Aileen Cannon Is Stiff-Arming the Press

I’m going to write up what really happened yesterday — as predicted, virtually all outlets I’ve seen simply quoted what Aileen Cannon claimed she had done, rather than describing what she had actually done.

Before I do that, I want to note that Judge Cannon is stiff-arming the same press that is reporting so credulously on her interventions.

Back on August 31, the press coalition that does such things moved to intervene in the case. Most of it was the same boilerplate the coalition uses for all such motions, but they did cite both sides in the matter calling for transparency.

Former President Trump himself has called for greater transparency. See, e.g., ECF No. 1, at pp. 2-3 (noting personal desire for more openness). The Government has stated likewise. See, e.g., ECF No. 1, at pp. 9-10 (detailing Attorney General Merrick Garland’s statements on why the Government sought to unseal certain search warrant records); see also ECF No. 48, at p. 2 n.1 (noting that the Government is “prepared . . . to unseal the more detailed receipt”).

They described that the government did not oppose the motion and Trump took no position on it. They asked to be heard on the matter on September 1.

The next day, Judge Cannon released the detailed inventory the government had submitted (it has since submitted a slightly revised inventory, but didn’t address the press access.

After the government moved to unseal the privilege status report on September 8, the press coalition submitted their own request for unsealing.

Then, after two weeks had elapsed since their initial motion, the press coalition tried again. They pointed out that if anyone wanted to oppose their intervention, the two week deadline to do so had expired. And they noted that the privilege review status report still remained under seal.

The News Media further note that certain records remain under seal in this matter, namely those docketed at ECF No. 40. The News Media understand ECF No. 40 to contain the Government’s submission regarding its Privilege Review Team’s Notice of Status of the Filter Process. The Government filed a motion to unseal that document (less Exhibits A and B to that filing) on September 8, 2022. See ECF No. 71. The News Media filed a further motion to unseal that court record on September 9, 2022. See ECF No. 79.

But Judge Cannon has simply ignored those requests.

There’s an obvious reason she did so: In her September 5 order first appointing a Special Master, she made claims based on that sealed status report. The claims are not only probably false, but she effectively double counted the potentially privileged materials as both potentially privileged and personal. That was the means by which she found that Trump had a possessory interest in the items seized on August 8. So she likely can’t allow that status report to be unsealed, because if it were, her deceit would become evident.

Ironically (or perhaps cynically), Cannon cited the importance of the perception of fairness in that same ruling relying on the status report she won’t let the press see.

A commitment to the appearance of fairness is critical, now more than ever.

[snip]

As Plaintiff articulated at the hearing, the investigation and treatment of a former president is of unique interest to the general public, and the country is served best by an orderly process that promotes the interest and perception of fairness. See supra Discussion III–IV; see also In re Search Warrant Issued June 13, 2019, 942 F.3d at 182 (“[A]n award of injunctive relief in these circumstances supports the ‘strong public interest’ in the integrity of the judicial system.” (quoting United States v. Hasting, 461 U.S. 499, 527 (1983) (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part))).

[snip]

“[E]fficient criminal investigations are certainly desirable,” In re Search Warrant Issued June 13, 2019, 942 F.3d at 181, but so too are countervailing considerations of fair process and public trust.

But she only maintains this perception by stiff-arming the press and hiding that status report.

Thus far, she has gotten away with it. Not only isn’t the press calling her out for stiff-arming them, but they continue to quote what she says rather than reporting on what she does.

The Gaslighter’s Psychiatrist: My Response to Dan Drezner

I wasn’t going to weigh in on the latest kerfuffle over Maggie Haberman. She wrote a book. It reveals things that would have been useful to know years ago. On several key points (such as what Trump did with the Strzok and Page texts), she seems unaware of related details that undermine her claims to exclusive smarts. The kerfuffle is not that interesting to me.

But Dan Drezner said two things in defense of her that are so fascinating, I couldn’t resist.

His most substantive defense of Maggie, bullet point 1, halfway into his post, is that most other politicians would not have remained standing after her stories.

Haberman is a pretty great reporter! Her stories on Trump were chock-full of tidbits that would have destroyed the standing of most other politicians. That Trump remained standing (sort of) after every one of her bombshell stories is a source of frustration to many, but Haberman is hardly to blame for this.

Drezner, who is a news-savvy political science professor with a column, not a journalist, spends much of the rest of his post lecturing about how journalism works.

For all the lecturing, he doesn’t note the most curious journalistic fact about Maggie’s book tour, at least to me: not that she delayed stories for the book, not necessarily that she’s telling stories she could have told in 2016 or 2018 or 2020 but did not, but that none of the teaser exclusives are being published at the NYT. The Atlantic, CNN, Axios, WaPo’s own Trump-whisperer — they’re the ones getting traffic from Maggie’s tidbits this week, not the NYT. After I started this, Joe Klein — better known as Joke Line!! — did a fawning review of the book in the NYT, but that’s not news or even, given that it was written by Joke Line, marginally reliable (though it may nevertheless be the most unintentionally insightful piece on the book).

When James Risen’s book about George Bush’s war on terror abuses was shunned by the NYT, it was a symptom of far more significant problems at the newspaper, problems that had to do with that outlet’s relationship to the Presidency (or perhaps Vice Presidency). Who knows whether that’s the case here. But it does raise questions about whether something is going on that explains NYT’s choice to let their star Trump-whisperer scoop them in virtually all the competing outlets — or whether they even had a choice in the matter.

Like I said, Drezner is a political science professor, so perhaps it was no surprise he missed what I find to be a more interesting curiosity about Maggie’s book blitz.

But he’s a political science professor, and so I would have welcomed some reflection about why he believes most other politicians, but not Trump, would have been destroyed by Maggie’s tidbits. Do Maggie’s strengths and weaknesses as a journalist offer any insight into Trump’s unique resilience? Is she a symptom of it? Or one of the causes? Those seem like utterly critical questions for political science professors as we try to stave off fascism in the United States.

As an access journalist, Maggie rises and falls with the subjects of her access. And this book — the payoff for years of access — is not just a story about Trump. It’s a story of her access, the transactional relationship it entailed, what Trump does with those he has selected to be witnesses to his power.

In the Atlantic excerpt of her book, Maggie famously described Trump likening her to his psychiatrist. She used that as a cue to close the piece with her wisdom about Trump — written in the first person but often, not always, quoting Trump’s direct speech, heightening both her own status as omniscient narrator but also the degree to which she is a manufactured character in her own book.

Then he turned to the two aides he had sitting in on our interview, gestured toward me with his hand, and said, “I love being with her; she’s like my psychiatrist.”

It was a meaningless line, almost certainly intended to flatter, the kind of thing he has said about the power of release he got from his Twitter feed or other interviews he has given over the years. The reality is that he treats everyone like they are his psychiatrists—reporters, government aides, and members of Congress, friends and pseudo-friends and rally attendees and White House staff and customers. All present a chance for him to vent or test reactions or gauge how his statements are playing or discover how he is feeling. He works things out in real time in front of all of us. Along the way, he reoriented an entire country to react to his moods and emotions.

I spent the four years of his presidency getting asked by people to decipher why he was doing what he was doing, but the truth is, ultimately, almost no one really knows him. Some know him better than others, but he is often simply, purely opaque, permitting people to read meaning and depth into every action, no matter how empty they might be.

We’re all like Maggie, omniscient narrator Maggie explains, all just bit players serving as a sounding board to witness him ramble for 20 minutes, all the while cutting us off so he can find the precise word he wants. But maybe not. In the next paragraph, first person Maggie reminds us that everyone else asks her, the sounding board Trump likens to his shrink, to “decipher” him. And this woman who stages herself as a participant in three interviews in this piece, concludes not that she’s got no insight, but that he’s simply opaque, something that we — including Maggie the character portrayed interviewing Trump — project our interpretations of depth onto.

Maggie sells herself as the false promise that you might get to know Trump through his quoted lies and not through his means or his deeds, not through understanding how those lies and the way they are circulated wielded power.

And that, Drezner observes, didn’t end up sticking to Trump the way it would other politicians. That seems like a really important insight.

Which brings me to the other thing Drezner set me off with.

The best explanation of Maggie’s work he offers — and it’s a frightfully good explanation — is the way he starts his post:

When I was curating the Toddler-in-Chief thread on Twitter and adapting it into The Toddler in Chief, I leaned pretty hard on Maggie Haberman’s reporting for the New York Times. I literally said, “Maggie Haberman’s reportage… is all over that thread.”

Drezner was talking about his interminable chronicle of Trump’s tantrums. Each tweet screen capped an example of Trump’s closest aides bitching to someone — and yes, that someone was often Maggie — about how they had to coddle Trump, how they built the entire Administration to cater to Trump’s every mood or emotion. In each tweet, Drezner the political science professor would categorize this report as yet more proof that Trump was not “growing into the presidency.” I took the observation as shorthand for false expectations of normality after Trump’s election, a hope that it wouldn’t be so bad after Trump came to understand the gravity of the office. Drezner contines to cling to that observation, even after Trump’s failed coup attempt.

I found the series funny and occasionally baited Drezner on it. It was a worthy observation about false reassurances certain pundits made about Trump. But it ended up being an inadequate rubric for understanding the damage Trump could do as we all laughed at his ineptitude.

In retrospect there were probably better ways to try to convey the danger posed by Trump than to serially mock him on Twitter, reinforcing the editorial decisions that treated his tantrums but not his actions as the news, even while exacerbating the polarization between those who identified with Trump’s tantrums and those who with their fancy PhDs knew better.

And Drezner’s first impulse, when defending Maggie’s journalism, was to point to the sheer number of times she obtained a hilarious quote that served as another artifact in a never-ending string of news stories that treated Trump’s tantrums as the news, rather than the actions Trump pulled off by training people to accommodate his tantrums.

Those stories, individually and as a corpus, revealed Trump to be a skilled bully. But those stories of Trump’s bullying commanded our attention, just like his reality TV show did, and reassured him that continued bullying would continue to dominate press coverage.

That press coverage, I’m convinced, not only was complicit in the bullying, but also served as a distraction from things that really mattered or levers that we might have used to neutralize the bullying.

It was power by reality TV. And Maggie Haberman was and remains a key producer of that power.

Update: Drezner did a really thoughtful response here. I totally agree with this point:

The part unique to Trump is his abject lack of shame. Some scandals that bring politicians down involve illegality, but most involve the revelation of actions or statements that are either embarrassing or completely at odds with their public positions. Most politicians are human beings who embarrass easily, and so are vulnerable to scandal. They will withdraw from the stage to avoid further unwanted attention. Trump’s entire career, by way of contrast, gloried in scandal. During the 2016 campaign he contradicted himself constantly, said and did repugnant things, and did not care a whit. As Ezra Klein noted way back in 2015, that was Trump’s political superpower: “This is Donald Trump’s secret, his strategy, his power…. He just doesn’t fucking care. He will never, ever give an inch. Better to be a monster than a wuss. You cannot embarrass Donald Trump.”

This would not have mattered if two other trends that I discussed at length in The Ideas Industry had not also kicked in: the rise in political polarization and the erosion of trust in institutions. These two trends created a permission structure in which ordinary Republicans could dismiss damning Maggie Haberman stories in the New York Times as fake news. Even if Haberman (and every other reporter) had published absolutely everything she knew in real time, it would not have affected this dynamic.

His discussion of how great stories reporting on scandal barely blip in the coverage, however, goes right to my biggest gripe with Maggie. Drezner denies that Maggie’s reporting serves to distract from real crimes.

The part unique to Trump is his abject lack of shame. Some scandals that bring politicians down involve illegality, but most involve the revelation of actions or statements that are either embarrassing or completely at odds with their public positions. Most politicians are human beings who embarrass easily, and so are vulnerable to scandal. They will withdraw from the stage to avoid further unwanted attention. Trump’s entire career, by way of contrast, gloried in scandal. During the 2016 campaign he contradicted himself constantly, said and did repugnant things, and did not care a whit. As Ezra Klein noted way back in 2015, that was Trump’s political superpower: “This is Donald Trump’s secret, his strategy, his power…. He just doesn’t fucking care. He will never, ever give an inch. Better to be a monster than a wuss. You cannot embarrass Donald Trump.”

This would not have mattered if two other trends that I discussed at length in The Ideas Industry had not also kicked in: the rise in political polarization and the erosion of trust in institutions. These two trends created a permission structure in which ordinary Republicans could dismiss damning Maggie Haberman stories in the New York Times as fake news. Even if Haberman (and every other reporter) had published absolutely everything she knew in real time, it would not have affected this dynamic.

But Maggie’s access and the way Trump’s associates exploit her — gleefully — makes it really easy to play her to kill a story. Her limited hangouts then become the breaking news, rather than the real details disclosed by an investigation.

Both on specific parts of the Russian investigation — such as Paul Manafort’s sharing of campaign strategy in the same meeting where he talked about $19 million in financial benefits to him — and more generally — such as Maggie and Mike Schmidt’s demonstrably false claim that Trump was only investigated for obstruction — stories involving Maggie helped Trump and his associates cover up his criminal exposure.

What Family Rifts at Funerals can Teach Us About Pardoning Presidents

Exhibit A of Step Two Behavior

Watching the coverage of the death of Elizabeth II, two questions seem to be on a constant loop. The first is political: “How will Charles change the monarchy?” The second is personal: “Will the funeral heal the rift between Harry and William/Charles/the rest of the family?” The discussions that follow, between television anchors, reporters, and “royal watchers” have provided me with great amusement. “Oh look: Charles said something nice about Harry and Meghan in his first broadcast after the Queen’s death! Perhaps all is well again!!” The wishfulness of the discussion — “Surely the funeral of their beloved mother/grandmother will bring the family together, and they can heal from the past unpleasantness” — says much more about the hopes that these media folks have and much less about the reality of how a family torn apart acts as a family funeral approaches.

As a pastor for more than three decades, I’ve never done a royal funeral, but I’ve done plenty of regular funerals, including those of matriarchs who had presided over a divided family. Most of the time, what I’ve seen is that either (a) the family members manage to sit on their frustrations with one another for a week or so as the funeral goes forward, and then they return to their earlier fighting, or (b) the funeral intensifies the fighting, as they argue about the decisions made around the funeral itself. Occasionally, the funeral does help to begin a healing process, as folks who have not seen “those monsters” in years are now in the same room for the first time again, and they realize that these other folks aren’t the monsters they have seen them to be in the past. It doesn’t happen five minutes after the burial, but with a willingness to work on both sides, healing is possible. But it sure isn’t the magic “If only Harry and William can sit next to each other at the funeral, everything will be fixed!” that so many commentators are looking for.

Which brings me to the other crazy question I’ve seen popping up more and more often between anchors, reporters, and political pundits. This is the question posed by Chuck Todd that NBC chose to highlight as they tease the Meet The Press interview with VP Kamala Harris that airs in full tomorrow:

Let me try to go to 60,000 feet. What do you say to the argument that it would be too divisive to the country to prosecute a former president?

Earth to Chuck Todd, and anyone else who asks this question: the country *is* deeply divided already.

Giving Trump a pass to “avoid division” is like that scenario (a) at the family funeral, except you are betting that everyone can sit on their frustrations not for a week but forever. Turning the question around — “Would it be too divisive to the country to give a former president a pass for illegal behavior?” — ought to make it clear how silly both questions are.

Step One in dealing with divisions — either at a family funeral or in national politics — is admitting your family/nation is already divided.

As an interim pastor, I work with congregations whose previous pastor has left. Maybe that pastor retired, died, took a new call elsewhere, or was run out of town on a rail. One of the things I often have to help the congregation deal with is conflict, either between the old pastor and the members, or between the members themselves. Whenever I hear “Yes, we had divisions, but now that the old pastor is gone, everything is just fine now” I have to figure out how get them to pull their heads out of the sand. “What’s going to happen when you disagree with your next pastor?” I ask them, knowing that for the immediate future, I am that next pastor. “What do you have to say to the folks around here who loved that old pastor and blame you for running that pastor off?”

Within the House of Windsor, simply coming up with the right seating chart at the funeral for Elizabeth will not wash away the pain that led the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to withdraw from royal duties and decamp to the US. Similarly, pardoning Trump, either by choosing not to prosecute or by an act of President Biden, will not heal the nation either.

What *will* help both the House of Windsor and the United States is to admit that divisions already exist.

Step Two in dealing with divisions, then, is to explore that divided reality. What, specifically, does that painful divided reality look like? What are the presenting issues, that anyone can see at the surface? What are the underlying issues, that lie deeper down, at the heart of the trouble? What are the triggers, that bring all that buried pain out into the open again? How is everyone being hurt by these divisions?

Looking at all that is not easy. It requires a willingness to dig into a painful past, to admit to past bad behavior (your own as well as that of others), and to accept just how bad things have gotten for everyone involved. Until you do that, all you are doing is papering over division and pretending things aren’t that bad.

In the US, the arguments about race and the causes of the Civil War are a perfect illustration of this. So long as a non-trivial part of the country denies that the Civil War was about slavery (“it was the war of Northern Aggression, fought over state’s rights”), our country will never be able to fully deal with how race continues to divide our country today. If you don’t think racism divides our country today, please go back to step one and try again.

Only when the divided congregation or family or nation has done the hard work of examining its own ugly past are they ready to move to Step Three.

Step Three is to look at what you’d like the future to be. What would a healthy House of Windsor look like? How would members treat one another, in ways that are different than what caused the fractures in the past? What would a healthy United States of America look like? How would those with different political views treat one another, in ways that are different from what caused the fractures in the past?

Step Four, then, is to figure out how to get to that future. That’s a conversation about rules, roles, and responsibilities, with unstated assumptions put out in the open and mixed expectations clarified. It’s about crafting behavior that rebuild trust, dignity, and belonging for everyone involved.

The big lesson in all of this is that THERE IS NO SHORTCUT.

You can’t just jump to step four, without doing all the work of the other three steps. You can try, but you’re just sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “La la la – I can’t hear you.” You don’t need to take my word for this. Just look at the House of Windsor.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were leaving their royal roles behind, that was Step One behavior. “Our family is painfully divided.” No more smiling masks, no more pretending all is well, and no more trying to ignore the pain.

When they sat down for their interview with Oprah, that was Step Two behavior. “Here’s what happened, at least from our point of view.”

Ever since then, the royal family had various private conversations to sort things out further, including such things as whether Harry and Meghan would be part of the Platinum Jubilee celebration last summer. (The answers at that time were that they were included in small family gatherings, but not the big public ones.) Now they are having similar conversations around the Queen’s funeral and the coming coronation ceremony that will follow in a few months. This is all Step Three and Step Four behavior.

To the extent that things are getting better for the House of Windsor, it’s because they’ve been working hard at Steps One through Three, not that they simply came together magically at a funeral and jumped to Step Four.

The US political press and political actors could learn a lot from the House of Windsor. Those who worry about prosecuting a past president need to recognize that this doesn’t cause division, but is a step along the way to healing – part of the hard work of Step Two that explores the divided reality in all its painful, ugly depth. The work of the January 6 Committee in the House of Representatives is Step Two behavior, and so is the work of the DOJ to investigate possible criminal behavior of the former president and his minions.

Until we as a nation are willing to honestly look at our ugly reality, we will never heal.

 

The Redacted Mar-a-Lago Affidavit DOJ Should Submit

As you may know, DOJ is ordered by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to submit a “suggested” redacted version of the warrant affidavit for the Mar-a-Lago search executed on August 8, 2022.

The federal magistrate judge who authorized the warrant to search Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate emphasized Monday that he “carefully reviewed” the FBI’s sworn evidence before signing off and considers the facts contained in an accompanying affidavit to be “reliable.”

Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart offered his assessment in a 13-page order memorializing his decision to consider whether to unseal portions of the affidavit, which describe the evidence the bureau relied on to justify the search of the former president’s home.

“I was — and am — satisfied that the facts sworn by the affiant are reliable,” Reinhart said in the order.

Reinhart ruled last week that he would consider unsealing portions of the affidavit after conferring with the Justice Department and determining whether proposed redactions would be sufficient to protect the ongoing criminal investigation connected to the search. But in his order, Reinhart emphasized that he may ultimately agree with prosecutors that any redactions would be so extensive that they would render the document useless.

The last sentence of that quote is the key. Unless DOJ is going to capitulate to the clicks and reads voyeurism of the overly exuberant political press, nothing whatsoever should be released unless and until charges are filed against some defendant, whether it be Trump or otherwise. Why? Because that it how it is done, and properly so.

Reinhart has received abuse and threats. Is his willingness to even entertain a “redacted version” sound under such threat? His decision will yield the answer to that question.

In the meantime, I have a proposed example of what DOJ should submit to Reinhart. Yes, this example is from CAND, not SDFL, but it is exactly what ought be handed over to Reinhart. And if Reinhart grants any “redacted version”, DOJ should appeal immediately and fully. Leave the affidavit sealed. The voyeuristic public, and press, thinks they have an interest because Trump. But they really do not. Do it the right and normal way.

All Republican Gang of Eight Members Condone Large-Scale Theft of Classified Information, Press Yawns

The Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee went on a four tweet rant yesterday, complaining that the FBI is conducting an investigation into the suspected large-scale theft of highly-classified materials.

The House Minority Leader used the instance of a lawfully executed warrant in support of a national security investigation to call for an investigation not into the man suspected of stealing code word documents, but instead, of Attorney General Merrick Garland for authorizing this investigation into a classified breach.

The Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner, more appropriately asked for a briefing, but even after admitting he hadn’t had one yet and claiming (dubiously) that he didn’t know of the suspected massive theft of highly classified information, scoffed at the seriousness that such a large-scale compromise of classified information might cause.

Mitch McConnell weighed in, belatedly, to demand transparency about an investigation into stolen secrets.

The country deserves a thorough and immediate explanation of what led to the events of Monday. Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice should already have provided answers to the American people and must do so immediately

These men are all entrusted with the protection of Americans intelligence secrets. But when faced with a choice of putting party or America’s security first, they immediately rushed to protect their party, even while admitting they don’t know the facts of the underlying investigation.

And in spite of the fact that these men have all engaged in minimizing the large-scale compromise of classified information with their rants, virtually every press outlet has reported their comments as more horse race journalism, one side against the other, as if top Republicans attacking the FBI for trying to protect classified secrets is not itself newsworthy.

The lazy-ass press couldn’t even be bothered to show how all these men, especially Marco Rubio, made wildly inconsistent statements when Jim Comey or Hillary Clinton were suspected of mishandling far less sensitive intelligence. Nor did the press bother asking these men about the destruction of DHS (including Secret Service) and DOD records that Congress itself had already asked for before magnifying their comments.

They just let these men turn this into a partisan fight rather than a serious legal investigation, all for free!

Update, 8/10PM: Included Mitch McConnell’s statement.

Brittain Shaw’s Privileged Attempt to Misrepresent Eric Lichtblau’s Privilege

Thanks to those who’ve donated to help defray the costs of trial transcripts. Your generosity has funded the expected costs. If you appreciate the kind of coverage no one else is offering, we’re still happy to accept donations for this coverage — which reflects the culmination of eight months work. 

In the first words of her opening argument in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham prosecutor Brittain Shaw argued that this case is all about Sussmann’s privilege, his purported ability to exploit high level ties at DOJ to seed what she claims would be a smear campaign against the guy who was, in fact, hiding secret communications with the Kremlin and soliciting hacks of his opponent.

The evidence will show that this is a case about privilege: the privilege of a well-connected D.C. lawyer with access to the highest levels of the FBI; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that he could lie to the FBI without consequences; the privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful the normal rules didn’t apply, that he could use the FBI as a political tool.

The really painful irony of this case, though, is that Sussmann is being significantly hamstrung because of privilege, attorney-client privilege, because it is limiting his ability to present evidence about what really happened.

When Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that a subset of emails that had been protected under privilege were not, after all, he explained that, the documents, “do not strike the Court as being particularly revelatory.” Even so, Sussmann and Fusion can’t, ethically, simply offer up emails over which the Democrats are claiming privilege. There’s good reason to believe if they could, they could show that significant parts of Durham’s conspiracy theory have been based on imagining that Democrats were hiding the worst possible plotting behind privilege claims, when in fact the reality was much more mundane.

Take two exhibits from the trial as an example. Durham is making much of a September 15, 2016 email from Marc Elias to top people on the campaign. Its subject line was “Alfa article.” But it appears to be sharing an article about “testimony of an oil trader.” If Sussmann could share it, it might simply show that Elias had seen an article about corruption and seen some tie with the Alfa Bank allegations. He can’t, because Elias is the one who made that connection.

Meanwhile, two exhibits Sussmann introduced into evidence show Robby Mook — who is not a lawyer — sharing Sidney Blumenthal “intelligence” with him that the Trump campaign was freaking out because they had gotten advance word of a NYT article about Trump’s ties with Russia.

The Trump campaign is having “a major league freak-out,” according to a Republican source who has been reliable in the past. What is causing the Trump “freak-out” is anticipation of an investigative story to be published by the New York Times. The subject is described as “Russia” and “a disaster.” “That is completely the story of everything going on since Thursday,” insists the source. The Times story, says the source, accounts for Tramp’s extraordinarily defensive aggressive reactions–his declaration that he will sue the New York Times, his personal tweeting attack on Maureen Dowd as “wacky” and a neuSidney rotic dope,” (though the source says “that’s just him anyway”), his call for the assassination of HRC, and the campaign’s push to the media of the flat-out lie that I was behind birtherism in 2008. On Saturday night, Trump tweeted: “My lawyers want to sue the tailing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.” Trump did not specify why the Times might be guilty of”irresponsible intent,” which in any case lacks any legal weight. Earlier on Saturday, he tweeted that the Times was “a laughingstock rag.” The atmosphere inside the campaign is described as chaotic, frenetic and “spontaneous.” Bannon and Bossie are said to be grasping at anything to throw back in order to distract from and fend off the coming story. Journalistic sources have independently said that reporters at the Times are working on a Tromp-Russia story.

It wouldn’t be a high profile political trial, I guess, if Sid Blumenthal didn’t make a showing. Note that Mike Flynn’s Mueller interviews show him responding to some Sid Blumenthal stuff in precisely this period, so it’t clear Sid was talking to Republicans.

Anyway, that part — Blumenthal sharing with Mook — was not privileged. And that part makes it clear that Elias was right to be concerned about Trump suing if the Hillary campaign made factual observations about his ties with Russia. It also may (though this is uncertain) back Sussmann’s understanding that Eric Lichtblau was close to publishing the Alfa story, so close that Trump’s moles at the NYT had alerted him to it. But whatever Mook said about it to Elias, the campaign’s lawyer guarding against lawsuits, is privileged, as whatever Elias said to Sussmann and the Fusion guys when he forwarded Mook’s comment would be.

Whatever was said may have influenced Sussmann’s decision to go to the FBI, though, as this was shortly before he texted Jim Baker and asked to meet.

In his testimony, Elias stated that he had not given Sussmann permission to go to the FBI with the Alfa Bank story. He doesn’t think he knew until shortly afterwards, though could have learned before (the Blumenthal story may serve to explain a call that Sussmann knows prosecutors plan to dramatically reveal).

You testified that you became aware that Mr. Sussmann went to the FBI. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And your testimony was that you think that you were told right after, although there’s a possibility it was right before?

A. Yes.

Q. Your best recollection is which of those?

A. Is after.

Q. Okay. Did you tell him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did he seek your permission to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Did you authorize him to go to the FBI?

A. No.

Q. Are you aware of anyone at the Clinton Campaign that authorized Mr. Sussmann to go to the FBI to share the possibility of The New York Times story?

A. Not that I’m aware of. No.

Q. Did you consent to his going to the FBI?

A. No, not that I remember. No.

Elias even explained what a colossally bad idea it would be for a candidate whose campaign had been badly damaged by Jim Comey to go to the FBI.

A. First of all, the FBI had in my view not been particularly helpful in investigating or doing anything to prevent the leaks of the emails. The exfiltration is one thing, you know, the stealing of the emails. But the publication of the emails, it was not just this one time. I mean, we were dealing with multiple publications of emails. And it was not just this one client.

And I think my sense was that the FBI was not for a variety of reasons going to do anything that was going to be — like stop bad things from happening, which would be one reason to go for the FBI.

The second, which is more unique to the Clinton Campaign, is that I think he was then the FBI director, but James Comey had taken public stances in around that time period that were in my view unfair and putting a thumb on the scale against Secretary Clinton.

So I’m not sure that I would have thought that the FBI was going to be — give a fair shake to anything that they viewed as anti-Trump or pro-Clinton.

And then the final thing is that if The New York Times was going to run this story, like that’s the goal. Right? The New York Times runs the story. If you get the FBI involved, any number of things could prevent that from happening. Right?

In the most extreme instance, the FBI can go to the publication and say: Please don’t. But the second is, the newspaper itself might then want to do further reporting on the FBI investigation and delay its story. Right?

So, like, even in a world in which, like, the FBI is being helpful — not being helpful; even in a world in which the FBI is doing stuff, the media may not run the story because they want to get the full picture because they view the FBI piece of it as an essential piece of the story.

It’s certainly possible that, given this advance warning of a Trump shit-storm, Sussmann decided it would be best to give FBI a head’s up. Sussmann, however, can’t ethically share the communications between Elias and him, even if it would help him. That’s how privilege works.

With that in mind, consider what Shaw said in Durham’s bid to keep Eric Lichtblau off the stand (this appears to have been filed two days after Judge Cooper ordered it, but one of the Durham lawyers has had a family emergency so they may have gotten an extension).

After explaining that prosecutors need to question Lichtblau about things the scope of which have been specifically excluded in the trial, a footnote claims that they won’t violate Judge Cooper’s rules about such things (they have, serially, during the trial).

The government should be permitted to cross-examine Lichtblau about any communications he had with other individuals, including, but not limited to, Fusion GPS personnel and computer researchers, regarding the alleged connections between the Trump Organization and Alfa bank. To the extent Sussmann, Fusion GPS, or others (including computer researchers) approached or communicated with Lichtblau concerning Alfa Bank or related matters, the government should be permitted to question Lichtblau about such exchanges, as they are relevant to the defendant’s communications with Lichtblau on these same issues and are probative of the defendant’s alleged actions on behalf of clients (Rodney Joffe and the Clinton Campaign). The government also intends to cross-examine Lichtblau on issues pertaining to the credibility and reliability of his testimony. 1

[snip]

If Fusion GPS (which was hired by the defendant’s firm on behalf of the Hillary for America Campaign) and other persons known to Joffe and/or Sussmann similarly supplied opposition research-type information to Lichtblau regarding the Trump Organization as a part of a coordinated effort, this would be relevant to demonstrate that Sussmann was not acting merely as a concerned citizen trying to help the FBI when he met with FBI General Counsel and that his contrary representations were false. Indeed, the Government is aware that Sussmann and Joffe did enlist and/or task one or more other computer researchers to communicate with the media (including Lichtblau) concerning these matters

1 The government will abide by the Court’s order of May 7, 2022 and, in accordance with that order, will not “put on extensive evidence” about the accuracy of the data provided by Sussmann or his clients to the FBI, Lichtblau, or others. See Op. & Order (“In Limine Order”) at 5, ECF No. 121. [my emphasis]

Here, Shaw states as fact that the computer research was opposition research. It was not.

I am 100% certain that if Lichtblau could testify about all the people he spoke with on this story, he could explain that many if not most of the people involved — as well as a bunch of other people, including at least one whom prosecutors have affirmatively claimed did not have a role in chasing down this anomaly — believed the anomaly was real and were motivated out of a genuine alarm about the Russian attack that year. Yes, the NYT found people who pushed back (more so after the FBI killed the story). But that’s what makes Lichtblau’s work reporting, not opposition research.

If Lichtblau is able to testify, he could also provide a key piece of important context to evidence the government has already presented. Yesterday, Jim Baker described how, starting on September 21, he reached out to Sussmann for the name of the reporter working on the story.

Baker provided Lichtblau’s name to Bill Priestap before noon on September 22. But Lichtblau didn’t meet with the FBI until Monday, September 26.

We know that in between, the FBI called Cendyn, leading them to alter their DNS address, and the NYT called a representative for Alfa Bank which later — NYT believed, at least — led Alfa to alter their DNS address. The NYT believed that there was a response from Alfa that indicated they were trying to hide this activity.

A key part of Durham’s claim is that NYT wasn’t close to publishing when Sussmann went to the FBI and that Sussmann was, instead, trying to provide urgency for the story. That doesn’t accord with my understanding and it doesn’t accord with what Dexter Filkins has written. Durham can keep telling it so long as Lichtblau doesn’t testify.

One thing that happened, though — in addition to initial contacts that would have alerted Lichtblau that the FBI didn’t want him to publish — was the response to those calls after Sussmann and Joffe decided to share Lichtblau’s name. There was new news that Lichtblau had to try to understand that created a new delay.

As with Sussmann, it would be nice for Lichtblau if he could describe all the efforts he made to verify the story. If he could, it would demonstrably undercut several of the claims Durham is making. He can’t, because he has separate confidentiality agreements with those other sources.

Shaw, who accuses Sussmann of being privileged, completely flips how privilege works on its head (including by mis-citing the David Tatel concurrence in the Judy Miller subpoena, which as I understand it would support Lichtblau making the call about the scope of his testimony). She ties it to a topic rather than a privileged relationship to accuse Lichtblau of trying to selectively pick which parts of the story he can tell.

The D.C. Circuit has “declined to adopt a selective waiver doctrine” in the context of attorney-client communications that “would allow a party voluntarily to produce documents covered by the attorney-client privilege to one party and yet assert the privilege as a bar to production to a different party.” United States v. Williams Companies, Inc., 562 F.3d 387, 394 (D.C. Cir. 2009). “The client cannot be permitted to pick and choose among his opponents, waiving the privilege for some and resurrecting the claim of confidentiality to obstruct others.” Permian Corp. v. United States, 665 F.2d 1214, 1221 (D.C. Cir. 1981). Privilege holders must instead “treat the confidentiality of attorney-client communications like jewels—if not crown jewels” because courts “will not distinguish between various degrees of ‘voluntariness’ in waivers of the attorney-client privilege.” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d 976, 980 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

This principle—which restricts a privilege of “ancient lineage and continuing importance,” In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d at 980—necessarily governs the novel and qualified reporter’s privilege advanced in this case. Sussmann subpoenaed Lichtblau to appear as a witness and Lichtblau has not moved to quash. Lichtblau and defendant Sussmann cannot “tactical[ly] employ[]” the asserted privilege to pick and choose the topics that may be put to Lichtblau on the witness stand. Permian Corp., 665 F.2d at 1221. Privileges are not “tool[s] for selective disclosure.” Ibid

I get why someone in the grips of a fevered conspiracy theory would make this argument. Durham believes that everyone involved with the Alfa Bank story was part of the same malicious conspiracy targeting poor Donald Trump, even though DOJ has in its possession abundant proof that’s false. Yet even in this case, Cooper has distinguished between the privileged relationships that Joffe has with what the Democrats have, and he has also pointed to affirmative evidence that this wasn’t one big conspiracy.

But Shaw would have you believe that Lichtblau’s privilege obligations are tied to a project, a story, and not a bunch of individuals, many of whom he had existing relationships with well before this story.

A lawyer not in the grip of a fevered conspiracy theory, however, would understand that that kind of privilege doesn’t make you special, it creates an obligation, even if the obligation prevents you from using your profession from helping yourself.

To Celebrate Its Third Birthday, the Durham Investigation Will Attempt to Breach Eric Lichtblau’s Reporter’s Privilege

Happy Birthday to Johnny D and his merry band of prosecutors! Today marks your third birthday! Quite a milestone for an investigation that has just one conviction — a gift wrapped up with a bow from Michael Horowitz — to show for those three years.

John Durham, however, had something much more ambitious planned to mark the milestone, it appears.

As Sean Berkowitz noted earlier this week, Sussmann’s team wants to call Eric Lichtblau as a witness in next week’s trial. They were able to get Lichtblau to agree to testify based on the understanding he would only testify about conversations with Michael Sussmann and Rodney Joffe. But Durham’s team — I guess to assert the newfound brattiness of a three-year-old — refused to limit their cross-examination to those who had waived confidentiality.

There is an issue here that I want to alert you to. We reached out to Mr. Lichtblau’s counsel, actually counsel for The New York Times, to explore their willingness in light of the First Amendment issues to testify at the trial. And we told him that both Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe would waive any privilege associated with the press privilege; and that gave The New York Times comfort that, notwithstanding their normal policy of objecting, they would allow him to testify about his interactions with

Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Joffe, communications between the two as well as communications with the FBI that wouldn’t be protected by privilege because the FBI reached out to them to ask them to hold the story.

They did tell us that they would object to questioning Mr. Lichtblau about independent research he did in support of the story, you know, people he spoke with to verify sources and other types of things that were not communicated to Mr. Sussmann.

We told him from our perspective that seemed like a fair line to draw, and we would not get into that.

He’s reached out to the Government on that issue, and it appears there may be — again, I don’t want to speak for the Government — but it appears that they may not be in a position today to give The New York Times that assurance. And so we expect The New York Times sometime this week will be filing a motion on that issue to tee it up for your Honor.

I know you’re welcoming all this additional paper.

THE COURT: One more intervenor in the mix.

MR. BERKOWITZ: “All the news that’s fit to print.”

As a motion submitted by Lichtblau yesterday and a declaration from his lawyer Chad Bowman lays out, after Sussmann and Rodney Joffe waived their confidentiality with Lichtblau by April 21, Durham then took eleven days to consider whether they were willing to limit Lichtblau’s testimony to his conversations with the two of them. Predictably, Andrew DeFilippis was not.

On April 21, 2022, I spoke by telephone with Andrew DeFilippis in the Special Counsel’s Office, as well as several of his colleagues. I asked whether the prosecution similarly would be willing to limit examination to direct communications between Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Lichtblau, a journalist, particularly given the Department of Justice’s new policy restricting the use of compulsory process to obtain information from reporters, as memorialized in the Office of the Attorney General’s July 21, 2021 Memorandum, a true and correct copy of which is attached as Exhibit B and which is also available online at at https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1413001/download. Mr. DeFilippis stated that the prosecution needed time to consider the request.

On May 2, 2022, during a follow-up telephone call, Mr. DeFilippis stated that the prosecution was unable to give “any assurance” that their cross-examination questioning of Mr. Lichtblau would be confined to his discussions with Mr. Sussmann. In particular, Mr. DeFilippis stated that certain of Mr. Lichtblau’s email communications with third parties were within the prosecutions possession, and that the prosecution might want to examine Mr. Lichtblau about other, unknown aspects of his reporting. He also indicated a view that any reporter’s privilege would be pierced by a trial subpoena.

This is, by all appearances, a naked attempt to keep a very devastating witness off the stand. There’s no way, even under prior guidelines, Durham would have been able to get Lichtblau’s testimony; particularly given that they’ve got the communications in question, they couldn’t show a need to get his testimony.

That’s all the more true given Merrick Garland’s prohibition on requiring testimony from reporters.

But Lichtblau’s testimony is pretty critical for Sussmann, not least because he’ll make it clear he reached out to Sussmann and that the interest in reporting on Russian hacking was in no way tied to animus towards Trump. Plus, he would explain what an impact that acceding to the request from FBI to hold the story was for his career.

Durham has long tried to hide that after the FBI requested, Sussmann and Joffe acceded to help kill the story. It kills his conspiracy theory. It corroborates Sussmann’s stated motivation for sharing the DNS anomaly, that he was trying to help the FBI. Particularly given that both Sussmann and Joffe have Fifth Amendment reasons not to want to testify, Lichtblau would provide a way to get the full extent of that process into the trial.

But Durham wants to prevent it from coming into evidence unless Lichtblau is willing to pay a needless price for doing so.

“The Laptop” Is the Functional Equivalent of The Steele Dossier, 1: Rudy Is the Real Scandal

I’m going to explain how The Laptop that Rudy Giuliani floated just before the election is the functional equivalent of the Steele dossier.

Before I do, let me make a fairly obvious (if counterintuitive) point: Of the three people that powerful Ukrainians attempted to cultivate for their ties to the Vice President or President — Paul Manafort, Hunter Biden, and Rudy Giuliani — just one provably affected US policy through the Vice President or President: Rudy.

Contrary to what you may have read, for example, Manafort actually wasn’t the one who prevented the GOP platform from being strengthened to support Ukraine, JD Gordon was (though Trump’s do-not-recall answer about his own involvement can’t rule that out). Mueller’s decision not to prosecute Gordon as an agent of Russia was only recently made public (thanks to the relentless work of Jason Leopold and his lawyer).

And while there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that Manafort entered into a quid pro quo on August 2, 2016, trading campaign strategy for a commitment to help carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking along with $19 million a financial benefit for Manafort personally, because the investigation into Manafort became public in 2016, his ongoing efforts to push that Russian plan to dismember Ukraine never (as far as has been made public) had the involvement of Trump. It’s possible Trump was involved or Manafort got certain commitments in 2016, but Manafort’s own cover-up prevented DOJ from determining whether or not that was true.

According to the NYT story that has renewed the frenzy around the laptop Rudy Giuliani released just before the election, Federal prosecutors still haven’t determined whether Hunter Biden’s treatment of Chinese, Kazakh, and Ukrainian influence efforts amounted to a crime. But they do have evidence that Hunter Biden tried to be explicit that he could not influence his father to help Burisma.

In one email to Mr. Archer in April 2014, Mr. Biden outlined his vision for working with Burisma. In the email, Hunter Biden indicated that the forthcoming announcement of a trip to Ukraine by Vice President Biden — who is referred to in the email as “my guy,” but not by name — should “be characterized as part of our advice and thinking — but what he will say and do is out of our hands.”

The announcement “could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation. We need to temper expectations regarding that visit,” Hunter Biden wrote.

Vice President Biden traveled to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, about a week after the email.

In the same April 2014 email, Hunter Biden indicated that Burisma’s officials “need to know in no uncertain terms that we will not and cannot intervene directly with domestic policymakers, and that we need to abide by FARA and any other U.S. laws in the strictest sense across the board.”

He suggested enlisting the law firm where he worked at the time, Boies Schiller Flexner, to help Burisma through “direct discussions at state, energy and NSC,” referring to two cabinet departments and the National Security Council at the White House.

The firm “can devise a media plan and arrange for legal protections and mitigate U.S. domestic negative press regarding the current leadership if need be,” Mr. Biden wrote in the email.

And sworn testimony from experts in both parties say Hunter did not dissuade his father from taking steps to crack down on corruption.

Of these three well-connected Americans being cultivated by powerful and corrupt Ukrainians — some but not all of them known Russian agents — only Rudy Giuliani is known to have had a direct effect on policy. Among other things, Rudy got Marie Yovanovitch fired. In only Rudy’s case, then, do we have clearcut proof that a Ukrainian influence operation had the desired effect of  changing American policy. Though even there, it’s not yet clear whether Rudy’s unregistered influence peddling was criminal.

(Obviously, Manafort pled guilty to being an unregistered Ukrainian agent during the earlier period, and he got paid orders of magnitude more than Hunter Biden did, too.)

So as we fight about The Laptop again, based on a reference to verified emails in a NYT article bylined by serial Rudy mouthpiece Ken Vogel, the first thing we should keep in mind is that there’s far more evidence that Rudy Giuliani successfully influenced the President or Vice President as a secret agent of Ukraine than Hunter Biden.

Liar’s Poker: The Complexity of Julian Assange’s Extradition

There’s a remarkable passage in the High Court ruling granting the US appeal to extradite Julian Assange. It basically judged that the key medical expert who determined that Assange would be at risk of suicide if he were extradited, Michael Kopelman, had deliberately not told the truth in his first report on Assange about his family ties to Stella Morris and their two kids, and had not used available means to correct his falsehood afterwards.

We do not accept that Professor Kopelman was confronted with a dilemma of such difficulty as has been claimed. No reason has been put forward why, if it was felt that concern for Ms Moris’ safety made it necessary to conceal her identity, he could not simply have reported all relevant facts but indicated that he did not think it right to name her. That, indeed, is what Mr Assange’s solicitor seems to have expected him to do: her statement says that she canvassed with Professor Kopelman whether the identification of Ms Moris as Mr Assange’s partner could be deferred, and the report served, without detriment to or qualification of its conclusions or their basis. Thus she was not proposing that the report should contain anything misleading, only that for the time being Ms Moris should not be named.

Nor has any reason been given why an application could not have been made to the court pursuant to rule 19.9 of the Criminal Procedure Rules which enables material to be withheld in appropriate circumstances. But in any event, even making every allowance for his being placed in a difficult situation, we cannot agree with the judge’s view that Professor Kopelman did not fail in his professional duty. As the judge found, he made at least two statements which were misleading; and we see no escape from the inference that he did so deliberately, having decided to obscure certain facts in order to avoid mentioning the obviously-relevant facts of Ms Moris’ recent and continuing relationship and of the children whom she had by Mr Assange. At the conclusion of his first report, and in accordance with rule 19.4 of the Criminal Procedure Rules, he signed a declaration in the form required by paragraph 19B.1 of the Criminal Practice Direction. In this, he stated amongst other things –

“(vii) I have exercised reasonable skill and care in order to be accurate and complete in preparing this report.

(viii) I have endeavoured to include in my report those matters, of which I have knowledge or of which I have been made aware, that might adversely affect the validity of my opinion. I have clearly stated any qualifications to my opinion. …

(x) I will notify those instructing me immediately and confirm in writing if for any reason my existing report requires any correction or qualification.”

In our view, Professor Kopelman plainly did not comply with those statements, because in his first report he chose not to state what he knew of the relationship between Mr Assange and Ms Moris when opining on the effects of Mr Assange’s “solitary confinement” in the Embassy and the risk of suicide; and subsequently he failed to correct his report or to make clear his earlier knowledge of the relationship. We regret to say that declaration (viii) was simply untrue. His second report did nothing to correct the misleading impressions created by the first. On the contrary, it maintained his silence about his knowledge at the time of the first report.

With all respect to the judge, we cannot agree with her implicit finding that Professor Kopelman’s failings could be excused or overlooked merely because his conduct could be viewed as “an understandable human response”. Many people mislead courts for reasons which might be understandable but that does not excuse the behaviour and it is incompatible with the obligations of an expert witness to do so. Nor was it relevant to the judge’s assessment of his evidence that she had learned of Mr Assange’s relationship with Ms Moris before she read the medical evidence: it was no thanks to Professor Kopelman that she had done so.

There were, therefore, substantial reasons for the judge to question the impartiality and reliability of Professor Kopelman’s opinion. With respect to the judge, we would have expected to see a rather fuller analysis than she gave of her reasons for deciding that she could accept his evidence not least because it was central to the success of Mr Assange on the single ground which led to his discharge.

The question for this court, however, is whether she was entitled to accept his evidence. Mr Lewis confirmed that the USA did not submit to the judge that the professor’s evidence was inadmissible and should be excluded but rather that it should be given little weight, particularly where it was not supported by other expert evidence or contemporary medical records. In the end the argument before the judge devolved to one of weight. It is highly unusual for the court to be considering an expert witness whom a judge has found to have given misleading evidence but whose evidence has nonetheless been accepted. [my emphasis]

Because the US did not argue that his testimony was, as a result, inadmissible, but instead argued his testimony should be given little weight, the High Court ruled they were unable to second guess Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling, which relied heavily on Kopelman’s opinion. For that reason, the High Court rejected US’ two bases for appeal tied to Kopelman’s opinion.

Nevertheless, the High Court accepted that US assurances that Assange would not be subjected to solitary confinement unless he does something new to merit it were sufficient to grant the extradition request.

Ground 2: Having decided that the threshold for discharge under section 91 was met, the judge ought to have notified the USA of her provisional view to afford it the opportunity of offering assurances to the court;

[snip]

Ground 5: The USA has now provided the United Kingdom with a package of assurances which are responsive to the judge’s specific findings in this case. In particular, the US has provided assurances that Mr Assange will not be subject to SAMs or imprisoned at ADX (unless he were to do something subsequent to the offering of these assurances that meets the tests for the imposition of SAMs or designation to ADX). The USA has also provided an assurance that they will consent to Mr Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him if he is convicted.

[snip]

The first and fourth assurances wholly exclude the possibility of Mr Assange being made subject to SAMs, or detained at the ADX, either pretrial or after conviction, unless, after entry of the assurances, he commits any future act which renders him liable to such conditions of detention. It is difficult to see why extradition should be refused on the basis that Mr Assange might in future act in a way which exposes him to conditions he is anxious to avoid.

The ultimate effect is that, unless Assange succeeds in his own appeal of this or the underlying decision, then Priti Patel will soon face the decision of whether or not to extradite him.

These two issues go to the dubious credibility of both sides. The High Court ruled that Kopelman did not give unvarnished expert opinion (he was in no way the only one of WikiLeaks’ experts to do so), but found that could not, at this point, affect the legal analysis. And it found that US assurances that US jails would treat Assange humanely were sufficient, even though I believe there is a high likelihood that Assange will do something that ends up getting  him put in some form of isolation.

WikiLeaks has lied systematically throughout this extradition process — about why Assange was charged when he was, about what he was charged with, about how strong the case against him is, about what a Yahoo article actually said. I have described how a very close Assange associate ordered me, in advance of the first extradition hearing, to stop doing factual reporting on Joshua Schulte’s case because it would undermine the story about journalism WikiLeaks wanted to tell, which is one way I’m absolutely certain the lying is intentional. They have affirmatively told a story that was most useful to their propaganda effort, one they knew to be false.

It’s bad enough that WikiLeaks has chosen to lie over and over in Assange’s defense.

But out of a combination of sloppiness and willful ethical failures, press organizations and journalists have replicated those lies, claiming to do so in the name of “journalism.” In effect, press NGOs and journalists have spent the last two years stating that the lying and hacking that WikiLeaks does is what they do — a claim that I fear will backfire in the future. You can’t defend journalism by lying, but that is what Assange has induced journalists and their advocates to do, the world over.

That said, the US is little more credible. There’s scant reason to credit US assurances on jail and prison conditions. That’s true — and would be true for all international extradition cases — because our jails and prisons are shamefully inhumane. But it’s also true because a national security defendant like Assange would have little leeway before triggering more severe restrictions.

This is an example where neither side should be credited.

But that doesn’t change the danger. The way in which DOJ has applied the Espionage Act poses a grave threat to journalism.

17 of the 18 charges against Assange criminalize things that journalists also do: soliciting and publishing classified information.

The 18th charge is a hacking conspiracy, one that extends from efforts to hack multiple targets in 2010, including a WikiLeaks dissident, through the Stratfor hack, includes WikiLeaks’ efforts to exploit their role in helping Edward Snowden flee to Russia, right up to WikiLeaks’ efforts to recruit CIA SysAdmins like Joshua Schulte to hack the CIA, though the indictment stops short of WikiLeaks’ publication of those hacked files. There is nothing controversial about the CFAA charge — and, indeed, people who support privacy should be outraged about some of this (and this is not the only surveillance of private citizens I’ve heard about). A lot of people have been duped to cheerlead really invasive hacking and spying, if done by WikiLeaks, in the name of journalism.

The hacking charge parallels the Espionage charges, which is central to underlying extradition ruling. Judge Baraitser used the way these efforts worked in parallel to distinguish Assange from journalists.

[Baraitser] distinguished what Assange does from what journalists do because, as alleged in the indictment and in actual fact, hacking is such a central part of what Assange does. It’s not clear she would have gotten to this ruling without the language included in the superseding indictment (a superseding indictment which, again, virtually all Assange boosters either willfully ignore or are genuinely ignorant exists). But as it happened, she relied heavily on the language in the superseding indictment and very clearly distinguished what Assange does from what journalists do.

Of particular interest (because this is the language in the indictment that I believe sets up adding Vault 7 to the indictment), Baraitser accepted the US government’s description of Assange recruiting people to hack.

Mr. Assange, it is alleged, had been engaged in recruiting others to obtain information for him for some time. For example, in August 2009 he spoke to an audience of hackers at a “Hacking at Random” conference and told them that unless they were a serving member of the US military they would have no legal liability for stealing classified information and giving it to Wikileaks. At the same conference he told the audience that there was a small vulnerability within the US Congress document distribution system stating, “this is what any one of you would find if you were actually looking”. In October 2009 also to an audience of hackers at the “Hack in the Box Security Conference” he told the audience, “I was a famous teenage hacker in Australia, and I’ve been reading generals’ emails since I was 17” and referred to the Wikileaks list of “flags” that it wanted captured. After Ms. Manning made her disclosures to him he continued to encourage people to take information. For example, in December 2013 he attended a Chaos computer club conference and told the audience to join the CIA in order to steal information stating “I’m not saying don’t join the CIA; no, go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out”.

Again, it’s not just that Assange solicited people to share classified information with him (which journalists do), but that he also explicitly encourages people to hack to get it.

She further used European privacy protections to distinguish Assange’s bulk publication of the identities of US and Coalition (therefore, also UK) informants from journalism.

She distinguished Assange’s publication online (in bulk, though that distinction is less clear and not one of great comfort to someone who also publishes online) from traditional journalism.

More importantly, Baraitser talked about the balancing involved in Article 10 (particularly with regards to the right of private life).

The defence submits that, by disclosing Ms. Manning’s materials, Mr. Assange was acting within the parameters of responsible journalism. The difficulty with this argument is that it vests in Mr. Assange the right to make the decision to sacrifice the safety of these few individuals, knowing nothing of their circumstances or the dangers they faced, in the name of free speech. In the modern digital age, vast amounts of information can be indiscriminately disclosed to a global audience, almost instantly, by anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. Unlike the traditional press, those who choose to use the internet to disclose sensitive information in this way are not bound by a professional code or ethical journalistic duty or practice. Those who post information on the internet have no obligation to act responsibly or to exercise judgment in their decisions. In the modern era, where “dumps” of vast amounts of data onto the internet can be carried out by almost anyone, it is difficult to see how a concept of “responsible journalism” can sensibly be applied.

[comparison with other outlets and their condemnation of him]

The law already constrains in various ways what may be published in order to avoid damage to private interests. For example, the High Court recently awarded damages against the Associated Newspaper Ltd, after the MailOnline website published an article , reporting on the arrest of the claimant in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, and disclosing details capable of leading to his identification (Alaedeen Sicri v Associated Newspapers Limited, [2020] EWHC 3541 (QB)). Free speech does not comprise a ‘trump card’ even where matters of serious public concern are disclosed (see Stoll above), and it does not provide an unfettered right for some, like Mr. Assange, to decide the fate of others, on the basis of their partially informed assessment of the risks.

This was not necessarily a national security stance. Rather, in language that would apply equally to Assange’s indiscriminate publication of the DNC and Podesta emails (as well as the publication of the Turkish and Saudi emails), Baraitser argued that Assange’s publication in bulk was not protected because it did not and could not properly weigh the risk to others.

That’s scant comfort for the way Assange’s prosecution could be used against actual journalists, though, for several reasons. First, the Espionage Act charges still criminalize actions that journalists do, including the publication of classified information. Plus, the US First Amendment protects publication, not journalists, and so the distinction Baraitser made works less well in the US. And the US has none of the privacy protections that Baraitser used to distinguish his indiscriminate publication of informant identities (though it should).

In other words, unless the charges — or the way they’re presented — change between now and trial, ultimately the application of them to Assange would be a dangerous precedent given US law.

They may well change. The US government may have plans to make an argument that — even key press defenders have said — would make the Espionage Act charges more palatable: by, in effect, declaring Assange a spy. That’s one of the reasons I find the sealed ex parte filing submitted in the Joshua Schulte case on August 4 of such interest, because it seems so reactive to what is going on in the Assange extradition.

To understand why I think this is a possibility, it’s important to understand key details about the timeline leading up to Assange’s charges, details that WikiLeaks has worked very hard to obscure:

  • As CNN reported in a 2017 piece that Julian Assange’s expert professed to be unable to find with Google, “The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.” Snowden’s own book gave significant reason to believe this went well beyond simply fleeing to Russia. In any case, once Assange helped Snowden flee, WikiLeaks had eliminated the “NYTimes problem” DOJ faced if they prosecuted Assange for things real news outlets also do, because whatever else journalists do to protect their own sources, they don’t help the intelligence officers of one country flee to a hostile country.
  • Just before Obama left office, the review of WikiLeaks’ role in the Russian election operation changed the view of the Obama Administration. It’s impossible to know whether that would have led Obama to charge Assange if he had more time. But there’s reason to believe that developments people like to blame on Trump — like increased surveillance of Assange — were set in motion before Trump came in.
  • The 2017 release of hacked CIA tools — the publication that led Mike Pompeo to call WikiLeaks a hostile non-state intelligence agency and to consider and in some cases implement more onerous steps against Assange — not only involved the same actions currently charged for the Manning leaks (including the apparently selective publication of CIA officer identities), but it also involved efforts to extort the US government and even the President’s son. Additionally, the concern about WikiLeaks’ treatment of the CIA leak was not just or even primarily about the files that got released, but the files that WikiLeaks was hoarding; that’s what the government was really trying to understand when they conducted some of the more aggressive spying on WikiLeaks associates: what WikiLeaks was doing with the CIA’s source code, the vast majority of which is still unaccounted for.
  • In addition to the Vault 7 release, after Roger Stone almost got Trump to shut down the entire Russian investigation in June 2017, later in 2017 DOJ started investigating Assange’s role in the 2016 operation, an investigation that at least by 2018 encompassed the question of whether he was an Agent of Russia. Particularly about these topics, Assange repeatedly foregrounded Russian-favored storylines during his extradition, rather than the truth.
  • The surveillance that ratcheted up starting in summer 2017 and especially in December 2017 reportedly bore fruit. That month, according to even WikiLeaks-friendly sources speaking to Yahoo, Russia tried to exfiltrate Assange. This is a core detail of the Yahoo story that WikiLeaks has otherwise embraced, one that likely affects everything that came later. Julian Assange was not charged in 2016 after he helped Russia tamper in the US election. He was not charged in April 2017 after the Vault 7 release. He was charged the day the Russians tried to exfiltrate him. The Espionage Act charges that pose such a threat to journalism only came in May 2019, at least 8 months after DOJ started investigating whether Assange was a Russian Agent based on his 2016 conduct and two years after they significantly ramped up surveillance of him. The second superseding indictment that Assange boosters like to ignore includes conduct that extends through 2015 and incorporates multiple hacking conspiracies (in a single count) and his actions with regards to Edward Snowden. None of that changes the danger the Espionage Act charges pose to journalism. But it means they post-date the time when Russia came to fetch Assange.

In 2020, as part of a presumptively cynical attempt to coerce Jeremy Hammond to testify against Assange in a grand jury, prosecutors on this case asserted, as fact, that Assange is a Russian spy.

I don’t know whether that’s true or not — or whether the government would ever share its evidence to make the case, much less prove that he was a Russian spy during all the current charged acts going back to 2010. I know of plenty of circumstantial evidence going back even before 2009 that makes it plausible (here’s a compendium of some, but not all, of that evidence I know of). If that were proven, it would suggest Assange is — and may have been since he convinced Chelsea Manning to keep stealing documents, some of which she didn’t personally work with — a spy, using a classic technique of recruiting people using one motive to serve a very different one. It’d be a brilliant way to convince a lot of people to ruin their lives if that were true.

I’m not going to persuade the boosters nor, probably, is anything the US government would be willing to say in unclassified form. But I invite Assange boosters to consider whether they would continue their own activism for him if they were convinced of that fact. (There’s absolutely a case to be made for doing so, particularly for non-Americans.) More importantly, I invite journalists and journalism NGOs, particularly the ones who have been telling partial truths, lies of omissions, or magnifying brazen falsehoods, to consider what that would mean for their profession, if after spending two years proclaiming that what Assange does is what journalists do it were revealed that Assange was not what the deliberate lies WikiLeaks is telling proclaim him to be.

I’d like to protect journalism. That requires opposing the Espionage Act charges against Assange for obtaining classified information and publishing it. But it also requires telling the truth about Julian Assange.

What today’s High Court judgment confirms is that neither side can be trusted.

Citing “Considerable Detail” in Affidavits, Judge Denies Bid to Unseal Project Veritas Warrants

Magistrate judge Sarah Cave just denied a bid by the Reporter’s Committee for the Freedom of the Press to unseal the warrant affidavits targeting James O’Keefe and other Project Veritas personnel.While she rejected the government’s claim there was an exemption for warrant applications in ongoing criminal investigations, she found that a balancing test supported the government’s bid to keep the affidavits secret.

Of particular note, Cave conducted an in camera review of the affidavit and determined that there was so much information about individuals who, “voluntarily or involuntarily,” had provided information for the investigation, releasing the affidavits would thwart cooperation in the investigation.

Third, the Court has reviewed the Materials in camera and observes that they contain considerable detail about individuals who may have already provided information to the Government—voluntarily or involuntarily—such that unsealing of the Materials “could subject [them] to witness tampering, harassment, or retaliation.” In re Sealed Search Warrants Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021 at *4; see Amodeo II, 71 F.3d at 1050 (noting that if the confidentiality of cooperating witnesses “cannot be assured, cooperation will not be forthcoming”); Smith 985 F. Supp. 2d at 531–32 (noting that disclosure of search warrant materials would undermine ongoing investigation by, inter alia “officially confirm[ing] who some of the cooperating witnesses in these investigations are,” which “could lead to efforts by [the targets of the investigation] to frustrate the ongoing investigations”). Release of the information in the Materials “is likely to cause persons in [this] or future cases to resist involvement where cooperation is desirable,” and thereby undermine law enforcement interests. Amodeo II, 71 F.3d at 1050.

Cave describes that “the Materials include references to a number of individuals employed by or associated with Project Veritas. Their conduct in relation to the alleged criminal activity is described in considerable detail, although not all of that conduct may be criminal.”

Cave also determined that, because of the amount of detail the government obtained  there was no way to redact the names in the affidavit to make it available that way.

Finally, the Court has carefully examined the Materials to determine whether redactions would be sufficient to protect the countervailing interests that outweigh the presumption of public access, and concludes that “no portion of those documents may be unsealed without compromising the interest in the integrity and security of the [I]nvestigation” and the privacy interests of third parties. In re Sealed Search Warrants Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021, at *5. As noted above, the Materials contain not only the legal theories of the Investigation, but also details about the information the Government has obtained and from which sources. The nature and extent of any possible redactions to omit this information would “render[] unintelligible” the contents of the Materials, and could be “more likely to mislead than to inform the public” in the way that RCFP predicts. Amodeo II, 71 F.3d at 1052. Accordingly, the Court concludes that unsealing the Materials, “even in redacted form, cannot be accomplished at this stage without serious risk to the [I]nvestigation,” and they must therefore remain sealed at this time. In re Sealed Search Warrant Issued June 4 & 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021, at *5

We’ll have to wait to see what the government’s case is or was against Project Veritas.

But it sounds like there’s a good deal behind these warrants.

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