May 12, 2021 / by 

 

“Oversight:” Mike Flynn Lied to Protect Barbara Ledeen, Who Then Fed Disinformation to Sara Carter

In a footnote to an October 2019 filing, prosecutors in the Mike Flynn case suggested that Sidney Powell was misrepresenting Flynn’s “cooperation and candor” in his first interviews with Robert Mueller’s team, a claim that is consistent with Flynn’s own description of his lawyers’ unhappy review of it. The 302s liberated by BuzzFeed earlier this year show just how ridiculous some of the lies Flynn told in his November 16, 2017 meeting with Mueller’s prosecutors.

For example, in addition to repeating his lies about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak and claiming that he “did not specifically recall conversations regarding Wikileaks” during the campaign, Flynn also claimed that he never had conversations about how to get Hillary’s missing emails.

FLYNN did not recall discussions about a concerted effort to locate [Hillary’s] missing emails.

[snip]

FLYNN never had any conversations about how to get CLINTON’s missing emails. FLYNN did not remember hearing anyone else on the campaign discuss this either. The consensus was that they hoped the emails would be found all of a sudden.

Flynn would go on to unforget all three topics in the weeks and months ahead.

On the topic of searching for Hillary’s emails, however, Flynn was still shading the truth in his final interview before pleading guilty on November 29, 2017. Flynn described that he had met Peter Smith regarding business development in 2015, and described that Smith had emailed during the campaign. But, “FLYNN lost interest in what SMITH sent him because he ‘did not see any there, there’,” per the interview report. As to others who might be involved in the effort, Flynn described that “possibly Barbara LEDEEN” had been a recipient of some of the emails from Smith, though suggested Sam Clovis was a more important player.

It would be six months later, in an interview on May 4, 2018, before prosecutors returned to Flynn’s role in hunting down Hillary’s emails in depth. It appears that, at first, they asked Flynn generally about the Peter Smith effort, and this time, he remembered that “LEDEEN’s role” in the effort “was as a conduit.” Flynn explained that he gave “time and attention” to the effort “out of respect for his friendship with LEDEEN.” It was in that context that Flynn remembered that someone “sent files to FLYNN on one or two occasions,” though even then, he couldn’t remember whether the files were about Benghazi or the missing emails.

The prosecutors started asking Flynn about the actual emails — many of which were liberated in the documents liberated by BuzzFeed.

Prosecutors first asked about an email that the FBI Agent who wrote up the 302 described as a May 24, 2016 email from Ledeen to Flynn. But it’s actually an email Ledeen sent one of the chief purveyors of disinformation about the Flynn case, Catherine Herridge, promising “evidence” (though there are notations on it that may reflect Flynn got a hard copy).

Prosecutors then showed an email Flynn sent to Ledeen on June 16, 2016, in response to Ledeen’s question, “You got the Signal email.”

Flynn’s response reflects him having downloaded and read the report on the effort to obtain the emails. “amazing!” Flynn responded. “I’ll speak more off line with you about it this evening or tomorrow.”

On September 10, 2016, Ledeen wrote Flynn a “TIME SENSITIVE” email, explaining that “we are at the point of rubber hitting the road re the project you know I have been working on.”

In response to Ledeen’s request, the interview suggests, Flynn spoke with someone who had been an early campaign advisor, but he told Mueller’s team that “he did not really remember the details of the conversation.”

He claimed to remember nothing of the October 29, 2016 Hushmail promising a Phase II of the report, however.

“You’ve got me on this one,” Mike Flynn claimed, then described asking Barbara Ledeen, “Can’t you just tell me?” and imagining that, “he became frustrated trying to open the message.”

There was another HushMail on November 3, which Flynn suggested might pertain to Sidney Blumenthal.

But he suggested that “The servers may have been a second set of email messages to FLYNN,” and explained it was all “secret squirrel stuff.”

Flynn’s interview then proceeded to talk about an in-person meeting that Ledeen had set up, apparently with this same person, to discuss microtargeting; the pitch appeared to combine Sidney Blumenthal, servers in Eastern Europe, and microtargeting. It was in this context that, six months after claiming that he never spoke to anyone about getting Hillary’s missing emails, he admitted he actually talked about pursuing the Hillary emails “to anyone he was with on the Trump plane,” including Trump.

FLYNN conveyed to people that people were looking for the missing emails and were confident they would eventually find them. FLYNN would have said this to anyone he was with on the TRUMP plane. FLYNN does not know if specifically said he knew people but he could have. People on the plane include TRUMP. FLYNN did not believe he conveyed to the team information about the servers in the Ukraine or Eastern Europe. FLYNN was not ruling it out but does not recall exactly what he said.

Barbara Ledeen, still a key Senate Judiciary Committee staffer to Senators who have led the effort to undermine the Russian investigation, was right in the thick of all this during the 2016 election: Secret servers in Ukraine, missing emails, and microtargeting. That’s the woman overseeing the investigation into the investigation.

Which makes the other emails liberated in the BuzzFeed release implicating Ledeen all the more important.

It turns out that, before prosecutors asked about all this, they may have been alerted to a text Ledeen sent on May 1, 2018, inquiring about the status of Flynn’s case. Mueller’s team raised the text two weeks after the Peter Smith and microtargeting discussion, on May 17, 2018, when prosecutors focused on Ledeen’s extensive effort to monitor the Russian investigation (starting well before Mueller was appointed).

The backup liberated by Buzzfeed shows that Michael Ledeen inquired about whether he “and Sara” could say that Flynn was getting an immunity for testimony deal on March 31, 2017 (the same way Ledeen’s co-conspirators in Iran-Contra escaped accountability), establishing that the Ledeens funneled stories to Sara Carter.  A year later, Flynn conceded, he may have still been a source for Sara Carter stories via the Ledeens, in this case for a story about Flynn getting discovery.

BARBARA reached out FLYNN but he did not respond to her with anything specific. FLYNN may have told her they received discovery and were reviewing the documents.

FLYNN had many conversations around the time of this article but was never asked if the information could be shared with CARTER, nor did he direct anyone to share it with her.

Prosecutors asked about several other Carter stories, and Flynn’s long-suffering attorney, Rob Kelner, admitted that Carter had reached out several times before the plea deal and that he (Kelner) may have been the source for the detail that Andrew McCabe reached out to Flynn about an interview on short notice.

More interesting, however, are the emails between those Carter stories, which show Michael Ledeen (who, remember, was one of the first people Flynn called before secretly undermining sanctions with Sergey Kislyak in December 2016) reached out on April 17, 2017, telling Flynn, “it’s time…”

Then Michael Ledeen reached out the next day (apparently to a different Flynn email address) to arrange a pastrami dinner with extra pickles, Dr. Brown’s diet soda, and “a message for you.”

The meeting would have been on Monday April 24, 2017. Some of Carter’s scoops have been solid, albeit hyped. Others have been garbage. Her regurgitation of Sidney Powell’s false claims was pure propaganda. But she was also responsible, with John Solomon, for one of the most important unsubstantiated stories of the entire investigation, one that claimed Andrew McCabe had said they were going to “fuck Flynn” in a meeting after Flynn’s interview, an allegation that came up in Flynn’s last interview with Mueller (at a time when Mueller would replicate the two investigations that had been done on this allegation in the past).

The same interview reveals that Barbara Ledeen was responsible for another false claim that never died, that there was some original 302 that said something different from the one that recorded Flynn’s lies.

“Barbara tends to have a ‘big mouth,’” Flynn complained on May 17, 2018, as part of these discussions. But he still did what, according to the same interview report, she kept nagging him to do: withdraw his guilt plea. For a long time, it looked like she was simply protecting her husband Michael’s close friend. But with the backup materials, it seems just as likely that Ledeen’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation are as much about her own complicity as Flynn’s himself.

A person who had a key role Senate Judiciary Committee oversight of the Russian investigation was sending Hushmail and Signal communications looking for secret servers in Ukraine during the events in question.

Update: Here’s my summary of what each of the 302s included from when they were released in January).

Update: In January, Flynn thought that the April message that Ledeen was passing on may have been from Trump.


DOJ’s Failures to Follow Media Guidelines on the WaPo Seizure

I wanted to add a few data points regarding the report that DOJ subpoenaed records from three WaPo journalists.

This post is premised on three pieces of well-justified speculation: that John Durham, after having been appointed Special Counsel, obtained these records, that Microsoft challenged a gag, and that Microsoft’s challenge was upheld in some way. I’m doing this post to lay out some questions that others should be asking about what happened.

An enterprise host (probably Microsoft) likely challenged a gag order

The report notes that DOJ did obtain the reporters’ phone records, and tried, but did not succeed, in obtaining their email records.

The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.

In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.

[snip]

The letters to the three reporters also noted that prosecutors got a court order to obtain “non content communication records” for the reporters’ work email accounts, but did not obtain such records. The email records sought would have indicated who emailed whom and when, but would not have included the contents of the emails. [my emphasis]

What likely happened is that DOJ tried to obtain a subpoena on Microsoft or Google (almost certainly the former, because the latter doesn’t care about privacy) as the enterprise host for the newspaper’s email service, and someone challenged or refused a request for a gag, which led DOJ to withdraw the request.

There’s important background to this.

Up until October 2017, when the government served a subpoena on a cloud company that hosts records for another, the cloud company was often gagged indefinitely from telling the companies whose email (or files) it hosted. By going to a cloud company, the government was effectively taking away businesses’ ability to challenge subpoenas themselves, which posed a problem for Microsoft’s ability to convince businesses to move everything to their cloud.

That’s actually how Robert Mueller obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization emails — by first preserving, then obtaining them from Microsoft rather than asking Trump Organization (which was, at the same time, withholding the most damning materials when asked for the same materials by Congress). Given what we know about Trump Organization’s incomplete response to Congress, we can be certain that had Mueller gone to Trump Organization, he might never have learned about the Trump Tower Moscow deal.

In October 2017, in conjunction with a lawsuit settlement, Microsoft forced DOJ to adopt a new policy that gave it the right to inform customers when DOJ came to them for emails unless DOJ had a really good reason to prevent Microsoft from telling their enterprise customer.

Today marks another important step in ensuring that people’s privacy rights are protected when they store their personal information in the cloud. In response to concerns that Microsoft raised in a lawsuit we brought against the U.S. government in April 2016, and after months advocating for the United States Department of Justice to change its practices, the Department of Justice (DOJ) today established a new policy to address these issues. This new policy limits the overused practice of requiring providers to stay silent when the government accesses personal data stored in the cloud. It helps ensure that secrecy orders are used only when necessary and for defined periods of time. This is an important step for both privacy and free expression. It is an unequivocal win for our customers, and we’re pleased the DOJ has taken these steps to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.

Until now, the government routinely sought and obtained orders requiring email providers to not tell our customers when the government takes their personal email or records. Sometimes these orders don’t include a fixed end date, effectively prohibiting us forever from telling our customers that the government has obtained their data.

[snip]

Until today, vague legal standards have allowed the government to get indefinite secrecy orders routinely, regardless of whether they were even based on the specifics of the investigation at hand. That will no longer be true. The binding policy issued today by the Deputy U.S. Attorney General should diminish the number of orders that have a secrecy order attached, end the practice of indefinite secrecy orders, and make sure that every application for a secrecy order is carefully and specifically tailored to the facts in the case.

Rod Rosenstein, then overseeing the Mueller investigation, approved the new policy on October 19, 2017.

The effect was clear. When various entities at DOJ wanted records from Trump Organization after that, DOJ did not approve the equivalent request approved just months earlier.

If DOJ withdrew a subpoena rather than have it disclosed, it was probably inconsistent with media guidelines

If I’m right that DOJ asked Microsoft for the reporters’ email records, but then withdrew the request rather than have Microsoft disclose the subpoena to WaPo, then the request itself likely violated DOJ’s media guidelines — at least as they were rewritten in 2015 after a series of similar incidents, including DOJ’s request for the phone records of 20 AP journalists in 2013.

DOJ’s media guidelines require the following:

  • Attorney General approval of any subpoena for call or email records
  • That the information be essential to the investigation
  • DOJ has taken reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternate sources

Most importantly, DOJ’s media guidelines require notice and negotiation with the affected journalist, unless the Attorney General determines that doing so would “pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

after negotiations with the affected member of the news media have been pursued and appropriate notice to the affected member of the news media has been provided, unless the Attorney General determines that, for compelling reasons, such negotiations or notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.

But a judge can review the justifications for gags before issuing them (for all subpoenas, not just media ones).

Just as an example, the government obtained a gag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google when obtaining Reality Winner’s cloud-based communications a week after they had arrested her (at a time when she was in no position to delete her own content). After a few weeks, Twitter challenged the gag. A judge gave DOJ 180 days to sustain the gag, but in August 2017, DOJ lifted it.

That was a case where DOJ obtained the communications of an accused leaker, with possible unknown co-conspirators, so the gag at least made some sense.

Here, by contrast, the government would have been asking for records from journalists who were not alleged to have committed any crime. The ultimate subject of the investigation would have no ability to destroy WaPo’s records. The records — and the investigation — were over three years old. Whatever justification DOJ gave was likely obviously bullshit.

Hypothetical scenario: DOJ obtains cell phone records only to have a judge rule a gag inappropriate

Let me lay out how this might have worked to show why this might mean DOJ violated the media guidelines. Here’s one possible scenario for what could have happened:

  • In the wake of the election, John Durham subpoenaed the WaPo cell providers and Microsoft, asking for a gag
  • The cell provider turned over the records with no questions — neither AT&T nor Verizon care about their clients’ privacy
  • Microsoft challenged the gag and in response, a judge ruled against DOJ’s gag, meaning Microsoft would have been able to inform WaPo

That would mean that after DOJ, internally — Billy Barr and John Durham, in this speculative scenario — decided that warning journalists would create the same media stink we’re seeing today and make the records request untenable, a judge ruled that that a media stink over an investigation into a 3-year old leak wasn’t a good enough reason for a gag. If this happened, it would mean some judge ruled that Barr and Durham (if Durham is the one who made the request) invented a grave risk to the integrity of their investigation that a judge subsequently found implausible.

It would mean the request itself was dubious, to say nothing of the gag.

Once again, DOJ failed to meet its own notice requirements

And with respect to the gag, this request broke another one of the rules on obtaining records from reporters: that they get notice no later than 90 days after the subpoena. The Justice Manual says this about journalists whose records are seized:

  • Except as provided in 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(1), when the Attorney General has authorized the use of a subpoena, court order, or warrant to obtain from a third party communications records or business records of a member of the news media, the affected member of the news media shall be given reasonable and timely notice of the Attorney General’s determination before the use of the subpoena, court order, or warrant, unless the Attorney General determines that, for compelling reasons, such notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(2). The mere possibility that notice to the affected member of the news media, and potential judicial review, might delay the investigation is not, on its own, a compelling reason to delay notice. Id.
  • When the Attorney General has authorized the use of a subpoena, court order, or warrant to obtain communications records or business records of a member of the news media, and the affected member of the news media has not been given notice, pursuant to 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(2), of the Attorney General’s determination before the use of the subpoena, court order, or warrant, the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General responsible for the matter shall provide to the affected member of the news media notice of the subpoena, court order, or warrant as soon as it is determined that such notice will no longer pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. 28 C.F.R. 50.10(e)(3). In any event, such notice shall occur within 45 days of the government’s receipt of any return made pursuant to the subpoena, court order, or warrant, except that the Attorney General may authorize delay of notice for an additional 45 days if he or she determines that for compelling reasons, such notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. Id. No further delays may be sought beyond the 90‐day period. Id. [emphasis original]

Journalists are supposed to get notice if their records are seized. They’re supposed to get notice no later than 90 days after the records were obtained. AT&T and Verizon would have provided records almost immediately and this happened in 2020, meaning the notice should have come by the end of March. But WaPo didn’t get notice until after Lisa Monaco was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General and, even then, it took several weeks.

DOJ’s silence about an Office of Public Affairs review

While it’s not required by guidelines, in general DOJ has involved the Office of Public Affairs in such matters, so someone who has to deal with the press can tell the Attorney General and the prosecutor that their balance of journalist equities is out of whack. At the time, this would have been Kerri Kupec, who was always instrumental in Billy Barr’s obstruction and politicization.

But it’s not clear whether that happened. I asked Acting Director of OPA Marc Raimondi (the guy who has defended what happened in the press; he was in National Security Division at the time of the request), twice, whether someone from OPA was involved. Both times he ignored my question.

The history of Special Counsels accessing sensitive records and testimony

There’s a history of DOJ obtaining things under Special Counsels they might not have obtained without the Special Counsel:

  • Pat Fitzgerald coerced multiple reporters’ testimony, going so far as to jail Judy Miller, in 2004
  • Robert Mueller obtained Michael Cohen’s records from Microsoft rather than Trump Organization
  • This case probably represents John Durham, having been made Special Counsel, obtaining records that DOJ did not obtain in 2017

There’s an irony here: Durham has long sought ways to incriminate Jim Comey, who is represented by Pat Fitzgerald and others. In 2004, as Acting Attorney General, Comey approved the subpoenas for Miller and others. That said, given the time frame on the records request, it is highly unlikely that he’s the target of this request.

Whoever sought these records, it is virtually certain that the prosecutor only obtained them after making decisions that DOJ chose not to make when these leaks were first investigated in 2017, after Jeff Sessions announced a war on media leaks in the wake of having his hidden meeting with Sergey Kislyak exposed.

That suggests that DOJ decided these records, and the investigation itself, were more important in 2020 than Jeff Sessions had considered them in 2017, when his behavior was probably one of the things disclosed in the leak.

The dubious claim that these records could have been necessary or uniquely valuable

Finally, consider one more detail of DOJ’s decision to obtain these records: their claims, necessary under the media policy, that 3-year old phone and email records were necessary to a leak investigation.

When these leaks were first investigated in 2017, DOJ undoubtedly identified everyone who had access to the Kislyak intercepts and used available means — including reviewing the government call records of the potential sources — to try to find the leakers. If they had a solid lead on someone who might be the leaker, the government would have obtained the person’s private communication records as well, as DOJ did do during the contemporaneous investigation into the leak of the Carter Page FISA warrant that ultimately led to SSCI security official James Wolfe’s prosecution.

Jeff Sessions had literally declared war within days of one of the likely leaks under investigation here, and would approve a long-term records request from Ali Watkins in the Wolfe investigation and a WhatsApp Pen Register implicating Jason Leopold in the Natalie Edwards case. After Bill Barr came in, he approved the use of a Title III wiretap to record calls involving journalists in the Henry Frese case.

For the two and a half years between the time Sessions first declared war on leaks and the time DOJ decided these records were critical to an investigation, DOJ had not previously considered them necessary, even at a time when Sessions was approving pretty aggressive tactics against leaks.

Worse still, DOJ would have had to claim they might be useful. These records, unlike the coerced testimony of Judy Miller, would not have revealed an actual source for the stories. These records, unlike the Michael Cohen records obtained via Microsoft would not be direct evidence of a crime.

All they would be would be leads — a list of all the phone numbers and email addresses these journalists communicated with via WaPo email or telephony calls or texts — for the period in question. It might return records of people (such as Andy McCabe) who could be sources but also had legal authority to communicate with journalists. It would probably return a bunch of records of inquiries the journalists made that were never returned. It would undoubtedly return records of people who were sources for other stories.

But it would return nothing for other means of communication, such as Signal texts or calls.

In other words, the most likely outcome from this request is that it would have a grave impact on the reporting equities of the journalists involved, with no certainty it would help in the investigation (and an equally high likelihood of returning a false positive, someone who was contacted but didn’t return the call).

And if it was Durham who made the request, he would have done so after having chased a series of claims — many of them outright conspiracy theories — around the globe, only to have all of those theories to come up empty. Given that after years of investigation Durham has literally found nothing new, there’s no reason to believe he had any new basis to think he could solve this leak investigation after DOJ had tried but failed in 2017. Likely, what made the difference is that his previous efforts to substantiate something had failed, and Barr needed to empower him to keep looking to placate Trump, and so Durham got to seize WaPo’s records.

Billy Barr has been hiding other legal process against journalists

Given the disclosure that Barr approved a request targeting the WaPo about five months ago and that under Barr DOJ used a Title III wiretap in a leak investigation (albeit targeting the known leaker), it’s worth noting one other piece of oversight that has lapsed under Barr.

In the wake of Jeff Sessions declaring war on leaks in 2017 (and, probably, the leak in question here), Ron Wyden asked Jeff Sessions whether the war on leaks reflected a change in the new media guidelines adopted in 2015.

Wyden asked Sessions to answer the following questions by November 10:

  1. For each of the past five years, how many times has DOJ used subpoenas, search warrants, national security letters, or any other form of legal process authorized by a court to target members of the news media in the United States and American journalists abroad to seek their (a) communications records, (b) geo-location information, or (c) the content of their communications? Please provide statistics for each form of legal process.
  2. Has DOJ revised the 2015 regulations, or made any other changes to internal procedures governing investigations of journalists since January 20, 2017? If yes, please provide me with a copy.

In response, DOJ started doing a summary of the use of legal process against journalists for each calendar year. For example, the 2016 report described the legal process used against Malheur propagandist Pete Santilli. The 2017 report shows that, in the year of my substantive interview with FBI, DOJ obtained approval for a voluntary interview with a journalist before the interview because they, “suspected the journalist may have committed an offense in the course of newsgathering activities” (while I have no idea if this is my interview, during the interview, the lead FBI agent also claimed to know the subject of a surveillance-related story I was working on that was unrelated to the subject of the interview, though neither he nor I disclosed what the story was about). The 2017 report also describes obtaining Ali Watkins’ phone records and DOJ’s belated notice to her. The 2018 report describes getting retroactive approval for the arrest of someone for harassing Ryan Zinke but who claimed to be media (I assume that precedent will be important for the many January 6 defendants who claimed to be media).

While I am virtually certain the reports — at least the 2018 one — are not comprehensive, the reports nevertheless are useful guidelines for the kinds of decision DOJ deems reasonable in a given year.

But as far as anyone knows, DOJ stopped issuing them under Barr. Indeed, when I asked Raimondi about them, he didn’t know they existed (he is checking if they were issued for 2019 and 2020).

So we don’t know what other investigative tactics Barr approved as Attorney General, even though we should.


Did John Durham Seize Journalists’ Call Records?

The WaPo has revealed that DOJ obtained toll records on three journalists, covering a 3.5 month period in 2017, in 2020.

The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.

In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.

[snip]

The letters do not say when Justice Department leadership approved the decision to seek the reporters’ records, but a department spokesman said it happened in 2020, during the Trump administration. William P. Barr, who served as Trump’s attorney general for nearly all of that year, before departing Dec. 23, declined to comment.

The WaPo cites two stories it think might be culprits:

But it misses a key story on which Ellen Nakashima — whose mobile phone and home numbers were seized — was the first byline.

There’s also one on which Nakashima was not the first byline that might be relevant.

Notably, the request goes through the time when Peter Strzok was on the Mueller team.

In August 2020, NYT reported that John Durham was investigating media leaks. As reported, that was focused on the original leak to David Ignatius that led Mike Flynn to respond. But it reported that it wasn’t clear whether the investigation included other leaks, such as the two stories based on leak intercepts from the period under subpoena.

This report looks like what you’d expect if Durham’s investigation was broader than that, covering the period through when Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team.

Update: Billy Barr told the AP that he had made Durham Special Counsel on December 1, just over 6 months before WaPo got notice that DOJ had seized their records. He did so, it’s now clear, so that whatever providers they were trying to obtain records for would know that he had the authority of Attorney General.

Update: What Durham is clearly pursuing is charging someone under 18 USC 798 for leaking signals intercepts that seeded three stories:

  • The David Ignatius story revealing Mike Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak had been discovered
  • The WaPo story revealing that Jared Kushner’s effort to set up a back channel with Russia had been discovered
  • The WaPo story revealing that Jeff Sessions had lied when he said he hadn’t spoken to any Russians in his confirmation hearing

Update: To be quite clear: I have no reason to believe Durham has any evidence about Strzok. What I have is a bunch of evidence that 1) Durham doesn’t understand what he’s looking at and 2) he was hired to take out a couple of FBI people, starting with Strzok.


Will Amy Berman Jackson Finally Break the Spell of OLC Feeding Bullshit FOIA Claims to DC District Judges?

Yesterday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the government must turn over a memo written — ostensibly by Office of Legal Counsel head Steve Engel — to justify Billy Barr’s decision not to file charges against Donald Trump for obstructing the Mueller Investigation. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington FOIAed the memo and sued for its release. The memo itself is worth reading. But I want to consider whether, by making a nested set of false claims to hide what OLC was really up to, this opinion may pierce past efforts to use OLC to rubber stamp problematic Executive Branch decisions.

A key part of ABJ’s decision pivoted on the claims made by Paul Colburn, who’s the lawyer from OLC whose job it is (in part) to tell courts that DOJ can’t release pre-decisional OLC memos because that would breach both deliberative and attorney-client process, Vanessa Brinkmann, whose job it is (in part) to tell courts that DOJ has appropriately applied one or another of the exemptions permitted under FOIA, and Senior Trial Attorney Julie Straus Harris, who was stuck arguing against release of this document relying on those declarations. ABJ ruled that all three had made misrepresentations (and in the case of Straus Harris, outright invention) to falsely claim the memo was predecisional and therefore appropriate to withhold under FOIA’s b5 exemption.

Colburn submitted two declarations. ABJ cited this one to show that Colburn had claimed the OLC memo was designed to help Billy Barr make a decision.

Document no. 15 is a predecisional deliberative memorandum to the Attorney General, through the Deputy Attorney General, authored by OLC AAG Engel and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General (“PADAG”) Edward O’Callaghan . . . . As indicated in the portions of the memorandum that were released, it was submitted to the Attorney General to assist him in determining whether the facts set forth in Volume II of Special Counsel Mueller’s report “would support initiating or declining the prosecution of the President for obstruction of justice under the Principles of Federal Prosecution.” The released portions also indicate that the memorandum contains the authors’ recommendation in favor of a conclusion that “the evidence developed by the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” The withheld portions of the memorandum contain legal advice and prosecutorial deliberations in support of that recommendation. Following receipt of the memorandum, the Attorney General announced his decision publicly in a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees . . . .

* * *

[T]he withheld portions of document no. 15 – the only final document at issue – are . . . covered by the deliberative process privilege. The document is a predecisional memorandum, submitted by senior officials of the Department to the Attorney General, and containing advice and analysis supporting a recommendation regarding the decision he was considering . . . . [T]he withheld material is protected by the privilege because it consists of candid advice and analysis by the authors, OLC AAG Engel and the senior deputy to the Deputy Attorney General. That advice and analysis is predecisional because it was provided prior to the Attorney General’s decision in the matter, and it is deliberative because it consists of advice and analysis to assist the Attorney General in making that decision . . . . The limited factual material contained in the withheld portion of the document is closely intertwined with that advice and analysis. [emphasis original]

Brinkmann submitted this declaration. ABJ cited it to show how Brinkmann had regurgitated the claims Colburn made.

While the March 2019 Memorandum is a “final” document (as opposed to a “draft” document), the memorandum as a whole contains pre-decisional recommendations and advice solicited by the Attorney General and provided by OLC and PADAG O’Callaghan. The material that has been withheld within this memorandum consists of OLC’s and the PADAG’s candid analysis and legal advice to the Attorney General, which was provided to the Attorney General prior to his final decision on the matter. It is therefore pre-decisional. The same material is also deliberative, as it was provided to aid in the Attorney General’s decision-making process as it relates to the findings of the SCO investigation, and specifically as it relates to whether the evidence developed by SCO’s investigation is sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of justice offense. This legal question is one that the Special Counsel’s “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election” . . . did not resolve. As such, any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General. [emphasis original]

Key to this is timing: Colburn twice claimed the memo was provided to Barr before he made any decision, and based on that, Brinkmann not only reiterated that, but claimed that Mueller’s Report “did not resolve” whether Trump could be charged, which left the decision to Barr. Both were pretending a decision had not been made before this memo was written (much less completed).

In an almost entirely redacted section, ABJ explained how the first part of the memo is actually a strategy discussion (which, a redacted section seems to suggest, might have been withheld under some other FOIA exemption that DOJ chose not to claim because that would have required admitting this wasn’t legal advice), written in tandem by everyone involved, about how to best spin the already-made decision not to charge Trump.

The existence of that section contradicts the claims made by Colburn and Brinkmann, ABJ ruled.

All of this contradicts the declarant’s ipse dixit that since the Special Counsel did not resolve the question of whether the evidence would support a prosecution, “[a]s such, any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General.” Brinkmann Decl. ¶ 11.

Then, after ABJ decided she needed to review the document over DOJ’s vigorous protests, she discovered something else (again, she redacted the discussion for now) that made her believe claims made in a filing written by Straus Harris not just to be false, but pure invention with respect to the role of Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan, who was privy to what Mueller was doing and the import Mueller accorded to the other OLC memo dictating that Presidents can’t be prosecuted.

And the in camera review of the document, which DOJ strongly resisted, see Def.’s Opp. to Pl.’s Cross Mot. [Dkt. # 19] (“Def.’s Opp.”) at 20–22 (“In Camera Review is Unwarranted and Unnecessary”), raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court in support of its 2020 motion for summary judgment:

[T]he March 2019 Memorandum (Document no. 15), which was released in part to Plaintiff is a pre-decisional, deliberative memorandum to the Attorney General from OLC AAG Engel and PADAG Edward O’Callaghan . . . . The document contains their candid analysis and advice provided to the Attorney General prior to his final decision on the issue addressed in the memorandum – whether the facts recited in Volume II of the Special Counsel’s Report would support initiating or declining the prosecution of the President . . . . It was provided to aid in the Attorney General’s decision-making processes as it relates to the findings of the Special Counsel’s investigation . . . . Moreover, because any determination as to whether the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense was left to the purview of the Attorney General, the memorandum is clearly pre-decisional.

Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. [Dkt. # 15-2] (“Def.’s Mem.”) at 14–15 (internal quotations, brackets, and citations omitted).13

13 The flourish added in the government’s pleading that did not come from either declaration – “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions; as a result, in that capacity, his candid prosecutorial recommendations to the Attorney General were especially valuable.” Id. at 14 – seems especially unhelpful since there was no prosecutorial decision on the table.

I noted the problem with O’Callaghan’s role here, and argued there are probably similar problems with an OLC opinion protect Trump in the wake of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea.

In her analysis judging that an attorney-client privilege also doesn’t apply, ABJ returns to this point and expands on it, showing that in addition to Steve Engel (the head of OLC), O’Callaghan, who was not part of OLC and whom the memo never claims was involved in giving advice to Billy Barr, was also involved in generating the memo; the record also shows that the people supposedly receiving the advice, such as Rod Rosenstein, actually were involved in providing the advice, too.

While the memorandum was crafted to be “from” Steven Engel in OLC, whom the declarant has sufficiently explained was acting as a legal advisor to the Department at the time, it also is transmitted “from” Edward O’Callaghan, identified as the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. The declarants do not assert that his job description included providing legal advice to the Attorney General or to anyone else; Colborn does not mention him at all, and Brinkmann simply posits, without reference to any source for this information, that the memo “contains OLC’s and the PADAG’s legal analysis and advice solicited by the Attorney General and shared in the course of providing confidential legal advice to the Attorney General.” Brinkmann Decl. ¶ 16.19

The declarations are also silent about the roles played by the others who were equally involved in the creation and revision of the memo that would support the assessment they had already decided would be announced in the letter to Congress. They include the Attorney General’s own Chief of Staff and the Deputy Attorney General himself, see Attachment 1, and there has been no effort made to apply the unique set of requirements that pertain when asserting the attorney-client privilege over communications by government lawyers to them. Therefore, even though Engel was operating in a legal capacity, and Section II of the memorandum includes legal analysis in its assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the purely hypothetical case, the agency has not met its burden to establish that the second portion of the memo is covered by the attorney-client privilege

19 The government’s memorandum adds that “PADAG O’Callaghan had been directly involved in supervising the Special Counsel’s investigation and related prosecutorial decisions,” Def.’s Mem. at 14, but that does not supply the information needed to enable the Court to differentiate among the many people with law degrees working on the matter.

ABJ notes (and includes a nifty table in an appendix showing her work) that in fact the letter to Congress that was supposed to be based off the decision the OLC memo was purportedly providing advice about was finished first, meaning it couldn’t have informed the decision conveyed in the letter to Congress.

A close review of the communications reveals that the March 24 letter to Congress describing the Special Counsel’s report, which assesses the strength of an obstruction-of-justice case, and the “predecisional” March 24 memorandum advising the Attorney General that [redacted] the evidence does not support a prosecution, are being written by the very same people at the very same time. The emails show not only that the authors and the recipients of the memorandum are working hand in hand to craft the advice that is supposedly being delivered by OLC, but that the letter to Congress is the priority, and it is getting completed first. At 2:16 pm on Sunday, March 24, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff advises the others: “We need to go final at 2:25 pm,” and Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, summons everyone to a meeting at 2:17 pm. Attachment 1 at 4. At 2:18 pm, Steven Engel in the OLC replies to this email chain related to the draft letter, and he attaches the latest version of the memo to the Attorney General, saying: “here’s the latest memo, btw, although we presumably don’t need to finalize that as soon.”

As a result, ABJ rules that this was neither pre-decisional nor candid advice from someone acting in the role of attorney given to another, and so the document must be released.

Ultimately, this is a finding that the claims made by DOJ — by Colburn, Brinkmann, and Straus Harris — have no credibility on this topic. She cites Reggie Walton’s concerns (in the BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report itself) about Billy Barr’s lies about the Mueller Report and notes that DOJ has been “disingenuous” to hide Barr’s own “disingenuous[ness].”

And of even greater importance to this decision, the affidavits are so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence. The review of the unredacted document in camera reveals that the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time. [redacted]

ABJ is careful to note (in part to disincent Merrick Garland’s team from appealing this, which she has given DOJ two weeks to consider doing) that this decision is limited solely to application of the claims made before her. The often-abused b5 exemption is not dead.

The Court emphasizes that its decision turns upon the application of well-settled legal principles to a unique set of circumstances that include the misleading and incomplete explanations offered by the agency, the contemporaneous materials in the record, and the variance between the Special Counsel’s report and the Attorney General’s summary. This opinion does not purport to question or weaken the protections provided by Exemption 5 or the deliberative process and attorney-client privileges; both remain available to be asserted by government agencies – based on forthright and accurate factual showings – in the future.

But this leaves the question about what to do about all this lying — Colburn and Brinkmann and Straus Harris’ misrepresentations to protect the lies of Billy Barr and his team. Billy Barr is gone, along with Rosenstein and Engel and O’Callaghan and Brian Rabbitt (Barr’s Chief of Staff), who “colluded” (heh) to make it appear that this process wasn’t all gamed for PR value from the start.

There’s little (immediate) recourse for their lies.

But as far as I know, Colburn and Brinkmann and Straus Harris remain at DOJ, now having been caught offering misrepresentations to protect former superiors’ lies after their past equivalent representations have — for decades — been accepted unquestioningly by DC District Judges. I’ve raised concerns in the past, for example, about claims that Colburn made in 2011 (to hide drone killing opinions) and in 2016 (to hide a long-hidden John Yoo opinion on which surveillance has been based).

The reason ABJ and Reggie Walton caught DOJ in lies about the Mueller Report is not that DOJ hasn’t long been making obviously questionable claims to hide rubber stamp opinions from OLC behind the b5 exemption and obviously questionable claims to withhold documents in FOIA lawsuits. Rather, they caught DOJ in lies in this case because Billy Barr was a less accomplished (or at least more hubristic) liar than Dick Cheney (and because DOJ cannot, in this case, also make expansive claims about secrecy in the service of National Security). It is also the case that when John Yoo and David Barron rubber stamped Executive Branch excesses, they were more disciplined about creating the illusion of information being tossed over a wall to a lawyer and a decision being tossed back over the wall to the decision-maker. That was merely an illusion at least in Yoo’s case — he was both in the room where decisions were made and massaging the analysis after the fact to authorize decisions that were already made.

It would be nice to use this decision to go back and review all the dubious claims Colburn and Brinkmann have made over the years. Rudy Giuliani’s potential prosecution may offer good reason to do so in the case of Steve Engel’s equally dubious opinion withholding the Ukraine whistleblower complaint from Congress.

But at the very least, what this opinion does is show that career DOJ employees have, at least in the Bill Barr era, made less than credible claims to cover up DOJ lies, and in this case, lies about how OLC functions as a rubber stamp for Executive Branch abuse.

We may have no (immediate) recourse about the people whose abuse necessitated such misrepresentations for their protection — Barr and Rosenstein and O’Callaghan and Engel and Rabbitt — though their future legal opponents may want to keep this instance in mind.

But it is becoming a habit that when DC judges check DOJ claims in FOIA suits, those claims don’t hold up. At the very least, more scrutiny about the claims made in these nested set of declarations may finally pierce the bullshit claims made to protect OLC’s role in rubber stamping Executive Branch abuse.


When No Means Yes: The Flynn and McFarland Response to Information to Paul Manafort

Jason Leopold liberated a bunch of the A1 back-up files (meaning the documents about which witnesses get asked) to Mueller 302s last night.

In virtually every way — from Mike Flynn bragging about sitting with Putin at the RT gala, to Erik Prince pretending not to remember obvious references to Russia in dealings with George Nader, to the response to George Papadopoulos’ offer to set up a meeting with Russia — the files make Trump’s flunkies look worse than was already known.

I want to show one specific example of how that’s true.

The Mueller Report told the story of how, after a secret meeting in Madrid with Oleg Deripaska deputy Georgiy Oganov where the two discussed “recreating old friendship” that Manafort had with Deripaska, Manafort returned and reached out to incoming Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland.

He would have told her, among other things, to undermine the Russian investigation by pointing to problems with the Steele dossier that Deripaska had been feeding both sides of.

As the Mueller Report tells it, McFarland asked if she should respond to Manafort, Flynn advised her not to, and she did not.

On January 15, 2017, three days after his return from Madrid, Manafort emailed K.T. McFarland, who was at that time designated to be Deputy National Security Advisor and was formally appointed to that position on January 20, 2017.945 Manafort’s January 15 email to McFarland stated: “I have some important information I want to share that I picked up on my travels over the last month.”946 Manafort told the Office that the email referred to an issue regarding Cuba, not Russia or Ukraine, and Manafort had traveled to Cuba in the past month.947 Either way, McFarland- who was advised by Flynn not to respond to the Manafort inquiry appears not to have responded to Manafort. 948

The Senate Intelligence Report tells it slightly differently. It describes that Flynn told her they shouldn’t respond until they were “in the hot seats.”

(U) Manafort returned to the United States from Madrid on January 12, 2017.615 Three days later, Manafort sent an email to K.T. McFarland, who at the time was designated to become the number two official in Trump’s National Security Council and was serving as Flynn’s deputy on the Transition.616 In the email, Manafort asked McFarland if she was in Washington D.C. that week and, if so, if she was willing to meet informally.617 Manafort said he had “some important· information I want to share that I picked up on my travels over the last month.”618

(U) Before responding to Manafort, McFarland forwarded Manafort’s request to Flynn and inquired whether she should. agree to meet with Manafort.619 Flynn responded by recommending that McFarland not meet with Manafort “until we’re in the hot seats,” presumably a reference to their taking official roles in the U.S. Government. 620 It is unclear what Manafort hoped to speak with McFarland about, but he claimed to the SCO it involved matters related to Cuba, not Russia or Ukraine.621

That is, rather than telling McFarland not to take the meeting, Flynn told her to hold off until Trump was inaugurated.

The email itself provides more details.

First, Manafort was specifically suggesting they only meet if she was in DC.

That is, Manafort wanted to meet in person. He didn’t want to tell her his “important information” if they were in different cities.

And Flynn was not only aware that Manafort might be “working for” someone, but he was specifically concerned about the perception of meeting with Manafort, “especially now.”

Unmentioned in this exchange, but important background, is that the press was already focused on Flynn’s secret phone calls with Russia, and he had already committed himself to several public lies about when he spoke with Sergey Kislyak and when.

And curiously, even though it took less than an hour for McFarland to forward this to Flynn and him to respond, the government does not, apparently, have any response McFarland sent to Manafort.

That doesn’t mean McFarland was implicated in Manafort’s coziness with Russian intelligence. But it does demonstrate how Mueller put the email in a remarkably favorable light.


Seth Rich Conspiracists Liberate Records Showing DOJ Believes They’re Conspiracists

Some Seth Rich truthers — including Matthew Couch and Ed Butowsky — recently got some files in a FOIA on Seth Rich documents liberated. They succeeded in liberating files that show that a conspiracy theory they’ve been chasing is, in fact, easily explained based on how FOIA and time work.

On September 1, 2017, Ty Clevenger FOIAed for Seth Rich documents, including but not limited to everything about his murder. After Clevenger sued, FBI FOIA lead David Hardy issued a declaration dated October 3, 2018 saying that he had found no primary files pertaining to Rich (meaning the FBI didn’t investigate his death, DC did), and that on appeal of this September 1, 2017 FOIA, he had even searched for references to Rich, but found nothing.

Clevenger argued that that claim is inconsistent with the deposition of former AUSA Deborah Sines in one of the related Seth Rich lawsuits where she was asked about claims she made to Michael Isikoff and Andy Kroll. Specifically, Sines revealed that she was interviewed by a Mueller AUSA.

According to Ms. Sines’s testimony, the FBI conducted an investigation into possible hacking attempts on Seth Rich’s electronic accounts following his murder. Ms. Sines also testified that the FBI examined Seth Rich’s laptop computer as part of its investigation, and that there should be emails between her and FBI personnel. Finally, she testified that she met with a prosecutor and an FBI agent assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Ms. Sines’s testimony conflicts with the affidavit testimony of David M. Hardy, who claimed that the FBI conducted a reasonable search and could not find any records pertaining to Seth Rich. See October 3, 2018 Affidavit of David M. Hardy (http://lawflog.com/wpcontent/uploads/2020/01/Hardy-Declaration.pdf) and July 29, 2019 Affidavit of David M. Hardy (http://lawflog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Second-Hardy-Declaration.pdf). Mr. Hardy’s affidavits were also contradicted by email records that Judicial Watch obtained in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice, Case No. 1:18-cv-00154-RBW (D.D.C.). See August 10, 2016 email string (https://tinyurl.com/wylcu9l or http://lawflog.com/wpcontent/uploads/2020/04/FBI-emails-re-Seth-Rich.pdf). Clearly, the FBI is in possession of email records pertaining to Seth Rich.

Clevenger insists that records of this interview should have shown up in response to his September 1, 2017 FOIA.

Based on what the government released, it is true that Hardy’s declaration was wrong. There was an August 10, 2016 email chain via which a Washington Field Office press person alerted people to press questions after Julian Assange alleged Rich had a role in the email leak; the email chain ultimately included Peter Strzok. There was a September 1, 2016 notation by the San Francisco team that first investigated Guccifer 2.0 about something (probably information shared by either Twitter or WordPress). There were two copies of a 302 reporting on the September 14, 2016 interview of a DNC staffer (possibly Ali Chalupa) whose interview mentioned both Paul Manafort and Rich.

Those are the only things turned over, however, that pre-date Clevenger’s September 1, 2017 FOIA. So they’re the only things that Hardy should have found in his reference check.

That said, the claim that Hardy covered up details about Sines probably doesn’t hold up.

The document opening a case on a Dark Web threat, which may reflect the FBI investigation into allegations that someone tried to hack Rich’s email, is dated November 7, 2017.

And what is almost certainly Sines’ interview with Mueller detailee Heather Alpino took place on March 15, 2018. In addition to the AUSA’s explanation that she (again, almost certainly Sines) had collected all the conspiracy theories floating about Rich’s death, the 302 also reveals that the AUSA reviewed Rich’s financial records and job prospects as part of the investigation.

The 302 is also consistent — as are multiple other documents from this release — with the FBI obtaining Rich’s laptop after Clevinger’s original FOIA, as part of the Mueller investigation. The 302 shows the AUSA “request[ing] a forensic image of the laptop for the homicide investigation” from Alpino. If that’s right, the FBI didn’t even get Rich’s laptop until months after Clevenger first FOIAed for such information. The FBI received voluntary production of something on October 24, 2017, some of which was too large to be uploaded digitally, which could be the laptop. The FBI also received information on May 30, 2018 from the DNC which must include material pertaining to Rich.

Again, all that post-dates the original FOIA, and so would not have been included in Hardy’s search.

Indeed, these records indicate that the Mueller and hacking investigation did a lot of the things that the conspiracists claim they didn’t do, including chasing down the Seth Rich allegations, largely because the allegations floated by Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi became a focus of the investigation. The release includes two consent to search forms signed by Jerome Corsi on October 4, 2018, which suggest his electronic files were of interest in part because of claims he made about Seth Rich.

There are, however, a few interesting tidbits in here.

On April 9, 2019, the “SCO team” referred “information on a potential fraud scheme collected in the course of a Special Counsel’s Office.” That suggests one of the referrals Mueller made had to do with a fraud scheme involving Seth Rich.

A far more interesting document involves two pages of a 15-page 302 reflecting a 4-hour recorded interview that took place on October 2, 2019 between two FBI Agents and Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher doesn’t appear to have had an attorney present. The interview covered “a wide variety of topics,” including people Rohrabacher had known going back to the Reagan administration. But the fragment pertaining to Rich appears among discussions about business relationships Rohrabacher had, including someone being asked to write articles of some sort (it’s not impossible that this is a reference to Corsi). The passage that probably relates to Rich is redacted for ongoing investigation. The circumstances under which alleged Russian asset Dana Rohrabacher would have a 4-hour recorded interview with the FBI are very curious indeed.

A word about what was included in this batch: The FBI put together a collection of 576 responsive pages that only provided pages that provided context to the reference to Rich, along with the page reference itself (so an entire 302 was only included if the entire interview pertained to Rich, otherwise they included the introductory page and the page with the Rich reference). Then, they withheld a bunch of pages in entirety, leaving fewer than 80 pages in the released files. So we don’t get to see every page (and a number of these files are Mueller files that were already released).

But what we do get to see reflect nothing of real interest that was in the FBI files when Clevenger first submitted his FOIA.

Update: This release includes some files (including the Sines one and a Jason Fishbein) that should have been turned over to BuzzFeed as part of that FOIA but I believe were not.

They also reprocessed this Jerome Corsi interview report, which doesn’t disclose anything that wasn’t already known, and this Paul Manafort interview report. The latter newly reveals that every day the week before the Podesta files dropped, Roger Stone told him they were coming, which makes it clear Stone didn’t have a lot of clarity on the timing of the release. It also shows Manafort recalling that, “Stone said things would come out related to Podesta. He did not recall that Stone specifically mentioned Podesta’s emails, just that Stone said it related to Podesta.” Similar Manafort testimony had shown up elsewhere, but this confirms that Manafort repeatedly testified that Stone knew the second WikiLeaks dump would pertain to Podesta.

Update: Corrected the timing of when FBI may have obtained Rich’s laptop.


The George Nader Problem: NSA Removes the Child Exploitation Content from Its Servers

When Lebanese-American dual citizen George Nader was stopped at Dulles after arriving on a flight from Dubai on January 17, 2018, he had at least 12 videos on his phone depicting boys as young as two years old being sexually abused, often with the involvement of farm animals. In the days before a Mueller prosecutor obtained the contents of the three phones Nader had with him, Nader sat for at least four interviews with Mueller’s prosecutors and told a story (which may not have been entirely forthright) about how he brokered a meeting in the Seychelles between Russia and Erik Prince a year earlier. Nader exploited Prince’s interest in work with Nader’s own employer — Mohammed bin Zayed — to set up the back channel meeting, and as such was a very effective broker in the service of two foreign countries, one hostile to the US. As such, I assume, Nader became a key counterintelligence interest, on top of whatever evidence he provided implicating Trump and his flunkies.

Mueller’s team got the returns on Nader’s phones back on March 16. An FBI Agent in EDVA in turn got a warrant for the child porn. But two days after the agent got the warrant return, Nader skipped town and remained out of the country until days after Mueller shut down his investigation, at which point he returned to the US and was promptly arrested for his abuse of children. Even without the other influence peddling that Nader had done on behalf of the Emirates, he would have remained a key counterintelligence interest for the entire 14 months he remained outside the country. After all, Nader had been making key connections since at least the time he introduced Ahmed Chalabi to Dick Cheney, and probably going back to the Clinton Administration.

So it is quite possible that for the entire period Nader was out of the country, he was surveilled. If that happened, it almost certainly would have happened with the assistance of NSA. As an agent of Dubai, he would be targetable under FISA, but as a US citizen, targeting him under FISA would require an individualized FISA warrant, and the surveillance overseas would take place under 705b.

If the surveillance did happen, Nader’s sexual abuse of boys would have had foreign intelligence value. It would be of interest, for example, to know who knew of his abuse and whether they used it as leverage over Nader. The source of the videos showing the children being exploited would be of interest. So, too, would any arrangements Nader made to procure the actual boys he abused, particularly if that involved high powered people in Middle Eastern countries.

Understanding how George Nader fit in international efforts to intervene in US affairs would involve understanding his sexual abuse of boys.

And that poses a problem for the NSA, because it means that really horrible content — such as Nader’s videos showing young boys being abused with goats for the object of an adult’s sexual pleasure — is among the things the NSA might need to collect and analyze.

I’ve been thinking about George Nader as I’ve been trying to understand one detail of the recent FISA 702 reauthorization. In January 2020, the NSA got permission to — in the name of lawful oversight — scan its holdings for child exploitation, stuff like videos of adults using goats to sexually abuse very young boys.

In a notice filed on January 22, 2020, the government informed the Court that NSA had developed a method, [redacted] of known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography), to identify and remove such material from NSA systems. To test this methodology, NSA ran the [redacted] against a same of FISA-acquired information in NSA systems. The government concedes that queries conducted for such purposes do not meet generally applicable querying standard; nor do they fall within one of the lawful oversight functions enumerated in the existing NSA querying procedures. Nevertheless, NSD/ODNI opined that “the identification and removal of child exploitation material … from NSA systems that is a lawful oversight function under section IV.C.6,” and that the deviation from the querying procedures was “necessary to perform this lawful oversight function of NSA systems.” Notice of Deviation from Querying Procedures, January 22, 2020, at 3; see Oct. 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10.

NSA anticipates using such queries going forward, likely on a recurring basis, to proactively identify and remove child-exploitation material from its systems. The government submits that doing so is necessary to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly disturbing, illegal material.” October 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10. The Court credits this suggestion and likewise finds that performance of these queries qualifies as a lawful oversight function for NSA systems. But the Court encouraged the government to memorialize this oversight activity in § IV.C.6, among the other enumerated lawful oversight functions that are recognized exceptions to the generally acceptable querying standards.

The government has done so. Section IV.C.6 now includes a new provision for “identify[ing] and remov[ing] child exploitation material, including child pornography, from NSA systems.” NSA Querying Procedures § IV.C.6.f. The Court finds that the addition of this narrow exception has no material impact on the sufficiency of the querying procedures taken as a whole.

At first, I thought they were doing this to protect the children. Indeed, my initial concern was that NSA was using these scans to expand the use of NSA queries for what wound up being law enforcement action, such that they could ask to do similar scans for the seven other crimes they’ve authorized sharing FISA data on (though of the other crimes, only snuff videos would be as easy to automate as child porn, which has a well-developed technology thanks to Facebook and Google). I thought that, once they scanned their holdings, they would alert whatever authority might be able to rescue the children involved that they had been victimized. After all, under all existing minimization procedures, the NSA can share proof of a crime with the FBI or other relevant law enforcement agency. Indeed, in 2017, FISC even authorized NSA and FBI to share such evidence of child exploitation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, so they could attempt to identify the victims, help bring the perpetrators to justice, and track more instances of such abuse.

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.

Indeed, as described, “saving the victims” is not the purpose of these scans. Rather, preventing NSA personnel from having to look at George Nader’s pictures showing goats sexually abusing small boys is the goal. When I asked the government about this, NSA’s Director for Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency, Rebecca Richards, distinguished finding child exploitation material in the course of intelligence analysis — in which case it’ll get reported as a crime — from this, which just removes the content.

NSA does not query collected foreign intelligence information to identify individuals who may be in possession of child exploitation material. This particular provision allows NSA to identify and remove known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography) from NSA systems.

The Court agreed that this was appropriate lawful oversight to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly distributing, illegal material.” The point of the query is not to surface the material for foreign intelligence analysis, the function of the query is to remove the material. If NSA finds such information in the course of its analytic process to identify and report on foreign intelligence, it will review and follow necessary crimes reporting.

The Court credits the suggestion to conduct this activity as part of NSA’s lawful oversight function. [my emphasis]

I asked NSA a bunch of other questions about this, but got no further response.

First, isn’t the NSA required to (and permitted to, under the minimization procedures) alert the FBI to all such instances they find? So wouldn’t this be no different from a law enforcement search, since if found it will lead to the FBI finding out about it?

Second, as offensive as this stuff is, isn’t it also of value from a foreign intelligence perspective? Ignoring that George Nader is a US person, if a high profile advisor to MbZ was known to exploit boys, wouldn’t that be of interest in explaining his position in MbZ’s court and his preference for living in Dubai instead of VA? Wouldn’t it be of interest in understanding the counterintelligence threat he posed?

If it is of FI interest (I seem to recall a Snowden revelation where similar discoveries were used against a extremist cleric, for example), then how is it recorded to capture the FI use before it is destroyed? And in recording it, aren’t there NSA and/or FBI personnel who would have to look more closely at it? Wouldn’t that increase the amount of child exploitation viewed (presumably with the benefit of finding more predators, even if they are outside US LE reach)?

Finally, can you tell me whether NCMEC is involved in this? Do they receive copies of the material for their databases?

Are you saying that if the NSA finds evidence of child exploitation via these searches, it does not refer the evidence to FBI, even if it implicates victims in the United States?

Another question I have given Richards’ response is, why would NSA personnel be accessing collections that happen to include child exploitation except for analytic purposes?

But maybe that’s the real answer here: NSA employees would access child exploitation 1) for analytical purposes (in which case, per Richards, it would get reported as a crime) or 2) inappropriately, perhaps after learning of its presence via accessing it for analytic purposes (something that is not inconsistent with claims Edward Snowden has made).

After all, there have been two really high profile examples of national security personnel accused of critical leaks in the last decade who also have been accused of possessing child pornography: Donald Sachtleben, who after he was busted for (amazingly) bringing child porn on his laptop into Quantico, he later became the scapegoat for a high profile leak about Yemen, and Joshua Schulte, on whose computer the government claims to have found child porn on when it searched the computer for evidence that he stole all of CIA’s hacking tools.

So perhaps the NSA is just removing evidence of child exploitation from its servers — which it spent a lot of resources to collect as foreign intelligence — to avoid tempting NSA employees from accessing it and further victimizing the children?

If that’s correct, then it seems that NSA has taken a totally backwards approach to mitigating this risk.

If you’re going to scan all of NSA’s holdings to ID child exploitation, why not do so on intake, and once found, hash and encrypt it immediately. Some of what analysts would be interested in — tracking the dissemination of known child porn or the trafficking of known victims by transnational organized crime, for example — could be done without ever viewing it, solely after those existing hashes. If there were some other need — such as identifying a previously unidentified victim — then the file in question can be decrypted as it is sent along to FBI. That would have the added benefit of ensuring that if NSA personnel were choosing to expose themselves to George Nader’s videos of young boys being abused with farm animals, then the NSA would have a record of who was doing so, so they could be fired.

I get why the NSA doesn’t want to host the world’s biggest collection of child abuse, particularly given its difficulties in securing its systems. I don’t have any answers as to why they’re using this approach to purge their systems.


Rudy Giuliani’s Going To Go Through Some Things

The NYT is breaking the news that Rudy Giuliani’s home was searched this morning and his devices seized.

Federal investigators in Manhattan executed a search warrant on Wednesday at the Upper East Side apartment of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who became President Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer, stepping up a criminal investigation into Mr. Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

One of the people said the investigators had seized Mr. Giuliani’s electronic devices.

The story explains that this arises out of the investigation into Rudy’s foreign influence peddling with Ukraine.

The federal authorities have been largely focused on whether Mr. Giuliani illegally lobbied the Trump administration in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainian officials and oligarchs, who at the same time were helping Mr. Giuliani search for dirt on Mr. Trump’s political rivals, including President Biden, who was then a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The NYT doesn’t mention that several of these Ukrainians have since been sanctioned by Treasury as Russian agents.

But once they get Rudy’s phones, there’s the possibility they’ll find evidence of all Rudy’s other crimes. For example, in January, Rudy was in contact with James Sullivan, who is the brother of accused January 6 insurrectionist John Sullivan and who himself has ties to the Proud Boys.

This is a lot of information exchange (and a good degree of familiarity) with someone so closely tied to an attack on the Capitol.

So who knows? It might all coalesce: Rudy’s work for Russian Agents in Ukraine to undermine democracy, paving the way for a violent attack on the Capitol.

Update: They searched Victoria Toensing’s home too.

F.B.I. agents on Wednesday morning also executed a search warrant at the Washington-area home of Victoria Toensing, a lawyer close to Mr. Giuliani who had dealings with several Ukrainians involved in the effort to find damaging information about the Bidens, according to people with knowledge of that search. Ms. Toensing has represented Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch under indictment in the United States whose help Mr. Giuliani sought.

Update: Fixed the timing of the search. h/t JM.


Avril Haines Committed to Reviewing Past Redactions of Intelligence on Russia’s Support for Trump

In the wake of the confirmation that Konstantin Kilimnik did, in fact, share campaign data with Russian Intelligence, some people are asking whether Trump withheld information confirming that fact from Mueller or SSCI.

There are other possible explanations. After all, DOJ stated publicly in 2019 they were still working on decrypting communications involving Manafort and Kilimnik. There are likely new sources of information that have become available to the government.

It’s also certain that the government did share some information with SSCI that was not publicly released in its report last year. Indeed, we’re still waiting on information in the SSCI Report that probably will be made public.

Ron Wyden complained about the overclassification of the report when it came out, and — in his typical fashion — provided bread crumbs of what we might learn with further declassification.

(U) The report includes new revelations directly related to the Trump campaign’s cooperation with Russian efforts to get Donald Trump elected. Yet significant information remains redacted. One example among many is the report’s findings with regard to the relationship between Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik.

(U) The report includes significant information demonstrating that Paul Manafort’s support for Russia and pro-Russian factions in Ukraine was deeper than previously known. The report also details extremely troubling information about the extent and nature of Manafort’s connection with Kilimnik and Manafort’s passage of campaign polling data to Kilimnik. Most troubling of all are indications that Kilimnik, and Manafort himself, were connected to Russia’s hack-and-leak operations.

(U) Unfortunately, significant aspects of this story remain hidden from the American public. Information related to Manafort’s interactions with Kilimnik, particularly in April 2016, are the subject of extensive redactions. Evidence connecting Kilimnik to the GRU’s hack-and-leak operations are likewise redacted, as are indications of Manafort’s own connections to those operations. There are redactions to important new information with regard to Manafort’s meeting in Madrid with a representative of Oleg Deripaska. The report also includes extensive information on Deripaska, a proxy for Russian intelligence and an associate of Manafort. Unfortunately, much of that information is redacted as well.

(U) The report is of urgent concern to the American people, in part due to its relevance to the 2020 election and Russia’s ongoing influence activities. The public version of the report details how Kilimnik disseminated propaganda claiming Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, beginning even before that election and continuing into late 2019. [one sentence redacted] And the report includes information on the role of other Russian government proxies and personas in spreading false narratives about Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election. This propaganda, pushed by a Russian intelligence officer and other Russian proxies, was the basis on which Donald Trump sought to extort the current government of Ukraine into providing assistance to his reelection efforts and was at the center of Trump’s impeachment and Senate trial. That is one of the reasons why the extensive redactions in this section of the report are so deeply problematic. Only when the American people are informed about the role of an adversary in concocting and disseminating disinformation can they make democratic choices free of foreign interference.

Redactions suggest there was more to an April exchange of information between Kilimnik and Manafort involving Oleg Deripaska than has been made public, describing something else that happened almost simultaneously with that exchange. SSCI learned about that even without obtaining information from Manafort’s email server, which Kilimnik was using long after he stopped working for Manafort and which they subpoenaed unsuccessfully, but Mueller did obtain it.

There’s also a very long redacted passage in the more general Additional Views from Democrats on the committee that laid out the significance of the SSCI findings for the 2020 election (ostensibly what yesterday’s sanctions addressed).

Also in typical Wyden fashion, he already took steps to liberate such information as could be released. In his Questions for the Record for both Avril Haines and William Burns, Wyden asked that this information be declassified. He also asked that more information behind Treasury’s sanctions imposed on Andrii Derkach last September be declassified. Haines committed to ordering a new declassification review of both.

QUESTION 150: If confirmed, will you review the Committee’s Report on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, in particular Volume 5, for additional declassification?

Yes, if confirmed, I will order a review of the Committee’s report to determine whether additional declassification is possible consistent with the need to protect national security.

QUESTION 151: If confirmed, will you review intelligence related to foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. election, including with regard to Russian agents referenced in the Treasury Department’s September 10, 2020, sanctions announcement, for additional declassification and public release?

Yes, if confirmed I will order a review of these materials to determine whether additional declassification is possible consistent with the need to protect national security.

So we should be getting a newly declassified version of the SSCI Report that will reveal what the Trump Administration did share, but buried under redactions.

Which will also reveal what Trump knew about Manafort’s affirmative ties to Russian intelligence when he pardoned Manafort to pay off Manafort’s silence about all that during the Mueller investigation.


675 Days In, the Durham Investigation Has Lasted Longer than the Mueller Investigation

Today marks the 675th day of the Durham investigation into the origins and conduct of the investigation that became the Mueller investigation. That means Durham’s investigation has lasted one day longer than the entire Mueller investigation, which Republicans complained lasted far too long.

The single solitary prosecution Durham has obtained in that span of time in which Mueller prosecuted George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Richard Pinedo, Alex Van der Zwan, Michael Cohen (for his lies about Trump’s Trump Tower Moscow deal) was the guilty plea of Kevin Clinesmith, based on conduct discovered by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

In addition to those prosecutions, Mueller referred further Cohen charges to SDNY, Sam Patten for prosecution to DC, and Bijan Kian for prosecution in EDVA. Mueller charged Roger Stone and handed that prosecution off to DC. He further charged Konstantin Kilimnik, 12 IRA trolls, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, and 12 GRU officers. He referred Paul Manafort’s influence peddling partners, Republican and Democratic alike, for further investigation, leading to the failed prosecution of Greg Craig. Mueller referred 12 other matters — most still sealed — for further investigation, along with the Egyptian bribery investigation originally started in DC.

Meanwhile, Durham has never released a public budget, though by regulation he had to submit a budget request to DOJ in December.

Say what you will about Mueller’s investigation. But it was an investigation that showed real results. Durham, meanwhile, has been churning over the work that DOJ IG already did for as long as Mueller’s entire investigation.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/mueller-probe/