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How Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell Have Made It Easier to Prosecute Donald Trump for Conspiring with Russia

In a Mike Flynn sentencing memo submitted in January delayed twice to secure all necessary approvals, Bill Barr’s DOJ asserted that Flynn’s lies were material because they hid, in part, who directed that he call up the Russian Ambassador and undermine sanctions.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That makes sense. After all, Don Jr took a meeting in June with envoys for Aras Agalarov and — at a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — said his father would reconsider Magnitsky sanctions after the election. Both after that meeting and on October 7 — two of three days that stolen emails were released — Aras Agalarov provided elaborate gifts to Trump, the latter one personally couriered from Russia by Ike Kaveladze. When Agalarov didn’t succeed in revisiting his conversations about sanctions directly after the election, Jared Kushner sought out a back channel. Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak arose directly out of the meeting at which Kushner made that request, and Kushner ordered Flynn to pursue the discussions with Kislyak. Flynn, Kushner, and KT McFarland made efforts to keep those conversations secret, even from other members of the Administration. At the same time, Flynn and McFarland were explicitly talking about sending secret messages between Putin and Trump.

So it would make sense that Flynn’s effort to undermine sanctions might be proof that Trump had entered into a quid pro quo back in June, rewarding Russia’s help for getting elected with sanctions relief.

But the Mueller Report did not find adequate proof that Trump directed this effort to charge it.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The Report relies on some, but not the most damning, of the exchanges back and forth between Flynn, McFarland and others released in an affidavit targeting them in 2017, as well as Flynn and McFarland’s testimony.

Since that time, several other pieces of evidence have become available — thanks to the interventions of former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and Flynn (and recently fired Trump) attorney Sidney Powell, among others — that might tip the balance on this evidentiary question.

Bill Barnett’s interview report claims he pursued a desired outcome in the interviews of Flynn and KT McFarland

One of those things is the testimony of Bill Barnett, one of the key FBI agents who investigated Flynn. Barnett was interviewed by Jeffrey Jensen in the review of Flynn’s prosecution that Sidney Powell demanded in June 2019 and Bill Barr gave Powell in January 2020, just after DOJ filed a sentencing memo calling for prison time.

Barnett’s testimony is, by itself, remarkable for all the ways it materially conflicts with the actions he took in the case. Effectively, he claims to have treated the investigation as a criminal investigation when documents he drafted clearly treat it as a counterintelligence investigation (thereby undermining all the claims that this was just about the Logan Act).

Barnett also claims that, after expressing disinterest in conducting this investigation four different times but ultimately relenting only so he could serve as a counter-weight to other investigators on the team, he single-handedly prevented the Mueller team from concluding that KT McFarland was lying when she told a story about coordinating with Mar-A-Lago that exactly paralleled the lies that Flynn originally told.

Barnett describes that he was the only one who believed that KT McFarland was telling the truth when she said that she did not remember Trump directing Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions. Significantly, he describes this question as — in Mueller’s view — “key to everything.”

Many at the SCO had the opinion that MCFARLAND had knowledge TRUMP was directing [sanction discussions] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. When MCFARLAND did not provide the information sought, it was assumed she was lying. When BARNETT suggested it was very possible MCFARLAND was providing truthful information, one of the SCO attorneys participating in the interview said BARNETT was the only person who believed MCFARLAND was not holding back the information about TRUMP’s knowledge of [the sanction discussions]. MUELLER described MCFARLAND as the “key to everything” because MCFARLAND was the link between TRUMP, who was at Mar-a-Lago with MCFARLAND, and FLYNN, who was in the Dominican Republic on vacation, when [the calls] were made.

Again, it is stunning that Barnett was permitted to give this answer without being asked about the call records, which showed Flynn lied about consulting with Mar-a-Lago, to say nothing about the way that McFarland’s forgetfulness matched Flynn’s and then her unforgetting similarly matched Flynn’s. It’s not a credible answer, but Jeffrey Jensen doesn’t need credible answers.

Then, having made it clear that he believed that Mueller treated McFarland as the “key to everything,” BARNETT described how he single-handedly managed to prevent the entire team from concluding that Trump was in the loop.

BARNETT was told at one point he was being taken off the MCFARLAND proffer interview because SCO attorneys thought would be easier for MCFARLAND to talk without BARNETT there, due to her attitude toward BARNETT during past interviews.

McFarland has complained publicly about being caught in a perjury trap by the FBI agents who first interviewed her (and the 302s show a continuity among the FBI agents), so Fox viewers have actually seen evidence that McFarland had a gripe with Barnett.

BARNETT insisted he be on the interview. When BARNETT was told he would not be allowed on the interview, BARNETT suggested he might take the matter to the Inspectors General or to “11.” BARNETT believed some at SCO were trying to get MCFARLAND to change her story to fit the TRUMP collusion [sic] theory. [Probably Van Grack] later contacted BARNETT and said BARNETT would be part of the MCFARLAND interview.

During the proffer interview with MCFARLAND, the “obstruction team” was leading the interview. BARNETT described the “obstruction team’s” questions as general. They did not ask follow-up or clarifying questions. BARNETT was perplexed by their lack of asking follow-up questions. BARNETT began asking MCFARLAND follow-up questions and direct questions. BARNETT was trying to “cut to the chase” and obtain the facts. BARNETT asked questions such as “Do you know that as a fact or are you speculating?” and “Did you pass information from TRUMP to FLYNN?” Andrew Goldstein (GOLDSTEIN), a SCO Attorney, called “time-out” and cautioned BARNETT by saying, “If you keep asking these questions, we will be here all day.”

It’s unclear whether Barnett’s depiction is correct or not. The 302 of that interview is heavily redacted, but doesn’t show a “time out” in it. What matters for the purposes of this post is that Barnett is claiming he singlehandedly prevented McFarland from implicating the President.

You would never get this kind of admission from an FBI Agent, that he single-handedly undermined the questioning of a witness to get an outcome he believed in, all the while undermining his previously untainted credibility. But Sidney Powell’s demands led to DOJ producing it, nevertheless.

And that’s before any further scrutiny of Barnett’s role and the material inconsistencies here. Such scrutiny might come from the Strzok and Page lawsuits, which would have reason to use his pro-Trump tweets as proof that they were selectively disciplined for expressing political views on FBI-issued devices. Or, particularly given his efforts to blame investigative decisions on Andrew McCabe in ways that conflict with the public record, the McCabe lawsuit might have cause to inquire whether he was the agent who sourced a false story that Sara Carter published, alleging that McCabe said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump,” which ended up leading to the investigation into McCabe itself and ultimately to his firing. Or, DOJ IG might have cause to investigate the Jensen investigation itself, given how it submitted altered documents packaged up for publication, and the circumstances of the Barnett interview in particular, given how DOJ withheld material information from Judge Emmet Sullivan by redacting references to Brandon Van Grack in the interview report.

Interviewing Barnett in such an obviously biased way provides an easy hook for more scrutiny.

For the first time in history we can compare NSLs to warrants obtained

Then there’s another unprecedented thing that Powell’s demands produced: A report of (some of) the NSL’s that DOJ used against Flynn in early 2017. In an effort — almost certainly deliberately misleading — to suggest that McCabe and Strzok inappropriately got NSLs targeting Flynn in 2017 that they chose not to get in 2016 (there’s reason to believe they did get NSLs, only financial rather than communication ones), the government summarized what NSLs FBI obtained in February and March 2017. Those were:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present.

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.”

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn.

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017.

The government has only recently permitted NSL recipients to inform targets, but just targets, and only after a significant delay. Here, however, you have the government listing out the seven different communication records publicly, in a case where there was already a pending request and precedent to release the warrant applications publicly.

That not only allows us (again, for the first time I know of) to see how the FBI launders information learned in an NSL for use in a potential criminal prosecution, but it also tells us something about the communications devices the government had reason to find relevant when it did obtain warrants.

Warrant applications for Flynn’s iPhone 6 and a computer (first filed on July 7, 2017, then refiled on July 27, 2017) rely on toll records obtained in June 2017 and “other materials in the government’s possession” (which surely include those NSLs) to determine that Flynn had used the same phone from March 2015 until at least June 8, 2017. That said, Flynn changed the number three times, including after he learned he was under criminal investigation in January 2017. After Flynn refused to turn the phone over in response to a subpoena, the government obtained a warrant that would have permitted it to search Covington & Burling, where Flynn was storing it, if they didn’t otherwise produce the phone.

The warrant application and a parallel one targeting Flynn’s son* were focused on FIG, but written in a way such that any communications with foreign officials like Kislyak would still be responsive, and could be used in a False Statements or Foreign Agent prosecution.

By the time of the July 27 warrant that presumably successfully obtained Flynn’s phone, the government already had his Flynn Intelligence Group emails (there are two EDVA warrants that have not yet been unsealed, and some of those emails were turned over pursuant to a subpoena).

Also by that time, the government had confirmed that Flynn’s FIG email was provided by Google. This was the period prior to the time when DOJ agreed to let enterprise clients know when warrants were served on their facilities, meaning the government could have independently obtained FIG emails from Google, as they obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Org emails from Microsoft in the same period.

On August 25, 2017 — the same day that Mueller asked GSA to turn over related devices and email accounts — Mueller obtained a warrant for Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Flynn assistant Daniel Gelbinovich’s devices and emails. GSA had provided Flynn one email account, three phones, and three computers, which would be consistent with devices hardened to three levels of classification — unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret (Flynn had renewed his clearance earlier in 2016). The government had already used a d-order to obtain the header information for the email accounts and obtained toll records by undisclosed means (of which there would be several possible, but the NSLs would have provided that information as well). In addition to sender and recipient information, the header information would have shown what IP any emails were sent from, using what devices (this would have built on information obtained via NSL), which can help to identify the location of someone. The August 25 affidavit referenced FIG emails obtained via subpoena to demonstrate that the Russians contacted Flynn at his Transition account (as well as via Gelbinovich and, apparently, Flynn’s son); though because the Russian side of the conversation would have already been targeted under FISA, the FBI also would have had their side of the communication, which the Russians surely knew.

Then on September 27, 2017, Mueller obtained a warrant targeting the email accounts and devices of Keith Kellogg, McFarland assistant Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner. These two posts show how damning the content relayed in this warrant is. For the purposes of this post, however, the affidavit is useful because it identifies whether the emails Flynn and McFarland were using to communicate with the others were Transition accounts or not. While it appears Kellogg always used his Transition account, Flaherty, Spicer, and Priebus occasionally did, most of the rest did not, except in cases where they were writing cover emails. But her emails! (Numerous communications from Tom Bossert are included in this batch, as well, but that must come from an interview and subpoena he complied with.)

In addition, the affidavit explains that regarding the sanctions coordination, McFarland was consistently calling Flynn on his personal cell phone (the implication may be that earlier calls were on one of his GSA devices). He was responding to her and calling Kislyak from the hotel phone where he was staying in the Dominican Republic (the latter calls and their content, the FBI would know from FISA intercepts). The December 31 follow-up from Kislyak was placed to Flynn’s personal cell.  The affidavit does not, however, describe which phones Flynn used for other calls.

There are many details about these records that are interesting. Among the most interesting, however, is that the FBI would have known before they obtained the first warrants on Flynn’s devices and emails that almost none of the key calls with Russia, nor even the key calls coordinating the Russian sanctions call with McFarland and others, involved Flynn’s GSA devices. Additionally, there appear to be extra phones, not identified by the known warrants. These might be the possible targets of the NSLs:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present. [Flynn personal phone]

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.” [Flynn Intelligence Group email and another phone (possibly his son’s?)]

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn. [GSA accounts]

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017. [unidentified account]

At a minimum, the NSL report suggests that even though none of the calls identified in the warrants were to Flynn’s presumably more secure phones (indeed, only Spicer appears to have had a second phone at that point, probably in part because, of the others, only Kellogg and Flaherty had clearance), the government chose to obtain those phones as well. The government knew, when it obtained the August 2017 warrant, that there was something interesting on those second and third GSA lines Flynn was using.

If it weren’t for Sidney Powell’s attempts to frame Andy McCabe, these details would be totally classified. But because she demanded the “review,” it shows that there are parallel phone communications via which Flynn could have kept Trump in the loop on his calls to Russia (remember, translators believed the key December 29 one, which Flynn made from his hotel phone, sounded like he was using a speaker phone).

Ric Grenell releases really damning transcripts but withholds the potentially most damning one

Finally, in yet another unprecedented release, while he was Acting Director of National Intelligence, Twitter troll Ric Grenell prepared the release of the actual transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak, purportedly to show there was nothing untoward about the calls. (Current DNI John Ratcliffe approved the actual release as one of his first acts on the job.)

Even by itself, the transcripts were far more damning than the gaslighters suggested. Of particular note, on the December 31 call that Kislyak placed to tell Flynn that Putin had held off on retaliating because of his request, Flynn told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of one thing — a proposed Syrian “peace” conference — that Kislyak had raised just two days before.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

This evidence would have been inadmissible without Grenell’s intervention. There would have literally no way in hell Mueller would have been permitted to rely on it, a raw transcript of a FISA intercept targeting a foreign power. With it, however, you have Flynn saying in real time that Trump was aware of these conversations with Russia, well before they were made public. That’s precisely what Mueller concluded they couldn’t prove.

The transcripts make evidence obtained using criminal process still more damning, too.

For example, the transcripts and the affidavits make it clear that Flynn, McFarland, and the Russians were explicitly messaging back and forth. First Flynn explicitly told Kislyak that if Russia did not escalate in response to Obama’s sanctions, “we,” which would have to include Trump, would recognize that as a message.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

When Putin announced he would not retaliate, KT McFarland sent two emails explicitly labeling the move as a signal.

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

[snip]

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

But then Trump thanked Putin for the move, suggesting he was in on the signaling.

After he did so, McFarland sent Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon — the latter of whom almost never used their official accounts but did here — and laid out a cover story, describing Flynn’s call without mentioning that he had raised sanctions. She offered,

a summary of FLYNN’s conversation the day before with the Russian “AMBO,” which I believe to be shorthand for “Ambassador.” McFarland appears to recite a summary of information she received from FLYNN in this email; she provides a summary of FLYNN’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador, but does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions imposed against Russia that had been announced earlier that day.

Flynn would admit to Mueller’s team that he, and therefore McFarland, who knew the truth, deliberately hid his discussions of sanctions with Kislyak.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267

But the Russians — who may have monitored some of the traffic that went on between these unsecure personal accounts — made damn well sure that the US intelligence community had a record that all this signaling was intentional. Kislyak called Flynn on his unsecure personal cell phone and told him he had a message, too. The message was that Flynn’s request was the reason Putin had not acted. The message was also that Russia recognized (or claimed to, to play to the Americans’ paranoia) to be pitted against the same hostile entities together.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

This messaging all ended up with Russia and the incoming President aligned on the same side, against the US government.

Still, that’s not direct proof that Trump was involved in real time (though I suspect the government obtained that from its NSLs).

But that may be why Mueller charged Flynn’s lies about the UN vote. In that case (in part because McFarland wasn’t hiding her actions as much), it’s clear that Jared Kushner ordered the effort (and the Americans initiated the calls).

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

When the Trump crowd succeeded in delaying a vote, McFarland made it clear that Flynn was at Mar-a-Lago working directly with Trump on this effort.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

And in spite of the fact that he himself initiated the effort, Kushner sought to release a public cover story, to hide that he and his father-in-law initiated the effort.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie — a lie designed to cover up that he and Trump and Flynn had worked with Egypt (which had allegedly bribed Trump to get him through the election) and Russia (which had conducted an elaborate operation to help him) to thwart the vote and with it the official US policy not to protect Israel’s illegal settlements.

As it turns out, the transcript from Flynn’s call to Russia that day isn’t among those Grenell released because they were so helpful to Trump. Even the one-line summary of the call, released for all other substantive calls, remains redacted.

But there, too, Kislyak may have been performing for the FBI intercepts he knew would catch these calls.

First, on the December 23 call — the one after the call for which the transcript hasn’t been released — Kislyak assures Flynn that whatever happened on it was considered by Putin.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia.

Then on the December 29 call, when Flynn asks Kislyak that Russia not box in the new Administration, Kislyak says that message has already been conveyed.

FLYNN: do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

KISLYAK: We have conveyed it.

That request wasn’t in the December 23 call, so it must have been in one of the communications that preceded it, possibly even the face-to-face with Kushner in Trump Tower.

In his December 22 call — the one the content of which Grenell hid — Flynn made an ask of Russia, an ask that went beyond a vote at the UN. That was a call made from Mar-a-Lago, possibly even made with Trump on the call. That was a call that McFarland bragged Trump was involved with personally.

The Mueller Report, relying on evidence that would be admissible in court, said it was unclear how involved Trump was in any of this. But thanks to Ric Grenell, we now have solid evidence he was personally involved, if not on the phone for the call.

And even Bill Barr’s DOJ says that kind of personal involvement from Trump might amount to the kind of coordination that Bill Barr claimed didn’t exist.

When Mueller closed up shop, his team decided that they couldn’t make this case in court. Now, thanks to Sidney Powell and Ric Grenell, the Biden Administration may have a much easier time making that case.


*We know this warrant targeted Michael G. Flynn because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the failson, because the warrant always refers to Flynn père as Michael T. Flynn (as an affidavit referencing both would necessitate), and the target of the third warrant tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment for questions about Flynn Sr.

Rudy the Dripper: The Vicious Cycle of Dead-Ender Propagandists Feeding Bullshit to Tribalist Republicans

Not long after the former US Attorney of the Southern District of New York headlined a press conference where he and other lawyers presented insane conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump had been robbed of his victory, CNN reported that the FBI continues to investigate Rudy Giuliani for his ties to Russian Agents.

Complicating matters is that Giuliani’s post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.

In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.

But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign’s chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.

Meanwhile, the same propagandists who’ve helped Trump survive in recent years — on the left and the right — are claiming that because Democrats and others backed the investigation of Russian efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 (an investigation that attempted to understand why Trump fired Jim Comey, the person most Democrats chiefly blame for Hillary’s loss), it is precedent for Trump’s efforts to disclaim Joe Biden’s resounding win.

This exemplifies the vicious cycle we’ve been on since since August 2016, when Donald Trump authorized his rat-fucker to take desperate measures to find bullshit stories to tell to try to win an election.

After WikiLeaks released the first set of files Russia had stolen as part of its plot to help Trump get elected in July 2016 and someone — it’s not clear who — released damning information about Paul Manafort’s corrupt ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, Donald Trump doubled down. Rat-fucker Roger Stone, desperate to save Trump’s campaign and maybe even the job of his lifetime buddy, made a Faustian bargain for advance access to fairly innocuous John Podesta emails that Stone believed would provide the smoking gun for a conspiracy his allies had been chasing since March. The Faustian deal, by itself, exposed Stone as a co-conspirator in a hack-and-leak operation led by a hostile foreign agency. But the deal also brought ongoing exposure: at least as soon as he was elected, Trump’s rat-fucker (and maybe his eldest son!) started pursuing an effort to pay off Julian Assange with a pardon or some other way out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby implicating Trump in a quid pro quo. After Trump assumed the Presidency, his own exposure through Stone gave him reason to want to shut down the investigation, even the investigation into the hack-and-leak itself. As a result, from very early in his presidency, Trump had obstructed justice to hide the quid pro quo and conspiracy his rat-fucker (and possibly he and his son) had joined to help him get there.

Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, acting on advice that Paul Manafort gave after returning from a meeting with one of Oleg Deripaska’s key deputies, the Republicans defended their President by attacking the credibility of the Steele dossier — one that Deripaska himself likely ensured was filled with disinformation — as a stand-in for the larger investigation itself. Deripaska even has apparent sway at one of the outlets that most relentlessly pursued that synecdoche, the dossier as the Russian investigation. Former hawks on Russia, like Trey Gowdy, were lured into fiercely defending Trump even in the face of overwhelming proof of his compromise by the able gate-keeping of Kash Patel and the discovery of how the use of informants can implicate members of your own tribe, as it did with Carter Page. By the time Billy Barr deceived the nation with his roll-out of a very damning Mueller Report, almost every single Republican member of Congress was susceptible to ignoring damning evidence that their President treated both the pursuit of the presidency and his office as a means for self-benefit, no matter what that did to US interests.

Key to the process of co-opting virtually all Republican members of Congress was the process of villainizing the people who had tried to keep the country safe from Russian compromise, starting with Peter Strzok but also including Andy McCabe. That process easily exploited the same apparatus of Congress’ “oversight” powers — and the same susceptibility to heated rants over logic — that had been used to turn a tragic incident in Libya into a multi-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. Also key to that process were certain propagandists on Fox News, including three of the lawyers that stood with Rudy yesterday: DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell.

The day after Mueller closed up shop, those same propagandists joined with Rudy to pursue a revenge plot for the investigation — they started pursuing a way to frame Joe Biden in anticipation of the 2020 election. Most Democrats didn’t believe that Hillary lost because of Russia, but Trump and his conspiratorially-minded advisors believed they did. And so Rudy, relying on advice Manafort offered from prison, used the same networks of influence to try to frame Biden in a Ukrainian plot that, at the same time, might provide an alternative explanation for the Russian crimes Trump was personally implicated in.

Once again, Trump got personally involved, extorting the Ukrainian president over a series of months, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s abuse of Congress’ power of the purse in an effort to extort a campaign benefit from a foreign country merited impeachment. There’s also no doubt that it served to heighten the tribalism — and ranting illogic — of Republican members of Congress.

Things snowballed further.

That tribalism, by itself, might have gotten Trump re-elected. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. Instead, the President prepared an attack on the integrity of the vote by dissuading his own supporters from using mail-in ballots, setting up the Equal Protection hoaxes that Rudy has pushed in recent days. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claims that, by itself, the effort to discredit mail-in voting cost Trump the state of Georgia. But partisan attacks are what got Trump where he is, and partisan attacks are what he knows.

Trump also doubled down on what had gotten him elected in 2016: overblown attacks sourced to stolen emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, in this case rolled out by one guy at legal risk for his ties to Fraud Guarantee, and another under indictment for exploiting the tribalism of Trump’s supporters to commit fraud. According to CNN, the FBI believes these emails may have been packaged up by the Russian agents that have been buying access through Rudy and DiGenova and Toensing.

Trump’s DOJ, working with Sidney Powell, even tried to invent an attack on Joe Biden by altering exhibits in a court proceeding. In that case, the overblown attack was sourced to real notes, albeit notes that actual law enforcement officials had packaged in such a way as to tell a false story. Yet again, however, this was a false story that scapegoated those who’ve protected the interests of the country — adding Joe Biden to the targets along with McCabe and Strzok — to try to cover-up unbelievably damning evidence about Trump’s coziness with Russia. The effort to deny that Mike Flynn was secretly working for Turkey while claiming to work for Trump and to deny that Mike Flynn repeatedly called up the country that had just attacked us to try to obtain further benefits turned into an attack on those who tried to keep the country safe from sell-outs like Mike Flynn.

It’s a false story. But Republicans in Congress believe it with all their being. And so it has succeeded in convincing those Republicans they need to redouble their efforts to defend Trump.

So, yesterday, Rudy and the other propagandists gave a press conference that was, for the first time, broadly labeled as a coup attempt and roundly mocked, even by otherwise true believers. Trump, Rudy, Republicans, they’re all victims of an international plot launched by George Soros, Cuba, China, Venezuela, according to Rudy and the lawyers who spun the last several conspiracy theories on Fox News.

And this propaganda, an attempt to set aside the clear will of the voters, derives its strength not from any basis in fact. Rather, it derives its power from the fact that Republicans have gotten so tribally defensive of Trump, they will set aside the clear good of the country to back him.

Donald Trump, if he leaves office, may face legal consequences for what he did in 2016 to get elected. If Trump leaves office, Rudy may face consequences for the things he has done since to keep Trump in office.

To save themselves, they’re pursuing the same strategy they’ve pursued since 2016: telling bullshit stories by waving documents around and lying about what they say, relying on tribalism and raw power rather than reason to persuade their fellow Republicans. It just so happens that several of these stories got told with the help of Russian foreign agents (though some got told with the help of a corrupted law enforcement). It just so happens that Trump and Rudy (and Stone’s) willingness to rely on Russian help to tell these stories has greatly exacerbated their legal risk, and therefore made the spewing of bullshit stories more urgent.

But the Russian role mostly serves to magnify the desperation of this gambit.

Mostly, this is about weaponizing the tribalism of the Republican party that puts party loyalty over loyalty to the country or Constitution. And while there have been a few defectors from this dangerous tribalism in recent days, for the most part, Republicans in Congress don’t care that Trump is exploiting them like this or even — in some cases — don’t understand that this is all a shoddy set of lies.

Ockham’s Cut: How the Andrew McCabe Notes Were Doctored

Some weeks ago, I asked for help understanding the irregularities of the Andrew McCabe notes. Among other observations, two people showed that the notes had been created in layers, with the redaction of the protective order footnote seemingly added twice. Since then, longtime friend of the site “William Ockham” has done more analysis (he was the tech expert identified in the second post), and determined that the file must have been made as part of a multi-step process. I share his analysis here. The italics, including the bracket, are mine, the bold is his.

Here’s what I can say about the McCabe notes. The easiest way to explain this is to think about the ancestral tree of the images that are embedded in the documents we have. It all starts with the original page from McCabe’s notes (Generation 0).

Someone scanned that page to create an unredacted image file (Gen 1).

That image was printed (Gen 2). {From a technical point of view, this is what happens when a page is copied on a modern copy machine. Based on the evidence I have, I’m fairly sure that a digital image of the original page must exist. If not, it sucks to be the FBI.)

An analog redaction (probably with a black Sharpie or similar instrument) was applied. I strongly suspect that the date was added to the same physical page before it was rescanned. It’s possible, although I consider it very unlikely, that the date was added after the physical page was rescanned. These original redactions aren’t totally black the way they would be if done with the DoJ’s redaction software. In any event, this rescanned image is Gen 3.

That physical page with the date was scanned to an image file (Gen 4).

At this point, a PDF file  that will become 170510-mccabe-notes-jensen-200924.pdf is created by embedding the Gen 4 image and saving the file as a PDF. Then, a separate process adds the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” and “DOJSCO – 700023502” to the metadata inside the file and draws the words in a font called “Arial Black” at the bottom of that page and the file is saved again. ***I am 100% certain that a PDF was created exactly like I describe here***

Update from Ockham to describe how the redaction shows up in the DOJ footnote:

A PDF file is really a software program that has instructions for rendering one or more pages. An image similar to the one above [Gen 4] was turned into a PDF file which contained one set of instructions:

  1. Store about 1 megabyte of compressed data.
  2. Take that data and render an image by interpreting the data as an 8bit per pixel grayscale image 1710 pixels wide by 2196 pixels high (at normal 96 pixels per inch, 17.81 in by 22.87 in, so obviously scanned at a much higher resolution)
  3. Scale that image so it takes up an entire 8 ½ by 11 page
  4. Render the image

Then, an automated process adds the footer. The part of the instructions for rendering the Bates number are still in the document and look like this:

Operation Description Operands
Dictionary E.g.: /Name << … >> /Artifact<</Contents (DOJSCO – 700023502)/Subtype /BatesN /Type /Pagination >>
BDC (PDF 1.2) Begin marked-content sequence with property list
q Save graphics state
cm Concatenate matrix to current transformation matrix 1001458.234985434.7999268
gs (PDF 1.2) Set parameters from graphics state parameter dictionary /GS0
Tr Set text rendering mode 0
Tf Set text font and size /T1_031.5 [This is a pointer to a font name and size, Arial Black – 18PT]
Do Invoke named XObject /Fm0 [This is a pointer to the actual text and location to render it
Q Restore graphics state
EMC (PDF 1.2) End marked-content sequence

Originally, there would have been a similar set of instructions for the “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” part as well. They would have looked almost the same except for the “Artifact” operands, the actual text, and the positioning instruction.

Now, here’s the really important part. The DoJ redaction software presents the rendered PDF file to the end user. However, it operates on the actual PDF by rewriting the instructions. When the user drew the rectangle around the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER”, the redaction software has to find every instruction in the PDF that made changes to the pixels within the coordinates of the rectangle. The redaction software sees two “layers” of instructions that affect the rectangle, the text writing instructions and the image itself. The redaction software removes all the instructions for writing the text and replaces those instructions with instructions to draw a black box in the same place. Then, it also blacks out the pixels in the image itself. It has to do both of those things to ensure that it has removed all of the redacted information, even though in this case it didn’t really need to do both.

Then someone at the DoJ opens the PDF and redacts the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER” from the page. The redaction does all of the following things:

  • It removes the metadata entry with the words “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER”,
  • It removes the commands that draw the words.
  • It replaces those commands with commands that draw a black rectangle the same size as the rendered words.
  • It replaces the pixels in the Gen 4 image that correspond to the area of the image that the words were drawn on top of with solid black pixels.

Those last two steps create two very slightly offset redaction boxes. The slight offset is caused by errors caused by using floating point math to draw the same shape in two different coordinate systems. Step 4 creates an image which I’ll call Gen 5 which can be extracted from 170510-mccabe-notes-jensen-200924.pdf.

When someone notices that this file and the Strzok notes have been altered, Judge Sullivan asks for the unaltered versions.  Jocelyn Ballantine has a problem. There’s no redacted version of McCabe’s notes without the added date. She can’t use the DoJ’s redaction software because that would look even worse (a big black rectangle where the date was added).  What’s a stressed out assistant US Attorney to do? Here’s what she did. She took the unredacted PDF file I mentioned above and converted it to an image. Then she used image editing software to remove the date, which made that rectangle of white pixels. She fires up Microsoft Word on her DoJ work computer and starts creating a new document (likely from a template designed creating exhibit files). The first page just says Exhibit A and on the second page (which has all margins set to 0) she pastes in the image she just created, scaled to fit exactly on the page. Without saving the Word file, she prints the document (using the Adobe Distiller print driver) to PDF and submits the printed file as the supposedly unaltered McCabe notes. [Gen 6]

It seems like these steps look like this:

Gen 0: FBI had or has McCabe’s original notes presumably stored with his other documents.

Gen 1:  Someone took the notes from there and scanned them, presumably to share with other investigators.

Gen 2: Someone printed out Gen 1 and made notes and otherwise altered them. This is the stage at which the government claims someone put a sticky note with a date on the notes, but it appears they just wrote the date on the notes themselves. If everything had been operating normally, however, when Judge Sullivan asked for unaltered copies of the documents, they could have used the Gen 1 copy to resubmit. They didn’t do so, which suggests the chain of custody may have already been suspect. Some possible explanations for that are that Jeffrey Jensen’s team received the document from either DOJ IG or John Durham’s investigation, not directly from the FBI files. That wouldn’t be suspect from the standpoint of DOJ internal workings, but it would be proof that DOJ knew the documents they relied on in their motion to dismiss had already been reviewed by Michael Horowitz or Durham’s teams, and found not to sustain the conspiracies that Billy Barr needed them to sustain to throw out Flynn’s prosecution (or that DOJ claimed they sustained in the motion to dismiss).

Gen 3: I think Ockham is viewing the creation of the image file in two steps. First, a scan of the file with the note written on it is made, which is Gen 3.

Gen 4: Then, probably before the file is handed off to Jocelyn Ballantine to “share” with Mike Flynn’s team (I’m scare-quoting because I suspect there may have been a back channel as well), the redaction is created for where the protective order stamp would go. Here’s what Gen 4 would have looked like:

Gen 5: Gen 4 is then prepared as an exhibit would normally be, by putting it into a PDF and adding the Bates number and protective order stamp, then redacted the latter. Reminder: The protective order footer was also redacted from (at least) the two altered Strzok notes, as I show here.

Gen 6: When Peter Strzok and McCabe tell Sullivan that their notes have had dates added, DOJ re-releases the notes such that the notes are no longer added but the redacted footnote is. As Ockham notes (and as I think everyone who looked closely at this agrees) the date is not removed by taking off a post-it. Instead, it is whited out digitally, leaving a clear mark in the exhibit.

One reason this is so interesting — besides providing more proof that DOJ went to some lengths to make sure a version of these notes did not include the protective order, freeing Sidney Powell to share it with Jenna Ellis and whomever else she wanted, so they could prepare campaign attacks from it — is that DOJ refused to say who added the date to McCabe’s notes. As I noted in my own discussion here, one possible explanation why DOJ kept redacting stuff rather than going back to the original (other than having to submit the file for formal declassification and the post-it hiding other parts of the document) is because the chain of custody itself would undermine the claims DOJ has made in the motion to dismiss, by making it clear that someone had already reviewed this document and found no criminal intent in the document.

The other problem with this multi-generation alteration of Andrew McCabe’s notes is, if anyone asks, it is going to be very difficult for anyone involved to disclaim knowledge that these documents were altered. Mind you, Ballantine already has problems on that front: I emailed her to note that the FBI version of Bill Barnett’s “302” she shared redacted information that was material to Judge Sullivan’s analysis, the positive comments that Barnett had for Brandon Van Grack. So if and when Sullivan asks her why DOJ hid that material information from him, she will not be able to claim she didn’t know. Then there’s her false claim — which both Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers have already disproved — that the lawyers affirmed that no other changes had been made to the notes.

But if this file was prepared as Ockham describes, then both DOJ and FBI will have a tough time claiming they didn’t know they were materially altering documents before submitting them to Judge Sullivan’s court.

Updated with some corrections from Ockham.

Andrew McCabe’s Comments about Trump More Likely Reference What an Easy Mark Russia Thinks He Is than Any (Unexpected) Thing He Did

Andrew McCabe was on Chris Cuomo’s show last night, talking about Trump’s reported plan to release more sensitive intelligence about the Russian investigation. A number of people have asked me about it, so I thought I’d talk about what he did and did not say. First, my transcription:

Cuomo: … the next leading theory, other than just payback, is he wants a lot of stuff from the Russia investigation declassified because he’s been told by Nunes and others, “the more comes out the more it would look you were framed.” Uh, what’s the risk there, if a lot of stuff comes out? We’ve talked about sources and methods. But let me reverse the question: from your knowledge, is there anything that could come out that people would look at it and say, “Wow, I can’t believe they ever included the President in this analysis. He and his people clearly did nothing.”

McCabe: There is some very, very serious, very specific undeniable intelligence that has NOT come out that, if it were released, would risk compromising our access to that sort of information in the future. I think it would also risk casting the President in a very negative light. So does it — would he have a motivation to release those things? It’s almost incomprehensible to me that he would want that information out. I don’t see how he spins it to his advantage because, quite frankly, I don’t believe it’s flattering.

Cuomo: You think there’s more bad stuff about him that we don’t know?

McCabe: There is always more intelligence — there was a lot more in the intelligence community assessment than what was ever released for public consumption. I mean, the original version of that report was classified at the absolute highest level I have ever seen. You’re talking about Top Secret, Compartmentalized Code Word stuff, and it would be ver–it would be tragic to American intelligence collection for those sources to be put at risk.

First, note that McCabe at first didn’t answer Cuomo’s question, which was basically whether there was anything that would substantiate Trump’s claims to have been framed. Instead, he first says that there’s stuff that if it were released, would have a permanent impact on US intelligence collection. Only after saying that does McCabe say there’s stuff that McCabe doesn’t believe is “flattering” that would “risk casting the President in a very negative light.” Cuomo picks up on that and asks if there’s more bad stuff about Trump that we don’t know (as if CNN has covered even the public stuff that puts Trump in a very bad light, which they have not). McCabe responds by addressing only the Intelligence Community Assessment completed by early January 2017. He then describes the ICA using terms that describe the most sensitive stuff coming from a variety of different collection sources, without specifically saying that this is about Trump, or if it is, whether it involves something that Trump did rather than something that was said about Trump.

Moreover, McCabe is talking about stuff that was available by January 6, 2017, not stuff that became available by May 2019, when Mueller shut down his office. He’s talking about stuff that, because CIA and NSA were key parts of the collection effort, could not be targeted at Trump, but instead would be targeted at Russians.

It’s possible this stuff refers to more compromise by women. After all, the SSCI Report (which benefitted more from CIA and NSA information than it did from FBI information) found more examples — three — than were known about Trump’s possible sexual compromise when in Russia, and the section is preceded by two redacted pages.

It may also include details about Trump’s 2013 trip associated with Miss Universe, which the SSCI Report also provides damning new details about.

Another likely topic pertains to Russia’s profiling of Trump as a potential asset. The SSCI Report leaves his usefulness as a money laundering vehicle almost unmentioned and similarly limits mention of Trump’s ties to the mob (though it does include the latter in several places, such as this discussion of his 2013 trip and this discussion of warnings about the Agalarovs). But if the IC had the kind of collection as sensitive as McCabe says, it likely includes discussions of how easy it would be to stoke Trump’s narcissism to get him to work contrary to America’s interests.

There’s one more thing it likely includes. As I observed when it came out, the Mueller Report does not discuss — at all — Trump’s interactions directly with Putin, not even his meeting at the G20 where they discussed adoptions in advance of Trump crafting a June 9 denial for his failson that focused on adoptions. In my never-ending fascination with what gets classified, the Andrew Weissmann book also makes no mention of that meeting, even though he discusses the adoption cover story at length. If that weren’t really sensitive, he should have been able to argue that the meeting was public, not least given that Trump confessed it himself in an NYT interview. Trump and Putin are not known to have met before he became President. Nevertheless, there must be a corpus of intelligence of “about” collections in which Trump’s cultivation by Putin are discussed.

Still, most of that isn’t about what Trump did — aside the same financial corruption and serial sexual philandering he has done in the US. It’s about what Russia thinks of Trump. Which is consistent with it not being “flattering” rather than being described as “damning.”

McCabe doesn’t talk about the damning information that FBI would have found between the time the ICA came out and the time the investigation into his closest associates ramped up. And that stuff is likely more interesting.

The Last Time Billy Barr Ordered a Politicized Investigation, DOJ Altered Documents for Public Consumption

It is a fact that someone (or someones) who were part of the Jeffrey Jensen review of the Mike Flynn prosecution altered documents for public consumption. That is not speculation. It is not hyperbole. It is a fact, one that other outlets had better start replicating and enhancing if they want to prevent Barr’s green light on investigations into election irregularities, announced last night, from doing the same.

At a minimum, DOJ removed protective order footers from a set of documents shared with Sidney Powell on September 23, in advance of the first debate.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, altered to suggest a January 5, 2017 meeting might have happened on January 4, 2017, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe notes, altered to include a date, with the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

The two other documents released that day, a newly repackaged set of Page-Strzok texts (with newly released personal information that constitutes a new violation of the Privacy Act) that DOJ now claims not to have had a purpose to release and a set of FBI analyst texts the identities of which DOJ seems very concerned about hiding, also lacked protective order footnotes.

The three documents (above) subsequently released with the protective order replaced all had dates added to the initially altered document, a misleading date in at least the case of Peter Strzok’s January 5, 2017 notes and misleading redactions used to suggest something false about the date added to the McCabe notes. DOJ claims those added dates were inadvertent, but the fact they happened with documents that had otherwise been altered (and on a document, the Strzok January 5, 2017 notes, that had already been released once without the date) makes that claim highly unlikely. When prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine submitted a filing admitting that the dates had been altered, she falsely claimed that Strzok and McCabe’s lawyers had confirmed nothing else was altered.

There are several other problems with the altered set of Andrew McCabe notes (including that notes about prep for the Global Threats Hearing got released with no declassification stamp), problems that merit more attention from experts.

But those aren’t the only pieces of evidence that the Jeffrey Jensen investigation evolved from inventing an excuse to blow up the Flynn prosecution into an opportunity to set up campaign attacks for the President. Pro-Trump FBI Agent Bill Barnett gave an interview that was materially inconsistent with his actions during the Flynn investigation (and that claimed to be unaware of key pieces of evidence against Flynn). When DOJ released it, they redacted it in such a way as to hide complimentary comments from Barnett about Brandon Van Grack that would have completely undermined DOJ’s claimed reasons to throw out Flynn’s prosecution.

There are more signs of irregularities with this “investigation.” But this list by itself proves that DOJ, in an investigation personally ordered up by Billy Barr, used the “investigation” to package up propaganda to help Donald Trump. The package even seems to have served to tee up an attack Trump made on Joe Biden in the first debate.

As noted, last night Barr authorized what had previously been forbidden for over forty years, DOJ’s conduct of investigations into claims of irregularities ginned up by the very same lawyers — Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — who invented the complaints about the Flynn prosecution. One of Barr’s investigations has already altered official documents to sustain false claims. That means there’s reason to believe he would do it again, to serve the same cause. Indeed, Trump’s election loss gives Barr’s a greater incentive to repeat the process, to ensure he is not replaced by someone who would treat these alterations as a crime.

A Bill Barr politicized investigation altered documents to serve propaganda in the past. We should assume it will happen again.

Lindsey Graham Responds to News of Potential Ongoing Crime by Promising to Ignore It

As I have been laying out, there is growing evidence that when DOJ added dates (a misleadingly incorrect one in at least one case) to Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe notes, they altered the documents in some other ways. At the very least, they redacted protection order footers in the first documents shared with Sidney Powell, but there appear to be other irregularities in the McCabe notes, irregularities that may be far more serious.

And that’s before you get to DOJ’s claims that:

  • They didn’t know the date of the January 5, 2017 meeting (even though documents in the docket make that date clear)
  • The Bill Barnett “report” was a 302
  • Lawyers for Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had affirmed there were no (other) alterations to their clients’ notes

Those are all false, and the last one is fairly demonstrably maliciously false.

I’ve been trying to chase down places where original versions of the Andrew McCabe notes might exist, to compare with what got released in the docket. In addition to DOJ IG (which might have the notes in investigative files relating to the Carter Page investigation), I figured the Senate Judiciary Committee should have a copy.

After all, McCabe had been scheduled to testify on October 6, before he canceled on account of the GOP COVID cluster.

So I called the committee spox, Taylor Reidy, asking if they had copies of McCabe’s notes, since I wanted to use them to see whether FBI had committed a crime. She (credibly) claimed not to know about DOJ altering official documents, given the mad rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett. So I sent her information to help her out.

Thanks for seeing if you can chase down the copies of these documents the Committee has received.

Basically, in some documents shared with Sidney Powell and then loaded to the docket in the Mike Flynn case, FBI had added (incorrect, in at least one case) dates to some Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe notes, which they subsequently admitted to the court, stating that the alteration was unintentional.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/07/doj-altered-flynn-document-427280

But it’s now clear that the FBI also removed the “protection order” footers in those documents as well (and have restored them in the re-altered documents).

There are a number of other irregularities with the McCabe notes, including that it doesn’t have a declassification stamp, even though the notes talk about Worldwide Threats hearing prep.

So I’m wondering if SJC could release the version of the notes the Committee received so we can understand what those notes originally looked like.

As I know from following the Crossfire Hurricane investigation closely, I’m know the Committee takes alterations of official documents very seriously.

I appreciate any help you can offer to clarify why these documents were altered.

I got no answer yesterday. I pinged her again today, mentioning that I thought Lindsey Graham’s disinterest in what might be a crime in progress newsworthy:

I’m circling back for comment on this.

I’m considering a post reporting on Chairman Graham’s disinterest in evidence that FBI has tampered with evidence to help Mike Flynn and would post it later today.

Thanks in advance.

Reidy responded to my question about DOJ’s current actions by stating that her boss is totally committed to continuing to review events that happened four years ago.

Thanks for your patience, Marcy.

The matter relates to pending litigation and is not something the committee would have access to.

Graham continues to pursue oversight related to the FBI’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane.

And while I followed up to clarify the seemingly shocking detail — that SJC intended to call McCabe as a witness without obtaining any of his records! — it appears to be the case that DOJ didn’t even share those documents with SJC.

I tried again, noting that she hadn’t answered the question I asked.

To clarify, even though you had prepared to have Andrew McCabe testify this month, you intended to do so without his records?

Also, would you like to issue a statement about FBI’s altering documents in the month of September 2020, which is entirely unrelated to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and what I asked about? Or does Chairman Graham not intend to exercise oversight over ongoing misconduct happening right now? To clarify, because this will be clear in any post, I’m asking whether Chairman Graham, having been informed of a potential crime happening as we speak on a matter that he has direct oversight over, is going to do anything about it?

I’ve had no response, from which I guess it is fair to conclude that former JAG Officer Lindsey Graham is going to do nothing about what might be a crime in progress.

FBI, for what it’s worth, yesterday referred my questions about why Executive Assistant Director John Brown certified what was almost certainly a classified document for release that lacked any declassification stamp as authentic to DC’s US Attorney’s Office.

I asked again if FBI had comment about the further alterations exhibited in the McCabe document, but got no answer there, either (I’m wondering what will happen if I report that FBI is doctoring documents to the FBI tip line).

It’s really weird that all these people who are supposed to guard the rule of law in this country are so disinterested in what might be a crime in progress.

Update: After I posted, the FBI reiterated that they still want me to ask DOJ why their EAD certified what appears to be a formerly classified document that lacks a declassification stamp.

We are still referring you to DOJ since this pertains to ongoing litigation.

I’m asking again for reference to what policies in question EAD Brown just certified to.

More Reason to Question the Government’s Treatment of Andrew McCabe’s Notes

In this post, I noted that the three sets of Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe notes to which FBI added dates (in at least one case, inaccurate dates) had had their Protective Order footers redacted, suggesting someone packaged them up for circulation (probably with two other documents shared that same day, one of which was a frivolous repackaging of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page).

In this post, I pointed out several other irregularities with McCabe’s notes: that there’s an artifact in the left margin by one of the redactions (multiple people have said this is one or two post-it notes which left a shadow and covered up the margin) and there’s no declassification stamp.

Two more readers of the site have provided further reason to question FBI’s treatment of Andrew McCabe’s notes.

First, a tech expert separated out the objects in the PDF with the altered date, which shows what the original scan of McCabe’s notes looks like. It looks like this:

That is, the redaction that covered up where the footer would say, “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER,” was in the first scan of the document, even though the footer would be applied later (the Bates stamp and the Protective Order footer show up as metadata in the PDF).

Meanwhile, Cannonfire did some more toying with the document in PhotoShop, and shows that the Bates stamp footer and the redaction are of a different quality than everything else on the page.

It makes sense that the Bates stamp footer is–those are added at a later stage to the document along with the Protective Order stamp.

But for this document to have been produced in this way, the Protective Order stamp would have had to have been redacted out at a later date.

Both of those details suggest that the footer was redacted at a later date.

More Irregularities with the Andrew McCabe Notes: Bleg for Graphic Design Analysis

The Andrew McCabe notes just certified on Monday as a regular FBI document have at least four and, I think, more irregularities. This kind of graphic analysis is not my forté, so I’m going to just post what I think the irregularities are, and invite some people who are better at this to test my hypotheses.

Here’s an annotated version of the McCabe notes (here’s the original). Below, I’ll describe what I think I’m seeing.

A: The left-hand rule of the notebook at the top of the page appears not to line up with the left-hand rule at the bottom of the page. To be sure, I’ve just sketched this up, and it’s the observation I’m the least confident in, so please check my work. [Note: This may arise from copying the notebook.] Update: a reader has convinced me I’m wrong about this — see below.

B: There’s a non-horizontal line drawn to the margin to the left of where the first big redaction begins. Below it, the horizontal page rules don’t appear for about nine lines.

C: As noted here, the footer reading, “SUBJECT TO PROTECTIVE ORDER,” has been redacted. It would be restored in the re-altered version authenticated on Monday.

D: As DOJ has now admitted, someone — and DOJ has not told Judge Emmet Sullivan what government agent it was — added a date. DOJ claimed this was done with a clear sticky with a blue tab, but there’s no sign of the blue tab. Moreover, when the document was re-altered to remove the date, that was accomplished by digitally whiting it out (not the technical term!), leaving a clean white rectangle with no rules.

E: This document has no declassification stamp. The larger redaction here, by topic, must hide notes from a prep session for the World Wide Global Threats hearing that would be held on May 11, 2017. It is, by definition, classified (indeed, that’s presumably the claimed reason for the redaction). And yet there is no declassification stamp for the document. The Peter Strzok notes released in the same batch have declassification stamps dated September 17 and 21.

This document got released after a dispute between McCabe and the FBI about whether he can access his own notes. After the Senate Judiciary Committee promised Andrew McCabe he could review his notes before testifying before the committee in early September, and after McCabe’s lawyer Michael Bromwich engaged in what he believed to be a good faith discussion about obtaining those documents on September 15, on September 16, FBI told the Committee that the request was “unmanageably voluminous;” the Committee passed that determination onto McCabe’s team. On September 18, McCabe’s lawyers worked with FBI’s OGC to narrow the request. One thing FBI lawyers were balking at, categorically, was providing McCabe’s calendars. In addition, they complained that if McCabe reviewed his own notes, he would have access to material beyond Crossfire Hurricane materials (as this page has). On September 23 — the day this document was provided to Flynn’s lawyers by DOJ, according to discovery correspondence — FBI for the first time raised a categorical objection, stating that, the FBI “has a policy of generally not providing documents to former employees and does not see a basis to make an exception to that policy under these circumstances.”

If McCabe had access to his own notes and calendar, he would be able to tell whether this document has been altered beyond the date addition. On the day DOJ sent it out, they decided that McCabe could not be provided access to any of his own notes or calendars so he could provide accurate testimony to Congress.

Update: I have a request for comment from FBI’s press office regarding the lack of a declassification stamp.

Update: FBI referred me to DOJ to ask them why FBI’s EAD certified a declassified document that lacked a declassification stamp.

Update: I have asked the Senate Judiciary Committee (which was supposed to have had McCabe testify earlier this month) for their copy of this set of McCabe notes, to see if we can make sense of the document. I am awaiting a response.

Update: A reader with expertise in the area provides these notes anonymously:

A. yes, the tilt with the line (to the left) at top left, normally would be compensated for with less visible binder rings at bottom right. (to which there is more showing) so its backwards.

B. Yes, agree. The line looks like it was hand drawn. And if you zoom in at 400% in the middle of the red box B) you can see an additional line, very faint. Whited out some way.

C. if you zoom in at 400% at the redaction box, it may have been redacted twice. There are two corners at top left, that are not lined up and same issue at lower right. If they were, it would look like one, clean cornered box.

D. the lines on each side of the date are fainter and in the same distance from each other implying that there was some kind of clear sticker put on top with a handwritten date in the center. When scanning light bounces off the sides of any clear plastic tab, mylar etc. and reflects and fades out whatever is next to it.

E. No opinion.

Other observations:

If you zoom in at 400% in between each of the 3 lines at the lower left (just above the redaction box) there are other faint lines, which make no sense.

At the 3 lines above the handwritten text “possible”, it looks like there was some handwritten text there before, the dot patterns resemble writing that was there once upon a time. Can’t prove it. I don’t have iText redaction software to see if that would show editing (it may be capable or may not), but the scanner would also have to have extra dirt on that area, and doesn’t have the same intensity of dot/dirt scatter as the rest of the white spaces on the rest of the page. Same issue under the 3-6 lines under the text “not the strongest”.

Update: A different reader, who also asks to remain anonymous, sends this screencap of the document pulled into Photoshop and darkened, which (the person explains) can show things that aren’t otherwise readily apparent. The person added a ruler which, I think, shows I’m wrong about the left margin. I’ve crossed out that observation above accordingly.

The Altered Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok Documents Were Packaged for Circulation

On September 23, 2020, prosecutor Jocelyn Ballantine sent five documents to Sidney Powell:

  • The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes
  • The second set of altered Strzok notes
  • The altered Andrew McCabe notes
  • Texts between FBI analysts
  • A new set of Strzok-Page texts, which included new Privacy Act violations

The letter Ballantine sent accompanying those documents is dated September 23, but it wasn’t loaded to the docket until September 28. Like all her discovery letters, the version of the letter uploaded to the docket informs Powell that, “These materials are covered by the Protective Order entered by the Court on February 21, 2018.”

In her letter providing realtered sets of the notes, the only change Ballantine described to the documents pertained to the removal of the sticky notes — which weren’t actually removed, but instead whited out electronically (and probably weren’t sticky notes in McCabe’s case at all).

But there was another change made to all of them: the “subject to protective order” footnote was restored to the documents.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe notes, with the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

Notably, there’s no declassification stamp on McCabe’s notes.

The Page-Strzok notes don’t have a protective order footer. Nor do the FBI analyst texts.

So all the documents sent to Sidney Powell on September 23 had no protective order stamp, and in the case of McCabe’s notes, they had the protective order stamp covered over.

The altered notes have all since been realtered, and rather than trying to certify the Strzok-Page texts, in today’s declaration, Ballantine just told Judge Emmet Sullivan DOJ wasn’t relying on them — no blood no foul. Presumably, there’s something fishy with the FBI analyst texts, because there’s something fishy with all of these documents.

But given the fact that the protective order footer was redacted in the McCabe notes, it cannot be accidental. These documents — the documents with the “inadvertent” alterations — also were all packaged up such that if Sidney Powell shared them (say, with the President’s campaign lawyer), Powell could claim these were somehow exempt.

DOJ Falsely Claimed that McCabe and Strzok Confirmed that the Content of Their Notes Was Not Altered

I wrote a really long post cataloging all the problems with DOJ’s declaration of authenticity in the Mike Flynn case.

But the most important paragraph in the declaration has an astounding claim: that DOJ — in a declaration signed by Jocelyn Ballantine — affirmed that lawyers for both Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had confirmed that their clients’ notes were not altered. [Emphasis original]

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees.

But the declaration and related filings only reflects communication from Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer.

Indeed, in the letter that McCabe’s lawyer sent to the court on October 2, he pointedly said that DOJ had not asked him to confirm the accuracy of its claims about the notes before filing them.

So I asked Michael Bromwich, McCabe’s lawyer, if he agrees with the assertion Ballantine made in yesterday’s filing. He told me he spoke with Ballantine a few weeks ago and doesn’t recall any such discussion.

But when he got an email from her on Sunday at 4PM, asking for him to let her know by 2PM Monday if her transcription was inaccurate, he pointedly declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

That is, Ballantine claimed that Bromwich had affirmatively confirmed this content.

But Bromwich very pointedly refused to do so.

For what it’s worth, I think the content has not been altered, but the redactions do misrepresent the notes. But according to Bromwich, Ballantine made that claim even though he had pointedly refused to confirm the accuracy of the notes or transcription.

Update: And now Strzok says that they didn’t confirm the content either.

That’s more problematic in his case, because there are so many more transcripts.

Update: The same thing happened with Strzok (though his lawyer did alert Ballantine to her docket/exhibit problems I noted in this post).

Ballantine emailed Goelman at 4:05 on Sunday with the same request. He responded at 3:38 PM on Monday, telling her they could not confirm authenticity of these notes without the originals. He also noted that Ken Kohl misrepresented the meaning of one of Strzok’s texts in the hearing before Judge Sullivan.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

So basically both of them refused to affirm that the notes were authentic. But she made the claim anyway.