“Fool’s Gold:” The Polls Shared with Konstantin Kilimnik Integrated Tony Fabrizio’s Polling with Cambridge Analytica’s

The parties are releasing less redacted versions of filings related to Paul Manafort’s breach determination. Virtually all reveal things I covered closely in real time.

One thing that’s new — and newsworthy — is a passage of Rick Gates’ February 7, 2018 proffer in which he describes how he came to integrate Tony Fabrizio’s polling with Cambridge Analytica and Data Trust.

This means that the polling data that would have been shared with Kilimnik involved a polling company that he was working with Sam Patten on, on top of the Fabrizio polling he had worked with for years with Paul Manafort.

As it happens I’m working on some other Cambridge Analytica issues that make this more interesting.

The same proffer also notes that the campaign decided to focus on Pennsylvania in mid-August (even though Manafort reportedly raised it with Kilimnik in their August 2, 2016 meeting), and that at that point, “Pennsylvania … was ‘fool’s gold’ and Trump was unlikely to win there.” Which would suggest that Kilimnik “knew” that the Trump campaign was going to win Pennsylvania before the campaign itself.

Update: I see I wrote this too quickly and need to clarify two things. First, when I say that Kilimnik “knew” the campaign was going to win Pennsylvania before the campaign itself, I’m referencing the report in the Mueller Report that at this August 2 briefing, Manafort included PA among the states that he believed the campaign would win. Per Gates’ explanation, that was at a time when the campaign believed they couldn’t win PA.

As for the CA claim, it is both contrary to a lot of claims made by other witnesses to Mueller, and probably early enough to present all sorts of legal problems for Trump.

You Cannot Discuss Disinformation and the Steele Dossier without Discussing Oleg Deripaska

The New York Times’ Barry Meier is the latest person to become part of the disinformation project associated with the Steele dossier, while claiming to critique it.

Before I explain why, let me lay out some very basic facts about the Steele dossier about which anyone deigning to comment on it at this point should be expected to exhibit basic awareness.

It is a fact that, starting in 2014 and continuing at least through at least February 2017, Christopher Steele used his relationship with DOJ’s Organized Crime expert, Bruce Ohr, to encourage ties between Oleg Deripaska and the US government. That included brokering a meeting between Ohr and Deripaska in 2015, and several communications in 2016 before Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump. It included Steele’s meeting with Ohr on July 30, 2016, at which Steele provided Ohr information on Russian doping, details from his reporting for the DNC, and news about Deripaska’s lawsuit against Paul Manafort. On December 7, 2016 — the day before Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik would renew his pitch to Paul Manafort on a plan to carve up Ukraine — Ohr even suggested that Deripaska would be a useful source to reveal Manafort and Trump’s corruption. Just as Steele was working with the DNC via an attorney client, Steele was working with Deripaska via one or more attorney client. Like Manafort, Steele was under financial pressure in this period, and so was eager to keep Deripaska’s attorneys as a client. This post and this post provide a summary of their exchanges over that year.

It is a fact that Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, described that in March 2016, Steele tasked Danchenko to find out what he could learn about Paul Manafort’s corruption and his ties to Ukraine (though Danchenko had little success). When asked about the client for this work, Danchenko, “had no inclinations as to why, or for whom, Steele was asking about Manafort.”

It is a fact that the DOJ Inspector General Report on Carter Page provided evidence to suggest an associate of Oleg Deripaska — and so we should assume Oleg Deripaska himself — learned of Steele’s dossier on Donald Trump by early July 2016, which would have been after just the first report had been completed.

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

This means that Deripaska’s associate probably learned of the dossier project before Steele met with Ohr on July 30 to share — along with information on Russian doping — information about Deripaska’s lawsuit against Manafort and the first tidbits from Steele’s dossier reporting.

It is a fact that in the same month, early June 2017, that the Intelligence Community found evidence that an Oleg Deripaska associate had learned of the dossier project, the Intelligence Community found evidence that two people with ties to Russian intelligence learned of the dossier project.

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early [sic] 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

The Intelligence Community has identified two associates of Deripaska — Konstantin Kilimnik and Victor Boyarkin (through both of whom Manafort’s reports on the Trump campaign were funneled) — who have ties to Russian intelligence, so it’s possible that this early June 2017 intelligence is actually the same report, showing that a Manafort associate who had ties to Russian intelligence had learned of the dossier.

It is also a fact that Natalia Veselnitskaya, who because she was also a Fusion GPS client, was by far the most likely person to learn of a project conducted by Fusion GPS (possibly through Ed Baumgartner, who was working both the Fusion project with Veselnitskaya and the one with the DNC), also has ties to Russian intelligence.

It is a fact that when DOJ’s Inspector General entertained with the Crossfire Hurricane team the possibility that the Steele dossier had been injected with disinformation, DOJ IG envisioned Oleg Deripaska running that effort.

Priestap told us that the FBI “didn’t have any indication whatsoever” by May 2017 that the Russians were running a disinformation campaign through the Steele election reporting. Priestap explained, however, that if the Russians, in fact, were attempting to funnel disinformation through Steele to the FBI using Russian Oligarch 1, he did not understand the goal. Priestap told us that

what he has tried to explain to anybody who will listen is if that’s the theory [that Russian Oligarch 1 ran a disinformation campaign through [Steele] to the FBI], then I’m struggling with what the goal was. So, because, obviously, what [Steele] reported was not helpful, you could argue, to then [candidate] Trump. And if you guys recall, nobody thought then candidate Trump was going to win the election. Why the Russians, and [Russian Oligarch 1] is supposed to be close, very close to the Kremlin, why the Russians would try to denigrate an opponent that the intel community later said they were in favor of who didn’t really have a chance at winning, I’m struggling, with, when you know the Russians, and this I know from my Intelligence Community work: they favored Trump, they’re trying to denigrate Clinton, and they wanted to sow chaos. I don’t know why you’d run a disinformation campaign to denigrate Trump on the side. [brackets original]

I have laid out the evidence that Oleg Deripaska was playing both sides in 2016, taking steps to make Manafort more vulnerable legally and financially even as his deputy Kilimnik was using Manafort’s vulnerability to swap campaign information for a plan to carve up Ukraine and financial salvation. The same post shows how every single report in the dossier could serve key Russian purposes, both associated with the 2016 operation and more generally (though I’m not arguing the entire dossier was disinformation). If the dossier was disinformation, it would taint a great number of anti-Russian experts, from Steele to the FBI to others in the US government.

If you’re going to write about the Steele dossier at all in 2021, you should exhibit some familiarity with these facts. All the more so if you’re going to talk about whether it was disinformation.

But NYT’s Barry Meier doesn’t do that. Last week, Meier published an excerpt from his book on private intelligence services. The entire excerpt uses the Steele dossier as the exemplar of what can go wrong when private intelligence services sell information collection to clients and also share that information with journalists. I don’t disagree that the dossier was a shit-show, but then I’ve been warning about that for four years now.

As part of Meier’s proof of the shoddy product in the dossier, Meier astoundingly quotes Natalia Veselnitskaya, without clearly explaining that when he says Veselnitskaya “worked alongside” Glenn Simpson, he meant she thought highly enough of his services to employ him.

Over dinner in Moscow in 2019, Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, offered her take on the matter. Ms. Veselnitskaya had worked alongside Mr. Simpson when she represented a Russian-owned real estate firm called Prevezon Holdings and said she regarded him as a skilled investigator. As for Mr. Steele and the dossier, she had nothing but contempt.

“If you take this fake stuff for real, then you just have to be brave enough to believe, to completely dismiss all your special services, all your intelligence staff,” she said rapidly through an interpreter. She suggested how odd it was that all those people and agencies “were never able to find out what that talented person found out without ever leaving his room.”

Ms. Veselnitskaya was embroiled in her own legal drama. The Justice Department had indicted her in connection with her work for Prevezon, a charge she denied. Still, she raised an issue that reporters who embraced the dossier had blown past: How did Christopher Steele know more about Donald Trump and Russia than the C.I.A. or MI6?

One basic piece of evidence that the dossier had been compromised was that neither Simpson nor Steele ever figured out Veselnitskaya had floated a quid pro quo directly to Trump’s son — sanctions relief for dirt — with Manafort in attendance. But Meier apparently doesn’t think that Veselnitskaya was the proof that she said Steele missed. That is, he apparently doesn’t even understand — perhaps because he knows so little about what the Mueller investigation actually revealed? — that he’s being trolled by Veselnitskaya and that troll is offered up as proof that Christopher Steele is uniquely vulnerable to getting fooled by spooked up Russians.

That’s Meier’s one piece of primary evidence against the dossier. Otherwise, Meier explains, investigative journalists like himself rely on primary sources.

Investigative journalists normally rely on court records, corporate documents and other tangible pieces of evidence.

But he recites the kind of understanding of Igor Danchenko you’d get from reading right wing propaganda about him, rather than the Danchenko’s interview itself which showed ways that the DOJ IG Report did not faithfully report on the Danchenko interview (and indeed, had to make a significant correction), or, frankly, all the other problems with the DOJ IG Report.

Meier relies on a series that Erik Wemple did, for which he says, “most journalists [Wemple] contacted either defended their work or ignored his inquiries.” Meier doesn’t mention that not only did I not ignore Wemple, but I told him (twice, I think, both for an early inquiry about Chuck Ross’ reporting on the dossier and for his later series) that to the extent the dossier was disinformation, Ross and Wemple had become part of that effort. That is, Meier may not know, but Wemple himself is guilty of what Meier accuses others of, ignoring inconvenient details that undermine his narrative.

Craziest still, Meier relies on the claims of Matt Taibbi, who has harbored outright conspiracy theories about 2016, and whose own “reporting” on the Russian investigation consistently relies on, and usually misrepresents, secondary sources rather than the primary texts.

In an article for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi cast the media’s handling of the dossier as a replay of a press disaster: the reporting before the Persian Gulf war, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. “The W.M.D. affair showed what happened when we don’t require sources to show us evidence, when we let political actors use the press to ‘confirm’ their own assertions,” Mr. Taibbi wrote. “Are we never going to own up to this one?”

On its own, Meier’s piece is a performance of the problems he complains about: relying on unreliable sources and apparent ignorance of the public record.

But it gets crazier still once you consider the response Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch posted to Meier’s work. Along with pointing to some inaccuracies in Meier’s attacks on them and some disclosures Meier should have made, they reveal that Fusion GPS played a bit part in the August 2016 NYT story on Manafort that led to his ouster from the Trump campaign.

By the time of the Democratic National Convention in July, we had been researching Trump for some 10 months — work that began for Republicans and was later continued for Democrats. On July 25, 2016, we met on the sidelines of the convention in Philadelphia with two ofthe Times’ top editors, Dean Baquet and Matt Purdy, to share information about our Trump-Russia research.

Among the topics we discussed was Paul Manafort’s prior work for Ukrainians backed by Putin. The next day, at Purdy’s request, we sent the Times a pile of public record documents that supported a conclusion that Manafort was in a compromised position in relation to Moscow, including records that showed he owed millions of dollars to Deripaska.

Purdy connected us with two of his top reporters. Barry Meier was also assigned to the story. He was having a hard time locating the Virginia court records we’d mentioned to Purdy and Baquet and reached out to Simpson and a colleague for help.

Fusion helped Meier find the records, and they featured prominently in the Times story published two weeks later, proving a vital link connecting Manafort and Deripaska:

After that story, Meier even went back to Fusion for any information they had on Deripaska.

The most important takeaway from the dossier is the way it served as a tool in Oleg Deripaska’s two-sided game that turned Paul Manafort into an easy target. And it turns out that way back in 2016, Meier (and Fusion, in yet another undisclosed way) was part of this two-sided game.

Update: The partially sealed documents in Manafort’s docket are being released today. This Rick Gates 302 shows how closely the August 2 meeting tied Deripaska’s efforts to increase Manafort’s legal and financial woes — the lawsuit — with the delivery of detailed information about how to win the campaign.

The Mike Flynn Interviews, with Backup

A few weeks ago, the government turned over the backup to some Mueller interviews, including a number of Flynn interviews, at least one Steve Bannon interview, and a Corey Lewandowski one.

I’ve long been tracking the public Mike Flynn interview records (one, two, three). This post is an update incorporating, best as I could, the backup materials along with the interview reports. One primary Mueller interview may remain outstanding, along with his EDVA interviews regarding secretly being an Agent of Turkey.

Generally, the headings consist of one of three things:

  • My summary of what got included in the Mueller Report (which is helpful to see what is new to this declassification)
  • “Missing” and/or EDVA, which is a reflection of what Bijan Kian’s lawyers claimed they had gotten by June 2019
  • New, with a description of the content

The backup fleshes out what Flynn was questioned about, and what remains sensitive. The government has released maybe half of the emails and pictures that Flynn was questioned about in interviews, based on the references to such things in the interviews themselves. In general, if BuzzFeed got the backup material, the link I’ve added should link directly to that item.

But key kinds of materials were withheld. For example, the following were withheld:

  • Communications surrounding a 2016 Egyptian meeting (which Mueller suspected may have involved a bribe)
  • A Kushner Blueprint for Russia sent to Flynn on January 1, 2017
  • To the extent Flynn was shown it in interviews, the David Ignatius story reporting the Kislyak calls; that was generally withheld both for classification but also ongoing investigation (reflecting John Durham’s leak investigation into it)
  • A January 5, 2017 email referencing the Logan Act
  • An email about the Steele dossier
  • A July 24, 2016 email involving Flynn making it clear he recognized Russia had hacked the DNC; Flynn would equivocate on the subject in the weeks after that

1. November 16, 2017: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: January 5, 2018

Nine months after Mike Flynn got fired, ostensibly for lying to the Vice President, Mueller’s team invited him for a mulligan on his January 24, 2017 interview in which he lied several times to the FBI. In advance discussions about that interview, Brandon Van Grack alerted Flynn’s lawyers that there were likely things Mueller’s team knew that Flynn’s did not.

There is information that you or your client might not be aware of. From where we’re sitting, there might still be value in sitting down with your client. We have a good sense of what Flynn knows and what Flynn doesn’t know.

As one indication of how badly Flynn had misled his attorneys, Rob Kelner expressed surprise that Flynn might be exposed for false statements from his interview at the White House.

Frankly, we are surprised by that. That is not consistent with what we have learned from press reports and other sources.

Zainab Ahmad warned,

You don’t know everything he knows.

This first interview, then, might be considered a test, whether Flynn was willing to tell the truth about his actions and those of Trump’s associates. He failed.

The interview front-loaded general information (how he came to work for Trump, though even there, later interviews would offer slightly different details as to timing), and questions about topics that Flynn was a tangential participant in — the DNC emails, the June 9 meeting, meetings with Egypt and Mueller’s suspicion that Trump got $10 million from them, ties with Qatar, Manafort’s role in the platform change, Brad Parscale’s operation, an the hush hush meeting with the UAE.

Only after asking questions about all that did Mueller’s team ask Flynn the same questions the FBI had asked him nine months earlier. He answered the questions the same way. He lied to hide the specific requests of Russia on Egypt’s UN proposal and he lied about whether he had discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak and discussed them with the Transition team at Mar-a-Lago with Trump.

Topics:

  • How he came to work for Trump
  • The $10 million campaign contribution (Mueller suspected it to be sourced from Egypt)
  • Hillary’s emails (Flynn lied and claimed he had never looked for them)
  • The DNC emails (Flynn lied about discussions about the topic)
  • No knowledge about June 9 meeting
  • The meeting with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (and those suspected of brokering it); Flynn later admitted he met with Egyptians on more than one occasion
  • A reference to Qatar
  • Flynn’s views about Manafort, including the platform change
  • Flynn’s views on Russia
  • Flynn’s review of Parscale’s operations
  • Early congratulation calls, including Egypt, a botched one to Taiwan, and the first call with Putin
  • The meeting with Kislyak (Flynn claimed a back channel did not come up)
  • The call with Sergey Kislyak on 12/6/16, which he always insisted he didn’t remember, and a follow-up on December 7
  • The UAE meeting in NY
  • The UN vote (Flynn repeated his lies from earlier that year, twice)
  • The sanctions discussion (Flynn repeated his lies from earlier that year)

Backup

  • 9/15/16 email to Bannon regarding Egypt (A)
  • 12/7/16 email RE: Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (regarding deferring all conversations until after inauguration) (B and C)
  • 3/27/2017 NYT article describing Kushner meeting (D)
  • 12/12/16 meeting keep UAE meeting to small circle (E)
  • Another email on Egypt

That night, Flynn’s lawyers told him he had botched the interview.

That same evening, after concluding the first proffer, we returned to the Covington offices where my attorneys told me that the first day’s proffer did not go well and then proceeded to walk me through a litany of conceivable charges I was facing and told me that I was looking at the possibility of “fifteen years in prison.”

2, November 17, 2017: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you”

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad (Zebley and Quarles in and out)

Entered: 1/5/18

According to Flynn, overnight his attorneys coached him on language to

“get through” the next day’s proffer and satisfy the special counsel.

Flynn shaded the truth in his November 17 interview — about the Trump Transitions contacts with their predecessors, about his discussions about sanctions with KT McFarland and Steve Bannon, about why he left no written record of having discussed sanctions. Still, it was a better interview, and after being confronted with just a selection of the communications that had recorded these communications in real time, his story edged closer to the truth, even while denying things (such as the explicit nod to their calls from Kislyak) that were in FISA transcripts. Among the things Flynn admitted that day was that he “knew he got involved in U.S. policy when he called KISLYAK.”

In addition, Flynn provided Mueller’s team what must have been important insight. He said that when he resigned, “TRUMP was tired and visibly shaken or upset.” But then when Sean Spicer explained his resignation, “It bugged FLYNN that SPICER said he (FLYNN) had been untruthful.” Flynn’s sense of betrayal would, at times, be powerful motivation for his cooperation with Mueller, until it wasn’t anymore.

Topics:

  • Calls with Kislyak, including January 12 one, (several iterations); Flynn lies abt Bossert speaking with Monaco, claims not to remember specifics of discussion with McFarland, makes excuses for not including sanctions in email, then backtracked somewhat, makes excuse for not telling Trump, claims he didn’t discuss it with Bannon
  • Flynn’s lies to others, including knights of the round table
  • His first FBI interview (several iterations)
  • Covington asks who he spoke with after the call, includes people (like Ted Gistaro) whom he didn’t tell
  • His resignation

Backup

  • 12/29/16 Text messages to Sara Flaherty (possible some withheld on b3) (A)
  • Some exhibit (possibly call records) eliciting a discussion about whether he and Michael Ledeen spoke about sanctions (B)
  • 12/30/16 email from McFarland relaying the talking points (C)
  • D [possibly comms from after he spoke with Kislyak]
  • 12/31/16 Keith Kellogg email (E)
  • Probably Ignatius article

Ongoing: Individual words redacted to hide an investigation into Ignatius’ source

3. November 20, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered : 1/5/18

On November 20, Flynn inched still closer to the truth about what happened during the Transition period. He clarified a key detail about the $10 million infusion of cash that, Mueller suspected, had come from Egypt. Flynn described how Trump blamed him for not informing Trump that Vladimir Putin had been the first to call Trump after inauguration — something Trump had told Jim Comey.

And after being shown texts of the communications he had with Mar-a-Lago surrounding his calls with Sergey Kislyak, he effectively admitted that he had coordinated with Mar-a-Lago. There were still gaps. He had no explanation for why there was a meeting between him, KT McFarland, and Trump at 5PM, which would have been shortly after his call with Kislyak. Flynn inched closer to admitting that he and McFarland had agreed to leave mention of sanctions out of his text summarizing the call. And he admitted that he may have spoken about the sanctions discussion in some meetings with Steve Bannon at the latter’s townhome after the calls.

Once Flynn’s admissions about his own actions got closer to the truth, Mueller’s team asked him questions about Jared Kushner’s actions, especially a secret meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed in mid-December 2016.

Topics:

  • The Infusion of cash (correcting earlier explanation)
  • Theresa May arrival (included in Comey’s notes)
  • Calls with Kislyak (including texts with Flaherty)
  • Texts excluding sanction discussion
  • Meeting with Trump at 5PM on 12/29
  • Meeting with Bannon
  • Kushner’s blueprint for Russia
  • McFarland January 5, 2017 email
  • January 6, 2017 ICA briefing
  • Dossier
  • Cohen’s Ukraine plan
  • Someone who also believed CIA was bloated (and discussed UAE and Libya)
  • Seychelles meeting
  • Egypt package

Backup

Classified: Rex Tillerson? Some details about early January

Ongoing: Two b7A paragraphs in follow-up to Egypt package

4. November 21, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump [Missing]

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad; Mueller, briefly; Zebley left

Entered: 1/5/18

Having given Mueller’s team a passable explanation for his own actions, they focused the last interview on fine tuning that — particularly his admission to discussing the sanctions with Bannon — while getting him to talk about all the times he had been thrown under the bus by those who were in the know on the sanctions discussion, Bannon and McFarland.

Mueller’s team also got him to go over Kushner’s involvement in foreign policy, the relationship with Egypt, and the UAE meeting.

Topics:

  • Logan Act
  • Bannon’s townhouse (Bannon already knew content of conversation)
  • Knights of the round table meeting, Bannon and McFarland silent
  • Another instance of being thrown under the bus
  • Kushner on Mexico
  • Egypt
  • Rick Gerson and Tony Blair, the UAE meeting (April 2017 Flynn contact with Gerson)

Backup [large b4 redactions likely hiding a bunch]

  • Email on el-Sisi meeting
  • 9/16/16 email between Ivanka and Phares
  • Photo of Rick Gerson
  • Kushner email on keeping meeting small

Large b4 redactions (trade secrets), addressing two topics, which leads into Kushner on foreign policy.

5. November 29, 2017: Peter Smith [Missing]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 1/5/18

The November 29, 2017 meeting, when the two sides were already discussing a plea deal, seems to be focused on answering questions that Mueller’s team didn’t know the answers to, unlike the prior proffers. This covered some of Flynn’s other legal exposure (such as his non-disclosure of foreign travel on his clearance form and his financial disclosure), just bits about his ties with Turkish officials, WikiLeaks and the Peter Smith attempt to find Hillary’s email, as well as other election year digital activities.

The interview ended with a discussion about language in a draft statement of offense admitting that Flynn had initially not told the government that he and Steve Bannon discussed sanctions. That language was cut from the final statement of offense, but it provides important background to interviews with others, including McFarland and Bannon.

Topics:

  • Op-ed on Libya relying on WikiLeaks docs
  • Discussions about WikiLeaks having Hillary’s emails, no direct contact
  • WikiLeaks following Flynn starting in October or November 2016, DMs him on 12/5/16
  • An NSC hire
  • Flynn notes on index cards
  • Meeting with Turkish officials, including sitting with Foreign Minister at Trump International Hotel in January
  • More Turkish
  • Svetlana Lokhova, including congratulations sent after election
  • Jobs after DIA
  • Meetings Flynn set up
  • Foreign travel not included in SF-86, financial disclosure
  • Peter Smith (original contact cyber business), probably downplaying extent of their contacts
  • Rick Gates during transition
  • Putin congratulatory phone call (possibly different details than original version), asked about a “signal”
  • Rick Gerson notes on 12/14/16
  • WikiStrat
  • PsyGroup
  • Donbass
  • Meeting with Susan Rice
  • Strong dollar
  • Bannon townhouse language in statement of offense

Backup

  • 10/6/16 Curtis Ellis email, possibly relating to an op-ed on Libya, using classified information that had shown up on WikiLeaks
  • Possible b7A
  • Possible SF-86 and financial disclosure form
  • 12/4/16 notebook entries re Rick Gerson meeting
  • Possible media report that Trump asked him about strong dollar

b7E redactions

Ongoing: Four b7A redactions in discussion of what he did after he left DIA.

6. January 11, 2018: November 30 meeting with Kislyak [Missing]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, James Quarles

Entered: 2/22/18

Starts with admonishment.

In Flynn’s first interview after pleading guilty, Mueller’s team asked him more generic details — about how he used his classified phone, whether he used encrypted apps, whether he knew about the Seychelles meeting. It’s not clear he told truth about those questions or not, but he did provide other useful information, such as how often Erik Prince was at Transition headquarters.

Topics:

  • Classified emails
  • Flynn claims he only used classified phone with Susan Rice
  • Encrypted apps (he preferred Signal), especially whether Bannon and Kushner used them
  • Kislyak meeting, starting w/12/1/16 (obtained his bio), still claimed no back channel, did not recall sanctions discussion
  • UN calls (including Nikki Haley’s, Bannon’s involvement)
  • Rebuff of Manafort’s 1/15/17 email (Manafort at National Prayer Breakfast)
  • UAE meeting
  • Another discussion of fire-the-CIA guy (could be Prince)
  • Prince at Trump Tower on daily basis, no knowledge of Seychelles
  • Kevin Harrington: Russia trying to usurp US role
  • Gitmo transfer
  • Parscale meeting in September 2016
  • Whom he has heard from post-plea

Backup:

Ongoing: Two b7A paragraphs between discussion of Manafort and Egyptian.

7. January 19, 2018: Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, James Quarles, Andrew Goldstein

Entered: 6/21/18 [note: several other 302s have an entry date of 5/21, so this may be a typo]

In Flynn’s January 19, 2018 interview, he protected the President. He said, over and over, that he had no idea if he had spoken directly with Trump about sanctions, or even what he had said to KT McFarland. The Mueller team did not prompt him with information that might have been useful to force him to admit that he had told Trump.

Flynn did, however, admit that Trump had a better understanding of the timeline of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak than Flynn did, including a probable reference to Trump’s involvement in the December 22 call about Egypt.

This 302 was not finalized until June 21, a testament to how important Flynn’s claim not to remember discussing this with Trump was to Mueller’s case.

Topics:

  • Contacts with Mar-a-Lago, claims he assumed McFarland talked to Priebus and Bannon
  • Meeting with Bannon on 1/1/17
  • Whether it came up on 1/3/17
  • Ignatius, now says he’s worried he broke the law
  • His interview (with b5 that may have covered discussion within WH afterwards)
  • Trump corrects his date
  • Whether Trump specified calls with Daily Caller
  • Correcting Nikki Haley on Crimea

Backup:

  • Possibly Ignatius article

8. January 24, 2018: [New] Questions about George Nader and Erik Prince

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 2/22/18

This interview took place in the wake of the George Nader detention at the airport, and reflects the first review of Nader’s phone. Prince was also a focus.

Topics:

  • Whether he recognized Nader
  • How Flynn arrived to the MbZ meeting and what was discussed
  • Whether Russia was discussed
  • Flynn’s meeting with Rick Gerson in December (which Tony Blair attended)
  • Erik Prince’s plans to outsource the IC and whether he was getting $$ from UAE
  • Prince’s presence in Trump Tower after the election
  • Extended b7A discussion

Backup:

9. April 25, 2018: Peter Smith

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad, Andrew Weissmann, Aaron Zelinsky

Entered: 5/21/18

On April 25, 2018, after most Trump associates had had their first interviews and the Mueller team had begun to unravel Roger Stone’s role, Flynn had his first interview discussing those issues. It appears he shaded the truth, disclaiming to have been certain that Russia had hacked the DNC and disclaiming awareness of all the discussions in the campaign about WikiLeaks.

Nevertheless, Flynn likely said things at this interview that betrayed knowledge of far more, even if he didn’t understand that.

Topics:

  • How he got involved in the campaign, including discussions of Russia and Sam Clovis’ role in it, dates involvement from 2/22/16; officially joined June 2016
  • RT trip
  • Regular contact with retired military officer, including email 6/29/16
  • DNC hack, Flynn claims he was uncertain abt attribution [break to walk Flynn through specific dates], Ledeen on missing emails, no memory of Stone, contact with FBI
  • Debate prep included “leverage” discussions about Assange, Flynn did not know under indictment (??)

Backup:

10. May 1, 2018: Peter Smith

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Aaron Zelinsky

Entered: 5/21/18

In this interview, Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky tried to pinpoint Flynn’s vague memories from August 2016, specifically regarding his first flight with the campaign on August 3, 2016, in the middle of a period when Stone was in close contact with the campaign about WikiLeaks. In this interview, Flynn admitted that he had much higher certainty that Russia had done the hack than he had said weeks earlier.

Mueller’s team also asked him what amount to counterintelligence questions and started to figure out who in the FBI was undermining their case in Flynn’s name.

The meeting ended with a question about who used his IC badge to enter a classified facility on April 3, 2017.

Topics:

  • First trip on plane was 8/3/16, to Jacksonville, Flynn’s own assessment would be high likelihood Russia did the hack
  • Russian born investment capitalist talked about Clinton’s emails a lot
  • WikiLeaks reaches out to Flynn on 6/22/16 via publisher (recurring)
  • Flynn email 7/24/16 about attribution showing certainty–he walked back his certainty by August 3
  • Series of emails with someone military who moved to DIA, around first meeting with Manafort on 6/23/16
  • Question abt bots and social media
  • Email 11/2/16 may have clicked on the link
  • Trump’s 7/27/16 comment, specifically asked if Stone put it in his head
  • Contact in USDI
  • Retired general
  • 6/29/16 email from someone he was respectful of
  • Email 9/10/16 about speaking to Russia on Syria, someone pro-Russian
  • Dmitri Simes
  • Email sent to someone he met in August 2015 on 8/20/16
  • Contacts in FBI
  • Digital response team v. Parscales
  • Email 10/9/16 with link to Podesta
  • Extended discussion of Erik Prince, including transition
  • DIA visit on 4/3/17 (discussion about his IC badge)

Backup

Ongoing: Two b7A paragraphs abt discreet subject/person between discussion about WikiLeaks and about Prince.

11. May 4, 2018: [New: Manafort, Ledeen, and badging]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Aaron Zelinsky

Entered: 5/21/18

The next meeting started with the unexplained use of his badge (Flynn claimed he still hadn’t found it). It hit on his efforts to find Hillary’s emails with Barbara Ledeen, their search for the emails on servers in Ukraine, and a long call Flynn had with Manafort in June, when the WikiLeaks effort first began.

Topics:

  • Use of his badge 4/3/17
  • Barbara Ledeen, including password protected email on 10/29/16
  • Servers in Ukraine
  • Micro-targeting
  • Hour-long call with Manafort on 6/23/16; first met Manafort on 6/30/16
  • The dossier and ICA briefing
  • Transition meeting, some Captain sharing information, and KT McFarland

Backup:

12. May 17, 2018: [New: Ledeen’s tampering]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 6/1/18

Most of this meeting focused on ways that Flynn’s people were undermining the investigation, with a focus on Barbara Ledeen and Sara Carter (who published several false stories about the investigation). It also returned to the issue of what secure communications he used.

Topics:

  • Ledeen’s probes of the investigation
  • Sarah Carter’s propaganda (starting with possible immunity on 3/30/16)
  • Discussions about the investigation
  • Secure communications

Backup:

13. May 23, 2018:

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 5/29/18

While this meeting returned focus to two key prongs of the Middle Eastern part of this investigation, UAE and Qatar, it also probed more about Flynn’s current job and the FBI agents tracking his case.

Topics:

  • Qatar
  • 12/12/16 Trump Tower meeting, possibly with QIA
  • His then-current consulting gig
  • FBI agents, including retired, who are tracking his case

Backup

  • Picture from QIA meeting

b3: An entire discussion covered by b3

14. June 13, 2018: [EDVA, Missing]

15. June 14, 2018: [EDVA, Missing]

16. June 25, 2018: [EDVA, Missing]

17. July 26, 2018, [EDVA, Missing, possibly two 302s]

18. September 17, 2018: [New: someone else’s tampering, probably Derek Harvey]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 9/28/18

The entirety of this, Flynn’s last meeting with the Mueller team, seems to focus on the role of Derek Harvey, whom Flynn hired into the NSC, and who played a key role in helping Devin Nunes undermine the entire investigation.

Topics:

  • Relationship with someone on HPSCI, probably Derek Harvey

September 26, 2018: Proffer response on meetings with Foresman

January 28, 2019: [EDVA Missing]

February 28, 2019: EDVA

April 5, 2019: [EDVA Missing]

June 6, 2019: EDVA — Flynn blows up his plea deal

When Fox News Generals Boasted of Brokering Russian Meetings with Mike Flynn

Shortly after Mike Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI, a friendly leak to ABC reported that Flynn felt abandoned by Trump and promised “full cooperation” with Mueller that seems quaint in retrospect. The report also detailed that Trump had ordered Flynn to reach out to Russia on Syria.

Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation and, according to a confidant, is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.

The stunning turn comes as Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his back-channel negotiations with the Russian ambassador – talks that occurred before Trump took office. The special counsel made the plea agreement public Friday morning.

The confidant provided ABC News with new details on Friday about Trump’s instructions to Flynn. During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

At first, this friendly leak suggested Trump had ordered Flynn to reach out to Russia during the election, but the story was quickly corrected to say the order came after the election.

In any case, the leak seemed to be a message to others about what Flynn had been asked and would be asked.

Now that most of Flynn’s 302s have been released, it’s not entirely clear what he was talking about, if he was trying to leak the content of his interviews. In his interviews to that date, he described the meeting with Sergey Kislyak where Jared Kushner asked to set up a back channel so they could discuss Syria (in an interview where Flynn otherwise claimed not to remember a lot, he did remember that Kushner, Don Jr, and Ivanka all had a tie to this meeting). Entire swaths of his November 21, 2017 interview remain redacted, but the b4 (trade secret) redaction may suggest this was about his consulting. There’s a long b7A redaction, reflecting an investigation that was still ongoing in January, in his November 29, 2017 interview that might be that reference. There are descriptions of Putin’s congratulatory call immediately after the election, which has one sentence redacted, which might be related.

But there are no unredacted descriptions of Trump ordering Flynn to work with Russia on Syria — either after or before the election — from his early Mueller interviews.

The recent liberation of the backup files from his interviews, however, reveal that he was receiving emails about meeting with Russians well before the election. And it appears that then Fox News commentator Paul Vallely was involved in some way.

On April 25, 2018, Flynn was asked about an email he received from a retired Major General on June 29, 2016 at 7:27PM, which explained that he needed to talk to Flynn about “the Russia initiatives in Syria and Turkey.”

Flynn explained that the sender (whose name may be 7 characters long) “is a retired officer who was very active in Europe matters.” The person was “very pro-Russia.” The retired General “had very strong views on finding ways for the U.S. to work with Russia.”

Flynn explained he spoke to this person often, “sometimes daily.” But Flynn didn’t remember this specific email.

Then, on May 1, 2018, Flynn was asked about what appears to be a response to the original email from the same retired General three minutes later. “We need to somehow meet with [redacted] in DC or [redacted]. They are receptive to this…..

This iteration of the email reveals that “michael” also received the email (which could be a second Flynn email, his son Mike Jr, Michael Ledeen, or someone else entirely). Flynn explained that he didn’t know much about the two individuals the General wanted to meet, but he did say he was very respectful to the General.

Then, what appears to be the same General sent an email on September 10, 2016 to undisclosed recipients, BCCing someone (who, by dint of his copy noting the BCC, is likely Flynn), attaching a report from Retired General Paul Vallely.

The email introducing the report explains that the sender has had “close meetings with senior Russians in the past year and will be meeting” with someone else whose name is redacted “at the Russian Embassy in Washington on Oct 4th…” It states that, “Gen Flynn and I are the only senior people who have really reached out and have met with the Russians for solutions in Syria.” The General who sent the email went on to explain that “Trump is pressing the point” because “it is time to work with Russia much closer for solutions.”

The email also claims that “Putin has much more international respect and support than our President.” The report itself rants at length about Obama, claiming that he was “reducing our country to new lows and jeopardizing our very survival as a nation.”

Flynn,

speculated [redacted] was “flowering” who he was to a degree. [redacted] was someone FLYNN would have reached out to because [redacted] was pro-Russia and U.S. relations. [redacted] was also anti the previous administration. FLYNN’s contact with [redacted] was mainly through email messages.

It’s not certain that Vallely was the guy who sent the Vallely article to Flynn, but it’s a very good bet.

In addition to being a birther and having called for an uprising against Obama years before 2016, Vallely has predictably embraced QAnon. Vallely also signed a very recent letter similarly invoking apocalypse under a Democratic President.

By length of name (the redaction appears longer than 7 characters), I don’t think Vallely is the retired General and Fox contributor referenced in that same interview, one who introduced Flynn to another person who thought he had access to secret emails. Unlike the respect that Flynn had for the General addressing Russia, Flynn seemed more skeptical of this General and his associate, calling the General’s writings “conspiratorial” and the associate’s theories “a lot of B.S.”

Still, the pro-Russian General was representing to others that he and Flynn had reached out to Russians, and on precisely the Russia-Turkey-Syria nexus that Flynn would continue pursuing as he prepared to take over as National Security Advisor.

Update: Laura Rozen alerted me to this February 2017 Paul Vallely piece on Syria for the Valdai Discussion Group, which already features in the 2016 operation in Joseph Mifsud’s background.

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

There’s important background to this.

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

DOJ’s media guidelines require the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, DOJ failed to meet its own notice requirements

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

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

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

DOJ’s silence about an Office of Public Affairs review

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

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

The history of Special Counsels accessing sensitive records and testimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy Barr has been hiding other legal process against journalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did John Durham Seize Journalists’ Call Records?

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

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

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

[snip]

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

The WaPo cites two stories it think might be culprits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The email itself provides more details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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