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Only Eric Herschmann (and Maybe Christina Bobb) Learned the Steve Bannon Lesson

There’s a lot to unpack in this NYT story about the in-fighting on Trump’s legal team.

It confirms that prosecutors have asked to interview Christina Bobb and notes that she “added language to” the declaration that Evan Corcoran wrote about his search for documents “to make it less ironclad a declaration before signing it.” (If I had to guess, I’d say this pertains to the limits on the search having taken place at Mar-a-Lago.) The story proclaims ignorance about whether Bobb actually has testified. But the shift in how DOJ has discussed Corcoran — describing him claiming he “was advised” about certain topics in the search warrant affidavit, but then stating he “represented” those same topics at the June 3 meeting in their response to Trump’s request for a Special Master — is consistent with Bobb refusing to be made the fall-gal. DOJ’s assertion that Trump’s lawyers might be “witnesses,” plural, in their motion for a stay to the 11th Circuit also suggests some inside knowledge about things that another Trump lawyer may have done (note, the reference in the affidavit to Corcoran as FPOTUS Counsel 1 suggests another Trump lawyer is described in it later in the affidavit).

NYT also describes Eric Herschmann’s famously candid opinions, this time about the value of Boris Epshteyn’s legal advice.

“I certainly am not relying on any legal analysis from either of you [Corcoran and John Rowley] or Boris who — to be clear — I think is an idiot,” Mr. Herschmann wrote in a different email. “When I questioned Boris’s legal experience to work on challenging a presidential election since he appeared to have none — challenges that resulted in multiple court failures — he boasted that he was ‘just having fun,’ while also taking selfies and posting pictures online of his escapades.”

I have been wondering whether Epshteyn, in particular, were just exploiting Trump for his own objectives before he moves onto some other convenient vehicle for extremism after Trump is crushed by legal troubles inadequately defended, and this anecdote would be consistent with that.

But the larger story describes how Herschmann refused to simply just bullshit his way through privilege invocations before a January 6 grand jury. The story is based on an email thread in which Corcoran — who helped Steve Bannon get convicted of contempt — attempted to persuade Herschmann to follow the exact same approach to testifying that Bannon (and John Rowley client Peter Navarro) adopted with the January 6 Committee: To refuse to testify based off a claim of Executive Privilege that Trump had not formally invoked.

Incidentally, that’s the very same approach Trump has used before Aileen Cannon. Thus far it has worked like a charm for her. It has been less successful with every other investigative body.

In fact, Herschmann seems to have made precisely the same point I have in the past, to Corcoran (and Rowley): Executive Privilege doesn’t work the way Corcoran claimed it did when he was busy shepherding Bannon to a contempt conviction.

In his emails to Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Rowley, Mr. Herschmann — a prominent witness for the House select committee on Jan. 6 and what led to it — invoked Mr. Corcoran’s defense of Mr. Bannon and argued pointedly that case law about executive privilege did not reflect what Mr. Corcoran believed it did.

So after repeated insistence that he get a real privilege invocation and after refusing to discuss these things without a documentary trail, the morning before Herschmann would have testified, Trump’s lawyers acceded to Herschmann’s demand for a proper invocation of privilege.

After ignoring Mr. Herschmann or giving him what he seemed to consider perplexing answers to the requests for weeks, two of the former president’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran and John Rowley, offered him only broad instructions in late August. Assert sweeping claims of executive privilege, they advised him, after Mr. Corcoran had suggested that an unspecified “chief judge” would ultimately validate their belief that a president’s powers extend far beyond their time in office.

[snip]

Mr. Corcoran at one point sought to get on the phone with Mr. Herschmann to discuss his testimony, instead of simply sending the written directions, which alarmed Mr. Herschmann, given that Mr. Herschmann was a witness, the emails show.

In language that mirrored the federal statute against witness tampering, Mr. Herschmann told Mr. Corcoran that Mr. Epshteyn, himself under subpoena in Georgia, “should not in any way be involved in trying to influence, delay or prevent my testimony.”

“He is not in a position or qualified to opine on any of these issues,” Mr. Herschmann said.

Mr. Epshteyn declined to respond to a request for comment.

Nearly four weeks after Mr. Herschmann first asked for an instruction letter and for Mr. Trump’s lawyers to seek a court order invoking a privilege claim, the emails show that he received notification from the lawyers — in the early morning hours of the day he was scheduled to testify — that they had finally done as he asked. [my emphasis]

So let’s talk about the timing of all this — and also about how Glenn Thrush, who is a politics reporter who knows fuckall about DOJ, keeps getting scoops about details that would be known to those being investigated, including this email chain that would be protected by the same principles of attorney-client privilege that Corcoran claimed to be vigorously protecting in it.

The emails were obtained by The New York Times from a person who was not on the thread of correspondence. Mr. Herschmann declined to comment.

According to a slew of reports, Herschmann was first subpoenaed around August 15. Given the timeline laid out in the story, describing that Herschmann asked for four weeks before getting a formal privilege letter, it would suggest he didn’t get a formal privilege invocation until around September 12 — days ago, perhaps even more recently than that.

According to an equally coordinated set of stories, the two Pats — Cipollone and Philbin, who happen to be law partners — were subpoenaed earlier than that. Those reports, which came out on August 3, eleven days before the stories about Herschmann being subpoenaed, described how there was some discussion about how to handle Executive Privilege claims.

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone in its investigation into the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

The sources told ABC News that attorneys for Cipollone — like they did with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — are expected to engage in negotiations around any appearance, while weighing concerns regarding potential claims of executive privilege.

As ABC pointed out, before he testified to the January 6 Committee, Cipollone made a similarly big fuss about Executive Privilege.

But when he testified to the Committee, Cipollone made specious privilege invocations to avoid testifying about the former President cheering violence, including violence directed at his Vice President.

UNKNOWN: My question is exactly that, that it sounds like you from the very outset of violence at the Capitol, right around 2:00, were pushing for a strong statement that people should leave the Capitol. Is that right?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I was, and others were as well.

UNKNOWN: Pat, you said that you expressed your opinion forcefully. Could you tell us exactly how you did that?

PAT CIPOLLONE: Yeah, I can’t — I don’t have, you know, I have to — on the privilege issue, I can’t talk about conversations with the President, but I can generically say that I said, you know, people need to be told, there needs to be a public announcement fast that they need to leave the Capitol.

[snip]

UNKNOWN: Do you remember any discussion at any point during the day about rioters at the Capitol chanting hang Mike Pence?

PAT CIPOLLONE: Yes, I remember — I remember hearing that about that, yes. I don’t know if I observed that myself on TV.

UNKNOWN: I’m just curious. I understand the — the privilege line you’ve drawn, but do you remember what you can share with us about the discussion about those chants, the hang Mike Pence chants?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I can tell you my view of that.

UNKNOWN: Yeah, please.

PAT CIPOLLONE: My view of that is that is outrageous. And for anyone to suggest such a thing of the vice president of the United States, for people in that crowd to be chanting that I thought was terrible. I thought it was outrageous and wrong, and I expressed that very clearly.

ADAM SCHIFF: With respect to your conversations with Mr. Meadows, though, did you specifically raise your concern over the vice president with him, and — and how did he respond?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I believe I raised the concern about the vice president, and I — and I — again, the nature of his response, without recalling exactly was he — you know, people were doing all that they could.

ADAM SCHIFF: And — and what about the president? Did he indicate whether he thought the president was doing what needed to be done to protect the vice president?

UNKNOWN: Privilege. You have to assert it. That question would —

PAT CIPOLLONE: That would call for — I’m being instructed on privilege.

[snip]

LIZ CHENEY: And who on the staff did not want people to leave the Capitol?

PAT CIPOLLONE: On the staff?

LIZ CHENEY: In the White House, how about?

PAT CIPOLLONE: I don’t — I — I can’t think of anybody, you know, on that day who didn’t want people to get out of the — the Capitol once the — you know, particularly once the violence started, no. I mean —

ADAM SCHIFF: What about the president?

LIZ CHENEY: Yeah.

PAT CIPOLLONE: She said the staff, so I answered.

LIZ CHENEY: No, I said in the White House.

PAT CIPOLLONE: Oh, I’m sorry. I — I apologize. I thought you said who — who else on the staff. I — I — I can’t reveal communications, but obviously I think, you know, — yeah. [my emphasis]

Cipollone invoked Executive Privilege to avoid revealing details about Trump cheering the violence directed at his Vice President and hoping that rioters would stay at the Capitol. Cipollone made those privilege claims on July 8, two months before the rough date when, after much badgering, Herschmann succeeded in getting a letter invoking privilege from Trump’s lawyers.

That’s the only known formal invocation of Executive Privilege Trump has put in writing regarding January 6.

And if Herschmann got that letter on September 12, he would have gotten it after the two Pats testified in one-two fashion on September 2.

Email chains like this — by any measure, clearly privileged — usually get leaked (to politics reporters) when legally exposed individuals are trying to telegraph to each other important details about their testimony.

And whatever else this story conveys, it tells anyone who has already testified and invoked privilege that Chief Judge Beryl Howell has recently gotten, and will be deciding on, the first known formal invocation of privilege. Howell will be asked to weigh not just whether a White House Counsel can invoke Executive Privilege in a criminal investigation implicating the President, a topic about which Bill Clinton would have a lot to offer. She’ll also be asked, generally, about the privilege claims lawyers are making about an event — January 6 — that the Supreme Court has already decided Executive Privilege, at least, must be waived.

If Howell rejects Trump’s invocation of privilege with Herschmann, then any claims of Executive Privilege that the two Pats made in their one-two testimony on September 2 would fail as well.

And Pat Cipollone is a direct and credible witness to Trump’s cheers of violence directed at his Vice President.

The effort to get witnesses to invoke Executive Privilege without any formal invocation that Judge Howell would review is not new. Trump has been pursuing this for a year, first with Justin Clark telling Bannon to bullshit his way through privilege claims with the January 6 Committee, then with unnamed lawyers persuading Cipollone to bullshit his way through testimony to the January 6 Committee, and most recently to Evan Corcoran — who had a front row seat to see that not even former Clarence Thomas clerk Carl Nichols would buy such bullshit — continuing to pursue such an approach even after it led directly to Bannon’s conviction.

Eric Herschmann, at least (and possibly also Christina Bobb) has learned the lesson of Steve Bannon.

Evan Corcoran’s Two May 25 Stall Letters

A number of people have observed that the language in the newly unsealed parts of the Trump search warrant about what Evan Corcoran told Jay Bratt and others on June 3 emphasizes that “he was advised” certain things that (we now know) turned out to be false.

During receipt of the production, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 stated he was advised all the records that came from the White House were stored in one location within Mar-a-Lago, the STORAGE ROOM, and the boxes of records in the STORAGE ROOM were “the remaining repository” of records from the White House. FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 further stated he was not advised there were any records in any private office space or other location in Mar-a-Lago. The agents and DOJ COUNSEL were permitted to see the STORAGE ROOM and observed that approximately fifty to fifty-five boxes remained in the STORAGE ROOM. [5 lines redacted] Other items were also present in the STORAGE ROOM, including a coat rack with suit jackets, as well as interior decor items such as wall art and frames. [my emphasis]

For comparison, here’s how that exchange was described in DOJ’s response to Trump’s motion for a stay.

After producing the Redweld, counsel for the former President represented that all the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location—a storage room at the Premises (hereinafter, the “Storage Room”), and the boxes of records in the Storage Room were “the remaining repository” of records from the White House. Counsel further represented that there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched. As the former President’s filing indicates, the FBI agents and DOJ attorney were permitted to visit the storage room. See D.E. 1 at 5-6. Critically, however, the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained. [my emphasis]

On August 8, FBI emphasized that Corcoran was simply describing what “he was advised.” By August 30, DOJ summarized what Trump, in the person of his attorney, “represented.”

The earlier emphasis on what Corcoran was told lends weight to the interpretation that DOJ believes he is a witness, not a subject, to an obstruction investigation. Yes, if he genuinely was lied to, then he’s probably safe from any criminal exposure himself, but will likely, eventually, have to explain that to investigators.

But that’s not the only thing notable about the newly unsealed sections, as pertains to Corcoran.

For example, his prohibition on searching boxes was not unsealed. Neither in that passage nor in any other place in the unsealed affidavit does the description of how Corcoran refused to let Bratt and the three FBI agents open any boxes appear (I’ve bolded how it appeared in DOJ’s response). Some of the five redacted lines of the paragraph describing the storage room likely describe all the reasons why the storage room doesn’t comply with the CFR on storing classified documents. The coat rack and the wall art are likely included as evidence that the storage room was not exclusively available to those with a Need to Know the classified information Trump was storing in the room. But somewhere, in that paragraph or in another one, the affidavit almost certainly describes that Corcoran prohibited the FBI from opening the boxes. It would be pertinent to FBI’s request to search what was really in those boxes. So a description that Corcoran prohibited the FBI from looking is almost certainly in the affidavit, but remains redacted, even though DOJ’s claim that Corcoran prohibited the FBI from looking inside the boxes was made public in DOJ’s response.

If that’s right, it suggests the FBI must still consider that refusal to be of investigative interest, and so redacted it.

It’s a third reference to Corcoran, though, where the newly unsealed language provides most interesting new context.

51. DOJ has advised me that, on May 11, 2022 an attorney representing FPOTUS, “FPOTUS COUNSEL 1,” agreed to accept service of a grand jury subpoena from a grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia sent to him via email by one of the prosecutors handling this matter for DOJ “DOJ COUNSEL.” The subpoena was directed to the custodian of records for the Office of Donald J. Trump and it requested the following materials:

Any and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings including but not limited to the following: Top Secret Secret Confidential Top Secret/SIG/NOFORN/ORCON Top Secret/SI-G/NOFORN Top Secret/HCSO/NOFORN/ORCON Top Secret/HCS-O/NOFORN Top Secret/HCSP/NOFORN/ORCON, Top Secret/HCS-P/NOFORN Top Secret/TK/NOFORN/ORCON Top Secret/TK/NOFORN, Secret/NOFORN, Confidential/NOFORN TS TS/SAP TS/SI-G/NF/OC TS/SI-G/NF TS/HCSO/NF/OC TS/HCS-O/NF TS/HCS-P/NF/OC TS/HCS-P/NF, TS/HCS-P/SI-G TS/HCS-P/SI/TK TS/TKINF/OC, TS/TK/NF S/NF, S/FRD S/NATO S/SI, C, and C/NF.

The return date of the subpoena was May 24, 2022. DOJ COUNSEL also sent FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 a letter that permitted alternative compliance with the subpoena by “providing any responsive documents to the FBI at the place of their location” and by providing from the custodian a “sworn certification that the documents represent all responsive records. ” The letter further stated that if no responsive documents existed, the custodian should provide a sworn certification to that effect.

52. On May 25, 2022, while negotiating for an extension of the subpoena, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 sent two letters to DOJ COUNSEL. In the second such letter, which is attached as Exhibit 1, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 asked DOJ to consider a few “principles,” which include FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 ‘s claim that a President has absolute authority to declassify documents. In this letter, FPOTUS COUNSEL 1 requested, among other things, that “DOJ provide this letter to any judicial officer who is asked to rule on any motion pertaining to this investigation, or on any application made in connection with any investigative request concerning this investigation.” [my emphasis]

The description of the May 11 subpoena and Jay Bratt letter accompanying it got unsealed with this release. None of that description is new, though the fact that this is the first mention of both Bratt and Corcoran in the affidavit means the following earlier discussions, including an April 29 explanation from NSD — probably Bratt — about the national security urgency of reviewing the documents returned in January would not have appeared before that in the affidavit (though could later in it).

April 11, 2022: FBI letterhead memorandum asks NARA for access to Trump documents

April 12, 2022: NARA informs Trump of access request

April 29, 2022: NSD to Evan Corcoran letter laying out NatSec urgency (not public)

April 29, 2022: Evan Corcoran letter to NARA asking for further delay (not public)

May 1, 2022: Evan Corcoran letter to NARA asking for further delay (not public)

May 5, 2022: Evan Corcoran asks for access to the Trump records for representatives (not public)

May 10, 2022: Steidel Wall to Corcoran advising him she would give FBI access starting May 12

The May 10 letter from Steidel Wall to Corcoran was included in the government’s response to Trump’s Special Master request but not among the items that DOJ asked Chief Judge Beryl Howell to unseal as grand jury material. It appears that it has become a focus of the public discussion because John Solomon made it one.

The passage above also unsealed the first sentence of paragraph 25 (the rest of that paragraph was unsealed in the first release). We already knew about one May 25 letter from Corcoran — DOJ diligently included it with the affidavit, as instructed by Corcoran, and so it was unsealed in the first unsealing.

That Corcoran actually sent two letters that day was already made public in this letter to Beryl Howell, though probably few other people noticed. This is probably the first that most people will realize Corcoran sent two letters that day. More importantly, the newly unsealed sentence makes its relation to the subpoena more obvious.

The subpoena deadline was May 24. By that day, document custodians from all of Trump’s properties should have shown up at their local FBI office with the remaining classified documents Trump retained. If they had, we might never have heard of all this. But on May 25 — the day after the subpoena deadline — Corcoran, after having stalled the FBI’s access to the 15 boxes for a month, was still asking for more time to respond to the subpoena issued two weeks earlier. All the while he was making false claims that this aspect of the investigation had leaked.

It’s against that background that Corcoran sent not one but two letters. This one is the second he sent that day. It doesn’t mention the pending subpoena, at all. Rather, it did the following:

  • Argue that because public trust is low (thanks to Donald Trump) any actions by DOJ must not involve politics
  • Complain that the news of the NARA referral (which NARA shared with Congress after warning Trump for months they might resort to doing so) was publicly reported
  • Claim falsely there were, “Leaks about an investigation that involve the residence of a former President”
  • Assert that the President has absolute authority to declassify things (without claiming that Trump had declassified things)
  • Lay out the (IMO) most catastrophically shitty legal advice made public this year, that Corcoran believed only 18 USC 1924 was implicated in this investigation
  • Cite an IG Report stating that DOJ has to remain free of political influence
  • Include two paragraphs that, Corcoran requested, be shared with any judge ruling on a motion or application in connection with this investigation.

Here’s what those paragraphs say:

Long-standing DOJ policy requires that DOJ attorneys be candid in representations made to judges. Pursuant to those policies, we request that DOJ provide this letter to any judicial officer who is asked to rule on any motion pertaining to this investigation, or on any application made in connection with any investigative request concerning this investigation.

The official policy ofDOJ further requires that prosecutors present exculpatory evidence to a grand jury. Pursuant to that policy, we request that DOJ provide this letter to any grand jury considering evidence in connection with this matter, or any grand jury asked to issue a subpoena for testimony or documents in connection with this matter. [my emphasis]

Effectively, the entire letter — written at a time when Corcoran was trying to negotiate a delayed response to a subpoena — was a pitch to a judge that there could be no probable cause that Trump had committed a crime, because 18 USC 1924 didn’t apply to him (remember, this is the statute Trump made a felony in response to Hillary’s home server) and because he hypothetically could have declassified all the most sensitive secrets.

The reference to Kash Patel, immediately following the mention of this letter, makes more sense now; it might explain that when Debra Steidel Wall told Corcoran on May 10 that no one could review Trump’s papers without proper clearance, he acceded to that.

What’s interesting about this letter (aside from how catastrophically bad that 1924 advice was) is its audience. Corcoran would have known that a judge was already involved; Beryl Howell oversees grand juries in DC, including the one that issued a subpoena to the former President. But he didn’t ask that the letter be shared with any judges who already reviewed subpoenas. Rather, he was asking that it be shared in case of some motion or application.

Corcoran envisioned — at a time he was stalling on compliance with a subpoena — that DOJ might soon go before a judge with some kind of application, something like a search warrant, in hand.

They were playing a game of chicken.

That suggests that DOJ was already threatening to come get the stolen classified documents they knew to remain at Mar-a-Lago. It suggests that this letter, with its catastrophically bad 1924 advice, was an attempt to stave off that, when in fact it instead ensured that DOJ would include a footnote explaining that the Espionage Act (unlike 1924) pertained to National Defense Information, not classified information, which would also make Corcoran’s nod to Trump’s unlimited declassification powers pointless as well.

I continue to get some satisfaction that during the period Corcoran was giving Trump such catastrophically bad legal advice pertaining to stolen classified documents, he was helping write 30-page filings in the Bannon misdemeanor case that also didn’t work, not even with Carl Nichols. But I’m perverse like that.

Anyway, that detail — that Corcoran wrote a letter to a hypothetical judge reviewing a warrant application even while he was negotiating an extension to the already passed subpoena deadline — is important background to whatever search Corcoran did and whatever representations he made on June 3, all a stunt that (he probably assumed) would stave off any search, including his refusal to let the FBI look in the boxes that he claimed to have searched.

I have no idea what Corcoran knew on May 25 and what he knew on June 3. But the fact he sent a letter envisioning a hypothetical judicial review of a search warrant application suggests he knew that he had to stave off a search even before the FBI showed up on June 3, when he refused to permit a consensual search.

Go to emptywheel resource page on Trump Espionage Investigation.

DOJ Has at Least One Card Left to Play: Congress’ Instinct for Self-Preservation

Last night, Trump and DOJ submitted their competing plans for a Special Master to Judge Aileen Cannon. As I laid out, Trump’s plan is a transparent effort to stall the entire investigation for at least three months, and after that to bottle up documents he stole — those with classified markings and those without — at NARA, where he’ll launch new legal fights in DC to prevent further access.

Judge Cannon has ordered Trump to weigh in on the government’s motion for a partial stay of her order, asking her to permit the investigative team access to any documents marked as classified, by 10AM on Monday. Trump will object for the same insane logic he gave in his Special Master proposal: That if he can get a private citizen Special Master to override the government’s classification determination, then he can declare the documents — even Agency documents that would be government, not Presidential Records — part of his own records at NARA.

Because Trump didn’t share his choices until after close of business day on Friday, both sides also have to inform her what they think of the other’s Special Master suggestions — Barbara Jones (who was Special Master for the review of both Rudy Giuliani’s and Michael Cohen’s devices) and retired George W. Bush appellate judge Thomas Griffith for the government, and retired EDNY and FISC judge Raymond Dearie and GOP partisan lawyer Paul Huck Jr for Trump — on Monday.

Then, if Cannon has not relented on the investigative side for documents marked as classified by Thursday, DOJ will ask for a stay of that part of her decision from the 11th Circuit, pending the rest of their appeal (the scope of which remains unknown and may depend on her other decisions this week).

Cannon’s decision on whether to permit investigators to access the documents marked as classified may provide the government leverage over the Special Master choice, which could create new bases for appeal. None of the choices for Special Master are known to be cleared, much less at the TS/SCI levels that would be needed to review the documents Trump stole, though Dearie, who was on FISC as recently as 2019, surely would be easily cleared as such.

That doesn’t matter for the government’s preferred approach. The Special Master won’t get any known classified document under their approach.

They would, however, under Trump’s approach (which more closely matches Cannon’s current order). And so DOJ will have to agree to give clearance to whatever person ends up as Special Master under the Trump plan.

The same Supreme Court precedent that undergirds all these arguments about classification authority, Navy v. Egan, is specifically a ruling about the Executive’s authority to grant or deny clearances. The government could deny any of the proposed Special Masters clearance — and might well do so, to deny Huck access. Likewise, the government might well deny Trump’s lawyers (at least Evan Corcoran, who is likely either a witness or subject of the obstruction side of the investigation) clearance for such a review as well.

So if Cannon doesn’t grant the government’s motion for a stay, then she effectively gives the government several more levers over her control of the Special Master process.

She probably doesn’t give a damn.

There are two other developments we might expect this week, though.

First, last Wednesday, DOJ asked and Chief Judge Beryl Howell granted permission to unseal the parts of the search warrant affidavit mentioning the same two grand jury subpoenas that she unsealed for mention in DOJ’s response to Trump’s Special Master motion. (I’m looking for the person I owe a hat-tip to this for.) Since receiving that permission, DOJ has not yet gone back to Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to request further unsealing of the affidavit; there’s not even the tell-tale sealed filings in the docket that ended up being prior such requests.

If and when DOJ does ask for further unsealing, it might reveal more information about Trump’s actions — and, importantly for the question of who can be cleared for the Special Master review, Evan Corcoran’s. There are several entirely redacted paragraphs that likely tell what happened in response to the May 11 subpoena. There’s also a likely detailed discussion of the probable cause that Trump — and others — obstructed the investigation, some of which could be unsealed with mention of the surveillance video.

The government response before Cannon didn’t address the evidence of obstruction (or the June 24 subpoena) in much detail. Simply unsealing references of that subpoena in the affidavit might provide more damning information about Trump’s efforts to hide classified documents from DOJ.

More importantly, on Tuesday, the House returns from August recess. It’ll be the first time since the search that both houses of Congress are in town. And in their Motion for a Stay, the government noted (and Judge Cannon did not object) that it did not understand Cannon’s order to prohibit a briefing to “Congressional leaders with intelligence oversight responsibilities.”

5 The government also does not understand the Court’s Order to bar DOJ, FBI, and ODNI from briefing Congressional leaders with intelligence oversight responsibilities regarding the classified records that were recovered. The government similarly does not understand the Order to restrict senior DOJ and FBI officials, who have supervisory responsibilities regarding the criminal investigation, from reviewing those records in preparation for such a briefing.

This seems to telegraph that DOJ plans to brief the Gang of Eight — which includes Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Turner, Chuck Schumer, Mark Warner, Mitch McConnell, and Marco Rubio — about what documents Trump stole, possibly this week. Turner and to a lesser degree Rubio have been demanding such a briefing.

And at a minimum, after such a briefing you’d see everyone run to the press and express their opinions about the gravity of Trump’s actions. Because neither DOJ nor Aileen Cannon can prevent these members of Congress from sharing details about these briefings (especially if they’re not classified), you should be unsurprised everyone to provide details of what Trump stole.

That might devolve into a matter of partisan bickering. But two things might moderate such bickering. First, Marco Rubio is on the ballot in November, and Val Demings has already criticized his knee-jerk defense of Trump.

Just as importantly, Mitch McConnell, who badly would like to prevent Democrats from expanding their majority in the Senate and just as badly would like the MAGA Republicans to go away, really doesn’t want to spend the next two months dodging questions about Trump’s crimes.

If not for Trump’s demand for a Special Master, DOJ likely would have put its head down and mentioned nothing of this investigation until after the election. But by demanding one — and by making such unreasonable requests — Trump has ensured that the investigation into his suspected violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction will dominate the news for at least a few more weeks.

Even if DOJ doesn’t brief the Gang of Eight, even if that doesn’t lead to damning new details and recriminations from being made public, the public nature of the Special Master fight will suck all the oxygen out of the next few weeks of campaign season, at least, just as it contributed to Joe Biden enjoying one of the most positive mid-term Augusts for any President in the last half-century.

But if new specifics about Trump’s negligence and efforts to obstruct the investigation are made public, then November’s election will be precisely what Republicans are trying to avoid it being: not just a response to the Dobbs ruling overturning protection for abortion access, but a referendum on the way Republicans have sacrificed American security in their fealty to Donald Trump.

Judge Aileen Cannon’s Funny Ideas about Being Owned

As noted yesterday, Judge Aileen Cannon enjoined the government from conducting a criminal investigation into violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction because around 4.5% — possibly as little as .5% — of the materials seized from Trump in 27 boxes amount to things more personal than MAGA hats and press clippings.

Her logic rests on a series of false claims about what amounts to being owned.

To understand why, you need to understand how a conservative Republican judge — child of a refugee from Communist Cuba! — upended property rights to halt a criminal investigation into the theft of property.

Aileen Cannon agrees that possession is the law

Trump’s motion had asked for a Special Master who would tell them what was in the boxes that Evan Corcoran told the FBI he had already reviewed diligently so he, Trump, could file a Rule 41(g) motion to claw that stuff back. He wasn’t filing it as a Rule 41(g) motion. He was filing something to give the lawyer who claimed to have gone through all these boxes enough knowledge of them to file a Rule 41(g) motion.

But, as DOJ’s head of the Espionage section. Jay Bratt, explained when he described in a hearing before Judge Cannon that DOJ was treating this as a Rule 41(g) motion and why this should end everything, Rule 41(g) only works if someone is trying to claw back their own property. Trump doesn’t own the vast majority of what was seized.

One is Rule 41(g), and we believe this is a truly 41(g) motion; or second, the Court can exercise a second or anomalous jurisdiction. To do that, that then triggers certain inquires the Court must make, and it also triggers certain burdens on them to establish that they satisfy those standards.

The civil cover sheet to this matter references Rule 41(g). There are frequent references throughout Plaintiff’s briefs to Rule 41(g), and we believe that what they have really done is brought a Rule 41(g) motion. And if the Court interprets and reads and applies Rule 41(g) strictly, they cannot get a special master or the relief that they seek, and that’s because the key factor that must exist for a party to bring a Rule 41(g) motion is that the party has a possessory interest in the property at issue.

And let me describe what the former President has as Presidential records that the 45th President took. He is no longer the President; and because he is no longer the President, he did not have the right to take those documents. He was unlawfully in possession of them; and because he has no possessory interest in those records, that ends the analysis under Rule 41(g).

That means, under the second prong of binding precedent in the 11 Circuit, if Trump doesn’t own this stuff, he’s not entitled to relief.

THE COURT: You don’t dispute one can bring a civil action in equity for the return of property pre-indictment assuming the equitable factors and consideration to counsel in favor of such an action.

MR. BRATT: I do agree with that; but under the Richey factors and to go through them — and actually, I was going to start with the first, callus disregard for Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, I will get back to that. But the second Richey factor is that Plaintiff must have an interest in and need for the property, and this plaintiff does not have an interest in the classified and other Presidential records. So under Richey, that, in and of itself, defeats or should point the Court to decline to exercise its equitable jurisdiction.

Cannon agreed with Bratt on the law. If Trump doesn’t own this stuff, he can’t demand it back.

Like Bratt, she sort of takes Trump’s bizarre filing as a Rule 41(g) motion too, even while she calls Trump’s arguments convoluted.

As previewed, Plaintiff initiated this action with a hybrid motion that seeks independent review of the property seized from his residence on August 8, 2022, a temporary injunction on any further review by the Government in the meantime, and ultimately the return of the seized property under Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. 6 Though somewhat convoluted, this filing is procedurally permissible7 and creates an action in equity. See Richey v. Smith, 515 F.2d 1239, 1245 (5th Cir. 1975) (“[A] motion [for return of property] prior to [a] criminal proceeding[] . . . is more properly considered simply a suit in equity rather than one under the Rules of Criminal Procedure.”);

By treating this as a convoluted Rule 41(g) motion, she is conceding the centrality of the ownership of the items at issue to the analysis.

Indeed, as she notes in a footnote, this is all about property.

7 Rule 41(g) allows movants, prior to the return of an indictment, to initiate stand-alone actions “in the district where [their] property was seized.” See Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g); United States v. Wilson, 540 F.2d 1100, 1104 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (“Property which is seized . . . either by search warrant or subpoena may be ultimately disposed of by the court in that proceeding or in a subsequent civil action.”); In the Matter of John Bennett, No. 12-61499-CIV-RSR, ECF No. 1 (S.D. Fla. July 31, 2012) (initiating an action with a “petition to return property”); see also In re Grand Jury Investigation of Hugle, 754 F.2d 863, 865 (9th Cir. 1985) (“[A] court is not required to defer relief [relating to privileged material] until after issuance of the indictment.”).

So Judge Cannon agrees that this issue significantly pivots around property. It is in how she effectively seizes government property (in the same ruling where she suggests one should be able to steal and sell Ashely Biden’s property with impunity) where things begin to go haywire.

Aileen Cannon refused to return Trump’s personal information so she could justify stealing US taxpayer property

Cannon starts her decision on whether to appoint a Special Master not on the privilege questions, but on Richey, which is how one decides whether someone should get their property back. In her analysis of the second prong of Richey, she decides (virtually all of this entails Cannon doing things Trump’s attorneys did not do) that Trump does have a property interest in this material. She points to medical and tax records the likes of which she believes people should be able to steal from Ashely Biden with impunity and says those — a tiny fraction of the whole — gives Trump standing under Richey.

The second factor—whether the movant has an individual interest in and need for the seized property—weighs in favor of entertaining Plaintiff’s requests. According to the Privilege Review Team’s Report, the seized materials include medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information [ECF No. 40-2; see also ECF No. 48 p. 18 (conceding that Plaintiff “may have a property interest in his personal effects”)]. The Government also has acknowledged that it seized some “[p]ersonal effects without evidentiary value” and, by its own estimation, upwards of 500 pages of material potentially subject to attorney-client privilege [ECF No. 48 p. 16; ECF No. 40 p. 2]. Thus, based on the volume and nature of the seized material, the Court is satisfied that Plaintiff has an interest in and need for at least a portion of it, even if the underlying subsidiary detail as to each item cannot reasonably be determined at this time based on the information provided by the Government to date. 10

10 To the extent the Government challenges Plaintiff’s standing to bring this action, the Court addresses that argument below. See infra Discussion II.

This is why I laid out how small a percentage of the seized records this involves. On August 8, the government seized 11,282 stolen government records, of which 103 are marked as classified, 1,673 press clippings, and around 64 “sets of material” that might be privileged. 

Those 64 sets of material have not been shared with the investigative team. They’ve been segregated by the privilege team. Cannon doesn’t even claim Trump owns them. He may not! They may be White House Counsel documents about the Mazars challenge or White House physician documents about Trump’s COVID treatment. We don’t know whether they do or not because they are being protected, for Trump’s sake.

But the claim that this personal information equates to a property interest is one of three things that Cannon cites to substantiate her claim that something among this vast swath of stolen documents is owned by Donald Trump.

Then, Aileen Cannon double counts stuff. She only knows about — and has “leaked” the details about these medical and tax records — because she (unlike the investigative team) has read and publicly disclosed material from the filter team report. There are upwards of 500 pages that might be privileged (520, the privilege team says), which she counts as a separate property interest of Trump’s from the seized medical and tax records found within those 520 pages that only the privilege team has seen, even though it’s the same 520 pages and US taxpayers might well own those 520 pages (if, for example, they pertained to Trump’s treatment for COVID or DOJ’s defense of Trump in the Mazars case) as well.

That would be crazy enough. But to ensure she’d even get to this ruling, Cannon already refused to let DOJ share all this, the 520 pages of potentially privileged material and the tax and medical records therein. The filter team lawyers, Benjamin Hawk, asked to do so last Thursday. But Cannon told him no, because she wanted to do all this “holistically”.

MR. HAWK: We would like to seek permission to provide copies — the proposal that we offered, Your Honor, provide copies to counsel of the 64 sets of the materials that are Bates stamped so they have the opportunity to start reviewing.

THE COURT: I’m sorry, say that again, please.

MR. HAWK: The privilege review team would have provided Bates stamped copies of the 64 sets of documents to Plaintiff’s counsel. We would like to seek permission from Your Honor to be able to provide those now, not at this exact moment but to move forward to providing those so counsel has the opportunity to review them and understand and have the time to review and do their own analysis of those documents to come to their own conclusions. And if the filter process without a special master were allowed to proceed, we would engage with counsel and have conversations, determine if we can reach agreements; to the extent we couldn’t reach agreements, we would bring those before the Court, whether Your Honor or Judge Reinhart. But simply now, I’m seeking permission just to provide those documents to Plaintiff’s counsel.

THE COURT: All right. I’m going to reserve ruling on that request. I prefer to consider it holistically in the assessment of whether a special master is indeed appropriate for those privileged reviews.

So the only reason DOJ still has exclusive possession of the materials on which she hangs her Richey analysis is because she, Aileen Cannon, prohibited DOJ from sharing it, and she uses DOJ’s possession of it to prevent the government from investigating the thousands of government documents Trump stole.

As for the rest, she makes stuff up. As noted, she claims that in the government’s response they admitted that, “The Government also has acknowledged that it seized some “[p]ersonal effects without evidentiary value.” She returns to this citation several times to claim that the government has acknowledged it seized stuff it should not have. Tell me if you can find that acknowledgment in the passage she cites (I’ve bolded what she claims is such an acknowledgement and italicized something Cannon entirely ignored):

As his last claim for relief, Plaintiff asks this Court to order “the Government to return any item seized pursuant to the Search Warrant that was not within the scope of the Search Warrant.” D.E. 28 at 10; see id. at 4. In Plaintiff’s view, retaining such material “would amount to a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against wrongful searches and seizures.” D.E. 28 at 9. Although Plaintiff does not specify what material he contends was seized in excess of the search warrant, certain personal effects were commingled with classified material in the Seized Evidence, and they remain in the custody of the United States because of their evidentiary value. Personal effects without evidentiary value will be returned.

Nonetheless, contrary to Plaintiff’s contention, personal effects in these circumstances are not subject to return under Criminal Rule 41(g), for four independent reasons. First, the search warrant authorized seizing and retaining items in containers/boxes in which documents with classification markings were stored. See MJ Docket D.E. 17 at 4. Evidence of commingling personal effects with documents bearing classification markings is relevant evidence of the statutory offenses under investigation.

Second, even if the personal effects were outside the scope of the search warrant (contrary to fact), their seizure and retention would not violate the Fourth Amendment because they were commingled with documents bearing classification markings that were indisputably within the scope of the search warrant. See, e.g., United States v. Wuagneux, 683 F.2d 1343, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982) (“It was also reasonable for the agents to remove intact files, books and folders when a particular document within the file was identified as falling with the scope of the warrant. To require otherwise ‘would substantially increase the time required to conduct the search, thereby aggravating the intrusiveness of the search.’” (citation omitted)).

Third, even if the personal effects were seized in excess of the search warrant—which Plaintiff has not established—Criminal Rule 41(g) does not require their return because that Rule was amended in 1989 to recognize that the United States may retain evidence collected while executing a warrant in good faith. See, e.g., Grimes v. CIR, 82 F.3d 286, 291 (9th Cir. 1996). As the Advisory Committee explained in connection with the 1989 amendment of Criminal Rule 41(e) (now subsection (g)), Supreme Court precedent permits “evidence seized in violation of the fourth amendment, but in good faith pursuant to a warrant,” to be used “even against a person aggrieved by the constitutional violation,” and “Rule 41(e) is not intended to deny the United States the use of evidence permitted by the fourth amendment and federal statutes.” The decoupling of Criminal Rule 41(g) from the Fourth Amendment also explains why a motion to return property provides no forum to litigate the scope of a search warrant: failure to comply with a search warrant or the Fourth Amendment is neither necessary nor sufficient to prove a movant’s entitlement to the return of property under Criminal Rule 41(g). [bold and italics mine]

Look at what she did!!! First, she took a subjunctive statement — that if the FBI were to find personal items without evidentiary value (like his passports, which they already returned, of which she makes no mention, because it would prove the government is right) — and outright lied and claimed it was a concession they had found such things. The reason she doesn’t mention the passports, by the way, is because the government said, “The location of the passports is relevant evidence in an investigation of unauthorized retention and mishandling of national defense information.” So even there, they asserted an investigative interest. But in a passage where the government states, outright, that the Plaintiff has not established the government has seized anything not covered by the warrant, Aileen Cannon simply invents a concession that says they took stuff that is unnecessary to the investigation. Makes it up!

And yet she uses it as part of her “proof” that there are personal belongings among the 11,000 stolen documents. And she invented it out of thin air.

Cannon puts a Special Master where the DC District should be

Note what Judge Cannon didn’t deal with in this analysis of the second prong of Richey? DOJ’s assertion that Trump doesn’t own any of the 11,000-plus stolen documents seized as contraband. She separates the question of who owns the bulk of the materials seized into a separate section, purportedly about standing, not Richey.

Only after she decides that Trump has a possessory interest in the 11,000 stolen documents because of the tax and medical records therein that she prevented DOJ from sharing with Trump’s lawyers last week does she turn to the Presidential Records Act that makes these stolen documents. The first time she does so, and in a separate section, she dismisses the government’s argument about standing under Richey — analysis about which she has just done — as premature.

The Government relies on the definition of “Presidential records” under the Presidential Records Act (the “PRA”), see 44 U.S.C. § 2201(2), and on the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Howell, 425 F.3d at 974; see supra note 12.

Plaintiff opposes the Government’s standing argument as premature and fundamentally flawed [ECF No. 58 p. 2]. In Plaintiff’s view, what matters now is his authority to seek the appointment of a special master—not his underlying legal entitlement to possess the records or his definable “possessory interest” under Rule 41(g) [ECF No. 58 pp. 4–6]. Moreover, Plaintiff adds, even assuming the Court were inclined at this juncture to consider Plaintiff’s potential claim of unreasonableness under the Fourth Amendment, settled law permits him, as the owner of the premises searched, to object to the seizure as unreasonable [ECF No. 58 pp. 2, 4–6].

Having considered these crisscrossing arguments, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is not barred as a matter of standing from bringing this Rule 41(g) action or from invoking the Court’s authority to appoint a special master more generally.

[snip]

Although the Government argues that Plaintiff has no property interest in any of the presidential records seized from his residence, that position calls for an ultimate judgment on the merits as to those documents and their designations. [my emphasis]

Side note: it doesn’t matter for Fourth Amendment precedent, but this is another example of where Cannon seizes and reallocates property with wild abandon. Trump does not own Mar-a-Lago. The club does, and Trump Organization owns that. The failson is apparently in charge of it all. This has apparently been an issue in both the Beryl Howell grand jury docket and the Bruce Reinhart warrant docket. So while it doesn’t matter to her legal analysis, she simply invents Trump’s ownership of a club that his biological person does not own and on that basis uses it to give Trump standing.

But in this passage, which she conducts separately from the Richey analysis that pivots entirely on a made up claim and possession of documents she herself prohibited the government from sharing, she implies that proceedings before her will make, “an ultimate judgment on the merits as to those documents and their designations” — that is, a determination of ownership under the PRA.

Five pages later, in a section on Executive Privilege, she concedes that questions about ownership under the Presidential Records Act don’t belong before a Special Master appointed by a SDFL judge. It belongs in the DC District.

16 The Court recognizes that, under the PRA, “[t]he United States District Court for the District of Columbia shall have jurisdiction over any action initiated by the former President asserting that a determination made by the Archivist” to permit public dissemination of presidential records “violates the former President’s [constitutional] rights or privileges.” 44 U.S.C. § 2204.

Having conceded that, Cannon has conceded she has no authority to appoint a Special Master to adjudge ownership under PRA. But in the same opinion where she concedes she doesn’t have this authority, she appoints a Special Master to weigh in on the matter.

This wouldn’t matter if Cannon just appointed a Special Master to review the attorney-client privilege claims. But her order envisions a review of all 11,000 seized stolen documents, based on her assertion that the question of ownership is still uncertain.

Aileen Cannon declares herself President and overrides Joe Biden’s delegated Executive Privilege decision

Judge Cannon could have simply appointed a Special Master to review Attorney-Client determinations (and such a decision might have been modest and defensible). But after assuming the right to appoint a Special Master to determine PRA issues, she then wades into Executive Privilege, claiming that Trump (whose lawyer told the FBI he had closely inspected all these boxes) has not had an opportunity to invoke Executive Privilege.

On the current record, having been denied an opportunity to inspect the seized documents, Plaintiff has not formally asserted executive privilege as to any specific materials, nor has the incumbent President upheld or withdrawn such an assertion.

She points to two precedents pertaining to the EP claims of a former President against a co-equal branch of government and on that basis claims that it remains unsettled whether Trump can invoke Executive Privilege to claw back material from the Executive branch.

The Government asserts that executive privilege has no role to play here because Plaintiff—a former head of the Executive Branch—is entirely foreclosed from successfully asserting executive privilege against the current Executive Branch [ECF No. 48 pp. 24–25]. In the Court’s estimation, this position arguably overstates the law. In Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), a case involving review of presidential communications by a government archivist, the Supreme Court expressly recognized that (1) former Presidents may assert claims of executive privilege, id. at 439; (2) “[t]he expectation of the confidentiality of executive communications . . . [is] subject to erosion over time after an administration leaves office,” id. at 451; and (3) the incumbent President is “in the best position to assess the present and future needs of the Executive Branch” for purposes of executive privilege, id. at 449. The Supreme Court did not rule out the possibility of a former President overcoming an incumbent President on executive privilege matters. Further, just this year, the Supreme Court noted that, at least in connection with a congressional investigation, “[t]he questions whether and in what circumstances a former President may obtain a court order preventing disclosure of privileged records from his tenure in office, in the face of a determination by the incumbent President to waive the privilege, are unprecedented and raise serious and substantial concerns.” Trump v. Thompson, 142 S. Ct. 680, 680 (2022); see also id. at 680 (Kavanaugh, J., respecting denial of application for stay)

[snip]

Thus, even if any assertion of executive privilege by Plaintiff ultimately fails in this context, that possibility, even if likely, does not negate a former President’s ability to raise the privilege as an initial matter. Accordingly, because the Privilege Review Team did not screen for material potentially subject to executive privilege, further review is required for that additional purpose.

This is insane analysis. But the craziest part is that, with those words, “further review is required,” Aileen Cannon appoints herself President and overrides an Executive Privilege decision the actual President has already made.

Oh sure. She pretends the actual President hasn’t already weighed in.

Here’s how smothers Joe Biden — and the delegation he made to the Archives in May to make an Executive Privilege determination — with a pillow. On page 2, Cannon lays out the posture of this case this way.

On April 12, 2022, NARA notified Plaintiff that it intended to provide the Fifteen Boxes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) the following week [ECF No. 48 p. 5]. Plaintiff then requested an extension on the contemplated delivery so that he could determine the existence of any privileged material [ECF No. 48-1 p. 7]. The White House Counsel’s Office granted the request [ECF No. 48-1 p. 7]. On May 10, 2022, NARA informed Plaintiff that it would proceed with “provid[ing] the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022” [ECF No. 48-1 p. 9]. The Government’s filing states that the FBI did not obtain access to the Fifteen Boxes until approximately May 18, 2022 [ECF No. 48 p. 7].

She draws from page 5 of the government response and non-contiguous pages, page 7 and 9, from the letter Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall sent Evan Corcoran in May. She left out page 8 of the appendix, in which Steidel Wall said this:

[T]he Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), strongly suggests that a former President may not successfully assert executive privilege “against the very Executive Branch in whose name the privilege is invoked.” Id. at 447-48. In Nixon v. GSA, the Court rejected former President Nixon’s argument that a statute requiring that Presidential records from his term in office be maintained in the custody of, and screened by, NARA’s predecessor agency-a “very limited intrusion by personnel in the Executive Branch sensitive to executive concerns”-would “impermissibly interfere with candid communication of views by Presidential advisers.” Id. at 451 ; see also id. at 455 (rejecting the claim). The Court specifically noted that an “incumbent President should not be dependent on happenstance or the whim of a prior President when he seeks access to records of past decisions that define or channel current governmental obligations.” Id. at 452; see also id. at 441-46 ( emphasizing, in the course of rejecting a separation-of-powers challenge to a provision of a federal statute governing the disposition of former President Nixon ‘s tape recordings, papers, and other historical materials “within the Executive Branch,” where the “employees of that branch [would] have access to the materials only ‘for lawful Government use,” ‘ that “[t]he Executive Branch remains in full control of the Presidential materials, and the Act facially is designed to ensure that the materials can be released only when release is not barred by some applicable privilege inherent in that branch”; and concluding that “nothing contained in the Act renders it unduly disruptive of the Executive Branch”).

It is not necessary that I decide whether there might be any circumstances in which a former President could successfully assert a claim of executive privilege to prevent an Executive Branch agency from having access to Presidential records for the performance of valid executive functions. The question in this case is not a close one. The Executive Branch here is seeking access to records belonging to, and in the custody of, the Federal Government itself, not only in order to investigate whether those records were handled in an unlawful manner but also, as the National Security Division explained, to “conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps.” These reviews will be conducted by current government personnel who, like the archival officials in Nixon v. GSA, are “sensitive to executive concerns.” Id. at 451. And on the other side of the balance, there is no reason to believe such reviews could “adversely affect the ability of future Presidents to obtain the candid advice necessary for effective decision-making.” Id. at 450. To the contrary: Ensuring that classified information is appropriately protected, and taking any necessary remedial action if it was not, are steps essential to preserving the ability of future Presidents to “receive the full and frank submissions of facts and opinions upon which effective discharge of [their] duties depends.” Id. at 449.

The bolded language, by the way, is a premise that Cannon adopts in letting the government continue its damage assessment. But she doesn’t cite it, probably because it would make clear not just how outlandish her argument is, but that this decision has already been made.

And Cannon cut out page 6 of the government response, which says this.

As the NARA Referral stated, the Fifteen Boxes contained “highly classified records.” Upon learning this, DOJ sought access to the Fifteen Boxes in part “so that the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community could examine them.” Wall Letter at 1. DOJ followed the steps outlined in the Presidential Records Act to obtain access to the Fifteen Boxes.

On April 12, 2022, NARA advised counsel for the former President that it intended to provide the FBI with the records the following week (i.e., the week of April 18). Id. at 2. That access was not provided then, however, because a representative of the former President requested an extension of the production date to April 29. See id. As the Acting Archivist recounted, on April 29, DOJ advised counsel for the former President as follows:

There are important national security interests in the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community getting access to these materials. According to NARA, among the materials in the boxes are over 100 documents with classification markings, comprising more than 700 pages. Some include the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) materials. Access to the materials is not only necessary for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation, but the Executive Branch must also conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps. Accordingly, we are seeking immediate access to these materials so as to facilitate the necessary assessments that need to be conducted within the Executive Branch.

See id.

On the same date that DOJ sent this correspondence, counsel for the former President requested an additional extension before the materials were provided to the FBI and stated that in the event that another extension was not granted, the letter should be construed as “‘a protective assertion of executive privilege made by counsel for the former President.’” Id. In its May 10 response, NARA rejected both of counsel’s requests. First, NARA noted that significant time—four weeks—had elapsed since NARA first informed counsel of its intent to provide the documents to the FBI. Id. Second, NARA stated that the former President could not assert executive privilege to prevent others within the Executive Branch from reviewing the documents, calling that decision “not a close one.” Id. at 3. NARA rejected on the same basis counsel’s “‘protective assertion’” of privilege. Id. at 3-4. Accordingly, NARA informed counsel that it would provide the FBI access to the records beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022. Id. at 4. Although the former President could have taken legal action prior to May 12 to attempt to block the FBI’s access to the documents in the Fifteen Boxes, he did not do so.

Again, Cannon simply ignores that these issues were resolved in May.

She also ignores something Julie Edelstein said in the hearing before her: that the government waited before accessing the 15 boxes turned over in January to give Trump a chance to claim Executive Privilege, which he never did.

Also notably, that letter was provided on May 10th. Purposefully, we waited a few days before beginning the FBI’s review of that material to give the Plaintiff the remedy he could have sought at that time, which was to bring a suit in the District of Colombia to assert executive privilege over those materials. He did not.

Aileen Cannon knows Joe Biden has already weighed in on the EP issue, but she pretends he hasn’t and decides that she, Aileen Cannon, must review hypothetical claims of EP raised against the Executive branch.

Stealing classified documents is not immediately incriminating

One of the funnier moves Cannon makes is in claiming that the seizure of these documents two months after Trump swore he had turned over all documents marked classified in his possession is not immediately incriminating.

Importantly, after DOJ released this picture, Trump complained that FBI took a picture showing the documents in question in a condition other than he stored them in, a clear admission he had possessed them. Effectively, he has already confessed to the crime.

And it’s not just him either. In the hearing, Jim Trusty scoffed that showing smoking gun proof that DOJ caught Trump with documents that his Custodian of Records swore he did not have would be relevant to the question of a Special Master.

You even have what happened two days ago, the insertion in a motion about the special master of a perfectly staged photograph of classified covers on documents. I mean, how that was supposed to help the Court decide the issue of special master is beyond me.

Trump and his lawyers have admitted that these documents were seized at Mar-a-Lago.

That’s relevant to an invocation of an 11th Circuit precedent ruling that Jay Bratt made in the hearing. someone does not have standing to make a Rule 41(g) motion over material he obtained via crime.

The sort of standing or jurisdiction that you have to have right now pre-indictment as set forth in Rule 41(g), as set forth in the Howell case, and as I’m about to talk with respect to the equity jurisdiction Bennett case that Judge Rosenbaum decided when she was a judge here, that is very limited. And whether you call it “standing” or “jurisdiction,” they do not have it here. And in order to get the jurisdiction or standing under Rule 41(g), that is a key requirement. In fact, it is the key requirement, that you have a possessory interest in a property. If, at a later point, the Fourth Amendment — potential Fourth Amendment violations need to be vindicated, that is done through a motion on suppression. It is not done through a Rule 41(g) motion pre-indictment.

[snip]

There are also, you know, three I think very important, overarching factors that the courts emphasize when a judge in your position is being asked to exercise equity jurisdiction for return of property. One is that the exercise of that jurisdiction must be with caution and restraint, and it must be exercised only to prevent a manifest injustice; and the third, any time a party comes to equity, the party must have clean hands. And here, the former President being in unlawful possession of classified and other Presidential records, that is a text book example of unclean hands.

Cannon argues that because Howell pertained to someone who had already pled guilty, it is inapt here. Note that she relies, again, on the personal documents she herself refused to let DOJ share with Trump’s lawyers.

At the hearing, the Government argued that the equitable concept of “unclean hands” bars Plaintiff from moving under Rule 41(g), citing United States v. Howell, 425 F.3d 971, 974 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[I]n order for a district court to grant a Rule 41(g) motion, the owner of the property must have clean hands.”). Howell involved a defendant who pled guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine and then sought the return of $140,000 in government-issued funds that were seized from him following a drug sale to a confidential source. Id. at 972–73. That case is not factually analogous to the circumstances presented and does not provide a basis to decline to exercise equitable jurisdiction here. Plaintiff has not pled guilty to any crimes; the Government has not clearly explained how Plaintiff’s hands are unclean with respect to the personal materials seized; and in any event, this is not a situation in which there is no room to doubt the immediately apparent incriminating nature of the seized material, as in the case of the sale of cocaine.

Cannon is all worked up over whether Trump is guilty, and not that under Howell, Trump has an affirmative requirement to prove he owns the stuff seized before she can grant him relief.

In order for an owner of property to invoke Rule 41(g), he must show that he had a possessory interest in the property seized by the government.

But even the unclean hands language requires analysis, first, of whether Trump legally possessed the items at issue.

Furthermore, in order for a district court to grant a Rule 41(g) motion, the owner of the property must have clean hands. See Gaudiosi v. Mellon, 269 F.2d 873, 881-82 (3d Cir.1959)(stating, no principle is better settled than the maxim that he who comes into equity must come with “clean hands” and keep them clean throughout the course of the litigation, and that if he violates this rule, he must be denied all relief whatever may have been the merits of his claim.)

The doctrine of “unclean hands” is an equitable test that is used by courts in deciding equitable fate.

As Cannon has already conceded, that question can only be determined in the DC District, not by a Special Master in SDFL.

Remember: Trump might not even own the things (identified in the privilege report and so unavailable to Bratt to address) on which Cannon has rested all her analysis. It could well be White House Counsel materials about the Mazars case or White House Physician materials about his near-death from COVID. Trump hasn’t made the argument they are his either (he instead relied on the passports that she ignored).

But based on first, her refusal to let DOJ share that material with Trump, and then her declaration that he does own it, Cannon has overturned the property structure before her, the 11,000 stolen government documents and the Executive Privilege that Biden has already, by delegation, asserted. Rather than forcing Trump to prove he owns this property, she’s just giving him default ownership of it.

In her desperation to shut down a criminal investigation into the theft of government documents, including highly classified ones, Aileen Cannon engages in large-scale appropriation of taxpayer owned property.

Update: Thanks for the corrections that Cannon was born in Colombia, not Cuba.

Evan Corcoran Keeps Arguing that Evan Corcoran Didn’t Do a Diligent Search

There’s something weird about the argument that Trump’s lawyers — each time with the participation of Evan Corcoran — are making about the search of Mar-a-Lago. What they claim they’re up to is all over the map, and has evolved (for example, their first filing focused on Executive Privilege, but in last week’s hearing, Judge Aileen Cannon had to remind Trump lawyer Jim Trusty that’s what he was supposed to be arguing).

But their true goal, it seems, is to learn enough about what was taken so they can attempt to claw back certain materials that would incriminate Trump for reasons other than the sheafs of highly classified information that were stored in an insecure storage closet. It’s a two step process: Learn what was taken, so they can then argue that its seizure was a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment under what’s called a Rule 41(g) motion.

And to that end, the first filing argued that they need a more detailed inventory, describing what was seized and from where, so Donald Trump can make a Rule 41 motion claiming it was improperly seized.

Movant submits the current Receipt for Property is legally deficient. Accordingly, the Govemment should be required to provide a more detailed and informative Receipt For Property, which states exactly what was seized, and where it was located when seized. In addition, Movant requests that the Court provide him with a copy of the inventory. This, along with inspection of the full Affidavit, is the only way to ensure the President can properly evaluate and avail himself of the important protections of Rule 41. [my emphasis]

The second filing (which is where the Executive Privilege started to be dropped) repeated and expanded the request that Cannon order the government give Trump enough information so he can start clawing stuff back. In addition to falsely claiming his passports had been improperly seized, the filing admitted they couldn’t figure out what kind of harm the seizures would do without getting more details on what was seized.

Finally, this Court should exercise its equitable or anomalous jurisdiction over Movant’s request for the return of seized property and for a detailed receipt for property. This Court has written, “Where no criminal proceedings are pending, either because an indictment has not been filed or because a criminal prosecution has terminated, a petition pursuant to Rule 41(g) [of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure] has always been treated as a civil action in equity.” Bennett v. United States, No. 0:12-cv-61499, 2013 WL 3821625, at *11 (S.D. Fla. July 23, 2013); see also United States v. Dean, 80 F.3d 1535, 1542 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Federal courts have developed the doctrine of ‘equitable’ or ‘anomalous’ jurisdiction to enable them to take jurisdiction over property in order to adjudicate ‘actions for the return of unlawfully seized property even though no indictment has been returned and no criminal prosecution is yet in existence.’” (citation omitted)). Given that Movant’s request for a receipt for property is ancillary to the request for the return of improperly seized property, the Court’s equitable jurisdiction should extend to that request.

[snip]

At the outset, because the Government has not produced an adequately detailed receipt for property, it is impossible for Movant to assess the full contents of the seized material. The Government has already confirmed that it improperly seized Movant’s passports (which were not listed on the Receipt for Property provided to Movant), and the Government’s continued custody of similar materials is both unnecessary and likely to cause significant harm to Movant. In addition, the return of property pursuant to Rule 41(g) is the only mechanism for Movant to secure wrongfully seized property, and he has no influence on whether later proceedings will enable him to seek such relief. [my emphasis]

At the hearing on Thursday, after Cannon had given Trump’s lawyers the more detailed inventory that shows that every single box that was seized had some official government documents inside, Jim Trusty complained — with Evan Corcoran sitting at a table beside him — that Trump’s lawyers would remain purposely blinded unless Judge Cannon ordered the government to let them inspect the actual documents themselves.

The next logical step would be to allow us to actually examine the documents and other items that were seized in this search.

[snip]

MR. TRUSTY: Your Honor, I think the difficultly in completely jumping through that hoop for the Court in terms of the Richey factors is that we are still purposefully blinded from large swaths of information. What we see from our side of the aisle is a warrant that looks like a general warrant and could be subject to challenge under Rule 41.

[snip]

The Court will probably recognize — I’m not asking for an opinion — that the warrant itself not only allows for gathering papers around their classified materials seizure, which again we even dispute whether it is classified or whether they are entitled to seize it or whether it is in the right paradigm, but boxes in the vicinity, documents in the vicinity. I mean, this was a colonial time search where the agents had discretion to take anything they want. And maybe they did, we are still trying to get through a legitimate inventory to figure that out. But there are significant substantial preliminary showings that this is a warrant that is suspect. And I can just tell the Court that our intention is to explore that, get the classifications through a special master and Your Honor that we can get, in terms of what the universe of items are, and pursue ideas like seeing the affidavit, maybe not for the general public, but at least for counsel to properly prepare for a Rule 41 and then litigating a Rule 41. This is what the rule is all about. It doesn’t matter whether it is a president or guy on street corner in Baltimore, they have that right to challenge this preliminarily.

[snip]

We think the special master will be in a position to assess personal versus Presidential documents under the framework of the PRA and executive privilege. We think all of that is the type of thing it would be, I suspect, economical and make sense to be conducted along with the physical review of the documents to throw that to the special master, allow us to use that time. Ultimately, there may well be reasons to come back to this Court, but I think that’s an efficient model for getting to a bottom line of where we disagree and where we agree, if anywhere, when it comes to the classification of all of these seized materials.

Again, this is all part of a two-part goal to first learn what was seized and, once they learn that, to make an argument that its seizure irreparably harms Trump. While Jay Bratt is treating this effort as a Rule 41 motion, Trump’s lawyers, joined by Evan Corcoran, argue they won’t be in a position to make a Rule 41 argument unless they first get a detailed look at what was seized.

Which, as I said, is pretty nutty, because according to the government, Corcoran told Bratt (and three FBI agents) the following:

[C]ounsel for the former President represented that all the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location—a storage room at the Premises (hereinafter, the “Storage Room”), and the boxes of records in the Storage Room were “the remaining repository” of records from the White House. Counsel further represented that there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched

And another of Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb, signed a declaration claiming the following:

Based upon the information that has been provided to me, I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following:

a. A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida;

b. This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena;

c. Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification; and

d. No copy, written notation, or reproduction of any kind was retained as to any responsive document.

As I noted yesterday, the government asked Beryl Howell to unseal the May 11 subpoena it served on Trump’s office so it could debunk several claims Trump had made in its filings. One they focused on, in particular, is Bobb’s claim that a diligent search “was conducted.” DOJ wanted to be able to argue that,

Contrary to [Bobb’s] assertion, when the FBI conducted its search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8, it found over one hundred total documents bearing classified markings, from both the storage room and the space FPOTUS uses as an office.”

I mean, it’s an important point and all. But at this point, they don’t even need to contrast the statements Trump’s lawyers made with the inventory seized.

They can just point to assertions — signed or joined by Evan Corcoran — stating that Trump’s lawyers, including Corcoran, have no fucking idea what was in those boxes and where they were stored. There is no way that Bobb’s claim that a diligent search was done and Corcoran’s claim that he knew all Presidential Records were stored in the storage room can be true and, at the same time, a team including Corcoran first needs to learn what’s in the boxes and where the boxes were stored before he can argue about the grave harm that has befallen Trump by seizing them.

All these claims that Trump’s legal team has no idea what’s in the boxes and where they were stored seems to be pretty compelling evidence that Trump’s lawyers’ claims to have actually searched these boxes were not true.

Beryl Howell Says the Surveillance Video Subpoena Was June 24, Not June 22

In the government’s response to Trump’s motion for a Special Master, it revealed that it had gotten Beryl Howell to unseal two subpoenas served on representatives of Trump. (Zoe Tillman first noted the unsealing.)

After Obtaining Evidence Indicating that Additional Classified Records
Remained at the Premises, DOJ Initially Sought Their Return Through the
Issuance of a Grand Jury Subpoena2

2 The former President disclosed this subpoena and a subpoena for video footage at the Premises in his filings to this Court. See, e.g., D.E. 1 at 5-6. Thereafter, on August 29, 2022, Chief Judge Howell in the District of Columbia authorized the government to disclose to this Court these grand jury subpoenas and material discussed herein.

Howell has now unsealed both the government’s emergency request for unsealing and her order granting it.

The government basically explained that they wanted to unseal the subpoenas because Trump lied about the circumstances of, at least, the May 11 subpoena.

[I]n light of the inaccurate or incomplete facts asserted in the SDFL Motion, and as discussed more fully below, the limited disclosure the Government is seeking here is “needed to avoid a possible injustice.”

The government request debunks two things we already knew to be untrue: Trump’s claim that he had conducted a diligent search, and his claim that when Jay Bratt and three FBI agents visited Mar-a-Lago, they were allowed to “inspect” the storage room. As DOJ describes, they “were allowed only a brief view of the storage room and were expressly told that they could not open any boxes to review their contents.”

But the government request emphasizes a third point that elaborates on their strategy behind the investigation: DOJ wrote the May 11 subpoena to cover all documents in Trump’s possession with classification marks, regardless of where they were and how they got there. The government addressed this twice. First, DOJ noted that it drafted the subpoena so as to prevent Trump from withholding documents based off a claim he had declassified the materials.

The government notes that the subpoena sought documents “bearing classification markings,” and therefore a complete response would not turn on whether or not responsive documents had been purportedly declassified.

The logic to that part of the subpoena was already obvious, to me at least. What I didn’t realize was that DOJ also specifically wrote the subpoena to cover any government document, regardless of whether it had been moved from the White House or got to Mar-a-Lago via some other path and regardless of whether it was still at MAL.

Although the SDFL Motion indicates that FPOTUS directed his staff to conduct a review of boxes moved “from the White House to Florida,” the subpoena was not so limited, instead seeking “[a]ny and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings,” without limitation to where they were stored.

Obviously, DOJ had reason to make this emphasis, beyond just asking for documents with classified markings to avoid getting into a fight over whether Trump had declassified them. Possibly, they have reason to know that some of the documents have already left Mar-a-Lago — maybe they traveled with Trump to Bedminster when he left on June 3. Possibly, they want to avoid Trump claiming he can keep classified documents that he accessed for the first time as President while at Mar-a-Lago, which would otherwise effectively exempt any document that never got moved back to the White House from the subpoena. Or possibly, they have reason to believe that Trump obtained documents from other agencies of government — like the NSA — and brought them directly back to Mar-a-Lago without stopping at the White House.

DOJ’s emphasis that the subpoena covered all records, whether they had left Florida, whether they had come from the White House, had never been moved back to the White House, or came from other agencies is important because — as a slightly longer account of what Corcoran told Bratt on June 3 makes clear — Corcoran limited his own representations about remaining classified documents to those that had been moved from the White House. The bolded language did not appear in DOJ’s Response; the italicized language did, but appears more significant given DOJ’s comment.

[C]ounsel for FPOTUS stated that he had been advised that all records from the White House were stored in one location at Mar-a-Lago, a basement storage room, that the boxes in the storage room were the “remaining repository” of records from the White House, and he additionally represented to government personnel his understanding that there were no records in any other space at Mar-a-Lago.

The bolded language suggests that Corcoran may have been lied to, meaning he’d be a witness, but not a subject, in the investigation.

The filing doesn’t address another discrepancy between Trump’s public claims about the June 3 meeting and DOJ’s: Whether the Former President ever stopped in at the meeting. Trump claims he did.

President Trump greeted them in the dining room at Mar-a-Lago.

DOJ says only two Trump people were at the meeting: Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb.

In addition to counsel for the former President, another individual was also present as the custodian of records for the former President’s post-presidential office.

If Trump wasn’t present at the meeting, it’s possible Corcoran and Bobb pulled the meeting together for the first day that Trump would be gone to Bedminster, possibly even without telling him.

There’s one more detail about the June 3 meeting that’s may be new in the request for unsealing: According to Bratt and the FBI agents who got to glimpse into the storage room, there were around 50 to 55 boxes in the storage room.

[T]hey were explicitly prohibited from opening any of the approximately fifty to fifty-five boxes that they observed.

The inventories released so far suggest that the FBI searched at least 73 items in the storage room. While some of those items may have been bags of golf clubs or old furniture, this detail suggests as many as 18 boxes may have been moved back into the storage room after Bratt left, more than covering all the boxes that identified so far to have documents marked classified in them.

For all the new details about the May 11 subpoena, the request for unsealing reveals almost nothing about the second subpoena DOJ obtained. Indeed, there’s a  section that may address the subpoena that is entirely redacted.

Pages later, DOJ notes in footnotes 4 and 8 that Trump also revealed the existence of a surveillance subpoena and asks to disclose the existence of that too.

In none of the unsealed discussion of the surveillance video subpoena does DOJ mention its date.

Judge Howell does, though. In her authorization, she permits the government to disclose “another grand jury subpoena out of this district issued to the Trump Organization on June 24, 2022.”

That date is two days after the date Trump gave for the subpoena, both in anonymous sourcing to reporters and then in his motion for a Special Master.

In the days that followed, President Trump continued to assist the Government. For instance, members of his personal and household staff were made available for voluntary interviews by the FBI. On June 22, 2022, the Government sent a subpoena to the Custodian of Records for the Trump Organization seeking footage from surveillance cameras at Mar-a-Lago. At President Trump’s direction, service of that subpoena was voluntarily accepted, and responsive video footage was provided to the Government. [my emphasis]

It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that Howell got the date wrong. But because the government included this paragraph from Trump’s filing in its own request, Howell may have noted the discrepancy in the date.

It’s the kind of detail she tends to pick up.

If the date Trump is using is inaccurate, it may suggest several things. First, I noted here that Bruce Reinhart pointedly observed that no one who purports to own MAL had intervened. It’s the kind of comment one might make if one were aware that Trump played games with the ownership of MAL in an attempt to avoid service of a subpoena. That is, perhaps there is a June 22 subpoena, served on the Office of Donald J. Trump, and after he refused to respond, DOJ simply served a subpoena on Trump Organization, which has enough of its own legal problems right now it doesn’t need Trump to exacerbate them.

Or perhaps Trump was deliberately obscuring the real date, possibly to hide some tie between Kash Patel’s public claims on June 22 to have been made a Trump representative to the Archives and the subpoena.

In authorizing the release of the grand jury material, Howell emphasized the procedural nature of her decision. Because Trump’s request created another judicial proceeding, she could release the grand jury materials under FRCP 6(e)(3)(F). That requires that DOJ show a particularized need to unseal the material, which Howell describes as the need to “meaningfully [] respond” to Judge Aileen Cannon’s order.

Howell did not comment on two arguments DOJ made to get there: that an injustice might occur if Cannon ruled on the Special Master request based on a false understanding of events obtained from Trump’s lies to her and that there was no chance that revealing the subpoenas might harm someone who would later be exonerated, one of three reasons that would normally rule against unsealing grand jury materials.

But in revealing a different date for that second subpoena, June 24 as opposed to June 22, Howell may be pointing to another Trump lie.

Update: May 11, the date of the initial subpoena was a Wednesday. June 22, the date Trump claims he got the subpoena, is also a Wednesday, with June 24 a Friday. If Wednesday is the normal day for the grand jury, then maybe there were two subpoenas.

One Big Potentially Pending Question: What Happens to Trump’s Impeachment 1.0 Papers?

There’s a comment in DOJ’s response to Judge Aileen Cannon’s order to file an update by tomorrow that caught my attention. DOJ suggests there may be no dispute about whether the stuff it has been pursuing a review of is really privileged.

Although the government will provide the Court more detail in its forthcoming supplemental filing, the government notes that, before the Court issued its Preliminary Order, and in accordance with the judicially authorized search warrant’s provisions, the Privilege Review Team (as described in paragraphs 81-84 of the search warrant affidavit) identified a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information, completed its review of those materials, and is in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any.

As I laid out here (and as virtually all journalists are still getting wrong), DOJ used a privilege team for the search on August 8. At least according to Fox News, all the potentially privileged material was inventoried on what I call the SSA receipt (because it was signed by the Supervisory Special Agent, rather than the Special Agent).

I surmised and DOJ has now confirmed that DOJ has been “in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any.” That means DOJ is using one of these methods:

84. If the Privilege Review Team determines that documents are potentially attorney-client privileged or merit further consideration in that regard, a Privilege Review Team attorney may do any of the following: (a) apply ex parte to the court for a determination whether or not the documents contain attorney-client privileged material; (b) defer seeking court intervention and continue to keep the documents inaccessible to law-enforcement personnel assigned to the investigation; or (c) disclose the documents to the potential privilege holder, request the privilege holder to state whether the potential privilege holder asserts attorney-client privilege as to any documents, including requesting a particularized privilege log, and seek a ruling from the court regarding any attorney-client privilege claims as to which the Privilege Review Team and the privilege-holder cannot reach agreement.

Option c is effectively to invite Trump to provide feedback on the privilege issues, an option that Evan Corcoran has told us DOJ specifically rejected  back on august 11.

Option b is to simply not access the materials; since FBI seized it, it’s likely they saw something on August 8 that made them want to access the materials.

So we can be fairly sure that DOJ is pursuing Option a to get this material, an ex parte review by a judge — the implication is Bruce Reinhart, but it’s possible they’ve involved someone who’s more senior, such as DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell (who is presiding over the grand jury conducting this investigation) or SDFL Chief Judge Cecilia Altonaga — to see whether it is attorney-client privileged.

I want to talk about three categories of documents that might appear to be covered by attorney-client privilege that a judge might otherwise decide are not. DOJ’s suggestion that there may not be a dispute reminds me of how, during the privilege review of Michael Cohen’s phones in 2018, as soon as Judge Kimba Woods ruled that any fight over privilege would have to be public, Trump slithered away and stopped fighting to keep the recordings about hush payments that Cohen kept on his phone away from prosecutors.

In other words, particularly since DOJ completely bypassed any involvement from Trump, I suspect DOJ believes that the materials currently under ex parte review by Reinhart or some other judge may be crime-fraud excepted.

Consider the kinds of materials that, under the warrant, could be seized:

  • Any Presidential or government record created during Trump’s term, which would include most if not all of the subcategory of documents bearing classification marks
  • Documents stored along with (that is, perhaps in the same storage closet) documents bearing classification marks
  • Evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of government and/or Presidential records — basically, of obstruction

If it remains true that all documents with potentially privileged materials are on the SSA receipt, it is likely that there were a chunk of documents — labeled just “documents” seized from his office (where the privilege team did all the initial search) — as well as five boxes that by description were stored with documents bearing classified markings, probably found in the storage room and handed off to the filter team for some reason.

The most obvious set of materials that would appear privileged but might be deemed by a judge to be crime-fraud excepted would pertain to obstruction: Materials that post-date Trump’s Presidency involving lawyers (either the former White House counsels who attempted to get him to return the documents) or his current attorneys, especially including the effort to refuse NARA and DOJ’s requests and/or to provide bullshit information in response to one or more subpoenas. That’s what those documents seized from Trump’s office might consist of.

Another category of documents might include materials involving non-governmental lawyers — Rudy Giuliani or John Eastman are likely possibilities — that appeared on official government records. These materials might pertain to January 6. Particularly given that SCOTUS approved the waived privilege claims over Trump’s governmental files, those seem like an easy decision.

A third category of information pertains to advice White House counsel lawyers gave Trump while still in office outside the context of a legal proceeding (different from the advice the same former White House counsels gave during the extended fight with NARA) that he wants to keep from DOJ. The Bill Clinton precedent would say that NARA at least gets this information, and if there is a legal basis for the FBI to obtain it (such as that it includes classified information, as the White House counsel response to the Zelenskyy-Trump call would be), then it would seem FBI would be able to obtain it. Given Trump’s bid to claim Executive Privilege over certain information, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a heated issue.

The one set of documents that I think does raise real concerns, though, is Trump’s defense during Impeachment 1.0. At least three members of the White House Counsel staff were part of Trump’s defense team: Pat Cipollone, Patrick Philbin, and Michael Purpua. Taxpayers paid their salaries during the period when they were defending Trump, and so under the Clinton precedent, any files involving them would seem to be government documents covered by the Presidential Records Act. But Trump also had some talking heads — like Alan Dershowitz and Pam Bondi — and one of the real private attorneys who represented him in the Russian investigation, Jane Raskin. Trump’s communications with the later two groups should be privileged.

I’ve asked experts on Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton what happened with their impeachment records. Best as I can tell, many of those records are in the Archives. But I’m still not sure how the special case of Trump’s impeachment defense would be treated.

Update: Removed Eric Herschmann from the list of WH Counsels who represented Trump in impeachment. He was still in private practice then.

John Durham May Lose His Battle But Gain New Ammunition to Fight His War

There were a number of things not said at yesterday’s hearing on the Democrats’ privilege claims in the Michael Sussmann case. The importance of having Russian-speaking experts when representing a client getting systematically attacked by Russia, for example, was not mentioned. Nor was the amount of research that Fusion did that was never released to the press. Nor were Durham’s two cheap stunts — falsely claiming an FEC settlement was not “public” in time to introduce it as part of the initial filings, and presenting exhibits without correcting for a time anomaly and thereby falsely suggesting Fusion sent a previously unpublished link to Tea Leaves’ postings to Eric Lichtblau — which made Durham’s case to pierce the Democrats’ privilege claims look stronger than it was.

Even on the issue of whether communications can have more than one purpose — an issue that Robert Trout, representing Hillary’s campaign, addressed directly — the argument could have been stronger. And when Judge Christopher Cooper asked if there were specific emails “that might support [the Democrats’] position that Fusion’s internal communications on these issues were for the purpose of providing legal support as opposed to pure opposition research and dissemination that is not covered by the privilege?,” Trout was caught flat-footed. Which is to say that the Democrats may not have presented their case as well as they could have.

It likely didn’t matter. Even before ruling that he will review the documents over which Democrats invoked privilege, Judge Christopher Cooper made it clear he was pretty skeptical of their privilege claims.

But there were a number of other things that were mentioned that may limit how much value Durham gets from this decision, even if Cooper determines that most of the Fusion documents were not privileged. Most importantly, both before and after Cooper had clearly decided he was going to review the documents, he raised the other procedural issues — which I raised in this post — that will dictate whether or not Durham can use them at trial.

The defense has raised some procedural objections to I think the use and introduction of the emails; namely, that you have waited too long after the assertion of the privilege — on the eve of trial now — to bring the issue to me.

I take it you’re saying that even if I were to agree with them about the specific emails that have been withheld, I would still have to deal with the privilege issue with respect to Ms. Seago’s testimony.

[snip]

That still leaves the relevance issues as well as the prejudice issues and the knock-on effects from the defense from the introduction and use of the emails, but I think that I’m probably going to have to deal with this issue nonetheless because of what the government may plan to ask Ms. Seago about. All right?

That is, even if Cooper agrees that the 38 documents Durham wants unsealed are not privileged, it may not mean Durham can use them at trial. The following are all possibilities, of greater or lesser likelihood:

  1. Cooper rules that one purpose of the emails was legal advice and so are privileged
  2. Cooper decides some or all of the emails are not privileged, but rules, based on representations made yesterday, that Durham violated local rules in his attempt to obtain them and so cannot get them
  3. Cooper rules that some or all of the emails are not privileged but rules that they are prejudicial, irrelevant, or hearsay to the charge against Sussmann, so Durham can have the emails, he just can’t use them at trial
  4. Cooper determines that Durham’s claims about the necessity or relevance of Laura Seago’s testimony are not only false, but Durham knew them to be false when he made them and, given that Durham has used as his excuse to pierce privilege at this late date, cannot introduce them at trial
  5. Cooper rules that the communications involving Rodney Joffe are privileged, even if the internal Fusion emails are not, adding further problems with Seago’s role as a witness
  6. Cooper rules the Fusion emails aren’t privileged, but at least some of them end up disproving Durham’s conspiracy theories

If I had to guess, I’d say a combination of 3, 5, and 6 are most likely. I’ll explain why, but if that turns out to be the case, it may mean that Durham finds a way to access the other 1,500 Fusion emails he says he wants to use in “other investigations,” but still can’t use many of the 38 emails at issue here in the trial against Sussmann. Durham’s conspiracy theories might live on, but his case against Sussmann might not.

As a reminder, Sussmann argued that Durham broke a number of rules by bypassing Beryl Howell and waiting until the last minute to try to get these emails — the procedural objections Cooper alluded to above. Cooper can’t be that impressed with the argument, or he wouldn’t have agreed to review the emails at all. But he did seem rather interested in Steven Tyrell’s assertion that he had made it clear there was never a way Durham was going to get the emails involving Joffe without litigation.

MR. TYRRELL: So if they wanted to challenge our assertion of privilege as to this limited universe of documents — again, which is separate from the other larger piece with regard to HFA — they should have done so months ago. I don’t know why they waited until now, Your Honor, but I want to be clear. I want to say without hesitation that it’s not because there was ever any discussion with us about resolving this issue without court intervention.

THE COURT: That was my question. Were you adamant a year ago?

MR. TYRRELL: Pardon me?

THE COURT: Were you adamant a year ago that —

MR. TYRRELL: Yes. We’ve been throughout. We were not willing to entertain resolution of this without court intervention.

THE COURT: Very well.

This is important because it supports Sussmann’s contention that this late bid for the emails is just an improper means of bypassing local rules and discovery deadlines. The same is not as true for Fusion, though, because they did make some concessions to Durham along the way.

Joffe’s intransigence about his privilege claims are all the more problematic for Durham, because (contrary to all my predictions!) Cooper seems far more convinced of Joffe’s privilege claims than the those of the Democrats.

With respect to the Joffe/Sussmann/Seago emails, I am dubious that the government has met its burden to pierce the privilege, but I will take a look at the emails nonetheless.

Indeed, at one point, Cooper noted that Durham’s entire theory of the case assumes, “Sussmann was in the [September 19, 2016 James Baker] meeting representing Joffe,” which would mean there was a privileged relationship between Sussmann and Joffe, and so therefore assumes Sussmann’s communications with Joffe about the topic would be privileged. If Joffe’s communications with Sussmann and Laura Seago aren’t privileged, then it’s proof that Sussmann was not representing a client. If they are privileged, then Durham can’t have them.

Catch-22.

Given what Cooper said in last week’s hearing, in which he repeatedly suggested that Joffe’s testimony might be central, the possibility that Durham may not pierce Joffe’s privilege may dictate other evidentiary (though not privilege) decisions. All the more so given how Durham excused his late bid to pierce privilege based off a late recognition they were going to immunize and call Seago.

In addition, over the course of months, and until recently, the Government has been receiving voluminous rolling productions of documents and privilege logs from numerous parties. The Government carefully analyzed such productions in order assess and re-assess the potential legal theories that might support the parties’ various privilege assertions. In connection with that process, the Special Counsel’s Office reached out to each of those parties’ counsel numerous times, directing their attention to specific documents where possible and communicating over email and phone in an effort to obtain non-privileged explanations for the relevant privilege determinations.2 The Government also supplied multiple counsel with relevant caselaw and pointed them to documents and information in the public domain that it believed bore on these issues. The Government was transparent at every step of these discussions in stating that it was contemplating seeking the Court’s intervention and guidance. Unfortunately, despite the Government’s best efforts and numerous phone calls, it was not able to obtain meaningful, substantive explanations to support these continuing broad assertions of privilege and/or work product protections.

It was only recently, when the Government determined it would need to call an employee of Fusion GPS as a trial witness (the “Fusion Witness”), that the Government concluded these issues could not be resolved without the Court’s attention. Because all or nearly all of the Fusion Witness’s expected testimony on these matters concern work carried out under an arrangement that the privilege holders now contend was established for the purpose of providing legal advice, it is essential to resolve the parties’ potential disputes about the appropriate bounds of such testimony (and the redaction or withholding of related documents).

As of yesterday, Sussmann had not received a 302 from Seago, so it’s not clear whether Durham has even interviewed her yet. But with one exception, Sussmann, Fusion lawyer Joshua Levy, and Joffe say she’ll be of limited value for Durham. Last week Sean Berkowitz said that Seago did not recall knowing Christopher Steele, much less being aware of the dossier project.

The only person from Fusion on their witness list is Laura Seago, who either I think has been immunized or will be immunized, and we understand that she would say she doesn’t recall that she even knows Mr. Steele or is able to talk about what he did. And so we don’t know that they actually are able to get anything in about what Mr. Steele did or didn’t do. Certainly there’s no evidence that Mr. Sussmann was aware of what Mr. Steele was doing. No evidence of that.

Levy noted that — as proven by the transcript of her Alfa Bank deposition, which the government has — Seago will testify she has no knowledge of either Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI or of the white paper Fusion did on Alfa Bank.

[I]n its brief, the government says that Ms. Seago has unique possession of knowledge as to what the government tries to characterize as the core issue in the case. But the government mischaracterizes that core issue. The government says that the core issue in this case is whether the defendant was representing any client in 2016 with regard to the Russian Bank 1 allegations.

That’s not the core issue in the case, respectfully. The core issue in the case is whether the defendant knowingly made a false and misleading statement to the government when he met with the government about whether he was there on behalf of a client or not that day. And as to that issue, Your Honor, Ms. Seago, the Fusion witness, has no knowledge. And the government knows this.

In parallel to the government’s investigation of this case, Russian Bank 1, Alfa-Bank, was pursuing its own discovery in a civil case. They subpoenaed and deposed Ms. Seago last year. There’s a transcript of that deposition. It’s in the public record. The government’s made clear to counsel that it has that deposition transcript, and we can furnish a copy of it to the Court.

And at the same time the government knows that Ms. Seago has no knowledge of the meeting between Mr. Sussmann and the FBI, and that’s at Pages 151 to 152 of that transcript.

THE COURT: All right. If you could file the — not file it, but provide it to the Court.

[snip]

And it’s very clear that she has no knowledge about the meeting, that she doesn’t recall any discussions about the meeting, that she didn’t work on this white paper that allegedly was provided to the government by Mr. Sussmann.

This is the memo that, again, the government has talked about today in its papers as to why it’s so important to pierce this privilege. Ms. Seago didn’t contribute to it, doesn’t know who did, doesn’t know who researched it, doesn’t know who wrote it, doesn’t know its purpose; and the government’s aware of all that.

As Sean Berkowitz followed up, Seago also does not recall knowing about the late July meeting involving Joffe, Sussmann, and Marc Elias.

And the question that was asked was: “So were you aware of this July 28th meeting between Sussmann and personnel of Fusion?

“ANSWER: Not that I recall.

“QUESTION: Were you aware of the meeting after it happened?

“ANSWER: Not that I recall.

Importantly, Durham knew (because he has been operating as a parasite on the lawfare project that Vladimir Putin probably ordered to make America less safe) that Seago would testify she didn’t know about the July meeting with Perkins Coie and Joffe or Sussmann’s meeting with James Baker or the Fusion-drafted white paper when Durham said she would be the pivotal witness to represent the relationship between Joffe and Fusion. This foreknowledge, which is incompatible with Durham’s claim that Seago’s testimony, “may be necessary to the public interest,” undermines both his relevance arguments and his excuse for the belated bid to pierce privilege.

As to Joffe, Tyrrell represented that at least some of the emails between him and Seago were the exchange of PGP keys.

MR. TYRRELL: Well, there are — Mr. Joffe is a cyber security expert, and he was trying to exchange something called PGP keys with Ms. Seago —

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. TYRRELL: — so that their communications would be secure and encrypted. So some of the attachments are actually just simply an exchange of PGP keys. But there is at least one or — there’s one or two attachments that’s not that, and I’m really not — I’d be happy to answer that in camera ex parte.

It’s the other communications that might be of value to Durham, but if they’re not privileged via Sussmann’s representation of Joffe, then his entire argument that Sussmann was representing a client may fall apart.

So Seago has, per those who know her involvement, little to offer in useful testimony (and Durham knew this). That’s a problem for Durham, because per Jonathan Algor, she was the way they planned to introduce the emails as evidence.

THE COURT: Okay. And obviously you haven’t seen these emails. You don’t know what they say. But you think there is a possibility, based on the descriptions in the privilege log, that they would be relevant and admissible through Ms. Seago for that purpose?

MR. ALGOR: Yes, Your Honor.

If Seago doesn’t know about the key issues necessary to validate the documents in question, then Durham may have a problem introducing them at trial at all.

As noted above, there are a number of possible ways Cooper resolves this, and it’s most likely he makes decisions that will displease both sides.

But given what he said yesterday, I think it quite likely Cooper will rule at least some of the Fusion emails are not privileged, even while making other rulings that will prevent them from coming into the trial as evidence.

If that happens, Durham may be able to use that ruling to get access (this time via proper methods) to that pool of 1,500 emails — many presumably of more interest to the Igor Danchenko case — that will let him spin his conspiracy theories for years to come. It might take losing the case against Sussmann, though, to continue his war of conspiracies.

“Not Us at All:” In His Bid to Pierce Privilege, John Durham Makes Strong Case for Immunizing Rodney Joffe

The folks in John Durham’s Office of Conspiracy-Mongering seem to be frazzled. What other explanation might they have for a positively hysterical entry in their bid to pierce Democrats’ privilege claims?

To be clear (because frothy lawyers are making false claims about what I think might happen), I think some of the privilege claims being made are suspect. Durham might succeed, in part, and a more professional effort to do so in a different case — say, Igor Danchenko’s — might get the results he wanted.

But last night’s filing, even ignoring that Durham released confidential emails while purportedly asking permission to release them under seal, was a clown show.

Start with what Durham doesn’t mention.

In Michael Sussmann’s opposition to Durham’s motion to compel, he raised four procedural problems with Durham’s effort.

First, the Special Counsel’s Motion is untimely. Despite knowing for months, and in some cases for at least a year, that the non-parties were withholding material as privileged, he chose to file this Motion barely a month before trial—long after the grand jury returned an Indictment and after Court-ordered discovery deadlines had come and gone.

Second, the Special Counsel’s Motion should have been brought before the Chief Judge of the District Court during the pendency of the grand jury investigation, as the rules of this District and precedent make clear.

Third, the Special Counsel has seemingly abused the grand jury in order to obtain the documents redacted for privilege that he now challenges. He has admitted to using grand jury subpoenas to obtain these documents for use at Mr. Sussmann’s trial, even though Mr. Sussmann had been indicted at the time he issued the grand jury subpoenas and even though the law flatly forbids prosecutors from using grand jury subpoenas to obtain trial discovery. The proper remedy for such abuse of the grand jury is suppression of the documents.

Fourth, the Special Counsel seeks documents that are irrelevant on their face. Such documents do not bear on the narrow charge in this case, and vitiating privilege for the purpose of admitting these irrelevant documents would materially impair Mr. Sussmann’s ability to prepare for his trial.

While Durham makes unconvincing attempts to address the first and fourth issue (to which I’ll return), he doesn’t meaningfully address the second and third. In this post, I opined that the third — his blatant abuse of grand jury rules — could be easily addressed (which he didn’t try to do), but given how obviously irrelevant and potentially inadmissible these documents are to the charge against Sussmann, I’m not so sure anymore.

But Durham only addresses Sussmann’s argument that he ignored local rules and deliberately bypassed Beryl Howell, who would have been the proper person to assess these privilege claims, by making unconvincing claims he made a good faith effort to do so directly.

There’s another thing he doesn’t mention, another point Sussmann raised. Some of the emails Durham is focused on make it explicit that there was a separation between Fusion’s research (including the Steele dossier) and the DNS research.

The Special Counsel makes much of the fact that (1) there was an August 11, 2016 email exchange between Mr. Sussmann, Mr. Elias, and Fusion employees with the subject “connecting you all by email” and (2) that thereafter, Fusion employees “began to exchange drafts of a document . . . the defendant would provide to the FBI General Counsel.” Motion ¶¶ 29, 30. But in seeking to draw inflammatory and unsupported inferences, the Special Counsel ignores another email—that he produced in discovery—in which a Fusion employee stated that the document was “an [A]lfa memo unrelated to all [the Alfa Bank DNS information].” See Email from P. Fritsch to M. Hosenball (Oct. 5, 2016), SC-00027475, at SC-00027476.

Indeed, Peter Fritsch told Mark Hosenball that “the DNS stuff” was “not us at all.”

Even though Sussmann pointed that out, Durham did not address the clear evidence in his possession that this was not a joint effort. Other of these communications, Peter Fritsch has testified under oath, he engaged in because he was independently alarmed about the Alfa Bank allegations. And some of them, Fusion has noted before, derived from Paul Singer’s involvement in the project and Singer didn’t invoke privilege.

Much of rest, though, is primarily focused on Carter Page and Sergei Millian (though in one place, Durham also downplays that Fusion was investigating Felix Sater, which is interesting given Durham’s efforts to pretend the notion Trump had multiple back channels with Russia is malicious and political). Indeed, included emails explain that what had been a potentially scandalous reference — the allegation that Millian had an email “with” Alfa Bank — actually came from public Internet research, not from the DNS analysis.

Given the focus on Millian, though, it is inexplicable why Durham is trying to pierce these privilege claims here rather than in the case where it might matter, Danchenko’s. Rather, I can think of some explanations, such as that someone in Millian’s organization viewed the obligation to register under FARA as a “problem” as early as 2013, but none of them are legally sound.

The far more interesting aspect of Durham’s filing comes in how he addresses two substantive issues. First, here’s how he addressed the timing of his belated decision to try to pierce privilege.

As an initial matter, the defendant and others accuse the Government of carrying out an untimely “full frontal assault” on the attorney client privilege by raising these issues more than a month before trial. (Def. Opp. at 1.) But those characterizations distort reality. Indeed, the opposite is true: the primary reason the Government waited until recently to bring these issues to the Court’s attention was because it wanted to carefully pursue and exhaust all collaborative avenues of resolving these matters short of litigation. The Government did so to avoid bringing a challenge to the parties’ privilege determinations and to ensure that it first gathered all relevant facts and provided the relevant privilege holders with notice and an opportunity to explain the bases for their privilege assertions. Even the emails between the Government and counsel that the defendant quotes in his opposition reflect this very purpose. See., e.g., Def. Opp. at 7 (quoting emails in which the Special Counsel’s Office stated that it “wanted to give all parties involved the opportunity to weigh in before we. . . seek relief from the Court” and requested a call “to avoid filing motions with the Court.”).

In addition, over the course of months, and until recently, the Government has been receiving voluminous rolling productions of documents and privilege logs from numerous parties. The Government carefully analyzed such productions in order assess and re-assess the potential legal theories that might support the parties’ various privilege assertions. In connection with that process, the Special Counsel’s Office reached out to each of those parties’ counsel numerous times, directing their attention to specific documents where possible and communicating over email and phone in an effort to obtain non-privileged explanations for the relevant privilege determinations.2 The Government also supplied multiple counsel with relevant caselaw and pointed them to documents and information in the public domain that it believed bore on these issues. The Government was transparent at every step of these discussions in stating that it was contemplating seeking the Court’s intervention and guidance. Unfortunately, despite the Government’s best efforts and numerous phone calls, it was not able to obtain meaningful, substantive explanations to support these continuing broad assertions of privilege and/or work product protections. [my emphasis]

This flips a point Sussmann made on its head — that Durham kept prodding Sussmann to waive privilege. “[T]he Special Counsel has been asking Mr. Sussmann whether there would be any waiver of privilege in this case because of his concern that a privilege waiver at this stage in the proceedings would fundamentally impact the course of trial.”

Durham provides no dates on his claimed efforts to resolve the privilege issues. But Sussmann has already revealed what some of those dates are. The two Durham cites were in August.

Email from Andrew DeFilippis, Dep’t of Just., to Patrick Stokes, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, et al. (Aug. 9, 2021) (requesting a call to discuss privilege issues with a hope “to avoid filing motions with the Court”); Email from Andrew DeFilippis, Dep’t of Just., to Patrick Stokes, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, et al. (Aug. 14, 2021) (stating that the Special Counsel “wanted to give all parties involved the opportunity to weigh in before we . . . pursue particular legal process, or seek relief from the Court”). And since January— before the deadline to produce unclassified discovery had passed—the Special Counsel suggested that such a filing was imminent, telling the DNC, for example, that he was “contemplating a public court filing in the near term.” Email from Andrew DeFilippis, Dep’t of Just., to Shawn Crowley, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP (Jan. 17, 2022).

2 In response to these inquiries and discussions, Tech Executive-1’s counsel withdrew his client’s privilege assertions over a small number of documents, and Fusion GPS produced a redacted version of its retention agreement with Perkins Coie. [my emphasis]

August is when Durham should have been involving Chief Judge Howell. Instead, we’re in April, and Durham is only now involving Judge Christopher Cooper. Importantly, using the dates Sussmann decided to include but which Durham did not, Durham was talking about taking imminent action in January, over two months before he first raised piercing privilege. After that, Durham again nudged Sussmann to waive privilege on his own. And the only reason why Durham was still getting responses to subpoenas, to the extent he was, is because he subpoenaed some of this after indicting (again, which he doesn’t address).

Given Durham’s claims he was trying to use other methods to get this information, his explanation of why he “only recently” decided he needed to pierce privilege is utterly damning: He only recently decided he needed to immunize Laura Seago and call her as a witness, he says.

It was only recently, when the Government determined it would need to call an employee of Fusion GPS as a trial witness (the “Fusion Witness”), that the Government concluded these issues could not be resolved without the Court’s attention. Because all or nearly all of the Fusion Witness’s expected testimony on these matters concern work carried out under an arrangement that the privilege holders now contend was established for the purpose of providing legal advice, it is essential to resolve the parties’ potential disputes about the appropriate bounds of such testimony (and the redaction or withholding of related documents).

That’s utterly damning because one of the last two things Alfa Bank was pursuing in their John Doe lawsuits before they were sanctioned, on Thursday, February 10, was to revisit privilege claims made by Fusion in a September Seago deposition with Alfa Bank (Seago’s first interview, in March 2021, was abandoned quickly). The reason Alfa gave for needing to challenge privilege claims Seago made in a 4-hour September deposition at which she invoked privilege over 60 times was because, “people at Fusion are speaking with the likes of Rodney Joffe.” And before Associate Judge Heidi Pasachow could rule, Alfa Bank was sanctioned to prevent it from helping Russia to attack democracy.

As I’ve laid out, all of Durham’s missed deadlines came after he could no longer rely on Alfa Bank to do his dirty work. As did, by his own description, the belated decision that he needs to immunize Seago and get her to testify at trial.

And that’s important because in spite of the pages and pages of irrelevant emails, when Durham turns to make the case that he needs to pierce this privilege, he again turns to Seago, claiming that she has “unique” knowledge about the charges against Sussmann.

Where a party seeks to overcome work product protection, it must show either that “it has a substantial need for the materials to prepare its case and cannot, without undue hardship obtain their substantial equivalent by other means” for fact work product, or make an “extraordinary showing of necessity” to obtain opinion work product. Boehringer, 778 F.3d at 153 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quotations omitted).

Here, the vast majority of the relevant materials likely constitute fact work product, given that few of the communications involve an attorney. In addition, the Government has met both prongs of the relevant test. First, the Government has a “substantial need” for materials that it has requested the Court to review in camera. Those materials include, for example, communications between Tech Executive-1 and the Fusion Witness whom the Government will call at trial. The Fusion Witness is, to the Government’s knowledge, the only Fusion GPS employee who exchanged emails with Tech Executive-1 concerning the Russian Bank-1 allegations (or any other issue). The Fusion Witness also (i) acted as the firm’s primary “technical” expert; (ii) worked for an extended time period on issues relating to the Russian Bank-1 allegations; (iii) was a part of the team that handled work under Fusion’s contract with HFA and the DNC; and (iv) met in 2016 with various parties – including Law Firm-1, Tech Executive-1, and the media – about the Russian Bank-1 allegations. As such, the Fusion Witness undoubtedly possesses unique insight to the core issue to be decided by the jury—i.e., whether the defendant was acting on behalf of one or more clients when he worked on the Russian Bank-1 allegations. Accordingly, the Government has a “substantial need” to obtain the Fusion Witness’s communications relating to the Russian Bank-1 allegations. Moreover, the materials for which the Government has requested in camera review also include internal Fusion GPS communications regarding one of the three white papers that the defendant provided to the FBI, namely, the “[Russian Bank-1’s parent company] Overview” paper. Communications regarding the origins and background the very Fusion GPS paper that the defendant brought to the FBI are therefore likely to shed unique light on the defendant’s meeting with the FBI General Counsel, including the defendant’s work on behalf of his clients. Fusion GPS’s communications regarding that paper in the days prior to the defendant’s meeting with the FBI General Counsel are also likely to reveal information about the paper’s intended purpose and audience. Such facts will, again, shed critical light on the defendant’s conduct and meeting with the FBI.

Second, the Government cannot “without undue hardship obtain the[] substantial equivalent” of these materials “by other means.” Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc., 778 F.3d at 153. That is because these materials constitute mostly internal Fusion GPS communications and, accordingly, are not available from any other source. To the extent these communications reflect emails with Tech Executive-1, they are similarly unavailable because Tech Executive-1 has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Therefore, obtaining the materials or their substantial equivalent from another source would not merely present an “undue hardship,” but rather, is impossible. [my emphasis]

This is a fairly astonishing argument.

That’s because Seago’s knowledge of the communications she had with Joffe is not unique. Joffe also has knowledge of their communications. To get Seago’s testimony, Durham plans to immunize her.

Yet he says he can’t get the very same testimony from Joffe because Joffe would invoke the Fifth.

Durham has an obvious alternative, and it just so happens to be the alternative that Sussmann is also seeking: To immunize not Seago, but Joffe. That would be more beneficial for Durham, if he really wants that testimony, because Joffe can waive privilege over precisely these communications and enter them as evidence with no hearsay exception. Immunizing Joffe gives Durham everything he wants and his testimony would be unquestionably pertinent to the charge against Sussmann.

Just twelve days ago, John Durham argued that he’s not playing fast-and-loose with his immunity decisions and that Joffe would offer no testimony useful to Sussmann (though to do so, Durham misrepresented Sussmann’s statement about Joffe’s role in helping to kill the NYT story).

Indeed, to now arbitrarily force the Government to immunize Tech Executive-1 merely because the defense believes he would offer arguably helpful testimony to the defendant would run afoul of the law and inject the Court into matters plainly reserved to the Executive Branch.

[snip]

(The Government also currently intends to seek immunity at trial for an individual who was employed at the U.S. Investigative Firm. But unlike Tech Executive-1, that individual is considered a “witness” and not a “subject” of the Government’s investigation based on currently-known facts.)

Finally, the defendant fails to plausibly allege – nor could he – that the Government here has “deliberately denied immunity for the purpose of withholding exculpatory evidence and gaining a tactical advantage through such manipulation.” Ebbers, 458 F. 3d at 119 (internal citation and quotations omitted). The defendant’s motion proffers that Tech Executive-1 would offer exculpatory testimony regarding his attorney-client relationship with the defendant, including that Tech Executive-1 agreed that the defendant should convey the Russian Bank-1 allegations to help the government, not to “benefit” Tech Executive-1. But that testimony would – if true – arguably contradict and potentially incriminate the defendant based on his sworn testimony to Congress in December 2017, in which he expressly stated that he provided the allegations to the FBI on behalf of an un-named client (namely, Tech Executive-1). And in any event, even if the defendant and his client did not seek specifically to “benefit” Tech Executive-1 through his actions, that still would not render his statement to the FBI General Counsel true. Regardless of who benefited or might have benefited from the defendant’s meeting, the fact still remains that the defendant conducted that meeting on behalf of (i) Tech Executive-1 (who assembled the allegations and requested that the defendant disseminate them) and (ii) the Clinton Campaign (which the defendant billed for some or all of his work). The proffered testimony is therefore not exculpatory, and certainly not sufficiently exculpatory to render the Government’s decision not to seek immunity for Tech Executive-1 misconduct or an abuse.6

6 The defendant’s further proffer that Tech Executive-1 would testify that (i) the defendant contacted Tech Executive-1 about sharing the name of a newspaper with the FBI General Counsel, (ii) Tech Executive-1 and his associates believed in good faith the Russian Bank-1 allegations, and (iii) Tech Executive-1 was not acting at the direction of the Clinton Campaign, are far from exculpatory. Indeed, even assuming that all of those things were true, the defendant still would have materially misled the FBI in stating that he was not acting on behalf of any client when, in fact, he was acting at Tech Executive-1’s direction and billing the Clinton Campaign.

Now, he’s claiming that the only possible way he can get testimony pertaining to Seago’s communications with Joffe is to immunize Seago and breach both Joffe’s and the Democrats’ claims of privilege.

By far the easiest way of solving this issue — and the one that meets Sussmann’s due process rights — is instead to immunize Joffe.

It’s a great case Durham made that they should cede to Sussmann’s request and immunize Joffe!

We’ll see what Cooper thinks of these claims at the status hearing tomorrow (because the hearing is in person, it’s unclear whether I’ll be able to call in).

But what is clear is that Durham keeps presenting evidence that he’s looking in the wrong place for the evidence he says he needs.

John Durham Unveils His Post-Putin Puppet Strategy

I first complained publicly about the Alfa Bank allegations on November 1, 2016. I raised questions about the provenance of the Steele dossier the day after it was released, on January 11, 2017. I started raising concerns that Russia had succeeded in injecting the dossier with disinformation just a year later — literally years before the Republicans investigating it full-time did. When Democrats revealed that they had paid for the dossier in October 2017, I wrote a very long post labeling the entire project “fucking stupid.” Part of that was about the Democrats’ delayed admission they were behind the dossier. But part of that was because of the way the dossier distracted from Trump’s very real very concerning ties to Russia.

It has been clear for some time that Steele’s reports had some kind of feedback loop, responding to information the Democrats got. That was most obvious with respect to the September 14 Alfa Bank report, which was obviously written after first news of the Alfa Bank/Trump Tower story, which was pushed by Democratic partisans. Particularly given that we know the released report is a selective release of just some reports from the dossier, the inclusion of Alfa Bank in that release makes no sense. Even if reports about old corrupt ties between Alfa and Putin are true (as if Democratic politicians and corrupt American banks never have old ties), the inclusion of the Alfa report in the dossier on Trump made zero sense.

Which is why Alfa Bank decided — after consulting with big Republican lawyers like Viet Dinh and soon-to-be DOJ Criminal Division Chief Brian Benczkowski — to sue for defamation. Now I understand why (particularly given that Republicans seem to have known who paid for the dossier for some time). I’m not sure Alfa Bank executives pass the bar for defamation here (though the publication of a report that misspelled Alfa’s name is pretty damning), but the fact that Elias paid for this dossier on behalf of the Democrats is going to make that defamation case far more explosive (and I’ll be surprised if Elias doesn’t get added into the mix).

As I said when I began this: I have no doubt Russia tampered with the election, and if the full truth comes out I think it will be more damning than people now imagine.

But the Democrats have really really really fucked things up with their failures to maintain better ethical distance between the candidate and the dossier, and between the party and the FBI sharing. They’ve made things worse by waiting so long to reveal this, rather that pitching it as normal sleazy political oppo research a year ago.

The case of Russian preference for Trump is solid. The evidence his top aides were happy to serve as Russian agents is strong.

But rather than let FBI make the case for that, Democrats instead tried to make their own case, and they did in such a way as to make the very solid case against Trump dependent on their defense of the dosser, rather than on better backed claims released since then.

Boy it seems sadly familiar, Democrats committing own goals like this. And all that’s before where the lawfare on this dossier is going to go.

I may be the earliest and most prescient critic of all this, in either party. Sit down, Kash Patel! Sit down, Chuck Ross!

Sit down, John Durham!

And boy was I right, way back in October 2017, about where this was going to go.

But I have also shown that people close to Oleg Deripaska succeeded in exploiting this project as part of a vicious double game, victimizing both Hillary Clinton and Paul Manafort, making it more likely Manafort would cooperate in the Russian operation against Hillary, which he did. I have shown that the most obvious disinformation in the dossier, probably sourced to Dmitri Peskov — claiming that Michael Cohen had secret communications with the Kremlin on election interference — served to hide Michael Cohen’s very real secret communications with Peskov on a Trump Tower deal involving sanctioned banks and a former GRU official. I have more recently confirmed that someone who claimed to work for an FSB front was pushing the Alfa Bank allegations more aggressively than Michael Sussmann in October 2016; that same person was using Internet routing records to support a false story in May 2016, the same month the DNS anomalies started. I showed that large numbers of Republicans rationalize their attack on democracy on January 6 based on the dossier, even while they accept the dossier was Russian disinformation, thereby literally claiming that Russian disinformation convinced them to attack American democracy.

And Russia’s wild success at using this to sow division continues, even as Russia massacres children in an assault on Ukrainian democracy. Just Monday, after all, John Durham suggested that because private citizen April Lorenzen investigated the actions of the people married to Alfa Bank Oligarch children, she was part of a criminal conspiracy, even though it is a provable fact that the man married to the daughter of an Alfa Bank founder, Alex Van der Zwaan, was — in those very same weeks!!! — acting on orders from Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik to cover up Manafort’s ties to the Oligarchs behind the 2016 election interference. Durham is so far down his conspiratorial rabbit hole, he doesn’t even realize he’s trying to criminalize being right about a real threat to democracy.

Which brings us to Durham’s motion to compel submitted last night, predictably asking Judge Christopher Cooper to review the privilege claims behind the Democrats and Fusion GPS’ privilege claims. I’m pretty sympathetic that some of the privilege claims the parties involved have made are bullshit, just as the claims Trump’s supporters have made to hide the events that led up to January 6 or any number of other things that go well beyond election-year rat-fucking are obviously bullshit. But it now seems clear that Durham is making the same error Alfa Bank did, not only assuming that everyone pushing the Alfa Bank allegations was being directed by the Democrats (when Lorenzen played a more important role), but also assuming people working for Hillary were behind all new push on the story; I’ve proven that was false.

Worse still, the specific form of Durham’s demand and its timing not only prove Durham’s bad faith, but strongly suggest that Durham viewed his own investigation to form part of a symbiotic whole with the Alfa Bank lawfare (the lawfare I rightly identified in 2017) still exploiting the dissension sowed by Russia in 2016. In the month of March, Durham did three things that were, as Sussmann’s lawyers described, “wildly untimely” for a trial scheduled to start in May. After getting an approved extension to their CIPA deadline, Durham filed a 404(b) notice on March 23; those notices were due on March 18. Durham told Sussmann of a new expert witness in the last days in March; that notice was also due by March 18. And then, on March 30, Durham told Sussmann he was going to attempt to pierce privilege claims that had been under discussion for a year.

All these belated steps look like a desperate, last minute attempt to change strategy. And it seems likely that the strategy change was necessitated, at least in part, by the stay and then dismissal of Alfa Bank’s lawfare, necessitated by the sanctions imposed by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

Consider the following timeline:

  • February 9: DC Superior Judge Shana Frost Matini observes that Durham case and Alfa Bank lawsuit appear reading from the same script and stays Alfa’s motions until after the Sussmann trial
  • February 11: In the wake of the expiration of the statute of limitation on a February 9, 2017 Sussmann meeting at the CIA, Durham files an inflammatory and belated conflict filing, raising new allegations and setting off death threats
  • Mid-February 2022: Alfa Bank continues its efforts to breach the privilege and Fifth Amendment claims of John Durham’s subjects
  • February 22: Russia invades Ukraine in an attempt to rid it of its democracy and sovereignty
  • February 24: A first set of sanctions on Alfa Bank
  • March 3: Durham asks for an extension on filing his CIPA filing from March 18 to March 25
  • March 4: Alfa dismisses John Doe lawsuits
  • March 18: Alfa dismisses Fusion GPS lawsuit
  • March 23: Durham files a Supplement to his 404(b) notice making wild new claims about the scope of the material pertinent to Sussmann’s alleged lie
  • March 25: Durham submits his CIPA notice, probably asking to use an intelligence product viewed as possible Russian disinformation in real time (and, given what we’ve learned about Roger Stone’s activities before that, likely designed as cover for him)
  • March 30: Durham informs Sussmann they want to call an FBI expert, in part to explain DNS data, but in part to attack the credibility of the data and also want to use a motion in limine to breach privilege claims made by the Democrats
  • March 31: Andrew DeFilippis tells attorney for Rodney Joffe that Joffe remains under investigation
  • April 4: Competing motions in limine present two different versions of the conspiracy that happened in 2016
  • April 6: Second set of sanctions on Alfa Bank; Durham moves to compel privilege review

Since Alfa’s lawsuit was stayed, Durham has taken at least four untimely steps, apparently in an effort to turn a single sketchy false statement charge into the conspiracy Durham has not yet been able to substantiate, the conspiracy without which his single false statement claim is far weaker.

With all that in mind, consider the basis on which Durham argues he should be able to breach privilege claims, no matter how flimsy.

Durham admits that he only asked for redacted copies of those documents Fusion and the Democrats have claimed privilege over on September 16, the day Durham indicted Sussmann.

On September 16, 2021, the Government issued grand jury subpoenas to Law Firm1 and the U.S. Investigative Firm, requiring them to produce – in redacted form – the documents previously listed on privilege logs prepared by counsel for those entities so that such documents would be available for admission into evidence at any trial in this matter. Those entities subsequently produced the requested documents with redactions.

In other words, Durham didn’t even begin the process of trying to pierce this privilege claim until over 850 days into his investigation, and days before the statutes of limitation started to expire. And in the ensuing six months, Durham has done nothing. So he’s making this request less than six weeks before the start of the trial (as I noted, litigating the much more specious John Eastman privilege claims has been pending since January 20), claiming the information is necessary for his case.

But some of the arguments Durham makes rely on the belated filings he has submitted in the last month. For example, he invokes Christopher Steele, whose first appearance in this case was in that untimely 404(b) notice.

Perhaps most notably, the U.S. Investigative Firm retained a United Kingdom-based investigator (“U.K. Person-1”) who compiled information and reports that became a widely-known “dossier” containing allegations of purported coordination between Trump and the Russian government.

Durham intertwines discussion of the Alfa Bank allegations with those of the dossier, even though — as Sussmann noted,

the Special Counsel has not identified, nor could he, any evidence showing that Mr. Sussmann … had any awareness Mr. Steele was separately providing information to the FBI.

That is, Steele’s activities might matter to the Sussmann case if this were a charged conspiracy, but not only didn’t Durham charge it, he only asserted the theory of conspiratorial relationship that involves Steele by relying on his delayed 404(b) notice.

Durham’s bid to pierce privilege claims with Rodney Joffe and Marc Elias similarly tie to events in which Sussmann was not involved. False statements cases are, as Sussmann noted the other day, about the state of mind of the defendant, not about events that took place weeks after his alleged lie.

But even if this were a conspiracy, Durham reserves for himself the right to determine what is necessary for a law firm to determine how to respond when a campaign opponent invites crimes from a hostile nation-state while making false claims about his ties to that state, and what is, instead, just political dirt.

To the extent these entities continue to assert privilege over the cited documents, they cannot plausibly rely on the “intermediary” exception. To be sure, the record available to the Government does not reflect that employees of the U.S. Investigative Firm were necessary in any way to facilitate Law Firm-1’s provision of legal advice to HFA and DNC, much less to Tech Executive-1. As noted above, many of the actions taken by the U.S. Investigative Firm pursuant to its retention agreement fell outside the purpose outlined in Law Firm-1’s engagement letter – that is, to provide expertise related to Law Firm-1’s legal advice to the DNC and Clinton Campaign regarding defamation and libel. When U.S. Investigative Firm employees communicated with Tech Executive-1, they were doing so in furtherance of collaborating and promoting the Russian Bank1 allegations, not facilitating legal advice from [Law Firm-1] to Tech Executive-1. Simply put, these were communications related to political opposition research and were not made “in confidence for the purpose of obtaining legal advice from the lawyer.” In re Lindsey, 158 F.3d at 1280. Any confidentiality that Tech Executive-1 might have otherwise maintained over these communications was waived when he and the defendant chose to disclose such information to a third party that did not have any formal or informal contract or retention agreement with Tech Executive-1 (i.e., the U.S. Investigative Firm).

These claims, absent evidence of the sort Robert Mueller showed Beryl Howell to breach Paul Manafort’s privilege claims, would be controversial even if they were timely (and if they were timely, they should have been presented to Howell before charging Sussmann instead of presenting them to Cooper six weeks before the trial date).

But they’re not timely, and they rely on other claims that are not timely. And all those untimely claims came in the wake of altered circumstances created by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

This series of late game curveballs would be abusive in any case, even if they were caused by long-planned deliberate malice or even incompetence. But the way they coincide with the collapse of the symbiotic lawfare project probably ordered — as was Petr Aven’s post-election outreach to Trump — by Putin really makes this look like a mere continuation of a six year plan to use Russia’s assault on democracy in 2016 to continue to sow discord in the US.


Claims made in untimely March 23 404(b) notice:

In a supplement to his Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) notice provided to the defense on March 23 (the “Supplemental Notice”), the Special Counsel argues that such data gathering “constitute[s] direct evidence of the charged offense” as “factual context for the defendant’s conduct” and “to prove the existence of the defendant’s attorney-client relationships with [Mr. Joffe] and the Clinton Campaign.” Suppl. Notice at 2.

[snip

In his Supplemental Notice, the Special Counsel suggests that data was gathered “in a manner that may be considered objectionable—whether through invasions of privacy, breaches of contract, or other [unspecified] unlawful or unethical means.” Suppl. Notice at 2. But the Supplemental Notice does not identify—nor could it—any evidence that Mr. Sussmann had any awareness of or involvement in the alleged “objectionable” conduct of others related to gathering data, to the extent there even was any such “objectionable” conduct.

[snip]

The Special Counsel has also provided notice of his intention to adduce evidence regarding the accuracy of both “the purported data and [the] allegations” that Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI and Agency 2. See Suppl. Notice at 2 (emphasis added).

[snip]

Elsewhere, the Special Counsel has suggested that data provided to Agency-2 was “misstated, overstated, and/or cherry-picked facts,” Suppl. Notice at 2,

[snip]

The Special Counsel has asserted he will offer evidence regarding the “origin” of the technical data gathered by Mr. Joffe and Others as “direct evidence” of “factual context for the defendant’s conduct” and “the existence of the defendant’s attorney-client relationships with [Mr. Joffe] and the Clinton Campaign” as to both the data provided to the FBI in September 2016 and the data provided to Agency-2 in 2017.1 Suppl. Notice at 2.

[snip]

The Special Counsel has also indicated an intention to offer evidence that (1) the data Mr. Sussmann provided was inaccurate; and (2) the analysis and conclusions drawn from that data were inaccurate. Suppl. Notice at 2 (seeking to introduce evidence regarding the “strength and reliability” of the data and allegations provided to the FBI and Agency-2, including that the white papers “may have misstated, overstated, and/or cherry-picked facts” or that certain FBI or Agency2 personnel determined that “data was potentially incomplete, fabricated, and/or exaggerated”).

[snip]

Second, the Special Counsel has utterly failed to provide an explanation for how such evidence is admissible against Mr. Sussmann. Instead, the Special Counsel simply asserts that evidence regarding the strength and reliability of the information provided to the FBI and Agency 2 is “direct evidence” of the false statements charge against Mr. Sussmann. Suppl. Notice at 2.