The Maryland US Attorney’s Office Included Erik Prince in a FOIA Response on the Stone Sentencing

Jason Leopold once again did more for overseeing DOJ than the House Judiciary Committee managed — this time beginning the process of liberating documents held by the US Attorney’s Office pertaining to Roger Stone’s sentencing. As Leopold notes in his story on the documents, this was the first of several installments, so more interesting documents may come out later.

This installment clearly all came from the Maryland US Attorney’s office, reflecting the mailbox of Aaron Zelinsky, who has always been and remains employed there; he returned there full time after he resigned as a Special AUSA assigned to the Mueller team. The remaining installments — at least those from the EOUSA — will likely mirror this production, but also include emails involving Timothy Shea’s Chief of Staff, David Metcalf, JP Cooney, John Crabb, and Alessio Evangelista, who were also involved in the events of February 10 and 11.

Maryland may have responded quickly to this FOIA because it is more sympathetic to Zelinsky’s efforts. Indeed, the most interesting exchanges in these emails show Zelinsky discussing these matters with people in that office. On February 10, he kept Jonathan Lanzner in the loop, letting him know when, “looks like they are blinking.” The following day, just after DOJ disavowed the sentencing memo approved just the night before (which the prosecutors appear to have found out about via media reports), Zelinsky made an urgent request of three others in MD USAO. There was some discussion of precedent and a drafting of a document. But after Zelinsky withdrew from the case, he alerted them that “we will not have the opportunity to do” whatever they were trying to do.

As discussed, I have filed the withdrawal motion and emailed the public corruption chief JP Cooney. I withdrew just after I sent the email below notifying him. As we discussed, I do not believe he has the power to compel  me to stay in the case. There are currently three attorneys on the docket for the United States. In addition, JP has indicated that Main Justice will file a motion of somekind in the case later today and we will not have the opportunity to do this.

Nevertheless, there’s a follow-up with Lenzner later in the day. In it, Zelinsky makes it clear that his Memorandum of Understanding (presumably pertaining to his SAUSA role tied to Mueller) only pertains to Roger Stone.

The suggestion that these events may have affected other cases, to which Zelinsky’s MOU did not apply, is particularly interesting given that DOJ deemed an email to Zelinsky from Erik Prince’s lawyer attaching a story about that investigation, sent after everything started blowing up, to be responsive to this FOIA.

I see no reason why that email would be included in this FOIA response (the attached WSJ story, for example, does not mention the Stone). But for some reason, Maryland’s US Attorney’s office considers it responsive to the Leopold FOIA.

I’ll have more to say about this FOIA response in a bit.

I have included all the emails, save some inquiries from journalists, in the timeline below. Note that it is difficult to distinguish between b5 (deliberative) and b6 (privacy) in these redactions, so I may have gotten a few of those wrong.

February 10

7:49: Zelinsky sends his US Attorney email, “Zelinsky Withdrawal Motion Draft 2.docx.”

7:52: Zelinsky forwards his draft withdrawal motion, still titled, “Zelinsky Withdrawal Motion Draft 2.docx,” to Adam Jed and Jonathan Kravis (but not Michael Marando), stating, “A much slimmer version — let me know what you think.” Note that the email he attached the draft to has a time stamp of 7:46, preceding the one above. This appears to be substantially the motion he submitted the following day.

9:01: A Maryland US Attorney employee, Paul Budlow, responds to Zelinksy regarding a “Presentations Skills for Training and Trial” course in March, saying only “Thanks.” The email was likely responsive because of what Zelinsky said to Budlow on Friday, February 7, which is redacted under b6.

9:40: Email from John Kruzel at The Hill.

1:25: Zelinsky sends Marando his withdrawal letter, now titled, “Zelinsky Withdrawal Motion Draft Final.docx.”

2:04: Zelinsky writes Jonathan Lenzner at Maryland’s US Attorney’s office with the subject line, “Looks like they are blinking.” It is redacted under b5.

2:05: Timothy Shea’s Chief of Staff David Metcalf emails Zelinsky, “If you actually want to talk, let me know.” The rest is redacted under b6.

2:07: Zelinsky responds to Metcalf. The first line is redacted under b6. The email then says, “What would you like to discuss? I am a bit busy because of Stone sentencing memo (as I’m sure you’re aware) and I [redacted, b6].

2:08: Lenzner responds. It is redacted under b5.

2:11: Zelinsky responds. It is redacted under b5.

3:25: Michael Marando emails the other three prosecutors, attaching a “Joint Submission re Redactions.docx,” with the subject link, “Can you let me know if this is OK?”

3:58: Zelinsky responds again to Metcalf, “I’m headed out now. Happy to talk by phone.” The rest of the email is redacted under b6.

4:22: Marando forwards email reading, “Counsel, the attached documents were filed with the Court under seal today.” Marando’s email that forwarded the PACER entry to Stone’s lawyers cc’ing the other prosecutors, which is (still sealed) docket number 278, is included in this FOIA production as well, but the time is not legible.

4:22: Kravis emails Zelinsky, “Final draft attached. Let me know when we have the ok to file.” He attaches, “stone sentencing memo 2-10-20.docx.”

4:22: Kravis emails Cooney, John Crabb, Alessio Evangelista, cc’ing the Stone prosecutors. “Final draft attached. Let me know when we have the ok to file.” Attached is “stone sentencing memo 2-10-20.”

4:28: Zelinsky responds to Kravis, “This says [redacted] got thirteen months. I thought it was 14?

4:30: Zelinsky responds again to Kravis, “Never mind. Looks like thirteen in all news stories.”

4:32: Zelinsky responds to Marando, “Thanks for doing this.”

6:02: Zelinsky receives ECF notice of the prosecutors’ sentencing memo, which was filed at 6:01.

6:07: Cooney emails “Team,” stating, “I just let Jonathan know that you have the green light to file the pleading.” The rest of the email is redacted under a b6.

7:04: Zelinsky responds to Cooney thanking him. The rest of the email is redacted under b6.

10:57: Zelinsky receives notice of Stone’s sentencing memo, which was filed at 10:55.

February 11

7:03 AM: Zelinsky forwards the sentencing memo from Stone’s attorneys, including the leniency letters, to the other prosecutors in the case, making some comment that was redacted for b5 and b6 reasons.

7:04 AM: Zelinsky responds to the Cooney email from the evening stating, “Thanks JP,” with the balance redacted for b6.

8:32: Adam Jed writes the other Stone prosecutors with the subject line, “Stone’s sentencing memo.” The content is redacted under b5.

9:50: Zelinsky responds to the other prosecutors regarding an email all four plus Timothy Shea got sent, calling them “Corrupt Whores” and “Are Poor FuckingEvil,” complaining they called for “7 to 9 years for Rodger [sic] Stone?” and calling them, “COCKROACHES.” Apparently this email merited a response, because he said,

I’ll draft a response. Good news– we know the U.S. Attorney won’t get this threat because he doesn’t use email.

12:02: Marando forwards an inquiry from The Hill’s John Kruzel, asking about the Fox story that DOJ is changing Stone’s sentencing recommendation, to Cooney, saying only “FYI.”

12:07:11: Cooney responds to Marando’s question, False.

12:07:32 PM: Marando forwards the 12:07:11 email from JP Cooney to Zelinsky.

12:13: Zelinsky responds to Marando and Kravis in the Cooney “False” thread, linking CNN journalist Shimon Prokupecz’s tweet quoting DOJ disavowing of the sentencing memo:

DOJ on Roger Stone: “This is not what had been briefed to the department,” the official told CNN. “The department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”

12:50: Zelinsky sends “Zelinsky Withdrawal Motion Draft February 11.pdf” to Neil White and John Sippel at Maryland’s US Attorney’s office, stating,

Dear Neil and John,

Sorry to buy you with an urgent request.

Quick background:

[long paragraph redacted under b5]

1:00: White responds. The first line is redacted under b5. The rest reads,

Jon briefed me about this earlier today. I tried calling you and I am happy to chat this afternoon. I can be reached at [redacted].

1:04: Zelinsky responds to White, cc’ing Roann Nichols, “Neil — on phone with DC now. Will call in a moment.”

1:13: Zelinsky emails Neil White cc’ing Roann Nichols, “Just tried you again. Thanks,”

1:55: Cooney sends an email, with only two periods, to Kravis, with the subject “memo.”

2:02: Kravis forwards the email from Cooney to the other prosecutors.

2:34: Zelinsky receives ECF notice of a letter in support of sentencing.

2:55: Kravis sends Zelinsky an email with the subject line, “Send me your notice?”

2:55:18: Zelinsky responds to Kravis. The first sentence is redacted under b5. The rest says, “JP approved this yesterday. If you see any typos, let me know!” He attaches, “Zelinsky Withdrawal Motion Draft February 11.docx.”

2:59: Zelinsky receives ECF notice of his withdrawal motion, which was filed at 2:58.

2:59:23: Zelinsky emails Cooney, cc’ing the other prosecutors, Withdrawal, attaching, “Zelinsky Withdrawal Final Signed FINAL.pdf”:

Dear JP,

Pursuant to our conversation yesterday and your approval of this filing yesterday, I am now filing the attached withdrawal from the Stone case and resigning as a SAUSA in DC.

2:59: Zelinsky again responds to Kravis with the file, “Zelinsky Withdrawal Motion Draft February 11.docx.”

3:00: Cooney responds to Zelinsky, “I am not approving of you withdrawing from this case right now.”

3:02: Zelinsky forwards Nichols and White the Cooney response, adding:

Dear Roann and Neil,

As discussed, I have filed the withdrawal motion and emailed the public corruption chief JP Cooney. I withdrew just after I sent the email below notifying him. As we discussed, I do not believe he has the power to compel  me to stay in the case. There are currently three attorneys on the docket for the United States. In addition, JP has indicated that Main Justice will file a motion of somekind in the case later today and we will not have the opportunity to do this.

Thanks for all yoru [sic] help.

3:04: Leo Wise responds to Zelinsky, explaining, Attached is a rough redlined draft. Also attached is the case [redacted] is also attached. The subject of the email and the names of the attachment are also redacted.

3:30: News Alerts from Law360 that includes reference to the sentencing memo filed the day before.

3:41: Steven Brill writes the Stone prosecutors urging them to “speak out against improper internal pressure.”

3:55: Zelinsky receives Kravis’ withdrawal motion from ECF; it was filed at 3:54.

4:04: Zelinsky forwards an email from NBC’s Kevin Breuninger asking for a statement on his withdrawal to the press people in Maryland’s US Attorney’s office, telling them, “I’m just going to forward these to you. THanks! Sorry!” Other standard emails he forwarding included one from The Hill, CNN (Katelyn Polantz), CBS, CNN (Wolf Blitzer).

4:04: Zelinsky forwards an email from Reuters’ Brad Heath, with the subject line 44.5, asking if the notice of withdrawal was his own decision; Zelinsky forwarded it to the press people in Maryland’s US Attorney’s office

4:38: Zelinsky receives ECF notice that John Crabb filed an appearance in the case

4:46: Zelinsky receives ECF notice of the revised sentencing memo, which was filed at 4:44

5:01: Marcia Murphy, one of the press people in MD USA, responds Zelinsky regarding an email he forwarded from CNN explaining,

Aaron,

I have responded to all the inquiries you forwarded with something similar to the below statement. I tried to make it clear that I was responding on your behalf, so they wouldn’t think the office was preventing you from making a statement. If you get anymore, I will be happy to respond. Have a good evening. Hope you get some rest! Marcy

5:32: Zelinsky receives Marando’s notice of withdrawal from ECF; it was filed at 5:30.

7:08: Michael Cunningham, in the Maryland US Attorney’s Office, emails the NYT story on the Stone prosecutors withdrawing to Zelinsky, saying, “Very proud of you!”

9:10: Zelinsky responds to Cunningham: “Thanks! Just doing what any of us would have done in the circumstance.”

10:03: Lenzner responds to the Nichols and White email. His response is redacted under b5.

10:21: Zelinsky responds to Lenzner, starting, “Thanks. My MOU is certainly only for the Stone case.” The rest is redacted under b5.

10:36: Zelinsky responds to a thread involving Stuart Sears about a panel on Political Prosecutions involving, among others, Jeannie Rhee (the panel would later get delayed until September). The first part is redacted under b5. It finishes, “Thanks for the kind invitation.”

11:26: Zelinsky forwards an email from Erik Prince’s lawyer, Boies Schiller’s Matthew Schwartz to Michael Marando, explaining, FYI I don’t plan to respond. The email itself reads:

Aaron —

I hope all is well. I couldn’t help but notice the article just published in the Wall Street Journal, which suggests that the Department is on the verge of charging Mr. Prince. What’s going on?

 

Full DC Circuit Shifts Mike Flynn Analysis Back to What It Should Be: Unusual Remedy

The full DC Circuit just announced it will rehear Mike Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus on August 11.

That they’re doing so is no surprise. Neomi Rao’s opinion threatened to overturn not only precedent on mandamus, but also on false statements cases. The decision was all the more radical insofar as it granted relief to DOJ, which had not asked for it.

What’s notable is that the Circuit is shifting the analysis back to where it should have been in the first place.

When the panel of Karen Henderson, Neomi Rao, and Robert Wilkins first invited briefing on this issue, they focused on whether US v. Fokker required Judge Sullivan to dismiss the case, as the government moved.

Today’s order instructed the parties to be prepared to address whether there are not other adequate means to attain the relief desired, which goes to the core of writs of mandamus (which are only supposed to be available if something like an appeal is unavailable).

Even Karen Henderson suggested in the last hearing that Flynn did have other means of relief — an appeal of any decision that Sullivan actually makes (it has yet to be determined whether, by delaying the decision on whether to dismiss the case, Sullivan has taken an action at all).

Flynn will have a much harder time making this argument, as he can appeal whatever decision Sullivan makes. The government, however, will be in a much more awkward place, because they’re arguing — having not filed for a writ — that they’ll face irreparable harm if they have to show up for a hearing before Judge Sullivan, a ridiculous claim yet nevertheless one Rao seized on to be able to rule for Flynn. It’s unclear whether this new frame — which is what the court should have reviewed in the first place — will even leave space for the government to make that argument.

Which might mean Billy Barr will have to explain why DOJ flip-flopped even though nothing had changed from the time his own DOJ called for prison time for Mike Flynn.

Bill Barr Repeatedly Lied, Under Oath, about Judge Amy Berman Jackson

The judge agreed with me, Congressman.

The judge agreed with me.

The judge agreed with me.

Bill Barr spent a lot of time in yesterday’s hearing claiming the federal officers in Portland have to violently suppress the protests in Portland because the protests are an assault on the Federal courthouse.

He also lied, repeatedly, to cover up the assault on the judiciary he ignored.

In just one exchange with Ted Deutch, Barr claimed at least six times that Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed with his analysis on the Roger Stone sentence.

Barr tried — and ultimately succeeded — in dodging Deutch’s question, which is whether there was ever a time in the history of the Justice Department where DOJ considered threats against a witness and a judge just a technicality.

Deutch: You said enhancements were technically applicable. Mr. Attorney General, can you think of any other cases where the defendant threatened to kill a witness, threatened a judge, lied to a judge, where the Department of Justice claimed that those were mere technicalities? Can you think of even one?

Barr: The judge agreed with our analysis.

Deutch: Can you think of even one? I’m not asking about the judge. I’m asking about what you did to reduce the sentence of Roger Stone?

Barr: [attempts to make an excuse]

Deutch: Mr. Attorney General, he threatened the life of a witness —

Barr: And the witness said he didn’t feel threatened.

Deutch: And you view that as a technicality, Mr. Attorney General. Is there another time

Barr: The witness — can I answer the question? Just a few seconds to answer the question?

Deutch: Sure. I’m asking if there’s another time in all the time in the Justice Department.

Barr: In this case, the judge agreed with our — the judge agreed with our —

Deutch: It’s unfortunate that the appearance is that, as you said earlier, this is exactly what you want. The essence of rule of law is that we have one rule for everybody and we don’t in this case because he’s a friend of the President’s. I yield.

The exchange is interesting for a lot of reasons — Barr’s story on the timeline on replacing Jesse Liu and Timothy Shea’s subsequent interventions in the Stone and Mike Flynn cases does not hold up in the least, though now he’s on the record, under oath, with that story.

As to the part where there is a public record, Barr was wrong on the facts. For example, while Barr claims that Randy Credico said he didn’t feel threatened by Stone after Stone made threats against him, Credico has said he feared what Stone’s thuggish friends might do. And, as Amy Berman Jackson noted in the sentencing hearing, Credico described to the grand jury how he wore a disguise and lived in hiding out of fear.

I note, since the defense has informed me that I can consider this material, that that is not consistent with his grand jury testimony, which was closer in time to the actual threats, at which time he said he was hiding and wearing a disguise and not living at home because he was worried, if not about Trump, about his — about Stone, but about his friends. So, I think his level of concern may have changed over time.

The revised sentencing memo that Barr falsely claimed ABJ agreed with suggested “the Court [] not [] apply the eight-level enhancement for threatening a witness with physical injury.” But ABJ explicitly said the guideline applied, but she said would account for the nature of the threats and Credico’s leniency letter in deciding whether the sentence should apply the full guideline enhancement.

The guideline plainly applies. Even if one considers the threat to the dog to be property damage, that’s covered too. Application Note 5 explains that the guideline includes threats of property loss or damage, quote, Threatened as a means of witness intimidation.

But as the second government’s memorandum appears to be suggesting, as the defense has argued, the vague nature of the threat concerning any physical harm and its actual impact on Mr. Credico can be considered when I determine whether this sentence should fall within the guideline range or not, and they will.

In other words, ABJ said Stone should be punished for the kinds of threats he made about Credico, but that the enhancement itself was too severe.

ABJ similarly argued the opposite of what Barr did with regards to the enhancement for Stone’s obstruction of his prosecution, which the revised sentencing memo claimed, “overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case,” and argued may not have, “actually prejudiced the government at trial.”

ABJ scoffed at DOJ’s erroneous claim that an enhancement designed to address entirely post-indictment actions could overlap — as DOJ claimed — with the pre-indictment actions charged in the indictment.

The supplemental memorandum says: Well, this enhancement overlaps, to a degree, with the offense conduct in this case.

I’m not sure I understand that assertion. As proposed, the guideline is not meant to cover any pre-indictment conduct at all. And, yes, the guideline says it doesn’t apply if obstruction of justice is the charge of conviction; but, that’s not true, say the guidelines, if there is further obstruction during the prosecution.

The government also said in its supplemental memo: It’s unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial. But that isn’t the test. Obstruction is an attempt; it doesn’t have to be successful. And the administration of justice is a little bit more than whether they got in the prosecution’s way.

And she laid out, at length, the import of Stone’s threats and lies.

Even after he first denied and then acknowledged personally selecting the crosshairs photo, he sat there telling me: Yes, I’m going to follow any restrictions on talking about the investigation; but, forgetting to mention that he had a book on the subject wending its way to publishers as we spoke. I certainly haven’t seen anything that would attribute that to mere anxiety.

The defense also says his conduct, quote: Didn’t cause significant further obstruction of the prosecution of the case, close quote.

[snip]

But, certainly, A., threatening or intimidating a juror or a fact-finder in the case; F., providing false information to a judge; and J., not complying with the restraining order. While the orders here are not the ones specifically mentioned in the list, it’s not necessary that there’s an exact fit. The list is supposed to be illustrative.

And given the similarity of the conduct in this case to what’s listed in A., F., and J., I find that the guideline applies. 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.

I suppose I could say: Oh, I don’t know that I believe that Roger Stone was actually going to hurt me, or that he intended to hurt me. It’s just classic bad judgment.

But, the D.C. Circuit has made it clear that such conduct satisfied the test. They said: To the extent our precedent holds that a §3C1.1 enhancement is only appropriate where the defendant acts with the intent to obstruct justice, a requirement that flows logically from the definition of the word “willful” requires that the defendant consciously act with the purpose of obstructing justice.

However, where the defendant willfully engages in behavior that is inherently obstructive, that is, behavior that a rational person would expect to obstruct justice, this Court has not required a separate finding of the specific intent to obstruct justice.

Here, the defendant willfully engaged in behavior that a rational person would find to be inherently obstructive. It’s important to note that he didn’t just fire off a few intemperate emails. He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. It wasn’t accidental. He had a staff that helped him do it.

As the defendant emphasized in emails introduced into evidence in this case, using the new social media is his “sweet spot.” It’s his area of expertise. And even the letters submitted on his behalf by his friends emphasized that incendiary activity is precisely what he is specifically known for. He knew exactly what he was doing. And by choosing Instagram and Twitter as his platforms, he understood that he was multiplying the number of people who would hear his message.

By deliberately stoking public opinion against prosecution and the Court in this matter, he willfully increased the risk that someone else, with even poorer judgment than he has, would act on his behalf. This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the Court cannot sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say: Oh, that’s just Roger being Roger, or it wouldn’t have grounds to act the next time someone tries it.

The behavior was designed to disrupt and divert the proceedings, and the impact was compounded by the defendant’s disingenuousness. As the opinion in Henry pointed out in U.S. versus Maccado, 225 F.3d 766, at 772, the D.C. Circuit even upheld a §3C1.1 enhancement for failure to provide a handwriting example because such failure, quote, Clearly has the potential to weaken the government’s case, prolong the pendency of the charges, and encumber the Court’s docket.

And the record didn’t show a lack of such intent. The defendant’s conduct here certainly imposed an undue burden on the Court’s docket and court personnel, as we had to waste considerable time convening hearing after hearing to get the defendant to finally be straight about the facts, to get the defendant to comply with court orders that were clear as day, and to ensure that the public and that people who come and go from this building every day were safe. Therefore, I’m going to add the two levels, and we are now at a Level 27.

Contrary to the government’s claim that Stone’s lies and threats had no effect on the case, ABJ laid out the risks of the threat and the added time she and court personnel had to expend responding to them.

It is true that ABJ ended up around where Barr wanted Stone’s sentence to end up, but as she explicitly said, she got there the same way she would have for any defendant, but deciding that the sentencing guidelines are too severe. If Barr agreed with that then other people would benefit from Barr’s brief concern about prison sentences.

That didn’t happen.

But Barr is not afraid to lie and claim it did, under oath.

Bill Barr Testifies He’s Unfamiliar with the Obstruction Portion of the Mueller Report

I’m just finishing up the Bill Barr testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. While it wasn’t useful at eliciting new information, Barr did not succeed at filibustering over questions he wanted to ignore. Jim Jordan, whose favorite tactic is to scream and refuse to let witnesses answer questions, four times complained that Democrats had insisted on reclaiming their time when Barr tried to filibuster.

Democrats didn’t nail Barr on some of his key lies. For example, as he did in his written testimony, he complained that protestors were endangering federal judges; yet Democrats let him get away with the lie — which he yelled over and over — that Amy Berman Jackson agreed with his view on the Stone sentencing. The reality is ABJ very pointedly disagreed with Barr’s decision that Stone should not be punished for threatening her.

The headline of the hearing, though, should be that, now that he’s finally testifying under oath, Barr backed off his claim — made when releasing the Mueller Report — that the White House fully cooperated with the Mueller investigation. [This is about 45 minutes before the end.]

Joe Neguse: I want to go through a couple of your prior statements. On April 19–or, excuse me, April 18 of 2019, you stated that the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation. You’re aware of that?

Barr: Umm hmm.

Neguse: Today, yes or no Mr. Barr with the penalty of perjury, do you testify that that statement was true at the time you made it?

Barr: I thought it to be true at the time I made it. Why isn’t it true–

Neguse: I’ll get to that Mr. Barr.

Barr: Does it have to do with quibbling over–

Neguse: Mr. Barr, I’ll get to that, reclaiming my time, you answered the question. I have another question for you. On June 19, of 2020,

Barr: Actually, I have to answer that question.

Neguse: Mr. Barr, you did answer that question.

Barr: No, you said under penalty of perjury. I’m going to answer the damn question.

Neguse: You said the answer was yes. Are you saying no?

Barr: I think what I was referring to — and I’d have to see the context of it — was the supplying of documents.

Neguse: No, Mr. Attorney General, the statement was not limited to the supply of documents. You stated it at a press — Mr. Attorney General —

Barr: I think that’s that I was talking about —

Neguse: Reclaiming my time —

Barr: I think that’s what I was talking about —

Neguse: Reclaiming my time. You stated at a press conference on April 19, 2019 that the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation. You knew, when you made that statement, that the President had not agreed to be interviewed by the Special Counsel.

Barr: I think that was subsequently —

Neguse: Now on June 18th of this year —

Barr: I was referring to —

Neguse: Mr. Attorney General, I was referring to

Barr: The production of documents —

Neguse: Mr. Attorney General, on June 18th of this year, the Department of Justice issued a statement saying that Mr. Berman, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had quote, “stepped down.” You’re aware of that statement being released by the department, correct?

Barr: Yes.

Neguse: And do you testify today that that statement was true, at the time the Department issued it?

Barr: Um, he may not have known it, but he was stepping down.

Neguse: He may not have known that he was stepping down? That’s your testimony today?

Barr: He was being removed.

Neguse: Mr. Attorney General. The statement did not say he was being removed. It did not say he was being fired. It said that he was stepping down.

But I think the far more damning testimony from the Attorney General is that he is not familiar with the obstruction part of the Mueller Report.

Eric Swalwell had this exchange with Barr:

Swalwell: Mr. Barr, have you ever intervened other than to help the President’s friend get a reduced prison sentence for any other case where a prosecutor had filed a sentencing recommendation with a court?

Barr: A sentencing recommendation?

Swalwell: Yeah. Have you ever intervened, other than that case with the President’s friend?

Barr: Not that I recall–

Swalwell: Does that seem like something you’d recall? Where you would–

Barr: Well, I’m saying I can’t really remember my first — if you let me finish the question, I can’t remember thirty years ago I was Attorney General.

Swalwell: As Attorney General now?

Barr: Uh, no, I didn’t. But that’s because issues come up to the Attorney General in a dispute and I’ve never [starts yelling] I’VE NEVER HEARD OF A DISPUTE … I’VE NEVER HARD OF A DISPUTE WHERE LINE PROSECUTORS–

Swalwell: Mr. Attorney– Mr. Attorney–

Barr: [still yelling] THREATEN TO QUIT —

Swalwell: Well it’s a pretty big deal–

Barr: Because of a discussion over sentencing–

Swalwell: Mr. Barr, Americans from both parties are concerned that in Donald Trump’s America there are two systems of justice. One for Mr. Trump and his cronies. And another for the rest of us. But that can only happen if you enable it. At your confirmation hearing, you were asked, “Do you believe a President could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: Not to what?

Swalwell: You said, “That would be a crime.” You were asked, could a President issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him, and you responded, “no, that would be a crime.” Is that right?

Barr: Yes, I said that.

Swalwell: You said “a crime.” You didn’t say, “it’d be wrong,” you didn’t say, “it’d be unlawful.” You said, “it’d be a crime.” And when you said that, that a President swapping a pardon to silence a witness would be a crime, you were promising the American people that if you saw that, you would do something about that, is that right?

Barr: That’s right.

Swalwell: Now, Mr. Barr, are you investigating Donald Trump for commuting the prison sentence of his long-time friend and political advisor Roger Stone?

Barr: No.

Swalwell: Why not?

Barr: Why should I?

Swalwell: Well, let’s talk about that. Mr. Stone was convicted by a jury on 7 counts of lying on the Russian investigation. He bragged that he lied to save Trump’s butt. But why would he lie? Your prosecutors, Mr. Barr, told a jury that Stone lied because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump. And what truth is that? Well, Donald Trump denied in written answers to the Russia investigators that he talked to Roger Stone during the time that Roger Stone with in contact with Agents of a Russian influence operation. There’s evidence that Trump and Stone indeed did talk during that time. You would agree that it’s a federal crime to lie under oath, is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Swalwell: It’s a crime for you, it’s a crime for me, and it’s certainly a crime for the President of the United States. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Swalwell: So if Donald Trump lied to the Mueller investigators, which you agree would be a crime, then Roger Stone was in a position to expose Donald Trump’s lies. Are you familiar with the December 3rd, 2018 tweet, where Donald Trump said Stone had showed “guts” by not testifying against him?

Barr: No, I’m not familiar with that.

Swalwell: You don’t read the President’s tweets?

Barr: No!

Swalwell: Well, there’s a lot of evidence in the President’s tweets, Mr. Attorney General, I think you should start reading them, because he said Mr. Stone, “showed guts,” but on July 10 of this year, Roger Stone declared to a reporter, “I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period. Trump knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. The prosecutors wanted me to play Judas, I refused.” Are you familiar with that Stone statement?

Barr: Actually I’m not.

Swalwell: So how can you sit here and tell us, why should I investigate the President of the United States,” if you’re not even aware of the facts concerning the President using the pardon or commutation power to swap the silence of a witness?

Barr: Because we require, you know, a reliable predicate before we open a criminal investigation.

Swalwell: And I just gave you, sir–

Barr: I don’t consider it, I consider it a very Rube, uh, Goldberg theory that you have —

Swalwell: Well it sounds like you’re hearing this theory for the first time.

Barr: And by the way if apply this standard it’d be a lot, it’d be a lot more people under investigation.

Swalwell: Mr. Attorney General, the very same day that Roger Stone said that Donald Trump — no surprise — commuted his

Barr: The two tiered standards of justice were really during the tail end of the Obama Administration.

Barr may well be unfamiliar with Trump’s December 3, 2018 tweet.

Let’s take his testimony as truth.

If that’s true, than Barr is also unfamiliar with the Obstruction portion of the Mueller Report. In passages just recently declassified by Billy Barr’s DOJ, the Mueller Report laid out how the back-and-forth between Stone and Trump might be evidence of obstruction.

As described above, in an interview on November 28, 2018, one week after submitting his written answers, the President criticized “flipping” and said that Stone (along with Manafort and Corsi) was “very brave” in indicating he would not cooperate with prosecutors.897 On December 2, 2018, Stone told the press that there was “no circumstance” under which he would “testify against the president.”898 He also said he had had no discussions about a pardon.899 On December 3, 2018, the President tweeted, “‘I will never testify against Trump.’ This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about ‘President Trump.’ Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”900

On January 24, 2019, a grand jury indicted Stone on charges of obstruction, witness tampering, and making false statements.901 One of the counts charged Stone with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 for testifying falsely in Congress that he had never told anyone involved in the Trump Campaign about discussions he was having during the campaign with an individual who acted as an intermediary between him and Assange.902 After making an initial court appearance on January 25, 2019, Stone told reporters, “There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself. . . . I will not testify against the President, because I would have to bear false witness.”903

That evening, Stone appeared on Fox News and indicated he had knowledge of the President’s answers to this Office’s written questions. When asked if he had spoken to the President about the allegation that he had lied to Congress, Stone said, “I have not” and added, “When the President answered the written interrogatories, he correctly and honestly said Roger Stone and I never discussed this and we never did.”904

[snip]

Finally, there is evidence that the President’s actions towards Stone had the potential to affect a decision about cooperating with the government. After Stone publicly announced that he would never provide evidence against the President’s interests, the President called Stone “very brave” and said he had “guts!” for not “testify[ing] against Trump.”

[snip]

With regard to the President’s conduct towards Stone, there is evidence that the President intended to reinforce Stone’s public statements that he would not cooperate with the government when the President likely understood that Stone could potentially provide evidence that would be adverse to the President. By late November 2018, the President had provided written answers to the Special Counsel’s Office in which the President said he did not recall “the specifics of any call [he] had” with Stone during the campaign period and did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. Witnesses have stated, however, that candidate Trump discussed WikiLeaks with Stone, that Trump knew that Manafort and Gates had asked Stone to find out what other damaging information about Clinton WikiLeaks possessed, and that Stone’s claimed connection to WikiLeaks was common knowledge within the Campaign. It is possible that, by the time the President submitted his written answers two years after the relevant events had occurred, he no longer had clear recollections of his discussions with Stone or his knowledge of Stone’s asserted communications with WikiLeaks. But the President’s conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the President’s denials and would link the President to Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks. On November 28, 2018, eight days after the President submitted his written answers to the Special Counsel, the President criticized “flipping” and said that Stone was “very brave” for not cooperating with prosecutors. Five days later, on December 3, 2018, the President applauded Stone for having the “guts” not to testify against him. These statements, as well as those complimenting Stone and Manafort while disparaging Michael Cohen once Cohen chose to cooperate, support the inference that the President intended to communicate a message that witnesses could be rewarded for refusing to provide testimony adverse to the President and disparaged if they chose to cooperate.

The December 3, 2018 tweet was a key part of Mueller’s case that Trump’s discussion of pardons for Roger Stone were an effort to get him to be silent about the fact that Trump had lied (not just about talking about WikiLeaks, but also about a pardon for Julian Assange).

This was a key part of the Mueller Report’s analysis of the obstruction case against Trump.

And Billy Barr testified today, under oath, he’s not familiar with it.

It’s not just that Barr disclaims familiarity about Trump’s tweets (though his testimony was inconsistent about whether he saw the one claiming Stone’s sentence was unfair). It seems to be the case that Barr testified that he’s not familiar with the obstruction portion of the Mueller investigation.

And yet, the Attorney General claims to have reviewed that and concluded — for reasons that have nothing to do with DOJ’s policy that a President can’t be indicted — Trump did not commit obstruction.

In other words, the Attorney General’s sworn testimony as of today is that he’s not familiar with the obstruction case against Trump and — arguably — never read it, or at least is unfamiliar with the case it lays out about why, if Trump gave Stone clemency, it would be a crime.

Billy Barr Admits, for the Third and Fourth Time, that He Intervenes without Knowing the Facts

Billy Barr’s statement for his testimony today is here. It is as cynical and dishonest as you might imagine.

In his first paragraph, he pays tribute to John Lewis, without mentioning the ways he personally is trying to roll back the ability for every citizen to vote (most notably, of late, by falsely suggesting that the only safe way to vote during a pandemic is susceptible to fraud).

In his second paragraph, he suggests only politicians are political, and then suggests “mobs” are among those pressuring DOJ to take political decisions.

We are in a time when the political discourse in Washington often reflects the politically divided nation in which we live, and too often drives that divide even deeper. Political rhetoric is inherent in our democratic system, and politics is to be expected by politicians, especially in an election year. While that may be appropriate here on Capitol Hill or on cable news, it is not acceptable at the Department of Justice. At the Department, decisions must be made with no regard to political pressure—pressure from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, or from the media or mobs.

Then he spends five paragraphs addressing what he calls “Russiagate,” a term used exclusively by those who like to diminish the seriousness of an attack on our country.

Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus “Russiagate” scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions. Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today.

Four paragraphs later, Billy Barr admits that the sole reason he returned to government was to avenge what he believed — as an admitted outsider!! — to be two systems of justice.

But as an outsider I became deeply troubled by what I perceived as the increasing use of the criminal justice process as a political weapon and the emergence of two separate standards of justice. The Department had been drawn into the political maelstrom and was being buffeted on all sides. When asked to consider returning, I did so because I revere the Department and believed my independence would allow me to help steer her back to her core mission of applying one standard of justice for everyone and enforcing the law even-handedly, without partisan considerations. Since returning to the Department, I have done precisely that. My decisions on criminal matters before the Department have been my own, and they have been made because I believed they were right under the law and principles of justice.

Remember: Billy Barr has repeatedly stated that the investigation into Trump’s associates (not Trump himself) was unprecedented, proving he’s either unaware of or uninterested in the two investigations into Hillary, both of which involved abuses (the ostensible reason for the firing of both Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe) and leaks. The only evidence that a biased FBI Agent was running an informant on a candidate during the election involved the Clinton Foundation investigation which — unlike the Russian investigation — is understood to be entirely predicated on dodgy opposition research. Clinton did sit for an interview in the investigation into her actions; Trump refused.

In other words, every complaint floated about the Russian investigation actually applies more readily to the two Clinton ones, the treatment of investigations which had some effect, however unmeasured, on the election.

Yet the Attorney General of the United States has now admitted that he came into office planning to avenge what he sees as the opposite. Importantly, he admits he formed this conclusion an outsider! That means he formed the conclusion in spite of — by his own repeated admission — not knowing the facts of the investigation. “I realize I am in the dark about many facts,” he admitted in his memo on what he believed Mueller was doing on obstruction. As part of his confirmation process, he told both Dianne Feinstein and the Senate Judiciary that, “As I explained in a recent letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, my memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the Special Counsel might be considering.”

Billy Barr decided to become Attorney General based off what he admitted then and has proven since to be badly mistaken understanding of what the Russian investigation entailed. That’s it. That’s why he agreed to become Attorney General.

Barr may think he’s working from an independent standpoint (a laughable claim in any case given his outspoken hatred for anything progressive), but he keeps admitting that he’s doing something worse, working from an understanding based off media portrayals rather than an understanding based off the public, much less the investigative, record.

No wonder Reggie Walton ruled that Attorney General Barr had spun the real outcome of the investigation. Barr, by his own admission, formed conclusions when he was “in the dark about many facts.” There’s no evidence he has revisited those conclusions since.

Billy Barr performs his own toxic bias in numerous other ways in his opening statement, for example by focusing on Antifa’s potential threat to law enforcement rather than Boogaloo’s much greater threat.

Most cynical, though, is the way he explains the storm troopers in Portland as an effort to defend not just Federal property (which it is, if counterproductively heavy-handed), but Article III judges.

Inside the courthouse are a relatively small number of federal law enforcement personnel charged with a defensive mission: to protect the courthouse, home to Article III federal judges, from being overrun and destroyed.

Barr has demonstrated his disdain for Article III judges over and over: by overriding the decisions of Emmet Sullivan on the Mike Flynn case, by lying to courts on census cases, by ignoring Supreme Court orders on DACA.

Most importantly, however, on issues pertaining to Trump’s flunkies — even the Roger Stone case that he has twice said was righteous — Barr completely dismissed the seriousness of an actual threat to a Federal judge. As I have noted, contrary to Barr’s repeated claims that Amy Berman Jackson agreed with the sentencing recommendation DOJ made after he made an unprecedented intervention to override a guidelines sentencing recommendation, she did not agree that his revised sentencing included the appropriate enhancements. Not only did Barr dismiss the seriousness of making a violent threat against a witness, but Barr’s revised sentencing memo eliminated the sentencing enhancement for threatening a judge, opining (as Barr has a habit of doing) that DOJ wasn’t sure whether Stone’s actions had obstructed his prosecution and trial under ABJ.

Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.

This is why we have judges: to decide matters like this! Indeed, that’s the justification for recommending guidelines sentences in the first place — so the actual judge who presided over the case, rather than an Attorney General who has admitted to repeatedly forming opinions without consulting the actual record, makes the decisions based off the broadest understanding of the record. Even in this, his most egregious action, Billy Barr’s DOJ weighed in while admitting it didn’t have the knowledge to do so. And did so in such a way that minimized the danger of threats against Article III judges.

Billy Barr thinks the moms defending protestors in Portland are a threat to judges. But his repeated, acknowledged intervention on matters he knows fuckall about is a bigger threat to the rule of law, up to and including when that record includes threats against judges.

HJC Should Ask Bill Barr Why It Would Do Irreparable Harm if He Had to Explain His Actions in the Flynn Case

Unless he comes up with some new excuse, tomorrow Billy Barr will finally show up for an oversight hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

There are a number of sets of questions that commentators have suggested for the hearing (a strategic set of four topics that will show how Barr is hurting the US, an updated set from JustSecurity, some questions about Geoffrey Berman’s firing).

I could come up with similar lists. They’d be long and — by the time anyone executed them competently on the Democratic side — the big media outlets would have already filed their story on the hearing.

One thing that should be included, however, is the letter that Sidney Powell sent Barr and Jeffrey Rosen in June 2019 and Bill Barr’s actions to deliver on her demands in the subsequent year, actions that DOJ itself admits would do irreparable harm if DOJ had to explain.

The letter was effectively a road map of demands, many of them based off hoaxes, almost all of them unrelated to Flynn’s prosecution or false. It later became the Brady demand that Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected in a meticulous opinion last December. In it, Powell demanded that DOJ conduct a review of the prosecution and then dismiss the prosecution.

At the end of this internal review, we believe there will be ample justification for the Department to follow the precedent of the Ted Stevens case and move to dismiss the prosecution in the interest of justice — whether it be we ink a simple joint motion or sua sponte by the Department.

NYT wrote about this letter in June, calling it “little noticed” but predictably not crediting me, who did noticed it and wrote about it repeatedly.

HJC should raise this letter with Billy Barr for several reasons. First, little in the letter turned out to be true. Indeed, DOJ has asserted in court filings that even where documents Powell asked for existed, none of it was Brady material (and in fact, in spite of Timothy Shea’s claim that these materials were new, that was false, meaning DOJ has no justification for flip-flopping on its call for prison time for Flynn from earlier this year). Powell should have gotten none of it, and yet Barr invented an unprecedented process to give it to her and then use it to self-sabotage the case.

More importantly, the way in which Barr has rolled out the release of these documents has served, in part, to hide the shoddiness of Timothy Shea’s motion to dismiss. Based off a misrepresentation of Bill Priestap’s notes, Shea pretended that the interview with Flynn focused exclusively on the Logan Act. That wasn’t even an accurate reading of Priestap’s own notes. Since then, DOJ has released several more documents that make it clear FBI’s focus was on whether Flynn was a foreign agent (and also provide more evidence that the Flynn 302s track the Agents’ description of the interview), documents that undermine their own motion to dismiss. They’ve either withheld a Bill Priestap 302 explaining what happened or Powell has decided it doesn’t help her. And there are more records that they are sitting on that undermine the claims in their motion to dismiss.

Importantly, while DOJ was making claims that Flynn’s lies were not material, John Ratcliffe was releasing documents that explained why they were.  Of particular note, on February 14, 2017 — weeks after all the meetings DOJ has been focused on, Peter Strzok, in an annotation that made it clear he did not have it in for Trump or his flunkies, also made it clear that FBI didn’t have any phone records yet.

We have very few call logs. NSLs have been issued for Manafort, Page, and Flynn, many of which have not yet been returned.

On February 25, notes from Tashina Gauhar make clear, Strzok and Joe Pientka believed Flynn didn’t believe he had been lying. They also judged — not having phone records or much else yet — that they did not think he was an agent, but they needed to verify that.

That got translated into a later draft summary into a conclusion that Flynn wasn’t a foreign agent.

But as FBI would get first call logs (which would reveal Flynn had also lied about being in contact with Mar-a-Lag0) and then his texts (which would make it clear Flynn knew well about the sanctions Obama had imposed), that would dramatically change the import of his lies. By the time he started cooperating, Flynn made it clear that he and KT McFarland had immediately set about trying to cover up the response Sergey Kislyak gave to Flynn’s request.

After the briefing, Flynn and McFarland spoke over the phone. 1258 Flynn reported on the substance of his call with Kislyak, including their discussion of the sanctions. 1259 According to McFarland, Flynn mentioned that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration.1260 McFarland also gave Flynn a summary of her recent briefing with President-Elect Trump. 1261

The next day, December 30, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarked that Russia would respond in kind to the sanctions. 1262 Putin superseded that comment two hours later, releasing a statement that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions at that time. 1263 Hours later President-Elect Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin).” 1264 Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267 [my emphasis]

KT McFarland’s 302s would show she told the same untruths that Flynn had told, even after he got fired for telling them. More recently, it became clear that the White House scripted Bannon to deny discussing sanctions as well.

Meanwhile, the government is still withholding the first (known) post-election transcript between Flynn and Kislyak, where he first started this game of deal-making with the country that just attacked us.

All these details may not amount to Flynn acting as an Agent of Russia.

Rather, they amount to a concerted cover-up of the White House role in this sanction discussion. That’s a topic that a sentencing memorandum approved by top people in Bill Barr’s DOJ argued was significant and material, because a concerted effort to undermine sanctions on Russia, “could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.”

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

The concerted effort to hide the extensive coordination on sanctions — involving at least Flynn, McFarland, and Bannon — was designed hide whether the Trump response to Obama’s sanctions amounted to the kind of quid pro quo Mueller was appointed to investigate. A question on sanctions relief is the single one that Trump totally blew off in his responses to Mueller.

DOJ wants to claim that Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak were totally normal. But not only are they still hiding at least one of them, but they were utterly material to the Mueller investigation.

But then there’s the final reason why HJC should question Barr about the letter from Sidney Powell that he apparently delivered on a year after she demanded: DOJ itself admitted that explaining DOJ’s actions here would do irreparable harm.

The more interesting argument came from Wall. He argued, repeatedly, that DOJ will be irreparably harmed if Sullivan is permitted to hold a hearing on DOJ’s motion to dismiss. In particular, he seemed horrified that Sullivan might require sworn declarations of affidavits.

As Beth Wilkinson, arguing for Sullivan, mentioned, neither Sullivan nor Amicus John Gleeson has called for such a thing. Both are simply moving towards a hearing scheduled for July 16. Wilkinson also noted that District courts hold such hearings all the time. (And they predictably will have to in another case where DOJ has moved to end a prosecution recently, in which — unlike this case — there appears to have been prosecutorial misconduct, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, which I’ll return to).

Wall is literally arguing that DOJ will be permanently damaged if it has to show up and answer for its actions in this case (in particular, to explain why the prosecutors in this case didn’t sign the motion to dismiss).

That Wall argued so forcibly as to the injury that DOJ would suffer if it had to show up and defend its motion to dismiss is all the crazier given that they didn’t file the petition. The only harm that matters here procedurally is any harm to Flynn, not DOJ, and Powell really made no such case.

Indeed, that’s the reason why the DC Circuit granted mandamus in the Flynn case — not because of any injury that Flynn might face from having Sullivan scrutinize the case, but because having to answer for what Barr did here would — simply having to show up to the kind of hearing that DOJ shows up to every day and answer questions under oath — would do grave damage to DOJ.

HJC should take DOJ at its word. DOJ has confessed their actions can’t withstand the least amount of scrutiny. HJC should demand to know why.

How Chuck Ross Helped Make Roger Stone a Felon

Last night, Chuck Ross all but admitted he doesn’t know what he’s talking about with respect to to the Roger Stone case.

I tweeted several things in response to this Ross coverage of the exposure of Igor Danchenko as Christopher Steele’s primary subsource. Ross got sloppy with a lot of details in his story, including everything in this paragraph:

The special counsel’s report debunked the claim about Cohen, saying that he did not visit Prague. It also said that no Trump associates conspired with Russia or helped release emails through WikiLeaks.

My tweet thread started by noting that Mueller did not say no Trump associates conspired with Russia. It specifically said that when the report said the investigation did not establish something — presumably including any such conspiracy — that didn’t mean there wasn’t any evidence. Indeed, there was evidence they may have, but the investigation was thwarted by the obstruction of Trump, Paul Manafort, Erik Prince, and others, including Roger Stone.

I then noted that both of Ross’ claims about the WikiLeaks finding were overstated (note, Ross also falsely claimed the report said Cohen didn’t go to Prague; Mueller’s congressional testimony did).

As noted, the report states clearly that the investigation was never able to determine whether Stone — who had a slew of suspicious calls in the lead-up to the Podesta email release — had a role in their timely release.

The investigation was unable to resolve whether Stone played a role in WikiLeaks’s release of the stolen Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, the same day a video from years earlier was published of Trump using graphic language about women.

I further noted that when a bunch of Stone-related warrants were released in April, a bunch that focused on a new strand of the investigation, investigating Foreign Agent (18 USC 951) charges on top of the conspiracy one that had long been listed in warrants, remained heavily redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. One of those affidavits made clear that Stone was one of the subjects of the investigation they were hiding that Foreign Agent prong of the investigation from.

It does not appear that Stone is currently aware of the full nature and scope of the ongoing FBI investigation.

The thing that appears to have really set Ross off, however, was my observation that he got Stone subpoenaed by credulously reporting his lies.

To add to the fun, Ross claimed (after admitting he didn’t know what I was talking about) that he barely wrote about Stone until after he was subpoenaed.

Stone was never subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee (that was one reason the government was able to show he obstructed that investigation; by claiming he had no communications to subpoena, he made it more likely he wouldn’t be subpoenaed). He was subpoenaed by the Mueller team.

It’s not clear precisely what date Stone was subpoenaed, but he complied in November 2018. A warrant explaining the subpoena reveals that the government learned Stone had texts involving Randy Credico from media accounts. Later in the affidavit, it specifically cites this story from Chuck Ross. The government used Ross’ attribution to Stone as his source to justify searching Stone’s houses for the old phone.

“Julian Assange has kryptonite on Hillary,” Randy Credico wrote to Stone on Aug. 27, 2016, according to text messages that Stone provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

[snip]

Pointing to the text messages, Stone asserts that Credico “lied to the grand jury” if he indeed denied being Stone’s contact to Assange.

“These messages prove that Credico was the source who told me about the significance of the material that Assange announced he had on Hillary. It proves that Randy’s source was a woman lawyer,” Stone told TheDCNF.

Stone, who is the men’s fashion editor for The Daily Caller, had struggled for months to provide evidence to back up his claims about Credico. The former friends had engaged in a he said-he said battle through various media outlets for months.

But Stone finally obtained the text messages, which he says is smoking gun evidence supporting his claims, after his lawyers were able to extract the communications from a cell phone he stopped using in 2016.

It is unclear whether Mueller’s team has also obtained the messages.

It turns out Mueller had obtained some of these texts from Stone’s iCloud and from Randy Credico. But there were a set that Credico no longer had, and so Ross’ credulous reporting of an obviously cherry picked set of texts provided some of the key justification for the subpoena and warrant. An initial version of the government’s exhibit list appears to source a series of texts between Credico and Stone from August and September 2016 to Stone’s return. Those texts included some showing the circumstances of Credico’s August 2016 interview with Julian Assange, which were part of the proof that Credico couldn’t have been the guy Stone was claiming as his go-between in early August 2016.

I’ve noted repeatedly that, by sharing his comms with Credico and Corsi in an attempt to rebut public claims, Stone proved two of the charges against him, that he lied when he claimed he had no such communications (and, indeed, provided proof that he knew of those texts). All that said, given that Trump commuted his sentence and that Ross and other frothers continue to lie about what Mueller found, telling lies to journalists that ended up getting him subpoenaed probably was a good trade-off for Stone.

Unless, of course, there was something more interesting on that phone that Ross’ credulous reporting helped prosecutors get a warrant for.

Joe Pientka Warned Trump to Be Worried about People on His Periphery While Flynn Was Signing a Deal with Turkey

Donald Trump continues to use the Office of Director of National Intelligence role to declassify information to feed to frothy journalists so they can misrepresent the investigation into his campaign. Yesterday, John Ratcliffe released the FBI part of the classified briefing given to Trump, Chris Christie, and Mike Flynn on August 17, 2016. Among the things Ratcliffe disclosed is the FBI case files for both Crossfire Hurricane and the Flynn investigation, the paltry content of defensive briefings for a Presidential candidate, and that the FBI believed there were more Russian spies working under official cover in 2016 than Chinese spies.

They just don’t give a fuck anymore. They will compromise whatever they need to to try to spin the investigation into Trump, even if most of what they release doesn’t back their story.

The briefing also demonstrates that Trump had no concept of how spies work. He asked a childish question about whether — because they have more spies under official cover — whether they are bad.

Trump asked the following question,”Joe, are the Russians bad because they have more numbers are they worse than the Chinese?” Writer responded by saying both countries are bad. The numbers of IOs present in the U.S. is not an indicator of the severity of the threat. Writer reminded Trump the Chinese asymmetrical presence in the U.S. [redacted]. In addition, the OCONUS cyber threat posed by []PLA would have to be considered when making comparisons.

Having just been briefed that the Russians use official cover while the Chinese use non-official cover, Trump then collapsed that very basic concept to address just diplomatic cover.

The only interesting comment from Trump or Flynn, from an investigative standpoint, was that Trump seemed to suggest that Russia could match the US counterterrorism resources, an inaccurate belief the genesis of which is actually really interesting.

Meanwhile, Flynn asked Joe Pientka something totally off topic — how many FBI Agents they had as compared to counterterrorism cases. Flynn also, later, bragged about having done SIGINT (he seems to have wanted to prove his expertise).

Nothing in this briefing — not even the role of Kevin Clinesmith and Peter Strzok in approving an anodyne report — supports the frenzied response to it, and most commentators are totally misrepresenting what the briefing as a whole was (the first intelligence briefing, as reflected by redacted references to who gave those briefings), and what the nature of the defensive briefing that Pientka gave.

The far more interesting details is that Pientka warned Trump (accurately, as it turned out) about Russia and others trying to get to Trump through peripheral people and businessmen,

In the classical sense, an IO will attempt to recruit an individual to tell him or her the things he or she wants to know. This is known as HUMINT. It is highly unlikely a Foreign Intelligence Service will attempt to recruit you, however you need to be mindful of the people on your periphery: your staff , domestic help, business associates, friends, etc. Those individuals may present more vulnerabilities or be more susceptible to an approach. Those individuals will also be targeted for recruitment due to their access to you. That does not mean IOs will not make a run at you . They will send their IOs in diplomatic cover, businessperson NOCs, as well as sources they have developed around you to elicit information and gain assessment on you.

At the time Pientka gave this briefing, Flynn was finalizing the details of a deal with Turkey, using a businessman the government has credibly accused of being an agent of Turkey to cover up the Turkish government’s direct role in the deal. In his grand jury testimony, Flynn described knowing almost nothing of Ekim Alptekin when he pursued this deal.

So even as the FBI was trying to explain to Trump that people like his coffee boy and his rat-fucker would be used to assess his intentions, the guy sitting in the room was pursuing a big payday with a frenemy government seeking to do just that.

Pientka’s briefing lasted 13 minutes out of a total of at least 1 hour 55 minutes, though it looks like Trump left the briefing before they had presented everything, to catch a plane.

DOJ Claims Some Ongoing Investigation Mueller Report Redactions Pertain to the the Assange Prosecution

DOJ just filed their answers to Judge Reggie Walton’s questions in the EPIC/BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report. While those are entirely sealed, a new declaration from Vanessa Brinkmann is available, albeit in heavily redacted form.

One thing that’s not redacted, however, is the list of pending prosecutions pertaining to which information remains redacted. One of those is US v. Assange.

Information that is withheld pursuant to (b)(7)(A) and included in Exhibit A pertains to a number of pending law enforcement proceedings, including [US v. Internet] Research Agency LLC (Case No. 1:18-cr-32 (D.D.C.)), United States v. Khusyaynova (Case No. 1:18-mj-464 (E.D. Va.)), United States v. Netyksho (Case No. 1:18-cr-215 (D.D.C.)), United States v. Morenets (Case No. 2:18-cr-00263 (W.D. Pa.)), United States v. Assange (Case No. 1:18-cr-00111-CMH (E.D. Va.)), United States v. Kilimnik (Case No. 1:17-cr-201-3 (D.D.C.)), or ongoing law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department and the FBI.1

The first two of these are prosecutions of Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls, the third and fourth are GRU hackers (the second of those is the WADA hack).

Regarding Assange, it’s possible that this is as simple as a description of how the FBI accessed communications coming into or going out of the Ecuadorian Embassy (one example of this is footnote 262). Or it could mean redacted sections on charging decisions implicate not just Roger Stone, but also Assange. The Stone warrants released earlier this spring described an ongoing 951 (foreign agent)/conspiracy investigation that also necessitated ongoing redactions.

Seven pages of the filing (out of 17) pertain to ongoing investigations, almost all of them entirely redacted.

Task and Countertask: The Interview of Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource

According to the interview report from Christopher Steele’s Primary Subsource, the PSS confirmed that he had two sources behind the reporting that Carter Page met with Igor Sechin. He said one of those two sources — whom he described having ties to FSB — told him that Russia was sitting on kompromat against Trump (and Hillary). He described that his source for all the Michael Cohen reporting came from an old friend whom he trusted 100%. Steele’s Primary Subsource even took credit for some of the specific phrases in the Steele dossier — such as the one describing Michael Cohen’s efforts to sweep the Carter Page and Paul Manafort scandals “under the carpet.”

Even the Primary Subsource’s interactions with a person he believed to be Sergei Millian tracked most of the report based off the call.

[PSS] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. [PSS] recalls that the individual believed to be [Millian] said that there was an “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it,” Millian said that some of the information exchange could be good for Russian, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [PSS] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wikileaks.

The passage shows how badly DOJ IG over-read the interview when it first published the report and affirmatively stated that PSS “had no discussion” or “made no mention at all of” WikiLeaks.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary SubSource] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

To be sure, the provenance of that claimed Millian conversation is an utter shitshow — consisting of a call with someone the Primary Subsource believed, but had no way of confirming, was Millian. But Steele’s Primary Subsource did confirm that most of that report tracked the call, whoever it was from.

Still, you wouldn’t know that the Primary Subsource described the multiple sources behind key allegations in the dossier from the way the DOJ IG Report described what was a raw intelligence report. For example, this passage doesn’t reveal that the Primary Subsource heard details on Page’s trip from people with high level connections, including the meeting with Sechin (remember, the FBI had another source report that he had heard rumors about the Sechin meeting, which probably partly explains why Mueller concluded that Page’s whereabouts in Russia were still uncertain).

A second example provided by the Primary Sub-source was Report 134’s description of a meeting allegedly held between Carter Page and Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft, a Russian energy conglomerate. 337 Report 134 stated that, according to a “close associate” of Sechin, Sechin offered “PAGE/ TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft” in return for the lifting of sanctions against the company. 338 The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339 We reviewed the texts and did not find any discussion of a bribe, whether as an interest in Rosneft itself or a “brokerage. ” 340

The IG Report also repeats uncritically stuff from both the PSS and his sources that is pretty obviously bullshit, such as the claim from the PSS — who had been paid full time by Orbis for years to collect this intelligence — that he didn’t expect his reporting to show up in written reports.

The Primary Subsource also stated that he/she never expected Steele to put the Primary Subsource’s statements in reports or present them as facts. According to WFO Agent 1, the Primary Sub-source said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that “it was just talk.” WFO Agent 1 said that the Primary Sub-source explained that his/her information came from “word of mouth and hearsay;” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers;” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he/she heard made in “jest.”341 The Primary Sub-source also told WFO Agent 1 that he/she believed that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests.

Or the claim from a subsource who would be the key source of disinformation in the dossier if such disinformation exists that nothing in the dossier was attributable to her.

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

Nor would you know that from the reporting on the interview report of the Primary Subsource, released last night by Lindsey Graham.

Ultimately, the belated assessment of the Supervisory Intel Analyst probably appropriately attributes blame for problems with the dossier to multiple sources; a lot of the problems with this dossier stem from communication breakdowns and exaggerations from multiple people trying to make a buck.

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source.

Let me be very clear: none of this means these allegations are true, nor does this excuse the failures to alert the FISA Court to key problems in the dossier. I was one of the first people to raise doubts about some of the problems with the allegations in the dossier, and I stand by that.

Operational security

What’s more interesting about the interview are the hints of all the ways the dossier could have gone so badly wrong. The interview report describes multiple ways that Russia’s spooks might have found out about the project and fed it with disinformation (the footnotes declassified earlier this year describes that several Russian spooks knew of the project after what would have been the PSS’ first trip to Russia to do the reporting).

Steele’s PSS was an analyst by training that Steele increasingly used in an operational role (including by getting him hired at some kind of consulting company that seems to have served as a kind of cover for his travel to Russia). The arrangement seems to have had spotty operational security. For better and worse, PSS said that he rarely took substantive notes.

[PSS] was asked if he takes notes on the information he is collecting from his sources, or if he keeps any kind of records. He was told by Steele that it is a security risk to take notes; he hasn’t kept notes or electronic records. He occasionally makes scribbles and/or chicken scratch notes here and there, but gives verbal debriefs in [redacted] following his trips [to Russia].

PSS would then share the information with Steele, whom he always briefed alone (making misunderstandings more likely). He had no communications with Steele while in Russia. PSS described that his debriefings with Steele were always at the Orbis office, which meant if Steele himself were surveilled, PSS’ ties to Steele would become obvious.

PSS was originally tasked to investigate Manafort (which he had little success on), at a time when Fusion was still being paid by Paul Singer, meaning this interview seems to confirm, once and for all, that not just Fusion’s reporting, but Steele’s, was initially paid for by a Republican. PSS specified for that reporting he did some of his reporting to Steele via an encrypted app.

But his communications with Steele included many insecure methods. He first met Steele in a Starbucks. Early on, he communicated with him via email and Skype, and Steele would task him, at least in part, via email. He described discussing Page’s trip to Russia with Source 3 on some kind of voice call, possibly a phone, while he was at a public swimming pool, though he also described talking in an opaque way about election interference. Likewise, the most problematic December 13 report was based on a conversation with the same source, which was also a phone call.

In short, while Steele and PSS and PSS’ sources made some efforts to protect their communications from the Russians that surely considered Steele a target, those efforts were inconsistent.

PSS described making three trips to Russia for his election year reporting. On the second trip, he got grilled suspiciously at the border. On his third, “nothing bad happened,” which made PSS suspicious about how perfectly everything had gone.

PSS repeatedly described being uncomfortable with the election year tasking, and he seems to have had suspicions in real time that Russia had taken note of it.

Ties to intelligence

Meanwhile, for all the reports that PSS was “truthful and cooperative,” the interview report describes that he “balked, meandered in the conversation, and did not really answer the question” about whether he used other sources for his election year reporting aside from the six he described to the FBI. And, as laid out in the interview report, it became increasingly clear over the three days of interviews that PSS was not entirely forthcoming about any interactions he had had with Russian intelligence.

This started with his lawyers’ careful caveat at the beginning of the process that PSS did not have any contacts with people he knew to be part of the Russian intelligence services (the interview as a whole was conducted under a proffer).

[PSS] indicated, to his knowledge, he has not had any contacts with the Russian intelligence or security services. [ANALYST NOTE: His attorney emphasized “to his knowledge” during this part of the discussion.]

PSS said he had contact with Russian government officials, but — “as far as he … knew,” not with anyone in SVR, GRU, or FSB.

On day three, however, PSS described a friend (whose experience he drew on for a report on how Russia coerces criminal hackers to work for the intelligence services) who had had been busted for involvement with online pornography and pressured to work with the FSB. The Senior Intel Analyst noted that conflicted with his earlier claim to have no known ties to Russian spooks.

[ANALYST NOTE: This is in contradiction to [PSS’s] statement the first day, at which time he indicated that he did not have any contacts associated with the Russian intelligence and security services.]

Later that same day, PSS seemed to acknowledge that a Russian official and a Russian journalist he interacted with were spooks. The FBI noted,

[ANALYST NOTE: This contradicted [PSS’s] earlier statements regarding having no contact with Russia’s intelligence and security services, and it also contradicted regarding not really knowing if [a Russian official] was actually connected to Russia’s intelligence and security services.]

The EC goes on to describe PSS “brush[ing] aside the idea of being approached by the intelligence and security services” while he was a student.

This squirreliness about his own ties with Russian spooks was probably just self-preservation, an effort to avoid any exposure on 18 USC 951, but it is probably the key issue where the FBI questioned his candor in real time.

Countertasking

Meanwhile, PSS described at least three of his sources — Source 1, Source 2, and Source 3 — in such a way that led the FBI to wonder whether PSS was being tasked by his own sources. S1, for example — who has a close relationship to a Russian intelligence officer (probably FSB) —  always asks PSS to do projects together.

[S1] is always trying to get [PSS] to start projects and make money together — [PSS] related how [S1], like others, is always asking questions like, “Can you get us some projects?” or “Can you get us financing?” or “Let’s do something together dealing with [redacted]!” [PSS] doesn’t consider this as his source “tasking him” but as simply the normal course and scope of networking in these circles. [PSS] did help [S1] with an academic book about [redacted].

And both Source 2 and Source 3 — the sources for some of the more problematic information in the Steele dossier — knew PSS brokered intelligence. Both also discussed brokering information in Russia.

[S3] is one of the individuals who knows that [PSS] works for due diligence and business intelligence. [As an aside at this point, [PSS] insisted that [S2] probably has a better idea about this than does [S3] because [S2] is always trying to monetize his relationship with [PSS]. [PSS] reiterated again to interviewers that [S2] will often pitch money-making ideas or projects — “Let’s work together. I [S2] can try and get [redacted] to answer a question, but I’ll need some money to do it.”] [S3] has an understanding that [PSS] is “connected.” In fact, either [redacted] morning or [redacted] morning, [S3] reached out to [PSS] and asked him for help in [redacted] on how [redacted] living in the United States are viewing the Trump administration. She is asking him [redacted] by the weekend, probably so she can sell it to a friend in Moscow.

And because PSS asked Orbis to help S1 — the guy with close ties to an FSB officer — get a scholarship for language study in the UK, S1 presumably knows what Orbis and who Steele is.

In addition to S1, Source 5 also has ties to Russian intelligence. This showed up in footnote 339, which was partly declassified earlier this year.

This is to be expected, of course. Indeed, the dossier prominently touts the intelligence sourcing of its allegations, as I noted the first day the dossier was published. If the person on whose source network Steele was relying didn’t have ties to spooks, it would be as problematic.

The thing, though, is that it’s certain now that many of the allegations in the dossier are not true or were rumor, particularly virtually all the allegations sourced to Source 3 (the source for all the Michael Cohen reporting), PSS’s childhood friend whom he trusts 100%. That’s true even though generally the reports were sourced to people with at least indirect access to senior level officials.

All the huffing and puffing aside, that should be the takeaway from this. Steele was definitely not collecting this intelligence in optimal fashion, and sharing it with the press made things far worse. But in January 2017, it looked like raw intelligence, of varying quality, which is precisely what it was billed at. Yet, well before any pitches Steele made to the press, it seems some really well-connected people in Russia were feeding Steele’s PSS information that distracted from the real events going on and focused it elsewhere.

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