Posts

HJC Democrats Do Little to Limit Jim Jordan’s Assault on Public Health and Rule of Law

Jim Jordan, a self-purported libertarian, garnered the love of authoritarian Donald Trump by yelling. And yelling. And yelling.

But his normally obtuse manner of engagement didn’t undermine the dual threat he posed in today’s hearing on the ways Billy Barr is politicizing justice. Democrats failed to get him to abide by the committee rule that he wear a mask when not speaking (not even while sitting in close proximity to Jerry Nadler, whose wife is seriously ill). At one point, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell called him out on it. But Republicans on the committee thwarted the means by which Nadler was enforcing the rule — which was to not recognize anyone not wearing a mask — by yielding their time to Jordan.

Jordan used the time he got to attack the integrity of the witnesses unanswered, make repeated false claims about the conduct of the Russian investigation (both pre-Mueller and under him), and softball Barr’s own actions.

There were exceptions, mind you. Joe Neguse brilliantly got Michael Mukasey to talk about how normal it is — and was for him, when he had the job — for Attorneys General to show up for oversight hearings. Neguse then revealed that the last time an Attorney General had as systematically refused to appear for oversight hearings as Barr, it was Bill Barr, in his first tenure in the job. Val Demings got Mukasey to lay out that Barr himself has said the President was inappropriately interfering in investigations, but no one followed up on the significance of that admission. Likewise, after Demings got Mukasey to affirm a statement he made during confirmation to be Attorney General that he was never asked what his politics were, she didn’t follow up and ask whether it would have been appropriate for Mueller to ask prosecutors about their politics, or even for Republicans to ask Zelinsky about the partisan leanings of Mueller prosecutors in this hearing. No one used Jordan’s repeated questioning of Mukasey about the sheer number of unmaskings of Mike Flynn to ask Mukasey to lay out the real national security questions that might elicit such a concerted response to what was apparently one conversation, to say nothing of testing whether Mukasey actually understood what Jordan was misrepresenting to him.

Worse still, no Democrats asked Mukasey questions that would have laid out how complicit he is with some of Trump’s crimes, particularly the politicization of investigations into Turkey.

Then, long after Republicans sand-bagged anti-trust attorney whistleblower John Elias, presenting cherry-picked results of the whistleblower complaint he submitted, Mary Gay Scanlon circled back and laid out how he submitted the complaint, how it got forwarded, and laid out that Office of Professional Responsibility didn’t actually deal with the substance of his complaint, but instead said even if true, it wouldn’t affect the prerogatives of the department. Even there, neither she nor anyone laid out the significance of OPR (which reports to the Attorney General) reviewing the complaint, rather than DOJ IG, which has statutory independence. The way Elias got sandbagged should have become a focus of the hearing, but was not.

And no Democrats corrected the false claims Jordan made, particularly about the Flynn case, such as when he ignored how Bill Priestap got FBI to cue Flynn on what he had said to Sergey Kislyak or the date of notes released today that Sidney Powell had every Republican, including Mukasey, claim came one day before they had to have. No one even asked Mukasey why he was agreeing with Jordan about Obama’s pursuit of Mike Flynn when the prosecution happened under Trump (and recent documents have shown both Peter Strzok and Jim Comey working hard to protect Flynn). Mukasey would have made the perfect foil for such questions. He even could have been asked how often DOJ flip flops on its position from week to week, as Barr has in the Flynn case.

Even worse, no one circled back to get Aaron Zelinsky to correct the premise of Jordan’s questions about whether Amy Berman Jackson’s final sentence accorded with the initial sentencing memo or not, much less his cynical reading of one sentence out of context to falsely portray ABJ as agreeing with DOJ’s second memo.

Finally, Democrats did almost no fact-finding (indeed, it took Jordan to lay out the hierarchy of the politicization of the Stone sentencing). For example, while Eric Swalwell got Zelinsky to agree that the Mueller Report showed gaps in the investigations, he did not invite Zelinsky to describe what specific gaps he would be permitted to identify in the Stone investigation, such as that DOJ was not able to recover any of Stone’s texts from shortly after the election until a year later, in 2017. No one circled back to invite Zelinsky to explain that he had been able to describe Paul Manafort’s testimony implicating Trump directly in Stone’s work because descriptions of that testimony were hidden by DOJ and just got declassified — months after Stone’s sentencing. Hakeem Jeffries got Zelinsky to lay out one thing that prosecutors had been forced to leave out in the initial sentencing memo — Randy Credico’s testimony about how freaked out he was about Stone’s threats — but he left it there, without follow-up to learn if there had been anything more (like Stone’s discussions personally with Trump).

The testimony of the witnesses — especially Donald Ayer, who had to testify over Louie Gohmert’s tapping of a pencil to try to drown out his testimony — was scathing. But the Democratic members of the committee left them hanging out there, which is going to further disincent other witnesses from testifying. This hearing was far too important not to do better prep work to ensure the risks the witnesses took on will be worth it going forward.

Sometime today, Nadler said he’s reconsidering his earlier statement that the committee would not impeach Barr. But unless Democrats seriously up their game — both on preparation and on discipline — then any impeachment of Barr will be as ineffectual of the Ukraine impeachment, if not worse.

Even the First Roger Stone Sentencing Memo Was Politicized

Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky’s testimony for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on how Trump and Barr are politicizing DOJ has been released. As a number of outlets are reporting, he will testify about how, when Bill Barr flunky Timothy Shea was bending to pressure to “cut Stone a break,” Shea did so because he was “afraid of the President.”

I’m more interested in a few details about the actual drafting of the memos, some of which I’ll return to. The original draft of the sentencing memo was drafted by February 5; it was not only approved, but deemed “strong.”

The prosecution team – which consisted of three career prosecutors in addition to myself – prepared a draft sentencing memorandum reflecting this calculation and recommending a sentence at the low end of the Guidelines range. We sent our draft for review to the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We received word back from one of the supervisors on February 5, 2020, that the sentencing memo was strong, and that Stone “deserve[d] every day” of our recommendation.

On February 7, the hierarchy started intervening. In addition to asking to drop the enhancements (which is what the final memo did), DOJ big-wigs also asked prosecutors to take out language about Stone’s conduct.

However, just two days later, I learned that our team was being pressured by the leadership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to seek all of the Guidelines enhancements that applied to Stone – that is, to provide an inaccurate Guidelines calculation that would result in a lower sentencing range. In particular, there was pressure not to seek enhancements for Stone’s conduct prior to trial, the content of the threats he made to Credico, and the impact of his obstructive acts on the HPSCI investigation. Failure to seek these enhancements would have been contrary to the record in the case and to the Department’s policy that the government must ensure that the relevant facts and sentencing factors are brought to the court’s attention fully and accurately.

When we pushed back against incorrectly calculating the Guidelines, office leadership asked us instead to agree to recommend an open-ended downward variance from the Guidelines –to say that whatever the Guidelines recommended, Stone should get less. We repeatedly argued that failing to seek all relevant enhancements, or recommending a below-Guidelines sentence without support for doing so, would be inappropriate under DOJ policy and the practice of the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, and that given the nature of Stone’s criminal activity and his wrongful conduct throughout the case, it was not warranted.

In response, we were told by a supervisor that the U.S. Attorney had political reasons for his instructions, which our supervisor agreed was unethical and wrong. However, we were instructed that we should go along with the U.S. Attorney’s instructions, because this case was “not the hill worth dying on” and that we could “lose our jobs” if we did not toe the line.

We responded that cutting a defendant a break because of his relationship to the President undermined the fundamental principles of the Department of Justice, and that we felt that was an important principle to defend.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. Attorney’s Office leadership also communicated an instruction from the acting U.S. Attorney that we remove portions of the sentencing memorandum that described Stone’s conduct. Again, this instruction was inconsistent with the usual practice in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and with the Department’s policy that attorneys for the government must ensure that relevant facts are brought the attention of the sentencing court fully and accurately.

Ultimately, we refused to modify our memorandum to ask for a substantially lower sentence. Again, I was told that the U.S. Attorney’s instructions had nothing to do with Mr. Stone, the facts of the case, the law, or Department policy. Instead, I was explicitly told that the motivation for changing the sentencing memo was political, and because the U.S. Attorney was “afraid of the President.”

Ultimately, Tim Shea approved the prosecutors’ inclusion of the enhancements, but took out the language about Stone’s conduct.

On Monday, February 10, 2020, after these conversations, I informed leadership at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. that I would withdraw from the case rather than sign a memo that was the result of wrongful political pressure. I was told that the acting U.S. Attorney was considering our recommendation and that no final decision had been made.

At 7:30PM Monday night, we were informed that we had received approval to file our sentencing memo with a recommendation for a Guidelines sentence, but with the language describing Stone’s conduct removed. We filed the memorandum immediately that evening.

That means even the first sentencing memo — the one that made a strong case for prison time — had been softened by Barr’s flunkies, in some way not laid out in Zelinsky’s opening statement.

Here’s the first sentencing memo. One thing lacking from that memo — but in Zelinsky’s opening statement — pertains to Stone’s discussions directly with Trump.

And that summer, Stone wasn’t just talking to the CEO, Chairman, and Deputy Chairman of the campaign. He was talking directly to then-candidate Trump himself.

On June 14, 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that it had been hacked earlier that spring by the Russian Government. That evening, Stone called Trump, and they spoke on Trump’s personal line. We don’t know what they said.

On August 2, [sic — this should be July 31] Stone again called then-candidate Trump, and the two spoke for approximately ten minutes. Again, we don’t know what was said, but less than an hour after speaking with Trump, Stone emailed an associate of his, Jerome Corsi, to have someone else who was living in London “see Assange.”

Less than two days later, on August 2, 2016, Corsi emailed Stone. Corsi told Stone that, “Word is friend in embassy [Assange] plans 2 more dumps. One “in October” and that “impact planned to be very damaging,” “time to let more than Podesta to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC. That appears to be the game hackers are now about.”

Around this time, Deputy Campaign Chairman Gates continued to have conversations with Stone about more information that would be coming out from WikiLeaks. Gates was also present for a phone call between Stone and Trump. While Gates couldn’t hear the content of the call, he could hear Stone’s voice on the phone and see his name on the caller ID. Thirty seconds after hanging up the phone with Stone, then-candidate Trump told Gates that there would be more information coming. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, also stated that he was present for a phone call between Trump and Stone, where Stone told Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and in a couple of days WikiLeaks would release information, and Trump responded, “oh good, alright.” Paul Manafort also stated that he spoke with Trump about Stone’s predictions and his claimed access to WikiLeaks, and that Trump instructed Manafort to stay in touch with Stone.

Surely there’s someone sharp enough on HJC who can note this discrepancy and ask Zelinsky whether there was similar language in the sentencing memo that Tim Shea took out because he’s “afraid of the President.”

Zelinsky knows little about the drafting of the second memo — he describes that he heard about it in the press and the rest of his understanding appears to come from what he was told in the office.

What he was told was that DOJ actually considered attacking its own prosecutors in the memo.

We repeatedly asked to see that new memorandum prior to its filing. Our request was denied. We were not informed about the content or substance of the proposed filing, or even who was writing it. We were told that one potential draft of the filing attacked us personally.

This is akin to the Mike Flynn motion to dismiss, which insinuated that prosecutors had engaged in misconduct. The Attorney General and his flunkies are attacking career officials at DOJ to perform for the President like trained seals.

In the passage where Zelinsky offers his opinion of that second memo he notes that it matched Trump’s tweet of the interim day.

The new filing stated that the first memo did not “accurately reflect” the views of the Department of Justice. This new memo muddled the analysis of the appropriate Guidelines range in ways that were contrary to the record and in conflict with Department policy. The memo said that the Guidelines were “perhaps technically applicable,” but attempted to minimize Stone’s conduct in threatening Credico and cast doubt on the applicability of the resulting enhancement, claiming that the enhancement “typically” did not apply to first time offenders who were not “part of a violent criminal organization.” The memo also stated that Stone’s lies to the Judge about the meaning of the image with the crosshairs and how it came to be posted on Instagram “overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case,” and therefore should not be the basis for an enhancement.

The new memo did not engage with testimony in the record about Credico’s concerns. Nor did the new memo engage with cases cited in the old memo where the obstruction enhancement was applied to non-violent first-time offenders. And the memo provided no analysis for why Stone’s lies to Congress regarding WikiLeaks overlapped at all with his lies two years later to the judge about his posting images of her with a crosshairs. The new memo also stated that the court should give Stone a lower sentence because of his “health,” though it provided no support for that contention, and the Guidelines explicitly discourage downward adjustments on that basis.

Ultimately, the memo argued, Stone deserved at least some time in jail– though it did not give an indication of what was reasonable. All the memo said was that a Guidelines sentence was “excessive and unwarranted,” matching the President’s tweet from that morning calling our recommendation “horrible and very unfair.” [my emphasis]

Zelinsky’s read of that second memo also complains that it left out the record on Randy Credico’s response to Stone’s threats. In his opening statement, he provides this detail, which I don’t recall from the trial (Amy Berman Jackson was able to rely on Credico’s grand jury transcript in her sentencing, because Stone had submitted that with one of his filings).

Then, fearful of what Stone’s associates might do to him, Credico moved out of his house and wore a disguise when going outside.

Credico explains that he grew a thick mustache and wore a cap and sunglasses. Dressing up as John Bolton is indeed a fearful disguise.

The detail that Credico moved out of his house, taken in conjunction with the detail from the Stone warrants that Stone hired a private investigator to find an address to “serve” Credico with a subpoena he never served him, is especially chilling.

Stone hired a PI to hunt Credico down after Credico took measures to hide from him and (Credico has always emphasized) Stone’s violent racist friends.

In addition to making it clear that Shea politicized even the first memo in some way, Zelinsky hints at ways that Stone’s witness tampering was more aggressive than widely understood.

Let’s hope those details come out in tomorrow’s hearing.

A Discussion of a Pardon for Assange Is Why Stone’s Threats against Credico Worked

Given events of the last several days, I want to return to an exchange from Roger Stone trial. It came during Aaron Zelinksy’s questioning of Randy Credico. The exchange started with a discussion of a May 21, 2018 email exchange between Stone and Credico.

It started when Credico told Stone “you should have just been honest with the house intel committee… you opened yourself up to perjury charges like an idiot…”

Stone responded by threatening Margaret Kunstler.

You are so full of shit. You got nothing. Keep running your mouth and I’ll file a bar complaint against your friend Margaret.

Without any more context, Credico responded,

Go right ahead she’s no Assange lawyer never has been…

Several months earlier, Stone had threatened to expose that, in September 2016, Credico had forwarded a Stone request to find out of Assange had any emails relating to Libya and R.K. Paul to Kunstler.

But the questioning in the trial suggested this May 2018 threat related to something else. After getting Credico to read through the May 2018 email, Zelisnky immediately pivoted to something else: how Credico put Stone in touch with Kunstler in 2016 to discuss a pardon for Assange.

Q. What did you write to Mr. Stone on May 21st, 2018?

A. “Go right ahead. She’s not Assange’s lawyer.”

Q. I’m sorry. Below that. Let’s start at the first message, “You should have.” All the way at the bottom.

A. Where? Where am I? Here, “You should have.”

“You should have just been honest with the House Intel Committee. You’ve opened yourself up to perjury charges like an idiot. You have different versions. Maybe you need to get into rehab and get that memory straight.”

Q. What did Mr. Stone respond?

A. I don’t see it here.

Q. Just above that, do you see —

A. Oh, yes. “You are so full of S-H-I-T. You got nothing. Keep running your mouth and I’ll file a bar complaint against your friend Margaret.”

Q. And when he says “your friend Margaret,” who is he referring to?

A. Margaret Ratner Kunstler.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

Q. And at this time period, in May of 2018, how did you feel about having put Ms. Kunstler directly in touch with Mr. Stone?

A. I was — I was ashamed of myself that I had done that. I should have never done that, you know. I don’t blame him; I blame me for doing that.

Q. For the remainder of 2018, did you continue to be concerned about Mr. Stone?

A. Remainder of 2018?

Q. Yes, sir.

A. Well, yes, I did.

Q. Why were you concerned about Mr. Stone?

A. Well, this is it, right here. This is the crux of it, is bringing Margaret into this, Mrs. Kunstler into it. That was the crux of it.

The suggestion — at least in the context of this particularly threat — is that it was the late 2016 contact, not the September 2016 one, that Credico primarily worried about.

For what it’s worth, this is not the only time Credico denied that Kunstler was Assange’s lawyer (even though he bragged about that colloquially during the election). During cross-examination from Robert Buschel, Credico dodged mightily, even claiming — in a statement that might put complaints about surveillance of Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in a different light — that Assange has “about 1,000 lawyers.” Though ultimately Credico said that Kunstler represented Sarah Harrison, not Assange.

Q. Margaret Kunstler is one of WikiLeaks’s lawyers?

A. You’ll let — she’s going to have to describe her role as a — what her role is with WikiLeaks. You know, I don’t — he has — Julian Assange has about 1,000 lawyers. You know, Michael Ratner was one of his lawyers. Alan Dershowitz was one of his lawyers.

Q. Thank you.

A. There are a lot of lawyers. All right? But, that — you know, who’s a lawyer —

THE COURT: The question is, do you know —

THE WITNESS: I don’t consider —

THE COURT: — do you have personal —

THE WITNESS: — her to be his lawyer. I consider her to be — to know people, be part of a team.

BY MR. BUSCHEL: Q. That was —

A. Yes.

Q. — giving legal advice to WikiLeaks?

A. I don’t know if they gave to WikiLeaks or somebody else. I think it was somebody else, Sarah Harrison, maybe, but not — I don’t think she was giving legal advice.

That’s consistent with what Kunstler herself testified, though she also said that she “sometimes represented WikiLeaks.”

Q. Who have you represented who is connected to WikiLeaks?

A. I have represented Sarah Harrison. I still represent Sarah Harrison. She was — did work at WikiLeaks, but she no longer does.

Q. How long had you represented her?

A. For about four and a half years.

Q. How did Ms. Harrison become your client?

A. She became my client because the lawyers representing Mr. Assange decided that it would be helpful to have a second lawyer for Ms. Harrison, and I was asked to do that.

Q. Do you know who the founder of WikiLeaks is?

A. Yes.

Q. Who is it?

A. Julian Assange.

Q. Have you, as an attorney, ever represented Mr. Assange?

A. Only to the extent that I sometimes represented WikiLeaks, so it kind of overlaps. But technically, I don’t know.

Q. Have you ever spoken with Mr. Assange?

A. Yes.

Q. How often have you spoken with him?

A. I think about a total of under ten times.

Q. When is the last time that you have spoken with Mr. Assange, if you can remember?

A. Probably the end of 1918.

Q. I’m sorry, do you mean 2018?

A. Yes, I’m sorry, 2018.

So something about what happened in late 2016 served as a point of leverage over Credico.

As I have noted, Stone used Credico’s shared support for a pardon for Assange as leverage through early January 2018, by which point Stone’s buddy’s government had charged Assange as part of a bid to stave off an Ecuadorian-Russian exfiltration attempt.

Right in the middle of Credico’s claims about what WikiLeaks was up to in early October 2016, for example, on October 3, he pushed Stone to get Trump to back asylum for Assange.

Then there are the exchanges on the topic that MoJo reported on a year ago from early January 2018.

In the wake of Stone’s successful effort to get Credico to plead the Fifth, the President’s rat-fucker suggested that if Credico publicly revealed that he couldn’t be Stone’s back channel, it might screw up efforts he claimed he was making to get Assange a pardon.

They resumed the discussion about a pardon several days later, when Stone sent Credico Jerome Corsi’s story on Ecuador’s grant of a diplomatic passport to Assange.

Remarkably, given what has transpired since, Credico informed Stone that the British government was not honoring the diplomatic passport, observed that “Infowars ” — which in this case would be Corsi — “doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” then taunted, ‘Maybe your back Channel knows more than I do.”

The current operative story, of course, is that Corsi was the backchannel, though Credico wouldn’t have known that at the time.

It’s certainly possible that Stone was blowing smoke, raising something he knew Credico cared deeply about, pardoning Assange, to get him to toe the line. It’s likely, too, he was just taking reporting on efforts made in late 2017 to liberate Assange and claiming credit for it.

But at the very least, it shows that Stone used a pardon for Assange — something Credico still spends a lot of time pushing — as leverage to try to get Credico to sustain his cover story. It doesn’t explain why that point of leverage was so effective, though.

The President’s Conspiracy Theories Get More Whacko than George Papadopoulos’

Perhaps because the entire legal establishment is pushing back against Bill Barr’s wholesale politicization of DOJ, the President is disturbed on Twitter. After launching a 3-tweet tirade against juror Tameka Hart and Judge Amy Berman Jackson based off a Judge Andrew Napolitano appearance on Fox on Friends (that perhaps unsurprisingly neglects to remind his followers that Napolitano made a case in favor of Trump’s removal by the Senate). he then launched a 3-tweet tirade against the Stone prosecution more generally.

I’m interested in it because of the way Trump attempts to deploy all the other conspiracy theories he has against the Russian investigation to the Stone prosecution, to which they simply don’t apply.

Start with the way Trump claims that 1) the Mueller investigation was “illegally set up” based on the Steele dossier and 2) “forging documents to the FISA Court.”

This is a conceit that has worked well since Paul Manafort, fresh off a meeting with an Oleg Deripaska deputy, suggested Trump could use attacks on the dossier to attack the Mueller Report.

Except one glaring fault of the dossier is that Roger Stone, who had already made comments that suggested he had a direct role in the operation by the time FBI opened investigations on the four initial subjects of it, doesn’t appear in the Steele dossier.

Moreover, whatever else the DOJ IG Report on the Carter Page FISA applications showed, it also showed that the predication of the investigation had nothing to do with the Steele dossier; in fact, Steele’s reports didn’t make it to the investigative team until about six weeks after opening the investigation.

Further, the suggestion that Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email in June 2017 to claim that Page was “not a source” for CIA had anything to do with Roger Stone’s investigation falls flat given that Mueller’s team obtained the first warrant targeting Roger Stone on August 4, 2017, and there’s no insinuation anywhere that Stone ever spoke with Carter Page. (Indeed, in spring 2016, Stone was bitching to Rick Gates that he was not in the loop of foreign policy discussions.) In fact, had Roger Stone been more closely associated with Trump’s freebie foreign policy team, than both Page and George Papadopoulos’ claims to know nothing of campaign efforts to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases would be anything but exculpatory, as DOJ IG treated them, since Stone was doing just that in the time period when they were asked by informants.

Plus, Robert Mueller testified under oath that his team didn’t have anything to do with the Carter Page FISA order. And the investigative record shows that the investigation into Page was largely done by the time Mueller took over.

There’s simply no tie between either the Steele dossier or the Page FISA warrants and Roger Stone’s prosecution.

Trump continues to claim that Mueller interviewed to be FBI Director, even after evidence showing that Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Don McGahn debunked this in real time, not to mention Rod Rosenstein’s 302 that shows that Mueller specifically said he did not want to be interviewed before he met with Trump about Jim Comey’s replacement. That is, a bunch of witnesses — all Republicans — say Trump is wrong.

The most interesting accusation is that the prosecutors who won a conviction against Stone “were Mueller prosecutors.”

Two were: Aaron Zelinsky and Adam Jed.

But two weren’t. Jonathan Kravis (the sole prosecutor who quit DOJ entirely) and Michael Marando were career DC prosecutors brought in to prosecute the case after Mueller shut down. These were, pointedly, not Mueller prosecutors, and the case still went off without a hitch.

In fact, in his interview the other day, Bill Barr made quite clear that this prosecution happened on his watch, and he believes it’s a righteous prosecution.

BARR: Well, as you know, the Stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general. And I supported it. I think it was established, he was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering. And I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy that he was convicted.

If Trump has a problem with the guy who prosecuted the case against Roger Stone, he has a problem with his Attorney General Bill Barr.

Which may be why Trump — who shouldn’t be affected by mere lies by Roger Stone to Congress — is threatening to “sue everyone all over the place.” Of course, he is affected by Stone — Stone is going to prison to protect the President, to avoid describing the multiple conversations they had about optimizing the WikiLeaks releases. And suing (whom?!?!) won’t help Trump suppress that.

The President sounds crazier than George Papadopoulos in this rant, and his conspiracy theories are just as unhinged. Which is, I guess, what happens when all the conspiracy theories you’ve been using to undermine the prosecution implicating you turn out to be utterly irrelevant to the most important firewall to protect.

The Timeline Suggests Bill Barr Removed Jesse Liu to Intervene for Trump’s Rat-Fucker

Far be it for me to doubt Bill Barr’s ability to manufacture a cover-up. He’s damn good at it, that’s why he was hired, and he’s got a lot of power to use to execute one.

But it’ll be harder this time around than it was for Poppy Bush, in part because Barr’s principal has the propensity to go off half-cocked, the frothy right doesn’t think rationally, and Barr himself may believe what he sees on Fox News more than what he sees in court dockets, to the extent he even reviews court dockets.

That’s particularly true given the timeline leading up to the Tuesday Night Massacre, because it appears to show that Bill Barr removed Jessie Liu — and then Trump withdrew her nomination excusing that removal — mostly (at least as far as what is visible thus far) to intervene for Trump’s rat-fucker, Roger Stone.

At least as the timing of the DOJ filings reflect, Barr intervened with the strategy he claimed to Pierre Thomas to apply with Roger Stone with Mike Flynn, providing reasons for Judge Emmet Sullivan to sentence lightly, but leaving it up him. Importantly, Jessie Liu proved willing to do that on January 29; she signed the softened Flynn sentencing memo (though it’s possible Trump submitted her nomination on January 6 in response to the discussions around the initial, harsher memo).

The next day, per dates included in the Roger Stone sentencing memo, DOJ submitted an objection to the January 16 Presentence Investigation Report.

Probation and the Government, however, incorrectly maintain that the following offense level increases are applicable:

Specific Offense Characteristics U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(1)(B) 8 level increase ¶76 1

Specific Offense Characteristics U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(1)(2) 3 level increase ¶77

Obstruction of Justice U.S.S.G. §3C1.1 2 level increase ¶80

Obstruction of Justice 2 U.S.S.G. §2J1.2(b)(3)(C) 2 level increase ¶77

1 Paragraph references are to the Presentence Investigation Report, dated January 16, 2020, (“PSR”). [Dkt. #272].

2 Government’s Objection to Presentence Investigation Report, dated January 30, 2020.

Possibly, given footnote 2, they added language to substantiate the extent to which Stone went to sustain his cover-up.

Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.2(b)(3)(C), two levels are added because the offense was otherwise extensive in scope, planning, or preparation. Stone engaged in a multi-year scheme involving (1) false statements in sworn testimony; (2) the concealment of important documentary evidence; (3) further lies in a written submission to Congress; and (4) a relentless and elaborate campaign to silence Credico that involved cajoling, flattering, crafting forged documents, badgering, and threatening Credico’s reputation, friend, life, and dog. Stone’s efforts were as extensive, if not more extensive, than those of other defendants who received this two-level enhancement at sentencing.

That’s when Barr appointed Timothy Shea as interim US Attorney, effective just two business days later, the one way to take Jessie Liu out of the command structure immediately.

According to Barr’s interview, Shea started asking questions about Stone’s sentencing a week before the memo got submitted. That means Shea spent his first day focused on the Stone sentencing. That makes it hard to believe he was installed for any other reason but to help Stone out.

The first Trump-related motions — basically to remove Flynn’s attorney-client privilege so Covington’s lawyers can expound on how many lies Flynn told them about Russia and his work for Turkey — showed no discernible Barr influence (though Flynn’s reversal on continuing these discussions may have).

Barr provided several somewhat contradictory explanations for what happened on February 10 to Thomas. He claims that Shea “came by” DOJ and alerted Barr that line prosecutors still wanted to recommend the 7-9 year sentence calculated by the Probation Office. Then Barr suggested that he got involved here because line prosecutors who have decades of experience are too junior to make “life or death” decisions.

What other industry allows life or death decisions to be made by the most junior level of the business.

Not long later, however, Barr denied intervening in a case.

Most cases don’t come up to the Attorney General because people are doing a good job.

Some people saying AG intervening in a case. That’s preposterous! We have an escalation system that tries to get the difficult issues that are, you know, people are arguing about, to get them up for resolution and it’s the Attorney General’s decision to decide it.

But here’s the key: Barr claims he only got involved in Stone’s sentencing memo because “difficult issues” got escalated.

Except they only got escalated because he had just installed his hand-picked flunky to oversee this. This wouldn’t have been escalated if Liu were still in place.

All the evidence suggests that Bill Barr replaced Jessie Liu to give himself an excuse to intervene personally in Stone’s sentencing.

And what will it get him? I suspect Judge Amy Berman Jackson would never have sentenced Stone to 7 to 9 years —  the harsher sentence — in any case (especially given that she only gave Paul Manafort 7.5 years). She probably would have given Stone 4-5 years and might still, a slight enhancement for the threat against Randy Credico, but not much. But this drama about sentencing is likely not the big question, given that Stone is likely to have his sentence commuted, one way or another, on November 4, the day after election day. So the real question is how much of the next nine months he serves in prison, which ABJ has some control over, especially given Stone’s propensity to make threats when he’s not in prison or gagged. If ABJ sentences Stone to 4-5 years — close to what Barr has now signed off on in very public and intrusive fashion — but sends him to prison right away, it’s less likely Trump will do something immediate, like pardon him. Whereas, had Barr not intervened, it would have had the same effect but without Barr’s tacit approval for a 3-4 year sentence.

I can’t decide whether the plan here is to make judges look unreasonable — which could happen when Sullivan sentences Flynn to prison, except for the really atrocious details about how Flynn was secretly working for a frenemy government while purportedly advising Trump on national security issues. Or whether it’s to minimize sentence time — which Barr hasn’t done by endorsing a sentence just a year or so less than what ABJ might be inclined to give anyway.

Meanwhile, after inventing a way to remove Jessie Liu immediately, Lou Dobbs and a bunch of other frothers convinced the President to withdraw her nomination, possibly encouraged by the threat of questions about all this in her confirmation hearing, which was scheduled for yesterday. She resigned yesterday from whatever desk Trump parked her at to make way for Shea. She’s a pretty loyal Trumpster, so it’s unclear whether she’ll go quietly. But if she chooses, as a private citizen she’s now entitled to respond to subpoenas from Congress, and between her and Jonathan Kravis (who also resigned entirely from DOJ), she can explain what is really going on.

Meanwhile, Shea is now on the clock: he has until June 2 to complete shutting down any investigations into Trump. Unless the Senate confirms a successor that has not yet been confirmed, then Chief Judge Beryl Howell will be able to pick his replacement. And she was none too happy about this week’s drama.


December 10, 2019: Trump announces intent to nominate Jessie Liu to Treasury

January 4: DOJ asks for one more day to submit Flynn supplemental sentencing memorandum; signed by Liu

January 6: Trump nominates Liu to Treasury

January 7: DOJ submits harsh sentencing memo that nevertheless asks for guidelines sentence; signed by Liu

January 16: Probation Office completes Stone PSI recommending 7-9 years

January 22: DOJ notices court that they’ve provided the last of the Flynn 302s; signed by Liu

January 29: DOJ submits reply sentencing memo, with probation recommendation; signed by Liu

January 30: DOJ submits objection to Stone PSI; Barr appoints Timothy Shea DC US Attorney, effective February 3

February 3: Shea starts; per ABC interview, starts asking questions about the sentencing

February 5: Senate acquits Trump

February 9: DOJ files motion to continue briefing schedule and motion to confirm waiver of attorney-client privilege; signed by Jocelyn Ballentine; Brandon Van Grack not on motions, but probably in preparation for hearing

February 10: Shea “comes by” DOJ and tells Barr the team wanted to recommend 7-9 recommendation; Barr “under the impression” that “what was going to happen was what I had suggested;” DOJ files sentencing memo recommending 7-9 years; Barr claims he decided at night to amend recommendation

February 11:

3:07: Aaron Zelinsky withdrawal

3:56: Jonathan Kravis withdrawal

4:34: John Crabb Jr. files appearance

4:40: Supplemental sentencing memo created, signed by John Crabb Jr

5:27: Adam Jed withdrawal

5:39: Michael Marando withdrawal

6:10: Supplemental sentencing memo finalized

February 12: Trump withdraws Liu’s nomination; DOJ submits response to motion to dismiss; signed by Brandon Van Grack; Jessie Liu resigns from Treasury desk she was parked at to make way for Shea

February 13: Bill Barr does staged interview where he dodges any real explanation for his interference

June 2: Timothy Shea’s interim appointment expires

Timothy Shea Signs Off on Aggressive Sentencing Recommendation for Roger Stone

Update: As Fox first reported and WaPo has written up, the highers up at DOJ have now announced they’re going to change the sentencing guidelines submitted last night. This means they’re arguing that Stone should not have the guidelines sentence submitted by the Probation Office.

I’ll have more to say about the government’s sentencing memorandum for Roger Stone once Stone submits his. But I want to emphasize something notable about the recommended sentence of 87-108 months: it’s that prosecutors recommended a sentence at all.

Up until now, the government has placed sentencing, within guideline ranges, into the judge’s hands, as laid out explicitly in the second Paul Manafort sentencing memo.

Consistent with the practice the Special Counsel’s Office has followed, the government does not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed. Instead, the government sets forth its assessment of the nature of the offenses and offender and the applicable advisory sentencing guidelines and sentencing factors.

As recently as January 29, they took a similar stance with Mike Flynn, repeating “guidelines sentence” when they wanted Judge Emmet Sullivan to sentence him favorably, “guidelines sentence” when they wanted to punish him for reneging on his plea deal, and “guidelines sentence” when they backed off that somewhat.

Prosecutors were far more aggressive with Stone, though, adding on four sentencing enhancements — one hefty, for the threat to Randy Credico, who wrote a letter asking for leniency —  and calling for real punishment at the end.

Roger Stone obstructed Congress’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, lied under oath, and tampered with a witness. And when his crimes were revealed by the indictment in this case, he displayed contempt for this Court and the rule of law. For that, he should be punished in accord with the advisory Guidelines.

Just as interestingly, the newly appointed US Attorney approved this aggressive stance, though not without some pushback.

Front-line prosecutors, some previously with Mueller’s team, argued for a sentence on the higher end for Stone than some of their supervisors were comfortable with, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

A recommendation on the higher end prevailed, with prosecutors’ filings citing federal sentencing guidelines that ratchet up in cases involving obstruction that impedes the administration of justice.

[snip]

Hours before the filing was due Monday, the new head of the D.C. office, interim U.S. attorney Timothy Shea — a former close adviser to Attorney General William P. Barr — had not made a final decision on Stone’s sentencing recommendation, according to the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Disagreements among prosecutors about sentencing recommendations are not uncommon, especially when it comes to politically sensitive high-profile cases. It would have been unusual, however, for the U.S. attorney’s office to endorse a sentence below the guideline range after winning conviction at trial, according to former federal prosecutors.

I think WaPo understates how aggressive this memo is, and I suspect Judge Amy Berman Jackson will find it so too (I wouldn’t be surprised if Stone pushed for probation to 12 months).

And, as WaPo notes, it’s the Mueller prosecutors left on the team (just Aaron Zelinsky and Adam Jed remain on the team) who pushed for this aggressive stance.

 

“Project Rasputin:” The Michael Caputo Interview

Yesterday, the government released another tranche of 302s in response to the BuzzFeed/CNN FOIA. There are actually a slew of interesting interviews.

One of those is Michael Caputo’s. Remember, in addition to having a background in and ongoing ties with Russia (which may have unfairly led to more scrutiny of him than others in the early days of the congressional investigations), he’s very close to Roger Stone. Shortly after Stone was indicted, the government put together a sealed list of witnesses with whom Stone could not have contact, and Caputo learned he was on it. After Stone’s guilty verdict, Caputo wrote Judge Amy Berman Jackson to request that she lift the gag so they could spend time over Christmas together.

Mr. Stone and I have been close friends since 1986. We work together, we dine together, our families share holidays together. I still do not fully understand why this order was entered — I was never a witness in his case and I had never testified before the grand jury — but I respected your order. Even as I attended his recent trial, we did not communicate. Mr. Stone has been especially obedient in this matter and I do not wish to disrupt his commitment to staying within the letter and spirit of your order.

But it’s Christmas, Judge, and our family wants to spend time with his. I also want his wife and children to know they can count on us to assist them through this difficult time, and that we’ll always be there to help them. I want them to know this now.

ABJ never responded to Caputo, and given that yesterday she invited prosecutors to complain about Stone’s violations of her gag in the weekend after his guilty verdict, I suspect she’s less convinced than Caputo is that Stone abided by her gag order.

MINUTE ORDER as to ROGER J. STONE, JR. The parties are directed to include in their sentencing memoranda any arguments they wish to make concerning the defendant’s compliance with the Court’s media communications orders 36 149 and conditions of release as modified on February 21, 2019 and July 16, 2019, including, in particular, his compliance during the trial, and on or about November 13-15, 2019. SO ORDERED.

Caputo’s interview is all the more interesting given that he gave among the most detailed descriptions of his testimony of any witness the day he testified back in 2018.

Caputo described that the Mueller investigators knew more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.

After being interviewed by special counsel investigators on Wednesday, former aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign Michael Caputo told CNN that Robert Mueller’s team is “focused on Russia collusion.”

“It’s clear they are still really focused on Russia collusion,” Caputo said, adding, “They know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.”

[snip]

“The Senate and the House are net fishing,” Caputo said. “The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.”

In other words, hours after Caputo finished testifying, he went to CNN to alert everyone, including (presumably) Stone that Mueller knew of things they were otherwise not telling.

The 302 describes that Caputo started the interview by noting that he had prepared a binder of notes and documents for the Senate Intelligence Committee interview he had the day before. Particularly given Caputo’s response after his testimony, that’s significant because multiple SSCI witnesses put together carefully massaged stories to tell less damning stories. Caputo obviously missed some things.

From the 302, it appears Caputo was asked (of Mueller’s prosecutors, just Aaron Zelinsky attended this interview) a general question from the start: what his official and unofficial role in the 2016 election was. He was hired by longtime Roger Stone friend Paul Manafort.

After Donald J. Trump (Trump) won the primary, Caputo was invited to join the Trump Campaign by Paul Manafort. A meeting was held at Trump Tower on 04/25/2016 to discuss the opportunity. After the meeting, Caputo served as a senior advisor to the Trump Campaign in charge of communications for the candidate in New York until his resignation on 06/20/2016.

Note that Manafort was not yet campaign manager when Caputo was hired, and his Convention Manager job at the time had little to do with the daily talking points that it sounds like Caputo spent his time doing. So his hiring is fairly curious. There are other 302s where references to what is probably Caputo — and his June resignation — are redacted.

After Caputo resigned, he worked for Tom Barrack, fundraising. It’s clear he emphasized he only raised money from American donors. Barrack’s 302 was also released yesterday; we know the government still has questions about whether that American donor claim is true.

Relatively early on, there is a 5-paragraph redacted discussion preceded by Caputo’s comment that,

Regarding the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s missing 33,000 emails, Caputo thought it implausible to think that wasn’t happening.

The passage ends with Caputo saying he wasn’t involved in such activities and denying that he heard any discussion of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange.

Caputo said there was no coordination on his part on those types of activities. Additionally, Caputo did not recall hacking and/or Assange being a topic of conversation at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Caputo initially said Stone never mentioned WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, however, Caputo later modified this statement as documented below.

That was his second denial that he had made about WikiLeaks thus far into his interview. That comment is followed by four redacted paragraphs. There’s also a later 12-paragraph section that is entirely redacted, which immediately precedes questions about DC Leaks. Both those of those passages, plus the 5-paragraph redaction noted above, are redacted under B6, B7C, and B7A exemptions. The first two exemptions are for privacy, and are very common. But the B7A exemption reflects an ongoing investigation. This formula is particularly interesting given that up until now, everything Stone related has been redacted under B7ABC exemptions tied to ABJ’s gag.

In other words, just days before Stone and prosecutors will submit their sentencing memoranda, DOJ is still redacting things relating to Stone because of an ongoing investigation.

The balance of the 302 discusses Sergei Millian and Caputo’s ties to Russia and includes a redacted list of the people he told he had an interview with Mueller (also protected under b7A).

Finally, the interview includes Caputo’s explanation for the Henry Greenberg story, which WaPo first reported this way, based in part on Stone’s version of events

One day in late May 2016, Roger Stone — the political dark sorcerer and longtime confidant of Donald Trump — slipped into his Jaguar and headed out to meet a man with a “Make America Great Again” hat and a viscous Russian accent.

The man, who called himself Henry Greenberg, offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the upcoming presidential election, according to Stone, who spoke about the previously unreported incident in interviews with The Washington Post. Greenberg, who did not reveal the information he claimed to possess, wanted Trump to pay $2 million for the political dirt, Stone said.

“You don’t understand Donald Trump,” Stone recalled saying before rejecting the offer at a restaurant in the Russian-expat magnet of Sunny Isles, Fla. “He doesn’t pay for anything.”

Later, Stone got a text message from Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign communications official who’d arranged the meeting after Greenberg had approached Caputo’s Russian-immigrant business partner.

“How crazy is the Russian?” Caputo wrote, according to a text message reviewed by The Post. Noting that Greenberg wanted “big” money, Stone replied, “waste of time.”

Two years later, the brief sit-down in Florida has resurfaced as part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s sprawling investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to Caputo. Caputo said he was asked about the meeting by prosecutors during a sometimes-heated questioning session last month.

Stone and Caputo, who did not previously disclose the meeting to congressional investigators, now say they believe they were the targets of a setup by U.S. law enforcement officials hostile to Trump.

As noted, the story deserves particular attention given that both Stone and Caputo failed to disclose this to the Intelligence Committees (though both sent revisions admitting to it after Caputo’s testimony, which distinguishes it from Stone’s lies about having a back channel to WikiLeaks).

When Zelinsky originally asked Caputo, generally, about any “connection to Russians and/or Russian nationals during the campaign” — the same question that had been asked by the Intelligence Committees — he claimed “this event occurred after his involvement with the campaign,” the same kind of story that George Papadopoulos told to separate a possible Russian dangle, temporally, from involvement in the campaign. But then he admitted it happened in May, before he resigned.

It’s clear Caputo offered a bunch of stories for why he believed this guy was Russian, which seems like an effort to minimize what he had learned before the event:

  • He assumed he was a Russian US citizen of Russian descent (meaning, not an immigrant)
  • He had an accent
  • His close friend [redacted] had made this assertion

Caputo revealed that he met Greenberg again on January 5, 2017 at a cancer research fundraiser he ran and claims Greenberg told him at that time he was a US citizen.

Caputo also dodged when asked why he referred this information to Stone.

Caputo didn’t recall why he sent Greenberg to Stone, but thought it was probably because [redacted] and was involved in opposition research for years. Caputo typically didn’t like relaying this type of opposition research material, and was not likely to give it to anyone at Trump Tower.

In other words, after unsuccessfully attempting to distance the event from the campaign temporally, he tried to do so ethically, suggesting he would never share this with the actual campaign, just with his rat-fucker buddy.

Perhaps the most interesting line in his description of Henry Greenberg, however, distinguished that Russian tie he tried to hide from something called “Project Rasputin.”

“Project Rasputin” was mutually exclusive from anything having to do with Greenberg.

That reference to a heretofore unidentified project immediately precedes yet another paragraph redacted because of an ongoing investigation. And there’s one more ongoing investigation paragraph before that passage ends with Caputo’s explanation about how Stone might be easily duped by Russians.

Caputo advised he lived in Russia for approximately seven years, thereby having more experience with Russian than Stone.

Michael Caputo doesn’t understand why ABJ still won’t let him talk to Stone. The redactions in his 302 appear to provide some hint.

The Narrative and Legal Tensions Set on Day One of Roger Stone’s Trial

I tried to travel to DC to cover the Roger Stone trial, but it didn’t happen. So I’m working second-hand to get details I’d like to have.

But I’ve got three questions from day one of Roger Stone’s trial that go to both the narrative tension prosecutors are setting and, probably, some legal traps as well. I won’t lay all of them out, but here are three.

Aaron Zelinsky introduces only the calls on which (prosecutors claim) they don’t know what happened

Aaron Zelinsky, one of the only remaining Mueller prosecutors still on this team, did the opening. He went after Trump from the start, making it clear that Stone lied to protect Trump. He described previously unknown calls between Stone and Trump on June 14 — after the WaPo reported on the DNC hack, on June 30 — after Guccifer 2.0 posted an FAQ claiming not to be Russian, and on August 31 — just before emailing Corsi and telling him to go meet Assange.

Unless I missed it, neither Zelinsky nor the former FBI Agent who took the stand first mentioned the August 3 call Stone already admitted. That was the same day that Stone wrote Manafort and told him “I have an idea to save Trump’s ass.” That’s also one of the days when (in an email to Sam Nunberg the next day) Stone claimed to have spoken with Julian Assange.

More interestingly, Zelinsky didn’t mention that Rick Gates would testify to witnessing Trump take a call — almost certainly from Roger Stone — after which he told Gates that there were more WikiLeaks emails coming. He didn’t mention a similar, earlier call Michael Cohen witnessed, where Stone predicted the WikiLeaks emails would dump later in the week of July 18 or 19, but it’s not clear whether Cohen will testify (which would explain why Zelinsky wouldn’t mention it).

In other words, Zelinsky didn’t mention the most damning calls we know of.

That’s probably about creating narrative tension — saving the best for last — but also making visible the problem with Stone’s obstruction. We don’t know what was said on those calls because Stone (and Trump, in his written answers to Mueller) denied they even existed.

What’s up with Jerome Corsi?

Zelinsky made it clear that Gates (who we knew about), Credico (who’s the key witness, and probably beginning his testimony tomorrow), and Steve Bannon (about whom I had my doubts) will testify.

The sense I got from reporters at the trial, however, is that the government would not call Jerome Corsi.

I mean, why would you? He entered into a cooperation agreement, then blew it up. He’s a batshit conspiracy theorist. When Stone submitted his exhibit list back in September, the government even challenged the relevance of both Stone’s John Podesta-related emails (an August 15 one, as well as the more famous “time in the barrel” one), as well as a contact with Corsi that must pertain to their effort to start crafting a cover story even in August.

All that suggests the government doesn’t want to get into the most damning aspects of Stone’s interactions with Corsi, but instead just wants to make it clear that Stone’s earlier communications with him makes it clear he lied to the House Intelligence Committee about Credico to hide (the government suggests) what he was up to with Corsi.

Meanwhile, Stone’s defense — such as it exists — amounts to arguing that Credico and Corsi were just pulling a fast one on poor little Rog, pretending they had ties to WikiLeaks but lying about it. That’s all well and good with Credico, who has admitted he was fluffing his ties with WikiLeaks. It is likely also true that Corsi was.

But how will Stone prove that Corsi was overstating his access to Assange if you don’t call him to testify?

Nevertheless, it seems like Corsi will be the giant black hole of this trial, with his referral for lying to the grand jury and all the other reasons why he’s a disaster witness hanging in the background.

Why did Mueller refer what appears to be a follow-up on a Bannon email that will be litigated at this trial elsewhere?

One email Zelinsky did promise we’d learn more about, however, is an August 18 one (some outlets date this to August 16, but it appears to be exhibit 28) that Stone sent to Bannon promising, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.”

That seems to suggest that the email is the one discussed in hearings on how Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement, in part, by lying to investigators on another investigation.

Effectively, Manafort was asked some questions in a proffer session before his plea on September 13, in response to which he offered information that implicated someone with a 7-character name. [These dates are in the government’s January 15 filing at 23.] Then, in a debriefing on October 5, he changed his story to make it less incriminating — and to match the story the subject of the investigation was telling to the FBI at the time (last fall). When pressed by his lawyers, Manafort mostly changed his story back to what it had been. But the head fake made Manafort useless as a witness against this person.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson summed up this change this way:

The allegation is that the defendant offered a version of events that downplayed [redacted; “the President’s” or “the Candidate”s might fit] role and/or his knowledge. Specifically, his knowledge of any prior involvement of the [16-17 character redaction] that was inconsistent with and less incriminating of [7 character redaction] than what he had already said during the proffer stage and now consistent with what Mr. [7 character redaction] himself was telling the FBI.

This investigation pertains to events that happened “prior to [Manafort] leaving the campaign (on August 19).” [January 15 filing at 26]

As Andrew Weissman described in the breach hearing, Manafort’s version of the story first came when prosecutors, “were asking questions about an e-mail that Mr. [5 character name] had written about a potential way of saving the candidate. That’s sort of paraphrasing it. And this was a way of explaining, or explaining away that e-mail.” In the Janaury 15 filing, this conversation arises to explain “a series of text messages.” [See 25]

Weissmann describes that the revised story Manafort told was, “quite dramatically different. This is not I forgot something or I need to augment some details of a basic core set of facts.” Manafort’s original story involved Mr. [7 character redaction] providing information about a [redacted] who was doing something. Manafort appears to have made a representation about what Mr. [7 character name] believed about that (likely important to proving intent).

But in the second session, Manafort appears to have shifted the blame, implicating Mr. [5 character name] whom, “Mr. Manafort had previously said, I did not want to be involved in this at all,” but leaving out what Mr. [7 character name] had said. Manafort’s testimony effectively left out that when Mr. [5 character name] had called previously, Manafort had said, “I’m on it, don’t get involved.” It appears that Weissmann surmised that Manafort changed the story because his version would make it central to the question of criminality [this might be a reference to being related to the Mueller investigation], so he revised it in an attempt to avoid providing anything that might be helpful to implicating Mr. [7 character name].

Effectively, in the wake of an email written by someone with a 5-character name (so stone would fit) in the days before Manafort resigned on August 19 (so either August 16 or 18 would fit) that promised, “a potential way of saving the candidate,” someone else (my wildarseguess is Kushner) got involved. But once he got his plea agreement, Manafort changed his story to blame the guy who sent the email (in this scenario, Stone) and not the other guy.

There’s just one problem with this presumption that the email Zelinsky described and the one invoked in this investigation are one and the same.

By September of 2018, this was a separate investigation being conducted by “another district.”

The investigation is in another district.  The initial government 12/7 filing says that explicitly at 8. The breach filing at 112 says they had the other investigative team “come here.”

I find it perplexing that some other US Attorney’s office — even DC — would be investigating the aftermath of the Stone to Bannon email discussed today, when such an email (if it related to Stone and WikiLeaks) would be central to what Mueller was still investigating. Corsi hadn’t blown up his plea deal yet. And Bannon’s interview where he presumably told truths he didn’t tell in February 2018 wasn’t until October 26. I mean, I have theories. I can come up with theories for just about anything. But still, why would this email be central to Zelinsky’s opening in a trial where Steve Bannon will testify unless it remained solidly within Mueller’s purview in October 2018?

Anyway, these are the big questions I take away from the first day of Stone’s trial. I think they suggest both narrative and legal plot twists that no one is expecting.

Two Factors that May Change the Impeachment Calculus, Part Two: Criminalizing a Roger Stone Pardon

In this post, I described how recent developments in Michael Cohen’s case give Congress a number of reasons to use it as a basis for impeachment. The neat fit of so many details might affect the calculus on whether Democrats carry out an impeachment inquiry on Trump.

In this post, I’ll point to a cynical electoral reason to begin impeachment: to prevent Trump from preempting Stone’s pre-election trial which, if it takes place in November 2019 as scheduled, will be utterly damning to the President. Don’t get me wrong — Democrats should move to stop Trump from using pardons to suborn perjury as a basic rule of law thing. But the timing of Stone’s trial and the extent to which it will implicate the President makes that imperative electorally beneficial for Democrats as well.

Even as currently charged, Stone’s case implicates the President directly

As I’ve noted, because everything in the Mueller Report pertaining to Roger Stone got redacted to (appropriately) preserve Stone’s right to a fair trial, lots of details on how Trump himself was involved in pushing Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases is redacted.

[I]t seems highly likely that some of the information in these redacted passages is stuff that would only prejudice Stone’s case by raising the import of it to Trump.

Consider, for starters, that (unless I’m mistaken) not a word from Stone’s indictment appears in this Report. [For example,] the indictment makes it clear that Stone was talking to the campaign about WikiLeaks releases.

ROGER JASON STONE, JR. was a political consultant who worked for decades in U.S. politics and on U.S. political campaigns. STONE was an official on the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) until in or around August 2015, and maintained regular contact with and publicly supported the Trump Campaign through the 2016 election.

During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1.

[snip]

By in or around June and July 2016, STONE informed senior Trump Campaign officials that he had information indicating Organization 1 had documents whose release would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. The head of Organization 1 was located at all relevant times at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.

We see outlines of precisely who those references are to in the report.

Most notably, after describing Trump’s enthusiasm after Stone told Trump while Michael Cohen was listening on the speaker phone that the DNC emails would drop in a few days just before they did (which Cohen described in his testimony to Oversight), these two paragraphs, appear to to describe Manafort and Trump’s enthusiasm after the DNC release, with Manafort telling both Stone directly and Gates that he wanted to be kept informed via Stone of what was coming. And having gotten some indication of what was coming, the campaign started making plans to optimize those releases. It appears that Gates, like Cohen before him, witnessed a Stone-Trump call where the rat-fucker told the candidate what was coming.

These pages also have more background about how important all this was to Trump, who was frustrated that Hillary’s deleted emails hadn’t been found (something also told, in Flynn’s voice, in the Peter Smith section).

The references to Stone in these passages may well be appropriately redacted. But the descriptions of conversations between Trump and Manafort or Gates should not impact Stone’s defense — unless you want to argue that Trump’s personal involvement in Stone’s rat-fucking might change the deliberations for a jury. They don’t serve to hide Stone’s actions. They hide Trump’s enthusiasm for using materials stolen by Russia to win.

So the part of the 2016 operation that clearly amounted to coordination but was not charged because of First Amendment considerations, and the part of the 2016 operation for which (perhaps because witnesses learned it would not be charged as a conspiracy) there’s the most evidence of Trump’s direct involvement, remains hidden from view out of concerns for Stone’s due process rights.

Right now, Stone’s trial is scheduled to start on November 5. A recent status report on Rick Gates’ cooperation makes it clear he is likely to be a witness at Stone’s trial. While Gates’ testimony is probably not necessary to prove that Stone lied to HPSCI, it would be useful to explain Stone’s motive: significantly, protecting Trump.

If Andrew Miller’s testimony leads to new charges, the tie to Trump may be still more damning

Tuesday, the DC Circuit Court issued its final order in Stone associate Andrew Miller’s challenge to a grand jury subpoena.

Yesterday — technically minutes after Mueller’s press conference announcing the investigation was completed and he’s going home — Judge Beryl Howell rejected another attempt by Miller to challenge the subpoena. Multiple outlets report that he has agreed to testify Friday at 9:30.

Miller’s testimony Friday is premised on potential new charges against Stone and before Howell rejected Miller’s challenge, Aaron “Zelinsky and Jonathan Kravis from the US Attorney’s Office in DC told the judge privately why they still needed Miller.”

Last night, Howell released some of the details behind Miller’s most recent challenge. Along with a useful timeline from Miller’s lawyers on their challenge, it makes it pretty clear that prosecutors are still looking for information on (as Miller lawyer Paul Kamenar describes it) “Roger Stone’s actions during the 2016 election and his involvement in WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s and the DNC’s emails and any collusion with Russia” or (as Aaron Zelinsky has described it), “Roger Stone’s connection to WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Guccifer 2.0, Russia.”

In other words, it appears that prosecutors might still indict Stone with new crimes pertaining to the core issues that were under investigation.

That’s one reason I find the timing of Mueller’s announcement so interesting. The Howell hearing yesterday was technically after Mueller’s statement finished. I don’t know when yesterday’s announcement will become official, but it would seem to be final before Friday’s Miller grand jury appearance.

That would mean any charges that former Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky (as well as DC AUSA Jonathan Kravis, who has picked up the bulk of the ongoing matters from Mueller’s team) might decide to pursue after Friday would be subject neither to the logic of the Mueller investigation — which decided not to charge Stone for some WikiLeaks-related crimes in part based on First Amendment considerations, nor to the direct supervision of Attorney General Barr.

As I’ve noted, the logic EDVA used in its superseding indictment of Assange is in direct conflict with the logic Mueller used in deciding that WikiLeaks’ and Trump’s “wish lists” for Hillary emails do not establish a basis for a conspiracy charge in the same way WikiLeaks’ wish list for classified materials was used. That might mean that decisions made after Miller’s testimony Friday would work out differently than decisions on Stone’s charges in January. Mueller’s off the case. It’s DC US Attorney Jesse Liu’s decision now.

All of which is to say, even assuming Friday’s testimony doesn’t lead to new charges, unless Trump finds a way to pre-empt Stone’s trial, it will mean some of the most damning information about Trump’s involvement in what Mueller didn’t charge as conspiracy but which by most definitions would count as “collusion” will get aired less than a year before the 2020 election.

Given how rock solid that Stone indictment is, there are just two ways to avoid that: for Stone to flip on Trump or others (though prosecutors are unlikely to give Stone a deal without vetting his claims after the way Paul Manafort abused the process, and it would be too late to flip on Assange). Or for Trump to pardon Stone.

Some of the clearest evidence of obstruction of justice in the Mueller Report pertains to Trump floating pardons, including a 2.5 page redacted passage (Volume II pages 128-130) pertaining to Stone himself. Even Bill Barr says it would be a crime to float pardons to prevent someone from testifying truthfully. Note, too, that Mueller asked Trump whether he considered pardoning Assange before he was inaugurated (to which Trump gave a typically contemptuous non-answer), and Stone was involved in an attempt to pardon Assange as recently as January 2018, which has been the subject of Mueller’s questioning.

The political hit from a Stone trial — and the kind of pardon-related obstruction that Barr himself conducted to kill the Iran-Contra investigation — might well be enough for Trump to prefer the political hit of pardoning Stone. Democrats have one way of altering that calculus to ensure the Stone trial — with all the damning details of Trump’s actions it’ll reveal — happens as scheduled.

While I’m not, at all, a fan of gaming trials for political effect, the fact of the matter is that if Stone’s trial goes forward, it would present as damning a case against Trump’s cheating as any impeachment trial could do. But to ensure that happens, Democrats need to make it clear that pardoning his way out of this will incur even greater costs for the President.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Mueller Investigation: What Happens on September 7?

I hesitate to write this post, partly because I think it’s a good idea to dismiss every single thing that Rudy Giuliani says, and partly because we’ve all learned that it is sheer folly to pretend anyone can anticipate what Mueller will do, much less when.

Nevertheless, I wanted to address questions about what might happen in the next two weeks, as we approach the 60-day mark before midterm elections.

Rudy G is wrong about everything

The aforementioned Rudy G, who has been saying that Mueller has to shut down his entire investigation (or even finish up and go home) on September 1 on account of DOJ’s policy against overt investigative action close to an election.

As I said, the policy only prohibits overt acts, and only 60 days before the election. Mueller might argue that it’s entirely irrelevant, given that none of his known targets (save, perhaps, Dana Rohrabacher) are on the ballot. But enough credible journalists have suggested that DOJ is taking this deadline seriously with respect to Trump’s associates (including Michael Cohen in SDNY, where DOJ actually leaks), that it’s probably correct he’ll avoid overt acts in the 60 days before the November 6 election.

But that timeline starts on September 7, not September 1.

Paul Manafort’s stall

One thing we know will dominate the press in that pre-election period is Manafort’s DC trial, scheduled to start on September 17.

Unless he flips.

While I still don’t think he will flip, he is stalling in both his trials. In EDVA, he asked for and got a 30-day deadline to move for an acquittal or mistrial. He may have done so to provide extra time to consider the complaints raised by one juror that others were deliberating before they should have, which Manafort had asked for a mistrial over. If that’s right, juror Paula Duncan’s comments, describing the one holdout and explaining that even she, a Trump supporter, found the case a slam dunk, may persuade Manafort that challenging this trial won’t bring about any other result and may mean he gets convicted on the remaining 10 counts.

In any case, however, by getting 30 days to decide, Manafort moved the deadline from (by my math) September 3 to September 21, when he’s scheduled to be deep into the DC case (and therefore too busy to submit such a motion). It did, however, move the decision date past that September 7 date.

Speaking of the DC case, after getting an extension on the pre-trial statement in that case, Manafort basically punted on many of the substantive issues, effectively saying he’ll provide the required input later.

He may not be flipping, but he’s not prepared to start this trial.

Is it Roger Stone’s time in the barrel?

The big question, for me, is whether Mueller has finished his six month effort to put together a Roger Stone indictment.

Tantalizingly, back on August 10, Mueller scheduled Randy Credico to explain to the grand jury how Stone threatened him about his testimony. That appearance is for September 7. Given how far out Mueller scheduled this, I wondered at the time whether Credico was being slated to put the finishing touches on a Stone indictment.

What might prevent Mueller from finalizing Stone’s indictment, however, is Stone associate Andrew Miller, from whom Mueller has been trying to get testimony since May 9. Miller is challenging his grand jury subpoena; he’s due to submit his opening brief in his appeal on September 7. That might mean that Mueller has to wait. But two filings (District, Circuit), the docket in his subpoena challenge, and this CNN report may suggest they can move forward without first getting Miller’s testimony.

Both the Circuit document and CNN provide more details about a May 9 interview with two FBI Agents, with no attorney present (no offense to Miller, but what the fuck kind of self-described libertarian, much less one in Roger Stone’s immediate orbit, agrees to an FBI interview without a lawyer present)?

Mr. Miller was first interviewed by two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who visited him unannounced on or about May 9, 2018, in Saint Louis, MO, where he resides. He was cooperative, answering all their questions for approximately two hours, and at the conclusion of the interview, was handed a subpoena to produce documents and testify as a witness before the grand jury.

CNN describes that’s what poses a perjury concern for Miller with regards to his testimony before the grand jury because of that original interview.

Miller’s case is complicated by the fact that he initially cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation. When FBI agents first approached him in May, he spoke with them at his home in St. Louis for two hours without an attorney.

[snip]

Dearn said in an interview that she was just being “carefully paranoid” and protecting her client from accidentally committing perjury if he testifies and contradicts something he told investigators back in May without a lawyer present.

As the District filing seems to suggest, Miller got not one but two subpoenas (???), just one of which called for document production:

Mr. Miller was served with two subpoenas dated June 5, 2018, both requiring his appearance before the Grand Jury on June 8, but only one of which required that he search and bring with him the documents described in the Attachment to one of the subpoenas. See Exhibits 1 and 2. After a filing a motion to quash on grounds not raised herein, this Court issued a Minute Order on June 18 requiring Mr. Miller’s appearance before the Grand Jury on June 29 and to produce the documents requested as limited by agreement of the parties by June 25.

Miller turned over 100MB of documents on June 25, but shortly thereafter, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky asked for more.

Mr. Miller has since complied with that part of the order producing voluminous documents in a file that is 100MB in size to government counsel on Monday, June 25. In her cover email to government counsel, Aaron Zelinsky, Miller’s counsel stated in pertinent part: “Mr. Miller does not waive and hereby preserves all rights he has to object to the subpoena requiring his appearance before the Grand Jury this Friday…and from any continuing duty or obligation to supply additional documents subject to the subpoena.” See Exhibit 6. Nevertheless, Mr. Zelinsky recently informed counsel that he is not satisfied with this production and is unreasonably requesting additional documents from Mr. Miller.

CNN reported that those documents pertained to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.

After a protracted back and forth between Dearn and Mueller’s team, Miller handed over a tranche of documents. In turn, the government had agreed to limit its search to certain terms such as Stone, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks and the Democratic National Committee, according to court filings and interview with attorneys.

So at the very least, Mueller has 100MB of documents that relate to Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 (which raises real questions about how Miller can say he knows nothing about the topic), and 2 hours of testimony that Miller may not want to tell the grand jury now that he has lawyers who might help him avoid doing so.

Meanwhile, there are some filings from the end of his District Court docket.

The Circuit document mostly explains what filings 33, 34, 35, and 37 are (though doesn’t explain why Mueller refused to stipulate that Miller be held in contempt): they’re the process by which he was held in contempt and therefore legally positioned to appeal.

6. Because Mr. Miller desired to appeal the order denying his motion, ensuing discussions with Special Counsel to stipulate that Mr. Miller be held in contempt for not appearing on the upcoming appearance before the grand jury on August 10, 2018, and to stay the contempt pending appeal did not succeed.

7. Consequently, two days before his appearance, on the evening of August 8, 2018, counsel emailed government counsel and Judge Howell’s clerk (and on the following morning of August 9, hand-filed with the clerk’s office), a Motion By Witness Andrew Miller To Be Held In Civil Contempt For Refusing To Testify Before The Grand Jury And To Stay Such Order To Permit Him To Appeal It To The U.S. Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit and citing authorities for granting a stay of contempt. ECF No. 33. The government served and a response on the evening of August 9 ( ECF. No. 35) and Mr. Miller served a reply early morning on August 10. ECF No. 37.

8. On August 10, undersigned counsel for Mr. Miller met government counsel at 9:00 a.m. as previously agreed to at the entrance to the grand jury offices, and was advised by government counsel that a motion to show cause was filed shortly before 9:00 a.m. ECF No. 34.

9. Approximately two hours later, the court held the show cause hearing, with the Mr. Miller and local counsel appearing telephonically from Saint Louis, MO.

10. The court granted Mr. Miller’s and the government’s request that he be held in contempt and stayed the order if the notice of appeal were filed by 9:00 a.m. August 14, 2018. ECF No. 36.

That doesn’t explain what Document 38 is, to which Miller didn’t respond, and in response to which Beryl Howell issued an order.

CNN’s description of Miller’s attorney’s concern seems to split his testimony into two topics: Guccifer and Wikileaks, and Stone’s PACs. Miller’s only worried about legal jeopardy in the latter of those two. (For some details on what the legal exposure might pertain to, see this post.)

[Alicia] Dearn was adamant that Miller not be forced to testify to the grand jury about one topic in specific: Stone. She asked that her client be granted immunity, “otherwise he’s going to have to take the Fifth Amendment,” she said in a court hearing in June.

Aaron Zelinsky, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, noted Miller’s lawyer was making two seemingly contradictory arguments: “On the one hand, that the witness knows nothing, has nothing to hide, and has participated in no illegal activity. On the other hand, that there is a Fifth Amendment concern there.”

In the hearing, Dearn said she was concerned Miller would be asked about his finances and transactions related to political action committees he worked on with Stone.

Miller “had absolutely no communication with anybody from Russia or with Guccifer or WikiLeaks,” Dearn said in an interview.

By process of elimination, the only thing she believes her client could get caught up on are questions about his financial entanglements with Stone and his super PAC.

The Circuit document concedes that Miller may be the subject — but not target — of this grand jury investigation.

12. Lest there be any misunderstanding, Mr. Miller was not a “target of grand jury subpoenas” (Concord Mot. at 1), but rather a fact witness or at most a subject of the grand jury; nor was he a “recalcitrant witness.” Id. at 13. As the foregoing background demonstrates, Mr. Miller has been a cooperative witness in this proceeding.

It would be really weird if Miller really did get two subpoenas, and that’s not consistent with the Circuit document. So it may be there were two topics or crimes described in the subpoena: conspiring with Russia, and running a corrupt PAC. And if Miller’s only personally legally exposed in the latter of those, then it’s possible Mueller would treat these differently.

So it’s possible Mueller got what they need to move forward on the main conspiracy case against Stone, while it has to wait on Miller’s own involvement in Stone’s corrupt PACs until after the DC Circuit reviews things.

Other September deadlines

The September 7 timing is interesting for two other reasons. First, that’s also the day that George Papadopoulos — whose plea deal covers his lies and obstuction but not any conspiracy case — is due to be sentenced.

Just 10 days later Mike Flynn (whose plea deal was also limited to his lies) has a status report due, just a 24-day extension off his previous one. That timing suggests he’s about done with his cooperation. Perhaps that shortened time frame is only due to his team’s push to get him back earning money to pay for his lawyers again. Perhaps there’s some other explanation.

Timeline

August 24: Revised deadline for Manafort pre-trial statement — Manafort punted on many issues.

August 28: Hearing in DC Manafort case.

September 3: Current deadline for motions in EDVA Manafort trial

September 4: Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings scheduled to begin (projected to last 3-4 days)

September 7: Randy Credico scheduled to testify before grand jury; George Papadopoulos scheduled for sentencing; Andrew Miller brief due before DC Circuit; 60 days before November 6 mid-terms

September 17: DC Manafort trial starts, status report due in Mike Flynn case

September 21: Requested deadline for motions in EDVA Manafort trial

September 28: Government brief due in DC Circuit appeal of Andrew Miller subpoena

October 9: Miller reply due in DC Circuit

November 6: Mid-term election

November 10: Status report due in Rick Gates case

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.