October 25, 2021 / by 

 

John Durham Admits He Overstated Evidence in His Michael Sussmann Materiality Statement

In my post laying out Michael Sussmann’s motion for a Bill of Particulars, I expressed the following:

  • His claim that he needed the exact quote of the lie he purported told Jim Baker was well-founded
  • Durham would respond to Sussmann’s demand for more specificity about materiality by saying that was up to the jury
  • Sussmann surely knew the names of the other people at a CIA meeting where, Durham alleges, just two people present now claim that Sussmann lied about having a client
  • Sussmann surely knew there were no people on the Clinton Campaign with whom he had — as Durham had insinuated in a materiality statement — [personally] coordinated; he knew any such communications happened through Marc Elias

As I tweeted out here, Durham’s response to Sussmann affirms all of those predictions.

  • Durham responded to the request for the exact quote of the lie Sussmann purportedly told by block-quoting the indictment (which doesn’t quote his lie), but not providing the actual lie he told or the context in which he allegedly told it; in the process, Durham seemed to commit that he was not charging Sussmann with a lie of omission but only alleging Sussmann omitted material information with an alleged affirmative lie
  • Durham quoted the traditional definition of materiality (not the one DOJ espoused with Mike Flynn), and said it was up to the jury to decide
  • Durham admitted that he introduced the CIA lie as 404b information, not an actual charge (and seemed to concede he has no proof that Sussmann told exactly the same lie to the CIA as he allegedly did to the FBI)

But it’s Durham’s response to the request for the names of the Clinton Campaign people with whom Sussmann allegedly coordinated that I find most telling. Sussmann had asked for the identity of the Clinton Campaign people that Durham mentioned in a passage (bolded below) from paragraph 6 of the indictment that Durham used as one of three prongs in his materiality statement.

Finally, Mr. Sussmann seeks the identities of certain representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign mentioned in the Indictment that the Special Counsel has refused to provide to date.7 The Indictment alleges that Mr. Sussmann, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 “coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.” Indictment ¶ 6. The Indictment does not identify by name the alleged “representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign.” Id.

The animating theory of the Special Counsel’s Indictment is that Mr. Sussmann was secretly working on behalf of the Clinton Campaign, and he intentionally and falsely stated that he was not acting on behalf of any client in order to conceal his ties to the campaign. The Special Counsel should not be permitted, on the one hand, to allege that Mr. Sussmann was working on behalf of the Clinton Campaign, but on the other hand, decline to identify the specific individuals with whom he was purportedly working. Among other things, Mr. Sussmann may wish to call such individuals as witnesses in his defense at trial, but, unless he knows of their identities, he will have no ability to do so. At base, an indictment must provide a defendant with the “essential facts constituting the offense charged.” Fed R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). And no facts could be more essential than the names of the witnesses involved.

Having made these allegations, the Special Counsel must illuminate them—by identifying the relevant individuals referenced—to allow Mr. Sussmann to decide how to respond appropriately. See Butler, 822 F.2d at 1193 (the indictment must enable the defendant to understand the charges against him and prepare a defense); cf. Hubbard, 474 F. Supp. at 80 (ordering bill of particulars to define “unnecessarily vague” phrases used in the indictment). Therefore, Mr. Sussmann respectfully asks this Court to order the Special Counsel to provide a bill of particulars identifying, by name, the “representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign” with respect to Paragraph 6.

7 The Special Counsel has identified virtually all of the other anonymous individuals and entities referred to in the Indictment (except, as noted above, the Agency-2 employees).

In my post, I suggested that Sussmann isn’t so much trying to get these names, but because he knows this claim is false, he’s trying to get Durham to admit that there are no names — because (Sussmann knows) he didn’t coordinate directly with the Clinton Campaign.

Sussmann likely doesn’t really need these names because he likely knows that Durham has nothing to substantiate this claim. If he did, Durham would have described such evidence in his speaking indictment.

And Durham’s response cedes the point: In response to a question about the “agents and representatives of the Clinton Campaign” with whom Sussmann directly coordinated referenced in paragraph 6, Durham explains that that reference is just a “summary” of “facts” later alleged in paragraphs 25(e), 20(d), and 20(g).

Paragraph 6 is a portion of the “Introduction and Overview” section of the Indictment that summarizes facts later alleged with specificity. And the later parts of the Indictment provide details underlying the more generalized allegation in Paragraph 6. For example, Paragraph 25(e) of the Indictment states that [Elias] had exchanged emails about the [Alfa Bank] allegations with the Clinton Campaign’s campaign manager, communications director, and foreign policy advisor which the defendant had provided to a newspaper. Ind. ¶ 25(e). Indeed, the government also provided the true identities of each of those referenced individuals to defense counsel in a discovery letter dated October 20, 2021. Likewise, Paragraphs 20(d) and 20(g) allege that the defendant, one of his law partners, and [Rodney Joffe] each communicated via email with an investigative firm that was at the time acting as an agent of the Clinton Campaign. The government similarly has provided the identity of that investigative firm to the defense in its October 20 discovery letter, even though counsel was undoubtedly already aware of that firm’s identity. Moreover, it was a production of information by the defendant’s counsel (i.e., a privilege log) that first alerted the government to these cited emails. Accordingly, the defendant is neither entitled to, nor needs any greater detail, regarding the identities of the individuals identified in Paragraph 25(e) at this stage, and any further information in that regard will be disclosed in due course in discovery prior to trial. At bottom, the defendant’s demand here is not an appropriate use of a motion for a bill of particulars and should be denied.

In response to the request for the identities of the Clinton Campaign people he was coordinating with, Durham pointed to the following allegations:

d. In or around the same time period [mid-August 2016], SUSSMANN, [Marc Elias], and personnel from [Fusion GPS] began exchanging emails with the subject line, “Connecting you all by email.”

[snip]

g. Later in or about August 2016, [Rodney Joffe] exchanged emails with personnel from [Fusion GPS].

[snip]

e. On or about September 15, 2016, [Elias] exchanged emails with the Clinton Campaign’s campaign manager, communications director, and foreign policy advisor concerning the [Alfa Bank] allegations that SUSSMANN had recently shared with [Franklin Foer]. [Elias] billed his time for this correspondence to the Clinton Campaign with the billing entry, “email correspondence with [Jake Sullivan], [name of campaign manager], [name of communications director] re: [Alfa Bank] Article.” [emphasis added by Durham]

That is, in response to a question, tell me what agents of the Clinton Campaign Sussmann and Joffe and Perkins Coie coordinated with, which is something (Durham claims) Sussmann lied to hide, Durham responded by pointing to 1) an email where Elias connected Fusion GPS and Sussmann via email (well after the identification of the Alfa Bank anomaly), 2) emails that Joffe exchanged with Fusion GPS, and 3) an email that Elias sent Jake Sullivan and others about the Franklin Foer article.

Effectively, Durham’s response admits that he has presented no evidence either Sussmann or Joffe ever spoke directly to members of the Clinton Campaign about the Alfa Bank allegations. He sustains the claim only by raising Elias, whom he doesn’t mention in that materiality statement.

He also admits that he is treating Fusion GPS as an agent of the Clinton Campaign, which it arguably is, but only through Perkins Coie. The indictment presents no evidence that the Campaign was directly managing Fusion, or even aware of it. There’s no place in this indictment where the Clinton Campaign provided directions into this effort that would amount to an instruction to feed information to the FBI, something that goes to the heart of whether or not Sussmann was representing Hillary at the meeting with Baker. (Right wing conspiracists have, in recent days, pointed back to Sussmann’s June 2016 efforts to get the FBI to attribute the DNC hack to Russia, conflating an interest in attribution to Russia and a later effort to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.)

Durham might not even have the content of his emails with Fusion GPS or Elias’ emails with Sullivan and others. He only knows of these communications, Durham explains, because Sussmann invoked privilege over them in a privilege log shared with Durham.

In the indictment, Durham makes much of something April Lorenzen (the security expert who used the name Tea Leaves during this project but whom Durham has needlessly referred to as Originator-1) said on August 20, 2016 that reflects an obvious technical point: “even if we found what [Joffe] asks us to find in DNS, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying, ‘send money here’.” That is, the DNS traffic they were following was proof of some kind of messaging. But it was not proof of what was being said. Durham may have the same problem: he may not have proof regarding what direction these communications flowed and what was really said.

I would not be remotely surprised if Durham used the fact that he obtained a false statements indictment as a basis to obtain a probable cause warrant to obtain these communications via other means (perhaps via whatever company hosts Perkins Coie’s email) such that an FBI filter team could do their own privilege determination of them. Durham is working on a theory that this is all two parallel conspiracies to defraud the government, and would need to use a crime-fraud exception to get to content that, he believes as a matter of faith, would prove the case. A big part of this investigation is an exercise in exposing Hillary to the same invasive investigative scrutiny as Trump (as if the Clinton email and Clinton Foundation investigations didn’t already do that), and Trump’s attorneys keep having their communications seized. So I’m sure Durham would relish seizing the communications of Elias and Sussmann.

That said, for the existing indictment charging only Sussmann with a single false statement, Durham claims that Sussmann lied to James Baker by disclaiming that both his work to chase down this Alfa Bank anomaly and his scheduling of a meeting at which he gave Baker a heads up that a media outlet was going to publish the story in order to hide that he was “coordinating” with the Clinton Campaign. But Durham presents no evidence Sussmann ever spoke to anyone at the Clinton Campaign on this topic … and the only evidence he presents that anyone spoke to Hillary’s people comes well after the white papers provided to the FBI were substantially complete.

This doesn’t really fly in an indictment charging just Sussmann. It effectively treats this as a conspiracy, without (yet) charging a conspiracy. With his response to Sussmann’s motion for a Bill of Particulars, Durham has effectively accused and treated all the named people of engaging in a conspiracy without showing any evidence that they were doing anything other than trying to understand an anomaly involving Trump’s company and a Russian bank.


Andrew McCabe Got His Pension and His Cufflinks — But Is that Adequate Recourse for the Country?

As part of a settlement DOJ entered into yesterday to avoid giving Andrew McCabe discovery on the full extent of the politicized campaign against him, DOJ agreed to give him his retirement — and the cufflinks he would normally have gotten upon retiring from Senior Executive Service.

The more substantive parts of the agreement reflect a total capitulation by DOJ: restoration of McCabe’s pension backdated to the time he was fired and partial award of his legal fees for representation from Arnold & Porter.

Defendants will complete all actions necessary to ensure that Plaintiff will be recorded as having entered the federal retirement system effective March 19, 2018, with an annuity commencement date of April 1, 2018, see 5 U.S.C. § 8464(a)(1)(A), 5 C.F.R. § 842.208(b), and will receive:

a. a payment of a lump sum representing all retirement annuity payments, including annuity supplement payments, that he would otherwise have received from the April 1, 2018 annuity commencement date until the day before he is paid his first regular monthly payment, which will be computed in accordance with all relevant statutory and regulatory provisions, and which will not deduct or withhold any amounts for benefits not received or for taxes not owed during the time period specified above, unless such deductions and/or withholdings are required by relevant statutory or regulatory provisions;

b. prospectively from the date of his first regular monthly payment, through the federal retirement system, all periodic annuity payments, including annuity supplement payments, consistent with his March 19, 2018 retirement date;

[snip]

Defendants agree to pay $539,348.15 to Plaintiff, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, and in full settlement and satisfaction of all attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses. Payment shall be made to Plaintiff via electronic funds transfer to Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, as promptly as practicable, consistent with the normal processing procedures followed by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, following the dismissal of the above-captioned civil action. This provision does not constitute an admission that Defendants’ position was not substantially justified under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

McCabe will get also an admission that “Executive Branch officials outside the Department” — otherwise known as The President —  “should not comment publicly on ongoing career civil service employee disciplinary matters.” [my emphasis]

WHEREAS, the Parties agree that Executive Branch officials outside the Department of Justice and its components should not comment publicly on ongoing career civil service employee disciplinary matters, except as provided by statute or regulation, so as not to create any appearance of improper political influence;

But McCabe won’t get a concession that numerous people within the chain of command at DOJ and FBI, including prosecutors who pursued a false statements charge against McCabe, bowed to that improper political influence. Nor, as noted, will McCabe get discovery to learn what documents — besides proof that Bill Barr’s DOJ altered McCabe’s notes in an effort to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution —  DOJ was so determined to avoid disclosing that they settled this case.

All this is being accomplished, legally, by a kind of reset. McCabe’s personnel records will be altered such that there’s no record of his firing.

1. Within 30 days of the execution of this Settlement Agreement, Defendants will rescind their removal of Plaintiff from the FBI and the civil service, and will rescind and vacate former Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions’s March 16, 2018 removal decision (“DOJ Removal Decision”), and the March 16, 2018 removal recommendation that was submitted to Attorney General Sessions (“DOJ Removal Recommendation”).

2. The Parties agree that Plaintiff’s electronic Official Personnel Folder will reflect that he was employed continuously by the FBI from July 1996 until his retirement on March 19, 2018, as the FBI Deputy Director and a member of the Senior Executive Service (“SES”), after becoming 50 years of age and completing over 20 years of service.

3. Within 30 days of the execution of this Settlement Agreement, the government will remove from Plaintiff’s electronic Official Personnel Folder all documents that reflect or reference his removal, and replace them with documents reflecting that Plaintiff was continuously employed by the FBI until his retirement on March 19, 2018. Defendants will then provide to Plaintiff a copy of his revised electronic Official Personnel Folder.

4. Plaintiff will be deemed to have retired from the FBI on March 19, 2018.

5. Plaintiff will be deemed to have separated from the FBI in good standing for the purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 926C(c)(1).

By my reading, this doesn’t force DOJ Inspector General to revise its report on McCabe to incorporate Michael Kortan’s testimony, one of the problems in the report identified in McCabe’s suit. It doesn’t negate the conflicting Office of Professional Responsibility review results. But it does legally remove the final effect of over a year of retaliation and public badgering by the President, eliminating all trace of Sessions’ last minute firing of McCabe.

I have no doubt this settlement makes a lot of sense for McCabe. He gets the money he earned over two decades of chasing terrorists, spies, and organized crime and the ability to be treated with the respect a former Deputy Director is normally accorded.

But this country is still fighting the aftereffects of a coup attempt that almost succeeded, in part, because the FBI backed off investigating those close to the President, including Proud Boys who played a key leadership role in the attack. We never got fully visibility into the President’s relationship with Russia because Trump throttled that investigation with firings and pardons. And an unrelenting flood of disinformation masks both of these facts.

We know, from the fact that DOJ entered into this settlement (among other things), that Trump badly politicized DOJ. But this settlement allows DOJ to avoid coming clean about all that happened.


Michael Sussmann Attempts to Bill [of Particulars] Durham for His Sloppy Indictment Language

“Without prejudice to any other pretrial motions”

Michael Sussmann’s lawyers reserve their right to challenge the Durham indictment of Sussmann via other pretrial motions in their motion for a Bill of Particulars six different times. The motion does so three different times when noting that Durham used squishy language to paraphrase Sussmann’s alleged lie and couldn’t seem to decide whether he affirmatively lied or lied by omission.

Mr. Sussmann is entitled to understand which particular crime he must defend himself against. Without prejudice to any other pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may bring on the matter, Mr. Sussmann is also entitled to additional particulars regarding the alleged omissions in the Indictment, including regarding the legal duty, if any, that required him to disclose the allegedly omitted information the Indictment suggests he should have disclosed.

[snip]

The Special Counsel should be required to clarify which crime he believes Mr. Sussmann committed and, to the extent the Special Counsel is proceeding on an omissions theory, he should be required to provide additional particulars (without prejudice to any motions Mr. Sussmann may make later).

[snip]

To the extent that the Special Counsel believes the Indictment is alleging a material omission under Section 1001(a)(1), and without prejudicing any other motions Mr. Sussmann may make on this issue, the Special Counsel should be required to clarify: (1) what specific information Mr. Sussmann failed to disclose; (2) to whom he failed to disclose it; (3) what legal duty required Mr. Sussmann to make the required disclosure; and (4) why the omission was material. See United States v. Safavian, 528 F.3d 957, 964 (D.C. Cir. 2008). [my emphasis]

It does so twice when asking that Durham address problems with his claims that Sussmann’s alleged lie was material.

The Indictment does make several allegations regarding materiality, and yet these allegations are vague, imprecise, and inconsistent. Suggesting the FBI might have asked more questions, taken other steps, or allocated resources differently, without specifying how or why it would have done so, leaves Mr. Sussmann having to guess about the meaning of the allegations that the Special Counsel has leveled against him. Accordingly, without prejudice to any pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may make regarding materiality, Mr. Sussmann requests that the Court order the Special Counsel to provide more detail about why the purported false statement was material.

[snip]

Accordingly, without prejudice to any pretrial motions Mr. Sussmann may make regarding materiality, Mr. Sussmann requests that the Special Counsel be ordered to provide more detail about why the purported false statement was material. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). [my emphasis]

And the motion does so again when pointing out that Durham hasn’t included specifics about another alleged lie, to just two of an unidentified number of people who attended a meeting at CIA, which Sussmann elsewhere describes as improper inclusion of 404(b) material in an indictment.

Without prejudicing any other motions Mr. Sussmann may make on this issue, the Special Counsel should first be required to clarify the false statement alleged to have been made to the two anonymous Agency-2 employees, and any other individuals present at the meeting, in February 2017. [my emphasis]

A list of things John Durham didn’t provide in his Michael Sussmann indictment

It’s only after making it clear that this is just his opening move before filing a motion to dismiss and other legal challenges to the indictment…

The Indictment is seriously vulnerable to challenge as a matter of law, and Mr. Sussmann will make relevant pretrial motions at the appropriate time. For now, Mr. Sussmann moves for a bill of particulars.

…that Sussmann lays out a list of things he claims he can’t figure out from Durham’s sloppy indictment:

For the foregoing reasons, this Motion for a Bill of Particulars should be granted, and the Court should order the Special Counsel to promptly:

A. Provide particulars regarding the specific false statement the Special Counsel alleges Mr. Sussmann made to Mr. Baker, namely:

1. The exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement;

2. The specific context in which the statement was made so that the meaning of the words is clear;

3. What part of the statement is allegedly false, i.e., whether the statement was false because Mr. Sussmann allegedly stated he was not “acting on behalf of any client in conveying particular allegations concerning a Presidential Candidate” as alleged in Paragraph 46, or if he falsely stated that he was not doing any “work” on behalf of a client more generally, as alleged in Paragraphs 4, 27(a), 28;

4. What is meant by “his work,” as referenced in Paragraph 4;

5. What is meant by “acting [or acted] on behalf of any client” as alleged in Paragraphs 27(a) and 30; and

6. What “this” refers to in the Assistant Director’s notes referenced in Paragraph 28.

B. Provide particulars regarding the statutory violation charged and, if applicable any alleged omissions, namely:

1. Which crime the Special Counsel believes Mr. Sussmann has committed; and

2. To the extent the Special Counsel alleges that Mr. Sussmann made a material omission in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(1), as suggested by Paragraph 30 of the Indictment –

a. the specific information Mr. Sussmann allegedly failed to disclose;

b. to whom he allegedly failed to make that disclosure;

c. what legal duty required Mr. Sussmann to disclose such information; and

d. why the allegedly omitted information was material.

C. Provide particulars regarding how the alleged false statement to Mr. Baker was material, specifically:

1. The “other reasons” Mr. Sussmann’s false statement was material, as alleged in Paragraphs 5 and 32;

2. What “his work” refers to as referenced in Paragraph 5, what about such work was unknown to the FBI, and how the “political nature of his work” was material to the FBI’s investigation;

3. How Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement was material to the FBI’s ability to “assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis,” as alleged in Paragraph 5, when Mr. Sussmann disclosed the origins of the data and technical analysis;

4. How Mr. Sussmann’s role as a paid advocate was materially “relevant” to the FBI’s investigation, as alleged in Paragraph 32, given that the information itself raised serious national security concerns and the FBI otherwise enables civilians to provide anonymous tips; and

5. What potential questions, additional steps, resource allocations, or more complete information the FBI would have gathered absent Mr. Sussmann’s false statement, as alleged in Paragraph 32.

D. Provide particulars regarding the alleged false statement Mr. Sussmann made to all Agency-2 employees and representatives, as alleged in Paragraphs 39 and 42, namely:

1. The exact words of Mr. Sussmann’s alleged false statement;

2. The specific context in which the statement was made so that the meaning of the words is clear;

3. What portion of the statement is allegedly false;

4. The identities of all individuals to whom the statement was made, including:

a. both Employee-1 and Employee-2 as referenced in Paragraph 42; and

b. anyone else present who also heard the false statement.

E. Provide particulars regarding the identities of the “representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign” referenced in Paragraph 6.

Motions for a Bill of Particular rarely work

Make no mistake, most demands for a Bill of Particulars like this fail. The prosecution will argue that everything Sussmann needs is in the indictment and, if Judge Christopher Cooper agrees, Sussmann will just submit his motion to dismiss and other challenges like he’s clearly planning to do anyway.

That’s almost certainly what will happen for several of these requests, such as the names of Clinton Campaign personnel Durham accuses Sussmann of coordinating with on the Alfa Bank materials. But Sussmann likely doesn’t really need these names because he likely knows that Durham has nothing to substantiate this claim. If he did, Durham would have described such evidence in his speaking indictment. Sussmann may well know there are no names — of campaign personnel with whom he personally coordinated in advance of the James Baker meeting, at least — to give, because he didn’t coordinate with anyone from the campaign (Durham probably wants to substantiate this claim by charging Marc Elias in a conspiracy with Sussmann, but that all depends on being able to prove that anyone was lying about all this).

Similarly, Sussmann seems to know — and Durham may not — that there were more than just two people at a February 9, 2017 meeting at which Sussmann tried to bring new concerns to the attention of the government. This request seems to suggest there was at least one and possibly other witnesses who were at this meeting that Durham should know of who didn’t corroborate a claim that Sussmann lied, witnesses Durham didn’t mention in his indictment.

Likewise, Sussmann is unlikely to get very far asking for more details about Durham’s materiality claim, in particular, Durham’s repeated allegation that what he presented were just some, “among other reasons,” why Sussmann’s alleged lie was material. Prosecutors will argue that materiality is a matter for the jury to decide. But if Sussmann can force Durham to admit he has a theory of prosecution he hasn’t included in his indictment — that Durham believes that, rather than raising a real anomaly to the FBI’s attention because it was a real anomaly, lawyers who were paid by Hillary were trying to start a witch hunt against Donald Trump (never mind that the actual investigation that would prove at least three Trump officials, and probably Trump himself, got advance warning of a Russian attack on Hillary started three weeks before the meeting at which Sussmann is alleged to have lied) — then it will make it far easier for Sussmann to attack the indictment down the road.

What a false statement charge is supposed to look like

But Sussmann may succeed on his key complaint, that Durham has built a 27-page indictment around a false claim allegation without any means to clearly lay out what was the specific lie Sussmann told.

To understand what Sussmann means when he says,

It is simply not enough for the Indictment to make allegations generally about the substance of the purported false statement. Rather, the law requires that the Special Counsel identify the specific false statement made, i.e., the precise words that were allegedly used.

We can look at the false statements that Trump’s associates made to cover up the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. For example, for each of six charged lies in the Roger Stone indictment, Mueller’s prosecutors quoted the precise questions he was asked as well as his response, then laid out specific evidence that each lie was a lie.

22. During his HPSCI testimony, STONE was asked, “So you have no emails to anyone concerning the allegations of hacked documents . . . or any discussions you have had with third parties about [the head of Organization 1]? You have no emails, no texts, no documents whatsoever, any kind of that nature?” STONE falsely and misleadingly answered, “That is correct. Not to my knowledge.”

23. In truth and in fact, STONE had sent and received numerous emails and text messages during the 2016 campaign in which he discussed Organization 1, its head, and its possession of hacked emails. At the time of his false testimony, STONE was still in possession of many of these emails and text messages, including:

a. The email from STONE to Person 1 on or about July 25, 2016 that read in part, “Get to [the head of Organization 1] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Organization 1] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.”;

b. The email from STONE to Person 1 on or about July 31, 2016 that said an associate of Person 1 “should see [the head of Organization 1].”;

c. The email from Person 1 to STONE on or about August 2, 2016 that stated in part, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”;

d. Dozens of text messages and emails, beginning on or about August 19, 2016 and continuing through the election, between STONE and Person 2 in which they discussed Organization 1 and the head of Organization 1;

e. The email from STONE on or about October 3, 2016 to the supporter involved with the Trump Campaign, which read in part, “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.”; and

f. The emails on or about October 4, 2016 between STONE and the high-ranking member of the Trump Campaign, including STONE’s statement that Organization 1 would release “a load every week going forward.”

For some of Stone’s charged lies, prosecutors even had communications with Jerome Corsi or Randy Credico or one of his lawyers showing Stone planned in advance to lie.

In George Papadopoulos’ statement of offense, for each of several lies outlined, prosecutors laid out specifically what he told the FBI and then laid out how Papadopoulos’ own communications records and his later testimony proved those statements to be false.

c. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS claimed he met a certain female Russian national before he joined the Campaign and that their communications consisted of emails such as, ‘”Hi , how are you?”‘ In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national on or about March 24, 2016, after he had become an adviser to the Campaign; he believed that she had connections to Russian government officials; and he sought to use her Russian connections over a period of months in an effort to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and Russian government officials.

The most recent Mueller backup liberated by Jason Leopold reveals that, in addition to Papaodpoulos’ communications and later testimony that prove this particular claim to be an intentional lie, Papadopoulos also emailed the FBI on January 27 after consulting his records, laying out his claim that he met Olga before he joined the Trump campaign and never met her after that.

As promised, wanted to send you the name of the individual that Joseph Mifsud introduced me to over lunch in February or early March (while I was working with the London Center of International Law Practice and did not even know at that time whether or not I would even have moved back to the U.S. or especially worked on another presidential campaign).

He introduced her as his student, but was looking to impress her by meeting with me fresh off my Ben Carson gig. That is all I know. Never met her again.

I could go on for each of the false statements charged against Trump’s flunkies (and also show how, when Andrew Weissmann fell short of this kind of evidence, Amy Berman Jackson ruled against prosecutors on two of five claimed lies alleged in Paul Manafort’s plea breach determination).

Even Mike Flynn’s statement of offense, substantiating a charge that Trump loyalists have spent years wailing about, laid out clearly the two charged lies.

During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FL YNN’s request.

[snip]

During the January 24 voluntary interview, FLYNN made additional false statements about calls he made to Russia and several other countries regarding a resolution submitted by Egypt to the United Nations Security Council on December 21, 2016. Specifically FLYNN falsely stated that he only asked the countries’ positions on the vote, and that he did not request that any of the countries take any particular action on the resolution. FLYNN also falsely stated that the Russian Ambassador never described to him Russia’s response to FL YNN’s request regarding the resolution.

Not only did prosecutors describe what a transcript of these calls said, but they also had testimony from both Flynn himself and KT McFarland substantiating that these were lies. They even had a text that Flynn sent McFarland, before any of these intercepts had leaked, that Flynn later admitted he had deliberately written to cover up the content of his calls with Sergey Kislyak.

Then, after Sidney Powell spent six months trying to claim that one of Flynn’s lies wasn’t clearly laid out in his original 302, Judge Emmet Sullivan meticulously pointed out that the notes of both FBI interviewers matched every iteration of Flynn’s 302.

Having carefully reviewed the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD302, and the statements contained therein, the Court agrees with the government that those documents are “consistent and clear that [Mr. Flynn] made multiple false statements to the [FBI] agents about his communications with the Russian Ambassador on January 24, 2017.” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 4-5. The Court rejects Mr. Flynn’s request for additional information regarding the drafting process for the FD-302s and a search for the “original 302,” see Def.’s Sur-Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 8- 10, because the interviewing FBI agents’ notes, the draft interview reports, the final version of the FD-302, and Mr. Flynn’s own admissions of his false statements make clear that Mr. Flynn made those false statements.

These are what false statements charges are supposed to look like. They’re backed by contemporaneous admissible evidence and laid out in specific detail in charging documents.

Trump and his supporters have wailed for years about these charges. Except prosecutors had evidence to substantiate them, the kind of evidence Durham makes no claim to have.

What few witnesses Durham has may not all agree on Sussmann’s alleged lies

Sussmann is more likely to succeed with his request to have his alleged false statement laid out in quote form and in context — and even if he doesn’t, he may back Durham into a corner he doesn’t want to be in — because Sussmann has presented several central questions about what the allegation really is. Is it that Sussmann didn’t offer up that he was working with (Sussmann claims) Rodney Joffe or  (Durham also alleges) Hillary on the Alfa Bank issues? Is it that Sussmann falsely claimed not to be billing the meeting with James Baker (evidence of which Durham has not presented)? Or does Durham have any shred of evidence that Baker affirmatively asked Sussmann, “are you sharing this on behalf of a client,” or even less supported in the indictment, “are you sharing this on behalf of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton”? Similarly, Durham doesn’t explain whether when he claims that Sussmann lied about “this,” or “his work,” he means about the meetings that were actually billed to Hillary’s campaign internally at Perkins Coie (even if Hillary paid no money specifically tied to those meetings), or that the meeting with Baker was billed to one or another client (no evidence of which Durham presents). Those details will all be necessary for Durham to prove his case and for Sussmann to rebut it. And Sussmann needs to know whether he should focus his time on the absence of billing records substantiating that he met with Baker and then billed it to Hillary (something implicated by the meaning of “this” and “his work”), or whether he needs to focus on showing whether Priestap distinguished these allegations from the other claims about a Russian information operation undeniably targeting Hillary (something implicating whether this is supposed to be a crime of commission or omission).

It’s quite possible that Durham has presented these allegations using such squishy language because what little evidence he has doesn’t actually agree on the claimed lies. That is, it may be that Baker believes Sussmann simply didn’t bother explaining which client he was working for, but Bill Priestap, the next in line in a game of telephone, differently understood from Baker’s report that Sussmann affirmatively failed to provide Baker information that (Priestap’s own notes prove) the FBI already had anyway, that he was working with Hillary Clinton.

If, having had these weaknesses laid out by Sussmann’s attorneys, Durham can show that all his evidence actually substantiates the same false claim, he could get a superseding indictment making that clear. But once he does that, it may tie his hands at trial.

But it’s distinctly possible that Durham can’t prove that what little evidence he has backs the same interpretation of Sussmann’s alleged lie. That is, there may be a reason — on top of the fact that he has no contemporaneous transcript from a witness — that he avoided being more specific in his indictment, and that’s because it was the only way he could cobble together enough evidence to get a grand jury to indict.

So while much of the rest of this motion of a Bill of Particulars may serve only to call attention to gaping holes in the rest of the indictment, the request for specifics about what, specifically, Sussmann is alleged to have said when he lied may succeed. And even if it doesn’t, it may force Durham to commit to an interpretation that not all of his thin evidence would ultimately support.


In Indictment Accusing Michael Sussmann of Hiding Details about Researchers, John Durham Hid Details about Researchers

In my initial John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs post pointing to all the problems with John Durham’s attempt to criminalize victims reporting on information operations, I described Durham’s description of why Michael Sussmann’s alleged lie was material.

SUSSMANN’s lie was material because, among other reasons, SUSSMANN’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of SUSSMANN’s clients.

Had the FBI uncovered the origins of the relevant data and analysis and as alleged below, it might have learned, among other things that (i) in compiling and analyzing the Russian Bank-1 allegations, Tech Executive-1 had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump; (ii) in furtherance of these efforts, Tech Executive-1 had enlisted, and was continuing to enlist, the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract; and (iii) SUSSMAN, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media. [my emphasis]

John Durham says it is a crime to hide details about the researchers who first identified the Alfa Bank anomaly.

Yet, even based on the indictment, I identified a number of holes in Durham’s description of what the researchers had done. Yesterday, NYT and CNN both published stories identifying the four researchers — Rodney Joffe (Tech Executive-1), April Lorenzen (Tea Leaves, whom Durham needlessly renamed Originator-1), Manos Antonakakis (Researcher-1), and David Dagon (Researcher-2) — showing that the holes I identified in the indictment indeed left out information that totally undermined Durham’s insinuations.

For example, I noted that the date when what NYT identifies as DARPA shared information with the researchers is important to identify whether they obtained the data in order to research Trump.

At some point [Durham doesn’t provide even a month, but by context it was at least as early as July 2016 and could have been far, far earlier], TE-1’s company provided a university with data for a government contract ultimately not contracted until November 2016, including the DNS data from an Executive Branch office of the US government that Tech Exec-1’s company had gotten as a sub-contractor to the US government. [This date of this is critical because it would be the trigger for a Conspiracy to Defraud charge, if Durham goes there.]

NYT describes that DARPA first approached potential partners in the spring, long before Sussman or Joffe got involved.

The involvement of the researchers traces back to the spring of 2016. DARPA, the Pentagon’s research funding agency, wanted to commission data scientists to develop the use of so-called DNS logs, records of when servers have prepared to communicate with other servers over the internet, as a tool for hacking investigations.

DARPA identified Georgia Tech as a potential recipient of funding and encouraged researchers there to develop examples. Mr. Antonakakis and Mr. Dagon reached out to Mr. Joffe to gain access to Neustar’s repository of DNS logs, people familiar with the matter said, and began sifting them.

I noted that Durham didn’t give the date when Lorenzen first started looking at the the DNS data. That date is another read of whether she had done so out of malice targeting Trump.

By some time in late July 2016 [the exact date Durham doesn’t provide], a guy who always operated under the pseudonym Tea Leaves but whom Durham heavy-handedly calls “Originator-1” instead had assembled “purported DNS data” reflecting apparent DNS lookups between Alfa Bank and “mail1.trump-email.com” that spanned from May 4 through July 29.

NYT reveals that Lorenzen and Dagon first started talking about using the DNS data to check other election-related hacking at a conference that went from June 13 to June 16 (meaning, the DNC hack would have been revealed during the conference).

Separately, when the news broke in June 2016 that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers, Mr. Dagon and Ms. Lorenzen began talking at a conference about whether such data might uncover other election-related hacking.

Ms. Lorenzen eventually noticed an odd pattern: a server called mail1.trump-email.com appeared to be communicating almost exclusively with servers at Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health. She shared her findings with Mr. Dagon, the people said, and they both discussed it with Mr. Joffe.

I noted that Durham had left out all mention of the WikiLeaks release and Trump’s invitation to Russia to keep hacking his opponent.

It appears (though Durham obscures this point) that all the actions laid out in this indictment post-date the press conference. Virtually everyone in the US committed to ensuring America’s national security was alarmed by Trump’s comments in this press conference. Yet Durham doesn’t acknowledge that all these actions took place in the wake of public comments that made it reasonable for those committed to cybersecurity to treat Donald Trump as a national security threat, irrespective of partisan affiliation.

Durham will work hard to exclude detail of Trump’s press conference from trial. But I assume that if any of the named subjects of this investigation were to take the stand at trial, they would point out that it was objectively reasonable after July 27 to have national security concerns based on Trump’s encouragement of Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton and his defensive denials of any business ties. Any of the named subjects of the indictment would be able to make a strong case that there was reason to want to, as a matter of national security, test Trump’s claim to have no financial ties to Russia. Indeed, the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded that Trump posed multiple counterintelligence concerns, and therefore has concluded that Durham’s portrayal of politics as the only potential motive here to be false.

Central to Durham’s theory of prosecution is that there was no sound national security basis to respond to anomalous forensic data suggesting a possible financial tie between Trump and Russia. Except that, after that July 27 speech — and all of these events appear to post-date it — that theory is unsustainable.

NYT reveals that when Dagon shared the data with Joffe on July 29, he did so in the context of those two events.

“Half the time I stop myself and wonder: am I really seeing evidence of espionage on behalf of a presidential candidate?” Mr. Dagon wrote in an email to Mr. Joffe on July 29, after WikiLeaks made public stolen Democratic emails timed to disrupt the party’s convention and Mr. Trump urged Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton.

I noted that Durham was probably wrong to believe that an August discussion about whether the data could have been spoofed was inculpatory.

Still others (such as the recognition that this could be spoofed data) will almost certainly end up being presented as exculpatory if this ever goes to trial, but Durham seems to think is inculpatory.

NYT describes that a later discussion doubted that the data could have been spoofed.

The indictment quotes August emails from Ms. Lorenzen and Mr. Antonakakis worrying that they might not know if someone had faked the DNS data. But people familiar with the matter said the indictment omitted later discussion of reasons to doubt any attempt to spoof the overall pattern could go undetected.

I noted that Durham attributed the view that the DNS traffic was a “red herring” to everyone involved, including Sussmann, even though Sussmann appears not to have been on the email.

In one place, Durham describes “aforementioned views,” plural, that the Alfa Bank data was a “red herring,” something only attributed to TE-1 in the indictment, seemingly presenting TE-1’s stated view on August 21 to everyone involved, including Sussmann, who does not appear to have been on that email chain.

NYT describes that after that, Joffe came to discount the marketing server explanation.

Mr. Tyrrell, his lawyer, said that research in the weeks that followed, omitted by the indictment, had yielded evidence that the specific subsidiary server in apparent contact with Alfa Bank had not been used to send bulk marketing emails. That further discussion, he said, changed his client’s mind about whether it was a red herring.

“The quotation of the ‘red herring’ email is deeply misleading,” he said, adding: “The research process is iterative and this is exactly how it should work. Their efforts culminated in the well-supported conclusions that were ultimately delivered to the F.B.I.”

It also explains that in context, Joffe referenced a June article describing Trump’s interest in a Trump Tower Moscow.

The indictment says Mr. Joffe sent an email on Aug. 21 urging more research about Mr. Trump, which he stated could “give the base of a very useful narrative,” while also expressing a belief that the Trump server at issue was “a red herring” and they should ignore it because it had been used by the mass-marketing company.

The full email provides context: Mr. Trump had claimed he had no dealings in Russia and yet many links appeared to exist, Mr. Joffe noted, citing an article that discussed aspirations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Despite the “red herring” line, the same email also showed that Mr. Joffe nevertheless remained suspicious about Alfa Bank, proposing a deeper hunt in the data “for the anomalies that we believe exist.”

He wrote: “If we can show possible email communication between” any Trump server and an Alfa Bank server “that has occurred in the last few weeks, we have the beginning of a narrative,” adding that such communications with any “Russian or Ukrainian financial institutions would give the base of a very useful narrative.”

In my post, I noted that Durham neglected to describe that the researchers turned out to correctly suspect Trump was hiding efforts to broker a Trump Tower deal.

According to Michael Cohen, when Trump walked off the stage from that July 27 press conference, Cohen asked Trump why he had claimed that he had zero business ties with Russia when he had in fact been pursuing an impossibly lucrative deal to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow. And we now know that within hours of Trump’s request, GRU hackers made a renewed assault on Hillary’s own servers. By the time security researchers pursued anomalous data suggesting covert communications with a Russian bank, Cohen had already participated in discussions about working with two sanctioned Russian banks to fund the Trump Tower deal, had agreed to work with a former GRU officer to broker it, had spoken to an aide of Dmitry Peskov, and had been told that Putin was personally involved in making the deal happen. Just on the Trump Tower basis alone, Trump had publicly lied in such a way that posed a counterintelligence risk to America.

In my post, I noted that Durham downplayed that, when Joffe asked the researchers if the paper Sussmann wrote was plausible, they said it was.

On September 14, TE-1 [not Sussmann] sent the white paper he had drafted to Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves to ask them if a review of less than an hour would show this to be plausible. Though some of them noted how limited the standard of “plausibility” was, they agreed it was plausible, and Researcher 2 said [Durham does not quote the specific language here] “the paper should be shared with government officials.”

NYT describes that Durham misrepresented the enthusiasm with which Lorenzen “wholeheartedly” expressed her belief the explanation was plausible.

The indictment also quoted from emails in mid-September, when the researchers were discussing a paper on their suspicions that Mr. Sussmann would soon take to the F.B.I. It says Mr. Joffe asked if the paper’s hypothesis would strike security experts as a “plausible explanation.”

The paper’s conclusion was somewhat qualified, an email shows, saying “there were other possible explanations,” but the only “plausible” one was that Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization had taken steps “to obfuscate their communications.”

The indictment suggested Ms. Lorenzen’s reaction to the paper was guarded, describing an email from her as “stating, in part, that it was ‘plausible’ in the ‘narrow scope’ defined by” Mr. Joffe. But the text of her email displays enthusiasm.

“In the narrow scope of what you have defined above, I agree wholeheartedly that it is plausible,” she wrote, adding: “If the white paper intends to say that there are communications between at least Alfa and Trump, which are being intentionally hidden by Alfa and Trump I absolutely believe that is the case,” her email said.

NYT shows several more ways that Durham utterly misrepresented how seriously the researchers took this thesis.

The indictment cited emails by Mr. Antonakakis in August in which he flagged holes and noted they disliked Mr. Trump, and in September in which he approvingly noted that the paper did not get into a technical issue that specialists would raise.

Mr. Antonakakis’ lawyer, Mark E. Schamel, said his client had provided “feedback on an early draft of data that was cause for additional investigation.” And, he said, their hypothesis “to this day, remains a plausible working theory.”

The indictment also suggests Mr. Dagon’s support for the paper’s hypothesis was qualified, describing his email response as “acknowledging that questions remained, but stating, in substance and in part, that the paper should be shared with government officials.”

The text of that email shows Mr. Dagon was forcefully supportive. He proposed editing the paper to declare as “fact” that it was clear “that there are hidden communications between Trump and Alfa Bank,” and said he believed the findings met the probable cause standard to open a criminal investigation.

“Hopefully the intended audience are officials with subpoena powers, who can investigate the purpose” of the apparent Alfa Bank connection, Mr. Dagon wrote.

One of the first things Michael Sussmann is going to do after this story is request information on what the grand jury was told, including whether any of this was affirmatively misrepresented to the grand jury.

The sheer amount of communications that, in days, these researchers have been able to prove were misrepresented, too, suggests DOJ has cause to review whether Durham misrepresented the substance of this indictment to those who approved it, up to and including Merrick Garland.

John Durham says it is a crime to lie about these researchers in an effort to launch an investigation. And yet, the available evidence suggests he did just that.

Update: To be clear, he can’t be prosecuted for any of this. Prosecutors have expansive immunity for such things.


John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs

Last Thursday, John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, the Perkins Coie lawyer who advised the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign about cybersecurity in 2016 as they struggled to deal with a hostile nation-state attack aiming — in part — to help elect their opponent. The indictment accuses Sussmann of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker at a September 19, 2016 meeting at which Sussmann shared information about the curious DNS traffic between a server used by a Trump marketing contractor and Alfa Bank.

emptywheel’s long history of debunking the Alfa Bank story

Before I unpack the indictment, let me remind readers that when this story first publicly broke, I explained why the Spectrum Health (aka my boob hospital at the time) aspect of the allegations made no sense, criticized Hillary’s team (including Jake Sullivan) for jumping on the story, and echoed Rob Graham’s criticism of the researchers who accessed DNS data to conduct this research.

In addition to his technical debunking, Robert Graham made an equally important point: researchers shouldn’t be accessing this data for ad-lib investigations into presidential candidates, and it’s not even clear who would have access to it all except the NSA.

The big story isn’t the conspiracy theory about Trump, but that these malware researchers exploited their privileged access for some purpose other than malware research.

[snip]

In short, of all the sources of “DNS malware information” I’ve heard about, none of it would deliver the information these researchers claim to have (well, except the NSA with their transatlantic undersea taps, of course).

[snip]

[B]efore Tea Leaves started pushing this story to the press, the FBI had been investigating it for two months.

Which, to my mind, raises even more questions about the anonymous researchers’ identities, because (small world and all) the FBI likely knows them, in which case they may have known that the FBI wasn’t jumping on the story by the time they started pitching it.

Or the FBI doesn’t know them, which raises still more questions about the provenance of these files.

Ah well, if President Hillary starts a war with Russia based off Iraq-War style dodgy documents, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing my boob clinic is right there on the front lines.

In March 2017, I observed that the weird Alfa Bank entry in the Steele dossier suggested a feedback loop between the Alfa Bank server story and the dossier project. Then days after that, I noted all the ways that the packaging of this story made it more suspect.

In 2018, I complained about the way Dexter Filkins had strained to sustain the story, while noting that people ought to look more closely at why Alfa Bank might be the focus here; the Mueller Report since confirmed that within weeks after the story broke publicly, Vladimir Putin pushed Oligarchs from Alfa Bank to fight harder against western sanctions, something that the alleged source for the Alfa Bank entry in the dossier seemed to parrot.

In short, I not only have consistently criticized this story, but done so in ways that anticipate the most justifiable parts of the indictment. It’s only the last bit — how the Alfa narrative echoes Putin’s interests — that this indictment doesn’t incorporate.

I guess with five more years Durham might get there…

So in unpacking this indictment, I’m in no way defending the Alfa Bank – Trump Tower story. It was a sketchy allegation, the packaging of it was suspect, and those who conducted the research arguably violated ethical guidelines.

I got to where Durham got in this indictment years and years ago. But that doesn’t make it a crime.

John Durham’s “narrative”

Moreover, that doesn’t mean Durham should tell as strained a “narrative” as those who packaged up this story. Central to Durham’s indictment is an assumption that if a victim of a crime who believed at the time that the crime had a — since confirmed — political goal reports suspicious, potentially related details, the victim must be motivated exclusively out of self-interest, not good citizenship or a concern about national security. That is, this entire indictment assumes that when Russia attacks a Presidential candidate, that is not itself a national security concern, but instead nothing more than a political dispute.

Effectively, John Durham has made it a crime for someone victimized by a Russian influence operation to try to chase down Russian influence operations.

Tech Executive-1 and Clinton both had retained Perkins Coie long before this, with Sussmann getting involved specifically for cybersecurity help in the wake of the Russian hack

The indictment, perhaps deliberately, obscures the timeline and facts leading up to the charged lie. But here’s the story it tells. First, all of Durham’s subjects established contracts with each other, even though all of those contracts (including Fusion GPS’) had scopes far larger than oppo research on Trump’s relationship with Russia.

  • In February 2015, Tech Executive-1 (whom I’ll call TE-1 for brevity) retained Sussmann to deal with a US government agency [Durham does not say whether this matter was resolved or continued in this period in 2016, which is central to the question of what kind of client of Sussmann’s TE-1 was].
  • In April 2015, the Clinton Campaign retained Perkins Coie and made Marc Elias the Campaign’s General Counsel.
  • In April 2016, the victim of a Russian government election-related attack, the DNC, retained Sussmann to help it deal with aftermath, which included meeting with the FBI. As the indictment describes this was not just legal support but cybersecurity.
  • [After a Republican retained them first and on a date that Durham doesn’t reveal,] Perkins Coie retained Fusion GPS to conduct oppo research on Trump pertaining to Russia [and other topics, though Durham doesn’t mention those other topics].

Durham only mentions in passing, later, that the researchers involved here similarly knew each other through relationships that focused on cybersecurity and predated these events.

Via means and on specific dates that Durham doesn’t always provide, Tea Leaves, TE-1, Sussmann, and two Researchers got the DNS data showing an anomaly

There are two sets of research here: that done in a university setting and that done at companies associated with TE-1, though TE-1 is the pivot to both. As depicted, Durham suggests the former are more legally exposed than the latter.

  • By some time in late July 2016 [the exact date Durham doesn’t provide], a guy who always operated under the pseudonym Tea Leaves but whom Durham heavy-handedly calls “Originator-1” instead had assembled “purported DNS data” reflecting apparent DNS lookups between Alfa Bank and “mail1.trump-email.com” that spanned from May 4 through July 29.
  • Tea Leaves was a business associate of TE-1 and via means Durham doesn’t describe, the data Tea Leaves gathered was shared with TE-1.
  • “In or about July 2016” [at a time that, because of the laws of physics, must post-date the late July date when Tea Leaves collected this data and the date when he shared them with TE-1], TE-1 alerted Sussmann to the data.
  • On July 31, Sussmann billed the Clinton Campaign for 24 minutes with the billing description, “communications with Marc Elias regarding server issue.”
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t provide even a month, but by context it was at least as early as July 2016 and could have been far, far earlier], TE-1’s company provided a university with data for a government contract ultimately not contracted until November 2016, including the DNS data from an Executive Branch office of the US government that Tech Exec-1’s company had gotten as a sub-contractor to the US government. [This date of this is critical because it would be the trigger for a Conspiracy to Defraud charge, if Durham goes there.]
  • In or about August 2016 [Durham doesn’t provide a date], a federal government was finalizing but had not yet signed a cybersecurity research contract with [presumably] that same university to receive and analyze large quantities of public and non-public data “to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security.” Tea Leaves was the founder of a company that the university was considering [Durham doesn’t provide the date of consideration, but generally these things precede finalization] for a subcontract with the government contract.

TE-1 directs employees of companies under his control to research this issue

Though Durham’s indictment is somewhat vague, at least one piece of research from companies associated with TE-1 was shared with the FBI; it appears that other threads of research were not shared.

  • In or about early August 2016 [the dates of which Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 directed personnel at two companies in which he had an ownership interest to search for what the indictment calls, “any Internet data reflecting potential connections or communications between Trump or his associates and Russia,” which Durham describes to be “derogatory information on Trump.” In connection with this tasking, TE-1 later stated [on a date Durham doesn’t describe] he was working with someone who had close ties to the Democratic Party.
  • At some point, an individual tasked with this work described being “uncomfortable regarding this tasking,” [Durham doesn’t describe when he learned this or whether there is any contemporaneous proof].
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t describe the date], TE-1 provided one of his companies with personal (but publicly available) data from six Trump associates and one purported US-based lobbyist for Alfa Bank and directed these individuals should be the focus of that company’s data queries and analysis [Durham doesn’t say whether these six associates overlapped with the people Fusion had been tasked to research, nor does he allege they got included in the eventual reports to the FBI; both details are needed to assess his case].
  • On August 12, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 met in Elias’ office; Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton Campaign describing, “confidential meetings with Elias, others.”
  • On August 15, employees at one of the companies queried their holdings against a set of addresses that referred to Trump and/or Alfa Bank.
  • During the same time period [Durham doesn’t specify when], employees at Internet Company-3 drafted a written paper that included technical observations that Sussmann would later convey to the FBI.

Around the time this started, Sussmann met Fusion and a bunch of meetings happened that were billed to Hillary

  • On July 29, Sussmann and Marc Elias met with Fusion GPS [Durham doesn’t affirmatively claim this data pertained to the server issue], and Sussmann billed his time to the Hillary Campaign under “General Political Advice,” a different description than all the other Fusion meetings that Durham more credibly claims relate to the Alfa Bank allegation.
  • Around “the same [August] time period” [Durham doesn’t provide the date], Sussmann, Elias, and Fusion personnel began exchanging emails with the subject line, “Connecting you all by email;” [Durham doesn’t say who initiated the email, but it suggests that before this period, Sussmann and Fusion did not have direct contact].
  • On August 17, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 conducted an additional conference call, for which Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton campaign, noting “telephone conference with” TE-1 and Elias.
  • On August 19, 2016, Sussman and Elias had another in-person meeting that Sussmann described as a meeting with TE-1, which was billed as a “confidential meeting with Elias, others.”

Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves worked with TE-1 on a “storyline” and “narrative” with varying degrees of skepticism expressed

This is the stuff Durham–with some justification–will and has used to taint all this as a political project.

  • On July 29, Researcher-2 emailed Researcher-1 the data compiled by Tea Leaves [Durham provides no evidence that TE-1 was involved in this exchange].
  • On August 19, Researcher-1 queried Internet data maintained by TE-1’s company [it is not clear but this suggests it was not the data turned over to the University] for the aforementioned mail1.trump-email.com domain. Researcher-1 then emailed TE-1 with the list of domains that had communicated with it, saying the list, “does not make much sense with the storyline you have.”
  • On August 20, Tea Leaves emailed Tech Exec-1, Researcher-1, and Researcher 2, stating that, “even if we found what [TE-1] asks us to find in DNS, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying, ‘send money here’.” Tea Leaves then explained that one could fill out sales forms and cause them, “to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.” Tea Leaves then noted that “it’s just not the case that you can rest assured that Hillary’s opposition research and whatever professional gov and investigative journalists are also digging come up with the same things.”
  • On August 20, TE-1 clarified that the task was “indeed broad,” and that,
    • Being able to provide evidence of *anything* that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this [Durham doesn’t describe what the antecedent of “this” is], the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.
  • Still on August 20, seemingly distinguishing between that task and the Alfa Bank allegations, TE-1 said, “the prior hypothesis was all that they needed: mailserver dedicated or related to trump … and with traffic almost exclusively with Alfa was sufficient to do the job. … Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.” [Ellipses original]
  • On August 21, TE-1 emailed the recipients [but not, apparently, Sussmann], urging them to do further research on Trump which would “given the base of a very useful narrative.” He added that he didn’t believe the trump-email.com domain was a secret communications channel but a “red herring,” because the host was “a legitimate valid company,” stating they could “ignore it, together with others that seem to be part of the marketing world.”
  • On August 22, Researcher-1 raised doubts about whether, using only the tools they were currently using, they could prove their hypothesis. Among the concerns raised is that they couldn’t prove that “this is not spoofed [] traffic.” [brackets original; bolded in the original]
  • Later in or about August 2016 [on dates Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 exchanged emails with personnel from Fusion.

Sussmann drafts a white paper and (via unstated means) TE-1 gets Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves to review it

  • Between September 5 and September 14, Sussmann drafted a white paper, generally billing his time to the Clinton Campaign, but on September 14, billing time to both Clinton and TE-1.
  • On September 14, TE-1 [not Sussmann] sent the white paper he had drafted to Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves to ask them if a review of less than an hour would show this to be plausible. Though some of them noted how limited the standard of “plausibility” was, they agreed it was plausible, and Researcher 2 said [Durham does not quote the specific language here] “the paper should be shared with government officials.”

Sussmann shares this and other information with James Baker and–Durham claims–affirmatively lies about whether he is representing someone

  • Both before the September 19 meeting and after it (notably in a September 12 meeting involving the NYTimes, in which Marc Elias also participated), Sussmann spoke to the press about what Durham credibly suggests was the Alfa Bank white paper. Sussmann billed this to Clinton.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with Baker and provided him with three white papers and a thumb drive with data. Durham doesn’t actually make clear where all three of these came from.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with James Baker. Durham claims that “he stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client” [which Durham cannot quote because there’s no contemporaneous record], that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts [Durham doesn’t say whether the three he named were Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves or other people, as seems to be the case], three white papers [which I may return to because this is another problematic spot in his story], and some of the data, which Durham calls “purported.”
  • Immediately after the September 19 meeting, Baker met with Bill Priestap whose notes read:
    • Michael Sussman[n] — Atty: Perkins Coie — said not doing this for any client
      • Represents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc. []
      • Been approached by Prominent Cyber People (Academic or Corp. POCs), People like: [three names redacted]
  • Durham substantiates a claim that Sussmann billed the meeting itself to Hillary to a description, “work and communications regarding confidential project,” that does not, at least as he quotes it, mention a meeting with the FBI General Counsel at all.

Some of this — the reference to crafting a narrative and a storyline — is damning and validates my discomfort with the political nature of this project five years ago. Other parts of this emphasize the researchers’ insistence on truth from at least parts of this effort. Still others (such as the recognition that this could be spoofed data) will almost certainly end up being presented as exculpatory if this ever goes to trial, but Durham seems to think is inculpatory.

In one place, Durham describes “aforementioned views,” plural, that the Alfa Bank data was a “red herring,” something only attributed to TE-1 in the indictment, seemingly presenting TE-1’s stated view on August 21 to everyone involved, including Sussmann, who does not appear to have been on that email chain. He claims Sussmann, Researcher 1 and 2, TE-1, and Tea Leaves drafted the white paper(s) shared with the FBI, but all he substantiates is a less than one hour review by everyone but Sussmann. He leaves out a great deal of detail about what Jean Camp and someone using the moniker Tea Leaves did and said, publicly, after the FBI meeting, which may totally undercut Durham’s “narrative.”

But other parts, even of the story that Durham tells, are problematic for his narrative. First, there is not (yet) the least hint that Tea Leaves — whom he calls “The Originator” — fabricated this data (or even packaged it up misleadingly, though I think there is evidence he did). Nor is there the least hint that TE-1 asked Tea Leaves to come up with the data. That part of the story is fundamentally important and Durham simply ignores it with that legally unnecessary — particularly given that Durham clearly labels this person as Tea Leaves — moniker “Originator,” giving the anomalous forensic data a kind of virgin birth. And while two of the four tech experts described herein (there appear to be at least three others not described) expressed some doubt about the meaning of it, none of them seems to have doubted that there was an anomaly in the Trump marketing server and Alfa Bank.

Based on this story, though, Durham insinuates Sussmann fed information that he, Sussmann, knew to be bullshit to the FBI on behalf of both Hillary and TE-1, and in so doing affirmatively hid that the bullshit “storyline” was designed to help Hillary which (he claims) would have led the FBI to treat it differently.

In spite of a lot of thus far extraneous details, that’s the only crime he has alleged.

The existing case is remarkably weak

As a number of people have noted, as charged this is a remarkably weak case. Ben Wittes dedicates a section of his post on this indictment to those weaknesses. They are, succinctly:

  • The evidence regarding the core allegation in the indictment pits Sussmann’s word against James Baker’s; there are no other witnesses.
  • After the meeting with Baker, Sussmann repeatedly admitted under oath he was representing a client, a detail which could be exculpatory or inculpatory.
  • Baker testified to Congress he did believe Sussmann was representing a client (meaning Baker will be used to discredit Baker, the one witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie).
  • Even in Bill Priestap’s nearly-contemporaneous notes which are the only documentation of Sussmann’s comments, he describes Sussmann as Hillary’s lawyer (including for the Clinton Foundation, which may be incorrect), so FBI knew full well that Sussmann represented Hillary.
  • Priestap’s notes may be inadmissible hearsay at trial.

The NYT article predicting these charges also claim Durham is conflating Sussmann’s tracking of his hourly work with the actual money charged to the Hillary campaign.

Moreover, internal billing records Mr. Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie are said to show that when Mr. Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter — though not the meeting with Mr. Baker — he billed the time to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

[snip]

They are also said to have argued that the billing records are misleading because Mr. Sussmann was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something. He was discussing the matter with Mr. Elias and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm, so Mr. Sussmann’s hours did not result in any additional charges, they said.

There are a number of other ways that Sussmann’s presumably well-funded defense will combat these charges. But as to the allegation buried amid all these details, Durham’s evidence is weak.

Durham’s materiality broadcasts his bid for a ConFraudUS conspiracy

But that’s not what this is about.

Durham is not just alleging that Sussmann was hiding that he was working for Hillary. He is also claiming that Sussmann was at the same time representing TE-1 at that meeting. In the indictment, I think that’s based on a single data point — that Sussmann billed TE-1’s company for “communications regarding confidential project” on September 14. I’m not sure whether that makes the false statements case still weaker or stronger.

But it’s a key part of where Durham obviously wants to go.

Not only are many of the details Durham included in the indictment irrelevant to the false statements charge, but if they were crimes by themselves, they would have been tolled under any five year statute of limitations already. There are only two conceivable purposes for including them in this indictment. First, to give the Alfa Bank Oligarchs more cause to sue more people, effectively a US prosecutor assisting Russians in cynical lawfare. Durham’s investigation incorporates stuff the Oligarchs have already liberated, so is itself derivative of Russian lawfare. Effectively, that means that a prosecutor working for Bill Barr’s DOJ pursued a prosecution that was complementary to an intelligence-related effort by foreigners who pay Kirkland & Ellis a lot of money. Sussmann will have real cause to question whether Brian Benczkowski (who recused from matters involving this aspect of Alfa Bank) or any other Kirkland & Ellis lawyer had a role in this strand of the investigation.

Then there’s the most obvious way to extend the statute of limitations on the events that happened in July and August 2016: to include them in a conspiracy that continued after those dates (and indeed, Durham refers to Elias, Researcher 1 and 2, and Tea Leaves in the way DOJ often uses to refer to charged or uncharged co-conspirators).

Given the extended statement Durham includes to explain why Sussmann’s alleged lie is material under the charged statute, that’s undoubtedly where Durham wants to head with his investigation.

SUSSMANN’s lie was material because, among other reasons, SUSSMANN’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of SUSSMANN’s clients.

Had the FBI uncovered the origins of the relevant data and analysis and as alleged below, it might have learned, among other things that (i) in compiling and analyzing the Russian Bank-1 allegations, Tech Executive-1 had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump; (ii) in furtherance of these efforts, Tech Executive-1 had enlisted, and was continuing to enlist, the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract; and (iii) SUSSMAN, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.

Don’t get me wrong. This will clearly pass the incredibly low standard for materiality under existing precedent. Though Sussmann will surely make much of citing the invented standard Billy Barr used to try to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution, which first requires the investigation in question to be legitimate.

The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue. Moreover, we not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.

[snip]

In any event, there was no question at the FBI as to the content of the calls; the FBI had in its possession word-for-word transcripts of the actual communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13. at 3. With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

If DOJ had no interest in figuring out whether Trump was undermining sanctions to pay off a quid pro quo, they sure as hell have no interest in launching a 3-year investigation to figure out the tie between these allegations and Hillary that was obvious to Priestap in real time, particularly given how quickly the FBI dismissed the allegations in 2017 and given that the allegations are not publicly known to have had a tie to their larger Russian investigation.

Still, while Durham will have no trouble proving Sussmann’s claimed lie meets the standards of materiality, Durham’s claims for it are ridiculous.

It’s a load of horseshit that FBI would have treated this tip any differently — which amounted to investigating it, alerting the press there was nothing to it, then dismissing it pretty quickly, as far as is public — if they knew that Sussmann was formally being paid at that meeting by Hillary, if he in fact was. Priestap knew Sussmann was representing Hillary and said as much in the best evidence Durham has! In fact, FBI’s warning to the NYT about this story in October could be presented as evidence that FBI already incorporated an assumption this came from Hillary.

Likewise, it’s a load of horseshit that FBI couldn’t know that the Bureau needed to ID the researchers behind the project. If I was able to figure that was important out before the 2016 election, and I did, then the experts at the FBI surely figured that out.

But what Durham’s materiality statement emphasizes — what Durham claims Sussmann intended to hide with his claimed lie — is that, “researchers at a U.S.-based university … were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract.” That’s the significance of ¶¶23a through e of the indictment, which describe how TE-1 provided data that included some from an Executive Branch office of the U.S. government, which his company had obtained “as a sub-contractor in a sensitive relationship between the U.S. government and another company,” to the university at which Researcher 1 and 2 were working, and both with his university researcher allies and employees of his own company, he tasked people to research Donald Trump. Durham is suggesting that subset of data taints the whole pool that TE-1 shared, making it a Federal interest.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

That becomes more clear when you consider some details that Durham doesn’t include in his indictment.

Two details that were public to everyone involved make it clear why Durham’s silence about the exact dates in July when this operation started is so corrupt.

On July 22, WikiLeaks published emails that were at the time believed and since have been confirmed by the FBI to have been hacked by Russia. Durham hides the dates in July when many of these events transpired, but everything he includes suggests this activity post-dated the time when WikiLeaks published stolen emails and the entire security community in the US, surely including every researcher mentioned in this story, coalesced on the belief that Russia was the culprit. Durham refers to Russia’s attack on Hillary (and therefore on the US) inaccurately as, “the hacking of its email servers by the Russian government” and “a hack” (the hack went well beyond just email and continued through the period of Sussmann’s meeting with Baker). But, amazingly, Durham’s “narrative” doesn’t account for the fact that Hillary was targeted not just with an attack but with an information operation. And the timeline he presents here affirmatively hides that these events took place after the entire security community understood that there was an information operation aspect to the attack.

Then, on July 27, Trump gave a press conference in Florida where he said numerous things that make all the actions of Sussmann and others justifiable on national security grounds. First, Trump raised doubts about the Russian attribution of the DNC hack that, by that point in July, was the consensus among national security experts, undoubtedly including every tech expert mentioned in this indictment.

I watched this guy Mook and he talked about we think it was Russia that hacked. Now, first of all was what was said on those that’s so bad but he said I watched it. I think he was live. But he said we think it was Russia that hacked.

And then he said — and this is in person sitting and watching television as I’ve been doing — and then he said could be Trump, yeah, yeah. Trump, Trump, oh yeah, Trump. He reminded me of John Lovitz for “Saturday Night Live” in the liar (ph) where he’d go yes, yes, I went to Harvard, Harvard, yes, yes. This is the guy, you have to see it. Yes, it could be Trump, yes, yes. So it is so farfetched. It’s so ridiculous. Honestly I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power but Russia has no respect for our country.

And that’s why — if it is Russia, nobody even knows this, it’s probably China, or it could be somebody sitting in his bed. But it shows how weak we are, it shows how disrespected we are. Total — assuming it’s Russia or China or one of the major countries and competitors, it’s a total sign of disrespect for our country. Putin and the leaders throughout the world have no respect for our country anymore and they certainly have no respect for our leader. So I know nothing about it.

Trump then offered his bullshit explanation for why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, framing it in terms of whether he had business ties to Russia.

TRUMP: Because it’s under order. And I’ll release them when the audits completed. Nobody would release when it’s under — I’ve had audits for 15 or 16 years. Every year I have a routine audit. I’m under audit, when the audits complete I’ll release them. But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?

Trump then said the nation-state hack of his opponent wasn’t the important thing, the content of the emails that were released was, thereby encouraging the press to participate in the information operation aspect of this attack.

He already did something today where he said don’t blame them, essentially, for your incompetence. Let me tell you, it’s not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that’s doing the hacking. It was about the things that were said in those e-mails. They were terrible things, talking about Jewish, talking about race, talking about atheist, trying to pin labels on people — what was said was a disgrace, and it was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and believe me, as sure as you’re sitting there, Hillary Clinton knew about it. She knew everything.

Trump then asked Russia to further hack his opponent.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

Trump then doubled down on the comment he made about his taxes, assuring the press that he had “zero” business ties with Russia.

TRUMP: No, I have nothing to do with Russia, John (ph). How many times do I have say that? Are you a smart man? I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia.

And even — for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago. I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, OK?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course I can. I told you, other than normal stuff — I buy a house if I sold it to a Russian. I have nothing to do with Russia. I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course not. I own the Trump organization. Zero, zero. Go ahead.

Trump then reiterated his claim that no one could attribute the DNC hack to Russia.

TRUMP: No, but they seem to be, if it’s Russians. I have no idea. It’s probably not Russia. Nobody knows if it’s Russia. You know the sad thing is? That with the technology and the genius we have in this country, not in government unfortunately, but with the genius we have in government, we don’t even know who took the Democratic National Committee e-mails. We don’t even know who it is.

I heard this morning, one report said they don’t think it’s Russia, they think it might be China. Another report said it might be just a hacker, some guy with a 200 I.Q. that can’t get up in the morning, OK? Nobody knows. Honestly they have no idea if it’s Russia. Might be Russia. But if it’s any foreign country, it shows how little respect they have for the United States. Yes, ma’am.

Finally, Trump also stated that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?

TRUMP: We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.

Each of these comments, individually, would have raised eyebrows. The same comments, made by an American citizen, would equally have raised alarms among those committed to cybersecurity.

But for a presidential candidate to encourage the hostile nation-state information operation targeting his opponent, then ask the hostile nation-state to further target her, in conjunction with the repeated denials of any business ties to Russia raised real, legitimate questions about whether Trump was putting his own interests above the national security of the country.

You might excuse Durham for excluding this from his indictment because after all he was busy indicting a ham sandwich based on hearsay evidence he might be able to exclude these facts at trial. Except that an August 20 comment from TE-1 that Durham quotes in his indictment may be a direct reference to (and at the least incorporates knowledge of) this press conference.

Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.

That is, Durham included what appears to be a reference to the July 27 press conference. It appears (though Durham obscures this point) that all the actions laid out in this indictment post-date the press conference. Virtually everyone in the US committed to ensuring America’s national security was alarmed by Trump’s comments in this press conference. Yet Durham doesn’t acknowledge that all these actions took place in the wake of public comments that made it reasonable for those committed to cybersecurity to treat Donald Trump as a national security threat, irrespective of partisan affiliation.

Durham will work hard to exclude detail of Trump’s press conference from trial. But I assume that if any of the named subjects of this investigation were to take the stand at trial, they would point out that it was objectively reasonable after July 27 to have national security concerns based on Trump’s encouragement of Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton and his defensive denials of any business ties. Any of the named subjects of the indictment would be able to make a strong case that there was reason to want to, as a matter of national security, test Trump’s claim to have no financial ties to Russia. Indeed, the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded that Trump posed multiple counterintelligence concerns, and therefore has concluded that Durham’s portrayal of politics as the only potential motive here to be false.

Central to Durham’s theory of prosecution is that there was no sound national security basis to respond to anomalous forensic data suggesting a possible financial tie between Trump and Russia. Except that, after that July 27 speech — and all of these events appear to post-date it — that theory is unsustainable.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

And not only was it objectively reasonable to test whether Trump’s claims to have “zero” business ties to Russia were false, but those suspecting that Trump was hiding such ties were, in fact, correct.

According to Michael Cohen, when Trump walked off the stage from that July 27 press conference, Cohen asked Trump why he had claimed that he had zero business ties with Russia when he had in fact been pursuing an impossibly lucrative deal to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow. And we now know that within hours of Trump’s request, GRU hackers made a renewed assault on Hillary’s own servers. By the time security researchers pursued anomalous data suggesting covert communications with a Russian bank, Cohen had already participated in discussions about working with two sanctioned Russian banks to fund the Trump Tower deal, had agreed to work with a former GRU officer to broker it, had spoken to an aide of Dmitry Peskov, and had been told that Putin was personally involved in making the deal happen. Just on the Trump Tower basis alone, Trump had publicly lied in such a way that posed a counterintelligence risk to America.

But that was not the only thing that Trump had done by the date when a bunch of security researchers responded to anomalous forensic data to test whether Trump was hiding further ties to Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton.

In March, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a financially desperate political operative with close ties to a Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, who (SSCI provided three redacted examples of) may have been involved in the hack-and-leak operation. In April, Manafort started leveraging his relationship with Trump to try to make money. In May, Manafort started regularly sending Kilimnik the campaign’s internal polling data. All that happened before researchers started testing Trump’s claims to have had no tie to Russia. On July 28, Kilimnik emailed Manafort to set up a meeting to talk about the future of Ukraine. Just days after the researchers started the inquiry, on August 2, Manafort met with Kilimnik to discuss carving up Ukraine in the same meeting where he described his strategy to win the election.

In April, an academic with close ties to Russia, Joseph Mifsud, told an unqualified braggart whom Trump had added to his team to pretend he had a foreign policy plan, George Papadopoulos, that Russia had thousands of Hillary’s emails that they intended to release to help Trump.

In May, according to Rick Gates’ testimony, Roger Stone started claiming he had advance knowledge of what would become the WikiLeaks releases. On or about June 15, per Gates, Stone told him that “he had contact with Guccifer 2.” According to a warrant affidavit targeting Stone, he searched Google on “Guccifer” before the Guccifer website went up that day. On June 23, Manafort called Stone and then the two old friends met for 30 minutes in the Trump cafeteria. On June 30, Stone spoke to Trump. According to multiple sources (including Michael Cohen), Stone knew of the DNC drop before it happened.

In June, Don Jr accepted a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya at which he believed he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the meeting, Veselnitskaya asked Don Jr to end sanctions on Russia, and the candidate’s son said his dad would reconsider it if he won.

In short, the researchers who, in the wake of Trump’s damning comments, were testing whether Trump had lied about having ties to Russia, not only had objectively reasonable reasons to do that research. But their suspicions were proven correct, over and over again.

Durham describes the outcome of the FBI investigation into the allegations this way:

The FBI’s investigation of these allegations nevertheless concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1. In particular, and among other things, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.

Nothing here suggests the FBI disproved that this was an anomaly.

And there’s one more detail that Durham didn’t include in the Sussmann indictment: on July 26, Australia first shared their report about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer in May. The next day, July 27, the FBI Legat in the UK got the tip. On July 31 — before the substantive research into the Alfa Bank allegation began — the FBI opened an UNSUB investigation into who got advance warning about the Russian operation and shared it with George Papadopoulos. In other words, by hiding the dates when Tea Leaves first discovered the anomalous data, Durham is hiding not just the damning things that publicly happened before the Alfa Bank operation got started, but probably details about the tip that turned into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

In the wake of the Sussmann indictment, the usual Russian denialists have claimed that this proves that what they call “Russiagate” was all a fraud.

Such claims defy the rules of physics, suggesting that events that happened after the FBI opened an investigation to learn how and why the Trump campaign (via three channels, as it turns out) learned of the Russian attack in advance were in fact the cause of it.

It is likely that Durham will be able to exclude all these details from a Michael Sussmann trial, at least if it remains just a false statements case. He will be able to convince Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the case, that this information — that the researchers not only had reason to believe Trump presented a cybersecurity risk to the country, but that the researchers turned out to be right, and that FBI had itself determined there was reason to carry out the same kinds of investigations that the researchers did, possibly before any one of them took a single step — is irrelevant to the case against Sussmann. But if Durham charges ConFraudUS based on a claim that it was illegitimate to look into why Donald Trump was inviting Russia to hack his opponent, it will become centrally important that, before these researchers started conducting their investigation, the FBI had likewise decided such an investigation had merit.

The Alfa Bank story was sleazy and unethical. But it was still, nevertheless, an instance where someone representing the victim of a nation-state attack attempted to chase down information that may have pertained to that nation-state attack.

John Durham will go down in history as the guy who decided that torturing detainees, even in excess of legal guidance, was not a crime, but a victim sharing concerns about nation-state hacking is.

Update: It’s likely that Richard Burt was one of the people investigated as part of this effort. Per the Mueller Report, he was the person Petr Aven asked to establish a tie with Trump’s transition in 2016.

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, A ven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. A ven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

While at a L1 board meeting held in Luxembourg in late December 2016, Aven pulled Burt aside and told him that he had spoken to someone high in the Russian government who expressed interest in establishing a communications channel between the Kremlin and the Trump Transition Team. 1171 Aven asked for Burt’s help in contacting members of the Transition Team. 1172 Although Burt had been responsible for helping Aven build connections in the past, Burt viewed Aven’s request as unusual and outside the normal realm of his dealings with Aven. 1173

Burt, who is a member of the board of CNI (discussed at Volume I, Section IV.A.4, supra), 1174 decided to approach CNI president Dimitri Simes for help facilitating A ven’ s request, recalling that Simes had some relationship with Kushner. 1175 At the time, Simes was lobbying the Trump Transition Team, on Burt’s behalf, to appoint Burt U.S. ambassador to Russia.1176

Burt contacted Simes by telephone and asked if he could arrange a meeting with Kushner to discuss setting up a high-level communications channel between Putin and the incoming Administration. 1177 Simes told the Office that he declined and stated to Burt that setting up such a channel was not a good idea in light of the media attention surrounding Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election. 1178 According to Simes, he understood that Burt was seeking a secret channel, and Simes did not want CNI to be seen as an intermediary between the Russian government and the incoming Administration. 1179 Based on what Simes had read in the media, he stated that he already had concerns that Trump’s business connections could be exploited by Russia, and Simes said that he did not want CNI to have any involvement or apparent involvement in facilitating any connection. 118

Update: Corrected scope of Benczkowski’s recusal. His should cover the server issue (and Alfa Bank issues for the first two years he was CRM).

Update: Brian Krebs wrote a post laying out all the people who still believe there’s something going on technically. I don’t think that’s inconsistent, at all, with this one. As noted, everyone who looked at this believes it’s an anomaly. What I keep pointing to is the aftermath of that anomaly got Alfa Bank to act in a certain way that is consistent with Putin’s interests. Krebs notes that it has also led to a lot of scrutiny of security researchers in the US, not unlike the way the aftermath of the Steele dossier discredited most top Russian experts in the US government.

Update: This transcript of Preet Bharara and Joyce Vance discussing the many weaknesses of the Durham indictment largely replicates what I’ve laid out here but is worth a review.


SDNY Showed Probable Cause Rudy Giuliani Was Criming While He Represented Trump in the Russian Investigation

In August, the Special Master reviewing Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing’s seized phone contents for privilege determinations, Barbara Jones, publicly filed notice of a conflict between the Trumpsters and the government: how to apply the date range in the warrants.

There is a dispute between Mr. Giuliani and the Government over whether the Special Master’s review process should be limited to materials with electronic metadata within the date range set forth in the search warrants. Mr. Giuliani argues for such a date range limitation; the Government argues against it. I have informed the parties that the issue should be briefed to, and decided by, the Court, and that I would set a briefing schedule for Mr. Giuliani’s motion.

On Thursday, Judge Paul Oetken released his decision deciding the matter. Effectively, he adopted the government’s compromise that it exclude everything that pre-dates 2018.

On June 9, 2021, this Court appointed the Honorable Barbara S. Jones (Ret.) as Special Master to “render decisions regarding privilege issues relating to the materials seized in the execution of certain search warrants” that are the subject of this matter. (Dkt. No. 25.) Giuliani and Toensing ask the Court to restrict the Special Master’s review to the time periods set forth in the search warrants: August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019 for Giuliani; and January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 for Toensing.

The Government has proposed a compromise that significantly limits the scope of the parties’ dispute: it consents to the Special Master’s excluding from her review any documents that clearly and entirely predate 2018. The Court approves this compromise and directs the Special Master to proceed accordingly.

But Oetken notes that the warrants permit the government to determine what materials are responsive to the warrant, meaning Jones should not determine anything further than what is privileged. And he laid out that the warrants permit the government to access materials that were deleted (or accessed, sent, or modified) between — for Rudy — August 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019.

Third, the warrants cover materials “sent, received, posted, created, or otherwise accessed, established, modified, or deleted during [the time range].” It is entirely possible that a document “dated” outside the time range may have been “accessed,” “sent,” “modified,” or “deleted” during the time range. Moreover, the warrants permit review of any of the seized material “if necessary to evaluate its contents and to locate all data responsive to the warrant.” See, e.g., United States v. Gatto, 313 F. Supp. 3d 551, 561 (S.D.N.Y. 2018).

The timeline here is consistent with what I intuited in this post — and, based on what Lev Parnas and others previously revealed, it clarifies the exact date range of the files obtained in November 2019. The Rudy range covers eight months of the period when he was representing Donald Trump in the Russian investigation, goes through the period when (Parnas has earlier alleged) people started deleting files during Trump’s first impeachment, and continues through the meeting Rudy had with Andrii Derkach in December 2019.

And unsurprisingly, the government obtained warrants covering the same period of the earlier search on the parties’ iCloud accounts by providing probable cause to show that they were deleting and modifying earlier files, even files from earlier in 2018, to include the period when both lawyers were pitching a means to represent Trump.

But it’s clear that Rudy and Toensing worry the government may find evidence of crimes that exceeds this timeline, which would give them the opportunity to obtain new warrants with a broader timeframe. That’s because they asked Oetken to force the government to delete everything else.

Finally, the Court denies Giuliani’s and Toensing’s request to order the Government to return or destroy any material at this time.

Oetken denied this request. This means materials that predate these warrants, but also materials from more recently, when Rudy was laundering Russian disinformation and making wildly false claims about the election results, would remain available for further search, if the government can or has demonstrated probable cause.

We’ll learn more about this next week. Oetken also ruled that the letters disputing all this, including those from Dmitro Firtash, will be docketed after the parties fight over redactions.


DOJ Put Someone Who Enabled Sidney Powell’s Lies — Jocelyn Ballantine — in Charge of Prosecuting the Proud Boys

Because of Joe Biggs’ role at the nexus between the mob that attacked Congress and those that orchestrated the mob, his prosecution is the most important case in the entire January 6 investigation. If you prosecute him and his alleged co-conspirators successfully, you might also succeed in holding those who incited the attack on the Capitol accountable. If you botch the Biggs prosecution, then all the most important people will go free.

Which is why it is so unbelievable that DOJ put someone who enabled Sidney Powell’s election season lies about the Mike Flynn prosecution, Jocelyn Ballantine, on that prosecution team.

Yesterday, at the beginning of the Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs hearing, prosecutor Jason McCullough told the court that in addition to him and Luke Jones, Ballantine was present at the hearing for the prosecution. He may have said that she was “overseeing” this prosecution. (I’ve got a request for clarification in with the US Attorney’s office.)

Ballantine has not filed a notice of appearance in the case (nor does she show on the minute notice for yesterday’s hearing). In the one other January 6 case where she has been noticeably involved — electronically signing the indictment for Nick Kennedy — she likewise has not filed a notice of appearance.

Less than a year ago when she assisted in DOJ’s attempts to overturn the Mike Flynn prosecution, Ballantine did three things that should disqualify her from any DOJ prosecution team, much less serving on the most important prosecution in the entire January 6 investigation:

  • On September 23, she provided three documents that were altered to Sidney Powell, one of which Trump used six days later in a packaged debate attack on Joe Biden
  • On September 24, she submitted an FBI interview report that redacted information — references to Brandon Van Grack — that was material to the proceedings before Judge Emmet Sullivan
  • On October 26, she claimed that lawyers for Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had checked their clients’ notes to confirm there were no other alterations to documents submitted to the docket; both lawyers refused to review the documents

After doing these things in support of Bill Barr’s effort to undermine the Flynn prosecution (and within days of the Flynn pardon), Ballantine was given a confidential temporary duty assignment (it may have been a CIA assignment). Apparently she’s back at DC USAO now.

Three documents got altered and another violated Strzok and Page’s privacy

As a reminder, after DOJ moved to hold Mike Flynn accountable for reneging on his plea agreement, Billy Barr put the St. Louis US Attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, in charge of a “review” of the case, which DOJ would later offer as its excuse for attempting to overturn the prosecution.

On September 23, Ballantine provided Powell with five documents, purportedly from Jensen’s investigation into the Flynn prosecution:

I outlined the added date on the first set of Strzok notes here:

There was never any question that the notes could have been taken no earlier than January 5, because they memorialized Jim Comey’s retelling of a meeting that other documentation, including documents submitted in the Flynn docket, shows took place on January 5. Even Chuck Grassley knows what date the meeting took place.

But DOJ, while using the notes as a central part of their excuse for trying to overturn the Flynn prosecution, nevertheless repeatedly suggested that there was uncertainty about the date of the notes, claiming they might have been taken days earlier. And then, relying on DOJ’s false representations about the date, Sidney Powell claimed they they showed that Joe Biden — and not, as documented in Mary McCord’s 302, Bob Litt — was the one who first raised the possibility that Flynn may have violated the Logan Act.

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him. Mr. Obama himself directed that “the right people” investigate General Flynn. This caused former FBI Director Comey to acknowledge the obvious: General Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak “appear legit.” According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act.

During the day on September 29, Powell disclosed to Judge Sullivan that she had spoken to Trump (as well as Jenna Ellis) about the case. Then, later that night, Trump delivered a prepared attack on Biden that replicated Powell’s false claim that Biden was behind the renewed investigation into Flynn.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

In a matter of days, then, what DOJ would claim was an inadvertent error got turned into a campaign attack from the President.

When DOJ first confessed to altering these notes, they claimed all the changes were inadvertent.

In response to the Court and counsel’s questions, the government has learned that, during the review of the Strzok notes, FBI agents assigned to the EDMO review placed a single yellow sticky note on each page of the Strzok notes with estimated dates (the notes themselves are undated). Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. The government has also confirmed with Mr. Goelman and can represent that the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. Again, the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

There are multiple reasons to believe this is false. For example, when DOJ submitted notes that Jim Crowell took, they added a date in a redaction, something that could in no way be inadvertent. And as noted, the January 5 notes had already been submitted, without the date change (though then, too, DOJ claimed not to know the date of the document).

But the most important tell is that, when Ballantine sent Powell the three documents altered to add dates, the protective order footer on the documents had been removed in all three, in the case of McCabe’s notes, actually redacted. When she released the re-altered documents (someone digitally removed the date in the McCabe notes rather than providing a new scan), the footer had been added back in. This can easily be seen by comparing the altered documents with the re-altered documents.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe noteswith the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

This is something that had to have happened at DOJ (see William Ockham’s comments below and this post for proof in the metadata that these changes had to have been done by Ballantine). The redaction of the footers strongly suggests that they were provided to Powell with the intention of facilitating their further circulation (the other two documents she shared with Powell that day had no protective order footer). In addition, each of these documents should have a new Bates stamp.

DOJ redacted Brandon Van Grack’s non-misconduct

On September 24, DOJ submitted a report of an FBI interview Jeffrey Jensen’s team did with an Agent who sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI-issued phone, Bill Barnett. In the interview, Barnett made claims that conflicted with actions he had taken on the case. He claimed to be unaware of evidence central to the case against Flynn (for example, that Flynn told Sergey Kislyak that Trump knew of something said on one of their calls). He seemed unaware of the difference between a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal one. And he made claims about Mueller prosecutors — Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissmann — with whom he didn’t work directly. In short, the interview was obviously designed to tell a politically convenient story, not the truth.

Even worse than the politicized claims that Barnett made, the FBI or DOJ redacted the interview report such that all reference to Brandon Van Grack was redacted, substituting instead with the label, “SCO Atty 1.” (References to Jeannie Rhee, Andrew Weissmann, and Andrew Goldstein were not redacted; there are probable references to Adam Jed and Zainab Ahmad that are not labeled at all.)

The result of redacting Van Grack’s name is that it hid from Judge Sullivan many complimentary things that Barnett had to say about Van Grack:

Van Grack’s conduct was central to DOJ’s excuse for throwing out the Flynn prosecution. Powell repeatedly accused Van Grack, by name, of engaging in gross prosecutorial misconduct. Yet the report was submitted to Judge Sullivan in such a way as to hide that Barnett had no apparent complaints about Van Grack’s actions on the Flynn case.

I have no reason to believe that Ballantine made those redactions. But according to the discovery letter she sent to Powell, she sent an unredacted copy to Flynn’s team, while acknowledging that the one she was submitting to the docket was redacted. Thus, she had to have known she was hiding material information from the Court when she submitted the interview report.

Ballantine falsely claimed Strzok and McCabe validated their notes

After some of these alterations were made public, Judge Sullivan ordered DOJ to authenticate all the documents they had submitted as part of their effort to overturn the Flynn prosecution. The filing submitted in response was a masterpiece of obfuscation, with three different people making claims while dodging full authentication for some of the most problematic documents. In the filing that Ballantine submitted, she claimed that Michael Bromwich and Aitan Goelman, lawyers for McCabe and Strzok, “confirmed” that no content was altered in the notes.

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees. [underline original]

According to an email Bromwich sent Ballantine, when Ballantine asked for help validating the transcripts DOJ did of McCabe’s notes, McCabe declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

And according to an email Goelman sent to Ballantine, they said they could not check transcriptions without the original copies of documents.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, [sic] telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

I have no reason to believe the content was altered, though I suspect other things were done to McCabe’s notes to misrepresent the context of a reference in his notes to Flynn. But not only had McCabe and Strzok not validated their notes, but they had both pointedly refused to. Indeed, during this same time period, DOJ was refusing to let McCabe see his own notes to prepare for testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nevertheless, Ballantine represented to Judge Sullivan that they had.

It baffles me why DOJ would put Ballantine on the most important January 6 case. Among other things, the conduct I’ve laid out here will make it easy for the defendants to accuse DOJ of similar misconduct on the Proud Boys case — and doing just that happens to be Nordean’s primary defense strategy.

But I’m mindful that there are people in DC’s US Attorney’s Office (not Ballantine) who took actions in the past that may have made the January 6 attack more likely. In a sentencing memo done on Barr’s orders, prosecutors attempting to minimize the potential sentence against Roger Stone suggested that a threat four Proud Boys helped Roger Stone make against Amy Berman Jackson was no big deal, unworthy of a sentencing enhancement.

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.

Judge Jackson disagreed with this assessment. In applying the enhancement, she presciently described how dangerous Stone and the Proud Boys could be if they incited others.

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.

The people at DOJ who claimed that this toxic team was not dangerous in the past may want to downplay the critical role that Stone and the Proud Boys played — using the same kind of incendiary behavior — in the January 6 assault.

Whatever the reason, though, it is inexcusable that DOJ would put someone like Ballantine on this case. Given Ballantine’s past actions, it risks sabotaging the entire January 6 investigation.

DOJ quite literally put someone who, less than a year ago, facilitated Sidney Powell’s lies onto a prosecution team investigating the aftermath of further Sidney Powell lies.

Update: DC USAO’s media person refused to clarify what Ballantine’s role is, even though it was publicly acknowledged in court.

We are not commenting on cases beyond what is stated or submitted to the Court. We have no comment in response to your question.

Update: Added links to William Ockham’s proof that Ballantine made the realteration of the McCabe notes.

Update: One more point on this. I am not claiming here that anyone at DOJ is deliberately trying to sabotage the January 6 investigation, just that putting someone who, less than a year ago, made multiple representations to a judge that could call into question her candor going forward could discredit the Proud Boys investigation. I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO put her on the team because they urgently need resources and she was available (possibly newly so after the end of her TDY). I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO who are also implicated in Barr’s politicization, perhaps more closely tied to the intervention in the Stone case, put her there with corrupt intent.

But it’s also important to understand that up until February 2020, she was viewed as a diligent, ruthless prosecutor. I presume she buckled under a great deal of pressure after that and found herself in a place where competing demands — her duty of candor to the Court and orders from superiors all the way up to the Attorney General — became increasingly impossible to square.

Importantly, Lisa Monaco’s chief deputy John Carlin, and probably Monaco herself, would know Ballantine from their past tenure in the National Security Division as that heretofore ruthless national security prosecutor. The only mainstream outlet that covered anything other than DOJ’s admission they had added post-its to the notes was Politico. And the instinct not to punish career employees like Ballantine would mean what she would have avoided any scrutiny with the transition. So her assignment to the case is not itself evidence of an attempt to sabotage the prosecution.


How Rick Gates Used Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel

Last week, DOJ released a reprocessed set of most of Rick Gates’ 302s in Jason Leopold’s FOIA for Mueller materials. I used that as an opportunity to pull together all of his 302s to capture the content and pull out the materials withheld under b7A exemptions (b7A exemptions reflect ongoing investigations — though many of these are clearly just counterintelligence investigations into Ukraine’s attempts to influence US politics). I did the same thing for Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, and Sam Patten’s files.

Reading all the 302s like this shows this, at times, Gates went wobbly on Mueller’s team. And it provides yet more evidence that a NYT article — bylined by two reporters that came up in Gates’ interviews, Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel — was a (wildly successful) attempt to misrepresent how damning were Gates’ admissions about Paul Manafort’s efforts to provide ongoing campaign updates to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik.

Nevertheless, the NYT has never issued a correction.

It’s not news that Gates went wobbly on his cooperation. Andrew Weissmann described the beginning process of this in his book, Where the Law Ends. But the 302s suggest it was not a one-time event.

As Weissmann told it in his book published before all the 302s came out, in one of his first proffers, Gates told prosecutors that he himself was skimming money from Manafort.

Gates said he understood and, from there, we began in earnest, alternating between Gates admitting his guilt for the crimes he and Manafort had committed and our teasing out information he had about others. This can be an awkward dance, but Gates seemed to be forthcoming. For example, after walking us through how, precisely, he’d helped Manafort launder money from his offshore accounts, Gates explained that he’d also personally stolen money from Ukraine by inflating the invoices he submitted for their political consulting work then pocketing that excess cash. Gates had never told Manafort about this skimming, he said, or reported that extra income on his taxes. We hadn’t known about this—it was new information, and encouraging, since it signaled that Gates understood that he could not hide or minimize his own criminality anymore.

That may have happened in his first interview, on January 29, 2018, when he described diverting income from his DMP work to an account in London.

Having gotten Gates to admit cheating Manafort, Weissmann then turned to what he called a “Jackpot” moment, when Gates described two things: that, at the August 2 meeting in the Havana Room, Manafort had told Kilimnik how he planned to win the campaign (a question Weissmann’s team was obsessed with understanding), and also that Manafort had ordered Gates to send Konstantin Kilimnik polling data throughout the campaign (of which Mueller’s team did not have prior knowledge).

“I learned of that meeting on the same day that it happened,” Gates explained. “Paul asked if I could join him and ‘KK,’ ” as Gates called Kilimnik. “The meeting was supposed to be over dinner, but I got there late.”

I did not look over at Omer, but I knew he was thinking what I was, that it was good that Gates was being forthright so far and confirming what we knew.

“Do you know how long they had already been there?” I asked.

“I don’t, but I think I was fairly late getting there. They were well into the meal.”

“What do you recall being discussed?” Omer asked. “A few things,” Gates explained. One subject was money—certain oligarchs in Ukraine still owed Manafort a considerable amount. Another was a legal dispute between Manafort and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. We asked Gates if there was any new or unusual information raised about these issues, but he said no—those problems had been percolating for a while. This was not, it seemed, enough of a reason for Kilimnik to come to New York from Moscow.

“What else do you recall being discussed?” Omer asked.

“There was discussion about the campaign,” Gates said. “Paul told KK about his strategy to go after white working-class Democrats in general, and he discussed four battleground states and polling.”

“Did he name any states?” I asked.

“Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota,” Gates said.

“Did he specifically mention those states, and did he describe them as battleground states, or is that your description?” I asked.

“No,” Gates said. “Paul described them that way. And, yes, I remember those four states coming up.”

“And he described polling?” Omer asked.

“Yes, but I had been sending our internal polling data to KK all along,” Gates explained. “So this was a follow-up on that, as opposed to something out of the blue.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but why were you sending polling data to Kilimnik?”

“Paul told me to send him the data, periodically. So I did. I’d send it using WhatsApp or some other encrypted platform. I assume it was to help Paul financially. I just did what Paul told me to do.”

“KK didn’t have any position on the campaign, right?” I asked.

The 302 from that same first interview shows Gates raised Manafort’s election year meetings with Kilimnik, though he got some details wrong, as I’ll return to. Gates addressed the Havana Bar meeting in his second interview, too, though he continued to tell an implausible story.

In his third interview, Gates attempted to lie about whether he had deleted documents; after a long discussion (still redacted because of an ongoing investigation), Gates admitted “maybe” he had deleted documents after learning of Mueller’s investigation.

In the fourth interview (at which Gates referenced false claims floated in the press to suggest the Mueller investigation had dodgy beginnings), Gates attempted to hide that he had lied to Mercury Public Affairs and Podesta Group about who their Ukrainian client really was, only to admit that “overtime” he realized what he had told them was not truthful; ultimately he admitted that “we got cute” by registering (and getting Podesta Group to register) under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and not FARA. At least as recorded in the 302, that’s the interview where Gates first lied about a meeting Manafort had with Dana Rohrabacher. At the same interview, Gates’ lawyer, Tom Green (who is a friend of Mueller’s), made a statement attributing Gates’ failures to keep certain lobbying documents to DMP archiving policy; in his statement of offense, Manafort admitted he still had those documents when he submitted his lobbying filings.

Weissmann’s book describes catching Gates in the lie about Rohrabacher.

Not long after I reentered the room, our interview with Gates turned to the FARA charges. Gates explained, in a convoluted fashion, that he and Manafort had believed there was no need to register under FARA since they were not personally doing any of the lobbying themselves. Manafort understood now that the law required him to file, Gates said, but he hadn’t understood that at the time.

Nothing about this argument was credible. Manafort was not only a longtime lobbyist but an attorney himself; he had extensive experience navigating the FARA rules and had gotten entangled with the FARA Unit before. (In the eighties, Manafort had a presidential appointment in the Reagan administration, which normally would have prohibited him from also working as a lobbyist, but he’d requested a waiver from that facet of the FARA rules. Interestingly, when his request was denied by a responsible White House attorney, Manafort resigned from his public office in order to continue the more profitable private lobbying work.) We had even uncovered an email from Gates to Manafort that clearly set out the FARA regulations. It was inconceivable that they’d misunderstood the law. Even the factual premise of their purported misunderstanding was untrue: Manafort had personally acted as a lobbyist. We had emails showing that Gates had arranged a meeting for Manafort with the pro-Russia California congressman Dana Rohrabacher in March 2013, shortly after Rohrabacher became chair of the subcommittee that oversaw Ukraine issues.

It was clear that Gates was not being straight with us—not uncommon, initially, with people who try to cooperate; they tell the truth with various degrees of success at first. When we confronted Gates with the emails about the Rohrabacher meeting, Gates simply doubled down, floating an even more absurd claim. He acknowledged that, yes, Manafort and Rohrabacher had met in Washington in 2013, but Gates claimed that he remembered Manafort telling him at the time that the subject of Ukraine had never come up—and therefore, there’d been no reason for Manafort to register under FARA for this activity: It wasn’t actually lobbying.

This wasn’t true, either, and we had evidence to prove it. Gates and Manafort had prepared a memo after the Rohrabacher meeting for President Yanukovych of Ukraine, summarizing the discussion. That memo was one of the many damning documents we’d discovered from Manafort’s condo search. We showed it to Gates: Was everything written here a lie? we asked. He had no response.

Gates’s story was crumbling before our eyes. It was infuriating because it was so counterproductive for everyone, and, on a personal level, displayed a certain contempt for us, and a low opinion of our ability to discern the truth. The good faith we needed, on both sides, was evaporating.

I asked Tom Green, Gates’s counsel, to speak in private, and then decided with him that we should break for the day. I asked Tom to get to the bottom of whatever was happening. All along, Gates had seemed to have trouble when it came to discussing Manafort and his crimes. He was clearly straining to shed his allegiance to his old boss. Still, Gates was discussing his own crimes, and it wasn’t clear why he’d chosen to start lying, so stubbornly, now, about this particular point; the FARA charges weren’t even among the most serious ones we brought.

If there was some explanation, Tom would need to figure it out quickly. The lies we’d just been told were deflating for us, given how hopeful we’d been about Gates’s usefulness as a witness.

Right now, we told Tom, there was no way we could sign Gates up.

Ultimately, Gates would plead guilty to this lie about Rohrabacher as a separate false statement.

The next day, according to Weissmann’s book, Green had seemingly gotten Gates back on track.

Tom came back to our office the next day. “Look,” he said, “my client messed up.”

Gates was scared, he explained. This entire process was wrenching for him. Gates felt pulled between his desire to cooperate and his allegiance to Manafort, and his client had just momentarily broken down. He’d fed us the various cover stories yesterday to avoid implicating Paul on the FARA charges.

In his book, Weissmann doesn’t reflect on the other lies that Gates must have told before his team caught Gates in a lie they could prove was one. But Gates’ earlier testimony does conflict with what he would say later.

And even having recommitted to cooperating, it seems Gates was still shading the truth in those February sessions, at least until he actually pled guilty.

The released 302s show that on February 2, Gates admitted that they should have registered under FARA for the meeting with Rohrabacher. In the same interview, there are five pages discussing a redacted subject that remain exempted under a b7A (ongoing investigation) exemption. Even in that interview, even after admitting he was still on the DMP payroll in the months while everyone was trying to place Manafort on the Trump campaign, Gates offered implausible answers about why Manafort would ask him to provide updates to Oleg Deripaska in the guise of confirming a lawsuit that had been dismissed had been dismissed. Additionally, Gates explained away a briefing for Trump about Manafort’s ties to Ukraine as Manafort’s effort to have Gates prepared to answer press questions about the topic.

Importantly, given later admissions about Gates’ efforts to work the press, when asked about the emails with Kilimnik discussing campaign briefings that had been reported in the press the previous year, Gates claimed he hadn’t spoken to Manafort about those reports. Then, having claimed he and Manafort hadn’t concocted a cover story about them, he claimed that they were references to Deripaska’s lawsuit.

Gates was shown an email thread between Kilimnik and Manafort dated July 7, 2016 through July 29, 2016.

Gates stated he saw some of these email[s] in the news. Gates did not talk to Manafort about the emails when they were leaked to the press. In July 2016, the topic of conversation with Manafort was the Deripaska lawsuit.

But then shortly after, in the very same interview, Gates described talking to Manafort about the emails.

When this email came out in the news, Manafort told Gates, Brad Parscale and [redacted] that the article was “B.S.”

That is, Gates claimed not to have spoken to Manafort about the news, but then described doing just that, and based on that inconsistent claim, asserted that the emails about providing campaign briefings to Deripaska pertained to the lawsuit with the Russian oligarch.

In this interview where Gates was clearly trying to shade the truth, he nevertheless still admitted sending “confidential polling data derived from internal polls” to Kilimnik.

On February 7, Gates had his first interview with another Mueller team, the Russian team led by Jeannie Rhee. The interview largely focused on the role of Dmitri Simes had in Trump’s first foreign policy speech, and touched briefly on the various views people had about sanctions on Russia.

Even though the Mueller team would eventually obtain evidence that Roger Stone tried to influence this process through Gates, Gates never mentioned how he personally released news of the speech through Maggie Haberman as a way to inform Stone about it, effectively using Maggie as a vehicle to communicate with someone, Stone, whom Manafort treated as part of his team while hiding those direct ties.

On April 22, 2016, Maggie Haberman broke the news that Donald Trump would give a foreign policy speech. As she reported, the speech was scheduled to be held at the National Press Club and would be hosted by the Center for National Interest, a group that once had ties to the Richard Nixon Library.

Donald J. Trump will deliver his first foreign policy address at the National Press Club in Washington next week, his campaign said, at an event hosted by an organization founded by President Richard M. Nixon.

The speech, planned for lunchtime on Wednesday, will be Mr. Trump’s first major policy address since a national security speech last fall.

The speech will be hosted by the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center, and the magazine it publishes, The National Interest, according to a news release provided by the Trump campaign.

The group, which left the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in 2011 to become a nonprofit, says on its website that it was founded by the former president to be a voice to promote “strategic realism in U.S. foreign policy.” Its associates include Henry A. Kissinger, the secretary of state under Nixon, as well as Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump. Roger Stone, a sometime adviser of Mr. Trump, is a former Nixon aide.

That night, according to texts released during his trial, Roger Stone wrote Rick Gates, furious that he had not been consulted about the details of the speech first — though Gates explained that he leaked it to Haberman so Stone would find out. “I cannot learn about a foreign policy speech from the media,” Trump’s rat-fucker said. “This is personally embarrassing. I’m out,” said the advisor who had supposedly quit the campaign almost a year earlier.

Among the things Stone bitched about learning from a leak to Maggie Haberman made partly for his benefit was about the venue. “No detail on venue and no input on content.”

In that same interview where Gates did not disclose Stone’s demand that he get a say on Trump’s foreign policy speeches, he nevertheless reiterated his admission that, “Gates sent Kilimnik both publicly available information and internal information from Fabrizio’s polls.” Gates also provided a description of Cambridge Analytica in the poll mix, though his descriptions of the campaign’s reliance on CA would remain inconsistent through the entirety of his cooperation with Mueller’s team.

Over the next two meetings, things seemed to get closer to finalizing the plea. In an interview on February 9, Gates further elaborated on why he had lied about the meeting with Rohrabacher. Prosecutors also got him on the record on an instance where he gave family members advance information about the acquisition of ID Watchdog, a company he had a stake in, by Equifax. Then in the following interview, Mueller’s team went through one after another crime he may have committed — insider trading (with IDW), bank fraud, bribery, “lack of candor under oath,” including during his 2014 FBI interview and the Skadden Report, campaign fraud, obstruction of justice, all of which would need to be on the record before he pled guilty.

After doing that, prosecutors got Gates on the record about key Mueller-related topics about which they wanted his cooperation, including Stone and Thomas Barrack. In their review of Gates’ description of the August 2 meeting, he confirmed that Deripaska was discussed (though claimed he only knew polling data was shared with the Ukrainian paymasters), and provided a really sketchy explanation of what this was all about:

Gates was asked why Kilimnik referred to Manafort’s “clever plan to defeat” Hillary Clinton in an email. Gates believed this referred to Manafort’s strategy to attack Clinton’s credibility. Gates was asked what was “clever” about this. Gates agreed that it was not clever and he did not know why Kilimnik characterized it as clever.

Gates did not trust Kilimnik. Gates did not know why Manafort was sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik. Gates said Kilimnik could have given the information to anyone.

That’s when the plea deal should have been finalized. But as Weissmann described in his book, it wasn’t.

Gates’ prior attorney (who was also representing someone else against whom Gates would testify), in the guise of demanding past payment, caused a sealed conference to be held before Amy Berman Jackson which alerted the press that he might be cooperating, which in turn generated a great deal of pressure on Gates not to flip (including the involvement of Sean Hannity). From Weissmann again:

But before we received the final versions back, with signatures, the process was disrupted yet again. Gates’s second defense counsel, Walter Mack, called our office unexpectedly and asked what the heck was going on: Was it true that his client was cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation?

It’s hard to convey the strangeness of Walter’s phone call: not only that he didn’t seem to know that Gates was seeking to cooperate, but that he was calling us for answers, instead of asking his own client, or his co-counsel Tom Green. We told Walter that he should direct those questions to Gates or Tom. It was not our place to be an intermediary between defendants and their various attorneys, or to mediate whatever spat Walter had just brought to our doorstep.

I’m still not sure what was going on behind the scenes. Later, Walter would claim a lack of payment from Gates—maybe that had something to do with it. But it was also hard to ignore that Walter happened to be simultaneously representing a man named Steven Brown in a separate case in New York. Brown had enlisted Gates in a fraudulent scheme and therefore could be harmed by information Gates might share if he cooperated.

Regardless, whatever dispute was playing out might have remained irrelevant to our case—except that Walter’s subsequent discussions with Tom apparently unraveled to the point that Walter filed a motion asking to be relieved as Gates’s counsel; this required all of us to appear briefly in court. The short proceeding had very little to do with our office and was under seal at the time, but our mere appearance at the courthouse roused interest from the reporters staking out the building. At the proceeding, the court told Tom to brief Walter on the cooperation progress. Shortly thereafter, someone leaked a story about Gates and his intention to cooperate to the Los Angeles Times.

This media attention was unsettling for Gates—as whoever leaked the story presumably knew it would be. It is hard enough to betray your former mentor, and walk away from your former life, by talking to government investigators. It is more daunting once you’ve seen your decision to cooperate spelled out in a national headline and are forced to discuss it with every friend and family member who calls to ask you if it’s true. Such press also sends out an alarm to those who’d seek to pull Gates back in line and away from the government.

As we feared, once the story ran, Gates got cold feet. Tom and I spoke nearly every day for the next two weeks. He explained that he was still working to convince his client to cooperate, and I expressed bafflement. I’d never seen anything like this before. Gates had passed the point of no return; because he’d already signed the proffer agreement and admitted his criminal liability to all of the charged crimes (and then some), he would be going to trial with effectively no defense if he backed out now. Tom assured me that Gates understood this—but he also said that Gates had lots of people loyal to the White House whispering in his ear.

So prosecutors drew up a second indictment against Manafort and Gates in Virginia. That, plus some advice from Charlie Black, may have been enough to get him back on board.

This time it seemed real. “He’s coming to my office to sign the papers right now,” Tom said.

I was relieved, but still skeptical. I told Tom I’d need to see him and Gates in our office again, to hear Gates explain what the hell had just happened. I also alerted him that we were, at that moment, pushing forward with our indictment in Virginia and, because the courthouse there didn’t allow phones or electronic devices, there was no way for me to call the prosecutors and stop it. Still, I assured Tom, this wouldn’t affect our deal: If Gates proved trustworthy, we’d move to dismiss this second set of charges in Virginia without prejudice and proceed in Washington as planned.

Gates came back into our office the next day. I leveled with him: “I’ve never had this experience before, and I need to understand what happened,” I said. “Why did you balk at the last minute? What’s going on?”

He seemed more vulnerable this time. He explained the intense pressure that Manafort and others were putting on him not to cooperate, how Manafort had told him that money could be raised to defray their legal expenses, and that the White House had their backs—code, Gates knew, to keep quiet and hold out for a pardon.

But, Gates went on, he’d also spoken to Charlie Black. Black had been in business with Manafort years ago, at the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, then gone on to become a dean of Republican Party strategists and enjoyed a sterling reputation. (In a masterstroke, it turned out, at a moment when Tom was almost out of ideas, he had recruited Black to reach out to Gates and offer advice.) Black told Gates that, were he in a similar predicament, he would cooperate. Gates wasn’t an old man like Black and Manafort, Black explained; he needed to think about himself and his young family. And moreover, Black insisted, Gates would be foolish to count on a pardon. Trump was too self-absorbed to be dependable.

“I took this all in,” Gates said, “and I decided to follow Black’s advice.” Black’s encouragement seemed to have finally empowered Gates to turn on his old boss. “I know there’s a possibility that Paul will get a pardon in the end, and I’ll have to watch him walk free. But I decided I just have to deal with what I’ve done, and own what I have done.” He’d broken the law, he said. He needed to deal with the consequences now and do right by his family.

The first interviews after Gates pled guilty focused on this process, eliciting descriptions of all the people Gates had spoken to in prior days, including the Black conversation, three conversations where Manfort tried to find money to pay Gates’ legal bills, and others. A pardon came up but no one told him he would be pardoned. Someone also tried to help Gates find what would have been his fourth defense team. Gates explained that he had been told the Nunes Memo and the IG Report on the Hillary investigation would change the climate for his defense.

But after that, things started to move forward. Investigators got a list of all the encrypted comms Gates had used and those he knew Manafort had used. Then they began to turn back to all the Manafort graft Gates would help prosecutors untangle.

On March 1 — the first time prosecutors would return to two key Russia-related issues after Gates pled guilty, the August 2 meeting and Roger Stone — Gates revealed that he had lied to Ken Vogel in 2016 (who was then with Politico) about the Havana Club meeting. Gates started by (improbably) claiming he had never before read the June 19, 2017 WaPo story in which Konstantin Kilimnik provided a cover story for the August 2 meeting. That led him to admit lying to Vogel because he believed they’d get away without disclosing the meeting.

Gates stated that he hadn’t previously read the 6/19/2017 Washington Post article, which contained a statement from Konstantin Kilimnik regarding a meeting held in New York on 8/2/2016. Gates stated that following the 8/2/2016 meeting (which was held at New York’s Havana Club), Gates spoke to Paul Manafort regarding a subsequent Politico story about it. The author of the Politico article, Kenneth Vogel, had emailed a list of questions to Manafort. Manafort forwarded these questions to Gates, who answered “no” to all the questions. Gates admitted that he lied to Vogel with these responses. He had been assured no one would find out about this meeting. Gates stated that Jared Kushner became angry following the Politico article, unsure as to why Manafort would have such a meeting.

Then Gates admitted that Manafort did ask him whether anyone called him about the meeting — something still redacted for ongoing investigation. Effectively, Gates admitted that he understood that Manafort expected him to lie about the meeting.

Remember, during precisely this period in 2016, Oleg Deripaska was playing a double game, making Manafort more vulnerable even while getting him to share campaign campaign information. Perhaps not unrelatedly, much of the next month of Rick Gates interviews in 2018 focused on the Pericles lawsuit that Deripaska used as leverage against Manafort to put him in that more vulnerable position.

A March 21 interview covering things like Roger Stone and Cambridge Analytica remains significantly redacted (including one b7A redaction covering the latter topic added since this 302 was last released).

Something sort of interesting happened in April 2018. On two consecutive days, Gates told a slightly different story about Roger Stone. On April 10, Rhee and Aaron Zelinsky joined Manafort prosecutors Weissmann and Andres. At the beginning of the interview, Gates warned that someone was not happy he was cooperating. In the April 10 interview, Gates provided details about Stone’s ongoing relationship with Manafort that don’t appear, in unredacted form, elsewhere, as well as details of calls and meetings from June (these communications were a focus at Stone’s trial). Gates revealed that the day before Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment on August 21, 2016, Manafort told Gates Stone had told him the emails would come out (this is consistent with at least one of Manafort’s interviews). One subtext of this interview is that the means by which Lewandowski got fired in June was related to Stone’s bid to get Hillary’s emails.

In the April 10 interview, Gates described a June 15, 2016 phone call he had with Manafort and Stone where Stone said “he had been in contact with Guccifer 2.” The FBI spent much of 2018 trying to track down forensic proof that this had indeed happen.

In the same interview, Gates asserted that Manafort,

always intended to use Stone as an outside source of information. Manafort relied on Stone to do operative work and dig up opposition material. Manafort had conveyed to Gates that Stone was in the hunt for Clinton’s emails prior to the Crowdstrike report dated 06/14/2016 announcement. Stone told Gates and Manafort something major was going to happen and that a leak of information was coming.

All told this may be Gates’ most revelatory interview about Stone.

But an April 11 interview, which covers the same issues (and at which Rhee was not present), seems to back off the claim that Manafort was pushing Stone to go get the emails. “[N]o one told Stone to go get” the emails Assange had. In a separate interview that same day (without the Stone team), Weissmann and Andres asked Gates about contacts he had had, though that seems to refer to contacts during 2017. On April 17, an interview seemed to focus on something Manafort had done.

Prosecutors kept asking about his contacts during the investigation (as they did with Mike Flynn during the same period). On May 3, Gates described with whom he had contact since his last interview (on April 19). That included two conversations with Maggie Haberman. Later in May, Gates was interviewed about his and Manafort’s response to an July 2016 AP report on Manfort’s Ukraine graft. In July, Gates revealed that, prior to pleading guilty, Manafort had warned Gates against his attorney Tom Green. In different July interview, Gates also described being in contact with people about a NYT report on him.

Gates’ plea deal required he get prior approval before he revealed any information derived from his cooperation to a third party. But he appears to have remained in touch with the NYT anyway.

In August, investigators grilled Gates about a topic that they hadn’t known about but which he had admitted on the stand while testifying in Paul Manafort’s trial: That he may have submitted a false expense report to the Inauguration Committee, replicating a theft that he had earlier used against Manafort. That discussion remains redacted under b7A redactions. It was not addressed in the government sentencing memo for Gates. It’s one potential crime Gates admitted only after entering into the plea agreement.

During fall interviews, Gates addressed additional investigative interest (such as the spin-off prosecutions arising from Manafort’s graft). He provided an interview on Stone on October 25 (the day before Steve Bannon would be interviewed and one of his last interviews before the election) that generally accorded with past testimony. And he did a few interviews pertaining to Kilimnik (parallel to the time when Manafort was being questioned about the same topic), including one where he reiterated that,

GATES understood that the polling data he was sending to KILIMNIK would be given to LYOVOCHKIN and DERIPASKA. GATES believed MANAFORT would have sent the polling data to LYOVOCHKIN as part of his efforts to get money out of Ukraine. GATES believed MANAFORT would have sent the polling data to DERIPASKA [redacted]. GATES opined that MANAFORT believed that Trump’s strength in the polls would be advantageous to him.

GATES provided KILIMNIK a mix of public polls and the campaign’s Fabrizio polling data based on what MANAFORT thought looked good. The Fabrizio polls were more reliable because they used cell phone polling data.

GATES provided certainly weekly data automatically to KILIMNIK. MANAFORT and GATES would send additional polling data on an ad hoc basis. On multiple occasions, GATES and MANAFORT would receive a poll and MANAFORT would tell GATES to send it to KILIMNIK based on the poll’s content.

That is, while there were conflicting details, after the time Gates started cooperating, his story about sharing polls repeatedly (though not always) acknowledged that Deripaska was receiving the polls. He consistently said the polls included non-public data (though his excuses for doing so varied from interview to interview and never offered a plausible explanation). And while he shifted the timeline earlier during the first interviews where he was telling other lies, after that point Gates never disputed that Manafort provided a more detailed explanation of his campaign strategy to Kilimnik, and he admitted his data sharing continued at least through the time Manafort left the campaign on August 19.

Gates’ description of what happened after that had some variances, as did his description of what polls were included in the sharing — but they always included Fabrizio’s polls, which, based on past work, they were the ones with which Kilimnik would be most familiar.

On November 7, the day Jeff Sessions would be fired, making way for Billy Barr to be nominated and confirmed, Gates did two interviews without his attorney, Tom Green, present.

There was, among the released interviews (there are about 60 that have been released, plus some other identified 302s that haven’t been), just one more in 2018.

Then, in advance of a February 15, 2019 interview, Gates’ attorney reached out to correct a claim that prosecutors had made as part of Manafort’s breach hearing. The important correction was that “GATES did not recall bringing [a document he had printed out earlier that day for a planning meeting] to the [Havana Bar] meeting. Gates affirmed, however, that,

At the 08/02/2016 meeting with GATES, MANAFORT, and KILIMNIK there was a much more detailed discussion of internal polling data compared to the data GATES sent to KILIMNIK via WHATSAPP. At the dinner meeting, GATES, MANAFORT, and KILIMNIK discussed internal polling from FABRIZIO which included battleground states.

[snip]

GATES recalled MANAFORT discussed internal polling from other sources including CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA. The information provided in this meeting by MANAFORT to KILIMNIK was based on internal information and polls; it was a synthesis that included internal polling data.

In addition to the major correction regarding the document he printed out, however, Gates altered his testimony from many (though not all) of his previous interviews in one key way. At an interview the day after Billy Barr was confirmed as Attorney General and as Mueller’s team were already drafting their report, Gates reported that,

DERIPASKA was also in the mix. GATES recalled, however, that the letter to DERIPASKA was related to MANAFORT’s and DERIPASKA’s legal dispute. GATES does not specifically know if MANAFORT sent internal polling data to DERIPASKA.

That is, in his first interview after Barr became Attorney General, Gates backed off a claim that (at least per the 302s) he had made as recently as late October, that he knew he was sending Deripaska the polling data.

Then, on February 22, Gates had a last interview, by phone (there must have been one or several in advance of the Stone and Greg Craig trials). For a third time, his attorney — Robert Mueller’s friend Tom Green — was not present.

The topic of the interview, like so many before, was whom Gates had had contact with about the investigation. But of course, this time, key details of the investigation, especially about sharing polling data with Kilimnik, had been revealed by one of those redaction failures that sometimes happen at opportune times. Gates described someone “alert[ing] GATES to the allegation discussed above,” but claimed “their communication had no substance.” Before and after that, though, redacted answers that Gates offered seemed to deny speaking to anyone about the allegations, whether the inquiry pertained to comparing notes about answers with others involved — as Gates had denied then disproved happened in summer 2017 — or lying to the media to minimize damage — as Gates had admitted lying to Ken Vogel about the very same allegation.

And in spite of the fact that Weissmann warned Gates at least once not to say anything about his communications with Green, Gates ended the interview by addressing a claim his attorney seems to have made. “GATES stated that his counsel GREEN had been mistaken in indicating to the Special Counsel’s Office that GATES,” with a long paragraph describing what Green had told prosecutors but that Gates, with Green absent, was denying.

It turns out, though, that the demonstrably false story that NYT told resembled the ones Gates told in interviews where he was also lying about Rohrabacher, a year earlier. The NYT claimed that Gates had only transferred the data during the spring, not in August. It claimed “most of the data was public.” And it claimed Gates had only shared the data with two Ukrainian oligarchs, and not Oleg Deripaska.

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the person said. The oligarchs had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian political parties that had hired Mr. Manafort as a political consultant.

In his first interview, Gates claimed that the two Kilimnik meetings happened in spring, March and May. He further claimed the last time he spoke to Kilimnik was in May 2016, not that August meeting nor later attempts to craft a cover story for the Skadden Arps intervention. He offered another reason entirely for the meeting than sharing campaign data: Yanukovych wanted Manafort to run his next campaign.

In his second interview, Gates was told clearly the meeting at the Havana Bar happened in August, but then, when he began to admit to sharing campaign information, suggested Manafort had shared “Manafort’s plan for the primaries.” When reminded again that the meeting happened in August, long after Trump sealed up the nomination, Gates still persisted by claiming “they must have talked about the delegate issue and Manafort’s plan to get Trump enough delegates to win the nomination.” This interview appears to be the first time Gates offered the explanations he settled on for sharing campaign strategy — to get the Ukrainians to pay their bills and to get Deripaska to drop his law suit. But when investigators asked the obvious question — why Manafort wanted to share campaign information from someone he thought was Russian intelligence Gates claimed none of this was secret.

Gates was asked why Manafort would provide strategy information on the Trump Campaign to someone he thought was Russian Intelligence. Gates stated that the information on the battleground states and strategy was not secret.

This comment appears between passages redacted for ongoing investigation, so it’s not really clear whether the “he” here means Gates (who later would admit he suspected Kilimnik was a spy) And yet, he and Manafort spent a good deal of time obfuscating about doing just that.

Back in January 2018, before he started getting caught in deliberate lies, Gates was telling stories that shifted the time and the substance regarding why he and Manafort shared campaign data with Konstantin Kilimnik. And then, just as the Mueller team started preparing to write their conclusions, the NYT published a story that adopted the same time shift and subject obfuscations.

And in between, Rick Gates shared details repeatedly about how he used Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel.


DOJ Treated Jerome Corsi as News Media but Not Roger Stone or Randy Credico (or Julian Assange)

Yesterday, DOJ released both an updated list of times when its media guidelines came into play (here are the 2016, 2017, and 2018 reports), as well as a summary of DOJ’s attempts to get records related to CNN, NYT, and WaPo reporting.

The former has raised some questions about how Mueller’s investigation applied these rules (as a reminder, my interview with the FBI was not with Mueller, though based on a month-long approval process I know to have occurred, I believe there is an entry in the 2017 report that pertains to me).

They’re easier to understand if you work through the second one, for legal process in 2019, first.

In the prosecution of an individual charged with obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, a United States Attorney authorized the issuance of a subpoena to a member of the news media for testimony. The member of the news media expressly agreed to testify pursuant to the subpoena. Because the member of the news media expressly agreed to testify, Attorney General authorization was not required. See 28 C.F.R. § 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A). The prosecution team did not call the member of the news media at trial.

There was just one trial of anyone for obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in 2016. George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Richard Pinedo never went to trial (nor did Alex Van der Zwaan, though his obstruction covered earlier events). Paul Manafort did go to trial for his tax cheating, but not for interfering with the Russian investigation (his plea breach hearing, which did pertain to lies he told to cover up his role in the Russian interference, was not a trial).

That means this has to be a reference to Roger Stone’s trial.

Two witnesses are known to have been subpoenaed, but not called to testify: Andrew Miller and Jerome Corsi. Randy Credico, a radio personality, testified at great length, including about how he booked Julian Assange and Roger Stone to appear on his radio show.

That’s not enough to prove that the reference is to Corsi (in part because there could have been other witnesses who were subpoenaed but not called to testify that we don’t know about). But now consider the second reference to the Mueller investigation, for something that happened in 2018.

In connection with an investigation into an alleged conspiracy involving persons or entities associated with a foreign government hacking the computers of a United States political party’s central organization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, authorized the issuance of a grand jury subpoena duces tecum for the production of toll records from a cellular service provider for a telephone used by a member of the news media suspected of participating the conspiracy, as well as an application for a search warrant to search the member of the news media’s internet cloud and email accounts. Following the initial authorization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, later authorized a voluntary interview of, and the issuance of a testimonial grand jury subpoena to, the member of the news media. All of this information was necessary to further the investigation of whether the member of the news media was involved in the conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and utilize the information from the hacked political party or other victims.

This is a description of someone investigated as a suspect.

While Mueller reviewed whether Don Jr violated the CFAA for accessing a non-public website he got sent a password to, the investigation into whether someone was part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy focused on Roger Stone (and Julian Assange, who does not obviously show up anywhere in this report, even though Mueller obtained a warrant targeting him as well). Two people were known to have been investigated as fellow suspects of Stone: Corsi and Ted Malloch. Mueller’s team obtained warrants and subpoenas targeting both. In Malloch’s case, however, the government is only known to have obtained his phone and his Gmail.

In Corsi’s case, however, Mueller targeted his Apple accounts, as well as email accounts held at CSC Holdings, and Windstream.

Mueller is not, however, known to have obtained a warrant targeting Credico.

If the government treated Corsi as a member of the news media in 2018, when they obtained warrants targeting him as a suspected co-conspirator of Roger Stone, then they likely treated him as a member of the news media in 2019, when they subpoenaed him — but did not call him — as a witness in Stone’s trial. That is, the available evidence strongly suggests that Corsi is the person described in both Mueller entries.

Which, in turn, suggests that DOJ treated Corsi — but not Stone or Credico — as members of the news media.

For what it’s worth, I’m virtually certain that there’s still a Mueller entry missing, pertaining to a member of the news media who asked for a subpoena before he would share materials relating to his work. That person has never been publicly referenced in Mueller-related investigative materials since released, but I believe 302s from the investigation reflect FBI having obtained the materials they were asking for from that member of the news media. But that incident would have fit under 28 CFR 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A), when a member of the news media agrees to provide information so long as he gets a subpoena, which under the media guidelines does not require Attorney General approval.

Update: There’s an important point that has been forgotten by these debates but which is implied in Merrick Garland’s statements about the media policy. There are other means to obtain records on people playing a journalistic function: under FISA, by providing probable cause that they are an agent of a foreign power.


John Durham Won’t Charge Any of Trump’s Favorite Villains

On Friday, WSJ had an article that might have been titled, “John Durham won’t charge any of Donald Trump’s favorite villains.” It reported that Durham is still considering charges against people outside of government and “lower-level FBI employees.”

Mr. Durham has been examining potential criminal charges against several lower-level Federal Bureau of Investigation employees, and people who aren’t in government, according to people familiar with the matter.

But it doesn’t note that, even if Durham does charge those involved in the dossier, it will still mean that many of Trump’s claims about the Russian investigation were investigated for longer than Mueller took, only to fall short of the crimes Trump claimed had happened.

Jim Comey was the FBI Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s effort to prove that Comey leaked details of Trump’s efforts to protect Mike Flynn to get a Special Counsel appointed, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Comey broke the law.

Andrew McCabe was the FBI Deputy Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s apparent effort to insinuate that McCabe micromanaged the Russian investigation, pushing investigative steps FBI Agents didn’t support, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that McCabe broke the law.

Bill Priestap was the Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s effort to interpret Priestap’s notes as proof that the FBI set up Mike Flynn, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Priestap broke the law.

Peter Strzok was the Deputy Assistant Director when he opened Crossfire Hurricane, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s extended efforts to suggest that Strzok sustained an investigation into Donald Trump out of some kind of animus or perhaps compensation for his role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat, in spite of Durham’s seeming efforts to suggest that Strzok pushed others to obtain legal process he refused to approve earlier in the investigation, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Strzok broke the law.

Lisa Page was the Counselor to the Deputy Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s efforts to suggest Page had some role in the investigation that DOJ IG already said she didn’t, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Lisa Page broke the law.

Durham has interviewed few if any of these senior people, who’ve been targeted for years. Without even hearing their side, apparently, Durham has decided they’re not the villains Trump made them out to be.

But Trump’s chief villains aren’t the only targets that — if this report is correct — will not be charged.

The WSJ notes that Durham won’t charge anyone for concluding that Russia not only wanted to defeat Hillary, but affirmatively wanted Trump in power.

Beyond the role of outside tipsters, Mr. Durham’s investigation examined how the FBI first came to open the investigation, as well as a separate 2017 U.S. intelligence report that concluded Moscow interfered in the presidential election in part to help then-candidate Trump.

Mr. Durham’s team isn’t expected to bring any criminal charges in connection with that intelligence assessment, some of the people said.

So John Brennan won’t be getting charged either, in spite of calls for that to happen.

Then there are all the other hoaxes Republicans invented: Durham will not charge anyone for spying on Trump before the opening of the investigation, because it didn’t happen. Durham will not charge the FBI or CIA for setting Joseph Mifsud up to entrap George Papadopoulos, because it didn’t happen.

In spite of the seeming confirmation that four years of insinuations about these people were wrong, the right wing has responded to the seeming news that Peter Strzok won’t be charged with delight.

High Gaslighter Catherine Herridge posted the same partially unsealed footnote (footnote 350 discussed in this post) twice as well as a passage about what the FBI had learned by September 2017, three months after the last FISA order targeting Carter Page.

Jonathan Turley (who ignores the WSJ description that any FBI targets are low-level) claims that Durham’s current focus could “implicate some of the most powerful figures in politics” in his final report, while getting a slew of details (about Bruce and Nellie Ohr, especially) wrong.

The report in The Wall Street Journal said Durham is presenting evidence against FBI agents and possibly others in the use of false information or tips at the start of the Russia investigation in 2016. Those “others” could include a virtual who’s who of Washington politics, and even if they are not indicted, Durham could implicate some of the most powerful figures in politics in his final report, expected in the coming months.

[snip]

This cross-pollination between the campaign and the Justice Department was evident in the strange role of Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice official who was later demoted for concealing his meetings with people pushing the Steele dossier; his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS as a researcher on Trump’s purported connections to Russia. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz subsequently found that Bruce Ohr acted improperly and committed “consequential errors in judgment.”

[snip]

Durham also is reportedly looking into information concerning Alfa Bank, a privately owned commercial bank in Russia. That information led to possible access to the Trump campaign server. The Alfa Bank controversy is likely to make a number of powerful people particularly uneasy. Clinton campaign-linked figures such as Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson allegedly pushed the debunked claim that the Trump campaign had a server linked directly to the bank, which in turn was linked to Vladimir Putin and his cronies. The Alfa Bank conspiracy reportedly was pitched to the Justice Department, including in contacts with Bruce Ohr.

Glenn Greenwald, after spending years mocking the prosecutions of Trump’s Campaign and Deputy Campaign Manager, his personal lawyer, his National Security Advisor, a foreign policy advisor, and his rat-fucker — four for covering up what happened in 2016 — and after pushing the Hunter Biden laptop allegedly funneled to a different Trump personal lawyer who is currently being investigated for influence peddling with Russian assets — speaks gleefully of “already one guilty plea: seems like more criminal charges are coming.”

The pseudonymous TechnoFog[gy] highlights the claims of a Russian, Olga Galkina, who — if the dossier was indeed filled with disinformation (and I believe it was) — was the source for much of it, while complaining, in the same breath as they magnify Galkina’s claims, that Igor Danchenko might not be aware that those like Galkina who fed him garbage were doing so for Russian intelligence.

More and more, Durham appears to be chasing what an elaborate lawfare effort from the Alfa Bank oligarchs are throwing out. The effort, like the dossier itself, is transparently problematic, particularly given that FBI debunked it early. The dossier had little to do with the investigation of anyone but Carter Page; the Alfa Bank allegations were entirely a distraction from the investigation. If Durham wants to stake his report on that, it has the potential of making it an easily discredited piece of Russian propaganda.

A focus on the disinformation in the dossier and the way that some ways the Alfa Bank claim was packaged up has a real potential to backfire for Durham, because it can only shine a light on how Russia obfuscated its efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 with disinformation about efforts to get Trump elected.

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