Hillary consisted of very dated intercepts, not recently-stolen emails. One report falsely claimed Russia hadn’t had success at hacking Western targets. Later reports provided purported updates on the hack-and-leak campaign, suggesting Russia was dropping any further efforts, that directly conflict with ongoing developments. Subsequent investigation showed those reports were all false.

And every one of those reports might have led Democrats (and the FBI) to be complacent about ongoing risks posed by the hack they had IDed in April (and indeed, they didn’t expect the files stolen from the DNC to be released).

Another report which could be disinformation (but which, if you can believe Danchenko, may also be Steele exaggeration of very tepid things he said about someone he believed to be Sergei Millian), would be to shield Konstantin Kilimnik’s role in the election interference. One of the most important reports for what came afterwards alleged that the,

“well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Trump’s team and Russian leadership “was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE and others as intermediaries.

If Page was Manafort’s go-between, no one would look at what Kilimnik was doing.

To be sure, this could be Steele’s doing. It appears in a report that misrepresented what Danchenko claims to have told Steele about his contacts with Sergei Millian.

And as the Senate Intelligence Committee Report noted — I hope, sardonically — nothing about Manafort’s ties to Deripaska (or Kilimnik) ever made it into the dossier.

Steele and his subsources appear to have neglected to include or missed in its entirety Paul Manafort’s business relationship with Deripaska, which provided Deripaska leverage over Manafort and a possible route of influence into the Trump Campaign.

Steele mentions Paul Manafort by name roughly 20 times in the dossier, always in the context of his work in Ukraine; and, in particular, Manafort’s work on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Deripaska, who had a long-standing business relationship with Manafort, is not mentioned once. Neither is Kilimnik, Manafort’s right-hand man in Kyiv, who himself has extensive ties to Deripaska. 5885 Despite Steele’s expertise on Ukraine and Russia, particularly on oligarchs, the dossier memos are silent on the issue.

Whatever the explanation — Danchenko’s failures to get dirt, Steele’s efforts to protect another contract, or disinformation — the dossier’s failure to note Kilimnik’s role (along with its silence about Natalia Veselnitskaya’s pitch of dirt to Don Jr. and George Papadopoulos’ shenanigans in London) effectively distracted from the most glaring signs of Trump ties with Russia. It served as camouflage. The things that don’t show up in the dossier that Fusion and Steele should have learned were almost as useful to the Russian project as the near-misses that did.

Perhaps the best established case of disinformation, however, is a tribute to its usefulness. Starting in October 2016 (in the period Michael Cohen was frantically cleaning up Trump’s Stormy Daniels problem), Steele produced first three (one, two, three), and then, in December 2016, a fourth report alleging that Michael Cohen was instead cleaning up the alleged coordination between Manafort and the Russians. Each report got progressively more inflammatory, with the last one alleging that Cohen and three associates went to Prague in August or September for secret discussions with the Kremlin and its hackers; the discussion allegedly involved cash payments to operatives and plans to cover up the operation.

If true, this would have been a smoking gun.

Within weeks of the last report, on January 12, 2017 — two days after Buzzfeed published the dossier — the Intelligence Community got intelligence assessing that it was disinformation.

January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.

Of course, that was not made public for over three years. As a result, even as the story of Mike Flynn’s attempts to undermine Obama’s foreign policy rolled out, even as Cohen was accepting big payments from Viktor Vekselberg, the Cohen-in-Prague story became the measure of so-called collusion.

From the start of the public accounting of Trump’s ties to Russia, then, something the IC already understood to be likely disinformation was the yardstick of the Russian investigation.

Two aspects of the story make it especially ripe to be intentional disinformation, in form and content.

First, according to Danchenko, the Cohen story came from his childhood friend, Olga Galkina, who knew he worked in some kind of intelligence collection and who even tried to task him to collect information after the dossier came out.

In March of 2016, Danchenko had introduced PR executive Chuck Dolan to her. Dolan and Danchenko traveled the same DC-based circles of Russian experts, and she was looking for the kind of public affairs consulting that Dolan offered, on behalf of her company. Over the course of two trips to Cyprus as part of that business, Dolan and Galkina developed an independent relationship. Dolan’s company was at the same time working on a business development project for the Russian government, in which he directly interacted with Dmitry Peskov’s office. Through that networking, on July 13, 2016, Galkina claimed that Dolan had recommended her for a job with Peskov’s office (he told Durham’s prosecutors he didn’t remember this when they asked). And on October 15, 2016 — in the same week that she first shared the Cohen story with Danchenko — Galkina gossiped about knowing something via Peskov’s office.

On October 15, 20 I 6, Galkina communicated with a Russia-based journalist and stated that because of her [Galkina] “acquaintance with Chuck Dolan and several citizens from the Russian presidential administration,” Galkina knew “something and can tell a little about it by voice. ” 882

As Danchenko told the FBI, when he asked Galkina if she knew anything about several people on whom Steele had tasked him to collect, Michael Cohen’s name was the single one she recognized.

[Danchenko] began his explanation of the Prague and Michael Cohen-related reports by stating that Christopher Steele had given him 4-5 names to research for the election-related tasking. He could only remember three of the names: Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. When he talked to [Galkina] in the fall of 2016 — he believes it was a phone call — he rattled off these names and, out of them, he was surprised to her that [Galkina] [later [Danchenko] softened this to “almost immediately] recognized Cohen’s name. [bold brackets original]

After that initial conversation, Danchenko asked Galkina to go back to her sources for more detail, which resulted in several more reports.

In other words, the source for the allegation that Michael Cohen, in an attempt to cover up a Trump scandal, had direct ties to the Presidential Administration — the Kremlin — is someone who had developed direct and lucrative ties to Dmitry Peskov’s office, and had been bragging about having dirt involving Peskov’s office that very week.

And Dmitry Peskov is one person who undoubtedly knew that Michael Cohen had called the Kremlin nine months earlier, because Trump’s fixer had called Peskov’s own office.

In the wake of Trump’s public denial on July 27 that he had any ongoing business with Russia, and in the period when Cohen was busy covering up other Trump scandals, a story arose that alleged Cohen’s cover-up involved ties to the Kremlin.

As Robert Mueller would substantiate two years later, Cohen’s cover-up did involve a ties to the Kremlin, a call in which he solicited Putin’s help for a business deal involving a sanctioned bank and the GRU. But those were entirely different ties, in time and substance, from the ties claimed in the dossier.

This is the kind of near miss story — a story that approximated Cohen’s real contact with the Kremlin, which he and Trump were lying to hide, a story that approximated Cohen’s real efforts to cover up Trump’s scandals — that could serve both to distract and raise the risks of the public lies Cohen and Trump were telling to hide that Trump Tower deal, the lies that Dmitry Peskov knew Trump was telling.

It also proved useful when Cohen doubled down on his lies, in 2017. As I pointed out in real time, as the Trump Tower deal started to get leaked to the press (though without the most damning detail, that Cohen did succeed in reaching the Kremlin; Trump Organization withheld the email that proved that from Congress) Cohen used denials of the dossier allegations as a way to deny the burgeoning Trump Tower scandal as well. Because there was nothing to substantiate the Cohen-in-Prague story, Cohen’s then lawyer claimed, it meant there was no story at all.

The entire letter is pitched around the claim that HPSCI “included Mr. Cohen in its inquiry based solely upon certain sensational allegations contained” in the Steele dossier. “Absent those allegations,” the letter continues, “Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.” The idea — presented two weeks before disclosure of emails showing Cohen brokering a deal with Russians in early 2016 — is if Cohen can discredit the dossier, then he will have shown that there is no reason to investigate him or his role brokering deals with the Russians. Even the denial of any documents of interest is limited to the dossier: “We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the Dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists.”

With that, Cohen’s lawyers address the allegations in the dossier, one by one. As a result, the rebuttal reads kind of like this:

I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Cohen literally denies that he ever traveled to Prague six times, as well as denying carefully worded, often quoted, versions of meeting with Russians in a European capital in 2016. Of course that formulation — He did not participate in meetings of any kind with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 — stops well short of other potential ties to Russians. And two of his denials look very different given the emails disclosed two weeks later showing an attempt to broker a deal that Felix Sater thought might get Trump elected, including an email from him to one of the most trusted agents of the Kremlin.

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

As I said above, I think it highly likely the dossier includes at least some disinformation seeded by the Russians. So the most charitable scenario of what went down is that the Russians, knowing Cohen had made half-hearted attempts to broker the Trump Tower deal Trump had wanted for years, planted his name hoping some kind of awkwardness like this would result.

That is, Cohen used his true denial of having been to Prague to rebut the equally true claim that he had contact with the Kremlin.

Manafort’s plan

There’s good reason to believe that Cohen’s focus was not an accident.

That’s because, after meeting with a Deripaska associate, Paul Manafort advised Trump to use precisely this approach.

In early January, Manafort met in Madrid with a Deripaska associate, Gregory Oganov. Manafort’s explanations to Mueller’s team about the purpose of the meeting vacillated (it was one of the topics about which Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled he had lied). But according to a text from Kilimnik, the meeting was about recreating the old relationship he had had with Deripaska.

A May 2017 story from Ken Vogel (yeah, I know), described how after that trip, Manafort called Reince Priebus and told him that the dossier was full of inaccuracies, and that those inaccuracies — and the FBI’s reliance on Steele, the guy paid by a lawyer for Deripaska who brought claims about Manafort to DOJ — discredited the Russian investigation generally.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a person close to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whomhe alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative. [my emphasis]

Priebus shared Manafort’s comments with Trump.

Priebus did, however, alert Trump to the conversation with Manafort, according to the operative familiar with the conversation and a person close to Trump.

Notably, along with disputing that anyone with ties to Steele would know what Yanukovych would say to Putin, Manafort also debunked the claim that he was managing relations with Russia because he didn’t know Page.

In his conversation with Priebus, Manafort also disputed the assertion in the Steele dossier that Manafort managed relations between Trump’s team and the Russian leadership, using Page and others as intermediaries.

Manafort told Priebus that he’d never met Page, according to the operative.

As with Cohen’s later debunking of the Prague story to distract from the Trump Tower story, Manafort used a near miss in the dossier  to discredit the larger true claim, that he had been working with someone in Russia.

Manafort met with Kilimnik personally in February, and according to Rick Gates, at Manafort’s behest, Kilimnik kept hunting down the other sources for the dossier. Of course, according to later intelligence reporting, Russian spooks already knew that.

How about that?

Within a day after the release of the dossier, at a time when he was meeting with an Oleg Deripaska deputy, Manafort came up with a strategy to discredit the entire Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier. How was Manafort so prescient about the faults of the dossier?

But Deripaska had almost certainly known about the dossier project for six months by that point, and had funded an earlier collection effort targeting Manafort himself.

And Republicans followed that strategy — to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier and FBI’s decision to rely on Steele, a strategy Manafort shared after a meeting with a top Deripaska aide — for three years.

Hunter Biden Prosecutor Leo Wise Aspires to Be the James Comer of John Durhams

In a filing submitted last week opposing Hunter Biden’s [surely doomed] bid for a continuance of his California trial until September, Leo Wise argued that this is just a garden variety tax case that doesn’t merit any more time to prepare than the week between the Delaware case and the California case.

The defendant claims that he requires only “a small amount of additional time to adequately prepare” ECF 97, p. 5 (emphasis added). However, he asks for this “limited reprieve,” ECF 97, p. 4, of 77 days without providing any details about how those two and half months would be utilized. His filing is simply unclear about what the defendant would actually do with any additional time. His perception of this case as “uniquely challenging and high-profile,” ECF 97, p. 5, is unlikely to change if a continuance is granted. The fact that there may be more press coverage of this trial than others does not affect the preparation required by counsel in any way. This is a straightforward tax case, and the defendant has not alleged otherwise. He is not above the rule of law and should be treated like any other defendant. Every case has pretrial deadlines; the fact that they exist here cannot support a continuance request. Given the complete lack of specificity as to what needs to happen between now and trial (other than compliance with the usual pretrial deadlines which the defendant has known about since January), the factor of usefulness does not support a continuance. [my emphasis]

But a motion in limine filed by Hunter Biden reveals that claim is false.

Wise has no intention of treating this as a straightforward tax case.

After Hunter Biden agreed, in response to Weiss’ own motion in limine, not to mention how Leo Wise had been badly duped by Alexander Smirnov and instead of dropping the case, continued to give Russia what it intended all along, a political hit job on Joe Biden during the 2024 election, Hunter asked David Weiss’ team if they would likewise agree not to make this a trial about influence-peddling.

Weiss refused.

Defendant Robert Hunter Biden, by and through his counsel of record, hereby files this Motion in Limine to exclude from trial reference to any allegation that Mr. Biden (1) acted on behalf of a foreign principal to influence U.S. policy and public opinion, (2) violated FARA, (3) improperly coordinated with the Obama Administration, (4) received direct compensation from any foreign state, (5) received compensation for actions taken by his father that impacted national or international politics, or (6) funneled money to his father or any related alleged corruption (together, allegations of “improper political influence and/or corruption”). This evidence should clearly be excluded under the Federal Rules of Evidence 403 balancing test, as the risk of unfair prejudice is significantly outweighed by any marginal probative value. On May 17, 2024, Mr. Biden’s counsel asked for the Special Counsel’s position on this proposed motion in limine. On May 20, 2024, the Special Counsel indicated that he opposes this motion.

[snip]

Although the Special Counsel’s filed exhibit list (DE 88) contains upwards of forty descriptions that are totally insufficient to identify what document is being referred to (see, e.g., “Text Messages” (#073), “Notes” (#318)), it is clear that many exhibits the Special Counsel intends to introduce relate to allegations of improper political influence and/or corruption that are wholly outside of the scope of the Indictment. See, e.g., “Email from Eric Schwerin to Antony Blinken re: My Remarks In Latvia” (GX-267), “Email from Eric Schwerin to Sally Painter re: Amos Hochstein” (GX-262). Allowing in evidence or testimony related to the unsubstantiated claims of improper political influence and/or corruption run a real risk of the jury convicting Mr. Biden based on facts and allegations outside of the Indictment.

Defense counsel notes that it is ironic that the Special Counsel has filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence “alleging the prosecution of the defendant is somehow due to or part of a Russian malign election influence campaign,” which Mr. Biden did not object to. (DE 92 at 4.) Yet, the Special Counsel opposes the instant motion, which would preclude him from putting forward similar politically charged information to the jury. To prevent this trial from becoming a trial on politics rather than a trial on the charges in the Indictment, this Court should grant both the Special Counsel’s motion as it relates to a “Russian malign election influence campaign” and this Motion.

Having investigated for six years, David Weiss never substantiated a FARA case. But (as the exhibit list makes clear) he wants to drag that into what he claims is a straightforward tax case anyway.

The scope of Leo Wise’s aspirations to use the tax case as a vehicle to air James Comer’s fevered fantasies is made clear by something else Wise revealed in that same filing: The reason giving Hunter Biden more than a week between trials would harm the government is because they plan to make more than thirty people from around the country fly to California to testify against Joe Biden’s kid.

The defendant is not seeking a modest delay of a few days to obtain a piece of evidence or to procure a witness. He seeks a 77-day delay in a case the government has extensively prepared for following a detailed and lengthy investigation. This will inconvenience the United States. For instance, the government anticipates calling more than thirty witnesses, most of them out-of-state. See Declaration of Leo J. Wise, at ¶4 . Trial subpoenas began being sent to these witnesses over a month ago. Id. Many of these individuals are represented; the witnesses and their counsel have planned their summer schedules to account for this trial commencing in June and concluding in July.

You don’t need to call 30 witnesses to present your tax case against Hunter Biden!!

The key witnesses will be Hunter’s ex-wife, Katie Dodge, no more than eight people Hunter paid out of Owasco funds and then wrote off (including, it seems, Hallie Biden, whose testimony Weiss is compelling), maybe a sex worker or two to titillate Matt Gaetz (Weiss has similarly refused to exclude the sex workers), the accountant who filed Hunter Biden’s taxes in 2020, former Hunter business partners Rob Walker and Eric Schwerin, and some law enforcement witnesses to present all the paperwork. That’s around 16 witnesses.

If Weiss really does call over 30 witnesses, it will make this “straightforward tax case” into the largest Special Counsel trial in recent years (as laid out by the list below).

The sheer overkill of Leo Wise’s aspirations is clear when you compare Hunter’s case — for a failure to pay taxes from income that all came through the US — to Paul Manafort’s EDVA trial. Like the Hunter Biden case, that was a tax case, one for which tax evasion was charged for five years, not one, and one for which the scope of income was at least an order of magnitude larger. Because Manafort’s tax evasion involved keeping his Ukraine income offshore in Cyprus, that case also included charges of FBAR violations. It also included nine counts of bank fraud. So tax evasion, plus hiding his funds overseas, plus trying to cheat some banks in the US. Prosecutors called a bunch of local Alexandria vendors, because one way Manafort shielded his income was by wiring money directly to US vendors to pay for things like Ostrich-skin vests.

And for all that, at this stage of the proceedings, prosecutors estimated they would call 20 to 25 witnesses; they ultimately called 27.

Leo Wise wants to do something more spectacular than the Paul Manafort case — and given his close ties to Rod Rosenstein, I wouldn’t rule out the grandiosity of his aspirations as some kind of payback. Of course, there’s a straight through-line between the Manafort case and the Russian-backed effort to fuck over Joe Biden, so Leo Wise is giving Russia precisely what they wanted.

Leo Wise was sure he was smarter than Lesley Wolf and so chased the Alexander Smirnov allegation only to discover he was participating in an attempt to frame Joe Biden. Having been duped there, Leo Wise now refuses to back down. He will stage the most spectacular Special Counsel trial yet!

Update: My apologies to Judge Scarsi. He has apparently granted the continuance to September 5.

Other Special Counsel prosecutions

Scooter Libby: 10 Government Witnesses (plus three CIA briefers not called)

Roger Stone: 5 Government Witnesses (plus Andrew Miller, Michael Caputo, and Jerome Corsi, not called)

Michael Sussmann: 25 Government Witnesses (about 5 not called)

Igor Danchenko: 6 Government Witnesses

Barr Time 1: “Conjuring up criminal conspiracies about political opponents”

June 6 of last year was the official publication date for Bill Barr’s book. In it, he claimed — at least three different times — that under him, DOJ did not investigate Joe Biden’s role in pushing Petro Poroshenko to fire Viktor Shokin. “[T]he facts about this episode were out in the open and didn’t warrant a criminal investigation,” Barr said in one instance.

The day after release of a book making that assertion, on June 7, 2023, Bill Barr went on the record with Margot Cleveland insisting that investigation into an allegation that we now know came from Alexander Smirnov, claiming that Mykola Zlochevsky had bribed Joe Biden, not only hadn’t been shut down in August 2020, but had been sent to Delaware “for further investigation.”

“It’s not true. It wasn’t closed down,” William Barr told The Federalist on Tuesday in response to Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin’s claim that the former attorney general and his “handpicked prosecutor” had ended an investigation into a confidential human source’s allegation that Joe Biden had agreed to a $5 million bribe. “On the contrary,” Barr stressed, “it was sent to Delaware for further investigation.”

On June 6, Bill Barr claimed his DOJ didn’t investigate Biden’s ties to Burisma because all the facts were out in the open. On June 7, he insisted DOJ had sustained a secret investigation into an allegation that Burisma bribed Joe Biden.

Barr’s book mentions Ukraine almost 70 times. He mentions the Bidens, in an investigative context, over 56 times. Virtually everything he says on the topic conflicts as dramatically with known events as that claim on June 7 did.

It was always clear these claims were an attempt to spin the events, Barr’s CYA about fairly damning events in which he was involved. Given the subsequent disclosures of the the SDNY warrants, claims Lev Parnas’ has made since this book came out, Brady’s testimony about the side channel, and Smirnov’s indictment, I want to look at how Barr describes his involvement in efforts to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

At best, they show that Bill Barr was an easy mark for Russian disinformation.

Barr needed a bribery allegation and an informant fabricated it for him

Here’s how Barr describes the Brady side channel, which we now know resulted in an FBI informant with ties to Russian spies fabricating a claim about Joe Biden that right wingers successfully demanded be used to renege on a plea deal for Hunter Biden during the 2024 election season, a claim that — had Brady done the vetting he and Barr claimed he did — would have been identified as a fabrication in 2020.

With impeachment still pending, Giuliani embarked on yet another round of grandstanding. He went about claiming he had compiled significant evidence relating to the Bidens that he wanted to present to the Justice Department. While anyone is free to present evidence to the DOJ, the fact Giuliani was making such a public display obviously made his motives suspect. It looked to me that Rudy was trying to run the same play against Biden that I thought the Clinton campaign had tried to run against Trump in 2016: giving just enough evidence to law enforcement to have some allegation investigated, then claiming one’s adversary was “being investigated.” This presented a quandary. On the one hand, I wasn’t going to let the department be drawn into Giuliani’s game, and I wasn’t about to allow the work of other prosecutors on other, potentially related matters be tainted by commingling their evidence with whatever Giuliani had pulled together. On the other hand, the department has an obligation to be open to all comers who believe they possess relevant evidence; we could not merely dismiss his information out of hand without looking at it. Yet merely receiving information does not imply the department believes opening an investigation is warranted. My solution to Giuliani’s posturing was to create an intake system for evidence originating in Ukraine—including but not limited to Giuliani’s—that dispelled any suggestion that, by accepting the information, the department was signaling it considered the allegations credible.

I set up a screening process whereby an office outside of Washington—in this case, the US Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh— would vet the information provided by Giuliani, working with the FBI and intelligence experts on Ukraine. That office, which was run by a trusted US attorney, Scott Brady, who was well known to me and my staff, would not be responsible for deciding whether to open any investigation, just for assessing the credibility of the information. This would be an intermediary step before any information was forwarded to an office responsible for making any investigative determinations. Employing such a “taint team” is a well-established procedure within the department for screening potentially suspect evidence. These precautions were especially apt in the case of Giuliani, whose political passions and previous associations in Ukraine possibly affected his own critical faculties.

At an unrelated press conference in early February 2020, I made clear I was skeptical of information coming out of Ukraine. “We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine,” I said. “There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine, a lot of crosscurrents. And we can’t take anything we received from Ukraine at face value.” My usual critics on the Hill and in the media, as always getting the point exactly backward, screamed that I was giving Giuliani special access to the department. Wrong. It was an exercise in caution and an effort to protect other investigations that the DOJ had going on at the time.

While the effort to push the Ukrainians to investigate Biden was foolish, I do not believe it was criminal. Not all censurable conduct is criminal. The current tendency to conflate the foolish with the legally culpable causes more harm than good. Trying to apply the criminal law to diplomatic give-and-take is especially dangerous. A quid pro quo is inherent in almost all diplomacy, and Presidents frequently ask foreign countries to do things that are politically beneficial to the Presidents. A President might, for example, make a large, secret concession to a foreign country in order to expedite release of a hostage or win some other timely agreement the President expects will yield substantial political benefits prior to an election. The fact that the action sought from the foreign government will yield political benefit should not make the request criminal. It may have been in the national interest. Nor should it be criminal because the concession made by a President seems disproportionate or even reckless. Nor should it make a difference that the President was subjectively motivated by the expectation of political benefit.

The fact is that diplomatic transactions frequently involve “mixed motives.” The quo being sought will provide a political benefit and will likely satisfy a legitimate policy purpose of the government. In any particular case, the political motive may loom much larger than the governmental purpose, but as long as the latter is present, it would be hazardous to criminalize diplomacy by attempting to assess the balance of subjective motivations. Of course, if the quo being sought objectively has no governmental purpose at all and is purely a private benefit—say, a payment of cash for private use—then we are in the realm of bribery. But so long as the quo arguably advances a public policy objective, then policing the propriety of diplomatic transactions should be left to the political, not the criminal, realm.

To this extent, I viewed Vice President Biden’s pushing for Shokin’s termination as similar to President Trump’s pushing for an investigation of Biden’s role. The quo sought by Biden—the firing of Shokin—held a potential political benefit for Biden: avoiding the embarrassment of having his son’s company investigated for corruption. It also, ostensibly, had a legitimate public policy purpose: advancing the US anticorruption agenda. Similarly, Trump would benefit politically from an investigation into Shokin’s termination, but bringing transparency to that episode would also arguably advance America’s anticorruption agenda.

Biden supporters would say that, in his case, his policy purpose was overarching and supervened any possible political agenda. Trump supporters would say the same about his aims. My point is that the criminal justice process cannot legitimately be used to investigate politicians’ motivations when those politicians are asking for some rational and lawful policy concession. What Biden was demanding in Ukraine, quite apart from whether it would benefit his son, technically had a legitimate governmental purpose. And what Trump was demanding, quite apart from whether it would benefit his reelection, had the same. (309-312)

Regarding the side channel itself, Barr claims it was simply a taint team for information offered up by the public — by anyone — from Ukraine. That’s inconsistent with Brady’s still unexplained effort to go look for information on Hunter Biden and Burisma in the Burisma investigation that had just been shut down. It’s inconsistent with Brady’s concessions of all the things he didn’t consult — such as materials released as part of impeachment and contemporaneous reporting — before passing on tips.

And consider the euphemism Barr uses to describe Rudy’s motives. In addition to a specific concern about the “crosscurrents” in Ukraine, Barr cited Rudy’s “political passions and previous associations in Ukraine” to explain the need for such vetting.

There’s no mention of Russian spies.

There’s no mention of the fact that both the White House and DOJ recognized that Andrii Derkach was a Russian agent before Rudy boarded a plane to go solicit dirt from him.

There’s no mention of the fact that Barr set up a way for Rudy to share tips from known Russian agents.

And that’s one of several reasons why Barr’s complaint about the criticism he got — his claim that he was merely exercising caution — is bullshit. The side channel was one part of a larger scheme that had the effect of protecting Rudy (and therefore Trump) and framing Joe Biden. The scheme included:

  • Constraining the ongoing investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman in SDNY so it could not include Dmitry Firtash, much less Derkach
  • Moving the Derkach investigation to EDNY
  • Prohibiting anyone from opening an investigation into a Presidential candidate without his approval
  • Allowing Rudy to share information with Scott Brady
  • Permitting Brady to intervene in SDNY investigation (as well as that of Hunter Biden, Dmitry Firtash, and Ihor Kolomoyskyi)

These steps did more than vet Rudy’s tips. Taken together, they used the entire weight of DOJ to protect Rudy (and Trump) from any consequences for soliciting dirt from known Russian spies — a separate possible crime than merely sharing false information with the FBI.

Perhaps that’s why, having misrepresented the nature of the side channel, Barr opined that “I do not believe it was criminal” to solicit dirt on the Bidens from known Russian spies. Perhaps that’s why Barr followed that opinion with two paragraphs equating Joe Biden’s effort to rein in corruption in Ukraine with Rudy’s effort to solicit dirt from known Russian spies for Trump.

Barr’s explanation never made sense. The expectation was always that by firing Shokin, Burisma would get more scrutiny, not less. Barr’s explanation makes far less sense given that he launched this side channel just days after his DOJ shut down a four year investigation into Zlochevsky started while Biden was Vice President.

But his explanation does clarify something. The side channel assessment — based off material from Rudy, Chuck Grassley says — was a bribery assessment. It was started as a bribery assessment months before (if we can believe the indictment, which given the way it obfuscates other known details, we cannot) Smirnov first started pitching his false claims of bribery. It was started as a bribery assessment because that, in Barr’s mind, distinguished an inappropriate use of DOJ to investigate a politician’s motive and a fair use of DOJ’s authorities in an election year.

And in the year before an election last year, Barr doubled down on the bribery allegation allegedly fabricated by an informant with ties to Russian spies. In the process, Barr helped ensure that Joe Biden’s kid will face two trials and six felony charges as opposed to a settlement David Weiss had already offered.

An Attorney General dedicated to killing an investigation into Russian interference

That’s where Barr’s tenure as AG ended: setting up a side channel via which Joe Biden was framed by an informant with ties to Russian spies, which in turn led directly to felony charges against Biden’s kid.

That makes Barr’s single-minded focus on killing the Mueller investigation look quite different. Everything stemmed from that effort, according to Barr.

Russiagate dominated the first two years of President Trump’s term, looming over every aspect of the administration. I was on the outside as a private citizen during this time, and so my early reaction to the collusion claims was based on public reporting and my own informed speculation. Only in early 2019, when I joined the administration as Attorney General, did I begin to get a fuller picture of this manufactured scandal. From that time forward, it became increasingly clear to me that there were never any legitimate grounds for accusing Trump or his campaign of colluding with the Russians. This was not only my conclusion. Every investigation into the matter—including those of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees—also found no evidence of collusion.

I would soon make the difficult decision to go back into government in large part because I saw the way the President’s adversaries had enmeshed the Department of Justice in this phony scandal and were using it to hobble his administration. Once in office, it occupied much of my time for the first six months of my tenure. It was at the heart of my most controversial decisions. Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal. At the end of my first year in office, the President was impeached over a harebrained effort, involving Rudy Giuliani, to push back on the Russia collusion canard by digging up an alleged counter-scandal in Ukraine implicating the Clinton campaign or Vice President Biden and his son Hunter.

The fallout from Russiagate continued during my last year in office. My relationship with the President frayed as he became frustrated by my failure to bring charges against those who had ginned up Russiagate and the failure of Durham’s investigation to produce more rapid results. (180-181)

Of course Barr’s “Russiagate” claims are riddled with lies. We’re used to that.

The HPSCI investigation did ask every Trump-friendly witness if they had evidence of “collusion,” and they all said no (though it’s clear that Devin Nunes worked directly with the White House to craft at least one of these scripts). Senators split on partisan lines regarding whether the SSCI investigation showed “collusion.” The Mueller investigation did not make a conclusion about “collusion.” And not only did the report itself imply there was evidence of conspiracy — just not enough to charge — but a footnote Barr hid until right before the 2020 election revealed that an investigation into whether Trump’s rat-fucker joined a CFAA conspiracy with Russia continued after Mueller finished. Perhaps because of that, the declinations section on conspiracy actually didn’t make a conclusion, one way or another, about whether Trump’s people conspired with Russia on the hack-and-leak itself; that section addresses Section II and IV of the first volume, but not Section III, where the hack-and-leak was described.

Like I said, we’re used to those lies. I’m interested in this passage, which repeats Barr’s tired old lies about the Russian investigation, because of the relationship Barr sets up between those lies and what came before and after. Barr admits that he made a conclusion about the merit of “Russiagate” based on “public reporting” (presumably of the kind a right winger would see) and what Barr describes as his “own informed speculation.” Based on that conclusion, he decided to return to government to kill the investigation.

Barr built his justification to investigate Democrats from there.

Barr’s description of the Durham investigation — something he “had” to launch and something that he expected, in 2020 and presumably even in 2023 (his book came out just weeks after Durham gave up the ghost), would have “results” in the form of prosecutions — ties directly to his false claims (which may or may not be beliefs) about the Russian investigation. The Durham investigation had to produce results because Barr needed it to be true that the Russian investigation had no merit.

That imperative may explain Barr’s inconsistent claims. On page 180, describing that he had to open the Durham investigation, Barr made clear he believed an imagined Hillary effort to set up an investigation against Trump was criminal. On page 310, Barr explained that he didn’t believe an effort to push Ukraine [including known Russian assets, but Barr doesn’t mention that part] to investigate the Bidens was criminal. Rudy’s effort to solicit dirt from known Russian spies was not criminal, but Russian injection of disinformation into Hillary’s oppo research was.

It’s in that framework where Barr describes his personal involvement in Ukraine dirt — which the available record shows started no later than August 2019 and continued through at least October 2020, which an unreliable Parnas claims started far earlier, and which in paragraphs following Barr’s description of the side channel he improbably claims he first learned from a warning John Bolton gave him in early August. Rather than an impeachment focused on Trump, it focused on Rudy, and rather than an attempt to cheat in an election, it was an attempt to create a “counter-scandal.” In this passage, it is all portrayed as a ham-handed but, in Barr’s mind, justified effort to respond to the Russian investigation. In this passage, there’s no mention of Barr’s involvement in it at all. Only later would Barr refashion it (in the side channel passage above) as an effort to get transparency about Biden’s role in firing Shokin, transparency that multiple direct witnesses had already provided as part of the impeachment.

But in this passage, everything — the Durham investigation, the Ukraine response, and a bunch of things Barr conflates with the two, including the Brady side channel — arise out of Barr’s imperative to kill the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. That’s what justifies it all. Barr’s attempt to sustain false claims about the Russian investigation. Barr turned those false claims into license to retaliate.

That’s the before (the need to investigate Hillary as part of the imperative to kill the Russian investigation) and after (the side channel that protected Rudy from consequences for soliciting dirt from Russian spies and had the result of framing Joe Biden).

The AG doth protest too much, methinks

With those in mind, consider how Barr denials about the Durham investigation serve as a way to disclaim any involvement with Ukraine, where [3], “Conjuring up criminal conspiracies about political opponents had been honed into a fine art form.” This long passage, full of prevarications and word games, denies Trump asked him to open the kind of Biden investigation Barr opened up with the side channel.

As I was launching John Durham’s investigation in the spring of 2019, I was aware of the claims that the Ukrainians had interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Clinton. Because these allegations were relevant to the origins of the Russia collusion narrative, they legitimately fell within the ambit of Durham’s inquiry. I put little stock in them and suggested to Durham that he defer any Ukraine-related work, and so these claims weren’t being pursued actively at that point. I was dubious of the idea that the Ukrainians, not the Russians, had been responsible for hacking into the DNC. [1] It had the hallmarks of Russian disinformation and seemed contrary to the evidence developed by the intelligence community and by Mueller’s investigation. Moreover, contrary to the President’s claims, CrowdStrike did not appear to be controlled by Ukrainians and seemed to be a reputable company. I doubted the firm had any reason to fabricate its analysis of the hack. In any event, I wanted Durham to hold back from engaging with Ukraine because I considered it [2] a land of smoke and mirrors, where disinformation was everywhere and reliable evidence extremely difficult to find. There were so many different actors with varying agendas—pro-Western politicians, pro-Russian politicians, countless oligarchs, each with his own aim—that it was hard to determine the provenance and motivations behind any information collected there. [3] Conjuring up criminal conspiracies about political opponents had been honed into a fine art form. I was especially concerned that Ukrainian actors could act as channels for Russian disinformation. I didn’t want Durham to get bogged down in that morass.

Consequently, in the spring and early summer of 2019, when John [Durham] and I discussed the international dimensions of his work, [4] we agreed to engage with the three countries we felt would be most helpful to the investigation: the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy. I started by making contact with the ambassadors of these countries, and later had discussions with senior officials in each. I traveled to both Italy and the UK to explain Durham’s investigation and ask for any assistance or information they could provide. I alerted the President that we would be making these contacts and asked him to mention Durham’s investigation to the prime ministers of the three countries, stressing the importance of their help. In contrast, [5] I never talked with the Ukrainians or asked President Trump to talk to the Ukrainians. The President never asked me to talk to the Ukrainians. Nor had I talked with Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine. I was also not aware of anyone at the department requesting the Ukrainians to open up an investigation. As far as I was concerned, if Durham ever found a reason to look into Ukrainian activities, he would do the investigation, not leave it to the Ukrainians.

What really fueled the impeachment drive was the attempt to sic the Ukrainians on allegations about Vice President Biden. It was one thing to argue, as the President’s private defense attorneys did, that Ukrainians had interfered with the 2016 election. That would have had a bearing on collusion allegations against the President. It was something else to argue, as the President’s defense also did, that Joe Biden’s son Hunter had traded on his surname and engaged in un- ethical deal making in Ukraine. That looked less like defensive work and more like an offensive thrust against President Trump’s likely opponent in the 2020 election. Moreover, although the Department of Justice was investigating election interference, [6] DOJ was not investigating Joe Biden, and I didn’t think there was a legitimate basis to do so. The conflict-of-interest laws do not apply to the President or Vice President.

The key facts regarding Biden’s role in the ouster of the Ukrainian anticorruption prosecutor were largely a matter of public record. In 2014 the Vice President’s son Hunter, with virtually no relevant experience, had received a lucrative position on the board of Burisma at a time when the Vice President had the “lead” in the Obama administration’s push to get Ukraine to step up anticorruption efforts. In late 2015 Vice President Biden, by his own account, used the threat of withholding loan guarantees to pressure the Ukrainian government to fire Viktor Shokin, the lead Ukrainian anticorruption prosecutor. The public record is fairly clear that there was frustration in US and European policy circles with Shokin’s failure to pursue corruption cases aggressively, and his removal was widely favored by key US figures. It also appears he was not actively pursuing Burisma at the time of his dismissal, although he claimed later that he was planning to investigate the company. In my view, while the whole situation was [7] shameful and unethical, the facts did not provide a basis for criminally investigating Vice President Biden.

[8] By the spring of 2019, I had noticed news stories stating that Giuliani was pushing the Ukrainians to investigate Biden’s role in Shokin’s dismissal. But other than what I glimpsed in the media, I had no knowledge of the former mayor’s activities. During the spring, I expressed my concern about Giuliani with the President. As I was leaving an Oval Office meeting on another topic, I paused briefly to raise the matter.

“Mr. President,” I said, “I don’t think you are being well served by Giuliani at this point. Mueller is over, and Russiagate is dying. Why is Giuliani thrashing about in Ukraine? It is going to blow up—”
“Yeah,” the President said, cutting me off. “I told him not to go over there. It was a trap.” President Trump gave the impression Giuliani had a degree of independence and was going to pull back. I did not press the point.

Unfortunately, the President’s careless statement to Zelensky erroneously implied some connection between me and Giuliani. Early in the conversation, the President asked Zelensky to “get to the bottom” of CrowdStrike and the server allegations, and said he was going to have the Attorney General talk to him about this. If the President had stopped there, I wouldn’t have been especially upset, because at least these particular allegations were within Durham’s purview, albeit on the back burner. However, later in the conversation, the President asked Zelensky to investigate Biden’s role in Shokin’s removal and said he should work with the Attorney General and Giuliani. When I read this, I hit the ceiling. When the transcript was released, I had the department put out a categorical statement:

[9] The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine—on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine—on this or any other subject. Nor has the Attorney General discussed this matter, or anything relating to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.

Although this seemed to be largely accepted by journalists covering the department, some commentators still speculated that the President might have been pressing me to have the DOJ investigate Biden’s role.

This didn’t happen. The President had not asked that the Justice Department investigate the former Vice President, and it would not have made a difference if he had. [10] As far as I was concerned, the facts about this episode were out in the open and didn’t warrant a criminal investigation. Although Hunter Biden’s position was obviously a sordid instance of monetizing his father’s office, the Vice President did not violate the law because federal conflict-of-interest laws do not apply to Vice Presidents. Moreover, given the evidence that Biden was acting in line with US policy, and the absence of good evidence that Shokin was actively pursuing Burisma and that his removal would inhibit future action against the company, it would be impossible to prove that the Vice President acted with corrupt intent in pressing the Ukrainians to dismiss Shokin. And if there ever were a reason to pursue the matter, we would do it ourselves and certainly not pressure the Ukrainians to do it. (annotated numbering my own) (300 -304)

Three times, here, Barr claims he didn’t think the facts behind the Burisma allegations merited the kind of criminal investigation he would later set up.

[6] DOJ was not investigating Joe Biden, and I didn’t think there was a legitimate basis to do so.

the whole situation was [7] shameful and unethical, the facts did not provide a basis for criminally investigating Vice President Biden.

[10] As far as I was concerned, the facts about this episode were out in the open and didn’t warrant a criminal investigation.

He does so in a passage that claims to have avoided Ukrainian dirt because of the very same “smoke and mirrors” [2] Barr used to justify the side channel in January 2020. Those smoke and mirrors and Ukraine’s fine art form of conjuring up criminal conspiracies were the reason (Barr claims) he kept Durham out of Ukraine; but those very same smoke and mirrors are what Barr used to rationalize a side channel assessing dirt from known Russian spies that conjured up a criminal conspiracy against Joe Biden!

In other words, this disavowal of Ukranian involvement as part of the Durham investigation — which is transparently misleading in any case — serves as a proxy denial of the Ukrainian involvement we know Barr undertook elsewhere.

Barr’s discussion of the Durham investigation attempts to disclaim chasing Ukrainian dirt in three different ways.

First, he claims he didn’t know about any of Rudy’s efforts until … he doesn’t say precisely when. Barr claims at [8] that, “other than what I glimpsed in the media, I had no knowledge of the former mayor’s activities.” He situates the claim, vaguely, in “the spring of 2019,” far earlier than the warning he describes that Bolton gave him in early August pages later.

Parnas claims that Barr knew of their scheme from the start, from February, which would also be Barr first started getting briefings on the SDNY investigation, though Parnas didn’t say whether Barr learned of the scheme via SDNY briefings or separately, from Rudy’s effort to broker meetings with Barr. It might be true that the briefings Barr was getting on the Parnas investigation didn’t emphasize the tie to Rudy by whenever in spring Barr means. The first warrant against Rudy’s grifters had just a passing mention of Rudy; Kevin McCarthy, Rick Scott, Ron DeSantis, and Trump himself were all a more central focus of that warrant. The second, dated May 16, which focused directly on Marie Yovanovitch (and Pete Sessions’ role in her ouster), took out a reference to Rudy. SDNY obtained that warrant days after one possible date for Barr’s expressed concern to Trump that Rudy was “thrashing about in Ukraine.” Ken Vogel reported on May 9 that Rudy would head to Ukraine for election year dirt, only to report two days later that Rudy was canceling the trip after Adam Schiff and others made a stink; both reports postdated Trump’s comments to Hannity that Barr would investigate all this. That probably would be around the time when, according to Barr, he knew and warned Trump about “Giuliani thrashing about in Ukraine,” but claimed only to know that from press coverage.

By making the timing of this so vague, Barr makes it impossible to tell whether this conversation happened before or after the decision — made as part of, “inter‐department discussions well above” Joseph Ziegler’s second-order supervisor and originally attributed by Ziegler to Barr himself — to put the Hunter Biden investigation in Delaware, which made no sense if Hunter were the target but made perfect sense if Joe were. (Elsewhere in the book, Barr boasts that the investigation preceded his tenure, which it did, but the grand jury investigation did not, and — as noted — Ziegler originally said Barr personally made choices about the grand jury investigation.)

In any case, it would have happened long before the Perfect Phone call in July and meetings with Victoria Toensing — allegedly witnessed by Lev Parnas — regarding Dmitry Firtash. Barr is not denying getting involved in all this. He’s saying that he didn’t know what he was in for until sometime in later spring or summer 2019. By August, in any case, briefings on the Parnas investigation would have made SDNY’s increased focus on Rudy’s search for dirt on Hunter Biden clear. Barr knew what Rudy was up to well before DOJ chose to review only the transcript of Trump’s call for possible crimes, rather than the full whistleblower complaint that invoked Parnas and Fruman. Barr knew that if DOJ reviewed the entire whistleblower complaint, it would tie Trump’s call to an ongoing criminal investigation into unlawful influence peddling.

In short, even if Barr is telling the truth, even if he and Trump hadn’t spoken about Rudy’s efforts by the time Trump told Hannity they had, Barr had internal knowledge of both the SDNY investigation and Trump’s enthusiasm for Rudy’s efforts well before DOJ ensured the full whistleblower complaint would not be reviewed.

Having fiddled with the timing but not denied he was involved in Rudy’s efforts before the Perfect Phone Call, Barr then made much of what he claims was an affirmative choice not to pursue Ukrainian leads. He claims  [1] that he didn’t send Durham to chase (what were, but which he didn’t identify as) Konstantin Kilimnik’s claims of Ukrainian tampering in the 2016 investigation because it felt like disinformation.

Remember: the foundational theory of the Durham investigation — what Durham imagined was a fully-blown “Clinton Plan” — was based on possible Russian disinformation, and from there Durham (and Barr) fabricated more. Durham’s pursuit of a conspiracy theory that Hillary made a plan to fabricate information implicating Trump in Russia’s attack was not only based on files that the intelligence community always warned might be Russian disinformation, but Durham — almost certainly with Barr’s help — fabricated an additional element to it: that Hillary would invent false evidence, rather than simply point to true evidence of Trump’s affinity for Russia.

That’s not the only disinformation Barr chased. He and Durham went on junkets around Europe chasing the ginned up conspiracy theories of George Papadopoulos, including at least one fostered by Joseph Mifsud’s attorney.

Which brings us to Barr’s claim at [4] that he and Durham, “agreed to engage with the three countries we felt would be most helpful to the investigation: the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy,” Barr is referring, in the last case, to chasing the Coffee Boy’s Mifsud conspiracies, every bit as obvious disinformation as Kilimnik’s Ukraine conspiracies. And when Barr explains at [5] that “I never talked with the Ukrainians or asked President Trump to talk to the Ukrainians,” he’s limiting his comments to official contacts.

Barr is attempting to distinguish, “ask[ing Trump] to mention Durham’s investigation to the prime ministers of [the UK, Australia, and Italy], stressing the importance of their help,” from Trump’s mention of Barr’s efforts to Zelenskyy, in which he stressed the import of Ukraine’s help.

That’s why it’s so interesting what a big deal Barr makes of the statement at [9], what he describes as a categorical denial of Trump’s mention to Volodymyr Zelenskyy that he’d have Barr reach out.

Barr doesn’t include another part of the statement that DOJ put out (or a follow-up sent out the same day), which described, “certain Ukrainians … volunteer[ing] information to Mr. Durham.”

A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.

Nor does he mention a statement he referred to over and over in the weeks that followed, one he sent on his personal cell phone.

Barr did have contacts with Ukrainians; he even discussed how Durham could get information confidentially from him.

They just were not members of government, Barr claimed.

To this day, we don’t know who those Ukrainians are (and all this would be in addition to discussions with Victoria Toensing about Dmitry Firtash, discussions that Parnas claims involved a quid pro quo for a Hunter Biden laptop).

But as I laid out here (and as I’ll return to), there’s good reason to suspect they include one or more of the Derkach associates Treasury sanctioned in January 2021.

Bill Barr told on himself the day after his book came out: He did investigate Joe Biden. Worse, he set up a system via which an informant responded to Andrii Derkach’s election interference by framing Biden.

Bill Barr walked into the AG job determined to kill an investigation into Russian interference. Before he walked out, he set up a system that protected election interference from Russian agents in Ukraine, election interference that resulted in Joe Biden being framed.

As I said above, a comparison of Barr’s claims with everything we’ve learned in the year since then shows that, at a minimum, Bill Barr was an easy mark for Russian disinformation.

The DOJ IG Backlog on Bill Barr’s Behavior

When Bill Barr lied to Kaitlan Collins about being pressured on specific investigations like the Hunter Biden one last week, he offered up the Roger Stone sentencing as a purported counterexample.

BARR: No. He did not directly pressure me. Yes, as I say, he was out there tweeting and doing things that were embarrassing, and made it hard for me to run the department.

COLLINS: That sounds like pressure.

BARR: It wasn’t pressure. It was just, I mean, for example, I had decided that we were going to not agree to a sentence on Stone that was three times longer than normal. And I’d already decided that. And then, he was tweeting about Stone. So, it just made it harder to make the decision.

COLLINS: Because it looked like you were acting at his behest.

BARR: Right. Right.

COLLINS: On Roger Stone’s sentence.

This is the same tired excuse that Barr offered to Congress years ago; the same tired excuse Barr offered to Lester Holt when he was giving Barr platform to rehabilitate his reputation.

Barr was always going to intervene to override Stone prosecutors’ guidelines sentencing recommendation, Barr claims, but Trump’s tweeted complaints about the proposed sentence only made it look bad. And also, Barr has claimed, Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed with him, even though he treated threats to her — threats from the Proud Boys and Roger Stone that anticipated the toxic combination that led to January 6 — as just a technicality.

Barr continues to make bullshit claims about the Roger Stone sentencing almost four years after reports that DOJ’s Inspector General was investigating the intervention.

DOJ IG has been reviewing the abuses of the Trump Administration for the entirety of the Biden Administration, well into Trump’s campaign to regain the authority to use DOJ to abuse his enemies.

And that’s not the only such investigation.

Tucked at the end of DOJ IG’s list of ongoing investigations are at least three that implicate Bill Barr’s DOJ (and Trump’s DOJ more broadly).

There’s the overpolicing during the summer 2020 protests.

Review Examining DOJ’s and its Law Enforcement Components’ Roles and Responsibilities in Responding to Protest Activity and Civil Unrest in Washington, DC and Portland, Oregon

In response to requests from Members of Congress and members of the public, the DOJ OIG is initiating a review to examine the DOJ’s and its law enforcement components’ roles and responsibilities in responding to protest activity and civil unrest in Washington, DC, and in Portland, Oregon in June and July 2020. The review will include examining the training and instruction that was provided to the DOJ law enforcement personnel; compliance with applicable identification requirements, rules of engagement, and legal authorities; and adherence to DOJ policies regarding the use of less-lethal munitions, chemical agents, and other uses of force. With regard to events in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, the DOJ OIG will coordinate our review with the Department of Interior OIG. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.

There’s the pursuit of journalists’ sources.

Review of the Department of Justice’s Use of Subpoenas and Other Legal Authorities to Obtain Communication Records of Members of Congress and Affiliated Persons, and the News Media

The DOJ OIG is reviewing the DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials.  The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.  If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review.  The review will not substitute the OIG’s judgment for the legal and investigative judgments made in the matters under OIG review.

There’s the implementation of guidelines for COVID release that saw Paul Manafort get released from a facility unaffected by COVID before Michael Cohen got released from one facing an outbreak (which is only the highest profile of a number of inexplicable prioritization decisions).

Review Examining BOP’s Use of Home Confinement as a Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has initiated a review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) use of home confinement as a tool to mitigate the effect of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the federal prison population.

The review will assess the BOP’s process for implementing the use of home confinement as authorized under the CARES Act, the process for its consideration of the eligibility criteria outlined in the Attorney General’s March 26 and April 3, 2020 memoranda, and the process by which BOP headquarters evaluated wardens’ recommendations that inmates who did not meet the Attorney General’s criteria be placed in home confinement. The review will also select particular cases for examination to determine whether there were irregularities in the BOP’s processes. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review. The OIG is undertaking this review in response to requests from Members of Congress, and issues the OIG identified during the series of remote inspections it has conducted regarding the BOP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while Barr was gone before the attack itself, even DOJ IG’s review of January 6 might implicate Barr, not least his treatment of Antifa as a bigger threat than the militia whose threats to Amy Berman Jackson he had dismissed as a technicality; the number of Proud Boys who contributed to the riot but who had earlier been made informants to report on Antifa really threatened to upend those prosecutions.

Review Examining the Role and Activity of DOJ and its Components in Preparing for and Responding to the Events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021

The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating a review to examine the role and activity of DOJ and its components in preparing for and responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The DOJ OIG will coordinate its review with reviews also being conducted by the Offices of Inspector General of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Interior. The DOJ OIG review will include examining information relevant to the January 6 events that was available to DOJ and its components in advance of January 6; the extent to which such information was shared by DOJ and its components with the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal, state, and local agencies; and the role of DOJ personnel in responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The DOJ OIG also will assess whether there are any weaknesses in DOJ protocols, policies, or procedures that adversely affected the ability of DOJ or its components to prepare effectively for and respond to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. If circumstances warrant, the DOJ OIG will consider examining other issues that may arise during the review.

Jerry Nadler’s referral of Scott Brady for his misleading House testimony regarding the Hunter Biden side channel is another potential investigation that could implicate Barr personally (including for public comments after he left government) — though at DOJ IG’s current pace, we might not get results from that investigation until long after Hunter Biden served any sentence for crimes charged largely because of the renewed focus on the effort, ordered by Bill Barr, that ended up framing Joe Biden.

DOJ IG can investigate more quickly. Obviously, it did so during the Trump Administration, producing a number of flawed reports that served Trump’s revenge tour against Peter Strzok, Jim Comey, and Andrew McCabe.

And DOJ IG recently released an interim report on an intelligence product raising concerns about radicalization and Catholic Churches that has inflamed right wingers for years. The results debunk many of the things right wingers have been fearmongering about.

Rather than an investigation into right wing Catholic churches, the intelligence product instead arose out of the investigation of a recently released right wing extremist, whom Seamus Hughes helped NYT identify as Xavier Lopez, who was trying to recruit at a Catholic Church.

The FBI opened an assessment of Defendant A in 2019, after he made online statements advocating civil war and the murder of politicians. Defendant A later was overheard making comments about political violence while purchasing several AR-type rifles, multiple high-capacity magazines, and large quantities of .223 ammunition. In August 2020, Defendant A was arrested by local police after he vandalized and slashed the tires of a parked car. Defendant A plead guilty to felony vandalism charges and agreed as part of his guilty plea to avoid contact with firearms, firearms components, and ammunition. He was sentenced to 5 years in jail, with 4 years suspended and 10 years of probation.

[snip]

Defendant A was released from jail in June 2021. Within a week of his release, contrary to the conditions of his guilty plea and sentence, he began visiting the firearms sections of various sporting goods stores. Although he did not purchase weapons, he discussed his desire to build a .308 caliber rifle and obtain ammunition for it. In addition to his prior plea agreement restrictions, as a convicted felon, both state and federal law prohibited Defendant A from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Based on Defendant A’s online rhetoric, threats, and other activity, an FBI Richmond task force had been aware of Defendant A since 2019 and continued to monitor him. They identified a social media profile associated with Defendant A that included Nazi symbols and rhetoric, as well as posts advocating killing police officers, “ganging up on and beating” racial and religious minorities, conducting a mass shooting at a school for special needs children, taking up armed resistance against the government, learning how to manufacture pipe bombs, and using untraceable means to purchase supplies to manufacture 3D-printed weapons. The FBI Richmond task force also identified online purchases of firearm build kits and lock picking devices.

In early 2022, Defendant A began to attend a church (Church 1) associated with an international religious society that advocates traditional Catholic theology and liturgy but is not considered by the Vatican to be in full communion with the Catholic Church (Organization 1). In social media posts, Defendant A claimed that Church 1 was a “traditional church that isn’t totally kiked [sic],” and stated that he “had to deal with the priest and some (thankfully not all) the parishioners talking about how ‘Hitler bad’ though thankfully they do actually acknowledge that the allies were evil.” As described in more detail below, Defendant A also described himself in his social media profile as “Fascist and Catholic” and a “[radical-traditional (rad-trad)] Catholic clerical fascist.” Based on his online communications, investigators determined that Defendant A was attempting to actively recruit other individuals with similar belief systems into Organization 1 and had begun talking about an attack. [brackets original]

DOJ IG completed that review in 120 days — because they had to. Congress ordered up the report, and imposed the deadline, as part of last year’s intelligence authorization.

Congress has found a way to make DOJ IG release reports they (mistakenly) imagine might reflect poorly on Merrick Garland’s DOJ in timely fashion. And meanwhile, reports on Bill Barr’s conduct plod away, unfinished, even as voters try to understand how we got here.

High Court Decision May Pose New Challenges to Julian Assange Prosecution

The British High Court today issued a ruling provisionally giving Julian Assange permission to appeal his extradition on three grounds. But before he can do that, the US has an opportunity to give assurances on those grounds to address specific concerns.

The court put everything on hold, then, for 55 days to allow that reassurance process to happen.

We adjourn the renewed application for leave to appeal on grounds iv), v) and ix). The adjournment is for a period of 55 days until 20 May 2024, subject to the following directions:

i) The respondents have permission to file any assurances with the court by 16 April 2024.

ii) In the event that no assurances are filed by then, leave to appeal will be granted on grounds iv), v) and ix).

iii) In the event that assurances are filed by 16 April 2024, the parties have permission to file further written submissions on the issue of leave to appeal, in the light of the assurances, such submissions to be filed by the applicant by 30 April 2024, and by the respondent and the Secretary of State by 14 May 2024.

iv) In the event that assurances are filed by 16 April 2024, we will consider the question of leave to appeal at a hearing on 20 May 2024.

One of those three grounds — that he might become eligible for the death penalty — will be easily dispensed with, as the US easily dispenses with similar concerns in terrorism cases.

When I first read the judgment, I assumed the other two issues would be similarly dispensed with easily (and the judges certainly seem inclined to grant extradition if they get appropriate assurances).

The third ground for appeal, after all, pertains to whether Assange will be treated as a defendant like an American would be. And since the Espionage Act doesn’t allow for content-based defenses, Assange would be no worse situated than any other Espionage Act defendant — arguably including Donald Trump (whose 2010 attacks on Assange were one basis for raising concerns about the death penalty).

But the second basis for appeal may be more tricky for the US to issue assurances.

It has to do with whether the First Amendment gives Assange equal protection to what he’d get under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judges seem inclined to adopt Baraitser’s analysis that, so long as Assange can rely on the First Amendment, it would (and therefore that if the US says he can do so, the extradition can be approved).

However, we agree with the judge that extradition of the applicant would not involve a flagrant denial of his article 10 rights. In summary, that is because:

i) The First Amendment gives strong protection to freedom of expression, which broadly reflects the protection afforded by article 10 of the Convention. On the assumption that the applicant is permitted to rely on the First Amendment, it is not arguable that extradition will give rise to a real risk of a flagrant denial of his article 10 rights.

ii) Counts 1 to 14 and 18 concern conduct which is contrary to the criminal law and which does not directly concern free expression rights. The prosecution of such conduct does not involve a flagrant denial of article 10 of the Convention.

iii) Counts 15, 16 and 17 concern the publication of the names of human intelligence sources. There is a strong public interest in protecting the identities of human intelligence sources, and no countervailing public interest justification for publication has been identified.

iv) There were strong reasons, as the judge found, to conclude that the applicant’s activities did not accord with the “tenets of responsible journalism”.

But as I noted here, that analysis is fine for the extradition question. It’s fine to rule that Assange would get at least the same protections as he would in Europe.

It’s another thing altogether for use in a US courtroom.

That’s because the First Amendment doesn’t include a balancing test of privacy versus public interest present in the ECHR.

Rather, in language that would apply equally to Assange’s indiscriminate publication of the DNC and Podesta emails (as well as the publication of the Turkish and Saudi emails), Baraitser argued that Assange’s publication in bulk was not protected because it did not and could not properly weigh the risk to others.

This part of the ruling, in particular, would not translate into US law. There is no such privacy balance in the US outside of much weaker defamation laws. And so this part of the ruling does not offer much comfort with regards the existing charges as precedent in the US context.

Whereas in Europe, you have to act like a journalist to get protections as one (which Baraitser said Assange did not, especially not with respect to the three counts of publishing the identities of US and Coalition sources, which had little public interest value to counterweigh the harm he did to those whose names he published), in the US one does not have to adhere to journalistic principles to be protected by the First Amendment.

The US may have real concerns about giving assurances sufficient to meet this particular concern. If they do, Assange would be able to argue that the US was unfairly applying prior restraint to him in a way it doesn’t others — including Cryptome’s John Young, who has repeatedly tried to intervene in Assange’s case in various ways, each time on the basis that he published the State cables without punishment.

All that may be for the best. Faced with such a choice, the US might choose to drop the case entirely (or drop the three most damaging charges, if they are able to do that). I doubt they would drop it entirely, but they could.

They could also pursue the misdemeanor plea the WSJ recently reported, though as reported that seemed like mostly Assange-derived fluff.

Or they could limit the kinds of evidence they use on these charges. One thing that distinguishes Assange from journalists — and from Young — for example, is that prior to publishing all the cables without adequate redaction, he first shared a subset of them with Israel Shamir, who then gave them to (at least) Belarus. At least for the state cables, prosecutors could prove the dissemination charge without relying on publication altogether. Doing so would not only mitigate the damage this precedent would cause, but would get to the real damage that releasing those identities did, willfully giving dictators advance notice to retaliate against US sources before the US could take mitigating measures.

Finally, the might just note that Bartnicki does not apply because Assange allegedly was involved in the theft of the documents in question. Who knows. Depending on what happens with the Project Veritas investigation associated with Ashley Biden’s diary, DOJ might soon have a US citizen being prosecuted in a similar situation.

I imagine the US would have no problem assuring the Brits that Assange would have the same stinky content-based First Amendment rights as other Espionage Act defendants. The question is whether they’d be willing to allow Assange to argue that his prosecution amounted to prior restraint.

How Josh Dawsey Downplays Paul Manafort’s Ties to Alleged Russian Spies

Josh Dawsey’s report that Trump plans to hire convicted money launderer and former business partner of an alleged Russian spy Paul Manafort to work on his campaign — possibly to help fundraising!!! — makes all the years of shitty coverage of the Russian investigation an urgent problem again.

The job discussions have largely centered around the 2024 Republican convention in Milwaukee in July and could include Manafort playing a role in fundraising for the presumptive GOP nominee’s campaign, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

Dawsey gets big and little things wrong in his report. For example, he claims that Manafort was sentenced to around four years in prison after which he was released under COVID protocols.

Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power. He was originally sentenced to about four years in prison but was released early to home confinement due to the coronavirus before he was pardoned by Trump.

In reality, Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Manafort to 73 months (60 months concurrent with his EDVA sentence, and 13 months consecutive to that; his release to home confinement did not adhere to the priorities for release at the time).

 For the reasons stated on the record in open Court Defendant’s 540 Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED. Count 1ssss: Sentenced to Sixty (60) months incarceration. The sentence is to run concurrent to Thirty (30) months of the sentence previously imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia which has already accounted for the credit defendant is due for time served. Special Assessment of $100.00 was imposed. Count 2ssss: Sentenced to Thirteen (13) months incarceration, to be served consecutively to the sentence on Count One (1).

Predictably, though, it is in downplaying the import of Manafort’s ties to Russian spies where Dawsey really fails.

During the 2016 campaign, Manafort also allegedly shared Trump campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian who the U.S. government said had ties to Russian intelligence. The special counsel accused Manafort of lying to the FBI about his interactions with Kilimnik, even after Manafort had said he would cooperate and provide truthful information.

Manafort also allegedly worked with Kilimnik to spread Russian disinformation that it was actually Ukraine who interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

In a report issued in 2020, the Senate bipartisan committee that investigated Russian interference found that “Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign.”

First, there is absolutely no dispute that Manafort sent campaign data to Kilimnik to share with his Ukrainian backers and Oleg Deripaska. Manafort simply maintained that he only instructed Rick Gates to share public data (Kilimnik’s other business partner, Sam Patten, said Manafort shared internal data). But the polling data has never been the key point. They key point was, weeks before the Russians started stealing Hillary’s internal modeling, Manafort told Kilimnik how he planned to win the race in the swing states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and also Minnesota — where Trump ultimately did win it.

Dawsey of course is silent about the other two undisputed aspects of the August 2, 2016 meeting. Kilimnik pitched Manafort on a plan to carve up Ukraine (Manafort ultimately admitted that Kilimnik did; he just claimed he didn’t buy into the plan at that point). And Manafort talked about how to get paid by his Ukrainian backers and get his debt with Oleg Deripaska relieved.

That is, the meeting at least maps the outline of a quid pro quo: a commitment to carve up Ukraine in exchange for millions and help winning the election.

And Robert Mueller didn’t just accuse Manafort of lying during the period when he was supposed to be cooperating. Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that he had.

Paul Manafort lied to cover up what really happened between him and Konstantin Kilimnik, and Donald Trump pardoned Manafort to reward those lies.

Finally, it’s not that, “U.S. government said [Kilimnik] had ties to Russian intelligence.” In 2021, after Kilimnik allegedly interfered in a second US election, Treasury stated as fact that Kilimnik was Russian intelligence.

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Kilimnik was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice regarding unregistered lobbying work. Kilimnik has also sought to assist designated former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. At Yanukovych’s direction, Kilimnik sought to institute a plan that would return Yanukovych to power in Ukraine.

Kilimnik was designated pursuant to E.O. 13848 for having engaged in foreign interference in the U.S. 2020 presidential election. Kilimnik was also designated pursuant to E.O. 13660 for acting for or on behalf of Yanukovych. Yanukovych, who is currently hiding in exile in Russia, was designated in 2014 pursuant to E.O. 13660 for his role in violating Ukrainian sovereignty. [my emphasis]

We also know, from the Charles McGonigal sentencing materials, that by 2017, the Intelligence Community had judged Oleg Deripaska to be “associated” with a Russian intelligence agency, too.

Among other things, in May 2017, McGonigal received a then-classified email stating that Deripaska was associated with a Russian intelligence agency, and possibly involved in that agency’s coup attempt in another country. (PSR ¶ 19).

By context, the agency must be GRU and the attempted coup must be Montenegro, a country implicated in McGonigal’s other prosecution — one where Manafort had an extensive history with Deripaska and one mentioned in Andrew Weissmann’s Team M report.

Donald Trump is considering hiring the former business partner of two alleged Russian spies, admitted money launderer Paul Manafort, to help with fundraising.

Way back in 2021, Avril Haines committed to declassifying parts of the SSCI Report that remained then, and still remain, redacted. It’s time to unseal those details describing why the spooks were so convinced that Kilimnik was, himself, a Russian spy.

Related posts

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Ongoing Investigation into Paul Manafort’s Handlers

Four Stories about Paul Manafort from Andrew Weissmann’s Team M

Paul Manafort Remains a Bigger Scandal than Hunter Biden

 

The “Waiting for Mueller” Mistake and the Right Wing Bubble

Simon Rosenberg didn’t panic about a 2022 Red Wave. As analysts everywhere were wailing that the Sky Was Falling, he was quietly confident.

Keep that in mind as you listen to this conversation he had with Greg Sargent. I have about the same cautious optimism as Rosenberg (I was less confident than he was in 2022) on this year’s election, but he’s a pro who works from fundamentals, not just last week’s poll results.

Among other things, he talks about how any of six big negatives for Trump could blow the election for him:

  1. He raped E. Jean Carroll in a department store dressing room
  2. He oversaw one of the largest frauds in America history and that he and Rudy Giuliani through all their various misdeeds own over $700M dollars
  3. He stole American secrets, lied to the FBI about it, and shared these secrets with other people
  4. He led an insurrection against the United States
  5. He and his family have corruptly taken billions from foreign governments
  6. He is singularly responsible for ending Roe and stripping the rights and freedoms away from more than half the population

I would add two more: First, Trump routinely defrauds MAGAt supporters. Over the last week, he turned the RNC into a means to do so on a grander scale. Republicans need to hear that they’re being taken to the cleaner by Trump — and by Steve Bannon, whose trial for doing so will also serve as backdrop to this election season.

More tellingly, Rosenberg addressed this detail when he described how Biden’s two big negatives have resolved (my biggest complaint about this interview is it didn’t address Gaza, the unmentioned third), not when he addressed Trump’s scandals.

The Biden crime family story, we just learned in the last few weeks, was a Russian op that was being laundered by the Republican party that blew up in their face.

Rosenberg treated the manufactured “Biden crime family” that was actually a Russian op laundered by the GOP as a resolved Biden negative after he made this point, the most important in the interview, in my opinion.

We have to learn the lesson from waiting for Mueller. Waiting for Mueller was a mistake by the Democratic Party. It prevented us from prosecuting the case against Trump and his illicit relationship with the Russian government that was out there all for us to see. Right? The Russians played a major role in his election in 2016. This is not in dispute in any way. And so I think now what we need to do is not wait for Jack Smith or wait for Merrick Garland. We need to use what’s in front of us and prosecute this in ways that we know is going to do enormous harm.

No superhero will come tell any one of these stories for Democrats. Trump’s opponents have to tell the story of Trump’s corruption. They cannot wait for Mueller. Or Jack Smith.

One of many reasons I’m so focused on the Hunter Biden story is that it is actually what proves the continuity of that story of Russian influence that Democrats failed to tell. Trump asks for Russian help in 2016 and gets it. As part of a campaign in which Rudy Giuliani solicited Russian spies for dirt on Hunter Biden, Trump withheld security support from Ukraine to get the same. Even after that, Trump’s DOJ created a way to launder the dirt Rudy collected from known Russian spies to use in the 2020 election. That campaign created the shiny object that has created the “Biden crime family” narrative. Like Russia’s role in the 2016 election, none of this is in dispute. It’s just not known.

You cannot wait for Robert Mueller or Jack Smith to tell this narrative. But for four months this entire story — this arc — has passed largely unnoticed, even as Trump took steps to deliver Ukraine’s bleeding corpse to his liege, Vladimir Putin.

Those who want to defeat Trump — and honestly, Republicans like Liz Cheney and Amanda Carpenter have been doing a better job of this than most Democrats — have to make sure this story gets told.

This is what I’ve been trying to say over and over and over. The reason why the moderate press hasn’t been telling the story of Trump’s role in the insurrection, of his ties to militia members and his direct inspiration for the most brutal assaults on cops on January 6 is because all their TV lawyers have been whinging instead about their own misunderstanding of the January 6 investigation. They haven’t been telling the story of what we know.

They have been complaining that Merrick Garland hasn’t compromised the investigation to tell them them more, turning Garland into their villain, not Trump.

In the few minutes after I posted these comments on Twitter, commenters have:

  • Complained that the full Mueller Report hasn’t been released, when really they’ve simply been too lazy to understand that the most damning bits have been released.
  • Bitched that Merrick Garland hired Rob Hur, rather than bitching about Rob Hur telling a narrative even after his own investigation had debunked it.
  • Complained about a delay in the January 6 investigation that didn’t happen.

Kaitlan Collins’ interview with Brian Butler, a former Trump employee whose testimony badly incriminated his one-time best friend, Carlos De Oliveira, has been drowned out by all the complaints.

The story barely made a blip. It’s not just the NYT that buries important Trump stories under complaints about Biden, it’s Democratic supporters.

Rosenberg went on to describe how Democrats need to improve this. He noted that the Right Wing noise machine provides them a great advantage on this front, one that Biden will have to spend to combat.

We have to recognize, Greg, that the information environment in the United States is really broken right now and that the power of the Right Wing noise machine to bully and intimidate mainstream media into being complicit in advancing some of their narratives is something that needs a campaign that has half a billion dollars in it to be able to draw even on. What we’ve learned is there is a structural imbalance in the information game between the two parties, that the Republicans have a significant advantage over us in a day-to-day information war.

This is true. But the insularity of the Right Wing noise machine can be made into a weakness for Republicans, even before spending the money. Because right wingers so rarely try to perform for a mainstream audience, as soon as they do — whether it is rising star Katie Britt or Kentucky redneck James Comer — they look like lying morons.

And in the face of that Right Wing noise, Democrats need to be disciplined.

The Biden campaign’s going to have to be wildly disciplined. They can’t chase the daily story. They’re going to have to pick the two or three things they know from research are the things that are a rubicon with the electorate.

[snip]

It’s going to be incumbent upon them to not allow the Trumpian mania and madness sort of push them around every day. They’re going to need to develop an offensive strategy both on what we’re selling and on what we’re indicting him with.

Rosenberg laid out the six bullets; I added two more. Trump will try to distract from that with daily outrages, with spectacle.

Trump — abetted by social media — will try to distract from that argument by demeaning all ability to make, or understand, coherent arguments.

I’m less sanguine than Rosenberg that even discipline is enough to overcome Trump’s circus. Therein lies the challenge.

But he’s right that those who want to defeat Trump have to make that case themselves. Neither Jack Smith, nor the NYT, will save you.

David Weiss Is Smoking Roger Stone’s Witness-Tampering Gun

On Friday, David Weiss submitted most of his responses to Hunter Biden’s Motions to Dismiss in the Los Angeles tax case (he should submit a response to Hunter’s claim that the disgruntled IRS agents’ media tour amounted to a gross violation of his due process today; see links for everything here).

Expect a few posts going through them in the next few days.

Start with another embarrassingly false claim Weiss made in response to Hunter Biden’s vindictive prosecution claim that is worse, in some ways, than claiming that Keith Ablow’s picture of sawdust was instead a picture Hunter Biden had taken of cocaine.

It has to do with Roger Stone.

In an effort to claim that Hunter Biden deserves to be criminally prosecuted for tax crimes when Roger Stone was permitted a civil settlement, David Weiss falsely claimed something distinguishes Hunter — that he wrote a memoir about his alleged crime and Stone did not — when in fact, the memoir Stone did reissue during the period he was defrauding the IRS was more closely connected to Stone’s other, more damaging crimes, than Hunter’s memoir was.

If a memoir justifies a tax indictment, then Stone, not Hunter, should be the one facing prison right now.

David Weiss waives response about the import of threats to his family

There are two ways the Los Angeles vindictive prosecution discussion in Weiss’ twin prosecutions of Hunter Biden differs from the one in Delaware, at least so far. Most obviously, it’s a tax case, not a gun case, so Hunter’s attorney Abbe Lowell is making a different argument about how unusual it is for DOJ to charge someone who, like Hunter, late filed his tax returns before he knew of a criminal investigation and then, later, paid those taxes, with penalties.

That’s one difference.

A more subtle one is that Lowell, in his motion to dismiss, made explicit something he had not before: at the time David Weiss reneged on a signed diversion and plea deal, the Special Counsel feared for the safety of his family.

As a result, Mr. Weiss reported he and others in his office faced death threats and feared for the “safety” of his team and family.22

In his response, Weiss didn’t acknowledge, at all, that his own fears for the safety of his family have been made a part of the official record.

Instead, he continued to claim there’s no logical explanation for how the pressure ginned up by Trump and Republicans in Congress led him to renege on a signed plea deal. Weiss continued to claim that any connection is fictional.

[T]o state an obvious fact that the defendant continues to ignore, former President Trump is not the President of the United States. The defendant fails to explain how President Biden or the Attorney General, to whom the Special Counsel reports, or the Special Counsel himself, or his team of prosecutors, are acting at the direction of former President Trump or Congressional Republicans, or how this current Executive Branch approved allegedly discriminatory charges against the President’s son at the direction of former President Trump and Congressional Republicans. The defendant’s fictious narrative cannot overcome these two inescapable facts.

[snip]

Second, to state the obvious, former President Trump is not the President. The defendant’s father is the President. The defendant fails to establish how President Biden or the Attorney General, to whom the Special Counsel reports, or the Special Counsel himself, or his team of prosecutors, are being improperly pressured by former President Trump or Congressional Republicans, such that the Executive Branch approved allegedly selective and vindictive charges to be brought against the President’s son in violation of the law. [my emphasis]

The centrality of Weiss’ claims that President Biden has a role in all this — leftover from the period when the Alexander Smirnov prong of the investigation remained secret — is all the more ridiculous now that it’s public that, after Weiss reneged on the plea deal, he chased Russian disinformation framing Joe Biden.

But is also utterly false that Lowell offered no explanation for how pressure from Trump led Weiss to renege on that plea deal. Once you include Weiss’ own stated fear for his family in the face of threats ginned up by Trump and Congress, what Weiss himself called intimidation, Lowell has established how pressure from Trump and Congress might have led Weiss to capitulate to that pressure. The fear of stochastic terrorism is all you need.

Which brings us to Roger Stone.

Abbe Lowell raises Roger Stone as a tax cheat who got a civil resolution

As noted, the Los Angeles indictment against Hunter is a tax case. And in a selective and vindictive prosecution claim, you need to explain the norm to be able to prove you’re being treated differently. To be sure, this filing is even less focused on selective prosecution, as opposed to vindictive prosecution, than the gun case, meaning such arguments are a small part of the argument. But Weiss has been unduly focused on selective prosecution from even before Hunter first made the claim, presumably because it’s easier to prove that the Hunter Biden case is different than anything DOJ has seen before than to rebut the evidence that Donald Trump and Bill Barr tried to frame Hunter and David Weiss is a witness to that effort.

So the selective prosecution argument, in which defendants have to argue that people just like them have not been charged before, was a minor part of this filing.

But it explains why Roger Stone ended up in a footnote of the filing — as Chris Clark promised they would do over a year ago.

56 The government does not generally bring criminal charges for failing to file or pay taxes, especially if the individual paid the taxes, interest, and penalty afterwards, as Mr. Biden did in October 2021. According to the IRS Data Book for 2021, 2,600,000 taxpayer returns were not timely filed. Many, if not the vast majority, of those cases were resolved with civil resolutions, even in the most high-profile cases. For example, in United States v. Shaughnessy, a DC law partner and his wife failed to file and pay their taxes for 11 years with nearly $7.2 million owed. DOJ ultimately resolved this civilly with tax, penalties and interest only. See Joint Motion for Entry of Consent Judgment, No. 22-cv-02811-CRC (D.D.C. 2023), DE 9. In United States v. Stone, where former Trump adviser Roger Stone and his wife owed nearly $2 million in unpaid taxes for 4 years, DOJ again resolved the matter civilly. No. 21-cv-60825-RAR (S.D. Fla. 2022), DE 64.

Here’s how Weiss, treating this as the guts of Lowell’s selective prosecution claim and therefore distracting from the rest of it, responded to that footnote:

The defendant compares himself to only two individuals: Robert Shaughnessy and Roger Stone, both of whom resolved their tax cases civilly for failing to pay taxes. Shaughnessy failed to file and pay his taxes, but he was not alleged to have committed tax evasion. By contrast, the defendant chose to file false returns years later, failed to pay when those returns were filed, and lied to his accountants repeatedly, claiming personal expenses as business expenses. Stone failed to pay his taxes but did timely file his returns, unlike the defendant. Neither Shaughnessy nor Stone illegally purchased a firearm and lied on background check paperwork. And neither of them wrote a memoir in which they made countless statements proving their crimes and drawing further attention to their criminal conduct. These two individuals are not suitable comparators, and since the defendant fails to identify anyone else, his claim fails. 5

Roger Stone’s tax fraud is different from Hunter Biden’s and that’s why Hunter’s selective and vindictive prosecution claim must fail, David Weiss says.

Weiss distinguishes Donald Trump’s rat-fucker from Joe Biden’s kid in three ways (note, Weiss doesn’t address that DOJ claimed Stone hid his business income, just as Hunter allegedly did):

  • Stone didn’t pay his taxes, but did file timely returns
  • Stone didn’t buy a gun while addicted (as far as we know — though there are pictures of Stone with guns and some of his associates have alleged that Stone had addiction problems in this period)
  • Stone didn’t — Weiss claims — write a memoir “proving [his] crimes and drawing further attention to [his] criminal conduct”

It’s that last bullet that is garbage bullshit, sawdust-as-cocaine levels of stupid.

But let’s take them in order.

David Weiss uses gimmicks to limit extent that addiction can undermine the tax case

Regarding the first bullet, using the failure to file taxes in the LA case to distinguish Hunter from Stone is problematic for several reasons. First, Lowell is arguing that what changed between the plea agreement, which charged only failure to pay, and the tax indictment, which charged a mix of failure to file and failure to pay, was political pressure (and, now, threats that made Weiss worry about his family’s safety).

Notably, Weiss avoids claiming that Stone didn’t evade taxes, probably because the complaint against him alleges that Stone hid his income from the IRS in an alter ego, Drake Ventures, a kind of tax evasion for which Weiss has charged Hunter Biden, but for which Stone was not criminally charged. “By depositing and transferring” over $1 million paid to Stone in 2018 and 2019, “into the Drake Ventures’ accounts instead of their personal accounts, the Stones evaded and frustrated the IRS’s collection efforts,” the complaint alleges (my emphasis). Right there, in the complaint, DOJ claimed that Stone evaded IRS collection efforts, but Stone was not criminally charged.

To get to claiming that Hunter willfully failed to file his taxes charges during the years of his addiction, Weiss relies on a bunch of gimmicks that are at the core of his indictment against Hunter Biden. In Weiss’ responses to Lowell’s technical complaints about the indictment — which I wrote up here — he explained each of those technical complaints away using a gimmick designed to allow him to ratchet up the charges on Hunter while also mitigating the risk that Hunter’s addiction will make it harder to prove the tax case to a jury.

For example, in addition to claiming he could charge Hunter for the 2016 tax year because the President’s son signed tolling agreements with two entities — the Delaware US Attorney’s Office and DOJ Tax Division — that are not involved in this prosecution, Special Counsel Weiss claims that Hunter’s failure to pay his 2016 taxes occurred in 2020, when Hunter was sober, rather than 2016, when he misplaced a finalized tax submission.

Similarly, it’s not so much that Weiss charged Hunter twice for failing to pay his 2017 and 2018 taxes, which Lowell argued made the charges duplicitous, Weiss claims; it’s that Weiss intends to give the jury a choice for which year they want to convict Hunter on those charges — whether he failed to pay when he missed filing deadlines in 2018 and 2019 or he failed to do so when he ultimately filed in 2020, when he was sober.

It doesn’t matter that Hunter didn’t live in California for some of the tax years for which Weiss charged him in California, Weiss says, because Hunter lived in CA when he ultimately did file his taxes in 2020, without paying them. Weiss has used gimmick after gimmick to eliminate problems posed by both Hunter’s addiction and the fact that he filed his taxes before he learned of the criminal investigation into him, on top of the gimmick that he claims Hunter could afford to pay his tax burden in 2020 because Kevin Morris paid for some of his other expenses.

Effectively, to get around the willfulness problem posed by Hunter’s addiction, Weiss has shifted the date of Hunter’s crimes to 2020. But once you’ve done that, Hunter and Stone did the same thing: fail to pay taxes and also hide their income from 2018 (and 2019, in Stone’s case).

The gimmicks are just the kind of normal prosecutorial dickishness we’ve come accustomed to from this Baltimore crowd. But once you understand the effect of the gimmicks — to displace Hunter’s alleged crimes to 2020, when he submitted tax returns for four years at once — then Hunter and Stone are similarly situated, albeit with Stone accused of “evading” taxes in two calendar years, not one.

Weiss says a gun that was never fired is a worse related crime than witness tampering that was

But Weiss has a bigger problem with his effort to dismiss Stone as a comparator. He pulls two things out of his arse to present as distinguishers between Hunter Biden and Stone without (apparently) first doing the least little due diligence to check whether those things he pulled out of his arse have any basis in reality, much less to make sure they don’t actually prove him wrong.

David Weiss says that Hunter Biden is different from Roger Stone because he unlawfully owned a gun for 11 days in 2018. But the gun charge has no tie to the tax charge. Not even Weiss makes that claim!

Indeed, it’s the reverse: investigators decided not to charge gun crimes in 2018, before the tax investigation started. Prosecutors only reconsidered that because of the tax investigation — and (Lowell has alleged with no response from Weiss) because Republican politicians made Weiss afraid for the safety of his family. The only tie between the gun charges and the tax charges would be exculpatory in the tax case — Hunter’s addiction. Weiss’ prosecutors admitted the inverse relationship in Hunter’s initial appearance in Los Angeles. ‘[A]rguably,” Leo Wise said to Judge Mark Scarsi on January 11, “information in that case that is inculpatory in this case, may be arguably, exculpatory in that case.” The things prosecutors will use to prove Hunter was an addict in 2018 undermine prosecutors’ case that Hunter’s failure to file tax returns for 2017 and 2018 was willful.

By contrast, the government did claim that Roger Stone’s tax avoidance tied directly to his other crimes, crimes for which a jury had already found him guilty when DOJ filed the tax complaint in 2021.

The complaint against Stone described how he engaged in fraud to shelter his money because he was indicted.

40. In May 2017, the Stones entered into an installment agreement with the IRS that required them to pay $19,485 each month toward their unpaid taxes. They made these payments each month from a Drake Ventures’ Wells Fargo account.

41. Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019, and the indictment was unsealed on January 25, 2019.

42. After Roger Stone’s indictment, the Stones created the Bertran Trust and used funds that they owned via their alter ego, Drake Ventures, to purchase the Stone Residence in the name of the Bertran Trust.

[snip]

52. The Stones intended to defraud the United States by maintaining their assets in Drake Ventures’ accounts, which they completely controlled, and using these assets to purchase the Stone Residence in the name of the Bertran Trust.

53. The Stones’ purchase of the Stone Residence using funds they held in the Drake Ventures’ Wells Fargo account is marked by numerous badges of fraud. They include:

a. The Stones were in substantial debt to the United States at the time of the transfer, rendering them insolvent at the time of the transfer and unable to pay their debt to the United States;

b. The Stones faced the threat of litigation. Roger Stone had just been indicted;

c. The Stones anticipated that the United States would resort to enforced collection of their unpaid tax liabilities once they defaulted on their monthly installment payments to the IRS; [my emphasis]

It seems DOJ believed that Stone sought to shelter his wealth in a Florida residence that would be beyond the reach of any criminal forfeiture, just like his buddy Paul Manafort did.

And this is why it matters that David Weiss continues to bury his confession to Congress that, when he reneged on the plea deal, he was afraid for the safety of his family.

The crimes for which Stone was indicted — the prosecution which DOJ explicitly tied to Roger Stone’s efforts to defraud the government — involved real threats, not the hypothetical threat of an addict owning a gun.

Roger Stone was convicted for trying to intimidate Randy Credico against testifying to Congress and Robert Mueller. Credico has described that his first contact with the FBI in 2018 was actually a Duty to Warn meeting associated with the plotting of Stone’s militia buddies, not a witness interview.

And Judge Amy Berman Jackson applied a sentencing enhancement for the threat Stone — again, with his militia buddies — made against her personally.

The defendant engaged in threatening and intimidating conduct towards the Court, and later, participants in the National Security and Office of Special Counsel investigations that could and did impede the administration of justice.

Before the Proud Boys launched an attack on the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, before Stone allegedly threatened to assassinate one or another Democratic Congressman as well as Leo Wise and Derek Hines’ colleague and Stone prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, Enrique Tarrio helped Stone threaten his judge.

That’s the weapon Roger Stone was found guilty of wielding: stochastic terrorism that posed a risk to justice. Just like Donald Trump attacked David Weiss before Weiss got threats that led him to worry about the safety of his family.

And yet, having systematically ignored the threats that Donald Trump and other Republicans ginned up against his family, David Weiss is arguing that Hunter Biden owning a gun unrelated to failing to pay taxes is more incriminating than DOJ’s claims in the tax complaint that Stone’s adjudged witness intimidation tied directly to Stone’s efforts to defraud the IRS.

One is connected to the charged crime. One is not. One led to threats against a key witness and a judge. One did not.

But David Weiss, still refusing to acknowledge his testimony that he feared for the safety of his family, claims the one unconnected to the alleged tax crimes explains his decision to charge the tax crimes. Weiss’ claims about Stone don’t help his case, they show that a criminal case against Stone had more merit than this one.

David Weiss claims Hunter’s memoir is great evidence and then proves it is not

Crazier still, David Weiss is claiming that Hunter Biden wrote a memoir “proving [his] crimes and drawing further attention to [his] criminal conduct” of being an addict (neither the gun for which he is charged nor his failure to pay his taxes appear in the memoir) but Roger Stone did not.

To raise the stakes of this (embarrassingly false) claim, Weiss dedicates three paragraphs laying out how Hunter’s memoir helps to prove the gun case that, prosecutors have admitted, is inversely related to the tax case.

Then, after announcing his awareness of a federal investigation in late 2020, the following year (2021) he chose to author, sell, and promote his memoir, Beautiful Things, and to release an audiobook in a lucrative deal that heightened his prominence and drew further attention to his crimes. 1

1 As outlined in the Indictment, the defendant made statements and admissions in the book relevant to the charges against him.

B. The Defendant Also Chose to Commit Serious Gun Crimes

The defendant’s crimes were not limited to tax violations. In 2018, he chose to purchase a gun, he chose to lie on background check paperwork by stating he was not addicted to drugs, and he certified that his answers on the paperwork were true, when in fact, he had lied about his addiction. See generally United States v. Robert Hunter Biden, Indictment, Dkt. 40 (D. Del). When he later chose to publish his memoir, he included countless admissions about his drug use in 2018 when he possessed the gun.

Again, prosecutors have described that these cases are inversely related. If you prove that Hunter was an addict, as Weiss says the memoir helps him do, you also make it harder to prove that the failure to file for 2017 and 2018 was willful.

Here’s how Weiss treats Hunter’s memoir in the equivalent filing in the gun crimes case.

After the defendant publicly announced his awareness of a federal investigation of him in late 2020, see ECF 63 at 5, the following year (2021) he chose to author, sell and promote his memoir, Beautiful Things, and to release an audiobook in a lucrative book deal. Relevant to the charges in this matter, the defendant made expansive admissions about his extensive and persistent drug use, including throughout the year 2018 when he purchased the gun. For example, the defendant admitted that he was experiencing “full blown addiction” to crack cocaine and by the fall of 2018 he had gotten to the point that:

It was me and a crack pipe in a Super 8, not knowing which the fuck way was up. All my energy revolved around smoking drugs and making arrangements to buy drugs—feeding the beast. To facilitate it, I resurrected the same sleep schedule I’d kept in L.A.: never. There was hardly any mistaking me now for a so-called respectable citizen. Crack is a great leveler.

Hunter Biden, Beautiful Things (2021) at 203, 208

In the Delaware case, Weiss is arguing something different than he is in the LA case, that is about how much evidence (Weiss claims) there is to prove the gun case. As I noted, that’s actually counterproductive in the selective prosecution response, because it proves that the evidence Weiss claims to think is so damning was available in 2021, before he decided to divert the gun crime in 2023, before he came to fear for the safety of his family and then reneged on that diversion agreement.

Oh. And also? Weiss again botches the evidence. The passage cited above about a crack pipe in a Super 8 on page 208 describes the aftermath, in February 2019, of the Ketamine treatment Hunter got from Roger Stone buddy Keith Ablow that — Hunter’s memoir describes — made things worse.

The therapy’s results were disastrous. I was in no way ready to process the feelings it unloosed or prompted by reliving past physical and emotional traumas. So I backslid. I did exactly what I’d come to Massachusetts to stop doing. I’d stay clean for a week, break away from the center to meet a connection I found in Rhode Island, smoke up, then return.

[snip]

Finally, the therapist in Newburyport said there was little point in our continuing.

“Hunter,” he told me, with all the exasperated, empathetic sincerity he could muster, “this is not working.”

I headed back toward Delaware, in no shape to face anyone or anything. To ensure that I wouldn’t have to do either, I took an exit at New Haven. For the next three or four weeks, I lived in a series of low-budget, low-expectations motels up and down Interstate 95, between New Haven and Bridgeport.

I exchanged L.A.’s $400-a-night bungalows and their endless parade of blingy degenerates for the underbelly of Connecticut’s $59-a-night motel rooms and the dealers, hookers, and hard-core addicts—like me—who favored them. I no longer had one foot in polite society and one foot out. I avoided polite society altogether. I hardly went anywhere now, except to buy. It was me and a crack pipe in a Super 8, not knowing which the fuck way was up. [my emphasis]

This is in no way a description of the state of Hunter’s addiction in “fall of 2018,” when he bought a gun. It’s a description of the state of Hunter’s addiction in February 2019, after treatment from Ablow exacerbated the addiction. To make things worse, Hunter gets the timing of the 2019 follow-up treatment wrong in the book, saying it happened in February when it started in January. This passage is utterly worthless to prove the gun crime, and instead helps to prove that memoirs, especially those written by recovering addicts, are prone to narrative embellishment and error.

To sum up how dumb it is to use the memoir to rebut a selective prosecution claim at all: First, the existence of a 2021 memoir doesn’t help Weiss’ selective prosecution rebuttal in either case, because that evidence was available before Weiss decided to resolve both cases without jail time in June 2023 and so only raises more questions about why he reneged on that deal. The memoir actually isn’t all that helpful to prove the status of Hunter’s addiction in October 2018, because Hunter doesn’t provide as much detail of that as he did of his exploits in Los Angeles, from earlier in the year. Worse still, relying on a passage describing events in February 2019, after Ketamine treatment led Hunter to backslide, and claiming it describes the status of Hunter’s addiction in fall 2018 is only going to prove you never bothered to check your evidence before you indicted on gun crimes. And, finally, Weiss’ prosecutors have admitted there’s an inverse relationship between these two cases! Proving that Hunter was addicted in this period will only make it harder to prove that his non-payment in 2017 and 2018 was willful and may even provide basis to argue that Hunter didn’t willfully lie to his accountant in 2020, but rather couldn’t remember what happened in 2018. The fact that Hunter gets dates wrong in the memoir will actually help that case.

It’s all such a nutty argument, using this memoir as a distinguisher in the tax case.

Roger Stone’s memoir was far more closely connected to his crimes and tax evasion than Hunter’s was

Nuttier still, given the fact — fact! — that Roger Stone did too write a memoir about his crimes!

The claim that Stone didn’t write a memoir about his crimes is as transparently, embarrassingly false as David Weiss’ claim that a photo of a photo of sawdust was instead a picture of Hunter Biden’s cocaine.

Not only did Stone write a memoir about his claimed actions in the 2016 election, he reissued it in paperback, with a lengthy introduction in which he codified the cover story that would prove to be false at trial later that year. As noted in this post, that introduction made a number of claims that were part of Stone’s cover story, including:

  • Describes learning he was under investigation on January 20, 2017
  • Discounts his May 2016 interactions with “Henry Greenberg” — a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — by claiming Greenberg was acting as an FBI informant
  • Attributes any foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ release to Randy Credico and not Jerome Corsi or their yet unidentified far more damning source while disclaiming any real foreknowledge
  • Gives Manafort pollster, Tony Fabrizio, credit for the decision to focus on Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the last days of the election
  • Blames Jeff Sessions for recusing from the Russian investigation
  • Harps on the Steele dossier
  • Dubiously claims that in January 2017, he didn’t know how central Mueller’s focus would be on him
  • Suggests any charges would be illegitimate
  • Complains about his financial plight
  • Falsely claims the many stories about his associates’ testimony comes from Mueller and not he himself
  • Repeats his Randy Credico cover story and discounts his lies to HPSCI by claiming his lawyers only found his texts to Credico after the fact
  • Suggests Hillary had ties to Russia
  • Notes that Trump became a subject of the investigation after he fired Jim Comey [my emphasis]

Those two bolded bits are the core of the case that would be charged in January 2019 and convicted in November 2019. This introduction is part of the same cover-up, one that attempts to profit off his cover-up and protection of Donald Trump.

He reissued it, in part, for financial reasons, including an effort to pay collaborators in the 2016 story that were likely also trial witnesses. That paperback came out in precisely the period in 2019 during which, the tax claim against Stone alleged, he was shifting money to defraud the government because he had been indicted. Stone planned a media blitz that clashed with the gag imposed on him — imposed on him, again, because he and his militia buddies were posting pictures of Judge ABJ with a crosshairs on it.

We know all this because Roger Stone almost went to jail for it. This post describes that conflict.

On February 21, 2019, Amy Berman Jackson gagged Stone in response to the Instagram post targeting her, describing that his incitement might lead “others with extreme views and violent inclinations” to take action.

Let me be clear, at the time of his post he was permitted to criticize the special counsel, the designation of the cases related, and the previous decisions of the judge to whom the case had been assigned. But I am not reassured by the defense suggestion that Mr. Stone is just all talk and no action and this was just a big mistake.

What concerns me is the fact that he chose to use his public platform, and chose to express himself in a manner that can incite others who may feel less constrained. The approach he chose posed a very real risk that others with extreme views and violent inclinations would be inflamed. You don’t have to read the paper beyond today to know that that’s a possibility.

And these were, let there be no mistake, deliberate choices. I do not find any of the evolving and contradictory explanations credible. Mr. Stone could not even keep his story straight on the stand, much less from one day to another. There is some inconsistency in his telling me on the one hand that these public communications are an existential endeavor, essential not only to his income but his very identity, and then, on the other hand, telling us, It wasn’t me.

On March 1, Stone’s attorneys filed a “notice” arguing that the book should not be covered by her gag. On March 4, they submitted a filing saying, oops! it is too late. On March 5, ABJ denied Stone’s request that the book be excluded from the gag and ordered more briefing. On March 11, Stone submitted a bunch of documentation showing (among other things) that at least one of his attorneys was centrally involved in the book publication.

The Bertran Trust was not only an effort to keep money away from the IRS.

It was an attempt to keep the proceeds of a book that violated the gag order imposed to avoid more incitement. It was an attempt to profit off continuing to protect Donald Trump.

And David Weiss, after relying on a Hunter Biden memoir that might help prove the gun case but actually hurts his tax case, claims that memoir doesn’t exist.

And that’s before you consider the book introduction that Stone wrote for Keith Ablow, the guy whose therapy — Hunter’s memoir describes — made his addiction worse, the guy in whose cottage Hunter was staying when his life was packaged up to be sent to David Weiss to use in prosecution.

After looking at Keith Ablow’s sawdust picture and claiming it was Hunter’s cocaine, Weiss has now looked at Ablow buddy Roger Stone and claimed that a memoir that is more closely connected with his tax dodging and dangerous crimes and instead claimed that memoir simply doesn’t exist.

And that is the basis Weiss gives for charging Hunter Biden with tax crimes.

Timeline

October 30, 2018: ABC reports that Stone hired Bruce Rogow in September, a First Amendment specialist who has done extensive work with Trump Organization.

October 31, 2018: Date Corsi stops making any pretense of cooperating with Mueller inquiry.

November 6, 2018: Democrats win the House in mid-term elections.

November 7, 2018: Trump fires Jeff Sessions, appoints Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker Acting Attorney General.

November 8, 2018: Prosecutors first tell Manafort they’ll find he breached plea deal.

November 12, 2018: Date Corsi starts blowing up his “cooperation” publicly.

November 14, 2018: Date of plea deal offered by Mueller to Corsi.

November 15, 2018: Mike Campbell pitches Stone on a paperback — in part to ‘retake the narrative — including a draft of the new introduction.

November 18, 2018: Jerome Corsi writes up his cover story for how he figured out John Podesta’s emails would be released.

November 20, 2018: After much equivocation, Trump finally turns in his written responses to Mueller.

November 21, 2018: Dean Notte reaches out to Grant Smith suggesting a resolution to all the back and forth on their joint venture, settling the past relationship in conjunction with a new paperback.

November 22, 2018: Corsi writes up collapse of his claim to cooperate.

November 23, 2018: Date Mueller offers Corsi a plea deal.

November 26, 2018: Jerome Corsi publicly rejects plea deal from Mueller and leaks the draft statement of offense providing new details on his communications with Stone.

November 26, 2018: Mueller deems Paul Manafort to be in breach of his plea agreement because he lied to the FBI and prosecutors while ostensibly cooperating.

November 27, 2018: Initial reports on contents of Jerome Corsi’s book, including allegations that Stone delayed release of John Podesta emails to blunt the impact of the Access Hollywood video.

November 29, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty in Mueller related cooperation deal.

December 2, 2018: Roger Stone claims in ABC appearance he’d never testify against Trump and that he has not asked for a pardon.

December 3, 2018: Trump hails Stone’s promise not to cooperate against him.

December 9, 2018: Stone replies to Campbell saying that because he never made money on Making of the President, he has no interest.

December 13, 2018: Tony Lyons and Grant Smith negotiate a deal under which Sky Horse would buy Stone out of his hardcover deal with short turnaround, then expect to finalize a paperbook by mid January. This is how Stone gets removed from the joint venture — in an effort to minimize his risk.

December 14, 2018: Mueller formally requests Roger Stone’s transcript from House Intelligence Committee.

December 17, 2018: Smith, saying he and Stone have discussed the deal at length, sends back a proposal for how it could work. This is where he asks for payment the next day, to pay someone off for work on the original book.

For some reason, in the ensuing back-and-forth, Smith presses to delay decision on the title until January.

December 19, 2018: It takes two days to get an agreement signed and Stone’s payment wired.

December 20, 2018: HPSCI votes to release Stone’s transcript to Mueller.

January 1, 2019: Stone includes Keith Ablow on his annual best dressed list.

January 8, 2019: Paul Manafort’s redaction fail alerts co-conspirators that Mueller knows he shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik.

January 13, 2019: Stone drafts new introduction, which he notes is “substantially longer and better than the draft sent to me by your folks.” He asks about the title again.

January 14, 2019: Stone sends the draft to Smith and Lyons. It is 3386 words long. Lyons responds, suggesting as title, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win.” Lyons also notes Stone can share the book with Senators.

Stone responds suggesting that he could live with, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How Donald Trump really won,” noting, “I really can’t be seen taking credit for HIS victory.”

By end of day, Skyhorse’s Mike Campbell responds with his edits.

January 15, 2019: The next morning, Smith responds with his edits, reminding that Stone has to give final approval. Stone does so before lunch. Skyhorse moves to working on the cover. Late that day Campbell sends book jacket copy emphasizing Mueller’s “witch hunt.”

January 16, 2019: Tony Lyons starts planning for the promotional tour, asking Stone whether he can be in NYC for a March 5 release. They email back and forth about which cover to use.

January 18, 2019: By end of day Friday, Skyhorse is wiring Stone payment for the new introduction.

January 24, 2019: Mike Campbell tells Stone the paperback “is printing soon,” and asks what address he should send Stone’s copies to. WaPo reports that Mueller is investigating whether Jerome Corsi’s “severance payments” from InfoWars were an effort to have him sustain Stone’s story. It also reports that Corsi’s stepson, Andrew Stettner, appeared before the grand jury. That same day, the grand jury indicts Stone, but not Corsi.

January 25, 2019, 6:00 AM: Arrest of Roger Stone.

January 25, 2019, 2:10 PM: Starting the afternoon after Stone got arrested, Tony Lyons starts working with Smith on some limited post-arrest publicity. He says Hannity is interested in having Stone Monday, January 28 “Will he do it?” Smith replies hours later on the same day his client was arrested warning, “I need to talk to them before.”

January 26, 2019: Lyons asks Smith if Stone is willing to do a CNN appearance Monday morning, teasing, “I guess he could put them on the spot about how they really go to this house with the FBI.”

January 27, 2019: Smith responds to the CNN invitation, “Roger is fully booked.” When Lyons asks for a list of those “fully booked” bookings, Smith only refers to the Hannity appearance on the 28th, and notes that Kristin Davis is handling the schedule. Davis notes he’s also doing Laura Ingraham.

January 28, 2019: The Stones pay $19,485 to IRS.

January 28, 2019: The plans for Hannity continue on Monday, with Smith again asking for the Hannity folks to speak to him “to confirm the details.” In that thread, Davis and Lyons talk about how amazing it would be to support “another New York Times Bestseller” for Stone.

February 15, 2019: After two weeks — during which Stone was indicted, made several appearances before judges, and had his attorneys submit their first argument against a gag — Stone responded to Campbell’s January 24 email providing his address, and then asking “what is the plan for launch?” (a topic which had already been broached with Lyons on January 16). Campbell describes the 300-400 media outlets who got a review copy, then describes the 8 journalists who expressed an interest in it. Stone warns Campbell, “recognize that the judge may issue a gag order any day now” and admits “I also have to be wary of media outlets I want to interview me but don’t really want to talk about the book.”

February 18, 2019: Release of ebook version of Stone’s reissued book.

February 21, 2019: After Stone released an Instagram post implicitly threatening her, Amy Berman Jackson imposes a gag on Stone based on public safety considerations.

February 25, 2019: The Stones transfer $70,000 from Drake to Attorney account.

February 28, 2019: The Stones transfer $70,000 from Drake to Attorney account. The Stones pay $19,485 to IRS.

March 1, 2019: Ostensible official release date of paperback of Stone’s book. Stone submits “clarification” claiming that the book publication does not violate the gag.

March 4, 2019: Stone submits filing saying it is too late to hold the book.

March 5, 2019: The Stones establish Bertran Trust.

March 5, 2019: ABJ denies Stone’s request to exclude the book from the gag and orders further briefing.

March 11, 2019: Stone response to ABJ order, including exhibits showing that at least one of his attorneys knew of the imminent book release at the gag hearing.

March 22, 2019: The Stones purchase condo using $140,000 transfered from Drake Ventures account.

March 27, 2019: The Certificate of Trust recorded in Broward.

March 28, 2019: The Stones fail to make IRS payment, leading to default.

May 24, 2019: The Stones open three bank accounts in name of Bertran Trust.

June 2, 2020: Roger Stone writes forward to Keith Ablow book celebrating Trump.

Kash Patel’s Deep State: How Trump Trained the GOP to Hate Rule of Law 2

I realized after I wrote my first post on how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law that I didn’t lay out what I meant by that. After all, that first post showed that for decades before Trump ran for President, Republicans were already willing to gin up criminal investigations against people named Clinton for political gain.

If that’s the baseline, what did Trump change? And to what degree was that change driven by Russian interference, which I argued did little more than drop a match on an already raging bonfire in 2016?

So I want to show the trajectory, using this Politico piece about the concerns a bunch of spooks have about Trump’s plans to remake the Deep State in his image. The story is not all that new — there have been a bunch of stories that included Trump’s goal to remake the Deep State in his image, both during his Administration and in more recent descriptions of Trump’s plans for a second term. But it does certain things that make it helpful to explain what I mean.

The spooks described three concerns with Trump in a second term. He would:

  • Selectively ignore intelligence on certain issues [cough, Russia], blinding the Intelligence Community and weakening our collective alliances
  • Leak [more of] America’s secrets
  • Staff the agencies with loyalists

POLITICO talked to 18 former officials and analysts who worked in the Trump administration, including political appointees from both parties and career intelligence officers, some who still speak to the former president and his aides and had insight into conversations about his potential second term. A number of them were granted anonymity to avoid provoking backlash and to speak freely about their experience working with him. Others are now vocal Trump critics and spoke publicly.

“He wants to weaponize the intelligence community. And the fact is you need to look with a 360 degree perspective. He can’t just cherry pick what he wants to hear when there are so many U.S. adversaries and countries that don’t wish the U.S. well,” said Fiona Hill, a top Russia adviser on the National Security Council in Trump’s administration who has regularly criticized his policies. “If he guts the intel on one thing, he’ll be partially blinding us.”

Many of the former officials said they opted to speak to POLITICO because they believe the extent to which Trump could remake the intelligence community remains — despite the copious media coverage — underestimated.

Trump’s demands for “loyalty” — often read as a demand to skew findings to fit his political agenda — have not been limited to his spy agencies, but in the intelligence world, those demands carry particularly dire risks, they said.

If Trump is cavalier with his treatment of classified information or material — as alleged in a June 2023 indictment of the former president — it could endanger those who supply much-needed intelligence, said Dan Coats, who served as director of national intelligence early in Trump’s tenure.

Kash Patel gets special mention as someone who would both burn intelligence and spin fantasies by Politico.

Kash Patel, former top adviser to Devin Nunes, a former representative from California, and director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, served as an informal adviser to Grenell but was also considered for a top post at the CIA. He later became chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense in Trump’s final months. Patel also helped advise on an initiative to declassify material related to the origins of the Russia investigation.

Patel is likely to return to serve under Trump if he is elected, raising worries among current and former intelligence officials about the preservation of sources and methods of U.S. intelligence.

“There were often a lot of appointments that seemed designed to make sure that the intelligence assessments could be shaped to paint certain pictures that simply didn’t match up with what the intelligence community had come up with,” said one former Trump administration intelligence official.

The guy who rose to prominence by turning an investigation into a Russian attack on democracy into a counterattack on the FBI, the guy who spends his time writing children’s books in which he, Kash, protects his liege from imaginary threats from the Deep State, is presumed to be the future steward of Trump’s efforts to politicize the intelligence community.

You could argue that the replacement of civil servants with Trump partisans in the IC is little different than what Trump plans everywhere else in government, if he’s elected. That’s true with regards to the means — gutting civil service protections and replacing them with loyalty oaths to a person rather than the Constitution. But not the effect.

One reason Trump floated putting Kash in charge of the FBI, after all, was because efforts to punish Trump’s enemies weren’t producing the results he desired. The Durham investigation didn’t exact revenge on FBI figures like Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok; when it finished, Kash complained that it “failed” precisely because people who tried to protect the country from Russia weren’t prosecuted for doing so. Five years of investigating the Clinton Foundation failed to find a chargeable crime. After he left government, a Kash Patel charity started funding right wing FBI agents accused of the same thing McCabe and Comey were — improper disclosures — but did so to discredit investigations into the right wing.

An IC led by Kash Patel would not just be a politicized intelligence community, intentionally blinded to the threat from countries like Russia, and by degrading intelligence on certain adversaries corroding the alliances built on that shared intelligence.

But it would be an instrument for exacting loyalty.

That instrument can and would be targeted at disloyal Trump party members. Look at efforts by the GOP House to investigate Cassidy Hutchinson, for example.

It’s not just Jack Smith or Nancy Pelosi’s spouses who get targeted with threats for challenging Trump, but also Don Bacon’s.

This, then, is the trajectory along which Trump has coaxed Republicans. At first, a goodly many Republicans defended the integrity of the Mueller investigation, until they didn’t anymore. With the first impeachment, virtually all Republicans excused Trump’s defiance of their own appropriations choices. With the second, reportedly fearful Republicans made excuses for an attack that threatened their own lives rather than fulfill their constitutional duty to check Trump. Since then, Trump has used his legal woes not only as an electoral plank, but also as leverage to demand that the party continue to pay his bills, diverting funds that otherwise might help to reelect down-ticket candidates.

What used to be the Grand Old Party has become, literally, a criminal protection racket serving one man.

The fate of the party depends on that man defying the law.

In a post examining why Elise Stefanik might have parroted Trump’s assertion that January 6 felons were, instead, hostages, I laid out a taxonomy of potential motives that would convince Republicans to follow Trump down this path. Aside from ideological true believers, I think Republicans are motivated because they’ve fallen for Trump’s grift, they’re afraid, or they calculate they can stay on Trump’s good side long enough to advance their career.

One way or another, a series of individual choices brought Trump’s party to this point.

Moments ago, Mitch McConnell endorsed a man who launched a terrorist attack targeting, among others, McConnell himself.

A series of individual choices have brought the party that used to be Mitch McConnell’s to this point.

Update Mike “Moses” Johnson is bragging about defunding the FBI and DOJ.

Russia’s Flipping Focus: Alexander Smirnov Is No Exception

When I started spinning the Ball of Thread out of which I hoped to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law, this post was described, “The FBI keeps getting pwned.”

The bullet point was, perhaps, a misnomer.

What I had planned to talk about, two months ago and some forty days before David Weiss accused a 14-year FBI informant of framing Joe Biden in 2020, was the way that Russia has long exploited one-time FBI informants as part of their operations against the US.

Since then, we’ve learned that a guy who first established contact with Russian spies, way back in 2002, by helping another intelligence service (likely Israel’s) flip a low-level Russian spy, and who would therefore have been readily identifiable as an asset of intelligence services throughout that period, attempted to frame Joe Biden in 2020. If you can believe his reporting, Alexander Smirnov has since established contact with four to six high level Russian spies.

Russia’s focus on using informants was readily apparent in the results of the Mueller investigation. Key players in the Russian attack who were or had previously been informants include:

This was nothing new then. This Emma Best piece describes how a former FBI informant, Maxsim Popov, played a key role in Anonymous; they suggest Popov made have been a model for the Guccifer 2.0 persona.

Nor has Russia’s focus on informants diminished. In addition to Alexander Smirnov, informants dealing dirt on the Bidens leading up to 2020 include Ukrainians Rollie and The Economist and Peter Schweizer.

Sometimes, Russia’s identification of FBI informants may have been facilitated by hacking. In the lead-up to the 2016 operation, the Crackas with Attitude hackers — who got far more attention for hacking John Brennan’s AOL account — stole some lists of law enforcement partners and accessed FBI’s Joint Automated Booking System, which might provide a way to identify hackers the FBI was in the process of flipping. The Solar Winds hack compromised DOJ six months before the department figured out what was happening; it also targeted PACER, another source of information on sealed plea deals usually associated with cooperating witnesses. To this day, I’m furious that when DOJ IG discovered what amounts to a backdoor in the system used to archive texts sent on FBI devices — including those on which Peter Strzok and Lisa Page conducted an affair — there wasn’t a more focused effort to find out whether anyone had found and used that back door. And the reason US spooks changed their understanding of WikiLeaks is that, after burning State’s partners worldwide and DOD’s partners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010, WikiLeaks went on to make CIA’s local assets readily identifiable in 2017.

None of this is surprising or unique to Russia. It’s good spycraft.

But the targeting of informants, particularly FBI informants, has been a central part of Russia’s recent campaign against the US. There are all sorts of sound operational reasons for Russia to do that. It probably helps to evade certain kinds of counter-surveillance. It’s a good way to inject information directly into investigative hands.

Just as importantly, by making it clear how shoddy FBI’s management of informants is, it discredits the Bureau more generally.

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