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Four Rudy Giuliani-Related Privilege Reviews: DOJ Likely Already Has a Version of Document 4708

As I noted here and here, on Monday, Judge David Carter ordered John Eastman to turn over most documents he had been trying to withhold from the January 6 Committee. That order found that it was likely that Trump and Eastman had conspired to defraud the US. But there was just one document turned over on the basis of crime-fraud exception: a document otherwise privileged under a work product claim that, Judge Carter ruled, could not be withheld because it was sent in the commission of the attempt to obstruct the vote count.

Here’s how Carter described the document:

In this email, a colleague forwards to Dr. Eastman a memo they wrote for one of President Trump’s attorneys.153 The memo sketches a series of events for the days leading up to and following January 6, if Vice President Pence were to delay counting or reject electoral votes. The memo clearly contemplates and plans for litigation: it maps out potential Supreme Court suits and the impact of different judicial outcomes. While this memo was created for both political and litigation purposes, it substantively engages with potential litigation and its consequences for President Trump. The memo likely would have been written substantially differently had the author not expected litigation. The Court therefore finds that this document was created in anticipation of litigation.

[snip]

The eleventh document is a chain forwarding to Dr. Eastman a draft memo written for President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.274 The memo recommended that Vice President Pence reject electors from contested states on January 6. This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action. The draft memo pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act, and Dr. Eastman’s later memos closely track its analysis and proposal. The memo is both intimately related to and clearly advanced the plan to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021. Because the memo likely furthered the crimes of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States, it is subject to the crime-fraud exception and the Court ORDERS it to be disclosed.

274 4708. [my emphasis]

Carter’s decision and the release of documents has set off the usual wails about how much more proactive the January 6 Committee is than DOJ, replete with statements of fact — almost always people who haven’t done any work to understand what DOJ is really doing — that DOJ hasn’t taken steps to obtain such documents itself.

I’d like to look at four privilege reviews that implicate Rudy Giuliani and show that it is likely DOJ already has this document or at least ones that are related. Those reviews are:

  • Judge David Carter’s review of 111 documents subpoenaed from John Eastman by the January 6 committee
  • The 11-month long privilege review of materials on 16 devices seized from Rudy Giuliani on April 28, 2021
  • Details released about Robert Costello’s advice to Steve Bannon provided in response to a subpoena from the January 6 Committee
  • The known details about subpoenas served on Sidney Powell’s non-profit, Defending the Republic

John Eastman

As explained here, the David Carter opinion describes the judge’s privilege review of just four days of materials (January 4 to January 7, 2021) responsive to the January 6 Committee subpoena to Eastman. Carter went meticulously through seven categories of materials in Eastman’s possession and determined that just ten documents could be withheld under a work product claim and one — document 4708 — had to be turned over under a crime-fraud exception.

Carter ruled the document — an email chain that forwarded a memo written for Rudy to Eastman — was excepted under a crime-fraud exception because, the judge described, it sought to transform Eastman’s Electoral Count Act scheme “into a day-by-day plan of action.” Eastman didn’t write it. Rather, because the document was created for Rudy, Carter treated it along with four others, “created by or for agents of President Trump or his campaign, including attorneys of record in state cases and President Trump’s personal attorney.” [my emphasis]

References to the document explain that Eastman claimed attorney-client privilege over the document (fn 81, 125) and someone wrote “PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL” in email text (fn 101).

Carter’s review of the document is particularly valuable for how he dismisses Eastman’s attorney-client privilege claim: In hundreds of pages of briefing, Eastman provided no evidence that its sender was affiliated with the Trump campaign or was covered by Eastman’s own claim to be representing Trump.

Dr. Eastman claims attorney-client privilege over only nine documents: five emails125 and four attachments.126 None of these documents includes Dr. Eastman’s client, President Trump, as a sender or recipient of the email. Instead, all emails are sent from a third party to Dr. Eastman, and two of the emails blind copy (bcc) a close advisor to President Trump.127

Despite having filed nearly a hundred pages of briefing, Dr. Eastman does not mention this third-party email sender anywhere in his briefs; the person is named only in his privilege log entries. Dr. Eastman’s description in the privilege log is conclusory, describing the sender merely as his “co-counsel.”128 Dr. Eastman failed to provide retainer agreements or a sworn declaration that would prove this third party was an attorney or agent for President Trump. The Court also cannot infer the third party’s affiliation with President Trump from his email, which is a generic, [email protected] email address. Dr. Eastman has not met his burden to show that these communications were with an agent of President Trump or the Trump campaign, and as such, these documents do not warrant the protection of the attorney-client privilege.

In other words, there was someone involved in relaying a memo originally written for Rudy to Eastman that Eastman didn’t want to or couldn’t argue was a Trump lawyer. And that’s why this attorney-client privilege claim failed. That’s an important detail because — as we’ll see — Bannon tried something similar.

Rudy Giuliani

Now let’s turn to Rudy’s phones. As I keep explaining, while the known warrants used to seize Rudy’s phones cover his Ukrainian influence peddling and cover a time period from May 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019, SDNY got Judge Paul Oetken to approve a Special Master review that covered the period from January 1, 2018 through the date of seizure, April 28, 2021. Special Master Barbara Jones’ review is only for privilege claims (including Executive privilege and attorney-client at least), not for responsiveness to any subpoena, so the end result of her review will result in turning over all non-privileged content on Rudy’s devices from that 28-month period.

That means if the person who created the memo forwarded as part of document 4708 sent it to Rudy on one of the devices that were seized, then the underlying memo would be included in the Special Master review.

We don’t know how DOJ has prioritized this review. We know only what is in this and earlier reports, which I’ve captured in this table.

Jones did an initial review, covering the entire timeframe (that is, post-dating January 1, 2018) of 7 devices, from which she found 3 documents about which she had some question, but ultimately deemed them privileged and turned over 2,000 other items.

Then, seemingly in parallel, she did a review of Device 1B05 (a cell phone) and 8 other devices. For the 8 devices, her review covered only the period of Rudy’s Ukrainian influence peddling. But for Device 1B05, Jones’ review covered the full 28-month period, meaning it would include any texts or messages sent on or pertaining to January 6.

I next assigned for review the chats and messages that post-dated January 1, 2018 on Device 1B05, which is a cell phone. There were originally 25,481 such items, which later increased to 25,629 after a technical issue involving document attachments was identified. An initial release of non-designated items was made to the Government’s investigative team on November 11, 2021.1

Of the total documents assigned for review, Mr. Giuliani designated 96 items as privileged and/or highly personal. Of those 96 designated items, I agreed that 40 were privileged, Mr. Giuliani’s counsel withdrew the privilege designation over 19, and I found that 37 were not privileged. I shared these determinations with Mr. Giuliani’s counsel, and they indicated that they would not challenge my determination that the 37 items are not privileged. The 40 privileged documents have been withheld from the Government’s investigative team and the remaining 56 were released on January 19, 2022.

1 Additional non-designated items were released on January 19, 2022.

Device 1B05 was the only one for which Jones disputed the original privilege claims made by Rudy and his attorney Robert Costello. Of 40 items, Jones agreed with their privilege claim. Of 19, Costello withdrew the claim. And of 37, Jones told Costello she disagreed, after which Costello decided not to fight her ruling.

While these discussions were going on, Judge Oetken issued a ruling that, if Rudy wanted to challenge Jones’ rulings, they’d have to make their legal arguments (but not the content of the contested communications) public. During the Michael Cohen privilege review, such a decision led Cohen and Trump to drop privilege claims, probably over the crime-fraud excepted hush payment communications, and that may be what happened here.

Whatever happened, we know that, with the exception of 43 items, any January 6-related communications that were on half of the 16 phones seized from Rudy would have been turned over to the FBI for a scope review. To be clear, investigators wouldn’t be able to access those comms unless they got a separate warrant for them, but we would never know (short of an indictment relying on them) if they had.

None of that guarantees that the memo forwarded with Eastman’s document 4708 is in DOJ possession. If the person who wrote it emailed it, it would not necessarily be on the seized devices. (Though if DOJ had a January 6 warrant for Rudy’s phones, they presumably would have obtained one for his email and iCloud as well, as they did with his Ukraine investigation.) If the person delivered it by hand, it would not be on the devices. And it’s possible that Costello made a more compelling argument than Eastman did that the sender was covered by a privilege claim tied to Trump.

Steve Bannon

We don’t know what kind of wild privilege claims Robert Costello was making as part of the privilege review of Rudy’s devices (which started in earnest in September 2021). But we do know what kind of wild privilege claims Robert Costello was making for another of his clients, Steve Bannon, in discussions of how to respond to a subpoena from the January 6 between October 5 and 19, 2021. He provided those details (including two 302s from interviews at which FBI agents were present) in a bid to claim he — Costello — was unfairly targeted as part of DOJ’s investigation of Bannon’s contempt (see this post for details).

In Costello’s interviews, he was all over the map about whether Bannon could invoke Executive Privilege. He said that according to some OLC opinions, Bannon did not have to be a government employee to receive “protections” under EP, and that “TRUMP had the right to claim it for BANNON.” He said that 10 of the 17 items on the Jan 6 subpoena were covered by EP. He admitted EP did not cover a request for comms involving Scott Perry and “it would take a ‘creative argument’ to apply Executive Privilege to that particular item.” He admitted, too, that comms with the Proud Boys wouldn’t be covered by EP if such communications existed.  He said that EP claims should be worked out between Trump and the Committee. He said he had told Bannon that Bannon could not invoke EP because “that authority belongs to the President.”

Ultimately, though, Costello admitted that Trump’s attorney Justin Clark never reviewed anything Bannon might have claimed privilege over and refused several requests to contact the Committee himself about EP.

COSTELLO did not provide any documents to attorneys representing former President Trump for review to determine if Executive Privilege covered the documents. At the time, COSTELLO did not know what attorneys were representing others who had received Select Committee subpoenas.

COSTELLO asked CLARK to reach out to the Select Committee and to directly express to the Select Committee what COSTELLO and BANNON were confused about in regards to Executive Privilege. COSTELLO estimated he requested this of CLARK approximately two or three times; however, CLARK did not reach out to the Select Committee. COSTELLO did not have prior knowledge of the lawsuit of former President TRUMP.

[snip]

CLARK would not identify for COSTELLO what would be covered under Executive Privilege and that CLARK left that determination up to those who had received the Select Committee subpoena. CLARK also refused to reach out to the Select Committee on behalf of COSTELLO or BANNON.

[snip]

COSTELLO did not provide or offer any documents to attorneys representing former President TRUMP to review for Executive Privilege.

In a follow-up, Costello effectively admitted there was no concrete record that Trump had invoked EP.

Costello stated that Justin Clark (Clark) was trying to be intentionally vague; however, Costello was clear former President Donald Trump (President Trump) asserted executive privilege with regard to Bannon.

When DOJ asked Costello for a letter indicating that Clark had invoked EP for Bannon, he had nothing specific.

Then there was the matter of Bannon’s podcasts. Costello ceded they weren’t covered by privilege, but only because they were public (!!!!), and appears to have just assumed the Committee would go get them on their own.

With regards to responding to the Select Committee’s request for documents, COSTELLO planned to send a link to the website hosting all of BANNON’s publicly accessibly podcasts.

[snip]

The podcasts requested could be obtained by the Select Committee off the internet, and since they were in the public domain, the podcasts also were not covered by Executive Privilege.

[snip]

COSTELLO admitted he did not have a good answer as to why he didn’t disclose to the Select Committee that the podcasts were in the public domain and BANNON was not required to respond to that particular item. COSTELLO believed the particular requests regarding the podcasts was just a “bad request” by the Select Committee.

The most telling piece of advice given by the lawyer Bannon shares with Rudy — one that goes to the heart of what Costello might have done in discussions taking place at the same time about privilege with SDNY — was that Bannon, who is not a lawyer, could claim attorney-client privilege over items requested in item 17 of the subpoena, which asked for,

Any communications with Rudolph Giuliani, John Eastman, Michael Flynn, Jenna Ellis, or Sydney Powell about any of the foregoing topics.

Costello claimed these such communications, including those with Mike Flynn or Sidney Powell, would be covered by attorney-client or work product privilege.

COSTELLO believed that the request listed as number 17 involved information over which BANNON could assert attorney-client privilege given it included a request for communications between BANNON and RUDOLPH GIULIANI, JENNA ELLIS, and other attorneys who were working for former President Trump.

[snip]

COSTELLO believed item 17 was covered by attorney-client privilege or by attorney work product protections. Even though MICHAEL FLYNN was not an attorney, he was present during attorney-client-protected discussions. Those particular attorneys represented former President TRUMP and CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17.

There’s so much crazy-train about this last bit. After stating over and over that Clark refused to invoke EP, Costello then admitted that Clark wanted Bannon to withhold communications involving Rudy, Eastman, Powell, and Mike Flynn. Costello admitted Flynn (like Bannon) was not a lawyer, but was still prepared to claim attorney work product over comms with him anyway. But the thing I can’t get enough of is that Rudy’s lawyer Robert Costello was claiming that Sidney Powell — who, in a written statement issued on November 22, 2020, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani made very clear did not represent Donald Trump — represented Donald Trump.

Still, all this crazy train amounts to non-lawyer Bannon, advised by the lawyer he shares with Rudy, making the same claim that lawyer John Eastman had made regarding “war” planning leading up to January 6; that such documents were covered by work product privilege. That’s the same claim that Judge Carter just applied a crime-fraud exception for.

I’m guessing Costello attempted to make similar claims with Barbara Jones in SDNY and I’m guessing that Jones pointed out that Bannon and Flynn aren’t lawyers and Rudy was quite clear that Powell was not Trump’s lawyer. In other words, I think it likely that some of the claims Costello withdrew are similar to those that Eastman failed with. If that’s right, it increases the chance Document 4708 would be turned over to DOJ.

Sidney Powell

And then there’s the Kraken lady.

We don’t know the full scope of the grand jury investigation into Powell, aside from the fact that Molly Gaston, who is supervising the Bannon prosecution, is also involved in it (which means she’d have visibility on the overlap between the two, and would know that Trump’s lawyer tried to withhold comms involving Powell without invoking privilege). The subpoena requests, at least, cover the finances of her Defending the Republic “non-profit.”

The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, is examining the finances of Defending the Republic, an organization founded by Powell to fund her “Kraken” lawsuits to overturn the 2020 election, the sources said.According to two of the people familiar with the matter, a grand jury was empaneled, and subpoenas and documents requests have gone out to multiple individuals as recently as September.

The investigation, then, would cover activities that are tangential to the January 6 subpoenas to Bannon and Eastman.

But the fact that there’s a grand jury investigation into Powell makes it exceedingly likely DOJ got a warrant for her emails.

She has a valid privilege claim covering communications with Mike Flynn for some of this period. But thanks to Rudy’s public statement, she has no privilege covering her actions for Trump.

Chances are pretty good she received a copy of the memo for Rudy too (if the memo wasn’t written by someone with closer ties to Powell than Rudy).

I think it’s likely that DOJ has multiple copies of document 4708, probably via Rudy, Bannon, and Powell, if not Eastman himself (getting it from Chapman U would always have been easy to do with a gag, and would be still easier now).

What’s clear, though, is that the lawyer that Rudy and Bannon share is making privilege claims every bit as absurd as the ones Carter just rejected, and with Bannon, there’s no question about privilege claims.

Steve Bannon’s Phantom Executive Privilege

In a reply motion demanding to know why DOJ subpoenaed the toll records for him, the lawyer Steve Bannon shares with Rudy Giuliani, Robert Costello, claims DOJ obtained the email information, including hundreds of pages from Google, for different Robert Costellos, not him.

The hundreds of pages of email information they obtained from Google, including email addresses (and IP addresses) of the sender and recipient, date and time of the emails, metadata, social media and meeting (Google Hangouts) data, information as to whether each email was read, remained unread, was deleted, or what filing box the recipient put it in, and more [See e.g., 0011510001249; 001339-1732] were all for another completely uninvolved citizen apparently named Robert Costello or Robert M. Costello. In fact, not one of the email accounts the Government sought access to in this case, intending to get defense counsel’s emails, actually was defense counsel’s email account.

He even issued a declaration stating, among other things, that,

I have no association whatsoever with email accounts with the addresses “[email protected],” or “[email protected],” or “[email protected],” or “[email protected]

We shall see how the government explains this claimed mix-up, assuming Judge Carl Nichols permits them to file a surreply (Costello claims he only just discovered these weren’t his emails after reviewing them for months).

That said, Costello did not deny association with email accounts with the addresses of, [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected], which appear to be included in the friends and family accounts of the main Gmail account in question. And though Costello claims to provide the exhibits to back his claims, he doesn’t provide the Comcast return and doesn’t provide back-up for the bulk of the returns he is complaining about (US 001339-001732 below).

What Costello has also shown is that, in a memo to DOJ, he claimed to quote from a letter from Justin Clark, who would have been acting as Trump’s lawyer, invoking privilege on Trump’s behalf.

“President Trump vigorously objects to the overbreadth and scope of these requests and believes they are a threat to the institution of the Presidency and the independence of the Executive Branch.” Mr. Clark added that:

“Through the Subpoenas, the Select Committee seeks records and testimony purportedly related to the events of January 6th, 2021, including but not limited to information which is potentially protected from disclosure by the executive and other privileges, including among others, the presidential communications, deliberative process, and attorney-client privileges. President Trump is prepared to defend these fundamental privileges in court.

As I’ve previously noted, at a meeting on November 3 at which Costello was supposed to be presenting that memo, Costello alternately claimed:

  • He had had no communications with Trump lawyers prior to October 18
  • Clark refused to reach out to the January 6 Committee on behalf of Costello or Bannon
  • Costello could not recall who brought up Executive Privilege first, him or Clark
  • Costello did not ask Clark to attend the hearing because he wouldn’t contact the committee on his behalf (even though his later complaint was that the Committee refused to have a Trump lawyer present)

In that November 3 meeting, Costello said he’d provide all the backup to support his claims.

But when JP Cooney asked for all the documents Costello claimed to be relying on in the memo and an interview with DOJ and the FBI on November 3, 2021, Costello said, “as soon as I locate the letter I received from Justin Clark, acting as counsel for President Trump, I will forward that under separate cover.” Cooney responded, making sure, “please review and let us know if this constitutes your entire production.”

There’s no evidence in this filing that Costello ever provided it.

Which may be why, in a follow-up interview on November 8 — after searching and (at least as this record shows) not finding any letter from Clark — Costello told DOJ:

There are additional discrepancies disclosed by the materials Costello has included.

In his declaration, Costello (who, remember, was investigated as part of the Mueller investigation for helping to dangle pardons) complained that this meeting to stave off an indictment didn’t work like all the previous times he had had such meetings.

[I]t is clear to me that the representatives of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia never had any intention of engaging in a lawyer like discussion of the legal merits of a prosecution of Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress. This position was and is shocking to me because of the many prior instances when this same Office declined to prosecute others, including sitting United States Attorney Generals based upon a referral from Congress.

There’s more: For example, Costello misrepresents when he joined Bannon’s defense team for this.

But the key detail is that Costello claimed to have a letter from Trump invoking Executive Privilege. And when DC USAO asked to see it, Costello changed his story.

Update, April 19: I’ve updated the timeline below with two documents DOJ submitted on April 15. They raise further inconsistencies in Costello’s statements to the FBI and DOJ in his interviews.


BATES STAMP RANGE: US 001093-001883

US 001093: Grand jury subpoena

US 001145-001768: 623-page return from Internet provider showing IP activity, status (read or unread, inbox, etc.) and other details concerning emails and other activity offered by the carrier obtained with a Section 2703(d) Order on November 11, 2021 [US 001733] that includes a case number [US 001732-001735] and returned on December 7, 2021.  Returns include:

US 001769-001789: Costello’s 302s

US 001808: Yahoo return

US 001833-001878: Subpoenas for home, direct office, and cell phone from September 1 to October 20, 2021

US 001834: Case number

US 001842: Case number

US 001863: Subscriber record showing payment method for Costello’s cell phone

US 001866: Costello’s data usage

US 001872; Grand jury subpoena

US 001874-001875:  SMS (text messaging) information, including the numbers to which texts were sent and from which they were received

TIMELINE

March 5: Beginning date for Costello records request (last event involving Bannon and Costello in Kolfage)

September 22: First contact between J6 and Bannon

September 23: Bannon subpoena

September 24: Costello accepts service

October 5: Media reports on subpoenas to Mark Meadows and others; call from Justin Clark

October 6: Clark instructs Costello to invoke whatever privileges he can, including executive, deliberative, and attorney-client

October 6: Costello claims Clark invoked privilege; Costello’s memo quotes Clark invoking privilege; undated call with Tonolli (actually on October 12)

October 7, 10AM: Original deadline for document production

October 7, 5:05PM: Costello letter claiming Trump invoked privilege

October 8: Thompson letter to Bannon rejecting non-compliance

October 12: Call with Tonolli re representation from Trump

October 13: Costello and Clark speak

October 13: Second Costello letter, demanding accommodation with Trump

October 14: Clark corrects Costello that he had simply reiterated his October 6 letter

October 14, 10AM: Original date for Bannon testimony

October 15: Thompson letter noticing failure to comply with subpoena, warning of contempt meeting, setting response deadline for October 18, 6PM

October 16: Clark emails Costello stating clearly that he had not told him he had immunity from testifying

October 18: Thompson letter to Bannon with deadline; Trump sues Thompson and the Archives on privilege issues; Costello claims he sent a note to Thompson;

October 18, 6:50 PM: White House says no privilege after 2017

October 19: Bannon claims they intended to respond; Amerling letter to Costello; J6 business meeting to hold Bannon in contempt; Thompson letter to “change course”?

October 20: Rules committee meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 21 Bannon held in contempt

October 25: Costello email exchange with Cooney (and Phillips); Costello asks for meeting after October 27

October 28: Matthew Graves confirmed as US Attorney

October 29: Cooney suggests November 3

November 1: Costello emails memo arguing against prosecution, dated October 29

November 2: Kristin Amerling interview

November 3: Costello informs he’ll be joined by Katz; First interview with Robert Costello; Cooney follows up asking for documents

November 4: Cooney asks Costello to confirm full production

November 5: Matthew Graves sworn in as US Attorney

November 8: Second interview with Robert Costello

November 11: Subpoena to Internet provider

November 12: End date for Costello records request

November 12: Indictment

November 15: Bannon arrest; David Schoen and Evan Corcoran file notices of appearance

November 18: At status conference, government says there are just 200 documents of discovery

December 2: Costello moves to appear PHV; Government asks if Bannon intends to rely on advice of counsel defense

December 7: Returns on Internet provider (623 pages)

December 7 to 16: Bannon refuses to submit joint status report

January 4: DOJ turns over 790 pages of records from Costello

January 6: Bannon request for more information on Costello

January 7: Government response to Bannon request

January 14: Bannon discovery request letter; Bannon motion to compel regarding Costello

January 28: Government response to discovery demand

February 4: In guise of Motion to Compel, Bannon complains about “spying” on Robert Costello

Why to Delay a Mark Meadows Indictment: Bannon Is Using His Contempt Prosecution to Monitor the Ongoing January 6 Investigation

In this post, I described that DOJ would be smarter to charge Mark Meadows with obstruction for his destruction of records relevant to an ongoing investigation than to charge him for misdemeanor criminal contempt of Congress. That’s because obstruction, a felony, would pose the risk of real jail time, which would be more likely to convince Meadows to cooperate with investigators and explain what he did as part of an attempt to steal the election.

On December 15, the House voted to send the Mark Meadows contempt referral to DOJ for prosecution. Much to the chagrin of the TV lawyers, DOJ has not taken overt action against Meadows on the criminal contempt of Congress referral.

But as I’ve repeatedly argued, that referral is better considered — and would be more useful to the pursuit of justice — as a referral of Mark Meadows for a violation of the Presidential Records Act and obstruction of the DOJ criminal investigation that he knew to be ongoing.

Among the things included in the referral are:

  • A link to this Politico report quoting “a source close to former President Donald Trump’s ex-chief of staff,” insisting that, “all necessary and appropriate steps either were or are being taken” to ensure that Meadows is not deemed to have violated the Presidential Records Act by failing to share Presidential communications he conducted on his personal email and phone
  • Repeated references to Jonathan Swan’s coverage of the December 18 meeting at which Powell and others discussed seizing the voting machines
  • Indication that Meadows received notice on his personal phone (and so among the records withheld in violation of the PRA) the rally might get violent
  • A citation of a message that Meadows turned over to the committee (but presumably not, originally, to the Archives) in which Alyssa Farah urged, “You guys have to say something. Even if the president’s not willing to put out a statement, you should go to the [cameras] and say, ‘We condemn this. Please stand down.’ If you don’t, people are going to die”
  • Citation of several communications Meadows had with state politicians involved in the fake elector scheme (which Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has confirmed they are investigating), including one where Meadows said, “I love it” and another where he said, “Have a team working on it;” Monaco’s confirmation puts Meadows on notice that his actions are the subject of a federal criminal investigation
  • A claim of election fraud sent to Meadows on his private email (and so among the materials he violated the PRA by withholding)
  • Citation of a tweet Meadows sent on December 21 reporting “‘Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President @realDonaldTrump, preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned”
  • Citation of this story describing that Meadows’ late December trip to Georgia to pressure election officials to find more votes could get him in legal trouble; when Fulton County DA Fannie Willis asked for increased protection in the wake of Trump’s calls for riots, she stated explicitly that she was criminally investigating, “former President Donald J. Trump and his associates,” putting Mark Meadows on notice that he’s under criminal investigation there, too

This entire process led Meadows and his attorney to make efforts to comply with the PRA, meaning they’ve been working to provide the communications cited here, as well as those Meadows intended to claim privilege over, to the Archives.

If they can’t comply — and some of the texts in question were sent via Signal, which is really hard to archive, and so may not have been preserved when Meadows sent his own phone back to his provider to be wiped and replaced — then Meadows will not just be in violation of the PRA (which is basically toothless) but also of obstructing the criminal investigation he knew was ongoing when he replaced his phone. Obstruction carries a far stiffer penalty than contempt of Congress does, and it serves as good evidence of involvement in a larger conspiracy.

As Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee presiding over the Steve Bannon criminal contempt case (and therefore likely to preside over one against Meadows if it were ever charged), criminal contempt is for someone from whom you’ve given up getting cooperation, not someone who still might offer useful cooperation.

Meanwhile if Meadows and his lawyer do belatedly comply with Meadows’ obligations under the PRA, it’s quite possible (particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling denying Trump’s attempt to override Joe Biden’s privilege waiver) that DOJ has to do no more to obtain these records than to send a warrant to the Archives. If not, Meadows is now on notice that he is the subject of several criminal investigations (the fake elector one and the Fulton County one), and he may think twice before trying to withhold communications that are already in possession of the Archives.

So whether or not DOJ has these documents in their possession right now, they have the means to get them very easily.

When I’ve pointed this explanation out to those wondering why DOJ has yet to (visibly) act on the Meadows contempt referral the January 6 Select Committee the House sent over on December 14, they ask why DOJ can’t just charge Meadows with contempt now and then follow up with obstruction charges later.

The answer is clear. Doing so will make any ongoing investigation far more difficult.

We can see why that’s true from the Bannon case. Bannon has already used his contempt prosecution as a means to obtain evidence about an ongoing obstruction investigation implicating Trump.

In these two posts, I described what we know about DOJ seizing the call records for Robert Costello, the lawyer for both Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, who is someone who has been at the center of Trump’s pardon dangling for years. There’s a full timeline here, but for the purposes of this post, the key details are:

  • On September 23, the House subpoenaed Bannon.
  • Around October 5, the lawyer for Bannon and Rudy started speaking with a lawyer for Trump, Justin Clark, about how to avoid responding on Bannon’s behalf.
  • Between then and Bannon’s deadlines, Costello twice invoked Trump to avoid complying (in an interview with DOJ, Costello admitted that, “CLARK would not identify for COSTELLO what would be covered under Executive Privilege” and “refused to reach out to the Committee on behalf of COSTELLO or BANNON,” though, “CLARK informed COSTELLO not to respond to item 17” (involving communications Bannon had with Rudy, Sidney Powell, and Mike Flynn).
  • Costello claimed he did not know the lawsuit Trump filed on October 18 was coming and also claims he had a draft in process to blow off another October 19 contempt deadline, but on the evening of October 18, he told a J6 staffer that Bannon would not show up.
  • Over the next three days, the J6 Committee went through the process of holding Bannon in contempt, completing the process on October 21.
  • On November 3, Costello met with the investigative team, ostensibly to persuade them not to indict Bannon; in the process, Costello made claims about his communications with Trump’s lawyers (as well as those for Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Kash Patel) that materially conflicted. In response, DOJ sought Costello’s call records, ultimately obtaining records dating back to the last act Costello did on Bannon’s behalf in the Build the Wall prosecution, March 5, 2021, thereby reflecting an interest in Costello’s actions that significantly precede the J6 Committee actions.
  • On November 12, DOJ indicted Bannon. At first, just Evan Corcoran and David Schoen (the latter of whom represented the former President in his January 6 related impeachment) filed notice as Bannon’s lawyers.
  • On December 2, Costello informed DOJ he would file a notice to join the Bannon defense team (he may have been tipped off by his firm that DOJ had asked for his call records for his business phone). DOJ noted that if Costello represented Bannon, it might impact Bannon’s ability to claim an Advice of Counsel defense. On December 8, Costello filed his notice of appearance on Bannon’s team.
  • On January 4, DOJ provided Bannon 790 pages of call records data pertaining to Costello (including from his law firm).

In the early appearances after Bannon’s indictment, DOJ said it wanted to go to trial immediately and believed the trial could take a matter of hours. Bannon, by contrast, wanted a fall trial, and believed the trial could take weeks. Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee who had a key role in the Harriet Miers contempt conflict who is presiding over the case, split the difference on time, and has otherwise seemed unconvinced by Bannon’s maximalist challenges to the indictment.

Nevertheless, because the trial did not happen immediately, until Bannon does go to trial (currently scheduled in July), then DOJ will be obliged to provide him a range of information that would be (as the Costello records clearly are) relevant to an ongoing obstruction investigation implicating Trump personally. And until DOJ has reason to claim a conflict has arisen between Costello’s representation of Rudy and Bannon (which would effectively tip Rudy off that he’s being investigated for January 6), anything shared with Bannon’s defense team will be shared with Rudy’s defense team (and probably, through Schoen, Trump’s).

Those wailing for immediate action got an indictment of Steve Bannon … which will, at most, lead to his jailing for a few months.

And in exchange, Bannon got records that suggest that DOJ treated his attorney as a suspect in a conspiracy to obstruct this (and the J6) investigation. Bannon got records that suggest that DOJ is investigating his lawyer’s activities going back at least to March 5. He was able to see some of the evidence DOJ has obtained in that ongoing investigation.

Until something resets the current status, the contempt prosecution of Bannon is far more useful to Bannon as a means to monitor the ongoing investigation into him and his co-conspirators than it is for DOJ. And DOJ is likely now limiting investigative steps into Bannon and Costello, accordingly, to avoid triggering a discovery obligation to share information with Bannon.

There are a whole lot of really good reasons why DOJ probably hasn’t acted on the Meadows referral yet — most notably that Judge Nichols, who would likely preside over a Meadows case as a related prosecution, has made it clear he believes criminal contempt is used only for those whom DOJ has no hope of coercing cooperation. If they charge Meadows with contempt, per Nichols, they have foresworn any hope of getting his cooperation.

Given what Meadows has already done, DOJ surely views the potential of Meadows’ cooperation as more useful than a time-consuming and restrictive contempt prosecution.

And that’s true, first and foremost, because charging Meadows with contempt now would further limit their ability to shield parts of their investigation from the suspected co-conspirators.

Update: Corrected the Build the Wall reference to mention Bannon, not Meadows.

Steve Bannon’s Lawyer Made Himself a Witness and Now Wants To Be Just a Lawyer

Last night, along with a previously scheduled Motion for Discovery, Steve Bannon filed a Motion to Compel disclosure regarding some records requests DOJ made targeting Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello. In it, he revealed that the government had obtained phone and Internet toll records (that is, metadata, not content) of his attorney spanning the period between the last event in Bannon’s prosecution in the Build the Wall fraud case, March 5, 2021, through the day he was indicted, November 11, 2021.

Predictably, the filing wails a lot about his lawyer being spied on and misrepresents what happened.

While Bannon included two exhibits with his Motion to Compel (a letter asking for information about the Costello material and the government response), Bannon included the most important information pertaining to the Costello records with his Motion for Discovery, not his Motion to Compel: reports of two interviews (302s) he did with DOJ and FBI, one on November 3 and the other on November 8, 2021.

At the time Costello gave the interviews, his representation of Bannon before the January 6 Select Committee was ended and Bannon had not yet been indicted. And as the first 302 notes, “there were no agreements or conditions governing the conversation between COSTELLO and representatives of USAO-DC or FBI.” Effectively, those interviews made Costello a voluntary fact-witness in the criminal case against Bannon, one exacerbated when Bannon belatedly added Costello to his criminal defense team and grew squishy about whether Bannon would invoke Costello’s advice in his own defense.

And Costello made so many contradictory claims in his 302s (to say nothing of providing evidence that Bannon knew well he had no privilege claim with which to refuse to testify entirely), that it is unsurprising that the FBI made records requests to test whether Costello lied in those interviews to the FBI. Among the claims Costello made about communications he had or did not have are:

  • J6 sent the subpoena to Costello (on September 23) before he had been able to consult with Bannon
  • Costello did not know who was representing the other people subpoenaed — Dan Scavino, Kash Patel, Mark Meadows, or Donald Trump — at the time of the subpoena
  • Through the entire subpoena response, Bannon and Costello have “operated independently of the others subpoenaed”
  • Costello was not told who was representing Trump, Meadows, or the others subpoenaed, but he found out on his own who represented Trump and Meadows
  • Costello sent the subpoena to Bannon to review
  • Costello’s advice to Bannon that he didn’t have to respond was verbal
  • Costello was sure he sent the J6 letters to Bannon; he wasn’t sure whether Bannon read the letters but Costello did quote lines from the letters to him
  • Costello sent Bannon an email that he ended with the word BEWARE because defying the subpoena could result in a referral to DOJ
  • Costello’s only contact with J6 Chief Counsel Kristin Amerling came the day before and the day of the subpoena service [the record shows she sent him at least one letter after that]
  • Costello tried to contact the attorney he believed was representing Trump (whom he didn’t name) but that attorney referred Costello to Justin Clark
  • Costello reached out to Clark a few days before October 6, though their first substantive conversation came when Clark responded
  • Costello did not provide any documents to attorneys for Trump for an Executive Privilege review
  • Justin Clark was vague but Costello was sure Trump asserted Executive Privilege with regards to Bannon
  • Clark would not ID for Costello what would be covered under Executive Privilege
  • In spite of Costello’s claims not to have consulted with any Trump lawyer, he also claimed that Clark told him not to respond to item 17 on the subpoena (covering Mike Flynn), because lawyers like Rudy Giuliani might have been present when Bannon communicated with Flynn
  • In spite of his admitted conversations with Justin Clark, Costello claimed he had not had communications with attorneys for Trump prior to October 18, 2021 (when Trump filed a lawsuit challenging the privilege waivers on materials from the Archives)
  • Costello had “an email or two” with Clark, who he believed filed the lawsuit, but he did not learn until later that Jesse Binnall filed the lawsuit
  • Costello sent copies of Bennie Thompson’s letters to the VA lawyer representing Trump (probably Binnall)
  • Costello had no advance knowledge of Trump’s lawsuit and would have handled things differently if he had
  • Attorneys representing Trump (Costello doesn’t name him or describe when this was) told him everyone who got a subpoena would get Executive Privilege
  • Costello did not talk about “disposing of any documents requested in the … subpoena with any attorneys who represented former President TRUMP”
  • Costello said he’d sent to USAO all memorializations of communications he had with the Committee, Clark, and Trump’s attorneys

Effectively, these claims only make any sense if he had extended discussions with an attorney who did not represent Donald Trump, on whose representation he advised Bannon that Trump wanted Bannon to invoke Executive Privilege. But even there, there are still all sorts of temporal problems with Costello’s claims (and probable inconsistencies regarding the timing of events on October 18, though I need to unpack what those are further).

Costello’s interviews were all over the map on other topics as well, topics that affect both Rudy Giuliani (whom Costello also represents) and Bannon: that he could and could not claim Executive or Attorney Client privilege over certain topics, that he advised or did not advise Bannon to do so, that he admits that Bannon provided no response about issues — most damningly, his public podcasts — that could in no way be covered by Executive Privilege.

But the key detail is that Costello’s claims about communications he had and did not have defy belief and (particularly with regards to Justin Clark) may be physically impossible.

So, in response to these interviews (and probably in possession of contradictory evidence from J6), DOJ obtained all the records they would need to test Costello’s claims.

As I’ve noted, Costello has played a key role in past obstruction efforts, going back to 2018. It’s certainly conceivable DOJ has an open investigation into Costello (and Rudy) for those activities.

Whether or not they already did, Costello gave them far more reason to question his role in obstructing investigations into Donald Trump in his two interviews.

Update: Here’s Bannon’s subpoena (h/t Kyle Cheney). It confirms that Item 17, which Clark told Costello to tell Bannon not to respond to, included Mike Flynn.

Timeline

March 5: Beginning date for Costello records request (last event involving Bannon and Costello in Kolfage)

September 22: First contact between J6 and Bannon

September 23: Bannon subpoena

September 24: Costello accepts service

October 6: Costello claims Clark invoked privilege

October 7, 10AM: Original deadline for document production

October 7, 5:05PM: Costello letter claiming Trump invoked privilege

October 8: Thompson letter to Bannon rejecting non-compliance

October 13: Second Costello letter, demanding accommodation with Trump

October 14, 10AM: Original date for Bannon testimony

October 15: Letter noticing failure to comply with subpoena, warning of contempt meeting, setting response deadline for October 18, 6PM

October 18: Thompson letter to Bannon with deadline; Trump sues Thompson and the Archives on privilege issues

October 19: Bannon claims they intended to respond; Amerling letter to Costello; J6 business meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 20: Rules committee meeting to hold Bannon in contempt

October 21 Bannon held in contempt

October 28: Matthew Graves confirmed as US Attorney

November 2: Kristin Amerling interview

November 3: First interview with Robert Costello

November 5: Matthew Graves sworn in as US Attorney

November 8: Second interview with Robert Costello

November 11: Subpoena to Internet provider

November 12: End date for Costello records request

November 12: Indictment

November 15: Bannon arrest; David Schoen and Evan Corcoran file notices of appearance

November 18: At status conference, government says there are just 200 documents of discovery

December 2: Costello moves to appear PHV; Government asks if Bannon intends to rely on advice of counsel defense

December 7: Returns on Internet provider (623 pages)

December 7 to 16: Bannon refuses to submit joint status report

January 4: DOJ turns over 790 pages of records from Costello

January 6: Bannon request for more information on Costello

January 7: Government response to Bannon request

January 14: Bannon discovery request letter; Bannon motion to compel regarding Costello

January 28: Government response to discovery demand

February 4: In guise of Motion to Compel, Bannon complains about “spying” on Robert Costello