Steve Bannon Hires a Pardon Broker (and Rudy Giuliani Lawyer) to Replace His Competent Lawyer

Steve Bannon just filed notice of what lawyer will defend him in his SDNY prosecution for defrauding Trump chumps. He had been represented by the very competent Bill Burck. But after Bannon started making death threats against Anthony Fauci and Christopher Wray, Burck dropped him.

Instead, Bannon hired Robert Costello.

TO THE CLERK OF COURT AND ALL PARTIES OF RECORD: PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that Robert J. Costello of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, LLP, with offices located at 605 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10158, hereby appears on behalf of Defendant Stephen Bannon.

Costello represents Rudy Giuliani in his many sordid influence peddling investigations.

He’s also the guy who tried to buy Michael Cohen’s silence with a pardon, an investigation that fairly obviously got referred under Mueller. I guess that makes it clear what Bannon’s defense strategy will be.

The problem is, SDNY is now on notice (if they weren’t already by Trump’s promises that “Bannon will be okay”). So they can simply share their case file with New York State, where fraud is also a crime.

I may be missing something but I don’t think Trump’s evil genius is on his A game.

In His Mike Flynn Opinion, Emmet Sullivan Made a Finding of Fact Against Billy Barr’s New Reality

I’ve been unpacking the Judge Emmet Sullivan opinion dismissing Mike Flynn’s guilty verdicts.

This post lays out how Sullivan asserts authority to refuse the government’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution, but does not do so, because the question is moot.

This post shows that Sullivan laid out evidence that DOJ’s motion to dismiss was pretextual. He declined to rule that the motion itself was pretextual, because the question is moot. But he made it clear he thinks DOJ’s excuses for blowing up the Flynn prosecution are bullshit.

And this post notes that, before Sullivan started mooting the shit out of DOJ’s interest in his docket, he struck some documents that Sidney Powell had submitted to his docket because the government had not authenticated them, without at the same time striking another document that the government didn’t rely on but had not authenticated. It’s a tactical step, I think, that leaves everything else in his docket as authenticated, even though DOJ stopped short of standing by all those exhibits.

Before I get into what Sullivan says about Trump’s pardon power — which, make no mistake, Sullivan affirms as expansive — I’d like to lay out some findings of fact that Sullivan includes in this opinion. He includes a number of other findings of fact that are tangential to the question of a pardon but which Bill Barr and Donald Trump have staked a lot on. He does so, he explains, because the government has invited him to.

The Court is mindful that it is “particularly ill-suited” to reviewing the strength of the case. Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 607 (1985); see also In re United States, 345 F.3d 454, 455 (7th Cir. 2003) (finding that the trial court’s belief that “the evidence was strong and conviction extremely likely” was an inappropriate basis to deny leave). That said, the role of the Court is to conduct an “examination of the record” in order to ensure that the government’s “efforts to terminate the prosecution [are not] tainted with impropriety.” Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 30. Moreover, the Court examines the factual basis underlying the government’s reasons because not doing so would amount to rubber stamping the government’s decision, contrary to the requirement of Rule 48(a). Here, the government has invited the Court’s examination of its evidence. See Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 42:22-43:1 (stating that “we’re completely unafraid here to address . . . the specifics as to why we thought we needed to dismiss this case. . . . we’d be happy to go through the evidence.”). Accordingly, the Court will briefly address some of the evidence the government points to as it is troubled by the apparently pretextual nature of certain aspects of the government’s ever-evolving justifications. See Foster v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 1737, 1751 (2016) (“[T]he prosecution’s principal reasons for the strike shifted over time, suggesting that those reasons may be pretextual.”).

The findings of fact Sullivan addresses primarily come in this paragraph on materiality… [my numbering throughout]

Several of the government’s arguments regarding materiality also appear to be irrelevant or to directly contradict previous statements the government has made in this case. For example, as Mr. Gleeson points out, many of the “bureaucratic formalities” [1] the government asserts reveal the “confusion and disagreement about the purpose and legitimacy of the interview and its investigative basis”—such as the drafting of the FBI’s Closing Communication or internal conversations between FBI and Department of Justice officials regarding whether to notify the Trump administration of Mr. Flynn’s false statements—are not relevant to proving materiality. See Amicus Reply Br., ECF No. 243 at 19. Nor is it [2] relevant whether Mr. Flynn was an “agent of Russia” or guilty of some other crime at the time he made the false statements. Furthermore, while the government argues that, “since the time of [Mr. Flynn’s guilty] plea, [3] extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case,” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 35; the government had been aware of much of this evidence since early on in the case, see, e.g., Gov’t’s Response Def.’s Mot. Compel, ECF No. 122 at 8-9.

And this passage assessing the evidence that Flynn’s lies were lies.

[4] With regard to the “inconsistent records” rationale, the government has not pointed to evidence in the record in this case that contradicts the FD-302 that memorialized the FBI agents’ interview with Mr. Flynn. Furthermore, the government’s reliance on Director Comey’s opinion about whether Mr. Flynn lied is suspect given that Director Comey was not present at the interview and that there are valid questions regarding the admissibility of his personal opinion.

With regard to Mr. Flynn’s alleged “faulty memory,” Mr. Flynn is not just anyone; he was the National Security Advisor to the President, clearly in a position of trust, [5] who claimed that he forgot, within less than a month, that he personally asked for a favor from the Russian Ambassador that undermined the policy of the sitting President prior to the President-Elect taking office. With regard to the government’s concerns about the Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence’s contemplating the goal of the interview, [6] an objective interpretation of the notes in their entirety does not call into question the legitimacy of the interview. Finally, and critically, under the terms of Mr. Flynn’s cooperation agreement, [7] the government could have used his admissions at trial, see Plea Agreement, ECF No. 3 at 8 ¶ 11; but the government ignores this powerful evidence.

In these passages, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan finds as fact that:

  1. The government’s assertion that there was confusion surrounding Mike Flynn’s interview does not change that his lies were material.
  2. DOJ’s [draft] conclusion that Flynn was not an agent of Russia does not change that his lies were material.
  3. The evidence impeaching Peter Strzok and others does not change that Flynn’s lies were material (and, as Sullivan notes, even the government agreed before Flynn pled guilty).
  4. Nothing in the public record substantiates that the 302 of Janaury 24, 2017 Flynn’s interview does not accurately reflect what happened in the interview.
  5. Flynn’s claims to be forgetful are not consistent with the fact that, as the incoming National Security Advisor, he personally asked Sergey Kislyak to undermine President Obama’s policy before Trump took office.
  6. Nothing in Bill Priestap’s notes call into question the legitimacy of the Mike Flynn interview.
  7. The government could have relied on Mike Flynn’s admissions at trial.

One way to think about this language is that Billy Barr attempted to create a new set of facts by submitting documents from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation to Sullivan’s docket and making false claims about them, thereby attempting to annul the set of facts that led DOJ (even DOJ under Bill Barr, repeatedly) to argue that Mike Flynn’s lies were serious. Judge Sullivan is having none of Billy Barr’s new reality, in significant part because DOJ has not explained what changed from its prior assertions of fact and partly because none of the claims it has made about the so-called new evidence refutes DOJ’s prior representations.

These findings of fact may have a more specific effect, though. Billy Barr has served up his different set of facts and based off those, John Durham is attempting to criminalize the decisions of the people that prosecuted Mike Flynn for telling the FBI material lies. DOJ generally has no basis to appeal Sullivan’s findings, because its position in the docket is (as Sullivan notes repeatedly) moot. But Durham has even less ability to contest Sullivan’s findings of fact; he has no standing.

So unless DOJ finds a way around the fact that they themselves have mooted any further involvement before Judge Sullivan, then, any further investigation into the circumstances of Flynn’s prosecution will have to contend with the fact that a judge has already found a number of key premises entertained by those pushing the investigation into the investigation to be false.

At least as of right now, it is not relevant to Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn. But one thing Sullivan did in his opinion was to reject Billy Barr’s new reality in a way that may be invoked for any related matters before DC District courts.

Before He Mooted DOJ’s Motions in the Mike Flynn Case, Emmet Sullivan Treated DOJ’s Authentication as Official

I’m writing a bunch of posts on Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order dismissing Mike Flynn’s prosecution as moot.

This post laid out how Sullivan established that he has the authority to rule against DOJ’s motion to dismiss the Flynn case, but declined to do so because the question is moot

This post laid out the evidence Sullivan laid out that DOJ’s motion to dismiss was pretextual. He declined to rule that the motion itself was pretextual, because the question is moot. But he made it clear he thinks DOJ’s excuses for blowing up the Flynn prosecution are bullshit.

As I noted, because the order itself moots all pending DOJ issues in the docket, the government would have a hard time appealing either of those issues, especially given that Sullivan didn’t ultimately rule on them. DOJ has no business making requests in this docket because the matter on which they have primacy, prosecutions, has been mooted by Trump’s pardon. Sullivan has reclaimed authority over his docket.

In this post, I’d like to look at something tactical Judge Sullivan did just before he started mooting DOJ’s role, which looks like this in the docket.

Before he ruled on the pardon, Judge Sullivan first struck four exhibits from the docket:

  • 228-2: Some texts involving Peter Strzok
  • 228-4: Sidney Powell’s submission of a motion from Amaro Goncalves
  • 228-5: Sidney Powell’s submission of a motion involving Ted Stevens
  • 248-1: Some texts from FBI intelligence analysts

With the exception of the last of these, these aren’t that important — as I noted in this post, Sidney Powell’s submission of prior filings from other lawyers is the rare moment when she can be relied on to be more accurate than the government (or any bum off the street). But by striking those other four exhibits, this order makes clear that Judge Sullivan considers the claims in this DOJ filing to be operative.

Interestingly, Sullivan did not strike a different exhibit — basically some Strzok and Page texts DOJ repackaged to be assholes — which are referred to in the paragraph before the one excepting out those four (which I’ve italicized), which DOJ treats as the same, stuff they’re not relying on, but which they do not decline to authenticate.

On September 2018, the DC-USAO received from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General a complete set of the text messages between OGC Attorney Lisa Page and DAD Peter Strzok. As the Court is well-aware, the government first disclosed the existence of these text messages to Mr. Flynn on November 30, 2017. Thereafter, the government provided excerpts of these text messages and links to publicly available compilations of these communications to Mr. Flynn on March 13, 2018, June 24, 2018, October 28, 2019, and April 29, 2020. On September 23, 2020, the government provided Mr. Flynn with additional text messages from the set it had received from the OIG in September 2018. The government is not relying on these additional text messages in support of its motion to dismiss.

The government also notes that there are Discovery Documents attached to Mr. Flynn’s filings that it has not authenticated for the purpose of this filing because those documents were not relied upon by the government in its motion to dismiss or arguments in support thereof. See ECF Nos. 228-2, 228-4, 228-5, and 248-1.

Effectively then, Sullivan has struck stuff submitted by Flynn’s lawyers that DOJ was not relying on, but not stuff DOJ submitted that it said it was not relying upon.

Sullivan left on the docket a bunch of filings that DOJ fell far short of validating in its filing, as laid out here, including the filings that DOJ altered. But he also made it clear that that filing authenticating exhibits in his docket does remain operative.

Judge Sullivan Calls Bullshit on DOJ’s Pretextual Reasons for Blowing Up the Mike Flynn Prosecution

As described in this post, Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed Mike Flynn’s prosecution as moot. In his opinion dismissing the case, he asserted his authority to weigh whether DOJ’s motion to dismiss Flynn’s prosecution was in the public interest, while stopping short of doing so since the decision is moot. That part of the opinion affirmed District court authority to weigh whether DOJ has done something corrupt in blowing up Mike Flynn’s plea.

Along the way, Sullivan made it quite clear he believed that DOJ was lying about their two main excuses for blowing up Flynn’s prosecution — that his lies weren’t material nor were they clearly lies.

Given this context, the new legal positions the government took in its Rule 48(a) motion and at the motion hearing raise questions regarding its motives in moving to dismiss. The government advances two primary reasons8 justifying dismissing the case based on its assessment of the strength of the case: (1) it would be difficult to prove the materiality of Mr. Flynn’s false statements beyond a reasonable doubt; and (2) it would be difficult to prove the falsity of those statements beyond a reasonable doubt. See Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 31. As explained below, the Court finds both stated rationales dubious to say the least, arguably overcoming the strong presumption of regularity that usually attaches to prosecutorial decisions.

Sullivan argues Flynn’s lies were material under the DC circuit’s standard

As Sullivan laid out, in their efforts to justify blowing up the Mike Flynn prosecution, the government adopted a totally new standard for materiality.

In making its arguments, however, the government relies on a newly-minted definition of “materiality” that is more circumscribed than the standard in this Circuit. The government describes the materiality threshold as requiring more than “mere ‘relevance’”; rather, the false statement must have “probative weight” and be “reasonably likely to influence the tribunal in making a determination required to be made.” Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198 at 12-13 (quoting Weinstock v. United States, 231 F.2d 699, 701 (D.C. Cir. 1956)). Therefore, “[t]he materiality threshold thus ensures that misstatements to investigators are criminalized only when linked to the particular ‘subject of [their] investigation.’” Id. at 13 (quoting United States v. Kim, 808 F. Supp. 2d 44, 59 (D.D.C. 2011)).

After laying out what the standard really is — whether a lie is capable of affecting the general function of the FBI — Sullivan then notes that the government had previously argued that Flynn’s lies were material.

Given the materiality threshold’s expansive scope, the government’s new use of the narrowed definition of “materiality” is perplexing, particularly given that the government has previously argued in this case that the materiality standard required only that a statement have a “natural tendency to influence, or [be] capable of influencing.” See Gov’t’s Surreply Def.’s Reply Support Mot. Compel, ECF No. 132 at 10-11. The government, for its part, offers no response as to why it relies on this new, more stringent definition. Nor does the government direct the Court’s attention to any other case in which it has advanced this highly-constrained interpretation of materiality as applied to a false statements case.

He then lays out how — going even further — DOJ claimed it didn’t need to adhere to any standard of law, much less the precedent for this circuit. Sullivan uses that to argue that the government has lost the presumption of regularity.

Notably, during the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, the government seemed to suggest that, when moving for dismissal of an action pursuant to Rule 48(a), the government need not refer to the correct materiality standard at all when determining whether a false statement is “material.” See Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 78:21-79:3 (“[W]hen we move to dismiss, the question in our mind is not what is the legal standard of materiality for whether the evidence here will be sufficient to sustain a conviction on appeal. The question is whether we, the Department of Justice, think this evidence is material . . . .”). In view of the government’s previous argument in this case that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were “absolutely material” because his false statements “went to the heart” of the FBI’s investigation, the government’s about-face, without explanation, raises concerns about the regularity of its decision-making process.

Importantly (as I’ll return to), the opinion engages in a page-long discussion about the bullshit excuses DOJ has floated to argue these lies weren’t material.

Several of the government’s arguments regarding materiality also appear to be irrelevant or to directly contradict previous statements the government has made in this case. For example, as Mr. Gleeson points out, many of the “bureaucratic formalities” the government asserts reveal the “confusion and disagreement about the purpose and legitimacy of the interview and its investigative basis”—such as the drafting of the FBI’s Closing Communication or internal conversations between FBI and Department of Justice officials regarding whether to notify the Trump administration of Mr. Flynn’s false statements—are not relevant to proving materiality. See Amicus Reply Br., ECF No. 243 at 19. Nor is it relevant whether Mr. Flynn was an “agent of Russia” or guilty of some other crime at the time he made the false statements. Furthermore, while the government argues that, “since the time of [Mr. Flynn’s guilty] plea, extensive impeaching materials had emerged about key witnesses the government would need to prove its case,” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 35; the government had been aware of much of this evidence since early on in the case, see, e.g., Gov’t’s Response Def.’s Mot. Compel, ECF No. 122 at 8-9.

Sullivan closes that section by reasserting the standard that the government can’t just invent bullshit to justify its decisions.

Under Ammidown, the Court must be satisfied that the government undertook a “considered judgment,” 497 F.2d at 620; and asserting a factual basis that is largely irrelevant to meeting any legal threshold likely does not meet this standard.

Sullivan debunks DOJ’s claims that Flynn may not have lied

Then Sullivan debunks DOJ’s claims that there was any doubt that Flynn lied, focusing primarily on the import of the fact that Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka didn’t believe he exhibited signs of lying when walking out of the interview. Primarily, this discussion focuses on how the claim is legally irrelevant and conflicts with what DOJ has said in the past.

The government’s second rationale is that it “does not believe it could prove that Mr. Flynn knowingly and willfully made a false statement beyond a reasonable doubt.” Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198 at 18; see also Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 38-39. To support this rationale, the government initially pointed to the fact, which was known at the time Mr. Flynn pled guilty, that the FBI agents who interviewed him did not think he was lying, and it also noted the “equivocal” or “indirect” nature of Mr. Flynn’s responses. Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198 at 18. The government further contends that evidentiary problems have “emerged” including: (1) “inconsistent FBI records as to the actual questions and statements made,” id. at 19; (2) “Director [James] Comey’s own sentiment that the case was a ‘close one,’” id. (quoting Ex. 5 to Gov’t’s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 198); and (3) “substantial impeaching materials on the key witnesses,”9 Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 39.

[snip]

As an initial matter, whether or not the FBI agents thought Mr. Flynn was lying is irrelevant in a false statements case. See Brogan v. United States, 522 U.S. 398, 402 (1998). And the government has not explained how evidence that the government previously stated was “consistent and clear,” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 4-5; suddenly became “equivocal” or “indirect.” With regard to the “inconsistent records” rationale, the government has not pointed to evidence in the record in this case that contradicts the FD-302 that memorialized the FBI agents’ interview with Mr. Flynn.

Sullivan then goes on to debunk a lot of the other bullshit DOJ threw into his docket. I’ll return to this. But the important point is that Sullivan relied on DOJ’s past assertions to debunk the claims that DOJ later threw up.

Having reviewed DOJ’s two substantive excuses for blowing up Flynn’s prosecution, Sullivan suggests they’ve forfeited the presumption of regularity they’d need to convince him to dismiss Mike Flynn’s prosecution, but ultimately avoids saying whether he would have rejected their request or not because the question is moot.

Again, under Ammidown, the Court must be satisfied that the government undertook a “considered judgment.” 497 F.2d at 620. Asserting factual bases that are irrelevant to the legal standard, failing to explain the government’s disavowal of evidence in the record in this case, citing evidence that lacks probative value, failing to take into account the nature of Mr. Flynn’s position and his responsibilities, and failing to address powerful evidence available to the government likely do not meet this standard.

Thus, the application of Rule 48(a) to the facts of this case presents a close question. However, in view of the President’s decision to pardon Mr. Flynn, Mr. Flynn’s acceptance of the pardon, and for the reasons stated in the following section, the appropriate resolution is to deny as moot the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a).

So first Sullivan laid out that he had the authority to decide, but stopped short of deciding because the question is moot. Then he laid out abundant reason why DOJ had forfeited the presumption of regularity such that their rationale for asking that the case be dismissed would otherwise have to be accepted, but once again stops short of ruling, because the question is moot.

He has the authority to decide but won’t because the question is moot.

He shows all the evidence that the government is full of shit, but does not rule as such, because the question is moot.

Because the government has very little way to appeal either of these rulings, the rest of the opinion (and the steps Sullivan took to get there) will likely never be appealed. Sullivan has laid a record out that almost certainly cannot be challenged. He has used the mootness of the question as a shield to lay out two key judgments: that he could decide, and that he could have decided against the government.

Judge Sullivan Uses Mike Flynn Dismissal to Emphasize His Own Authority

Judge Emmet Sullivan just dismissed, as moot, the prosecution of Mike Flynn (he did not dismiss the case with prejudice, as DOJ had asked, but that likely does not matter). He did three things, which I’ll take in turn in a series of posts.

First, he asserted the ability to deny DOJ’s motion to dismiss — while stopping short of doing so — in a way that DOJ might otherwise appeal if this were not mooted.

As a reminder, when Bill Barr interfered in this prosecution in May, he ceded that Judge Sullivan had some say over the dismissal. But along the way DOJ repeatedly argued that Sullivan couldn’t actually examine the circumstances of the dismissal. In this opinion, Sullivan asserted the ability to weigh just that. He made it clear that the Supreme Court intended courts to have a say.

Despite the Supreme Court’s concerns, the Advisory Committee’s final draft of Rule 48(a) again required only that prosecutors submit a statement of reasons for dismissal. See Frampton, Why Do Rule 48(a) Dismissals Require “Leave of Court”?, supra, at 36-37. However, in promulgating the rule, the Supreme Court deleted this requirement and added the requirement that the prosecutor obtain leave of court. Id. at 37; see also Ammidown, 497 F.2d at 620. In so doing, the Court made it “manifestly clear that [it] intended to clothe the federal courts with a discretion broad enough to protect the public interest in the fair administration of criminal justice.” Cowan, 524 F.2d at 512.

He then invokes Ammidown for the principle that the court can weigh whether these actions are in the public interest.

This Circuit’s precedent is consistent with this history. For example, in Ammidown, the D.C. Circuit acknowledged that Rule 48(a) “gives the court a role” when “the defendant concurs in the dismissal but the court is concerned whether the action sufficiently protects the public.” 497 F.2d at 620. The D.C. Circuit explained that courts carry out this role in such a situation “to prevent abuse of the uncontrolled power of dismissal previously enjoyed by prosecutors.” Id. (citation omitted).

He then addresses DOJ’s argument that Fokker only gives District courts the ability to protect a defendant, not to protect public interest, arguing that it is not on point here, because this involved a guilty plea.

Despite this language in Ammidown, however, the government relies on United States v. Fokker Services B.V., 818 F.3d 733 (D.C. Cir. 2016), to argue that judicial intervention is warranted only when the defendant objects to dismissal because “the ‘principal object of the leave of court requirement’ has been understood to be a narrow one—‘to protect a defendant against prosecutorial harassment.’” Gov’t’s Reply, ECF No. 227 at 20-21 (quoting Fokker, 818 F.3d at 742).

But Fokker does not address the Court’s authority to consider an unopposed Rule 48(a) motion; it involved a deferred prosecution agreement rather than a guilty plea. Fokker, 818 F.3d at 737. Fokker also does not suggest that courts may only review opposed Rule 48(a) motions for prosecutorial harassment— the case simply quotes language from Rinaldi, stating that preventing harassment is the principal object of the rule. Id. at 742 (quoting Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 29 n.15).

Importantly, Sullivan addressed a claim DOJ made that is not based on precedent — that the District does not have to operate as a rubber stamp, but his only role is to determine whether the entire Executive Branch supported an outcome. Sullivan made the case that a District court can still make a decision about the public interest, not just what the Executive wanted.

At the September 29, 2020 motion hearing, the government emphasized a different aspect of its argument. It conceded that the Court should not act as a rubber stamp and that it has a role to play when presented with an unopposed Rule 48(a) motion. Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 266 at 40:9-12. But, in the government’s view, this role is limited to determining whether “the decision to dismiss is the considered view, the authoritative view of the Executive Branch as a whole,” id.; rather than being the “rogue” decision of an individual prosecutor, id. at 99:16-23.7 The government argued that this standard appropriately reconciles the concerns about favoritism and pretext that led to the “leave of court” language in the Rule with the separation of powers principal that “the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.” United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 693 (1974) (citation omitted); see also Fokker, 818 F.3d at 742 (“[D]ecisions to dismiss pending charges . . . lie squarely within the ken of prosecutorial discretion.”). The Court is not persuaded by the government’s argument, however, because it fails to acknowledge the possibility that the “considered view of the Executive Branch as a whole” could be contrary to the public interest.

In so doing, Sullivan makes the case that Districts can also review a case for prosecutorial abuse.

The court’s role is not “to serve merely as a rubber stamp for the prosecutor’s decision,” even when “the defendant concurs in the dismissal.” Ammidown, 497 F.2d at 620, 622. Rather, it is the court’s “duty to exercise a discretion for the protection of the public interest.” Cowan, 524 F.2d at 511. The trial court therefore conducts an “examination of the record” to ensure that the government’s “efforts to terminate the prosecution [are not] tainted with impropriety.” Rinaldi, 434 U.S. at 30.

Later in the opinion, Sullivan noted that because the government had chosen to give more than conclusory statements about why they wanted to dismiss the prosecution, he could weight those more substantive reasons.

The majority of the cases finding denial of leave appropriate based on “conclusory statements” most often involve motions providing only one or two sentences referring generally to the “public interest.” See, e.g., Derr, 726 F.2d at 619 (affirming denial of leave to dismiss when the government offered no reasons for dismissal other than that it would “best meet the ends of justice”). Here, on the other hand, the government has sought to justify its decision to seek dismissal by providing several reasons and facts underlying its decision. See id.

However, while not conclusory, many of the government’s reasons for why it has decided to reverse course and seek dismissal in this case appear pretextual, particularly in view of the surrounding circumstances.

Then, buried on page 25, Sullivan argues that District courts can rule against DOJ in these narrow circumstances to protect the public interest and reiterates the authority of courts to rule against the government in case of corruption.

With the above principles in mind, in response to the government’s motion to dismiss under Rule 48(a), the Court holds that a judge may deny an unopposed Rule 48(a) motion if, after an examination of the record, (1) she is not “satisfied that the reasons advanced for the proposed dismissal are substantial”; or (2) she finds that the prosecutor has otherwise “abused his discretion.” Ammidown, 497 F.2d at 620-22.

[snip]

In addition, as indicated by the history of Rule 48(a), the corrupt dismissal of politically well-connected individuals would also constitute an abuse of discretion. See Woody, 2 F.2d at 262.

So at a key level, the opinion lays out the principle that DOJ fought hard to deny — that judges have their own authority and they serve the public.

Since this case has been mooted, DOJ will have a very difficult time challenging this language (other DC District judges could rely on it going forward, but it is not a precedent). Sullivan, knowing that DOJ also had no more authority to challenge his order, asserted his authority.

This language, while not circuit precedent, may be cited going forward.

20 Months: A Comparison of the Mueller and Durham Investigations

Because Jonathan Turley and John Cornyn are being stupid on the Internet, I did a Twitter thread comparing the relative output of the Mueller and Durham investigations in their first 18 months. Actually, Durham has been investigating the Russian investigation for 20 months already.

So I did a comparison of the Mueller and Durham investigations over their first 20 months. Here’s what that comparison looks like.

So, in 20 months, Durham went on a boondoggle trip to Italy with Bill Barr to chase conspiracy theories, charged one person, and had his top investigator quit due to political pressure.

In the Mueller investigation’s first 20 months, his prosecutors had charged 33 people and 3 corporations (just Roger Stone was charged after that) and, with Manafort’s forfeiture, paid for much of their investigation.

Update: I’ve corrected the Manafort forfeiture claim. While I haven’t checked precisely how much the US Treasury pocketed by selling Manafort’s properties, I think the declining value of Trump Tower condos means that Manafort’s forfeiture didn’t quite pay for the entire investigation. I’ve also corrected in which month Manafort was found guilty in EDVA.

Update: In response to the Durham appointment, American Oversight reposted the travel records from the Italy boondoggle, which was actually in September, not October (Barr also made a trip to Italy in August 2019 for the same stated purpose, so I wonder if there were two boondoggles). I’ve corrected the timeline accordingly.

John Durham and the First Fight over a Doctored MemCon of Trump’s Meetings with Russia

A year ago, John Durham was investigating who leaked the fact that Mike Flynn had secretly worked with Russia to undermine sanctions that served, in part, to punish Russia for helping Trump get elected. Mike Flynn and KT McFarland had been claiming that David Ignatius forced them to lie about conversations that they made active efforts to cover-up even when they were secret, an obviously bullshit claim, but one that DOJ adopted as credible nevertheless.

The problem with that prong of the investigation (even beyond the fact that Flynn and McFarland were already covering Flynn’s calls before they had been made public) — as I pointed out when it was reported — that the most likely sources of the news that Flynn had been having secret conversations with the Ambassador were several groups that could leak this information legally: Original Classification Authorities, outgoing or not, or members of Congress. For the record, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appear to have assumed the leak came from Congress. But if James Clapper or Jim Comey or another OCA leaked it as part of a counterintelligence inquiry into why Flynn did that, it would be entirely legal. All the more so given that Trump was not yet in office.

Given the new details we have on the Durham investigation — including yet more proof he and his investigators grossly misunderstand counterintelligence — I’d like to return to another leak: that Trump shared highly classified Israeli intelligence with Sergey Lavrov in their meeting on May 10, 2017. Given recent events, I think there is a decent chance that Durham investigated and may still be investigating this one, too.

As I noted, among the last Mueller 302s released to BuzzFeed were three or four that dealt with this leak, a coincidence in timing that is among the reasons I suspect Durham may have reviewed these 302s. They first described how after a meeting around the time Jim Comey was fired, an FBI counterintelligence detailee to the White House got called into Acting Homeland Security Advisor John Daly’s office after a meeting and grilled in a way that the detailee seemed to find inappropriate. Among other things, Daly asked the detailee what he thought of Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

A second interview with the detailee conducted on the same day appears to describe the aftermath of the meeting on May 10, 2017, at which Trump shared this intelligence. It appears the detailee read the MemCom of the meeting and realized what Trump had done. He appears to have first alerted his boss of what happened (it’s unclear whether that boss was at the White House or FBI), and then escalated it. He tried to tell Tom Bossert, but instead told Daly, which led to the grilling by Daly laid out in the first interview. After that meeting, the detailee told Bossert what happened. The detailee’s notice to Bossert led him to take measures to minimize the damage, as described by the original report on the meeting.

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

Over two years before similar events would lead to impeachment, Trump’s aides were trying to doctor the record of his calls with Russia to hide how he had damaged our allies.

According to the 302, Bossert applauded the detailee for alerting him of the problem. “Thank god you came to us.”

But then after the story leaked to the WaPo and NYT, the detailee was summoned to Bossert’s office, only to be grilled by both Bossert and Daly. After the detailee was grilled for 20-30 minutes, someone else was, as well. Almost immediately after his grilling, the detailee saw HR McMaster give a press conference at which, per the detailee, McMaster “gave a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” Like Flynn had earlier that year, McMaster was lying publicly about something the Russians knew was a lie.

After he was grilled, the detailee appears to have informed FBI chain of command, including Bill Priestap.

Shortly thereafter, it appears that the detailee learned from Bossert that he was not getting a job he expected. The detailee asked when that decision was made, Bossert appears to have lied either about the job offer or about the decision to alter the MemCon in real time.

Not long after, the detailee left the NSC. Before he did, he put copies of emails recording all this as well as the partially redacted MemCon he had seen in a safe. The 302 suggests that the White House fired all the other people who had seen the MemCon.

Among the other 302s released last week include a record of FBI obtaining copies of Bill Priestap’s discussions with Ezra Cohen-Watnick and what appears to be the detailee at the time, which almost certainly includes notes relaying the events surrounding the MemCon. There’s also an almost entirely redacted 302 from Ted Gistaro, which was at least his second interview. Gistaro was Trump’s briefer both at Mar-a-Lago during the Transition period when Flynn was secretly calling Sergey Kislyak and probably still during the May 2017 period. Another 302 might be the FBI picking up the documents that the detailee had left behind.

All that is to say that among the very last documents that Bill Barr’s DOJ cleared for public release deal with a very complex set of problems central to questions of Trump’s relationship with Russia during the days that FBI would expand its counterintelligence investigation to incorporate Trump, as well. There’s the matter of the leak, which has never been charged. The original WaPo, which appears to have relied on more sources, cites both current and former officials, including at least one who remained close to Trump officials.

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

[snip]

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”

[snip]

“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”

Given that Bossert called NSA and CIA to alert them, there would be many candidates for this, including the OCAs for the intelligence and the partnership with our ally. Indeed, the journalists on the original story cover CIA and the Pentagon, not FBI. But the grilling of the detailee suggests that the White House suspected him.

Then there’s the matter of what the FBI should do with this information — and it seems fairly clear that the detailee was one if not the primary source of the information for the people overseeing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. It is absolutely within Trump’s right to give our enemies classified information. It also undoubtedly damages the US (as the Trump-friendly source[s] for the story seem to agree).

If Andrew McCabe included this exchange among the things he considered before opening a counterintelligence investigation into Trump, I can see how Durham — who has exhibited over and over that he doesn’t understand counterintelligence — would deem it inappropriate, particularly if egged on by Bill Barr. If an FBI counterintelligence detailee at the White House had a role in its dissemination, all the more so.

But I can also see how, from a counterintelligence investigation, McMaster’s lies about this (on behalf of Trump) would raise concerns about Trump’s compromise. As with Flynn before him, the Russians would know that Trump was lying about his coziness with Russia.

Barr has set Durham up such that he can issue a report that the Attorney General — whoever it is — will be expected to make public (though if the report violates the rules that got Jim Comey fired, there would be a good excuse not to). If this is part of Durham’s investigation, Barr may be trying to suggest that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump was wholly inappropriate.

There’s a problem with that, of course. Trump had already probably committed a crime in working on a pardon for Julian Assange, well before he was even elected. That is, neither the leak to Ignatius (by whomever) nor the leak about the Russian meeting (by whomever) can be said to have inappropriately kicked off the counterintelligence investigation into Trump. His actions in October 2016 had already done that.

But, even if Durham showed any inkling of understanding of the counterintelligence matters he is investigating,  there’s no reason to believe he would know that there are seemingly ongoing matters that implicate Trump even before he was elected.

And if this is Barr’s play, of course, it may be undercut once Trump leaves office. Already, HR McMaster has, years later, criticized Trump’s efforts to coddle Russia. If asked to do so under oath in the next Congress, he may have far more to say about the damage Trump did to the country because he was so insecure about Russia’s help in the election.

Update: Bill Leonard, the former head of ISOO (and as such the guy who was in charge of the entire US classification system during the W administration), has corrected me on my assertion that Trump could legally share this information. He could under US law, but doing so violated international law. He explains:

Based upon reporting, the information Trump compromised was provided to the U.S. by an intelligence partner pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  Under international law, this bilateral executive agreement obligated the U.S. to protect the information.  Within the U.S., we have elected to utilize the classification system to protect such shared information.
While as President, Trump is free to abrogate the bilateral agreement, there is no indication that this was his intent.  Thus, pursuant to International law, he was obligated to protect it which he clearly failed to do.
Reverse the situation.  Foreign leaders do not have the right to unilaterally disclose U.S. classified information that has been shared with their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  The same restrictions pertain to a U.S. president.
Classification is but one of the many authorities this president has abused.  It needs to be called out as such.

Failsons and Kraken Conspiracies: Three Mike Flynn Hypotheticals Trump May Have Tried to Preemptively Pardon

In a hearing in the BuzzFeed FOIA case today, Judge Reggie Walton (who always likes to chat about his conversations with his colleagues in the Prettyman judge’s dining room), said the Flynn pardon might be too broad.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said at a hearing Friday that he doesn’t think U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, his colleague presiding over the Flynn case, “has a lot of options in reference to what he does” after the pardon was granted, “unless he takes the position that the wording of the pardon is too broad, in that it provides protections beyond the date of the pardon.”

“I don’t know what impact that would have, what decision he would make, if he makes that determination that the pardon of Mr. Flynn is for a period that the law does not permit. I don’t know if that’s correct or not,” the judge continued. “Theoretically, the decision could be reached because the wording in the pardon seems to be very, very broad. It could be construed, I think, as extending protections against criminal prosecutions after the date the pardon was issued.”

“I don’t know if Judge Sullivan will make that determination or not,” Walton added.

Walton seemed to be suggesting that Sullivan might have a way to hold Flynn accountable in the future, unless the pardon as written is too broad.

That has set off a debate among Legal Twitter arguing what the pardon should mean, not what it does say.

To be sure, the first part of the Flynn pardon is undeniably valid. It pardons Flynn [I’ve added the numbers; which are different from the less helpful ones DOJ uses in their motion],

(1) for the charge of making false statements to Federal investigators, in violation of Section 1001, Title 18, United States Code, as charged in the information filed under docket number 1:17-CR-00232-EGS in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia; (2) for any and all possible offenses set forth in the Information and Statement of Offense filed under that docket number (3) or that might arise, or be charged, claimed, or asserted, in connection with the proceedings under that docket number

This is already too broad, for one reason I’ll get into. But on its face, that language pardons:

  1. The false statements as laid out in the criminal information
  2. The crime of being an undisclosed foreign agent for Turkey, lying to DOJ about it, and conspiring to lie about it
  3. The lies Flynn told Judge Emmet Sullivan in a bid to get out of his prior guilty allocutions

Those are, incidentally, the crimes laid out in the government’s motion to dismiss the case as moot.

The pardon not only encompasses the Section 1001 charge that is the subject of the government’s pending motion to dismiss (Doc. 198), but also any possible future perjury or contempt charge in connection with General Flynn’s sworn statements and any other possible future charge that this Court or the court-appointed amicus has suggested might somehow keep this criminal case alive over the government’s objection (e.g., a charge under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Section 618(a), Title 22, United States Code, arising out of the facts set forth in the Statement of Offense).

There is nothing controversial about this part of the pardon (aside from the rank corruption of it). It is clear that the pardon is intended to and does cover those crimes that Flynn committed.

But the pardon goes beyond pardoning Flynn for those crimes. It also pardons Flynn for,

any and all possible offenses within the investigatory authority or jurisdiction of the Special Counsel appointed on May 17, 2017, including the initial Appointment Order No. 3915-2017 and subsequent memoranda regarding the Special Counsel’s investigatory authority; and any and all possible offenses arising out of facts and circumstances known to, identified by, or in any manner related to the investigation of the Special Counsel, including, but not limited to, any grand jury proceedings in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

As I noted, it purports to pardon Flynn for any crime that arises out of “facts … known to … the investigation of the Special Counsel,” any crime related to it, or anything arising from the grand juries (not time denominated or named) that investigated Flynn.

I think that is an attempt to stave off any crimes based off information collected as part of this investigation, even if the crime happens in the future. Here are three not-at-all unlikely scenarios:

Flynn reneges on his sworn testimony in a retrial against Bijan Kian in which Mike Flynn Jr also gets charged

Flynn’s partner, Bijan Kian, was found guilty of conspiring to lie about working for Turkey with Flynn in 2016. But then the judge in the case, Anthony Trenga, overturned that verdict. The government is appealing his order. One possible outcome of that appeal is that the government will retry Kian. With Flynn’s plea deal off the table, the government would be free to include Flynn Jr in any potential retrial.

Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, under oath, that he knew that he (and so by association, his son and Kian) were secretly working for the government of Turkey in 2016. Prosecutors made a last-ditch attempt to make Flynn a co-conspirator in Kian’s last trial. In a superseding indictment they could make him an unindicted co-conspirator (which would make his communications admissible without his testimony). But it would be very useful to have his testimony as well.

Normally, prosecutors could force a witness to hew to his grand jury testimony on penalty of perjury. In this case, however, Trump has purported to pardon Flynn for anything pertaining to that grand jury. If Flynn lied at trial, could he be charged?

The government discovers further evidence of Flynn’s work as a foreign agent by tying Mueller evidence to evidence withheld

In both the case of Trump outreach to Russia and the case of Flynn’s work with Ekim Alptekin, there’s reason to believe that Flynn and — in the former case — the Trump campaign succeeded in withholding information for the entirety of the Mueller investigation but which DOJ discovered afterwards (I won’t get into the details of what that is here — again, I’ll say more in January).

Flynn’s lies about this information to Mueller or EDVA prosecutors clearly are covered by the pardon.

But if the information reflected an ongoing relationship — existing even now! — with either Russia or Turkey, it would impose registration requirements on Flynn. The government might argue, however, that because these relationships began prior to the period of the Mueller investigation and might never have been discovered if not for the warrants and subpoenas used in the Mueller or EDVA investigations, they are therefore related and Flynn’s prospective failure to register is covered by his pardon. I’m suggesting that the government seems to want to set up a claim that anything that stems from the Mueller investigation would be fruit of a poisonous tree and immune from prosecution.

An ongoing Kraken conspiracy to pay off the pardon

Sometime in the summer, Sidney Powell told Trump not to pardon Flynn, something she entered into the docket before Sullivan by admitting it in the September hearing. She also admitted to Sullivan she had talked repeatedly to Trump’s campaign “lawyer” Jenna Ellis about Flynn’s case. In the following weeks after she spoke with Trump and Ellis, prosecutors fed her information from Jeffrey Jensen’s investigation — some of it altered — that ultimately served as part of a Trump attack on Joe Biden.

Then, after the election, Powell — at first claiming to be representing Trump — took a lead role in undermining the legal outcome of the election in multiple states. Almost immediately, purportedly because Trump believed that Sidney Powell made him look bad in a way that Rudy and Jenna Ellis and Joe DiGenova did not, Trump made clear to distance himself from Powell. The next day he pardoned Flynn. Days later, Flynn called for a coup to overturn the election.

Powell’s use of evidence in Flynn’s case to support false campaign attacks on Joe Biden is already irretrievably tied to Sullivan’s docket. Indeed, he now has real reason to question why Powell was talking with Ellis about this case, why (before the document alteration was discovered) she affirmatively asked Trump to hold off on the pardon only to embrace it later, and what tie there is between the altered documents and the attack Trump launched in the first debate against Biden. Judge Sullivan has reason to ask whether the fraud on the court in this docket is tied to some benefit for Trump, and whether that benefit in some way is tied to the pardon.

But if there is a tie, Sullivan (and Joe Biden’s DOJ) may have reason to ask whether this is a continuing conspiracy, whether Powell and Flynn’s actions after the pardon are part of delivering on a corrupt agreement made before the pardon. It is easy to see how the fraud on the court that remains before Sullivan could be tied to ongoing actions.

DOJ would seem to suggest that those actions, too, are covered by Trump’s pardon.

Again, all three of these scenarios are easily foreseeable. They are the actual fact patterns before Judge Sullivan and a potential Biden Administration.

The Clinesmith Sentencing Memos: Politically Biased Data In, Politically Biased Data Out

The government and Kevin Clinesmith — the FBI lawyer who altered a document relating to the Carter Page FISA application — submitted their sentencing memos in his case yesterday. The sentencing guidelines call for 0 to 6 months of prison time (as they did for the now pardoned Mike Flynn). Clinesmith asked for probation. The government asked for a sentence in the middle to top of that range — effectively calling for 3 to 6 months of prison time.

I think the government has the better argument on a key point, for reasons that I expect will be very persuasive to the judge in the case, James Boasberg, who is also the presiding FISA judge. The government argues that Clinesmith’s actions undermined the integrity of the FISA process.

The defendant’s conduct also undermined the integrity of the FISA process and struck at the very core of what the FISC fundamentally relies on in reviewing FISA applications: the government’s duty of candor. The FISC serves as a “check on executive branch decisions to conduct surveillance in order to protect the fourth amendment rights of U.S. persons[,]” but it can “serve those purposes effectively only if the applicant agency fully and accurately provides information in its possession that is material to whether probable cases exists.” Order, In Re Accuracy Concerns Regarding FBI Matters Submitted to the FISC, Docket No. Misc. 19-02, at 2 (FISA Ct. Dec. 17, 2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Accordingly, and particularly because FISA applications involve ex parte proceedings with no adverse party on the other side to challenge the facts, the government “has a heightened duty of candor to the [FISC].” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). In other words, “[c]andor is fundamental to [the FISC’s] effective operation[.]” Id. (citation omitted).

While I think the government’s case on Clinesmith’s understanding of the term “source” is not persuasive, this language is. It matters that Clinesmith did this within the context of the FISA process. Boasberg has a real incentive to ensure that those preparing FISA applications do think of Clinesmith as an object lesson about the duty of candor. I expect he’ll agree with the government and impose some prison term.

That said, the government sentencing memo goes off the rails on another point, one that badly discredits the John Durham investigation.

Both the government and Clinesmith provide the same explanation for why he did what he did: it was a shortcut to avoid filing a footnote with the FISA court.

Clinesmith explains it this way:

Kevin, however, reviewed the OGA email and realized that it did not specifically address the issue of whether Individual #1 had been a source. In a misguided attempt to save himself time and the embarrassment of having to backtrack on his assurance he had it in writing, Kevin forwarded the OGA’s response to the SSA (including the list of OGA reports) immediately after telling the SSA he would do so, but Kevin added the phrase notated in bold to reflect his understanding of Individual #1’s status:

[The OGA uses] the [digraph] to show that the encrypted individual . . . is a [U.S. person]. We encrypt the [U.S. persons] when they provide reporting to us. My recollection is that [Individual #1] was or is . . . [digraph] and not a “source” but the [documents] will explain the details.

OIG Report at 254-55.

And the government endorses that explanation in its sentencing memo (in language that further reinforces why Clinesmith should be treated sternly to preserve the integrity of the FISA process).

By his own words, however, it appears that the defendant falsified the email in order to conceal Individual #1’s former status as a source and to avoid making an embarrassing disclosure to the FISC. Such a disclosure would have likely drawn a strong and hostile response from the FISC for not disclosing it sooner since the FBI had the information in its possession before the first FISA application was filed. Indeed, in the June 19, 2017 instant message conversation with the SSA, the defendant wrote “at least we don’t have to have a terrible footnote” explaining that Individual #1 was a source. OIG Report at 253. While the defendant told OIG he was referring to how “laborious” it would be to draft a footnote explaining that Individual #1 had been an OGA source, see id., that reading is self-serving and absurd. Moreover, as a practical matter, how laborious would it have been to draft a single footnote to explain to the FISC that Individual #1 had been a source for the OGA. The SSA involved in the application understood the defendant to be referring to the terrible optic of just now, in the fourth application, disclosing to the Court that Individual #1 had been a source for another agency after failing to do so in all of the prior applications. See id. Such a disclosure would have undermined the probable cause in the FISA application and the overall investigation of Individual #1, which the defendant was able to avoid by altering the email.

That’s it. At that point, both sides have explained what happened as the kind of bureaucratic sloppiness that can be particularly dangerous where there’s no transparency. Case closed. Clinesmith may not have meant this maliciously but because it happened as part of the FISA process it was very problematic.

Except the government continues by suggesting, without evidence, that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias.

The public record also reflects that political or personal bias may have motivated or contributed to his offense conduct. As noted in the OIG Report and PSR, the defendant was previously investigated, and ultimately suspended, for sending improper political messages to other FBI employees. See OIG Report at 256 n.400. For example, on the day after the 2016 presidential election, the defendant wrote “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently.” Id. When another FBI colleague asked the defendant “[i]s it making you rethink your commitment to the Trump administration[,]” the defendant replied, “Hell no,” and then added “Viva le resistance.” Id. The defendant was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation for these and other related messages, and in July 2018 he was suspended, without pay, for 14 days. The defendant’s prior disciplinary infraction for expressing his political views in a work setting is a relevant aspect of his background. Indeed, it is plausible that his strong political views and/or personal dislike of the current President made him more willing to engage in the fraudulent and unethical conduct to which he has pled guilty. While it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct, the defendant plainly has shown that he did not discharge his important responsibilities at the FBI with the professionalism, integrity, and objectivity required of such a sensitive job position. [my emphasis]

There are several reasons why this argument is not only problematic, but betrays an unbelievable stupidity about the investigation before Durham.

First, as prosecutors admit, they have no evidence that Clinesmith’s claimed bias influenced his actions. The bias “may have motivated” him, “it is plausible” that it did, “it is impossible to know with certainty how those views may have affected his offense conduct.” This kind of language has no place in a sentencing memo. They’re effectively admitting they have no evidence, but relying on their lack of evidence anyway. It’s the kind of shoddy unethical work they’re trying to send Clinesmith to prison for.

Worse still, as Lawfare has shown, the data the government is relying on here comes from a politically biased application of discipline within DOJ. Since 2011, the only cases of people being disciplined for expressing political views on their government devices involved people opposing Trump.

Five employees, the documents show, have been disciplined for private communications using government devices in which they have criticized President Trump. But none, at least not since 2011, has been disciplined for similar conduct with respect to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama—or for praising Trump.

[snip]

The verdict is now in, at least for the past four major-party presidential candidates, one of whom served as president of the United States for eight full years. FBI employees who voiced political sentiments in favor of or opposed to Clinton, Obama and Romney did not face consequences—nor did those who praised Trump. Those who criticize the current president appear to be the only people subject to discipline.

Lawfare raises the example of an FBI agent who — unlike Clinesmith, Lisa Page, or Peter Strzok — was running informants targeting Hillary in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign who expressed clear bias. That person — clearly identified as biased by the same Inspector General who identified Clinesmith’s bias — wasn’t disciplined. And there are reports that a key witness in the Durham probe, Bill Barnett, similarly expressed pro-Trump bias on his devices. No one has done an IG Report into whether Barnett’s self-described role in single-handedly preventing the Mueller team from concluding that Mike Flynn lied to protect President Trump reflected improper political bias, much less sent him home for two weeks without pay. You can’t treat OPR’s treatment of biased FBI employees as valid for sentencing because it has already been demonstrated to be itself biased in the same way it treats as discipline-worthy.

Most importantly, you’d have to be fucking stupid to believe that supporting the FISA application of Carter Page in June 2017 would inherently reflect any anti-Trump bias. Even on the first application, the claim that targeting Page would be a way to hurt Trump was a bit of a stretch. At that point, the Trump campaign had very publicly distanced themselves from him because of his embarrassing ties to Russia. Thus, if the FBI treated Trump’s public statements with any weight, then they would be right to view Trump as victimized by Page, someone pushing his pro-Russian views far beyond what the candidate supported, someone removed from the campaign for precisely that reason. That’s one of the potential problems arising from a suspected foreign agent working on a campaign, that the person will make policy commitments that the candidate doesn’t support on behalf of the foreign country in question. Still, you might argue (and Bill Barr has argued) that the FBI targeted Page as a way to collect campaign emails, so one might make some claim to support the case that by targeting Page the FBI was targeting Trump with the October 2016 application.

But Clinesmith wasn’t in the loop on the non-disclosure of Page’s ties with CIA on that first application.

Kevin was not aware of that information, however. When he assisted the FBI’s efforts to obtain the initial FISA warrant, Kevin knew of no prior relationship between Individual #1 and the OGA. And he was not involved in any discussions—including the one discussed above between the case agent and DOJ attorney—concerning whether or not to include information about that relationship in the FISA application. As was typical, the DOJ attorney worked primarily with the case agent to collect and develop information for the FISA application. The first time Kevin was asked to inquire into whether, and to what extent, Individual #1 had a relationship with the OGA was in connection with the fourth and final application.

To suggest that someone would target Page in June 2017 because of anti-Trump bias, though, takes gigantic flights of fancy. Already in October 2016, it was clear that Page (like every other person originally targeted under Crossfire Hurricane) was using Trump, attempting to monetize his access to Trump to get a plush deal to start a think tank that, in his case, would have been funded by the Russian government. Page boasted to Stefan Halper the Russians had offered him an “open checkbook.”

But even before the first renewal in January 2017, Page had victimized Trump in the way that is dangerous for counterintelligence cases. When he was in Russia in December 2016 — at a time when he was still hoping to get a think tank funded by the Russian government — Page claimed to speak on behalf of Trump with respect to Ukraine policy.

According to Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort’s associate, Page also gave some individuals in Russia the impression that he had maintained his connections to President-Elect Trump. In a December 8, 2016 email intended for Manafort, Kilimnik wrote, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DJT on a range of issues of mutual interest including Ukraine.”

There’s no record that Page made those representations with the approval of Trump. As such, Page’s representations risked undermining Trump’s ability to set his own foreign policy, whatever it was.

By June, moreover, Page had been totally marginalized by Trump’s people. The fourth warrant served significantly to obtain encrypted content from a phone Page had destroyed when he came under investigation. Tactically, there’s almost no way that that application would have generated new content involving Trump’s people because they were no longer talking to Page. So there’d be no political advantage to targeting him, neither based on the potential content the FBI might collect nor on any political taint from a guy the campaign had loudly dissociated from nine months earlier. Indeed, if your goal was to paint Trump as a pro-Russian asset, focusing on Page — the guy Trump himself had distanced himself from — is the last thing you’d do in June 2017. It’s just a profoundly stupid attack from Durham’s prosecutors, one with no basis in logic or (as the prosecutors admit) evidence.

In short, not only does the gratuitous, evidence-free insinuation that Clinesmith did what he did out of political bias misrepresent the biased quality of the targeting of those OPR investigations, but it fundamentally misunderstands why the FBI would investigate the infiltration of a campaign by a suspected foreign agent. Someone infiltrating Trump’s campaign on behalf of Russia could and — in Page’s misrepresentations in Moscow in December 2016 — did harm Trump. That’s a harm the FBI is paid to try to prevent. Here, prosecutors are trying to criminalize Clinesmith’s efforts to protect Trump from that kind of damage.

After making it clear in his first official filings that Durham’s team didn’t understand the investigation they were investigating, in this one, his prosecutors make it crystal clear they don’t understand how, if an agent of a foreign power were to hypothetically infiltrate a political campaign (which is what the FBI had good reason to believe in October 2016 and more evidence to believe by December 2016), it could be damaging to the campaign and to the President and to the country. That’s not just dangerous malpractice given their involvement in this case, but it betrays a really basic level of stupidity about how the world works.

The government is right that Clinesmith’s alteration of a document should be treated aggressively given that it occurred as part of the FISA process. But oh my goodness has the government discredited both this sentencing filing and the larger Durham investigation by betraying continued ignorance about the investigation, the politicized nature of the evidence they’re getting, and basic facts about counterintelligence investigations.

John Durham Has Unaltered Copies of the Documents that Got Altered in the Flynn Docket

Bill Barr could come to regret his neat effort to place a ticking time bomb inside the Joe Biden DOJ, because John Durham has evidence in hand that Bill Barr’s DOJ tampered with documents.

I’ve been thinking … There’s something that doesn’t make sense about Bill Barr’s roll-out of the order making John Durham a Special Counsel. For the better part of a year, Barr has been saying that Durham could roll out actual indictments before the election, since none of the people he would indict were candidates. Yet Barr claimed, in his order, that he decided (not Durham) that, “legitimate investigative and privacy concerns warrant confidentiality” until after the election. And then he waited almost an entire month before he revealed the order. He did so in spite of adopting 28 CFR 600.9, which otherwise requires notice to Congress, to govern this appointment.

Let me interject and say that while Barr’s appointment of a DOJ employee, US Attorney John Durham, violates the Special Counsel statutes, that’s not the authority under which Barr appointed Durham. He did so under 28 USC 509, 510, 515, which is what Mueller was technically appointed under. Thanks to the Mueller investigation and some well-funded Russian troll lawyers, there’s a whole bunch of appellate language authorizing the appointment of someone under 28 USC 515 but governed under 28 CFR 600.9. The unusual nature of the appointment would provide President Biden’s Attorney General an easy way to swap Durham for Nora Dannehy (who as a non-departmental employee would qualify under the Special Counsel guidelines), and given her past involvement in the investigation, it should suffer no loss of institutional credibility or knowledge. But it doesn’t damage Durham’s legal authority in the meantime.

Barr probably lied about the significant reasons to delay notice to Congress. According to the AP, Durham is no longer focused on most of the scope he had been investigating, to include George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and GOP claims that the CIA violated analytic tradecraft in concluding that Vladimir Putin affirmatively wanted Trump elected. He is, according to someone in the immediate vicinity of Barr, focused just on the conduct of FBI Agents before Mueller’s appointment, even though the language of this appointment approves far more.

The current investigation, a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but has since “narrowed considerably” and now “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI,” Barr said. He said he expects Durham would detail whether any additional prosecutions will be brought and make public a report of the investigation’s findings.

[snip]

A senior Justice Department official told the AP that although the order details that it is “including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Durham probe has not expanded. The official said that line specifically relates to FBI personnel who worked on the Russia investigation before the May 2017 appointment of Mueller, a critical area of scrutiny for both Durham and for the Justice Department inspector general, which identified a series of errors and omissions in surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign associate.

The focus on the FBI, rather than the CIA and the intelligence community, suggests that Durham may have moved past some of the more incendiary claims that Trump supporters had hoped would yield allegations of misconduct, or even crimes — namely, the question of how intelligence agencies reached their conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

We know from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation and documents Barr otherwise released where Barr thought John Durham was heading. There are questions about who knew about credibility problems of Christopher Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko (though the GOP has vastly overstated what his interview said, ignoring how much of the dossier it actually corroborated, Danchenko’s later interviews, and FBI’s later interviews of one of his own sources). There are some analysts who questioned the viability of the investigation into Flynn; it appears they asked to be removed from the team.

And Jensen, at least, seemed to want to claim that Peter Strzok got NSLs targeting Flynn in February and March 2017 that he had previously refused to approve. Someone seems to have convinced Flynn investigative agent Bill Barnett that those NSLs, which were lawyered by Kevin Clinesmith, were illegal, but given the predication needed for NSLs that seems a wild stretch. Plus, it would be unlikely (though not impossible) for Durham to indict Clinesmith without a Durham-specific cooperation agreement before if he believed Clinesmith had committed other crimes. I mean, it’s possible that Clinesmith, under threat of further prosecution, is claiming that mere NSLs are illegal, but I’d be surprised. Not least because after these NSLs, Strzok worked hard to put a pro-Trump FBI Agent in charge of the Flynn investigation.

Occam’s razor suggests that Durham asked for the special counsel designation because he wants to be permitted to work through these last bits and finish up the investigation, along with the prior authority (which Mueller did not have) to publish his findings.

Occam’s razor also suggests that the reason Barr didn’t reveal this change of status until this week has everything to do with pressure from Trump and nothing to do with investigative equities and everything to do with using this investigation like he has all of his US Attorney led investigations, as a way to placate Trump. Trump has reportedly been complaining that Barr didn’t do more to undermine the election, and so he rolled this out as a way to buy space and time.

Axios reports that it may not work. Trump might fire Barr and replace him with someone who would order that Durham report right away.

Behind the scenes: Within Trump’s orbit, sources told Axios, Tuesday’s revelation was seen as a smokescreen to forestall the release of the so-called Durham report, which senior administration officials believe is already complete — and which Barr had ruled out issuing before the election.

  • Another senior administration official disputed that assessment, saying: “The reason the Attorney General appointed John Durham as Special Counsel is because he’s not finished with his investigation,” and that Barr “wanted to ensure that John Durham would be able to continue his work independently and unimpeded.”
  • Trump has been ranting about the delay behind the scenes and mused privately about replacing Barr with somebody who will expedite the process. But it’s unclear whether he will follow through with that, per sources familiar with the conversations.
  • Barr met with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other officials in the West Wing Tuesday afternoon.

Except that doesn’t work. If Trump were to name John Ratcliffe Acting Attorney General (he’d be the perfect flunky for the job), he would be powerless to force Durham to report more quickly. Sure, he could fire Durham, but he’d have to provide notice to Congress, and there’s virtually no remedy Congress would or could offer in the next 48 days. Ratcliffe can’t write a report himself. And the people doing the work for Durham aren’t DOJ employees, so firing them would do nothing to get a report. For better and worse, Barr has ensured that Ratcliffe or whatever other flunky were appointed could not do that, at least not in the 48 days before such person would be fired by President Biden.

Again, Ockham’s Razor suggests that Durham will finish his work and write a public report debunking the Papadopoulos conspiracies, confirming that CIA’s analytic work was not improper, and otherwise concluding that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of documents was the only crime that occurred.

More importantly, there’s a problem with Axios’ report, that “Barr had ruled out issuing a report before the election,” and that’s what makes this special counsel appointment more interesting. Barr tried to force Durham to issue a report before the election. That led Durham’s trusted aide Nora Dannehy to quit before September 11, thereby seemingly creating the need for a special counsel designation at that point.

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, a top aide to U.S. Attorney John H. Durham in his Russia investigation, has quietly resigned from the U.S. Justice Department probe – at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done, colleagues said.

[snip]

Colleagues said Dannehy is not a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has been concerned in recent weeks by what she believed was pressure from Barr – who appointed Durham to produce results before the election. They said she has been considering resignation for weeks, conflicted by loyalty to Durham and concern about politics.

[snip]

The thinking of the associates, all Durham allies, is that the Russia investigation group will be disbanded and its work lost if Trump loses.

And Barr himself had, for months, been saying that he would shut down Durham if Trump lost. Yet here we are, after the election, learning that Barr has provided Durham additional protections.

That’s all the more interesting given what Barr did after Dannehy quit in the face of pressure to issue some kind of report before the election. First, he gave a screed at Hillsdale College that pretty clearly targeted Dannehy, among others. Then, Barr attempted to let Jeffrey Jensen release an interim Durham report himself.

Less than a week after Dannehy quit, Jensen’s team interviewed Bill Barnett, someone who would be a key witness for any real Durham investigation of early actions by the FBI. The interview was clearly a political hack job, leaving key details (such as the role of Flynn’s public lies about his calls with Sergey Kislyak in the investigation) unasked. Barnett’s answers materially conflict with his own actions on the case. He was invited to make comments about the politicization of lawyers — notably Andrew Weissmann and Jeannie Rhee — he didn’t work with on the Mueller team. And he claimed to be unaware of central pieces of evidence in the case.

It took just a week for the FBI to write up and release the report from that interview, even while DOJ still hasn’t released a Bill Priestap interview 302 that debunked a central claim made in the Flynn motion to dismiss. And the interview was released in a form that hid material information about Brandon Van Grack’s actions from Judge Sullivan and the public.

But that’s not all. A day earlier prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

All were packaged up for public dissemination, with their protective order footers redacted. There were dates added to all the handwritten notes, at least one of which was misleading. The Strzok-Page texts were irrelevant and included new privacy violations; when later asked to validate them, DOJ claimed they weren’t relying on them (which raises more questions about the circumstances of their release). There’s good reason to believe there’s something funky about the FBI analyst texts released (indeed, as politicized as his interview was, Barnett dismissed the mistaken interpretation DOJ adopted of their meaning, that the analysts were getting insurance solely because of the Russian investigation); DOJ made sure that the identities of these analysts was not made public, avoiding any possibility that the analysts might weigh in like Strzok and McCabe did when they realized their notes had been altered.

One of those alterations would come to serve as a scripted Trump attack on Joe Biden in their first debate. In a September 29 hearing, Sidney Powell admitted meeting regularly with Trump campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, and asking Trump to hold off on a Flynn pardon, making it clear that this docket gamesmanship was the entire point.

And then, on October 19, Durham got Barr to give him the special counsel designation that would give him independence he had not had during 18 months of Barr micromanagement and also ensure that he could remain on past the time when Barr would be his boss.

Days later, on October 22, DOJ wrote Sidney Powell telling her they were going to stop feeding her with documents she would use to make politicized attacks.

Let’s assume for a minute that Durham was, in good faith, pursuing what the FBI was doing in the spring of 2017, an inquiry for which Barnett was a key — and at that point, credible — witness. That investigation was effectively destroyed with the release of the politicized Barnett interview report. Any defense attorney would make mincemeat of him as a witness.

Which is to say that Barr’s effort to let Jensen release the things that Durham refused to before the election damaged any good faith investigation that Durham might have been pursuing. And that’s before DOJ got caught altering documents, documents for which Durham has original copies. It’s not clear whether Durham is watching this docket that closely, but if he is, he knows precisely what, how, and to what extent these documents have been altered. And he probably has a good sense of why they were released in the way they were.

Again, Ockham’s Razor says that Durham will just muddle along and after a delay release a report saying he found nothing — which itself will be incendiary enough to the frothy right.

But by incorporating 28 CFR 600.4 into the scope of his special counsel appointment clearly allows him to investigate any attempts to interfere with his investigation.

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses;

It’s likely those pre-election antics did interfere with the investigation. And even if Durham hasn’t thought that through yet, it’s possible that Michael Horowitz will inform him of the details.

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