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Adam Schiff Makes Clear FBI Is Using Section 215 Like the 2014 Exception

For months, Congress has been debating the reauthorization of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The House passed a compromise bill before COVID shut-downs really halted everything in Congress, though did so in such a way as to prevent Zoe Lofgren from offering any amendments. After the Senate failed to act, the provision (and two related ones lapsed). Then, a few weeks ago, the Senate passed a version that added an amendment from Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy that strengthened the amicus to the previously passed House bill. But an amendment offered by Ron Wyden and Steve Daines failed by one vote after Tom Carper said that Pelosi had warned him its passage would gut FISA (and after Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray didn’t make it for the vote). The operative language of their amendment read,

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information.

Zoe Lofgren and Warren Davidson tried to pass that amendment in the House. Over a weekend of heated negotiations, they limited the Wyden-Daines language to apply just to US persons.

(C) An application under paragraph (1) may not seek an order authorizing or requiring the production of internet website browsing information or internet search history information of United States persons.

At first, Wyden endorsed the Lofgren-Davidson language. Except then Adam Schiff gave Charlie Savage a statement that suggested the amendment would only prevent the government from seeking to obtain Americans’ internet information, not prevent it altogether.

But in his own statement, Mr. Schiff put forward a narrower emphasis. Stressing the continued need to investigate foreign threats, he described the compromise as banning the use of such orders “to seek to obtain” an American’s internet information.

That led Ron Wyden to withdraw his support. Leadership withdrew that amendment from the Rule.

Schiff’s ploy seems to suggest one way the government is using Section 215.

Wyden had previously asked how each of three applications for Section 215 would appear in counts:

  • An order in which an IP address used by multiple people is the target
  • An order collecting all the people who visit a particular website
  • An order collecting all the web browsing and internet searches of a single user

I’ve argued in the past that the FBI wouldn’t go to the trouble of a Section 215 order for a person who was not otherwise targeted, the last bullet. Schiff’s willingness to limit collection to foreigners is consistent with that (because targeting non-US persons has a lower probable cause level), meaning that’s not the function the government is so intent on preserving.

Which leaves Wyden’s IP address used by multiple people and a website, what I have suggested might be VPNs and WikiLeaks. Those are the applications that Schiff (and Pelosi) are going to the mat to protect.

That makes something that happened in 2014 important. That year, FISC permitted the government to remain tasked on a selector under 702 (which can only target foreigners) even after finding that Americans were using the selector, provided the US person content was purged after the fact. Except ODNI made a list of enumerated crimes — virtually all of which exploit the Dark Web — that Section 702 content could be used to prosecute. Richard Burr codified that principle when the law was reauthorized in 2017.

Schiff has invoked the same principle — allowing the FBI to target a URL or IP, and in the name of obtaining foreign intelligence, obtaining the US person activity as well. Because this is not treated as “content,” the government may not be limited to instances where the US person activity is location obscured (though it’s possible this is just about obtaining VPN traffic, and not something like WikiLeaks).

Wyden called the resulting practice (remember, this is status quo), as “dragnet surveillance.”

“It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans’ rights against dragnet collection of online activity, which is why I must oppose this amendment, along with the underlying bill, and urge the House to vote on the original Wyden-Daines amendment,” Wyden said.

So once again — still — the government is using a foreign targeted law to obtain leads of Americans to investigate. That, apparently, is what Pelosi considers the key part of FISA: honey pots to identify Americans to investigate.

Meanwhile, DOJ doesn’t even like the changes Lee and Leahy implemented, falsely claiming that the law — which requires DOJ to meet the standards laid out voluntarily by FBI’s response to the DOJ IG Report — does nothing to address the problems identified by the IG Report.

The Department worked closely with House leaders on both sides of the aisle to draft legislation to reauthorize three national security authorities in the U.S.A. Freedom Act while also imposing reforms to other aspects of FISA designed to address issues identified by the DOJ Inspector General. Although that legislation was approved with a large, bipartisan House majority, the Senate thereafter made significant changes that the Department opposed because they would unacceptably impair our ability to pursue terrorists and spies. We have proposed specific fixes to the most significant problems created by the changes the Senate made. Instead of addressing those issues, the House is now poised to further amend the legislation in a manner that will weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the abuses identified by the DOJ Inspector General.

Accordingly, the Department opposes the Senate-passed bill in its current form and also opposes the Lofgren amendment in the House. Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department’s ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation.

Trump, meanwhile, is opposing the bill because it doesn’t go far enough.

WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS IS WRONG!

Republicans are inventing reasons to oppose it after supporting it in March.

Back in March, Billy Barr said he could do what he needed to with EO 12333. It’s unclear how he’d coerce providers.

But Schiff’s efforts to defeat Wyden make it clear this is a function designed to identify Americans.

Update: I had thought a current vote was on FISA, but is on China sanctions, so I’ve deleted.

Steve Bannon’s Bas-Relief Confession that Trump Told Him to Deny Discussing Sanction Relief

After a week of writing about Mike Flynn and more Mike Flynn, I’m finally getting around to the transcripts the House Intelligence Committee wrote last week. A bunch of frothy right wingers have pointed to the transcripts as PROOF OF NO COLLUSION, which is hilarious. I’ve barely begun reviewing them, but some glaring holes in the investigation include:

  • The key players — Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, but also Rick Gates — did not testify
  • Two witnesses (Michael Cohen and Roger Stone) were convicted for the lies they told to the committee and a third (Erik Prince) is reportedly under investigation, even if Billy Barr’s DOJ doesn’t prosecute Trump flunkies
  • Multiple witnesses (Michael Caputo, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner, for starters) denied knowing people or having evidence their Mueller materials show they had

Republicans mostly asked each witness, “did you collude?” which predictably elicited the “no” answers the frothers are now pointing to as PROOF. Democrats spent most of their time trying to get recalcitrant witnesses to answer questions they refused to answer rather than trying to corner them into something useful.

The investigation was a shit-show.

The craziest thing (thus far, anyway), is Steve Bannon’s two appearances. Bannon testified in January 2018 and invoked White House guidance to refuse to answer questions from both the transition and post-inauguration periods, periods others had addressed. He also claimed any communications of interest would have been turned over by the campaign, thereby hiding emails he had with Roger Stone using his personal email where they explicitly discussed Julian Assange.

When Bannon went back a month later, having consulted with Devin Nunes in the interim and after Nunes appears to have shared a transcript of Bannon’s first appearance with the White House, he provided the committee a bunch of questions he would answer — all “no” answers.

Here’s how just some of those questions parroted back (for the second time in the hearing) looked:

MR. CONAWAY: After November 8th, 2016, did you meet with Ambassador Kislyak?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: On March 27, 2017, The New York Times reported that in mid-December of 2016 Kushner met with Sergei Gorkov of the VEB. Were you aware of this meeting?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you attend a December 2016 meeting with Kushner that Kushner had with Gorkov?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did Mr. Prince have any role in the current administration?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Was there any discussion on January 27th, 2017, at the White House regarding Mr. Papadopoulos, who was contacted by the FBI that day?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that the FBI had approached him?

MR. BANNON: Not to my knowledge.

MR. CONAWAY: Was the fact that the FBI approached Mr. Papadopoulos on January 27th communicated to President Trump?

MR. BANNON: Not to my knowledge.

MR. CONAWAY: Did Mr. Trump ever discuss with you any conversations between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks after the election?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russia investigation?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: While at the White House, were you ever instructed to take any action that you believe could hinder the Russian investigation in any way?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Were you ever given any instruction at the White House that you felt might amount to an effort to obstruct justice?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Did you have any conversations with Director Comey after the election about whether he would remain the head of the FBI?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. CONAWAY: Once you were part of the administration, were you a part of any discussions about how to approach the Russian, vis-à-vis the sanctions, whether to do away with them or in any way minimize the effects of the sanctions?

MR. BANNON: No.

Here’s how Adam Schiff got Bannon to admit that he was literally reading from a script the White House gave him (remember that Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, also represented White House Counsel Don McGahn).

MR. SCHIFF: Mr. Bannon, who wrote these questions?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: My understanding, Mr. Schiff, is that these came from the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: No, no, no. The questions that Mr. Conaway just asked you the questions. I asked you earlier if you had been authorized by the White House to answer all in the negative. Who wrote these questions?

MR. BANNON: Same answer.

MR. SCHIFF: What’s the same answer? Who wrote the questions?

MR. BANNON: My understanding is they came from the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: What transcript are you talking about?

MR. BANNON: This transcript of my first interview.

[snip]

MR. SCHIFF: Well, how were they produced? How do you know that the White House has authorized you to answer them? [Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: My counsel informed me that these were the questions the White House authorized me to answer.

MR. SCHIFF: But you didn’t write these questions?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: And your counsel didn’t write these questions?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: So these questions were supplied to you by the White House?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: As far as I know.

The thing is, most of these are now recognizably misdirection from some known damning detail. For example, Bannon did not attend the November 30, 2016 meeting with Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower, but he was invited. Bannon’s lack of knowledge of Jared Kushner’s December meeting with Sergei Gorkov doesn’t make the meeting itself less damning — arguably, it suggests Kushner kept it on a close hold — and it doesn’t rule out Bannon being involved in a meeting with Gorkov sometime after that. Bannon’s narrow denial that Erik Prince had a role in the administration distracts from Prince’s role as a go-between with Russia during the transition, something Bannon was personally involved with (and covered up by deleting his relevant text messages). There was a discussion among senior campaign officials of the link that WikiLeaks sent Don Jr in September 2016, but it was during the election, not after it. Bannon didn’t have conversations with Jim Comey about firing him, but he had a ton of conversations about firing Comey, eight times on May 3 and 4, 2017 alone. Even the questions about obstruction of justice are consistent with explicit requests that Bannon obstruct, but that took place somewhere else, like Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster (and it’s notable that Bannon’s initial testimony dramatically backed off some of the claims Bannon made to Michael Wolff that had just been published in Fire and Fury).

As Adam Schiff begins to figure out what happened, he asks questions that make it clear that Bannon did not meet — in person — with Nunes, but did speak to him on the phone.

MR. SCHIFF: Now, I see there’s a question on here, did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russia investigation, and you’ve answered that “no.” But you’ve also answered, when my colleague asked you, that you have discussed — you had discussions with Mr. Nunes and you refused to answer the question about whether it was about the Russian investigation. Is that correct?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: However I answered, it’s in the transcript.

MR. SCHIFF: Let me just ask you again. Did you ever meet with Devin Nunes about the Russian investigation?

MR. BANNON: No.

MR. SCHIFF: Did you ever discuss the Russia investigation with Devin Nunes?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: That’s not a question I’m authorized to answer.

Even before that, Schiff cops on to Bannon’s denial about something — whether George Papadopoulos alerted the White House after he was first questioned about the FBI — that Bannon knows nothing about.

MR. SCHIFF: So one of the questions that you were supplied by the White House was, has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that he had been — that the FBI had approached him? How do you know the answer to that, Mr. Bannon?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: Can you just ask the question again?

MR. SCHIFF: Yes. One of the questions that the White House gave you to answer to our committee was, has Mr. Papadopoulos had any contact with anyone at the White House concerning the fact that the FBI had approached him?

MR. BANNON: I think I said, “Not to my knowledge.”

MR. SCHIFF: So you really did don’t know, do you?

MR. BANNON: That’s — not to my knowledge.

MR. SCHIFF: Why did the White House propose a question to you that you couldn’t answer within your knowledge?

[Discussion off the record.]

MR. BANNON: You have to ask the White House that.

In Papadopoulos’ Congressional testimony (which took place in October 2018, so six months after Bannon’s second HPSCI interview), the coffee boy would admit that he emailed Marc Kasowitz, who was then Trump’s personal attorney, sometime after his FBI interview.

Q And you didn’t talk to anyone from the Trump organization about that interview with the FBI?

A I don’t think I did, no.

Q So you were interviewed again by the FBI —

A I can’t remember if I reached out to Marc Kasowitz about either that or my subpoena from the Senate. And I emailed him and I said, Look, would you be interested in representing me? I think that’s what happened. But I don’t — I can’t remember exactly why I emailed him, but I think I emailed Marc Kasowitz’ firm sometimes after the interview, but I don’t remember if he ever responded or anything like that.

This post writes up what we know about Papadopoulos’ testimony.

This makes it clear, then, that the script Bannon was given was a ham-handed attempt to get a bunch of denials in the record, denials of things that actually did happen.

Among the questions the White House included was one designed to get him to deny he had discussed eliminating sanctions on Russia.

MR. CONAWAY: Once you were part of the administration, were you a part of any discussions about how to approach the Russian, vis-à-vis the sanctions, whether to do away with them or in any way minimize the effects of the sanctions?

MR. BANNON: No.

Of course, this “no” answer only says Bannon didn’t continue to discuss ending sanctions on Russia after inauguration, but he did beforehand.

There is testimony on the Mueller Report about Bannon’s personal involvement in discussions about the Russian sanctions imposed on December 28, 2016. But Bannon — in testimony on February 12, 2018, so three days before he read this script before HPSCI — claimed to have forgotten those conversations.

Shortly thereafter, McFarland and Bannon discussed the sanctions. 1235 According to McFarland, Bannon remarked that the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia, and that Russian escalation would make things more difficult. 1236 McFarland believed she told Bannon that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak later that night. 1237

[snip]

In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252

[snip]

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions with Bannon the next day and that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak. 1274 Bannon, for his part, recalled meeting with Flynn that day, but said that he did not remember discussing sanctions with him. 1275

[snip]

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 100 Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101

1275 Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 9.

101 Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 4-5. Bannon recalled meeting with Flynn that day, but said he did not remember discussing sanctions with him. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 9.

The White House gave Bannon a script, telling him to deny his involvement in reaching out to Russia on sanctions. And the specific form of the question — which asks about doing away with them — suggests those conversations on December 28, 2016 went further than the Mueller Report describes.

Which explains why Trump is trying to ensure Flynn avoids prison time for hiding that detail.

Ric Grenell Declassified George Papadopoulos’ Brags about Fucking Older Women, but Not about Befriending Sergey Millian

In the name of exposing “FISA abuse,” Lindsey Graham got Ric Grenell to declassify details of George Papadopoulos bragging about fucking a woman who was 42.

CT: I was banging a 42-year-old. That’s the oldest I ever went. And she was the best sex I ever had in my life.

CHS: You know you can’t, uh, knock down them…

CT: But 42, that’s like borderline old, you know.

But Grenell left what DOJ IG treated as a reference to Sergey Millian living in Brooklyn classified (see page 66).

Grenell did so even though this reference to “Sergey” has already been formally declassified, for the DOJ IG Report (though I would argue that in places DOJ IG’s transcriptions are not always fair descriptions of what the transcripts show).

Papadopoulos did not say much about Russia during the first conversation with Source 3, other than to mention a “friend Sergey … [who] lives in … Brooklyn,” and invite Source 3 to travel with Papadopoulos to Russia in the summertime.

Perhaps this just stems from bureaucratic incompetence. But the Trump Administration made a fairly aggressive decision to declassify details about Sergey Millian for the DOJ IG Report because it served their narrative about Christopher Steele. But when it came time to claim–abundant evidence in the transcripts to the contrary–that George Papadopoulos wasn’t an obvious subject for a counterintelligence investigation, the Trump Administration treated one of the most damning details as classified.

This matters, because the frothy right has been ginning up a scandal over the delayed release of the House Intelligence transcripts, and the fact that, having been told everything is ready, Adam Schiff is taking a few days to review what Grenell has done to ensure the integrity of the redactions. They’re doing so even as both Mark Warner and Richard Burr spent the beginning of John Ratcliffe’s confirmation making sure the declassification of their report on the Russian operation would be quick and non-partisan.

But we’ve already got hints that Grenell is politicizing the declassification process. In a 90-page transcript, he redacted the detail that most undermined the frothy right narrative.

Chuck Grassley and His Two Republican Friends

After spending several days hemming and hawing about it, Chuck Grassley has sent a letter to President Trump, asking that he “provide more detailed reasoning for the removal of Inspector General Atkinson no later than April 13, 2020.”

The letter cites the basis for which Congress can make such demands: Inspector Generals work for both Congress and the Executive.

Further, the IC IG and indeed all inspectors general (IG) are designed to fulfill a dual role, reporting to both the President and Congress, to secure efficient, robust, and independent agency oversight. To ensure inspectors general are fully capable of performing their critical duties, and in recognition of their importance both to efficient administration and to the legislative function, Congress set clear, statutory notice requirements for their potential removal.

And it lays out how Trump’s move — not just putting Michael Atkinson on 30-day administrative leave (something Obama did , but also naming Thomas Monheim as Atkinson’s replacement immediately, something without precedent that Adam Schiff also raised concerns about.

Further, according to public reports, Mr. Atkinson already was placed on administrative leave, effectively removing him from his position prior to the completion of the statutorily required notice period.

[snip]

Please also provide your views on how the appointment of an acting official prior to the end of the 30 day notice period comports with statutory requirements.

The letter is precisely the kind of Congressional pushback on a removal that laws governing the appointments of Inspectors General envision. This is not just a show; Grassley has a long history of caring deeply about this stuff (and twice defended Schiff’s efforts to keep the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower secret).

The problem with his letter is this:

Just two of the Senators who co-signed this letter, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, are Republicans (Gary Peters, ranking member on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also signed). Grassley unsurprisingly didn’t get the hackish Ron Johnson, who as the Chair of HGSAC should make a pretense of giving a damn about oversight, to sign on. He didn’t get the Senator with the biggest role in overseeing the ICIG, Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr, to sign on (though Mark Warner is Ranking Member on the committee). And he didn’t get any of the other Senators — like Lisa Murkowski or Lamar Alexander — who purportedly considered voting for impeachment to sign on.

And that means, without enough Republicans to be able to threaten that a majority of the Senate would back an effort to enforce this request, Trump can and might well just blow this request off.

The Very Specific Details about the COVID Warnings from the “Deep State”

Last Friday, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General who treated the Ukraine whistleblower complaint as mandated by law. Yesterday, Adam Schiff wrote a letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell, warning him that the Committee was reviewing whether Trump fired Atkinson to undercut ongoing investigations and asking for assurances Grenell had not and would not tamper in anything the replacement Acting IG, Thomas Monheim, was investigating.

“The Committee is reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal, including whether his termination was intended to curb any ongoing investigations or reviews being undertaken by his office,” Schiff wrote.

Schiff asked Grenell to provide a written certification to his committee that he would not interfere with the work of future officials in that role and that he certify he has never interfered in the work of Thomas Monheim, now the acting inspector general of the intelligence community.

Grenell responded by acting like the online troll he is, falsely claiming that Schiff had “leaked” (AKA, released) the letter before he actually sent it to him.

Take all that as background to this ABC story. It describes both the source of intelligence behind a report on how aggressive the virus was in Wuhan, and the chain via which it ended up in Trump’s Presidential Daily Brief in early January.

Concerns about what is now known to be the novel coronavirus pandemic were detailed in a November intelligence report by the military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), according to two officials familiar with the document’s contents.

The report was the result of analysis of wire and computer intercepts, coupled with satellite images. It raised alarms because an out-of-control disease would pose a serious threat to U.S. forces in Asia — forces that depend on the NCMI’s work. And it paints a picture of an American government that could have ramped up mitigation and containment efforts far earlier to prepare for a crisis poised to come home.

“Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,” one of the sources said of the NCMI’s report. “It was then briefed multiple times to” the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the White House.

From that warning in November, the sources described repeated briefings through December for policy-makers and decision-makers across the federal government as well as the National Security Council at the White House. All of that culminated with a detailed explanation of the problem that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, the sources said.

The intelligence came from wire and computer intercept and satellite images, both incredibly sensitive intelligence. And the report made its way from the National Center for Medical Intelligence in November to DIA, the Joint Staff, and the White House in December, to Trump in early January.

The report doesn’t actually push the time when Trump could be expected to know of this warning, it pushes the timeline back for others in the chain of command. But it does make it clear that people in that chain of command took it seriously enough to keep elevating it.

And then, Trump ignored it.

Yes, this is leaking to add to the political accountability on Trump’s refusal to listen. But it’s also a remarkably detailed report about the work of intelligence — the value that the Deep State brought to an issue that threatens to sink Trump’s presidency — that, partly because of his intellectual limits and partly because of his distrust of the “Deep State,” Trump ignored.

If this stuff can’t be shared via proper channels we may see more of it in the press in the coming months.

Update: On Twitter, Brian Beutler noted that George Stephanopoulos laid the groundwork for this story when hosting Mike Esper on Sunday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said at top of this interview that the Pentagon has been ahead of the curve every day, and you mentioned in January. But did the Pentagon receive an intelligence assessment on COVID in China last November from the National Center for Medical Intelligence of DIA?

ESPER: Oh, I can’t recall, George. But our — we have many people that watch this closely. We have the premier infectious disease research institute in America, within the United States Army. So, our people who work these issues directly watch this all the time.

As you know, the first patient in the United States was discovered in late January. We activated our global pandemic response plans on 1 February. I issued guidance to the force for force protection on 3 February. And we didn’t see our first casualty in the United States — and God rest their soul — until 29 February.

So, you can see, we were weeks ahead of this in terms of preparing our own force and opening up our stockpile to the rest of the government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that’s in January, because, reportedly, this assessment was done in November, and it was briefed to the NSC in early December to assess the impact on military readiness, which, of course, would make it important to you, and the possible spread in the United States.

So, you would have known if there were briefed to the National Security Council in December, wouldn’t you?

ESPER: Yes, I’m not aware of that. I will tell you, again, our folks work this all the time. That’s why we have a global pandemic response plan that I initiated on February 1st. That’s why we have stockpiles of strategic supplies, whether it’s masks, gowns, PPE, ventilators, all those things we need.

Adam Schiff Totally Gutted the Section 215 Notice Provision in the FISA Reauthorization Bill

I’m working on a series of posts about the bill reauthorizing Section 215 that will be pushed through Congress today. Effectively, Adam Schiff took the Jerry Nadler bill, watered down some key provisions, but added a bunch of symbolic certifications that would do nothing to eliminate the kinds of problems in the Carter Page application, probably are less effective than certifications presiding FISA judge James Boasberg required the other day, but give Republicans who are too stupid to understand FISA the ability to claim victory.

One of the ways that Schiff has watered down the Nadler bill is particular alarming. It effectively guts efforts to require notice to defendants for Section 215. Here’s the language in his bill:

(2) USE IN TRIALS, HEARINGS, OR OTHER PROCEEDINGS.—For purposes of subsections (b) through (h) of section 106—

(A) information obtained or derived from the production of tangible things pursuant to an investigation conducted under this section shall be deemed to be information acquired from an electronic surveillance pursuant to title I, unless the court or other authority of the United States finds, in response to a motion from the Government, that providing notice to an aggrieved person would harm the national security of the United States; and

(B) in carrying out subparagraph (A), a person shall be deemed to be an aggrieved person if

(i) the person is the target of such an investigation; and

(ii) the activities or communications of the person are described in the tangible things that the Government intends to use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding.

Here’s Nadler’s original language:

(2) USE IN TRIALS, HEARINGS, OR OTHER PROCEEDINGS.—For purposes of subsections (b) through (h) of section 106—

(A) information obtained or derived from the production of tangible things pursuant to an investigation conducted under this section shall be deemed to be information acquired from an electronic surveillance pursuant to title I; and

(B) in carrying out subparagraph (A), a person shall be deemed to be an aggrieved person if—

(i) the person is the target of such an investigation; or

(ii) the activities or communications of the person are described in any tangible thing collected pursuant to such an investigation.

As it was, Nadler’s language had a loophole, in that it changed the definition of aggrieved person. Under 18 USC §1801, an aggrieved person is anyone who is either the target or who has been caught up in a wiretap or other collection targeting them.

“Aggrieved person” means a person who is the target of an electronic surveillance or any other person whose communications or activities were subject to electronic surveillance.

Under Nadler’s bill, someone is aggrieved only if they are the “target” of “such an investigation. But “investigation” there seems to pertain to the original 215 order, meaning that if someone started a second investigation into someone based off information discovered in 215 (which is often used for lead generation) it’s not even clear they would count as the target, even if they were the ones being prosecuted or put on a no-fly list or some such thing.

Still, under Nadler’s bill, that person would likely still get notice if their activities — say, buying a pressure cooker or access a certain website — would have been collected using the 215 order.

But Schiff’s bill utterly guts even that. He does so in three ways.

Working from the bottom, Schiff requires that you be both the target of the investigation and that your activities or communications got collected under 215. It appears to mean that only those who are the target of the original 215 order would be aggrieved (there are still a number of bulky orders that don’t target any person, so if an investigation arose out of a lead from such bulky orders, no one would ever be aggrieved under this definition).

Then, Schiff only counts someone as aggrieved if the government will introduce the evidence collected under 215 order. That is, if someone is targeted in part for buying a pressure cooker, but the pressure cooker lead led to a bunch of other evidence, that person might never count as aggrieved even if the original investigation into her came from purchasing a pressure cooker.

Plus, this language seems to invite parallel construction. If the government wanted to introduce evidence of that pressure cooker purchase, they could just subpoena the store directly.

Finally, and most outrageously, the government can still move not to give that notice based on a claim that providing it “would harm to the national security of the United States.” Outrageously, they don’t even have to convince a judge that such harm is real. A court “or other authority of the United States” could agree with such a finding. The Attorney General is “an authority of the United States.” So Attorney General Bill Barr — the father of the first subpoena based dragnet — could make a motion saying that notice of a dragnet would harm the national security of the United States, and Attorney General Bill Barr could agree with Bill Barr that that’s the case.

This is how the whole dragnet problem started in the first place, when, in 1992, Bill Barr decided that he could authorized secret dragnets.

It’s hard to believe the bill would make such ridiculous changes unless there were something DOJ is trying to hide. Whatever the reason, this language utterly guts the notice provision, while still pretending it actually does include one.

SSCI Has Already Dismissed One of the Key Issues John Durham Is Investigating

The other day, the NYT had an update on another area included in John Durham’s 9-month investigation of the Russian investigation. Durham appears to be chasing a theory (based on what predication, aside from Bill Barr’s fevered imagination, it’s unclear) that John Brennan tricked the FBI into investigating Trump by fooling them into believing Russia wanted Trump elected.

Questions asked by Mr. Durham, who was assigned by Attorney General William P. Barr to scrutinize the early actions of law enforcement and intelligence officials struggling to understand the scope of Russia’s scheme, suggest that Mr. Durham may have come to view with suspicion several clashes between analysts at different intelligence agencies over who could see each other’s highly sensitive secrets, the people said.

Mr. Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.

[snip]

The Justice Department has declined to talk about Mr. Durham’s work in meaningful detail, but he has been said to be interested in how the intelligence community came up with its analytical judgments — including its assessment that Russia was not merely sowing discord, but specifically sought to help Mr. Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

A key part of this involves the credibility assigned to a Russian source and the CIA’s initial unwillingness to share his identity.

One fight, they said, concerned the identity and placement of a C.I.A. source inside the Kremlin. Analysts at the National Security Agency wanted to know more about him to weigh the credibility of his information. The C.I.A. was initially reluctant to share details about the Russian’s identity but eventually relented.

But officials disagreed about how much weight to give the source’s information, and the intelligence community’s eventual assessment apparently reflected that division. While the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. concluded with “high confidence” that Mr. Putin was specifically trying to help Mr. Trump win the election, the National Security Agency agreed but said it had only “moderate confidence.”

As with much of the Durham investigation, this likely came from a partisan investigation — specifically the HPSCI Report on Russian interference that the GOP released with little Democratic involvement. It found that

(U) Finding #16: The lntelllgence Communi· tv Assessment judgments on Putin’s strategic intentions did not employ proper ana· lytic tradecraft. (U) While the Committee found that most ICA analysis held-up to scrutiny, the investigation also identified significant intelligence tradecraft failings that undermine confidence in the JCA judgments regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic objectives for disrupting the U.S. election. Those judgments failed to meet longstanding standards set forth in the primary guiding document for IC analysis, ICD 203, Analytic Standards including:

(U) ”Properly describe quality and credibilit:y of underlying sources.”

(U) “Properly express and explain uncertainties associated with major analytic judgments.”

(U) “Incorporate analysis of alternatives ·- [particularly] when major judgments must contend with significant uncertainties or … high-impact results.”

(U) Base confidence assessments on “the quantity and quality of source material.”

(U) “Be informed by all relevant information available.”

(U) “Be independent of political considerations.”

[snip]

The Committee’s findings on ICA tradecraft focused on the use of sensitive, [redacted] intelligence [redacted] cited by the ICA. This presented a significant challenge for classification downgrade. The Committee worked with intelligence officers from the agencies who own the raw reporting cited in the ICA to downgrade the classification of compartmented findings [redacted]

In short, in the same way that the HJC/OGR echo chamber of shoddy propaganda injected George Papadopoulos’ claims into Durham’s investigation, the HPSCI report likely gave Barr a way to demand this prong of the investigation.

The thing is, however, the Senate Intelligence Committee has also reviewed this intelligence — notably, at a time after the CIA source behind it had been exfiltrated (and after abundant other evidence proving that Putin really did prefer Trump came in). And SSCI had no problem with the conclusion.

The ICA states that:

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.[2]

  • The Committee found that the ICA provided a range of all-source reporting to support these assessments.
  • The Committee concurs with intelligence and open-source assessments that this influence campaign was approved by President Putin.
  • Further, a body of reporting, to include different intelligence disciplines, open source reporting on Russian leadership policy preferences, and Russian media content, showed that Moscow sought to denigrate Secretary Clinton.
  • The ICA relies on public Russian leadership commentary, Russian state media reports, public examples of where Russian interests would have aligned with candidates’ policy statements, and a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump.

The ICA also states that:

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.[3]

  • The Committee found that the ICA provided intelligence and open source reporting to support this assessment, and information obtained subsequent to publication of the ICA provides further support.
  • This is the only assessment in the ICA that had different confidence levels between the participating agencies—the CIA and FBI assessed with “high confidence” and the NSA assessed with “moderate confidence”—so the Committee gave this section additional attention.

The Committee found that the analytical disagreement was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated among the agencies and analysts, with analysts, managers, and agency heads on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions. [my emphasis]

Significantly, over time that conclusion has held up.

In fact, an even more recent SSCI Report — released in recent weeks — makes it clear that what is obviously this same reporting stream provided the “wake up” call that led the IC to take the Russian attack as seriously as they should have. The intelligence is introduced (but entirely redacted) on page 11, but the description of Brennan’s action — and the degree to which this intelligence was closely held thereafter — makes it clear that this is the CIA HUMINT.

According to Director Brennan, he recommended that the intelligence be briefed to the Gang of Eight, stating, “I think it’s important that this be a personal briefing.”

[snip]

According to multiple administration officials, the receipt of the sensitive intelligence prompted the NSC to being a series of restricted PC meetings to craft the administration’s response to the Russians’ active measures campaign. These restricted “small group” PC meetings, and the corresponding Deputies Committee (DC) meetings, were atypically restricted, and excluded regular PC and DC attendees such as the relevant Senior Directors within the NSC and subject matter experts that normally accompanied the principals and deputies from the U.S. Government departments and agencies.

According to former NSC Senior Director for Intelligence Programs, Brett Holmgren, no one other than the principals participated in the initial PC meetings, due to the sensitivity of the intelligence reporting. Mr. Holmgren further stated that the “reports were briefed verbally, often times by Director Brennan. So I didn’t get access to a lot of these reports until the November or December time frame.”

To be clear, ultimately this more recent SSCI Report comes down on the same side that the Durham inquiry seems to be — that CIA ended up holding this too close, making it difficult for other agencies to properly vet it. This SSCI Report argues that the close hold led to a less robust response than the US should have mounted.

So all four reviews — HPSCI’s, SSCI’s ICA assessment and 3rd volume, along with Durham’s current review — agree that the CIA held this information really closely. But the bipartisan reports that assess whether the conclusion held up over time — just the SSCI ones — not only find that CIA was right, but that that view marked the belated moment when the US IC started taking the attack seriously enough.

In other words, John Durham is investigating something that the proper oversight authorities already have deemed the correct result that actually came too late and not broadly enough, and trying to find fault with it. Bill Barr is trying to get Durham to criminalize an intelligence conclusion that is the one thing that didn’t lead us to get more badly damaged by the attack.

Pat Cipollone Believes the Golden Rule Is for Chumps

The question and answer phrase of the Senate trial is far more interesting than the presentation of the cases. Both parties are obviously feeding their own side questions to rebut the other, or posing questions they think will make the other stumble (Chief Justice John Roberts has reportedly censored only one kind of question: any question that probes for the whistleblower’s name).

Later last night, the questioning became interesting for the whip count. There were a couple of questions posed by large numbers of Senators on record supporting Trump, including vulnerable swing state Senators like Martha McSally, Thom Tillis, and Cory Gardner, and it was interesting to see who else jumped on questions that obviously served only to suck up to Trump.

Over the course of several questions, there was a discussion on whether Roberts could rule on the appropriateness of witnesses or Executive Privilege. Pat Philbin argued that he could not, on EP (contrary to the rules), in response to which Schiff came back and said he could. Schiff argued that the Democrats would accept Roberts’ views without challenge. Jay Sekulow piped in to say Republicans would not. I keep thinking about how Roberts will be ruling on some of these issues on other appeals, and I think Schiff is playing to him on some questions as much as to the Senate.

Questions being asked by leaners (people like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who have asked a number together, though it seems like Mitt Romney went from leaning to supporting questions) are of particular interest. At one point, Collins asked why the House didn’t include bribery in its articles. Hakeem Jeffries gave an answer that Collins visibly responded to by saying, “he didn’t answer my question,” but Schiff came in shortly after and did answer it, pointing out that all the elements of bribery are included in the abuse of power article. Collins also asked the President’s lawyers what Trump had done on corruption in Ukraine prior to last year, which Philbin didn’t answer and then, when the question was re-asked by Democrats, said he couldn’t answer because it’s not in the record (though he has relied on non-public information elsewhere).

Then there are the alarming answers. Alan Dershowitz was asked, after he argued that if the President thought something that benefitted him personally was good for the country, whether that extended to nuking democratic states because he believed his reelection was good for the country and he agreed in theory.

Pat Philbin answered a question about whether it was okay to accept dirt to win an election. He said it was.

I was most interested, however, in a response Sekulow gave to a question offered by Marco Rubio and others, people who presumably were just feeding softballs to strengthen the President’s argument. They referenced a claimed principle espoused by Dersh and Sekulow, wherein you should always imagine how it would feel if the other party were impeaching a president of your party on the same fact set, which was originally a way to excuse Dersh’s flip-flop on abuse of power and impeachment. Rubio and others asked where the limiting factors on this would be — basically an invitation to repeat what Trump’s lawyers have said in the past, that you shouldn’t impeach within a year of an election or some such thing. Except Sekulow would not offer general principles. Instead of referencing the election — the right answer to the softball question — he focused on the claimed uniqueness of this impeachment (which is bullshit in any case). In other words, given an opportunity to answer a question about principles that would adhere beyond this impeachment, Sekulow answered that his Golden Rule only applies ot this impeachment.

Propaganda and Flattery: Jack Posobiec Parrots Adam Schiff’s Case for Impeachment

Several members of the frothy right have listened to the recording Igor Fruman made of a dinner with Trump in April 2018 and declared that Parnas and/or Fruman must be a spy.

And while neither of these men seem to have figured out that Fruman, not Parnas, reportedly made this recording, their assessment is not as crazy as most frothy conspiracies. After all, the government has very pointedly not denied that it had a FISA order on one or another of the grifters (one that Bill Barr would probably have known about if not approved personally). If the government did have a FISA order, it means the FBI showed the FISA court there was probable cause that one of these guys was clandestinely working as an agent of a foreign power. And WSJ suggested that the reason SDNY is not interested in a cooperation deal with Parnas is because he will not admit he got Marie Yovanovitch fired — precisely the ask recorded on this video — at the behest of some Ukrainian.

At a meeting with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office late last year, people familiar with the matter say, Mr. Parnas’s attorney disputed that he pushed for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.

So prosecutors, this time, appear to suspect that Jack Posobiec may be right, that when Parnas and Fruman made this recording they were working as clandestine agents of a foreign government.

Mind you, Posobiec and Benny Johnson, having not even figured out that Fruman made the recording yet, have assuredly not thought through what this means.

It means that someone they believe is a “spy” could gain direct access to Donald Trump with no more than the promise of a $325,000 campaign donation. It means that a “spy” could incite Donald Trump to take a certain policy action — one that happens to be one that corrupt oligarchs in Ukraine and Russia would support — with no more than a bunch of lies about what the US Ambassador had said. It means that these “spies” further managed to become business partners with the President’s defense attorney. One of these “spies” even managed to become an auxiliary member of the President’s Mueller defense team, privy to sensitive secrets about how he would successfully obstruct that investigation.

Having made Rudy Giuliani their agent, these “spies” managed to use him to supplant the beliefs of the US government, not just the professional Deep State, but a bunch of solidly Republican Trump appointees up to and including John Bolton. It means these “spies” used Rudy to get Trump to believe conspiracy theories ginned up by foreign government officials. And it means these “spies” managed to get the President to take actions that gave Russia an advantage in their war against Ukraine.

With little more than propaganda and flattery — and some money laundered through a shell company — these “spies” managed to alter the stated policy of the United States. That is the direct implication of Posobiec’s allegation.

As it happens, that’s precisely the same argument House Impeachment Manager Adam Schiff made on Friday (h/t Crooks & Liars for the video).

Admittedly, Schiff was focusing on a slightly different set of propaganda talking points, that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election rather than Russia. But the model by which President Trump came to reject the conclusion of our intelligence community and instead parrot the words that Vladimir Putin gave him are the same: flattery and propaganda.

I’m sure you remember this. It was I think unforgettable for every American. But I’m sure it was equally unforgettable for Vladimir Putin. I mean, there he is, the President of Russia, standing next to the President of the United States, and hearing his own Kremlin propaganda talking points coming from the President of the United States.

Now, if that’s not a propaganda coup I don’t know what is. It’s the most extraordinary thing. It’s the most extraordinary thing. The president of the united states standing next to the president of Russia, our adversary, saying he doesn’t believe his own intelligence agencies. He doesn’t believe them. He’s promoting this crazy server theory cooked up by the Kremlin. Right next to the guy that cooked it up. It’s a breathtaking success of Russian intelligence. I don’t know if there’s ever been a greater success of Russian intelligence.

Whatever profile Russia did of our president, boy, did they have him spot on. Flattery and propaganda. Flattery and propaganda is all Russia needed. And as to Ukraine, well, they needed to deliver a political investigation to get help from the United States. I mean, this is just the most incredible propaganda coup.

Because as I said yesterday, it’s not just that the President of the United States standing next to Vladimir Putin is reading Kremlin talking points. He won’t read his own national security staff talking points but he will read the Kremlin ones. But it’s not just that he adopts the Kremlin talking points. That would be bad enough. It is not bad enough, not damaging enough, not dangerous enough to our national security that he’s undermining our own intelligence agencies. It’s not bad enough that he undermines those very agencies that he needs later that we need later to have credibility.

[snip]

How do you make that argument as the President of the United States when you just told the world you trust the Russians more than your own people? You trust Rudy Giuliani more than Christopher Wray. How do you make that case? If you can’t make that case what does that mean to our security? But that’s not the end of it. It’s not just a propaganda coup. It is not just the undermining of our agencies.

It is also that the buy-in to that propaganda meant that Ukraine wasn’t going to get money to fight the Russians. I mean, that’s one hell of a Russian intelligence coup. They got the President of the United States to provide cover for their own interference with our election. They got the President of the United states to discredit their own intelligence agencies, to drive a wedge between the United States and Ukraine, the President of the United States to withhold aid from Ukraine in a war with Russia, in a war claiming Ukrainian lives every week.

Has there ever been such a coup? I would submit to you in the entire length of the Cold War the Soviet Union had no such success, no such success and why? Because a former mayor of New York persuaded a president of the United States to sacrifice all of that. Was it worth it? I hope it was worth it. I hope it was worth it. For the president. Because it certainly wasn’t worth it for the United States.

To be sure, Posobiec has barely started to figure out that grifters with some laundered money and sweet talk can get this President to adopt policies contrary to those Congress and Trump’s entire national security establishment think is best. He’s far from adopting Schiff’s view that a President who can be manipulated so easily by flattery and propaganda is unfit to be President. He presumably still believes that Trump can’t be impeached for extorting Ukraine campaign assistance because, as President, Trump can set whatever policy he wants; if Posobiec believes that, though, he should account for the fact that someone he believes is a “spy” got Trump to adopt that policy.

But Posobiec has nevertheless made the same argument that Schiff made Friday: that what he sees on this recording is a “spy” who managed to get close to Trump, tell him something guaranteed to trigger his narcissism, in response to which Trump took action.

NSA Is Probably Withholding Details of the Alleged Burisma Hack from Congress

Over the weekend, Adam Schiff and other impeachment managers started alleging that the NSA is withholding information about Ukraine from the Intelligence Committees and impeachment team.

“And I’ll say something even more concerning to me, and that is the intelligence community is beginning to withhold documents from Congress on the issue of Ukraine,” Schiff said. “The NSA, in particular, is withholding what are potentially relevant documents to our oversight responsibilities on Ukraine, but also withholding documents potentially relevant that the senators might want to see during the trial.”

Schiff added: “There are signs that the CIA may be on the same tragic course. We are counting on the intelligence community not only to speak truth to power, but to resist pressure from the administration to withhold information from Congress because the administration fears that they incriminate them.”

An Intelligence Committee official later said, “Both the NSA and CIA initially pledged cooperation, and it appears now that the White House has interceded before production of documents could begin.”

Schiff had dropped the claim, at times, in his presentation to the Senate and to the press.

But in his stem-winding close last night, he mentioned the alleged Burisma hack in a way that strongly suggests that’s what NSA is withholding.

Now we just saw last week a report that Russia tried to hack, or maybe did hack, Burisma. Okay. I don’t know if they got in. I’m trying to find out. My colleagues on the Intel Committee, House and Senate, we’re trying to find out, did the Russians get in? What are the Russian plans and intentions? Well, let’s say they got in. And let’s say they start dumping documents to interfere in the next election. Let’s say they start dumping some real things they hacked from Burisma, let’s say they start dumping some fake things they didn’t hack from Burisma, but they want you to believe they did. Let’s say they start blatantly interfering in our election again, to help Donald Trump. Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them and protect the national interest over his own personal interest? You know you can’t.

Schiff’s speech was a planned show-stopper, climax, thus far, of the impeachment trial. It is highly unlikely Schiff included this mention, with the detail that he and both the Intelligence Committees are trying to figure out whether Burisma really got hacked, without very good reason.

But it also goes to the power of information war.

When NYT first reported that GRU had hacked Burisma, I had two thoughts.

The hackers fooled some of them into handing over their login credentials, and managed to get inside one of Burisma’s servers, Area 1 said.

“The attacks were successful,” said Oren Falkowitz, a co-founder of Area 1, who previously served at the National Security Agency. Mr. Falkowitz’s firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.

“The timing of the Russian campaign mirrors the G.R.U. hacks we saw in 2016 against the D.N.C. and John Podesta,” the Clinton campaign chairman, Mr. Falkowitz said. “Once again, they are stealing email credentials, in what we can only assume is a repeat of Russian interference in the last election.”

[snip]

To steal employees’ credentials, the G.R.U. hackers directed Burisma to their fake login pages. Area 1 was able to trace the look-alike sites through a combination of internet service providers frequently used by G.R.U.’s hackers, rare web traffic patterns, and techniques that have been used in previous attacks against a slew of other victims, including the 2016 hack of the D.N.C. and a more recent Russian hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“The Burisma hack is a cookie-cutter G.R.U. campaign,” Mr. Falkowitz said. “Russian hackers, as sophisticated as they are, also tend to be lazy. They use what works. And in this, they were successful.”

First, this attribution is not (yet) as strong as even the first attribution that GRU had hacked the DNC, to say nothing of the 30 non-government sources for that attribution since laid out in the GRU indictment and the Mueller Report. There’s good reason to remain cautious about this attribution until we get more than one not very well established contractor attributing the hack.

But to some degree, it doesn’t matter whether GRU hacked Burisma and whether they took documents with plans to leak them during the election. Indeed, disinformation may explain why this was an easily identifiable hack, whether done by GRU or someone else. Because the news that someone appearing to be GRU targeted Burisma in early November — when it was clear Trump would be impeached for extorting Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on Burisma — serves a clear purpose. It adds evidence that Trump is owned by Russia and, after the Senate doesn’t vote to remove him, will demonstration that Republicans don’t much give a damn that he is owned by Russia.

To be clear: There’s abundant evidence that Russia does have leverage over Trump, and more is likely to be forthcoming.

But that’s far more valuable, for Russia, if that’s public and if the Republicans in the Senate sanction it.

And that may explain why NSA is withholding the information, if indeed that’s what they’re withholding. In the same way that the FBI went to great lengths to withhold a letter they believed to be disinformation suggesting that Loretta Lynch would fix the Hillary investigation, information that appears to add to the already abundant case that Russia is in the tank for Trump. Given the stakes, that doesn’t justify it. But at this point, GRU wouldn’t need to hack Burisma for any point — the hack itself, in the middle of the impeachment investigation, is enough to lay a marker on Donald J. Trump.

He belongs to the GRU, the hack says, whether or not he does anything affirmatively to confirm that claim. But if the NSA is withholding that detail, it would seem to confirm the point.