July 6, 2022 / by 

 

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.


Parallel Tracks: Project Veritas Served on Their Subpoena Stance

There’s a temporal problem in Project Veritas’ initial motion to appoint a Special Master to sort through materials seized from James O’Keefe in a search on November 6.

In one place, it described that, “At 6:00 AM on Saturday, November 6, 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) executed a search warrant at Mr. O’Keefe’s home.” In another, it described that, “On November 5, 2021, at approximately 6:00 AM, the FBI executed search warrants at the homes of two former Project Veritas journalists, seizing their cell phones and other electronic devices.” But the very next paragraph describes that the O’Keefe search happened two days after the initial search: “Approximately two days later, the FBI executed a search warrant at the home of James O’Keefe.” Then, the letter describes that, “on November 4, 2021 – two days before its search of Mr. O’Keefe’s home — the undersigned had accepted service of a grand jury subpoena directed to Project Veritas.” Shortly thereafter, the letter says the earlier search happened on November 4, not November 5. “On November 4, 2021, at about the same time that FBI agents finished searching the home of a former Project Veritas journalist.”

Even while incorrectly stating that the initial search happened on November 5, the filing (and a subsequent one) don’t describe precisely when NYT’s Mike Schmidt twice reached out for comment about the searches, a key part of their obviously false narrative that Schmidt had to have gotten tipped off by the FBI.

The searches happened on November 4 and 6, at 6AM. I asked Mike Schmidt when he reached out but he didn’t respond, though Eric Cochran’s motion to appoint a Special Master says Schmidt reached out approximately an hour after the 3-hour search happened, so around 10AM.

The incorrect claim in that initial filing that the first searches occurred on November 5 may be nothing more than a typo, but sorting through the timeline alerted me to a chronological detail of some import that PV may want to obscure. PV got word themselves of the investigation, and reached out to one of the prosecutors involved, Mitzi Steiner, to find out more about the investigation on October 26. After Steiner refused to reveal anything about the investigation, lawyers for PV offered to accept a subpoena the next day, promising they had “material and helpful information” to the investigation. But after DOJ sent a subpoena on November 4 — almost certainly after the first searches, which targeted former PV staffers — PV persistently refused to say whether it would comply with the subpoena.

[T]he Government has repeatedly offered to be flexible about the Subpoena’s return date if Project Veritas confirms that it will comply with the requests therein. Project Veritas has repeatedly declined to do so, and similarly declines in its motion here to represent that it will comply.

And after PV repeatedly declined to ask for an extension in response to reassurances they would comply with the subpoena, they used the search on O’Keefe as an excuse to try to get such an extension.

Judge Analisa Torres denied PV’s request for an extension, which could have significant repercussions going forward.

There are several implications of this timeline. First, DOJ may believe, with some justification, that by first serving a subpoena on PV in response to their invitation to do so, only to have them equivocate about whether they would comply, they had fulfilled DOJ’s requirements to seek alternative resolutions, short of a search. That is, PV’s own games may have led to the search on O’Keefe.

The other issue is how this affects PV’s ability to claim expansive privilege protections. When PV alerted DOJ that it not only knew of the investigation, but who was leading it, DOJ likely took measures to identify how they had learned of the investigation. That’s a good way to identify attempts to obstruct an investigation. For example, after it became clear that Roger Stone was tampering in the Mueller investigation in 2018, Mueller obtained a pen register to learn with whom, besides Michael Caputo, Stone was communicating. That appears to be what alerted Mueller to how panicked Stone was by the Andrew Miller interview. That, in turn, is something that may have helped them obtain probable cause on the others. In a directly relevant example, for example, DOJ learned that Lev Parnas had deleted his iCloud account, which seems to be one of the things that helped SDNY obtain warrants for Rudy’s cloud-based accounts in 2019. When co-conspirators attempt to coordinate stories or delete evidence, it makes it a lot easier to obtain warrants.

As a result, there may be information pertaining to PV’s involvement in the alleged theft in three different places. First, I would be shocked if SDNY had not obtained the cloud-based communications of O’Keefe, Eric Cochran, and Spencer Meads. That said, DOJ has already indicated that it knows key communications of interest took place on Telegram, and it’s unclear what access DOJ has to that, independent of the phones Telegram texts were sent on. Then there are the contents of their phones, which may (and uncontroversially could) be subjected a Special Master review. If Torres grants PV’s request for a Special Master, it would give PV an opportunity to at least understand what the full legal exposure is. But then there’s the matter of the subpoena. I would be unsurprised if PV filed a challenge to the subpoena, which might go before Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain rather than Judge Torres, and might be sealed as a grand jury matter. But this is a subpoena they invited, which will make it a lot harder to claim the subpoena was improper.

With Michael Cohen, the government was able to demonstrate during the Special Master review that some of the materials that Cohen might otherwise have tried to claim were privileged were not, in part because they had already seized his cloud communications (including his Trump Organization emails, which were hosted and turned over by Microsoft). Here, if PV responded to the subpoena at all, the government get a privilege log, laying out why PV thinks conversations O’Keefe had with 45 different lawyers were really privileged, thereby committing PV and O’Keefe to the claims they made in a subpoena response (assuming, of course, they don’t buy time by challenging the subpoena).

Whatever the merit — or abuses — of the focus on PV, PV’s games on the subpoena may have made efforts to protect O’Keefe far more difficult. And their game-playing with the subpoena will make it more difficult for other news outlets in the future to have DOJ treat efforts to accommodate reasonable requests in good faith.

It’s a complex issue and we don’t have enough information to know whether DOJ’s case — that PV was involved in the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary itself, and so not protected under any First Amendment precedent that might otherwise be available to them — is solid or if it instead charges them for involvement after the diary was already stolen, the First Amendment standard under Bartnicki which applies to journalists and non-journalists alike. PV is also trying to shield materials — including donor information and claimed attorney-client privileged materials — along with anything purporting to relate to journalism. The seeming desperation to hide donor information (which normally wouldn’t be involved in the scope of such a request) raises real questions about the sincerity of their journalistic claims, particularly given the recent revelation that PV would let donors dictate the timing of PV’s publications. And as DOJ noted in its response to PV’s motion for a Special Master to review the seized material, PV is not trying to protect the identities of its purported (second-hand) sources for the diary, so some protections that might otherwise apply do not here.

It is troubling that DOJ seized records from O’Keefe citing crimes that suggest liability for a crime after the fact, because if PV genuinely was only involved after the fact, it would pose a dangerous precedent for actual journalists. But the games that PV appears to have played with their subpoena dangle — and some changes they’ve already made to their story — suggest there my be more to the story.

Timeline

These events are covered by three SDNY dockets: 21-mc-813 for James O’Keefe, 21-mc-819 for Eric Cochran, and 21-mc-825 for Spencer Meads.

2020

October 12: O’Keefe sends email, not mentioning Ashley Biden by name (but clearly referring to her) explaining his decision not to publish “Sting Ray” Story.

October 25: National File publishes pages from Ashely Biden’s diary, linking parallel New York Post campaign targeting Hunter. It explains the provenance of the diary this way:

National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

[snip]

National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish this potential critical story in the final 10 days before the 2020 presidential election. National File’s whistleblower also has a recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary is hers, and employed a handwriting expert who verified the pages were all written by Ashley. National File has in its posession a recording of this whistleblower detailing the work his media outlet did in preparation of releasing these documents. In the recording, the whistleblower explains that the media organization he works for chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing media organization.

November 3: PV provides the diary to local law enforcement in FL.

2021

October 26: Paul Calli call DOJ, asks for AUSA Mitzi Steiner, and asked to speak about the PV investigation; Steiner asked how Calli had obtained her name, what else he had obtained, and declined to speak with Calli.

October 27: Lawyers for Project Veritas inform the DOJ that they will accept service for a subpoena relating to the investigation

November 3, 3:49 PM: Search warrants for Eric Cochran and Spencer Meads approved.

November 4, AM: FBI executes search warrants on former PV employees, Cochran and Spencer Meads.

November 4: PV lawyers accept service of subpoena.

November 4, one hour after the search: Mike Schmidt reaches out to Cochran and O’Keefe for comment about the investigation.

November 5, 11:18 AM: Warrant for O’Keefe authorized

November 5: NYT publishes story on investigation including language that PV would later baseless claim had to have come from the FBI.

November 6: FBI executes a search warrant on James O’Keefe

November 6: Schmidt contacts O’Keefe for comment.

November 6: Lawyers for Project Veritas ask the FBI to sequester material from the phone.

November 7: DOJ declines PV’s request and states the FBI has complied with all media guidelines.

November 8, 6:11PM: DOJ emails PV and tells them the extraction may start as soon as the next day.

November 8: After PV says it’ll file a legal challenge, FBI says it’ll only stop extraction after PV files such a challenge.

November 10: On behalf of PV, Calli Law moves to appoint a Special Master.

November 11, 12:51-12:53AM: Calli asks for confirmation that DOJ stopped extraction and review on O’Keefe’s phone on November 8.

November 11, 7:57AM: DOJ responds that the substantive review of O’Keefe’s phone was paused upon filing of motion on November 10.

November 11; 2:13PM: Judge Analisa Torres sets initial briefing schedule; in response to Torres order, DOJ stops extraction of O’Keefe phone.

November 12: In response to DOJ request, Torres extends briefing schedule.

November 12: Greenberg Traurig lawyer Adam Hoffinger, representing Eric Cochran, asks for Special Master to apply to materials seized from him, as well.

November 12: Letter signed by FL attorney Brian Dickerson but apparently docketed by NY lawyer Eric Franz asks for Special Master to apply to Spencer Meads

November 12, 3:49PM: Calli asks for clarification on review and extraction.

November 12, 3:59PM: DOJ responds that, “upon the filing of your motion, the Government paused the review of all material obtained from the search of your  client’s residence.”

November 14: Calli submits clarification letter regarding extraction and review.

November 15: Torres sets schedule in Cochran docket.

November 15: DOJ requests permission to reply to PV on November 19.

November 15: Calli requests inquiry into government leaks to NYT.

November 16: Torres grants permission to respond on November 19.

November 16: Ian H. Marcus Amelkin asks to delete initials of PV source, A.H., from docket.

November 17: Torres denies Amelkin request without prejudice.

November 17: Cochran motion to appoint Special Master.

November 18: For Meads, Dickerson formally moves for Special Master (and also complains that FBI seized dated devices).

November 19: Calli requests extension on response deadline for PV subpoena.

November 19: Government files opposition to request for Special Master and inquiry into purported leaks.

November 19: DOJ requests permission to respond to motion for extension on subpoena. Torres grants request.

November 21: DOJ opposition to extend subpoena deadline.

November 21: Government motion to oppose unsealing affidavits.

November 22: Torres denies motion for extension on subpoena.

November 22: PV reply to government opposition to Special Master.

November 23: Torres denies motion (including from RCFP) to unseal affidavits.

November 23: Cochran reply to government opposition to unseal affidavits.

November 24: Meads reply to refusal to unseal affidavits, including letters from House and Senate complaining to DOJ.


Charlie Savage Plays with His Magic Time Machine To Avoid Doing Journalism

Charlie Savage just did something astonishing in the name of press freedom. He said that the truth doesn’t matter now, in 2021, because he reported a different truth eleven years ago.

He took issue with my headline to this piece, noting that he was obfuscating the facts about the Julian Assange prosecution so as to shoehorn it into a story about actual journalists.

Charlie made several obfuscations or clear errors in that piece:

  • He didn’t explain (as he hasn’t, to misleading effect, in past stories on Assange) the nature of the 2nd superseding indictment and the way it added to the most problematic first superseding one
  • He said the 2019 superseding indictment (again, he was silent about the 2020 superseding indictment) raised the “specter of prosecuting reporters;” this line is how Charlie shoehorned Assange into a story about actual journalists
  • He claimed that the decision to charge Assange for “his journalistic-style acts” arose from the change in Administrations, Obama to Trump (and specifically to Bill Barr), not the evidence DOJ had obtained about Assange’s actions over time

Charlie presented all this as actual journalism about the Assange prosecution, but along the way, he made claims that were either inflammatory and inexact — a veritable specter haunting journalism — or, worse, what I believe to be false statements, false statements that parrot the propaganda that Wikileaks is spreading to obscure the facts.

The “specter” comment, I take to be a figure of speech, melodramatic and cynical, but mostly rhetorical.

The silence about the 2020 superseding indictment is a habit I have called Charlie on before, but one that is an error of omission, rather than of fact.

It’s this passage that I objected to at length:

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

As presented, this passage made several claims:

  1. “Obama-era officials” had considered charging Assange for publishing activities, but “Obama-era officials” did not do so because it might damage “mainstream news outlets” like the NYT
  2. The reason that the Trump administration was willing to charge Assange for publishing was because they were “undeterred” from the prospect of doing damage to the NYT
  3. DOJ under Billy Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy “to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes”

I believe the last claim is largely factual but misleading, as if the operative issue were Barr’s involvement or as if Barr deliberately treated Assange’s “journalistic-style acts” — as distinct from that of actual journalists — as a crime. There may be evidence that Barr specifically had it in for WikiLeaks or that Barr (as distinct from Trump’s other Attorneys General) treated Assange as he did out of the same contempt with which he treated actual journalists. There may be evidence that Barr — whose tenure as AG exhibited great respect for some of the journalists he had known since his first term as AG — was trying to burn down journalism, as an institution. But Charlie provides no evidence of that, nor has anyone else I know. (Indeed, Charlie’s larger argument presents evidence that Barr’s attacks on journalism, including subpoenas that may or may not have been obtained under Barr in defiance of guidelines adopted under Eric Holder, may only differ from Obama’s in their political tilt.)

Of course, one of the worst things that the Trump Administration did to a journalist, obtaining years of Ali Watkins’ email records, happened under Jeff Sessions, not Barr.

The first and second claims together set up a clear contrast. Obama-era officials — and by context, this means the entirety of the Obama Administration — did not prosecute Assange for publication because of what became known — based off a description that DOJ’s spox Matthew Miller gave publicly in 2013 — as the NYT problem, the risk that prosecuting WikiLeaks would endanger NYT. But the Trump Administration was willing to charge Assange for publication because they didn’t think the risk that such charges posed to the NYT were all that grave or damaging or important.

There’s no way to understand these two points except as a contrast of Administrations, to suggest that Obama’s Administration — which was epically shitty on leak investigations — wouldn’t do what the Trump Administration did do. It further involves treating the Department of Justice as an organization entirely subject to the whims of a President and an Attorney General, rather than as the enormous bureaucracy full of career professionals who guard their independence jealously, who even did so, with varying degrees of success, in the face of Barr’s unprecedented politicization of the department.

It’s certainly possible that’s true. It’s possible that Evan Perez and three other CNN journalists who reported in 2017 that what actually changed pertained to Snowden simply made that report up out of thin air. It’s certainly possible that under a President who attempted to shut down the Russian hacking investigation to protect Assange even after his CIA Director declared war on Assange, who almost blew up the investigation into Joshua Schulte, who entertained pardoning Assange in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2020, at the same time viewed the Assange prosecution as a unique opportunity to set up future prosecutions of journalists. It’s certainly possible that Billy Barr, who sabotaged the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions to serve Trump’s interests, went rogue on the Assange case.

But given the abundant evidence that this prosecution happened in spite of Trump’s feelings about WikiLeaks rather than because of them, you would need to do actual reporting to make that claim.

And, as noted, I asked Charlie whether he had done the reporting to sustain that claim before I wrote the post…

… just as I — months earlier — asked Charlie why he was falsely claiming Assange was charged in 2018 rather than within a day of a Russian exfiltration attempt in 2017, something that probably has far more to do with why DOJ charged Assange when and how they did than who was Attorney General at the time.

After his bullshit attempt to explain that date error away, Charlie removed the date, though without notice of correction, must less credit to me for having to fact check the NYT.

Anyway, Charlie apparently didn’t read the post when I first wrote it, but instead only read it yesterday when I excused Icelandic journalists for making the same error — attributing the decision to prosecute Assange to Billy Barr’s animus rather than newly discovered evidence — that Charlie had earlier made. And Charlie went off on a typically thin-skinned tirade. He accused me (the person who keeps having to correct his errors) of being confused. He claimed that the thrust of my piece — that he was misrepresenting the facts about Assange — was “false.” He claimed the charges against and extradition of Assange was a precedent not already set by Minh Quang Pham’s extradition and prosecution. He accused me of not grasping that this was a First Amendment argument and not the journalism argument he had shoehorned it into. He suggested my insistence on accurate reporting about the CFAA overt acts against Assange (including the significance of Edward Snowden to them) was a “hobbyhorse,” and that I only insisted on accurate reporting on the topic in an effort to, “us[e] something [Charlie] said as a peg to artificially sex it up (dumb NYT!) even though it doesn’t actually fit.” He then made a comment that still treats the prosecution of Assange as binary — the original indictment on a single CFAA charge or the first superseding indictment that added the dangerous Espionage Act charges — rather than tertiary, the second superseding indictment that, at least per Vanessa Baraitser, clearly distinguished what Assange did from what journalists do.

That’s when things went absolutely haywire. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charlie Savage said that his repeated claim that the charges against Assange arose from a change in Administration rather than a changed understanding of Assange did not rely on what Miller said, because he had “been writing since 2010 about deliberations inside DOJ re wanting to charge Assange/WL,” linking to this story.

 

That is, Charlie presented as a defense to my complaint that he was misrepresenting what happened in 2016 and 2017 by pointing to reporting he did in 2010, which — I pointed out — is actually before 2013 and so useless in offering a better reason to cling to that 2013 detail rather than rely on more recent reporting. Because DOJ did not have the same understanding of WikiLeaks in 2010 as they got after Julian Assange played a key role in a Russian intelligence operation against the United States, obtained files from a CIA SysAdmin after explicitly calling on CIA SysAdmins to steal such things (in a speech invoking Snowden), attempted to extort the US with those CIA files, and then implicitly threatened the President’s son with them, Charlie Savage says, it’s okay to misrepresent what happened in 2016 and 2017. Charlie’s reporting in 2010 excuses his refusal to do reporting in 2021.

Given his snotty condescension, it seems clear that Charlie hasn’t considered that, better than most journalists in the United States, I understand the grave risks of what DOJ did with Assange. I’ve thought about it in a visceral way that a recipient of official leaks backed by an entire legal department probably can’t even fathom. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to understand — and write accurately about — what DOJ claims to be doing with Assange. Indeed, as someone whose career has intersected with WikiLeaks far more closely than Charlie’s has and as someone who knows what people very close to Assange claim to believe, I feel I have an obligation to try to unpack what really happened and what the real legal implications of it are, not least because that’s the only way to assess where DOJ is telling the truth and whether they’re simply making shit up to take out Assange. DOJ is acting ruthlessly. But at the same time, at least one person very close to Assange told me explicitly she wanted me to misrepresent the truth in his defense, and WikiLeaks has been telling outrageous lies in Assange’s defense with little pushback by people like Charlie because, I guess, he thinks he’s defending journalism.

As I understand it, the entire point of journalism is to try to write the truth, rather than obfuscate it in an attempt to protect an institution called journalism. It does no good to the institution — either its integrity or the ability to demonstrate the risks of the Assange prosecution — to blame it all on Billy Barr rather than explore how and why DOJ’s institutional approach to Assange has changed over time.


Charlie Savage’s Obfuscations in the Service of Claiming Julian Assange Is a Journalist

Everyone is fighting for press freedoms again, and therefore lots of people are misrepresenting the facts about Julian Assange’s prosecution in purported defense of press freedom again.

These are the paragraphs with which UK Judge Vanessa Baraitser distinguished what Julian Assange is accused of from what “ordinary investigative journalists” entitled to protection in the UK or European Union do.

99. As part of his assistance to Ms. Manning, [Assange] agreed to use the rainbow tools, which he had for the purpose of cracking Microsoft password hashes, to decipher an alphanumeric code she had given him. The code was to an encrypted password hash stored on a Department of Defence computer connected to the SIPRNet. It is alleged that had they succeeded, Ms. Manning might have been able to log on to computers connected to the network under a username that did not belong to her. This is the conduct which most obviously demonstrates Mr. Assange’s complicity in Ms. Manning’s theft of the information, and separates his activity from that of the ordinary investigative journalist.

100. At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted” and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking.

101. 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”.

Assange is not an “ordinary investigative journalist,” according to the judge who ruled that his extradition would not violate journalistic protections, because he allegedly:

  • Tried to help Manning hack a password
  • Solicited hacks of Iceland
  • Identified a vulnerability in a US server and encouraged people to use it
  • In a speech invoking WikiLeaks’ role in helping Edward Snowden to flee to what ended up being Russia, allegedly encouraged people to join the CIA with the express intent of stealing files from it

A key point for Baraitser is this was all happening at the same time, Assange was allegedly soliciting hacks in Iceland even as he attempted to help Manning crack a password, and Manning knew about the other hacking.

Charlie Savage mentions none of this in a story explaining that Julian Assange’s extradition and prosecution, “raised the specter of prosecuting reporters.” He doesn’t even mention the second superseding indictment at all, the one that lays out (among other things) the allegation that Assange entered in a conspiracy to hack Stratfor, a hack that at least six people on both sides of the Atlantic already did time for.

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

From there, Charlie tells a narrative that WikiLeaks has been pushing as part of Assange’s extradition defense, a claim that because DOJ Public Affairs head Matthew Miller said, in November 2013, that DOJ could not distinguish Julian Assange from what the NYT does, that means that the Obama Administration continued to face that challenge for the remaining three years of the Obama Administration, long after Miller left, and right through the time WikiLeaks played a key role in a Russian intelligence-led attack on American democracy. As Charlie presents it — citing no sources or public records, and I asked him if he was relying on any and he didn’t respond — the decision to prosecute Julian Assange arose not so much from a subsequent investigation that came to distinguish Assange’s actions from those of journalists, but instead because the Trump Administration “was undeterred” about the prospect of damaging “mainstream news outlets.”

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

For now, the First Amendment issues are on hold as Mr. Assange fights extradition from Britain. Soon after the Biden administration took office, the Justice Department pressed forward with that extradition effort in British court, leaving the charges in place.

But that was before Mr. Garland was sworn in — and before the latest uproar about the escalating aggression of the Justice Department’s leak investigation tactics prompted him to focus on drafting a new approach that, he testified, will be “the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.”

It’s Trump’s doing, not the result of further investigation, Charlie reports, as news.

The WikiLeaks narrative that Charlie repeats unquestioningly is inconsistent with an April 2017 report — one Assange’s journalism professor expert witness claims to have been unable to find with the magic of Google — that what came to distinguish Assange from other journalists was his role in helping Edward Snowden.

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.

We now know, four years later, that not just DOJ but even “mainstream news outlets” considered what WikiLeaks did to help Snowden something other than journalism.

Bart Gellman’s book (which was published before the most recent superseding indictment) not only lays out how WaPo’s lawyers told Gellman that he and Laura Poitras could not safely, under the law, play the role (which is referenced in the superseding indictment against Assange that Charlie doesn’t mention) that WikiLeaks would end up playing, helping Snowden get asylum in what ended up be an adversarial nation. Gellman even cites communications he and Poitras sent to Snowden in real time explaining that taking steps to help Snowden get asylum in what might be, and as it happens turned out to be, a hostile country was not journalism.

We had lawyered up and it showed. “You were clear with me and I want to be equally clear with you,” I wrote. “There are a number of unwarranted assumptions in your email. My intentions and objectives are purely journalistic, and I will not tie them or time them to any other goal.” I was working hard and intended to publish, but “I cannot give you the bottom line you want.”

Poitras wrote to him separately.

There have been several developments since Monday (e.g., your decision to leave the country, your choice of location, possible intentions re asylum), that have come as a surprise and make [it] necessary to be clear. As B explained, our intentions and objectives are journalistic. I believe you know my interest and commitment to this subject. B’s work on the topic speaks for itself. I cannot travel to interview you in person. However, I do have questions if you are still willing to answer them. [my emphasis]

In other words, WaPo’s own lawyers made it clear that helping an intelligence source obtain asylum in another country is not journalism and might, instead, be viewed by the US government as abetting espionage.

Given Charlie’s focus on the transition from the Trump to Biden Administration, there’s something else glaringly absent from his story: the official record on the government response to WikiLeaks’ role in the 2016 election attack. Admittedly, great swaths of that discussion remain redacted (which suggests there’s stuff we may not know), but the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report the Obama Administration’s response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign discussed how part of that process involved “develop[ing] a complete understanding of WikiLeaks.”

The executive branch struggled to develop a complete understanding of WikiLeaks. Some officials viewed WikiLeaks as a legitimate news outlet, while others viewed WikiLeaks as a hostile organization acting intentionally and deliberately to undermine U.S. or allies’ interests.

In other words, in 2016 — three years after the Miller quote that WikiLeaks has trained obedient journalists to parrot unquestioningly — the government came to some new “complete” understanding of WikiLeaks. One of the most important players in this process was then White House Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco. Her interview with the committee is cited repeatedly in the unredacted passages of the report.

Admittedly, Monaco’s views on how or whether her own understanding of WikiLeaks changed as part of that process do not appear in the report. The SSCI report redacts what those Obama officials came to understand about WikiLeaks in the waning days of the Obama Administration. But, in a story presented as “news,” it seems important to consider how that process might influence Monaco’s understanding of the case against Assange, given that one of the last things she did when last in government was struggle to respond to an attack on American democracy in part because the government treated WikiLeaks as a journalistic outlet for far too long during the attack. Whatever she believes, Monaco knows far more than Matthew Miller, or us, for that matter. We might not agree with her thus far non-public understanding of WikiLeaks, but even the four year old understanding of WikiLeaks she brought to her position as Deputy Attorney General surely will have a bigger influence on DOJ’s decisions about Assange going forward than what the Public Affairs guy said eight years ago.

It’s not that I disagree that some of the charges against Assange — particularly for publishing the names of US and Coalition informants — present a dangerous precedent. They do, and those risks are important to talk about, accurately and honestly. On that note, though, it’s again worthwhile to see how Baraitser distinguishes Assange (note, the circumstances of the release of the informant names is the area where Assange presented the most evidence to challenge the government’s evidence).

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

The New York Times published the following condemnation on 25 July 2012:

“The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose —either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations. We have, for example, withheld any names of operatives in the field and informants cited in the reports. We have avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods such as communications intercepts. We have not linked to the archives of raw material. At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.”

This is a distinctly European decision. That’s true because in Europe, unlike the US, such protections are tied to being a journalist. Plus Baraitser argued that under EU law, Assange’s release violated privacy protections that simply don’t exist in the US. Mind you, it’s one thing to say the NYT won’t publish details that might endanger military operations and another thing to say such revelations shouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment. Even if WikiLeaks is a “hostile organization acting intentionally and deliberately to undermine U.S. or allies’ interests,” (as SSCI described), that should not, itself, surpass the First Amendment consideration.

But it underscores the point. There are First Amendment problems with the publication charges and, to a lesser extent, the other Manning-focused ones. But Assange actually wouldn’t be the first person extradited from the UK significantly for publication activities, the same thing happened to Minh Quang Pham for the few months he spent as AQAP’s graphic designer. That precedent has not only gone virtually unnoticed, but did little to harm the press freedom of others in the US. Not only are the First Amendment risks of Assange’s prosecution not tied to whether or not Assange is a journalist, but the effort to reinvent both the history of his prosecution and what he is accused of to turn him into a journalist has led a bunch of journalists and press freedom advocates to violate the principles that are supposed to distinguish journalism.


Flashbacks to the 2015 Campaign

Katy Tur at SXSW
[h/t nrkbeta Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]

Several years ago, I got Mrs Dr Peterr Katy Tur’s book Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Tur had been the NBC reporter assigned to the Trump campaign in 2015 and 2016, and listening to the impeachment coverage yesterday and the coverage this morning, one episode she recounted in the book came flashing back . . .

In Dec 2015, three days before Trump announced his pledge to institute a Muslim travel ban, Trump got rattled at a rally in Raleigh NC where protesters coordinated their efforts and threw him off his game, interrupting his speech every couple of minutes from different parts of the arena. Disgusted, Trump abruptly left the podium and started shaking hands offstage, and Tur sent out a simple tweet describing what had happened.

Right before lunch the next day, Hope Hicks wrote her to say “Katy, Mr. Trump thought your tweets from last night were disgraceful. Not nice! Best, Hope.” Shortly thereafter, the media gets the word about the travel ban Trump intended to announce that night, and that becomes the big story of the day with Katy doing liveshots all afternoon. That evening, before a rally inside the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier-turned-museum in Charleston harbor), Trump blasted her with four attack tweets in the span of four minutes.

Tur says the rally’s specific location was a surprise, in that it wasn’t held on the carrier deck but inside the belly of the ship, with the media crowded into a pen.

Yes, we are in a pen: a makeshift enclosure made of bicycle racks and jammed full of desks, reporters, and camera equipment. We’re in the middle of the carrier, slammed against the right side wall. As usual, almost all of Trump’s supporters are white and a lot of them are looking at us, not exactly kindly. The campaign and Secret Service force us to stay inside the pen while Trump is onstage. They even discourage bathroom breaks. None of them have a good explanation for why we’re kept separate from the supporters. Are we the threat or are they?

Trump starts his rambling speech, and the crowd eats it up. Then Trump opens up on the media.

“The mainstream media,” Trump says. “These people back here, they’re the worst. They are so dishonest.”

Hoots and hollers.

And then I hear my name.

“She’s back there, little Katy. She’s back there.”

Trump then calls her a liar several times, and a third rate reporter several times as well, before pivoting to a more general attack on the media. Finally, once he’s got the crowd sufficiently whipped up, he formally announces the Muslim ban, and the crowd which she described earlier as looking at her like “a large animal, angry and unchained” went nuts.

She goes live with Chris Matthews as Trump leaves the stage, and when she’s done with that, Chris Hayes takes over and wants to keep her on the air for the lead story on his show that followed Matthews’.

[Trump] supporters are taking their time to leave. They’re still whipped up. I know someone is going to start yelling at me as soon as I start talking. So I do what I always do. I find the pinhole deep in the back of the lens and I tune everything else out.

A couple of minutes later, I’m done. The crowd that had gathered behind my live shot is gone except for a few stragglers, yelling at me. They’re five feet away, held back by those lousy bicycle racks. A Trump staffer shoos them away. MSNBC has cleared me and my bosses want [her cameraman/sound tech] Anthony and me to get out of there as quickly as we can. I don’t quite understand why until we pack up and start to head out. A Trump staffer stops me and says “These guys are going to walk you out.”

I look over and see two Secret Service agents. Thank goodness. They walk Anthony and me along the gangway back to our car. It’s pitch black and I’m nervous. We’re parked with the crowd.

Once we’re moving, I take a look at my phone. My mom has called. And called. And called. I dial her back. “Are you okay? Where are you staying? Can someone stay with you? You need security!? She is crying. And it hits me.

I’m a target.

On that day in December 2015, the security professionals of the US Secret Service recognized that Trump was dangerously inciting a mob, and stepped in to protect the target he had singled out.

On January 6, 2021, Trump again incited a mob, and this time there was no one to stop them.


The Baraitser Decision’s Impact (or Not) on Journalism

Before and since Joe Biden was inaugurated, Julian Assange supporters are unsurprisingly pushing for Biden to direct DOJ to adopt a different stance in the prosecution of Assange.

I suspect that’s unlikely. Indeed, while I’m not sure how any of this would work under the extradition law or be tempered by the UK’s rejection of extradition based on humanitarian grounds and ongoing appeal of that decision, I think it more likely that DOJ does one of the following:

  • Supersedes the existing indictment to incorporate (at least) Vault 7
  • Adds conspiring with Russia, potentially showing a timeline of doing so that goes back up to a decade
  • Charges non-national security crimes (the quid pro quo for the pardon and possibly extortion) as a way to get around the finding that he’d be put in a SuperMax
  • Indicts an omnibus conspiracy naming others, or
  • Asks the UK to prosecute Assange under the equivalent crimes (including, possibly, for Vault 7)

I think that not because I believe Joe Biden will be shitty or good on issues pertaining to journalism or because I have it in for Assange. I think that because unlike virtually everyone weighing in on this topic (Alexa O’Brien is the sole exception I know of) I’ve actually been covering what has happened to WikiLeaks cases in the US and the public record shows that the US government as a whole and DOJ as an institution — not Presidents Obama, Trump, or Biden — have come to the conclusion that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic institution.

To that end, I want to return to Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling in Assange’s case, because most people weighing in about how and why Biden might change course are misrepresenting what she said about two issues.

The first issue pertains to the impact of her ruling on journalism. Yes, Baraitser ruled for the US. But all she had to do on this issue was weigh whether the crimes alleged in the indictment have a parallel in UK law (which in this case would be the far more onerous Official Secrets Act) and are permitted under European Convention on Human Rights law’s Article 10.

With regards to the former, Baraitser could have just noted that the Official Secrets Act clearly criminalizes the publication of classified information like that covered by the indictment. That was what most people I know honestly expected (even if they didn’t say as much publicly).

She didn’t. With regards most charges, her ruling relied heavily on the intersecting conspiracies alleged in the superseding indictment that most Assange boosters have not read, one to violate the Espionage Act and the other to violate CFAA (hacking). For the bulk of the charges (the ones covered by Theory One in this post), Baraitser described what Assange does to include a hacking element.

Mr. Assange is accused of aiding and abetting Ms. Manning in her theft and disclosure of the information, as an accessory to her offending. The defence submits that no offence is committed by Mr. Assange unless he has engaged in a criminal activity separate from Ms. Manning’s act of whistle-blowing. However, in my judgment, Mr. Assange’s alleged activities went beyond the mere encouragement of a whistle-blower.

Tseehe [sic] design and purpose of WikiLeaks, it is alleged, was to obtain protected information and publish it. Mr. Assange was willing to achieve this, it is alleged, through computer hacking, both by engaging in hacking activities himself but also by recruiting and soliciting others to do the same. This is amply demonstrated in the request in his work with various hacking groups. His work with Ms. Manning, it is alleged, was part of this plan.

[snip]

At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking

[snip]

In relation to Ms. Manning, it is alleged that Mr. Assange was engaged in these same activities. During their contact over many months, he encouraged her to obtain information when she had told him she had no more to give him, he identified for her particular information he would like to have from the government database for her to provide to him, and, in the most obvious example of his using his computer hacking skills to further his objective, he tried to decipher an alphanumeric code she sent to him. If the allegations are proved, then his agreement with Ms. Manning and his agreements with these groups of computer hackers took him outside any role of investigative journalism. He was acting to further the overall objective of WikiLeaks to obtain protected information, by hacking if necessary. Notwithstanding the vital role played by the press in a democratic society, journalists have the same duty as everyone else to obey the ordinary criminal law. In this case Mr. Assange’s alleged acts were unlawful and he does not become immune from criminal liability merely because he claims he was acting as a journalist.

Thus, even though she didn’t have to do so to rule for the US on this point, she nevertheless 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.

And while the way Baraitser distinguished Assange from others in her ruling on the three most dangerous charges, publishing informants’ identities (Theory Three in this post), is less compelling, she nevertheless went beyond a ruling on the act itself. 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.

This part of the ruling, in particular, would not translate into US law. There is no such privacy balance in the US outside of much weaker defamation laws. And so this part of the ruling does not offer much comfort with regards the existing charges as precedent in the US context.

But that’s an issue Assange supporters have with US law, not with the Baraitser ruling.

With regards to the impact on journalism, Baraitser ruled that the charges before her (which contrary to a lot of WikiLeaks propaganda, doesn’t include the Collateral Murder video) were distinguishable from what journalists do.

As such, unless press organizations want to claim hacking is within the job description of journalists, this ruling should not chill journalism.

There’s certainly real concern about the charges as precedent in the US, particularly the publishing charges. But that’s different than the Baraitser ruling itself.

Update: Corrected ECHR thanks to Chetnolian.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/press-and-media/